Category: U.S. Politics

My country ’tis of thee

At Barak Obama’s second inauguration yesterday, American Idol star Kelly Clarkson added a poignant chapter to the storied annals of America’s least offensive patriotic anthem, My Country ‘Tis of Thee.

Seventy-four years ago, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Marian Anderson perform at the association’s Constitution Hall in Washington because the celebrated contralto was African-American. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her DAR membership in protest, and weeks of controversy ensued. On April 9, 1939, 75,000 people turned out to hear Anderson sing at an outdoor Easter Sunday recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes introduced Anderson’s stirring rendition of My Country ‘Tis of Thee:

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Martin Luthor King didn’t sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, but the famous speech he delivered from the place Anderson had sung 23 years earlier included a powerful allusion to the anthem’s lyrics:

[Video link]

A few days after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre, Joe M. Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called Dave Berg, a producer with NBC Television. President Bush wanted Jay Leno to help the country get back to normal by putting “The Tonight Show” on the air. The program resumed on September 18, a week after the attacks, with no monologue, and a guest appearance by Republican Sen. John McCain. Crosby, Stills, and Nash ended the show with an unusual version of My Country ‘Tis of Thee, accompanied by the haunting guitar work of Michael Hedges.

[Video Link]

The great Aretha Franklin sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 (but her hat may be the element that sticks in people’s memories).

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Clarkson had some daunting history to live up to when the stepped to the microphone yesterday. I think she performed beautifully. (Apologies for the Wall Street Journal’s triumphalist intro, but the camera work on this clip is better than the alternatives so far posted on YouTube.)

[Video Link]

(Note: I have included video links her because embedded YouTube videos don’t show up in certain email programs. Email subscribers can usually see them in their browsers by clicking on the title of the post.)

When one side flouts civil norms

Yesterday, White House press spokesman Jay Carney kiboshed the idea of minting a platinum trillion dollar coin to get around the Congressionally imposed debt ceiling that Republicans are using to ransom deep cuts in medicare and social security.

Some economists have urged President Barack Obama to exploit a legal loophole that would allow the government to print a single $1,000,000,000,000 coin, and deposit it with the Federal Reserve Bank, thereby enabling the US Government to pay bills Congress has already authorized.

MSNBC Host Chris Hays summed up the case for the coin this way:

If this seems surreal or ridiculous or magical to you, you are not wrong. It’s totally bizarre and unprecedented. Even if it’s legal, as many legal experts believe it to be, it seems to run against our expectations of how our government does and should behave. It’s the kind of thing that just isn’t done. But that, you see, is the entire point. Behaviour of individuals within institutions is constrained by the formal rules–explicit prohibitions–and norms–implicit prohibitions that aren’t spelled out, but just aren’t done.

Chris-HayesAnd what the modern Republican party has excelled at, particularly in the era of Obama, is exploiting the gap between these two. They’ve made a habit of doing the thing that just isn’t done. Requiring a 60-vote majority for nearly every simple procedural vote just wasn’t done, and then the Republicans did it. Refusing to confirm any candidate for an open position because you object to the position’s very existence just wasn’t done, but Senate Republicans did precisely that with the newly created Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which they continue to boycott. And most clearly before the summer of June, 2011, opposition parties didn’t use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip with which to extract ransom, and they certainly didn’t threaten default as a means to gain political leverage.

The president has been extremely reticent to meet this extraordinary degradation of previous norms with innovations of his own. He is, at heart, an ardent institiuionalist. But there is no way to unilaterally maintain norms. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And the only way to produce a new set of healthy norms is to do some innovating of your own.

And you can tell, I think, the trillion dollar coin idea spooks republicans precisely because it would be so out of character. It would so gleefully and flagrantly violate their own expectations about how democrats play the game.

I go back and forth on whether Obama is a leader of exceptional forbearance, or a patsy who can’t play hardball. In this case, I’m dismayed that the President has once again abjured what may be his strongest weapon on the eve of negotiations that promise to be not just difficult but fraught with potential harm to the United States and the world.

Since Contrarian readers may not have followed this looming crisis all that closely, I will follow the advice of James Fallows and include these two sentences in this discussion:

  1. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.
  2. For Congress to “decide whether” to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to “decide whether” to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.

For those who prefer to ingest their economic news visually, here is Hayes’s entire commentary on the Republican Debt ceiling fiasco (the coin discussion starts 25 seconds in):

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And here is the bipartisan panel discussion that followed.

At first blush, this is a discussion about the intricacies of US politics. But in Canada, over the last two years, the Harper Government has been flouting Parliamentary norms in a manner that is, so far as I know, unprecedented in scope. Harper has cobbled together massive omnibus bills that change dozens of important federal laws touching wide-ranging spheres of Canadian affairs–ranging from National Parks to native rights to protection of waterways. Harper has used his parliamentary majority to force these laws through with a minimum of debate.

Just as Republicans can say Democrats used the filibuster too, Harperites can say Liberals used Omnibus bills, too. Yes they did, and sometimes in regrettable ways, but never on this massive scale.

What we’ve seen from Harper in the last two years is a flouting of norms, and as Hayes says, once norms are gone, they’re gone, and you can’t get ’em back. Once Canada’s dalliance with the radical right ends, as inevitably it one day will, the most important task facing a moderate or progressive alternative will be to repair the damage Harper has done to Canadian Parliamentary Democracy.

The largest glacier calving every filmed

Chasing Ice, a new film from director Jeff Orlowski, follows photographer James Balog’s attempt to catalog the climate change-induced melting of the north polar icecap, using time lapse photography. This scene, the film’s climax, shows the spectacular breakup of a Manhattan-sized chunk of ice from Greenland’s Ilulissat Glacier.

