Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama calls for 'common ground' on abortion at Notre Dame

Story Highlights

NEW: 39 protesters arrested before speech for trespassing, police say
NEW: He endorses "sensible conscience clause" for doctors opposed to abortion
NEW: Obama calls for reducing abortions, making adoption easier
Obama's pro-abortion rights, stem cell views opposed by protesters
SOUTH BEND, Indiana (CNN) -- President Obama delved into the abortion debate in a controversial Notre Dame commencement address Sunday, calling for a search for common ground on one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

Addressing a sharply divided audience at the storied Catholic university, Obama conceded that no matter how much Americans "may want to fudge it ... at some level the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."

"Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction," he said. "But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

The commencement ceremony was boycotted by a number of graduates dismayed by the university's decision both to tap Obama as its commencement speaker and to give him an honorary degree. View pictures from the commencement »

The president is a supporter of abortion rights and federally-funded embryonic stem-cell research -- positions that are anathema to traditional Catholic teachings.

Some graduates attended the ceremony, but expressed their disapproval by donning mortarboards marked with a cross and the outline of an infant's footprints. Others countered by wearing mortarboards adorned with an Obama campaign symbol.

Protests by abortion rights opponents before Obama's speech led to 39 arrests, St. Joseph County sheriff's deputy Rachel Zawistowski told CNN. One of those arrested was Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff identified as "Roe" in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that struck down state laws banning abortion. Watch police arrest anti-Obama demonstrators »

All those arrested were charged with trespassing, and two people taken into custody were also charged with resisting arrest, Redmond said. The charges are misdemeanors, and defendants had to post bail of $250 each before being released, he said.

Inside, several hecklers who interrupted the start of Obama's speech were loudly booed by the audience.

Obama asked the crowd if it's possible "for us to join hands in common effort."

"As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate?" he asked. "How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?"

The president told the audience a story about an e-mail he received during his 2004 Illinois Senate race from a doctor who opposed abortion. The doctor, according to the president, said he voted for Obama during the Democratic primary but felt he might not be able to support him in the general election.

A self-described Christian who "was strongly pro-life," the doctor had been offended by an entry on Obama's Senate campaign Web site that said Obama would oppose "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." Watch Obama discuss abortion »

"The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable," Obama said.

He said the doctor urged him not to change his views, but rather to speak about the issue of abortion in "fair-minded words."

After instructing his campaign staff to change the wording on his Web site, Obama said he prayed "that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me."

"When we do that -- when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground."

The president said that while "maybe we won't agree on abortion ... we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make."

He urged supporters and opponents of abortion rights to "work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term."

He also endorsed the drafting of a "sensible conscience clause" to "honor the conscience" of doctors and other medical workers opposed to abortion.

Let's "make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women," he said.

Obama is the ninth sitting U.S. president to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, but none of his predecessors touched off a similar firestorm. Watch how some graduating seniors are taking Obama visit in stride »

"I have no problem with Obama speaking on the campus [but] I do have a problem giving him [this] honor," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.

Catholic Bishop John D'Arcy of South Bend, Indiana, was among those who skipped the ceremony.

"President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," D'Arcy said in a written statement.

Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins noted in a statement in March that the university has hosted Democratic and Republican presidents, and said the invitation does not mean the university agrees with all of Obama's positions.

Obama carried the Catholic vote in last year's presidential election by a margin of nine percentage points, 54 to 45 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll released last Thursday suggests most U.S. Catholics wanted Notre Dame to allow Obama to speak, with 60 percent of Catholic voters in the survey saying Notre Dame should stand by its invitation to the president.

Observant Catholic voters who attend religious services about once a week said by a 49 to 43 percent margin that Notre Dame should keep Obama on the program. Catholics who attend services less frequently said by a 70 percent to 26 percent margin that Obama should speak, according to the poll.

"Neither Americans overall, nor Roman Catholic voters in particular, think Notre Dame should rescind its invitation to President Obama," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"The strongest opposition to the president's appearance comes from observant Catholics, but more of them than not say he should be allowed to speak."

