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Posted by Chris Weigant in Editorials & Other Articles
Fri Mar 25th 2011, 08:57 PM
Anyone who sits in the Oval Office -- no matter what their name or political party -- is going to have detractors. As they should, since disagreeing with political leaders is almost the national sport in America, and always has been (sorry, baseball, but political bickering has been around a lot longer). Sometimes criticism of the president is for very principled and deeply-held beliefs. Sometimes, it is just knee-jerk-ism of the first order.

Which brings us to Newt Gingrich, who absolutely personified the mass Republican confusion on President Obama's Libyan War by being for it, then against it, and then maybe kinda for it again, and then... oh, I don't know, to be honest I've got more important things to do than keep up with what passes for Newt's supposedly-intelligent ideas.

First, Republicans were clamoring for Obama to "do something" in Libya. The word "dithering" was tossed around with abandon. Instead of asking anyone for permission, Obama should have sent the jets flying in to bomb Libya yesterday -- or even last week, dammit! Obama, instead, waited until the Arab League and the United Nations supported the idea, and then sent the missiles and planes flying. At this point, Republicans where aghast that Obama should act so swiftly to go to war, and insisted that Congress should have been consulted first, even though Congress had done precisely nothing in the run up to the war, and then couldn't be bothered to come back from vacation in order to deal with it. Logic, it seems, is the true first casualty of war.

Obama is also getting criticism from the Left, although it's harder to figure out, as it is not as hotly focused. Again the criticism that he should have consulted Congress (complete with calls for impeachment), and the mass confusion between the stance that we shouldn't have done anything, and the supposedly-enlightened idea that we should prevent slaughters from happening (which is usually a pretty Liberal idea).

Now, Obama's big gamble in Libya has yet to play itself out, so I don't think anyone can accurately say at this point how Americans will view this adventure in the future. Anyone interested in reading my serious commentary on Obama and Libya can check out the first article I wrote, before Obama intervened, the article I wrote following the beginning of the war, and the article I wrote which tries to make broad predictions of possible outcomes (fool's errand though that may be).

Today, I'm feeling less serious. If making light of a war when it has barely gotten underway offends you ("It's too soon!"), then I would strongly advise that you just stop reading this right now, and go check out March Madness games instead, or something.

Because today we're going to make a humorous attempt to help out whatever small office in the Pentagon's job it is to come up with the names for our military missions. Their biggest failure, to date, was trying to call our second war in Iraq "Operation Iraqi Liberation" -- which sounds just fine and descriptive and crisply military and all of that... until you read it as an acronym. Whoops! That one, obviously, had to go back to the drawing board, to be quickly reborn as "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Our involvement with Libya has been dubbed, by these faceless Pentagon brass, as "Operation Odyssey Dawn." Um... OK. At least it doesn't create an embarrassing acronym, I guess. But seriously, is this the best we can do? Salon has put together the snarkiest commentary on this name from the mediasphere, which I simply cannot top (funniest yet: "a Yes album" and "the name of one of Frank Zappa's kids").

But surely we here at Friday Talking Points can lend a hand to the Pentagon, right? So I am opening a contest to rename our Libyan war. Ooops... as far as the White House is concerned (this may help you to come up with your entry), it is apparently supposed to be called "a limited humanitarian intervention," or a phase of "kinetic military action," and not a "war." Uh... OK... but someone (say, someone under the age of 40) really should check into what the acronym "KMA" is used for these days, before we get all kinetic here.

Hate the name "Operation Odyssey Dawn"? Think it's silly? Then I fully invite everyone to suggest your own name for our Libyan adventure (kinetic or not). Be creative! Points will be given for hilarity, and extra points for creating good acronyms. Winners will be announced next week, right here. Prizes, as usual, will be of the "virtual" (or "non-existent") variety, with the exception of bragging rights in the comments, of course.

And if you don't win, take heart! The way the dominoes are falling all over the region, perhaps we'll have another one of these contests soon, with a country that begins with a different letter! Already, "Y" and "B" and "S" and "J" seem to be good candidates, although probably not "SA" or even "I"....

To get everyone started, I will offer up my entry, which will be immediately disqualified from winning (since it'd be hard not to be biased in the judging). Since our entire government was on vacation (at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue), I am thinking: "The Spring Break War."

But surely you can do better than this, right?