To appreciate the images, click the gear at the lower right edge of the film, and pick the highest resolution your monitor will support. Then view the clip full screen. The trailer for Chasing Ice is here.

H/T: Melanie McGrath

No success like failure — feedback

In response to last night’s post about the surprising drugs-and-arms bust on Boularderie, John Percy, leader of the Green Party of Nova Scotia, writes:

[T]he war on drugs… is perpetuated by the Drug Prevention Industry. Thousands of jobs and billions of budget dollars are at stake here and must be protected at all costs. It’s a “jobs and the economy” outlook toward a social and health issue affecting real human lives, who are perceived as collateral damage.

Both of the main players in this game, drug cartels and the prevention industry, share a symbiotic relationship. It is so important to the success of drug cartels to keep drugs illegal that they fund, through shell corporations, political campaigns of law and order candidates. Thus both sides in this war have a common purpose and share a mutually beneficial outcome.

How to stop swing state Democrats from voting

The lineup at an early-voting polling station in Columbus, Ohio, one of two democratic strongholds in what is thought to be the most critical swing state in Tuesday’s US Presidential election.

(Vis L.A. Times reporter Michael Finnegan.)

I lost it at the polling booth, & You still don’t own me

On the off chance you may have missed these…

Seventy-seven beautiful women update Leslie Gore’s signature anthem to women’s freedom for the 2012 presidential campaign:

And “Girls” star Lena Dunham is driving sanctimonious Republican hypocrites snaky with this primer on how to lose your electoral cherry:

Obama that I used to know

Shocking to realize how far we’ve come from (with apologies to Gotye):

[Video link]

H/T: Stephen Puddicombe

Why the dollar zone works and the euro zone doesn’t

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explains it in four terse sentences:

Europe has Greece. We have Mississippi. Europe uses the term “permanent bailouts.” We call it “Medicaid.”

And he illustrates the point with a map from the Economist:

Thompson again:

[T]he poorest states like Mississippi, New Mexico, and West Virginia rely on ginormous transfers of federal taxes in the form of unemployment benefits and Medicaid. Like the United States, the euro zone is all on one currency. Unlike the United States, the euro zone collects a teensy share of total taxes at the EU level and has no legacy of permanent fiscal transfers from the richer countries, like Germany, to the poorer countries, like Greece. The result is the chaos playing over your computer screen day after day.

Here in the U.S., states like New Mexico and Alabama are always “in fiscal trouble.” But it’s not news. In the last 20 years, the seven states in orange and red in the graph have accepted federal money worth around 200% of their annual GDP. Perhaps you’ve had a bar debate about whether we should boot Mississippi from the union, but that sort of thing hasn’t made its way to Washington.

In those terms, I would put Canada halfway between the US and the euro zone: Like the US., we have a common currency and fat transfer payments; Unlike the US,  we host a raft of organizations (CD How, Fraser, AIM, and the National Post) that make a nice living bitching about it.

Sometimes you gotta love spam

Every once in a while, between pleas from search engine optimizers, deposed African Generals, and cut-rate Viagra pushers, spam coughs up a gem. Like the 5,711-word message I just received from Father Yahweh, yea Jehovah, Most High God, aka Linda Newkirk of Little Rock, Arkansas. It began like this:

It can now be reported that many of the wildfires in the western United States have been started by highly trained and well equipped foreign terrorists. It can also be reported that these terrorists are also responsible for the numerous explosions that occured in Michigan on the 6th and 7th of June 2012. You may not of heard of the Michigan explosions as there has been a news blackout in place.

One of the major explosions in Michigan that sent radiation monitors thousands of times higher in two different locations was the result of a tactical nuclear weapon. The underground nuclear explosion and numerous smaller explosions, that were sometimes heard in rapid succession, were aimed at setting off the New Madrid Fault! The smaller explosions were created with scaler electromagnetic technology. Both the US and the USSR are known to have developed this type of tectonic plate weaponry.

The purpose of this email is to expose those who were behind the attacks. For reports and background information on what actually took place in and around the Michigan Indiana border, visit the following sites. Link here [deleted], and additional link here [deleted].

It has now been revealed that the attacks were carried out by Russian Special Forces who were brought into the USA under the guise of joint training excercises with the US Military. There is plenty of corroborating eyewitness testimony following the prophetic warning you are about to read. There are also descriptions of the expensive motorhomes they are travelling in.

You haven’t heard of those June 6 & 7 Michigan blasts, have you? What more proof do you need? As you may have guessed, the central figure behind this dastardly conspiracy is none other than Barack Obama. Newkirk knows this because T.M., the militant Communist wife of V. M., a “level-headed Russian scientist,” told Tom Fife as much way back in 1992, when none of us had ever heard of Obama. Fife was setting up a software development joint venture in Moscow with scientist-colleagues of V.M.’s when e visited the couple’s flat one evening, and T.M. just blurted the whole thing out.

What if I told you that you will have a black president very soon and he will be a Communist? Yes, it is true. This is not some idle talk. He is already born and he is educated and being groomed to be president right now. You will be impressed to know that he has gone to the best schools of Presidents. He is what you call “Ivy League”. You don’t believe me, but he is real and I even know his name. His name is Barack. His mother is white and American and his father is black from Africa. That’s right, a chocolate baby! And he’s going to be your President.”

Doesn’t that put your worries in perspective?

You gotta like a president who shoots a marshmallow gun

A marshmallow cannon, actually, and he shot it inside the White House.

Contrarian may be the only blogger you read who actually owns a marshmallow gun.

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