Stormy Monday, 7/28/14

StormyMondayMonday, at long goddamned last, the travesty that is the Department of Veterans Affairs might be moved a giant step closer to getting fixed, when a joint Congressional committee announces its roadmap to reform. Among a number of major changes, largely at the instigation of co-chair Senator Bernie Sanders, the committee is expected to recommend a significant  increase in funding for additional medical professionals, something likely to cause some Congressional Republicans to balk, given how they much prefer throwing borrowed trillions at creating wounded veterans rather than, you know, spending millions to treat them.

Encouragingly, over 100 House members co-signed a letter last week requesting Congressional leadership to keep both houses in session past the scheduled August recess if a bill hasn’t been completed. The other 335 or so were too busy packing their flip-flops and sunscreen, presumably.

Well, it’s now “official,” or at least as “official” as anything emanating from CNN can be. Their breathless new poll shows that if the 2012 election were held today, Mitt Romney would best Barack Obama 53% to 44%. Interestingly, though equally fictionally, the other 3% of voters would divide their benighted ballots among (in no particular order) George W. Bush, Thomas Dewey, Lyndon LaRouche, Rush Limbaugh, Ross Perot and Ted Nugent. While I won’t be sharing my raw data anytime soon, trust me, that conclusion is rigorously scientific. Just like the CNN-ORC International poll was. Of course, the election of 2012 was actually held in – surprise! – 2012, and Mitt Romney, deservedly, now resides in the “where are they now” file. Just like CNN does, come to think of it.

California Governor Jerry Brown heads to Mexico Monday for three days of meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and later with various Central American leaders, as the migrant children crisis continues to develop. Meanwhile, Texas fathead Senator John Cornyn predicts that a “skinnied-down” bill to provide emergency border funding could pass this week, “skinnied-down” being fathead Cornynese for “starved for funds” or “useless” or “c’mon, now, we got us an August recess to get to.”

With 100 days remaining until the mid-terms, Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted over the weekend that November 4 would be a “wave” election for his party. And with 99 days remaining until the mid-terms at time of writing, I predict Greg Walden will be job-hunting beginning November 5. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/28/14

Illinois Newspaper Gives Up on Journalism, Bends Over for Oil & Gas Industry

WillinoisThe Southern Illinoisan has a long-running competition with the Belleville News-Democrat over which Illinois newspaper has the strongest bias in favor of the coal industry. So I was pleasantly surprised last year when I saw the Southern Illinoisan doing good reporting on the fracking issue, even giving frequent voice to the opposition. That changed.

A recent article in the Southern is so ridiculous, so over the top misleading, it looks like they’ve given up on doing real journalism about fracking.

Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) sent out a press release last week full of facts and figures on worker safety problems in the fracking industry. Illinois’ weak fracking law doesn’t address the problem. The Southern first responded with an article that gives more space to defensive responses from industry supporters than it does to citing facts and studies. That showed bias, but you won’t believe what they published next!

The Southern ran an article titled “Fracking workers: It’s safe, it’s good” with anecdotal stories from two workers in the industry who have witnessed non-fatal accidents at fracking sites in North Dakota. There was no mention of the fact that North Dakota now has the highest rate of deadly workplace accidents, thanks largely to the fracking industry.

The article is no different than running anecdotal stories about two heavy smokers who lived past age 90 and failing to mention studies linking cigarettes to cancer. If it didn’t hurt those two it must be safe, right? It’s not journalism. It’s propaganda.

Maybe tomorrow the Southern will feature an article about two people who haven’t been in deadly traffic accidents, so clearly all roads must be perfectly safe! Don’t worry about those pesky rumors and studies on how many people die in auto accidents each year.