Getting a bit more serious, however, the awards committee here at Friday Talking Points thought long and hard about whether to give either (or both) awards this week to President Obama (and for the same reasons, Secretary of State Clinton). The Obama administration did do some things which could be called impressive this week, and they also did some things which were disappointing. Most people could agree with that statement, although there would be large disagreement over exactly which things should go into which category.

Stopping Ghaddafi from crushing the rebellion was a bold act. Getting the world's opinion to agree -- and to agree to even stronger measures than the no-fly zone originally proposed -- was noteworthy indeed. The absolute lack of loss of life on the coalition side, one week in, is worth breathing a sigh of relief over. Getting N.A.T.O. to agree to take over (to whatever extent) so quickly was unprecedented, I believe (these things usually do not move so fast, to put it mildly). Getting Turkey on board, in particular, was impressive. Both Obama and Clinton deserve mention for all of this.

But Obama's refusal to spell out what America is doing to the public is getting more and more noticeable (for its absence). A war interrupting a planned overseas trip is one thing -- we all know that modern communications are good enough for that not to be a real problem -- but once back on American shores it is a little unusual that the White House hasn't announced either a press conference or an Oval Office address to the nation. They have, after a storm of controversy from both sides of the aisle, announced they'll be briefing Congress next Wednesday, but so far no public address is planned.

This is, quite likely, because Obama wants to present the war as a fait accompli to both the Congress and the public -- something that is already wrapped up and handed off to the French, British, and all the rest of the coalition. It's a lot easier to write a speech about something that has already happened, rather than dealing with future uncertainties. It's a tough needle to thread to explain why every country in the "Arab Spring" has to be handled on an ad hoc basis -- because each one comes with their own set of circumstances. And, when it gets right down to it, many Americans only care about such things as they affect the price of gasoline in their neighborhood.

For now, we're going to withhold both awards, from both Obama and Clinton. If things turn out reasonably well, Obama's new war strategy may be a new direction for American foreign policy. If things turn out badly, it will be seen as a monumental error, for whatever reason. Quite simply, it is still too early to tell. All of this is preface to our awards this week, to fend off criticism that they are both fairly minor accomplishments in a week when America entered another war. In other words, we realize this, so we wanted to share our reasons for not addressing the bigger story this week. Call it "dithering" on our part, if you must.

Having said all of that, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was Senator Charles Schumer, for his persistence -- and for whoever's doing archival research for him. Schumer is (and has been) working to right a historic wrong. This week, Schumer announced he had uncovered evidence which should result in giving a soldier from World War I the Medal of Honor he so obviously deserves.

Sergeant Henry Johnson's heroics in battle in France caused him to be the first American soldier in history to be awarded that country's Croix de Guerre. Johnson pretty much singlehandedly took on twenty Germans (ending up fighting with just a bolo knife), to save his buddy from being captured. While fighting, he was wounded 21 times. He drove the Germans off, saved his buddy's life and likely his own as well. By doing so, he prevented the Germans from breaking through the Allied lines. They even call it the "Battle of Henry Johnson," now.

But he was never awarded a single military honor by his own country until over seventy-five years later, when he finally got a Purple Heart. A few years after this, he was awarded our second-highest military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross -- but was denied the highest, the Medal of Honor. Schumer has now uncovered the last pieces of evidence which should guarantee Johnson finally gets the honor he has well earned.

Why, you may be wondering, did it take so long? Because Henry Johnson was an African-American. And back then, black soldiers didn't get medals. Any medals. Which is shameful.

Senator Schumer, who was never satisfied with the Pentagon decision to only award Johnson the Distinguished Service Cross, kept digging. Johnson and Schumer are both from New York state, which is why the senator got involved. What he uncovered was not only an eyewitness account of the battle, but also a battle dispatch from none other than the commander of all American forces in the war, General "Black Jack" Pershing himself. This new evidence should more than satisfy the Pentagon's requirements for the Medal of Honor, and I look for Johnson's family to be presented his medal as soon as the Pentagon can possibly sign off on it.

I posted, earlier this week, the press release from Schumer's office, or you can read Henry Johnson's amazing story at the Arlington National Cemetery website.

For his work to right this very old wrong, Senator Schumer is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Sometimes it pays to keep digging.

