In the mighty vigilance of the national news media to cover the important stories that shape our world, the events of war and peace, from battles to meetings, big diplomatic stories taking place in the open are sometimes missed.
For example, where in the world is House Speaker John Boehner? How is he spending the Congressional recess? Boehner organized a junket for himself and a few loyal House members on key foreign affairs, military, and defense committees. They hopped a plane and flew off to the Middle East.
But not before, on March 26th, the man third in line for the Presidency continued his international lyceum series by inviting Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to speak to a joint session of Congress on April 29th. Boehner’s office released this statement:
“As the United States continues to strengthen our ties with Japan, we look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Abe to the United States Capitol. His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities. That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade. Prime Minister Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress, and we are proud to host this historic event.”
The third in line is acting like a co-President for foreign policy. Boehner, ever the patriot, is fuzzy on the looming details of another important Abe speech, his carefully watched remarks in August about Japan’s role in World War II regarding the use by Japan of Asian women as sex slaves, as “comfort women” for its troop force. Abe has at times signal he might revise an earlier apology by a former Prime Minister. US veterans groups, including those concerned with prisoners of war, are demanding Abe recant and clarify his views and his controversial earlier statements about Japan’s war role before he speaks to Congress.
For Abe, Boehner’s invitation has intensified the domestic debate over the impending speech. Politicians and others want to revise Japan’s role in the world and reject the constitution put in place as a part of the peace.
Some Japanese conservatives now claim “charges” of Japan’s forcible use of Asian women as sex slaves in wartime military brothels are “fabricated in South Korea.” Others say the Japanese constitution implemented after World War II deprives Japan of its sovereignty and military. Their view of World War II is that Japan fought a war of self-defense.
In his effort to tighten the stakes of the brinkmanship of embarrassment with President Obama, Speaker Boehner has raised added tensions for Prime Minister Abe in Asia, created protests by US veterans groups, increasing the scrutiny Abe’s speech to Congress and his August remarks will be given by China, South Korea and other Asian countries, and stirring up domestic dissent by conservatives who want former Japanese cabinet secretary Koon’s remarks of apology revised and will watch closely for how Abe positions Japan in relation to the US. The invitation resonated in and outside of Japan and has the potential to reawaken historic animosities.
After extending another invitation to a foreign leader that has the potential to disturb the balance of power and diplomacy in Asia and within Japan’s domestic affairs and cause Japan’s external relations to suffer, Boehner exited the country for the Middle East.
Why is John Boehner traveling to the Middle East with a large Congressional delegation to meet with the Saudi foreign minister in Riyadh? Who cooked up this foreign visit in the middle of the legislative term while House Republicans are splintering into dysfunctional special interests, with chasms so wide that ordinary bills descend into dark holes from where they cannot be retrieved? Has Boehner become King? The Imperial Speaker? The white Dauphin? The White Shadow? Continue reading The Boehner Invitation to Japan and His Current Visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel
Nearly half of Illinois voters oppose fracking, according to a new poll by the Simon Institute. The statewide poll reveals 48.6% oppose fracking while only 31.8% believe it should be encouraged, even if there are economic benefits. Opponents outnumber supporters an all regions of the state, including downstate where fracking is promoted as a jobs plan.
The numbers reinforce that fracking is one of the issues which cost Governor Pat Quinn support among Democrats and independents in his losing re-election campaign. Illinois Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose fracking with 61.9% against and 19.7% in favor. Independents oppose it as well, with 48.3% against and 30.6% in support.
Any Illinois candidate looking for support from young voters should stand against fracking. A whopping 74% of 18-24 year-olds don’t want it.
A solid 54% majority of Chicago residents are opposed. That’s a bad sign for Rahm Emanuel who claims his aggregation deal is a clean energy victory, even though it powers Chicago with natural gas from the Marcellus shale fracking fields.
An election analysis released in January by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute identified low turnout among Democrats, and downstate opposition as reasons for Governor Pat Quinn losing re-election. During the campaign Quinn faced protests against his support for fracking, and as this poll shows, his position is unpopular among the Democratic base. With neither candidate for Governor taking a position against fracking, it left little reason for concerned voters to show up on election day.
There’s no issue for which politicians and lobbyists in the statehouse bubble are more out of touch with Illinois voters than on fracking.
After a bill to regulate and launch fracking passed the Illinois legislature, industry lobbyists launched a campaign to portray opponents as a tiny fringe. Overwhelming public outcry against fracking at public hearings provided a reality check. A few accommodating statehouse green groups helped reinforced the false impression that regulation is a consensus middle ground. The Simon poll shows industry claims that fracking opposition is limited to a small group are outrageously false. Continue reading Illinois Poll Shows Strong Opposition to Fracking
Mouse: Hi, Grumpy. It’s been a while since we talked.