The Southern published good coverage of issues related to fracking for a while. I’ve watched as their bias has grown more obvious. When hundreds of people attended the two southern Illinois public hearings on fracking, they scrubbed any mention of the repeated calls by multiple members of the public for non-violent civil disobedience to stop the industry. When Josh Fox spoke to a crowd of over 600 locals, they did no follow-up story at all. Continue reading Illinois Newspaper Gives Up on Journalism, Bends Over for Oil & Gas Industry

Sunday Talks, 7/27/14

On ABC’s This Week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) will be discussing the efforts (what efforts, pray tell?) to resolve the border crisis. The roundtable, with ABC News contributor and Democratic . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 7/27/14

Friday Talking Points [313] -- Prelude To Silly Season

FTP3Planes have been dropping out of the sky at an alarming rate recently. I don’t know what portents such omens signify, but the media certainly has had no lack of videos of debris fields to show, that’s for sure.

Back in Washington, we have one week to go before the opening of “Silly Season 2014,” an annual event brought on by hordes of political reporters scrambling around, devoid of actual stories, while Congress is away on its six-week vacation. What will the main Silly Season story become, for pundits to endlessly obsess over this August? Your guess is as good as mine. Several candidates have already popped up (“Hey, let’s all talk about impeachment!” for starters), but perhaps some lonely town hall meeting (with some hapless member of Congress) somewhere in the hinterlands will provide the fodder for this year’s Silly Season obsession — hopefully, with an epic rant caught on video!

But before we get there, Congress actually has one more week of “work” scheduled. They’ve got a lot on their plate, and it’s looking like nothing much will get accomplished. “Border crisis!” was the rallying cry a few weeks ago, but the House can’t agree on anything to do to fix it, so they’ll likely not manage to pass anything. Likewise, few expect any action on immigration reform itself. The only thing the House may accomplish is to vote to go ahead and sue President Obama. Such is the state of modern politics. Call it fear of legislating.

House Republicans face a very basic conundrum on the border crisis. Two of their bedrock beliefs are clashing with each other, which is why they can’t agree on any concrete plan. You see, when you want government to do something that you consider worthwhile, you actually have to pay for it. Need more Border Patrol agents? It costs money. More fences? More money. Waiting time for judicial hearings too long? That can be fixed, but it’s going to cost money. However, Republicans believe that smaller government is always better, and budgets should always be cut, not increased. Which is why they’re in such a bind on the border. They really want to live in a magical world where spending less on a problem solves it faster. Since reality doesn’t work like this, they can’t agree on any plan to address the problem. Instead, the House Republicans collectively are going to have a sort of nervous breakdown. That’s what’s on schedule for next week, at any rate.

In hopefully-unrelated news, a Republican staffer was arrested for bringing a handgun to work. Representative Tom Marino’s press secretary is being charged with a felony, and has been placed on unpaid leave in the meantime.

Out in Kentucky a very Republican town came up with a novel idea to fight high gas prices: open a government gas station! That is some original thinking, as we’ve never before heard of such a tactic being used in this fashion by an American town. The town of Somerset is near a popular recreational lake, and the gas stations in town apparently upped their prices to fleece the tourists. Locals weren’t amused. They now seem delighted with the mayor’s plan to sell gas with only a small markup to cover costs — the town is explicitly not trying to make a profit. Local gas station owners aren’t happy, and are calling the move “socialism,” so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Perhaps more towns will consider the idea, especially after hearing how delighted this town’s customers/constituents are.

Republican hawks got a slap in the face this week, as the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that before President Obama sends any more troops to Iraq, he should consult Congress. Since Congress is unlikely to approve, this was a strongly anti-war vote, with a very bipartisan 370-40 split.

Paul Ryan is attempting to address poverty, once again. What he’s really doing is trolling the media to write “compassionate conservative” columns about him (which, so far, doesn’t seem to be working very well), to bolster his chances to get the Republican presidential nomination.

Let’s see, what else? The chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court wrote some astonishing things about capital punishment this week, stating that using drugs to execute people is “a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful” when in fact they are “brutal, savage events” which should not be masked in any way. “I’ve always thought that executions should be executions — not medical procedures,” the judge told the Associated Press. His answer? Firing squads. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [313] — Prelude To Silly Season

Bombs, Beds and Benefits

DDBad, bad stuff going round. A dangerous mystique. Macabre riddles and atomized vapors of blood. Thieving from the dead. Justifications without prayers. Turning the smiling children back to the vipers nest. Turning the rivers into toxic stew. Paying billions for doubling down on cheating and walking away free. Dropping the no-knock tradition of bombing to provide five minutes of pre-terror before the incoming kills the noncombatant outgoing, the grandmothers and their grandchildren. Strikes at invisible, unseen weapons and munitions that never go off—are we too stupid to have common sense? Where are the secondary implosions? Only dead civilians exploding. Only the dead silenced. The lies go on. Like drones. Mid-air explosions. Loud. They hurt our ears and brains. Bad stuff: death, lies, and theft. The wholesale breach of universal taboos.

