Drowning in Pain and Anger

DDThere are times when words aren’t heard; their sense is lost, drowned in pain and anger. In our deafness, we only know how to blame. We have forgotten how to heal. We are no longer able to hear. The Sisyphean landslide has burnished and buried our ears’ common sense.

What should we be listening to? In America, the police and many citizens should be listening because American communities are not war zones; the police mission has no inherent right to kill in order to protect. Petty crimes should not involve the loss of life and should not be turned into confrontations and threats that lead to deaths.

Somebody should have been listening to a collective national consciousness of grief and anger that began to break through on the national stage with the death of Trayvon Martin; the death of the unarmed teen Jordan Davis, who never got out of the car through which the bullets entered as the car was speeding away; the death of Eric Garner in front of a Long Island store, whose death was ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office. There are other cases, lesser known, but well known in local communities.

There are grievances that are historic. In Ferguson, the Justice Department has been told of a 2009 beating by police in which the beating victim was charged with destruction of government property—because his blood spattered onto police uniforms.

Some have pointed to the lack of respect for law and authority that exists within these communities or in the minds of those killed. Few commentators talk about the lack of respect for these communities by police and others; where too often the risk management of police-suspect confrontation ends in death—often with the victim unarmed and dying from multiple bullet wounds. Continue reading Drowning in Pain and Anger

Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

StormyMondayAt the behest of Attorney General Eric Holder, the body of Michael Brown will be autopsied for a third time this week as federal and state investigations into his fatal shooting by police officer Darren Wilson continue. Tensions between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri showed little sign of abating over the weekend, despite Governor Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of a curfew.

The President is still in Washington for a previously announced interruption in his Martha’s Vineyard vacation with the family. The White House announced Sunday that he will receive a briefing from the Attorney General on the situation in Ferguson, and another from the National Security Council on Iraq. He’s scheduled to return to the Vineyard on Tuesday, barring the undeniable possibility that someone somewhere will do what the President would probably describe as “stupid shit.”

Rick Perry will be busy this week insisting to every friend and family member, fellow Texas Republican, probing reporter, and/or pizza delivery guy he encounters that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing despite last week’s grand jury indictment on two felony counts. In a hilarious appearance on Fox News Sunday, Perry claimed:

This is not the way we settle political differences in this country. You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.

Which I guess explains his vigorous efforts in 2011 to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, who favor Democrats, with a draconian voter ID law that, like Rick Perry, will soon be the subject of a court case.

In more than one sense of the term, Amanda Curtis hits the ground running this week as she begins an 11th-hour campaign to hold a Democratic Senate seat after incumbent John Walsh plagiarized himself out of the contest. Montana Democrats chose her over the weekend to replace Walsh, who was himself tapped to replace the mercifully retired Max Baucus. Curtis teaches high school math by day, and hasn’t yet secured a leave of absence from her school board for what virtually all observers consider to be a doomed campaign against Republican Steve Daines. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

Sunday Talks, 8/17/14

ABC’s This Week will cover the unrest in Ferguson, MO. Iraq War veterans Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)  will talk about US actions in Iraq. ABC News contributor and Democratic strategist . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 8/17/14

Paradise Lost

freehand“As above, so below,” says a venerable precept of esoteric thought. A modern addendum might be, “And it gets even worse farther down.”

By 121 votes, Republican Bob Beauprez won election to a House seat in the Colorado 7th in 2002. He was reelected in 2004. There were rumors of a Beauprez Senate run in 2008, but it never happened. This year, he’s challenging Democratic incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper, after losing the 2006 gubernatorial race to Hickenlooper’s predecessor, Bill Ritter. Beauprez can afford to indulge his electoral fetish, since profits from real estate development and a controlling interest in Heritage Bank have given him a net worth of an estimated $100 million. And he’s evidently convinced that he has something to contribute to the body politic. But what?

If you guessed intellectual acuity, guess again. In 2012, Beauprez was interviewed by Christian internet radio host Perry Atkinson, who raised the topic of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty then still in negotiation. That gave Beauprez an opening to yammer about “American sovereignty” and “individual liberty and freedom” and “our right to arm ourselves, especially as individuals.” None of it had anything to do with the UN treaty, of course, but Atkinson’s is an audience that clicks in just to have its confirmation bias legitimized, not to be “informed” in any generally accepted sense of the word. Beauprez obliged, claiming the treaty would “cede” sovereignty to the UN and restrict, if not destroy, 2nd Amendment rights, assertions that still echo throughout the cyber-right. He broadened his critique to describe the administration as “pushing the boundaries like none I think we have ever seen,” which even the laziest student of American history should be able to recognize as a fictional construct, and not even a clever one. He also said, “I hope and pray that… we don’t see another revolution in this country. I hope and pray we don’t see another civil war,” which in the context of the interview was as good as saying he hopes and prays for just that.