{Congratulate Senator Charles Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}


Just as we had to think long and hard about Obama and Clinton this week, Dennis Kucinich was on our minds as well, as it came time to decide on awards. Kucinich was certainly first out of the box when it came to Democrats criticizing President Obama over the Libya situation. He wasn't shy in his criticisms, either. In fact, he called for Obama's impeachment -- when the war had scarcely even begun. Now that he's had a week to think about it, he is apparently now backing off this position, though.

Now, it can be argued that Kucinich is standing on principle (at least, until he backed off), and being consistent no matter who is in the White House. Kucinich called for George W. Bush's impeachment years ago, over similar issues. But the lightning speed with which he jumped to the "impeach" conclusion was a bit stunning, to put it mildly.

The issue in question is the War Powers Act, which was passed by Congress back in the Vietnam era. This law is on the books, but has never been adequately tested in the courts -- by either the White House or Congress. Presidents have always tried to do the bare minimum under this law to keep Congress happy, and Congresses have always complained that it is not enough. But the law itself may be an unconstitutional power grab by the legislative branch. Until the Supreme Court rules one way or another, the whole thing is in a sort of legal Limbo. But neither side -- Congress or the White House -- has ever felt strongly enough about its position in any war to push it that far. Which leaves both sides free to interpret the law as they wish.

Of course, there is one remedy available to Congress which doesn't involve the courts -- but impeachment is a pretty drastic step. Kucinich, whether you agree with him or not, was a bit hasty in calling for such a drastic step. Or, if you do agree with him, he isn't sticking to his principles, now that he has realized nobody else is out on that limb with him. Because of this ambivalence, we are also passing over Kucinich for either award this week. Again, just in case anyone was wondering why his name isn't on one award or the other.

Instead, we award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to R. Gil Kerlikowske, who is our nation's "Drug Czar." Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Kerlikowske wrote an article this week which appeared in the Huffington Post. It contained this laughable line:

"The good news is that the Obama Administration's collaborative, balanced, and science based {sic} approach to drug policy will help our Nation meet these challenges."

That "{sic}" is for forgetting the hyphen (the following sentence in his article correctly contains "community-based" and "evidence-based," so he must be aware of the grammatical rule). But the real problem is that saying such things blatantly ignores the fact that -- when it comes to marijuana -- our nation's drug policy is not based on science, but rather on politics.

Coincidentally enough, it was exactly two years ago today that I wrote an article titled: "Question For Obama: How About a Science-Based Drug Policy?" In it, I argue that marijuana should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II on the list of controlled dangerous substances (or "drugs"). The only difference between Schedule I -- the "worst" category -- and Schedule II is the change in language from:

"The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."


"The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions."

Read my whole article for all the details, but here was my basic conclusion:

As for provision (C) of Schedule I, there are no safety issues surrounding medical marijuana that I am aware of. And as for "accepted medical use," it seems there is a de facto accepted medical use when one-fourth of the states have allowed such medical use.

Meaning, scientifically speaking, there is no justification for the continued designation of marijuana on Schedule I. The question is entirely political, to put it another way.

Which is what President Obama promised to stop doing.

Fifteen states plus (amusingly) the federal enclave known as Washington, D.C. now allow medical use of marijuana. The facts haven't changed. Unless you count the new fact that medical marijuana is on track to be a bigger cash market than the one which currently exists for Viagra (if it hasn't already surpassed the little blue pill's numbers).

Kerlikowske can continue the Obama policy of ignoring the fact of medical marijuana in the hopes that it'll go away, but please, Mister Drug Czar, don't call such a policy "science-based" -- because it is not. It is the purest of politics. Why don't you ask your boss if he thinks getting busted back when he was smoking pot would have changed his life for the better?

Oh, and while I'm being snarky, please, Mister Drug Czar, learn the difference between "drug use" and "drug abuse," as you used the wrong term throughout your entire article (including the title).

For his politics-based gaffe this week, R. Gil Kerlikowske is awarded this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

{Contact O.N.D.C.P. Director R. Gil Kerlikowske on via Twitter, to let him know what you think of his actions.}


Volume 160 (3/25/11)

I didn't have anywhere else to stick this in, but today is an important anniversary in the history of Labor and Union rights. One hundred years ago today was the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, which killed 146 people and led to more workplace safety laws being enacted than any other single event in American history. Franklin Roosevelt's labor secretary called the fire "the day the New Deal began," so this is not overstating the event's importance one bit. If you've never heard of it, follow one of those links (or maybe this one) for the sordid details.

