Saturday, October 30, 2010

Matthews asks: Why overlook Obama's accomplishments?

Let me finish tonight with President Obama and what he's done.

I say the following because no one else, including the president, has.

It is the hard structure of reality that in the current cacophony so often is overlooked.

This president came into office facing the worst economic outlook since the 1930s. He took action, bold action, the action prescribed by the best economic minds - following the best thinking there is in economics "since" the 1930s.

First, even before taking office, he backed up his predecessor in preventing a major collapse of the financial industry. Everyone involved said it "had" to be done to avoid catastrophe - the destruction of our country's financial spine.

Second, he took the action - again boldly - to powerfully offset the white-knuckle drop in consumer spending and business investment. If he hadn't, no one - including his worst critics - would have any idea what would have befallen us. We can argue about the name it was given - the stimulus bill - but the creation of this great boost in economic demand for goods and services as critical break on what was widely seen as an economic free-fall.

It's easy to stand on the sidelines voting against everything, rooting against everything, and deride that bold action for the simple reason that nobody will ever remember if you had a seriously, reliably better alternative.

Third, the president achieved what so many presidents from FDR on have said needed to be done: end this humiliating dependency of tens of millions of Americans on the emergency room as their only way of getting medical attention. He said our society had a responsibility to look out for its members' health, that individuals should be required to do what they can personally to provide for their care. For the first time in our country's history we are no longer the hold-out in the modern world against broadly-available, accessible health insurance.

It is no time for political high-fiving, for bragging. We know that. The economy is down and people are hurting. But I wonder who's good it does for the president and those who wish him well to overlook the simple, bold, impressive, gutsy facts of what he's got done only now approaching two years in office.

Someone needs to say it.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

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Monday, August 23, 2010

FAUX News funds 'Ground Zero Mosque'

exerciseforeign Posted 1:40 PM 08/16/10 , , ,

Amid the howls of outrage over the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero, some political pundits on Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate News Corp. (NWS), have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the project.

Last Thursday, popular Fox News host Sean Hannity said the proposed center's leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a U.S. citizen who has spent 25 years working to improve relations between the Muslim world and the U.S., wants to "shred our Constitution" and install "Sharia law as the law of the land in America." Sharia is a body of law derived from the Koran and Islamic teachings.

In fact, in his book What's Right With Islam, Rauf writes that "many Muslims regard the form of government that the American founders established a little over two centuries ago as the form of governance that best expresses Islam's original values and principles." (Page 81.) He has never publicly advocated "shredding" the U.S. Constitution or replacing it with Sharia law.

A Major Backer From the Muslim World

The stridency with which Fox News personalities attack the downtown Islamic center -- red meat for the millions who tune in each night -- is an example of the often uneasy relationship and occasionally diverging interests between many of News Corp.'s properties, in this case Fox News and its parent corporation.

Prince Alwaleed bin TalalFor example, News Corp.'s second-largest shareholder, after the Murdoch family, is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (pictured at left, and above right), the nephew of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, and one of the world's richest men.

Through his Kingdom Holding Co., Alwaleed owns about 7% of News Corp., or about $3 billion of the media giant. He also owns 6% of Citigroup -- to which he was introduced by the Carlyle Group -- or about $10 billion of the giant bank. He's a part-owner of the famed Plaza Hotel in New York and has invested in many other prominent companies. (At one point he invested in AOL (AOL), the parent company of DailyFinance.)

Earlier this year, News Corp. invested $70 million for a 9% stake in Alwaleed's Middle Eastern media and entertainment company, Rotana, which "owns the Arab world's largest record label and about 40% of the region's movies -- most of which are Egyptian -- and operates 11 free-to-air television channels, two of which are through a partnership with News Corp.," according to Reuters. (Rotana broadcasts Fox movies and TV shows throughout the Middle East.) News Corp. has an option to double its stake in Rotana for another $70 million within 18 months.

"We Look Forward to Working Together"

Alwaleed has announced his intention to take Rotana public within the next two years, a move that could earn News Corp. a handsome return. In News Corp.'s 2010 annual report recently filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Alwaleed is referred to only as, "A significant stockholder of the Company, who owns approximately 7% of the Company's Class B Common Stock." (Page 44.)

A News Corp. spokesman in New York declined to discuss the company's investment into Rotana and referred inquires to a colleague in London, who declined to comment. Attempts to reach Prince Alwaleed or a representative of his conglomerate, Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding Co., for comment, were not immediately returned.