Which brings us to Paradise. Teddy Bear Paradise – a Texas woman whose parents had the good sense to name Denise – is now in custody after pleading guilty to threatening the President. It seems Ms Paradise sent him a letter saying she was going to kill him, something she later reiterated to the Secret Service.

Why does she want to do this? That’s not yet clear. Maybe she just flat-out hates the President for his skin color. Or his long-form birth certificate. Or just because he’s a Democrat. Maybe she’s dealing, unsuccessfully, with mental illness. Or maybe it’s all of the above, but whatever it is, I have absolutely no doubt that Denise O’Neal’s metamorphosis into Teddy Bear Paradise, would-be assassin, was “nourished” to some degree with an informational diet of rightwing radio shows like Perry Atkinson’s, and/or mind-numbing hours of Fox News, and/or the endless, acrid belching of Rush Limbaugh. And/or, just maybe, web destinations like A Line of Sight, an online stink tank helmed by none other than Bob Beauprez, featuring blog posts like “Obamacare killed my little sister” and “Revelations of CIA involvement with Benghazi Cover-up.”

The treaty Beauprez was so consternated over was signed by Secretary of State Kerry on behalf of the United States last September. At the signing ceremony, Kerry noted, “[W]e would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens, to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution.” The treaty has yet to be ratified by the Senate. It’s hard to believe, in the current political climate, that it ever will.

Beauprez was recently asked about his 2012 remarks by a Denver TV station, and commented: Continue reading Paradise Lost

Friday Talking Points [316] -- Dog Days

FTP3Welcome to the “Dog Days” of summer, at the height of the political Silly Season. This year, one dog did indeed have his day in August, as 7-year-old “Duke” just won a rather bizarre election to become mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota. The strangest thing (to us) was that the “12 people in the village each paid $1 to cast a vote.” Um, didn’t we make poll taxes illegal quite a while back? The job (and the election) are assumably only “ceremonial” (at least we hope so), but still “Dog Elected Mayor,” as a headline, is right up there with “Man Bites Dog.” As for Duke’s mayoralty, well, it’s a “Ruff!” job but someone’s got to do it, we suppose. So to speak (or roll over, or shake… good boy!)

In other news, dumping a bucket of ice water over your head is, apparently, now no longer reserved for winning football coaches, and has instead become an activity for the whole family to enjoy. Or something.

Two separate stories came out this week on — Gasp! — President Obama actually uttering profanity. In one, he called some criticism from opponents “horseshit,” and in another was quoted as saying what guides his foreign policy is a core idea: “Don’t do stupid shit” (although he reportedly cleans this up for public consumption: “Don’t do stupid stuff”). This last story was one of those shiny, shiny objects within the Beltway that the press (on a regular basis) chases after like a pack of rabid hounds, mostly since Hillary Clinton was the source of the quote and — Gasp! — her foreign policy stance is still (as it always has been) more hawkish than Obama’s. Somehow, this was what passed for “news” at the height of this year’s Silly Season.

Over at the Drug Enforcement Agency, some silliness was exposed this week. Or perhaps “rampant incompetence” is a better term, you decide. Seems they paid an Amtrak employee for confidential passenger information that they could easily have gotten for free. From the story:

The Amtrak inspector general’s office said the employee handed over the information “without seeking approval from Amtrak management or the Amtrak Police Department.” The report, released in June, said the company removed the worker from service and filed charges against the individual.

. . .

According to the report, the secretary provided D.E.A. agents with passengers’ “name reservation identification,” which can include travelers’ names, the names of people traveling with them, travel dates, seat numbers, credit card numbers, emergency contact information, baggage information, passport numbers, gender and date of birth.

Under an agreement with the D.E.A., the Amtrak Police Department provides such information for free in exchange for receiving a share of funds seized through resulting investigations. The report said D.E.A.’s purchase of the records deprived Amtrak police of money the department could have received by supplying the data.

This story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the news that any Amtrak passenger is essentially turning all their personal information over to the government (who knew?), and that the entire venture of arresting (assumably, it being the D.E.A.) drug smugglers is seen as a healthy profit-making operation by both the D.E.A. and Amtrak. But the “rampant incompetence” part is where they paid out taxpayer dollars for information they could have gotten for free. Yet another reason why the head of the D.E.A., Michele Leonhart, needs to be shown the door.