We're running a bit long this week, so we're going to try to keep the talking points brief. Since Democrats are divided on the war, I didn't include any "war talking points," so there's no overarching theme this week, just my usual suggestions for how Democrats could be framing some issues this week. Other than the war, with everyone out on vacation all week, there wasn't a whole lot going on, which added to the disjointed nature of these talking points.


   Politically correct, Maine style

Remember back when Bush's attorney general was so embarrassed at the Department of Justice backdrop for press announcements (a statue of "Justice" with -- gasp! -- a bare breast) that he shelled out seven thousand taxpayer dollars for a "coverup"? Well, there's a new "boob" on the scene, apparently.

"I find it disgusting that the governor of Maine is trying to remove artwork at his state department of labor, just because he got one letter from a businessperson complaining that it was objectionable to show actual Maine history. Isn't this what conservatives used to deride as being 'politically correct' and the 'culture of victimhood' and that sort of thing? We're supposed to protect Maine businessfolks' tender feelings because they might suffer an attack of the vapors if they see their own history in a government building? Give me a break, please. I would think there are more pressing issues for Maine's new governor to concern himself with than the art in the lobby, wouldn't you?"


   Bad census news for Republicans

Can Republicans do math? Doesn't this worry them, even slightly?

"New census numbers are out this week, and it shows that Latinos in America are becoming a bigger and bigger political force in the electorate. One in every six people in America is now Latino. This is the fastest-growing group in the American public, more from births than from immigration in the last ten years. And yet Republicans seem to be bending over backwards in an effort to make their party as unfriendly to Latinos as possible in the past few years. If I were a Republican political strategist, these figures would keep me awake at night. The more Republicans drive Latinos into the arms of the Democrats, the more their party is going to shrink in the future. It's not that hard to do this math, is it?"


   Can we have some fallout numbers, please?

From an older edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, here is the only definition of the word "fallout":

"The often radioactive particles that result from a nuclear explosion and descend through the air."

That's what it used to mean, really, before the term went all generic. So, um, how about some numbers? This is a criticism mostly of the media, but also of the U.S. and Japanese governments, who haven't been exactly forthcoming with this sort of data.

"There are a lot of people both in and downwind of Japan who would really love it if the government and the media would start using actual scientific numbers to describe the extent of the nuclear accident and the resulting fallout. Measurements exist for this stuff, folks. If there's no reason to panic, then prove this to the public with actual numbers. These measurements are being taken, and it would behoove the government and the media to join together to avoid public worry by prominently disseminating the actual numbers of how much radioactivity has been released."


   Republicans all over the map as well

This one came to me while viewing an amusing chart over at Salon -- a flowchart of Republican reactions to Obama's actions on Libya.

"Well, Democrats may not be speaking with one voice right now on Libya and on Obama's actions, but I should point out that Republicans are all over the map on this one, as well."


   When I'm 64...

Sixty-four members of the Senate sent a letter to President Obama saying, in essence: "We can't do our jobs, please do our jobs for us!" I mean, seriously, 64 senators can pass anything they feel like at any time, folks.

"I heard that 64 senators sent the president a letter because they felt the White House would do a better job of writing legislation than they are apparently capable of. Funny, Republicans used to complain about Obama 'jamming legislation down our throats' and now they seem to be begging him to do just that. In fact, their letter brought to mind a Beatles song, from which I quote: 'Send me a postcard, drop me a line / Stating point of view / Indicate precisely what you mean to say.' When I'm 64, indeed...."


   You sure those were "Union thugs"?

OK, this one is just unbelievable.

"The next time I hear Fox News talking about so-called 'union thugs' at protests, after the recent news from Indiana and Wisconsin, I'm going to have to question whether they're not talking about some dirty-trickster Republican operative provoking a reaction from the news media in an effort to discredit their political opposition. Seriously, the tactic of sending someone out to be a pretend thug is more worthy of a totalitarian government than it is to American democracy."


   Let Fred Karger debate!

Finally, some comic relief. You thought Ron Paul was going to be the most amusing candidate to watch during the upcoming Republican presidential debates? Think again!

"Speaking of Republican candidates for president, I'd just like to say that I strongly urge the Republican National Committee to let Fred Karger into the presidential debates. I don't think any candidate who has qualified and filed his or her paperwork should be turned away just because their opinions may be unorthodox within the Republican Party. Or is there some other reason Karger is being excluded from debates, of which I am unaware?"


Chris Weigant blogs at:
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