Friday, May 29, 2009

Satan Salutes Class of 2009

Commencement Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

The Class of 2009 has gotten some pretty high-profile Commencement Day speakers, from President Obama (Arizona State, Notre Dame) to Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick (MIT) to Energy Secretary Steven Chu (Harvard) to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (Barnard). Now it's Mephistopheles' turn to deliver some insights in a Commencement Day episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Holmes, Sotomayor, and the national pastime

While the Supreme Court is usually linked with issues of national gravity -- Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ended school segregation, and Roe v. Wade (1972) decided national policy in favor of abortion -- the court has recently become linked with a national pastime, albeit indirectly.
Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's choice for the high court, enters the nomination process as a judge whose resume includes dealing with professional sports. In 1995, as a Manhattan federal district court judge, Sotomayor issued an injunction that made major-league baseball end a strike that had cancelled the playoffs and World Series the previous year.
Thus did Sotomayor join other judges who umpired professional baseball from the bench, including Supreme Court justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1922 and Tom Clark in 1953. And it's worth noting a positive change since the Holmes and Clark decisions: Big Government has grown more willing to police Big Business, with better results for the nation.
Holmes, in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League, spoke for the high court when he ruled that major-league baseball didn't exercise monopoly power over the national pastime and therefore didn't violate federal antitrust laws. Clark, in Toolson v. New York Yankees, said that even though pro baseball had gotten just a tad more consolidated in power and lucrative in profits since the Holmes case, the original ruling still stood.
These decisions symbolized what was wrong with American judicial attitudes toward business in the first half of the past century. The high court was too willing to follow President Calvin Coolidge's contention that "the chief business of America is business." As the court let pro baseball grow unfettered from judicial regulation, it was perhaps unsurprising that the man who filled the power vacuum in the American and National Leagues for much of the early 20th century, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, oversaw a system of inequality -- a system that banned African-Americans from playing in the majors until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, three years after Landis' death.
Sotomayor represents a healthy change from the outdated pro-business-above-all-else judicial thinking of the past. She realizes that businesses -- especially ones claiming to represent a national pastime -- deserve no exemption from national scrutiny. Let us hope she brings similar clearsightedness to the Supreme Court.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dick Cheney, Public Citizen?

Cheney Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

That's what Satan seems to think after the former vice president delivered a blistering speech against President Obama on Thursday. Read more in the latest episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sri Lanka: Island in the storm

Since 1983, the island nation of Sri Lanka has been the battleground for a conflict between the government and a separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers. The conflict on the island, which is about the size of West Virginia, included suicide bombers, the assassinations of two heads of state, and tens of thousands of other lives lost. Now, it seems, the government has prevailed.
Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa "declared on television that after more than 25 years, his troops had defeated one of the world’s most enduring guerrilla armies on the battlefield," the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
This is welcome news, given the Tigers' past atrocities. They were one of the pioneers of suicide bombings, their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was accused of masterminding the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and a suicide bomber assassinated then-Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. Still, the Times seemed guarded about future prospects for Sri Lanka, based on the measures Rajapaksa's government took to win the war -- "defied international pressure to stanch civilian casualties, squelched dissent, blocked independent reporting" -- and the challenges that await in peacetime.
"Now, some of Sri Lanka's erstwhile allies, including those that had banned the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization, are calling for an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes," the Times reported.
There are other concerns. It sounds like Sri Lanka got the weapons it needed to win the war by playing off two of its fellow South Asian nations, India and Pakistan, and neither of these nuke-possessing nations needs another reason to feel slighted against each other. The government must find a way to provide for fair treatment of the Tamil minority. And the possibility of war crimes isn't the only human-rights issue the island faces; the CIA notes that "for a second consecutive year, Sri Lanka is on the Tier 2 Watch List for failing to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of human trafficking."
Let us hope that Sri Lanka has not emerged from over 25 years of conflict only to face even greater troubles ahead.