In other marijuana-related news, Oklahoma’s Republican governor has come out in favor of legalizing medicinal cannabis oil for sick children. She also expressed support for the state to conduct medical trials on its effectiveness. But she drew the line at legalizing any other medical marijuana. Perhaps her support for the oil was in response to the petition drive to put medicinal marijuana on the Oklahoma ballot (which is currently facing a deadline to collect signatures, but which is still short of the goal). Meanwhile, in Florida, the political fight over medical marijuana seems to be heating up. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [316] — Dog Days

Surround and Surrender

DDA favorite couplet of W.H. Auden explains much of the world’s confusion:

The situation of our time
Surrounds us like a baffling crime.

The confusion and crime is in the global circular firing squad which is supposed to function for political sanity. The one that insists everybody should be in, especially, its titular leader, the United States. US President Barack Obama is in disfavor because he won’t spend the dollars or spin the wheel to keep the rigged  roulette scheme turning out jackpots that widen the gap between rich and poor. A host of non-state conflicts see refugee populations growing, education disrupted for a generation of children, possessions lost, security and community dashed as civilians become the targets of violence financed by unseen sources.

Its secret fountain of supply is a global slosh of wealth that creeps into the mean to spread death and violence. Despite the intent of good works, wealth, even at its best, misplaces priorities.

Take Bill Gates. Ever in search of the perfect, waterless, composting, energy generating, germ-free toilet, he roams the world while an entire continent, Africa, does not manufacture medical supplies or drugs or infection control gowns—all important basic weapons needed to confront immediate, recurring threats of diseases with more devastating consequences to the social fabric that the lack of sewers in rural villages.*

Prof. Michael Hoffman explains a solar powered toilet that operates on less than 5 cents a day and generates electricity.

Prof. Michael Hoffman explains a solar powered toilet that operates on less than 5 cents a day and generates electricity.

I agree with his foundation’s statement that “Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year.” But many of those deaths can be prevented through education programs, combining sanitation with another top priority, learning, and getting effective results. Sanitation education would cover a wider range of habits and health conditions, for an even greater impact.

The Ebola outbreak highlights the extreme difference in priorities related to global health. Ebola is killing health professionals, daily diminishing the ranks of Africa’s skilled caregivers, not quickly trained or easily replaced, all for the want of simple infection protection gear—gloves, booties, gowns, masks. All imported.

A continent that is the home of many major contagious infections doesn’t have a stockpile infection gowns or a plant to met this basic need to save lives and reduce the spread of death among civilians and key personnel. Continue reading Surround and Surrender

Stormy Monday, 8/11/14

StormyMondayHostilities intensified over the weekend as assorted anti-American theocrats, terrorists and heavily armed extremists – Republicans, in other words – ratcheted up their rhetoric against President Obama’s latest efforts to help Iraq’s faltering government defeat Islamic State insurgents. If you opted not to spend part of Sunday watching foreign policy luminaries like John McCain and Peter King tell the nearest TV camera just what a mess the President has made of Iraq, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that they believe it’s a terrible mess indeed. Really terrible. Very terrible. Terribly terrible. What a refreshing change from the Bush era, when Republicans strenuously insisted that criticism of the Commander-in-Chief during wartime is inappropriate; nowadays they deem it inappropriate not to be screeching about every decision and announcement emanating from the Oval Office.

Reports began circulating Sunday evening of a coup attempt against Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki, who stated over the weekend that he will pursue a third term.

If that’s not quite ominous enough for you, there’s this: Laura Ingraham, of all people, is urging restraint in assessing the President’s handling of the situation in Iraq. “I don’t think you can judge how he did right now,” she said on Fox News Sunday. While there have been no other harbingers yet of imminent apocalypse, political commentators, theologians and Ingraham groupies are fretfully monitoring the situation.

The Obama family has begun a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The President will, however, take a break from his break with a return to Washington next Sunday for what has been cryptically described as “meetings,” before returning to the Vineyard the following Tuesday. Expect Congressional Republicans, currently enjoying their own five-week recess, to hit the airwaves Sunday to complain that the president can’t even vacation competently. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/11/14

Sunday Talks, 8/10/14

On ABC’s This Week retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, former commander of US and coalition forces in Mosul will discuss the crisis in Iraq. SIM medical missionary Dr. Frank Glover, Jr. and Robin Sanders, former . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 8/10/14

Friday Talking Points [315] -- Past, Present, and Future

FTP3We’ve got a lot to cover today (as that headline should evince), but before we begin examining the anniversaries, elections, and politics of the week, I’d like to begin instead by promoting a video.