The poll, taken April 21-27, surveyed 2,041 registered voters nationwide. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

"Catholics are not a monolithic group. If you divide between practicing Catholics and nonpracticing Catholics, you'll find that the practicing Catholics for some reason are opposed to Obama getting an honor. They're not opposed to him speaking at Notre Dame. They're opposed to him being honored," Donohue said.

So Far So Good New York TIMES

Less than three weeks after Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection, it looks as if the Obama administration will pull off its goal of completing the carmaker’s restructuring by June, allowing it to emerge as a smaller, more viable contender in the global auto market.

Unfortunately, Detroit’s problems — and the White House’s — don’t end there. Still looming is the fate of General Motors, a much larger and more complex company than Chrysler. G.M.’s bankruptcy is becoming increasingly likely as its bondholders refuse to accept the government’s terms for a restructuring out of court.

Even if G.M. — with a lot of help — manages to survive bankruptcy, it has yet to show that it has a solution for one of its most fundamental problems: its inability to make cars that consumers want to drive. This is the government’s problem too. Under a plan being negotiated by General Motors and the Treasury, the government would swap some of its loans for a stake of at least 50 percent.

So far, it looks as if Chrysler will emerge from its restructuring a more sensible company, linked up to Italy’s Fiat, which knows how to manufacture and sell fuel-efficient cars. The deal, which could give Fiat up to 51 percent of Chrysler, was designed under the eye of the government to increase Chrysler’s sales overseas and get Fiat to develop fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States by 2013.

Chrysler’s bankruptcy has been so smooth and fast because the government held its hand all the way — including providing financing to keep it running through bankruptcy and cover its warranties so consumers would keep buying.

The process started with a precooked government plan to divvy up the company between Fiat, a trust fund run by the United Automobile Workers union and the American and Canadian governments. Even then it took a sympathetic bankruptcy judge to convince a group of recalcitrant lenders that it was in their best interest to drop their opposition. The company is still meeting fierce resistance from some of the 789 dealers it plans to shutter, as it shrinks to fit its smaller role in the global market.

G.M.’s restructuring is unlikely to go so smoothly. Many of G.M.’s creditors vehemently oppose the government’s plan to give them a 10 percent share of the company in exchange for debt worth some $27 billion while giving 39 percent to a fund run by the U.A.W. to cover obligations worth $10 billion.

The company must still slash labor costs further, and probably fire 20,000 additional workers. It wants to close hundreds of its dealerships. A bankruptcy process would be further complicated by G.M.’s sprawling global nature — and by the prospect that its subsidiaries might have to simultaneously file for bankruptcy in other countries.

Even assuming G.M.’s likely bankruptcy ends felicitously, the automaker will have to pull off the trick of becoming an entirely different company — one that can make fuel-efficient cars to serve a future of expensive energy and environmental strain and then persuade American consumers to buy them. It has little experience with either.

Culling the Hummer and launching the Chevy Volt won’t be enough. G.M. must swiftly pare its gas-guzzling truck and S.U.V. lines, which last year accounted for 11 of its 20 top-selling brands. It must accelerate development of gas-electric hybrids and other higher-technology cars. Pulling this off successfully could well require further help from Washington to coax drivers to pay the premium for fuel-efficient cars.

Fortunately, the government, the U.A.W. and G.M.’s new leadership all seem to get it. They share a broad vision of where the company needs to go. Pulling it off won’t be easy.

Plouffe warns of 'swiftboat' attacks on health reform

From THE HILL Sam Youngman

Days after President Obama and members of Congress said they were confident they can pass health care reform this year, Obama's former campaign manager warned supporters Saturday that opposing forces are lining up to "torpedo" the plan.

David Plouffe, the man who ran Obama's historic and ultimately successful run for the White House, wrote in a fundraising e-mail to Obama's massive supporter e-mail list that the same operatives behind the swiftboat campaign that helped end Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) quest to unseat President George W. Bush are regrouping to target Obama's healthcare efforts.

Rick Scott, who helped fund the swiftboat ads during Kerry's run, is helping to fund a new group that is targeting what he and some Republicans consider an effort by Obama to socialize medicine.

"As we speak, the same people behind the notorious 'swiftboat' ads of 2004 are already pumping millions of dollars into deceptive television ads," Plouffe wrote. "Their plan is simple: torpedo healthcare reform before it sees the light of day by scaring the public and distorting the president's approach."