But presumed News Corp. heir James Murdoch has publicly touted the company's investment in Rotana. James Murdoch, who's the chairman and CEO of News Corp.'s European and Asian operation, has said: "A stake in Rotana expands our presence in a region with a young and growing population, where [economic] growth is set to outstrip that of more developed economies in the years ahead. Rotana is a leading player in the Middle East, and we look forward to working together."

As usual with Murdoch, money trumps ideology. "News Corp. is a big company, and Murdoch makes decisions based on money and business," says Robert Thompson, a professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University. "This isn't a conspiracy of the right or the left. It's a conspiracy of money."

The Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia

Routinely listed as one of the top 10 or 20 richest men in the world, Alwaleed has long cultivated deep personal and financial ties with the U.S., especially among powerful business and government officials. Just consider that in 2002, he donated $500,000 to help fund the George Herbert Walker Bush Scholarship at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. Above all, Alwaleed is a businessman and a philanthropist, not an ideologue. He has been very generous to Islamic charities and other humanitarian efforts. Alwaleed is such an influential figure that he's been referred to as the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by Alwaleed's uncle King Abdullah, is, of course, an authoritarian petro-monarchy that actually is governed by Sharia law and is known as one of the top global sponsors of terrorism. A spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington says that while Alwaleed is part of the royal family, he isn't a member of the government, but rather a private citizen.

Imam Feisal Abdul RaufAlwaleed, like Iman Rauf (pictured at right), professes a desire to build bridges of peace and understanding between the Islamic world and the West. One man is a multibillionaire, with far-flung investments around the world, and the other is a religious cleric, whose congregation happens to be in downtown Manhattan.

Many Fox News pundits seem to have a big problem with the idea that a foreign government or entity with ties to terrorism could help sponsor a mosque in lower Manhattan -- a legitimate concern. But as viewers listen to Fox News pundits rail against Rauf -- and question his center's funding -- they should keep in mind that Fox News is part of a company, News Corp., that has extensive business ties with the Muslim world.

It's just part of running a multinational media giant in today's global, interconnected economy, where alliances and business relationships are more nuanced than the black and white -- good and evil -- viewpoint that many Fox News pundits espouse.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lesbian teen wins $35K in prom case

Mississippi school pays damages to lesbian teen over prom dispute.

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 20, 2010 1:14 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- A school district in Mississippi has agreed to pay a recent high school graduate $35,000 in damages and adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to a statement released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The settlement comes after the ACLU sued the school district in Fulton, Mississippi, on behalf of Constance McMillen, a lesbian teen who was told by Itawamba Agricultural High School officials she and her girlfriend would be ejected if they attended the school-sponsored prom.

The agreement, which was filed Tuesday, ends the lawsuit.

"I'm so glad this is all over. I won't ever get my prom back, but it's worth it if it changes things at my school," McMillen said in a statement released Tuesday.

The prom, originally scheduled for April 2, was eventually canceled by school board officials who previously said they reached their decision based on "the education, safety and well-being of [its] students."

Officials at McMillen's former high school are not commenting at this time, and a call to the north Mississippi school district seeking comment Tuesday wasn't immediately returned.

According to the ACLU statement, McMillen "suffered humiliation and harassment after parents, students and school officials executed a cruel plan to put on a decoy prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away."

McMillen believes the alternative prom she was sent to was a sham because only a handful of people attended. "A lot of people were talking about how it was a joke just set up for me," she previously said.

In March, a federal judge ruled that McMillen's First Amendment rights were violated when her school district refused to let her attend her prom in a tux with a girl.

That was good news, said her attorney, Christine Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender project. It set a precedent and helped broadcast an important statement, which was made stronger by virtue of where it came from, she said.

"We're in a conservative area of the country, where people tend to think we can do what we like," said Sun, who lives in New York but has traveled multiple times to Mississippi on McMillen's behalf. "This case sends a strong message that that's not going to fly anymore."

In 2004, the national gay rights group GLSEN -- the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network -- issued a report that said of all 50 states, Mississippi had the most hostile environment for gay youths.

"We hope this judgment sends a message to schools that they cannot get away with discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students," said Bear Atwood, interim legal director at the ACLU of Mississippi.

Since McMillen's name made national headlines, the lesbian teen advocate has served as the grand marshal for New York's Gay Pride Parade, she received a $30,000 college scholarship from an anonymous donor, and a Facebook page called "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!" had attracted nearly 410,000 fans as of Tuesday.

"It means a lot to me," McMillen said. "The amount of support helps me to continue with the fight."