Yes, this is unusual for me, since I normally favor the written word above multimedia showiness, but this is a noteworthy video of a very special song. The story of the Polish band Taraka, and how their song “Give Ukraine A Helping Hand” became an unofficial anthem of the Ukrainian people’s revolution earlier this year (which ran in my Wednesday column, as narrated by the band’s manager and producer) is an incredibly heartwarming one, which is why I wanted to draw attention to it here before getting on with the usual weekly snark-fest. The video which accompanies the English version of the song is powerful, and the song itself sends chills down the spine. I urge everyone to take three minutes and give it a listen. You won’t easily forget it.

My friends are falling, their memories are always with me
Darkness surrounds us, the stars above us are still clear,
Stand by me, your hopes and dreams will give me courage.
Ukraine is calling, so tell me will you care to hear?

Hear our voices in solitude they sorrow,
In our voices the promise of tomorrow
We made our choices, now bow our heads to pray
As a river, we’ll always find our way.

 

With that out of the way, let’s get on to politics back here at home. From the past, we had two important anniversaries this week. Noam Chomsky wrote a few days ago about the anniversary of the Enola Gay dropping the first atomic bomb (“Little Boy”) on Hiroshima, Japan, which happened 69 years ago this week. Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon addressed the nation to announce he would be resigning the presidency the next day (August 9, 1974) — the only time in American history this has happened. President Barack Obama also took the nation into the past today, as he announced the United States is dropping bombs on Iraq once again. That’s a pretty heavy-duty amount of the past to contemplate, in one week.

In the near future, America will be confronted with another slice of the recent past, as a Senate report on torture will soon be released to the public. The document to be made public is a shorter version of their full 6,000-page report, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (whose committee performed the review) is still fighting with the White House and the C.I.A. over what redactions are necessary before its release. Within the next few weeks, this is going to be big, big news.

If the news admits what it is, of course. There has long been a timidity in mainstream media to call torture “torture,” which some have been railing against for years. In a surprise pre-emptive move, the New York Times has now announced that it will indeed use the dictionary correctly, and call what is so obviously torture by its proper name, so perhaps other mainstream media will follow their lead, who knows?

In news from the present week, primary season keeps rolling along, and the midterm elections loom on the horizon (we’re under 100 days out from election day, folks). This has generated a whole lot of stories this week (although not as many from town halls as you might expect), so we’ll just whip through them in shorthand fashion.

For those keeping score at home, the Senate contests now stand at: “Establishment Republicans 6 — Tea Partiers 0.” The guy who posted x-rays of gunshot victims online with “amusing” comments was defeated in the Kansas primary. He wasn’t the only extremist to lose a contest this week. Also in the “Whew!” category: Victoria Jackson lost the minor political race she had jumped into.

One Tea Party guy did win a primary in Michigan, and then gave a notable victory speech where, rather than offer up bland words about his opponent, he instead ripped into the guy from the podium. In Mississippi, the Republican Party rejected calls from the Tea Party loser in the Senate race to just overturn the election results and hand him the nomination. Oh, and the guy that had previously made the claim that Thad Cochran had paid for black votes reversed himself and now says that the Tea Partier’s campaign actually gave him thousands of dollars to make up the claim. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [315] — Past, Present, and Future

Who Are the Top Five Fossil Fools in Illinois Politics?

WillinoisIllinois may be more famous for imprisoned Governors, but as a coal state struggling with its energy future, some of our politicians have wacky things to say about fossil fuels. With the threatened start of fracking plus backlash to EPA proposing new rules on carbon emissions, you can expect more foolishness to come.

Since election season is upon us, it’s a good time to review the top five politicians whose uninformed and outrageous statements make them the biggest fossil fools in Illinois this year (so far).

5) Representative Rich Brauer

Few things are more cringe-inducing in politics than an elected official supremely confidant in their display of ignorance. State Representative Rich Brauer was one of several politicians putting ignorance on display during debate on a bill to end the state’s coal education program. The taxpayer funded propaganda campaign misleads school children about coal and clean energy. It includes incredulous claims that coal is clean plus a poster drawing contest that encourages children to create their own advertising slogans.

Brauer defended this government indoctrination of children by arguing that adults need educating too. “Half our energy in this country comes from coal,” Brauer claimed. He thinks his fellow legislators need to learn that Illinois coal is cheap and clean!