In his e-mail through Organizing for American, Obama's semi-dormant campaign operation at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Plouffe asked supporters to donate money and organize to urge Congress to act on legislation.

"The swiftboaters are once again trying to sell the American people short," Plouffe wrote. "As during the election, we deserve a serious conversation -- not fear-mongering and deceit. You and I see the importance of healthcare reform every day."

Plouffe was spotted recently at the White House when his beloved Philadelphia Phillies were honored by the president for winning the World Series last year.

May Features on

1. H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
2. Postal Rate Increase
3. Popular Baby Names
4. Memorial Day – May 25
5. Older Americans Month
6. Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

1. H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find the most updated information and guidance about the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu).

The H1N1 Flu is believed to spread person-to-person, mainly through coughing and sneezing. To avoid becoming infected, or to avoid infecting others, CDC advises:
• Washing your hands often with soap and water.
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
• Staying home from work or school if you’re sick.
• Following public health guidance regarding closures, crowds, etc.

Influenza H1N1 (Gripe porcina)

2. Postal Rate Increase
Starting May 11, postal rates for one-ounce, First-Class U.S. stamps will go up to $.44 (from $.42). Visit USPS to review other postal rate changes.

Remember that you can always use the Forever Stamp without additional postage on standard one-ounce envelopes.

3. Popular Baby Names
Each year—right around Mother’s Day—the Social Security Administration releases the most popular baby names registered during the prior year.

Emily and Jacob have been in the #1 spot for several years. Check out the new listing for 2008 to see if Emily and Jacob are still the most popular girl and boy names in the United States, or if other names have broken their long-standing streak!

Lista de los nombres de bebés más populares

4. Memorial Day – May 25
Monday, May 25 is Memorial Day, a national American holiday dedicated to remembering those who’ve died in military service.

Visit’s Memorial Day page to learn about the holiday’s history; get safety tips on boating, swimming, and grilling; and much more.

In the spirit of unity and remembrance, please observe a moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time on Memorial Day.

5. Older Americans Month
Happy Older Americans Month! President John F. Kennedy designated the month of May as a time to recognize older Americans, who currently represent about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Seniors can find a range of government information and services on's Senior Citizens' Resources page, including:
• Caregivers’ Resources
• Health
• Housing
• Money and Taxes

Mes de los Estadounidenses de la Tercera Edad

6. Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
Learn more about the special contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders to America’s past, present, and future. You’ll find a range of resources on this topic, including images, audio, and video.

Visit the U.S. Census Bureau for interesting statistics about Asians in the U.S. You can find out which states have the largest Asian populations; see the median income of Asian families; and much more!

The right's tortured shell game

This week one thing became abundantly clear: Media conservatives want to talk about torture -- well, not really; they want to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for failing to stop the Bush administration's torture policies. You know, the policies conservatives contend worked great to keep us safe. Have trouble following their logic? That's sort of the point -- a shell game is designed to confuse the audience, forcing members of it to select the wrong shell and lose whatever money they've thrown on the table. There's little difference between that curbside gambling and what we're seeing now from conservatives.

In the process of focusing on what Pelosi and other congressional Democrats knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, as the GOP has advocated, some in the media have ignored evidence that the Bush administration began using the tactics in question before briefing congressional Democrats, and that upon learning of the techniques in 2003, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee expressed concerns to the CIA, but did not have the authority to force a change. Indeed, according to a May 2005 Bush Justice Department memo, following the Bush administration's authorization of the harsh interrogation techniques, CIA officials used one of the most controversial techniques, waterboarding, on Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002 -- before any congressional Democrats had been briefed on any of the tactics. According to the same Justice Department memo, CIA officials waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in March 2003 -- after Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) had reportedly raised concerns to the CIA about the techniques in February 2003.

As Chrystia Freeland, U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, said on MSNBC's Morning Joe, "[M]aking Nancy Pelosi into the big culprit of waterboarding is to move the spotlight to the wrong place." She's spot on, but that's just what we've seen this week.