Grumpy: Yes, it has been a few weeks. I was afraid the cheese I saved for you would spoil! Glad to have you back.
Mouse: I’ve been serving on a jury. When I got the postcard notice that I was selected for jury duty, I cringed. Hated the thought, absolutely hated it. But I called to see if I needed to report and sure enough I did. I dreaded having to travel to the downtown area at rush hour, find parking, figure out which building and which room I should report to.
I was anticipating a long day of boredom, sitting in a large room with strangers, no one talking. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t have to show up until the worst of the rush hour was over; travel wasn’t bad at all. The parking garage for jurors was clearly marked and easy to reach, and best of all, free. A large bus pulled up right outside the garage to pick us up and deliver us right to the building we needed to report to. Check-in was easy and after I took a seat many of the people around engaged in conversation. What a nice surprise. Within the hour, I was included in a large group sent to a courtroom for jury selection. The judge was friendly and his staff was helpful.
Grumpy: Wow, door-to-door service! I guess they don’t want their jurors having to battle all that lousy weather I know you get in the desert! Kidding aside, I know it had to be a relief to find they made the experience relatively easy and that your fellow jurors were friendly.
Mouse: Well, this time of year, walking isn’t so bad. In fact, several of us did walk back to the garage at the end of the last day. But I wouldn’t do that in the summer with temps over 100 degrees and all that hot concrete around. Ugh! I might be crazy but I’m not that crazy.
After many questions and several potential jurors being excused, we were let go for lunch and told that when we returned jurors would be chosen. I was among those chosen to sit on the jury. The case involved a man who had a gun in violation of the law. He was a convicted felon whose rights to gun ownership had not been restored. Several police officers testified to seeing him throw something over a wall after he was stopped for questioning. The “something” turned out to be a gun in a holster.
The defendant didn’t have any real defense to the charges. Oh, wait. Did I mention he defended himself, with a lawyer sitting next to him in an advisory role only? I think it was a big mistake. It was obvious the defendant was not well educated, knew nothing about the law, and spoke with a garbled voice that was very difficult to understand. Continue reading The Jury Duty of an American
ABC’s This Week will have former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is considering running in 2016. ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, ABC News contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/29/15
In philosophy, where the ideas and logic that are mental models for appropriate acts and policy reside, a single person and a single idea have driven American elections since 2008—President Barack Obama and race. These two factors have influenced policy, changed political ethics, and revealed a new American challenge: a fight for truth and a new future opposed by bedfellows of special interests, wealth and hate. Conservative voters and candidates speak of freedom but really fight for power: to weaken the Presidency, the executive agenda, and seek to affirm the wrong and rich as the strong.
Votes are justified and driven by anger and fear. Every GOP official trumpets or complains the President’s agenda is driven by race, expense and incompetence. At state and national levels, elected officials claim every idea President Obama proposes is a threat to America and American lives (whether death panels, debt, immigration, Ebola, ISIL, food stamps). Every judgment and pronouncement is distorted by a lens colored with racial prejudice (labels of “buckwheat-in-chief,” posters of bones through Obama’s nose, nasty “nigger” jokes, lynched chairs swinging from nooses strung over tree limbs). The Democratic rearguard retreat in the last election reinforced these jaded reasons by not revealing their ridiculousness.
So political stupidity grew exponentially. In South Carolina, a retired school teacher loudly, publicly accused—in fact was assured and certain—the President attempted to explode Charleston with a nuclear strike during a military training exercise. Because of Obama’s orders, she claimed two generals retired. Rick Santorum stood stoically, listening, when he knew it was all a lie.
The oppositional conditioning is so pervasive that the opposition no longer cites the kinds of examples of myths and mistakes that Ronald Reagan famously employed. Now, officials declare the power of winning as the power to turn back, turn over, turn in, turn out, citing the actions and examples of progress that their change seeks to reverse.
Gay marriage. Out. Affirmative action. Ended. Rape. Harder to persecute. Taxes. Lower (for the rich!). Higher education. Cut. Education, K-12. Privatized, underfunded. Government services payments. Billions given away (ask Rahm about Chicago’s parking meters). Abortion. Denied. War. Endorsed. Air and water. Unregulated. Income. Stifled. Immigration. Unaddressed. Safety nets. Cuts lurking. Healthcare. Barack Obama. The source of all evil. Race. The source of all waste. Denial: “I am innocent of all blame.”