In 8th grade algebra we learned about proof. If you make a statement, it must withstand questioning and challenges, it cannot be veiled in secret pretenses without transparent evidence. On C-SPAN, I watched an ambassador’s blithe disregard for these ancient conventions and modern principles: trust his country, he cooed; they have the goods; we don’t, nor will we be informed—but proof is evidence of logic’s action and reaction; if you blow up munition stashes, secondary explosions happen; if you fire rockets from dense urban neighborhoods whose rumble now makes passage impossible, how do you do so without neighbors protesting the stupidity of a tactical senseless risk; how do you get munitions in and out of these dense population centers, now collapsed heaps of rubble; where are the photographs, the evidence; the fire trails released in the videos of the opposing forces don’t show launches from the middle of civilian neighborhoods.

Why have only neighborhoods been taken out—warned by “the knock,” an unarmed thud on the roofs announcing the coming doom of fire and destruction; informed by dropped leaflets—are leaflets dropped on sites of viable military targets: are tunnels blown up above ground, and where are the secondary explosions, the fireworks that mark the site of a struck cache. How come there is 100 % accuracy with the dome of missile intercepts without knowing the place or time of missiles launched, and 0 % targeting and destroying of the sites and mechanics of the launches?

Is the air game for the country that suffered no causalities in its defense or from missile attacks for 10 days that much better than its ground game? Where’s the evidence that offers proof? That shows the world why neighborhoods have to been destroyed. Are these military targets? If we can be shown the destruction in the air and on the ground, can’t we see the proof?

Rattlesnakes, immoral smugglers, dehydration, and personal risk have not been able to achieve a goal near to the hearts of many of America’s citizens: turning back the cavalcade of children landing on our shores of sagebrush plains, now guarded by the National Guard whose mission is “greet and hold,” and to facilitate federal law. A deterrent force? No. But better than the current police departments around the country that have launched their own killing sprees, acting as invincible vigilantes.

It was Ramadan when the war began. At least one mosque has been blown up. It hoarded no weapons. At home, some think a bed and a 1,500 calorie meal is a greater incentive to come to America than hope and promise. They are foolish. Motivation is never about bread alone. Freedom fighters who steal from the dead they have mistakenly killed give Marx and Mao a legacy of despicable corruption; yet no one has asked if all Russians rob their dead. But the children are stereotyped as beggars of bread.

I remember the first time I saw an injured person robbed. A homeboy got hit by a car crossing the street and before the ambulance and paramedics could come, folk emptied his pockets and stripped his feet of shoes. Continue reading Bombs, Beds and Benefits

Stormy Monday, 7/21/14

StormyMondayMonday, the President will sign two executive orders aimed at eliminating discrimination against gay and transgendered government and contract workers, an action which the Administration claims will affect (positively) up to 28 million members of the United States workforce. But, you know, it’s not like there’s a dime’s worth of difference between the parties or anything…

Ed Miliband, leader of Britain’s Labour Party – you know, that party whose credibility war criminal Tony Blair pretty much destroyed over the lamentable 13 years of his “leadership” – arrives in Washington Monday for a roundtable at DC’s Center for American Progress, and, perhaps, a meeting with President Obama. Miliband currently employs former Obama inner circle mainstay David Axelrod, while former Obama adviser Jim Messina is working on behalf of Prime Minister David Cameron, with an election looming next year. Hope versus change? Change versus hope?