In fact, Greg Sargent from The Washington Post Co.'s Plum Line blog detailed a crucial point about the ongoing Bizarro World coverage of the torture "debate" and how the forgotten issue of why the Bush administration OK'd the use of torture has morphed into a question about the credibility of Democrats. Wrote Sargent, "Multiple news accounts this morning report that Pelosi's credibility is in question after yesterday's press conference, in which she accused the CIA of lying about what they told members of Congress about the agency's use of torture. This theme was sounded by MSNBC, WaPo's Dan Balz, the New York Times write-up, and many others. That's as it should be. But I challenge you to find a news account that stated with equal prominence that the CIA's credibility is also in question."

To illustrate just how far off the deep end media conservatives have jumped, we need look no further than Fox News' Dick Morris -- master of the disingenuous -- who this week expressed his interesting opinion that Pelosi should "step down" because "it is in the best interest of the American people."

Morris wasn't alone. More and more, Fox News' attention to this story is beginning to look like an all-out campaign to boot the California Democrat from the speaker's chair.

The same day Morris made his comments, on America's Newsroom, Fox News contributor Andrea Tantaros stated, "I think the Democrats need to come out and call for her to tell the truth or resign, because she is really -- she's hurting her colleagues." When co-host Megyn Kelly asked Tantaros, "Is it that bad? Are we at the point where a resignation demand should be made?" Tantaros responded, "Absolutely. And I think her colleagues need to do it. I think they need to call for her to either come out, tell what she knew, when she knew it, testify. If they find her to be lying, then she needs to step down."

Additionally, on the next day's edition of America's Newsroom, Kelly asked Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of Pelosi: "[C]an she be held accountable, if indeed the American public believes that she lied, if the members of the House believe that she lied, and on top of lying, she then threw our CIA under the bus? What can be done to take away the speakership? What would be the procedure for that?" The same day, the supposedly unbiased Fox Nation, a Fox News website, also posted the headline "Watch Nancy Twist in the Wind: Is Her Speakership in Jeopardy?"

I see your question, Fox Nation, and I'll raise you one: "Will Fox News' incessant twisting of the truth in pursuit of Speaker Pelosi's scalp further call into question the right-wing cable network's journalistic integrity?" In a word, yes.

Other major stories this week:

How much is The Philadelphia Inquirer paying Bush's torture memo man?

So, President Bush's torture memo man John Yoo is now an Inquirer columnist. It's not really much of a surprise coming on the heels of the revelation that the Inquirer pays former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum $1,750 to write a quickie column, about five times the going rate for that kind of work. It does, however, leave us wondering how much the Inquirer must be paying Yoo.

The Philadelphia Daily News' Will Bunch this week broke the story that the Inquirer had signed a contract with Yoo to write a monthly column. Bunch wrote that the Inquirer offered Yoo a columnist spot despite his status as the "conservative legal scholar whose tenure in the Bush administration as a top Justice Department lawyer lies at the root of the period of greatest peril to the U.S. Constitution in modern memory."

Yoo earned the condemnation of Bunch and many others while at the Justice Department because he, in Bunch's words, "argued for presidential powers far beyond anything either real or implied in the Constitution -- that the commander-in-chief could trample the powers of Congress or a free press in an endless undeclared war, or that the 4th Amendment barring unreasonable search and seizure didn't apply in fighting what Yoo called domestic terrorism." Further, as Bunch pointed out, Yoo is best "known as the author of the infamous 'torture memos' that in 2002 and 2003 gave ... Bush and [former Vice President Dick] Cheney the legal cover to violate the human rights of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, based on the now mostly ridiculed claim that international and U.S. laws against such torture practices did not apply."

Bunch quoted editorial page editor Harold Jackson suggesting that at the time the contract was signed, the Inquirer did not fully grasp his record: "Of course, we know more about Mr. Yoo's actions in the Justice Department now than we did at the time we contracted him." But Jackson defended the Inquirer's decision, saying, among other things, according to Bunch: "Our readers have been able to get directly from Mr. Yoo his thoughts on a number of subjects concerning law and the courts."