Friday, May 15, 2009

State senator slurs Schumer

Schumer Cartoon, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

Arkansas state senator Kim Hendren reportedly called Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York "that Jew" in a recent appearance. Things got weirder when Hendren tried to do damage control after his mean-spirited remark about Schumer's faith. "I was attempting to explain that unlike Sen. Schumer, I believe in traditional values, like we used to see on 'The Andy Griffith Show,'" Hendren said. My liberal heroine Susannah gives Hendren his comeuppance in this week's cartoon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama pulls a 180 on torture photos

President Obama announced Wednesday that he will try to block the release of photos of members of the US military engaging in torture, and the 180-degree turns from his administration on this issue are enough to mystify a Massachusetts motorist on I-93.
First, while the administration fears the 2,000-plus photos, taken between 2003 and 2006, might encourage "a deadly backlash against American troops," a Pentagon source told the Times the images "were not as provocative as pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib." Question the reliability of the source all you want, but the latter images have been in the public domain for years, and I don't know that they've influenced the Global War on Terror in any tangible way. Meanwhile, if Obama is concerned about the effect pictures might have, why wasn't he equally worried about publicizing words -- namely, words about Bush-era torture techniques at Gitmo? Most bizarrely, in a quote tucked at the bottom of the Times story, Obama claims free speech will lead to censorship: "I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."
Why the reversals? It's partly historical. Incoming presidents frequently find it difficult if not impossible to balance their dreams with DC politics -- witness what happened to Bill Clinton's wish to allow gays to serve openly in the military, and George W. Bush's goal to privatize Social Security. And part of it pertains to the specifics of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quoth the Times:
The administration said last month that it would not oppose the release of the pictures, but Mr. Obama changed his mind after seeing the photographs and getting warnings from top Pentagon officials that the images, taken from the early years of the wars, would “further inflame anti-American opinion” and endanger troops in two war zones.
Somewhere, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and disgraced former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards must be having a little chuckle. One day after Obama launched his successful bid for the presidency in 2007, he said that even before the Iraq War, "it was possible to make judgments that this would not work out well" -- a stance that Reuters called an indirect contrast to that of "presidential rivals Clinton and (Edwards), who both voted to authorize the war in 2002." The recent photo flap reveals that in terms of military policy, candidate Obama may have avoided making a 360-degree turn like Clinton and Edwards ("We voted for the war before opposing it"), but now that he's president, he's finding out the job he sought and won means having to make lots of 180-degree turns.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Barack Obama: The First Hundred Sways

Obama Hundred Days, originally uploaded by rbtenorio.

Last week, Barack Obama celebrated his first 100 days as president of the United States. (I also marked the occasion with my second self-published collection of cartoons, "The Devil Made Me Blog It: The First 100 Sways.") Mephistopheles and Frank Faust reflect -- from the president's popularity to the arrival of First Dog Bo to the economic crisis that won't go away -- in the latest episode of "The Devil Made Me Blog It"!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Palin charts path of least assistance

On April 28, the office of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin addressed the $929 million in economic stimulus funds sent from Washington to the Last Frontier. (It could have been more, but she rejected $28.6 million extra.) She said, "I have been clear and consistent about my concerns with accepting economic stimulus funds as our nation incurs tremendous debt." She detailed those concerns: "(We) must acknowledge that these are one-time, temporary funds, that the federal government is deeply in debt, and that we must borrow money from other countries to fund much of government."
It's easy to paint Palin as a maverick here. After all, you could also characterize a tax rebate as a "one-time, temporary fund," but that probably wouldn't stop Americans from accepting it, and it didn't stop President Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, from using it. But when federal aid expands from a $300 tax rebate to a $929 million relief package, some folks start complaining. And whether consciously or not, Palin may be appealing to this constituency, which the president of the American Enterprise Institute characterized as
homeowners who didn't walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don't want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don't need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right -- and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.
Perhaps Palin will become a leader of this movement as she jockeys for position in the 2012 GOP presidential field. But there are complicating factors. While she urged against federal aid, she welcomed aid from a different source -- the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelical pastor Billy Graham. Some might wonder why she considers it acceptable to welcome private assistance but not public aid, given that the former can fluctuate depending upon the economy. And despite Palin's reluctance on aid from DC, all she could do in the end was distance herself from the state legislature ... which ultimately accepted federal funds.