The House Veterans Affairs Committee convenes Thursday to remind acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson what a horrible human being he is, working for a horrible White House and a horrible President. Then the majority Republican members will pose the musical question: Why can’t we just go back to the Bush years, when our veterans were honored by being forced to do unreasonably multiple tours of duty in two wars of choice, even as their benefits were being cut and the “President” couldn’t be bothered to show up at Dover when the corpses came home by the thousands?

Monday, Sgt. Ryan Pitts receives the Medal of Honor for his role in fighting off a July 2008 Taliban attack in Wanat, Afghanistan. He was seriously wounded during the battle, which resulted in nine dead and 27 wounded in his unit; a fellow soldier notes that Pitts, now retired from the military, is still “peppered with shrapnel.” Pitts says he will accept the medal not as a personal accolade, but to honor fallen comrades-in-arms. In a recent interview, he said: Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/21/14

Harry Truman, Obama and Thomas Frank's Disillusionment

WillinoisThomas Frank has an interesting column in Salon that typifies the cynical view of Obama by speculating what his Presidential Library might look like.

Republicans in Congress want to make sure President Obama takes the blame for their obstruction. Thomas Frank helps them out by presenting the Jed Bartlett version of the Presidency. On the TV show West Wing, President Bartlett can accomplish anything by pounding on his desk and giving an inspiring speech. It’s a romantic, but childishly unrealistic version of how government works. When Republicans obstruct, according to this view of the Presidency, we should pin the blame on Obama for not being an imaginary character on television.

After some mind reading about Obama’s bad intentions, Frank recommends:

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress.

Actually, Obama has done both of those things. He has relentlessly campaigned for a second stimulus jobs bill and has talked about economic issues from a progressive viewpoint non-stop.

When politicians say something conservative, Fox and talk radio act as an echo chamber. It helps those ideas spread and become accepted as mainstream. When Obama says something progressive, much of the cynical pundit left help the corporate press by ignoring it. The progressive blogosphere often acts as a muffler on good, progressive statements by Obama instead of an echo chamber. I haven’t figured out how it helps advance progressive ideas to ignore when a sitting President espouses them.

For example, has anyone noticed how many times Obama called to end oil industry subsidies, including in major addresses to Congress? Probably not, since most progressive pundits have joined the corporate-owned press in ignoring those calls.

We’ve had another President in the same situation as Obama who did exactly what Frank suggests: Harry Truman. President Truman advanced an aggressive civil rights and economic agenda that would have made him one of the most successful Presidents in American history, rivaling FDR. Few people know about that agenda because almost all of it was blocked by an obstructionist Republican Congress. We remember Truman’s accomplishments that didn’t require Congressional action instead, like desegregating the military.

“Give ‘em Hell” Harry gave speeches more aggressively partisan than Obama. He coined the term “Do-nothing Congress.” When Republicans published a reasonable agenda in their convention platform, Truman called a special session of Congress to demand they pass it. What a great stunt! It’s just what Thomas Frank is calling for. And none of it worked. The Constitution still places severe limits on Presidential power when people elect a lousy Congress.

The big problem with Frank’s essay is that, by identifying the wrong problem, he points us toward the wrong solution. The implication is that we need to look for a better Presidential savior who will make change happen by giving just the right fist-pounding speeches. That’s a fruitless, counterproductive expectation.

Two important things separated this time in history from the eras that passed the Great Society programs and the New Deal. FDR and LBJ had two things Obama doesn’t:
1) A super-majority in Congress.
2) Aggressive mass movements pressuring Congress and the President to do more.

Those are two things in our power to change. Obama almost had those two factors during his first two years and managed to pass the largest expansion of the safety net since LBJ, and the largest regulation of the financial sector since the New Deal. Continue reading Harry Truman, Obama and Thomas Frank’s Disillusionment