Brauer is embarrassingly wrong on every point. Coal hasn’t provided half the nation’s power in years. It’s under 40% and falling.

Coal isn’t cheap. The last two coal plants built in Illinois resulted in significant rate increases. Cities and rural co-op investors in Peabody’s Prairie State coal plant were forced to raise rates up to 30%. An Illinois Commerce Commission study of the failed Tenaska coal gasification and carbon sequestration plant proposed in Taylorville, Illinois showed that, even after massive subsidies, it would have produced energy at costs significantly higher than renewable alternatives. Coal keeps the rates up.

And sure, coal is clean. As long as you don’t count out of control pollution violations at Illinois mines, fatal mine accidents, increased rates of cardiovascular disease and asthma attacks, and water contamination from coal ash disposal ponds. As long as you ignore all of those things that make coal dangerous and deadly at every stage of production, then sure, coal is clean.

Rich Brauer is right that adults in the legislature need better education about coal…starting with him.

4) Congressman John Shimkus

John Shimkus is a lifetime misachievement award winner for saying foolish things about climate change, such as his claim that more CO2 is good for the planet because it’s plant food. But what has he said for us lately?

What recently caught my attention, besides his lack of concern that his constituents live in flood prone regions of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, was his portrayal of the culture in coal country. He spoke about low-income communities where coal is the only source of jobs. He mentioned his grandfather working at mines starting at only 10 years of age. My great-grandfathers worked at Illinois and Indiana coal mines so I understand the tradition.

There are some aspects of America’s culture we choose to leave behind. Slavery is one. Genocide of Native Americans is another. The history of forcing families in coal country to choose between starvation or sending children as young as 10 years old to work in a place where death is commonplace is one of those legacies best left in the past. Coal country has prouder traditions to celebrate, including organized labor’s resistance to coal companies exploiting desperate communities.

Coal country is better served by leaders who help create more opportunities, not by industry boosters like Shimkus who want coal to be our last and only option.

3) Representative Brandon Phelps

State Representative Brandon Phelps hates outside energy interests influencing politics in his district. Echoing the bellyaching of southern reactionary politicians upset about “outside agitators” in the 50′s, he accuses constituents in his southern Illinois district who are opposed to fracking of being “outsiders.”

Of course, he doesn’t mind outsiders so much when out of state energy companies are writing checks to his campaign fund. What I suspect he minds even less is the interesting way he spends their money.

Phelps collected tens of thousands in campaign contributions from the energy sector while the fracking law was being negotiated behind closed doors. Contributions in his latest report include $2,500 from Texas-based Dynegy, $5,000 from Missouri-based Foresight Energy, $1,500 from Mid American Energy Holdings Company, which is now Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway, and others. Exxon Mobil makes an annual donation as well. Clearly, Phelps takes no issue with outside energy interests, as long as they’re fossil fuel polluters donating to his campaign.

He hasn’t had an opponent in several election cycles but he manages to find ways to spend his campaign fund. His amended quarterly reports show thousands of dollars spent on car payments, out-of-district bar tabs, luxury hotel stays, and payments to staff even during non-election years.

His most recent quarterly report includes $2,386.88 in car payments. He spent $1,334.37 on multiple visits to Boone’s Saloon, a Springfield bar popular with the legislative session crowd. $628.00 went to unspecified tickets purchased from Fox Sports in St. Louis, presumably the venue that hosts various sporting and concert events.

His report for the previous quarter includes similar car payments. Plus, three payments to American Airlines for travel totaling $1,922. A more modest $187.75 went to Boone’s Saloon this time, but his totals at other Springfield hangouts include $1,809.19 at Sebastian’s Hideout, a combined $342 for “food” on three different trips to Two Brother’s Lounge, a divey downtown bar that doesn’t serve food, and $154.00 for a meeting at J.P. Kelly’s bar, which doesn’t serve food either. In Chicago he dropped $1,255.59 at Centro Restaurant. While attending the NRA Shot Show he spent nearly $5,000 to stay at the Venetian Palazzo luxury hotel in Las Vegas.

I could continue with previous reporting periods that pile up similar spending. Phelps’ district includes Alexander County where the per capita annual income is $14,222, the lowest in Illinois.

Phelps’ support for fracking has attracted a Green Party opponent who he’s trying to have removed from the ballot. I can understand why Phelps would like to avoid giving voters a choice. He might be forced to spend more of those dirty energy donations on actual campaign expenses. Continue reading Who Are the Top Five Fossil Fools in Illinois Politics?