But Yoo's May 10 column casts doubt on even that assertion -- in the piece, Yoo made statements on the issue of judges showing empathy inconsistent with the arguments he offered in the past. In the column -- which carried the byline "John Yoo Inquirer Columnist" -- Yoo denounced President Obama's stated intention to nominate a Supreme Court justice who demonstrates the quality of empathy. Specifically, Yoo quoted from Obama's 2007 statement that he would seek judges who possess the "empathy" to "recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African American or gay or disabled or old."

Deriding Obama's declaration of empathy as a key quality, Yoo wrote, "Obama ... now proposes to appoint a Great Empathizer who will call balls and strikes with a strike zone that depends on the sex, race, and social and economic background of the players. Nothing could be more damaging to the fairness of the game, or to the idea of a rule of law that is blind to the identity of the parties before it."

But Yoo was not nearly as negative about demonstrations of empathy by a judge when he described the reasoning behind the judicial decisions of Justice Clarence Thomas, for whom Yoo clerked. To the contrary, in a review of Thomas' 2007 memoir, My Grandfather's Son -- in which Yoo praised Thomas' "unique, powerful intellect" and commitment to "the principle that the Constitution today means what the Framers thought it meant" -- Yoo touted the unique perspective that he said Thomas brings to the bench. Yoo wrote that Thomas "is a black man with a much greater range of personal experience than most of the upper-class liberals who take potshots at him" and argued that Thomas' work on the court has been influenced by his understanding of the less fortunate acquired through personal experience.

Worse still, as Media Matters noted this week, Yoo's newspaper writing may not have always presented his actual "thoughts" or views: In a May 29, 2004, Wall Street Journal op-ed, Yoo made assertions that were later revealed to be highly misleading or at odds with legal memos he had written during the Bush administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

More conservatives bow to leader Limbaugh

Last weekend on CBS' Face the Nation, when asked where he stood on a recent spat between Rush Limbaugh and former Secretary of State Colin Powell over the future of the Republican Party, Cheney said, "Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think."

He wasn't alone. In the days that followed, a litany of conservative heavyweights lined up to support Cheney's take on the Limbaugh vs. Powell saga.

CNN political analyst and GOP consultant Alex Castellanos said, "I agree with the vice president. I'd pick Rush too." MSNBC's Pat Buchanan concurred, saying Limbaugh is "a better Republican" than Powell, while Fox News' Sean Hannity declared he "couldn't agree more" with Cheney.

Former Bush adviser and current Fox News commentator Karl Rove stuck it to Powell, concluding, "It's not a very comforting vision to say my vision for the Republican Party's future is for Rush Limbaugh to shut up."

Check out this YouTube video Media Matters put together in an attempt to highlight the latest round of right-wing Limbaugh ring-smooching.

Disturbing comments on Pelosi, Reid land CBS golf analyst in sand trap

Late last week, Media Matters noted that CBS golf analyst David Feherty, in an essay for a Dallas magazine wrote, "From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this, though: despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death."

In a statement to the press, Media Matters President Eric Burns responded: "Mr. Feherty's violent comments about Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are disgusting. Suggesting that our troops would attack the leaders of the very democracy they've sworn to sacrifice their lives for is an insult to their integrity, honor, and professionalism. CBS Sports should demand its golf analyst apologize to our soldiers."

By that evening, Keith Olbermann was naming Feherty the "Worst Person in the World" for suggesting that "any U.S. soldier" would kill Pelosi and Reid.

Over the weekend, CBS Sports senior vice president of communications LeslieAnne Wade issued a statement in response to the brewing controversy over Feherty's comments, stating, "While outside his work for CBS, David Feherty is a popular humorist, we want to be clear that this column for a Dallas magazine is an unacceptable attempt at humor and is not in any way condoned, endorsed or approved by CBS Sports." Pressure for an apology from Feherty mounted as the Associated Press ran a story that noted the golf analyst was coming "under sharp criticism" and the New York Daily News reported on the controversy under the headline "Shot at Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi lands CBS golf analyst in hot water."

By late Sunday evening, Feherty was apologizing to Pelosi and Reid for his disturbing comments, saying in a statement, "This passage was a metaphor meant to describe how American troops felt about our 43rd president. In retrospect, it was inappropriate and unacceptable, and has clearly insulted Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid, and for that, I apologize. As for our troops, they know I will continue to do as much as I can for them both at home and abroad."