Friday Talking Points [312] -- Democrats' 'Middle Class Jumpstart' Agenda

FTP3The media, quite obviously, is currently in a frenzy. Actually, two frenzies, since they’ve now got two wars to cover, one of which has provided shots of a grisly plane crash. This all meant that a lot of oxygen was sucked from the normal political news scene, meaning this week’s column will be somewhat abbreviated. Both wars didn’t really impact America all that much, so there’s not a lot to add to the media cacophony on either one, to put this another way. The biggest political event of the week (for Democrats, at any rate) was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats rolling out a new campaign agenda — the “Middle Class Jumpstart” — in the tradition of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.” But we’ll have much more on this later, as we’re turning over the whole talking points portion of the program to this rollout. In other Democratic campaign agenda news, Carl Gibson of the Huffington Post wrote a great article which starkly lays out the difference between two states that charted separate ideological budgetary paths during the recession: Kansas and California. In a nutshell, Kansas decided to massively cut taxes and California not-so-massively raised taxes on the wealthiest. The result? California’s economy (and budget) is now almost fully recovered, and the Kansas economy is now in the toilet. Kansas saw its incoming revenues plummet, and their bond rating was downgraded as a result. This is one of the best evidence-based articles on the aftermath of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and is well worth reading in full. The annual liberal blogger/activist Netroots Nation conference is happening this week, but sadly we decided not to attend, so we have no news from Detroit for you (sorry about that). The Senate effectively got within three votes of essentially overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a wonderful piece on the issue this week, as well. The House — astonishingly — actually passed a much-needed bill to continue funding highway and infrastructure projects, even if it was nothing more than another short-term stopgap bill. Hey, a stopgap is better than stopping the government, right? This should be seen as a clear victory for the Establishment Republicans over the Tea Party, it’s worth mentioning. In funny candidate news, Republican Scott Brown verbally tripped over his carpetbag, once again. Hey Scott, it helps when running for office to remember what state you’re actually in! Ask any rock star, they’ll tell you the crowd does indeed notice when you blow this line. Heh. In Arizona, a Republican congressional candidate was trying to fan the flames of the immigration issue, but instead wrongly identified a busload of Y.M.C.A. campers as Central American children. Whoops! In Kentucky, voters have a fake Senate candidate to consider: Gil Fulbright. His ad his hilarious, and starts with:

Hi, I’m Gil Fulbright. The people who run my campaign, they’ve made this commercial — and I’m in it. This campaign — it’s not about me, it’s about crafting a version of me that will appeal to you. A version that visits random worksites with paid actors pointing at things. A version of me that doesn’t find old people loathsome or pointless.

The people behind the effort are making a strong point about money in politics, and doing so in a very funny way, we have to say. Not-as-fake (but still pretty laughable) candidate Thomas Ravenel is running for Senate down in South Carolina. He’s not only been on reality television, but he’s also been previously convicted of drug trafficking. I don’t think Lindsey Graham’s very worried, personally. Speaking of politicians (well, “ex-politicians”) and drugs, there are some highly amusing photos of Tom Tancredo joshing around with some legal marijuana in Colorado, if you haven’t yet seen them. Which brings us to the week’s weed news. Sam Tracy has a great summary of the most-important legislative marijuana news of the week (which is worth checking out) up on Huffington Post, if you’re interested in more detail. Washington, D.C. is still locked in a struggle with Congress over decriminalization, and the White House weighed in strongly on the local government’s side. A unanimous decision was just announced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that new sentencing standards for non-violent federal drug offenses will actually be applied retroactively — which could give tens of thousands of prisoners shorter sentences to serve. And, finally, a research scientist at the University of Arizona was just fired — coincidentally, right after she received federal approval to study marijuana’s effect on P.T.S.D. in returning soldiers. She describes herself thus: “I am a lifelong Republican, and I am very conservative.” But that hasn’t stopped plenty of liberals from supporting her, by signing a petition to get her reinstated in her job. As of this writing, there are close to 32,000 signatures on the petition, so why not take a minute and add yours to the list? Continue reading Friday Talking Points [312] — Democrats’ ‘Middle Class Jumpstart’ Agenda

Republican Obstruction Gives Way to Reduction

DDAlong with Republican obstructionism, add another wedge-based, ideological power tool: reductionism. Reduce every incident of the magnitude of the world’s greatest tragedies to a simple formula of failure and lay them neatly at the President’s feet.

In the Republican playbook, reductionism is a call to action; it focuses on President Obama as the enemy-in-chief; at once inept and over-reaching, an indecisive President making too many decisions, a weak President who has preserved America’s peace, a budget-cutter who spends too much, a President who ignores Congress after spending an entire term seeking a Grand Bargain with the Republican Speaker; an international leader who has squandered America’s leverage even as his policies of international sanctions are working; a leader who doesn’t understand and stifles businesses and finance, even as his Justice Department settles a civil case against a global behemoth of a bank for violations of the laws of business practices, settling for $7 billion, $2.5 billion of which will go to assist mortgage holders, with $180 million used to build affordable housing, the first time fees from government penalties will go to taxpayers.

Reduction presents a simple fact as it engages in massive distortions of the truth. True, no President in history has experienced or overseen the kind of humanitarian crisis involving children along the US southern border as Obama has, but no President has improved the US image as a beacon of hope to attract a pilgrim’s journey of thousands of children threatened by death and violence, by sexual exploitation by national gangs of drug thugs who hold power through force and intimidation in several Central American nations.

Reductionism ignores causes and settles on blame. Often without more than the appearance of evidence based on circumstances and without proof.

Reductionism is the exception that denies it’s the exception; it makes victims out of people who are then blamed as victims. It’s a double-edged sword that cuts both the leadership and the people: health care costs are rising—Obama’s fault—yet lazy workers are waiting on a handout—healthcare is affordable if you are willing to work.

Can’t find a job? Your fault. Obama’s fault.

Other reasons? Nope. The above sums it up. Well, add too many taxes on business, too much noise about higher wages, fears of inflation, too much regulation in every business sector, too much interference in what should be the rights of the states.

Reductionism works best in an atmosphere of anger. Much of the racial opposition to Obama has been reduced to anger, anger waiting to attach itself to a cause that supports its cherished conclusions of power, privilege and competence. Reductionism docks with that anger. Both are then gravity-fed by high-pressure blame. Continue reading Republican Obstruction Gives Way to Reduction

Stormy Monday, 7/14/14

StormyMondayAfghanistan has begun an audit of all ballots cast in its infamous June 14 presidential runoff, following white-knuckle weekend negotiations in Kabul refereed by Secretary of State Kerry. The audit process is expected to take weeks. Despite supervision by an international team of monitors, further allegations of cheating and corruptions leveled by the Abdullah and/or Ghani factions won’t be even mildly surprising. It’s taken nearly 13 years, but we’ve finally succeeded in altering Afghanistan from a totalitarian theocracy into, well, Florida.

Kerry has now pivoted to meetings in Vienna aimed at salvaging negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions ahead of next Sunday’s deadline for an accord. Happily, he was also able to make time for a photo op with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, to aver what “great friends” the two nations are, despite continuing fallout from revelations that one of the great friends has been spying on the other. Revelations notwithstanding, you can bet the spying has been mutual and will continue to be so, but probably a little more clandestine in future.

Perhaps Kerry can spare time for a trip to Ireland to quell another international crisis in the making. Garth Brooks, ready to hit the comeback trail, was booked to play five concerts at Dublin’s Croke Park later this month, but Dublin city council would only agree to grant permits for three, prompting the singer to cancel all of them. Disappointed fans have mounted protests, and Ticketmaster has now put a hold on refunds until Thursday, as negotiations between Brooks and the city continue.

Wednesday, the House Rules Committee sits down at 10:00 a.m. to mull over a draft resolution “providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President inconsistent with his duties under the Constitution of the United States.” The resolution is crucial to the next phase of Speaker Boehner’s ongoing attempt to make himself into the most embarrassing Washington laughingstock since Wilbur Mills.

Also on Wednesday, teabagging Senator-wannabe Chris McDaniel will hold a press conference to announce his next moves, after claiming last week that he’s unearthed 8,300 “questionable ballots,” a number which – if accurate – would more than erase the 7,667-vote win by Thad Cochran in last month’s runoff. I’m no Jeane Dixon, but I’m pretty confident that his next moves will involve petulance, paranoia, hyperbolic accusations, and a whole crawfish boil full of lawsuits. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/14/14