I recently realized a valuable lesson watching Jimmy Stewart westerns. The more the Native Americans defeated the cavalry and settlers who precipitated the attacks against them, the more they were hated, mistreated and dehumanized. With each victory, the natives were condemned for lacking honor and virtue, even when their efforts were in self-defense or intended to promote peace. As the Indians won, hate reached a fever pace and objectivity and morality were abandoned. Think: the Iran agreement being negotiated to halt its development of nuclear arms, hasn’t it attracted a rising swell of voices whose accusing judgment is based on a desire for power rather than justice?
Haven’t those same voices, in the name of security, created the outlines for a global and local alliance, well funded internationally by Sheldon Adelson, the modern counterpart of Augsburg’s Jakob Fugger or England’s Baring brothers for funding geocentric, xenophobic ruling alliances. Adelson’s work in building a supra-alliance that tacitly benefits the Chinese and that is a loose but well connected ideological cult of eugenics is deeply (and darkly!) rooted, a part of the history and world view of the family policies of the Koch brothers and their father, who marginalized and expressed stereotypes for global ethnic groups, and propped up ideas of ethnic superiority for European genes by pointing to individual gaps and the failures of social programs fighting sophisticated neo-colonial structures and directed wealth flow.
Barack Obama is their evidence of what happens when one slips through the cracks and refuses their bidding, and wins despite their sustained plans for his defeat and collapse, their desire for his being driven out of office and humiliated, his character and intellectual virtues destroyed, his humanity stripped without apology or defense. Continue reading Race As National Policy Potpourri
On ABC’s This Week, Homeland Security Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) will talk about ISIS and the latest on the Iran nuclear talks. Yahoo’s Katie Couric will sit down with Mitt Romney to discuss the . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/22/15
On ABC’s This Week, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Represenative William Lacy Clay (D-MO) will talk about the fallout in Ferguson after the DOJ’s report was released. Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb will discuss his . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/15/15
Before we get on with all the politics, we have two unrelated announcements. The first is tomorrow’s quirk in the calendar. Actually, today is quirky as well, if you’re a friggatriskaidekaphobe, since it’s Friday the 13th. But tomorrow is much more momentous, because the convergence only comes once a century. Tomorrow morning will mark an extraordinary moment in time for geeks everywhere, in fact. Know a mathematician? Call him or her up tomorrow morning and wish her or him the happiest of Pi Days!
For the uninformed, Pi Day is a yearly celebration of a date on the calendar, for its numerical significance. It ranks up there among geeky holidays with the fourth of May (“Star Wars Day,” since you can go around wishing everyone “May the Fourth be with you!”). The significance is it will be “3/14″ (at least in the United States, as Europeans write their dates differently). These are the first three digits in the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, or “pi.”
But this year’s Pi Day will be the best one for the next 100 years, because a whole bunch of digits will come into play. Pi’s value is, to 10 digits: 3.141592653. This year’s Pi Day will be 3/14/15. Taking it a step further, just before 9:30 AM tomorrow morning, the date and time will read: 3/14/15 — 9:26:53. Woo hoo! Best Pi Day of the century!
The admissions office at MIT has taken note, and this year’s acceptance letters will all go out tomorrow. How appropriate!
Mathematical geekiness aside, we have one more announcement to make. This column is going on vacation for the next two weeks. Yes, we will be going on hiatus until April 3, as we travel to the Emerald Isle to experience a thoroughly Irish St. Patrick’s Day. So don’t expect another fresh talking points column for the next two weeks. You have been duly warned.
In an entirely unrelated story, Ireland kind-of, sort-of legalized a whole bunch of drugs this week. A court threw out one of Ireland’s main drug laws, on a technicality that rendered it unconstitutional. Whoops! This meant that ecstasy, crystal meth, and magic mushrooms were all suddenly legal (leprechaun sightings must have gone through the roof, one assumes). The Irish legislature scrambled to pass emergency legislation to fix the problem, but it still must have been a pretty psychedelic week for some in Ireland! By the time I get there, however, I will be completely satisfied as long as Sir Arthur Guinness’s fine product is still widely available (and legal). So to speak.
But it wasn’t all fun and games in the world of international politics last week. Far from it, in fact. Since it is Friday the 13th, a day when many ponder unlucky numbers, we have to wonder what it is about the number 47 that keeps getting Republicans in trouble. First it was Mitt Romney’s infamous dismissal of the “47 percent,” after which he wound up with exactly 47 percent of the vote in the general election. This week, 47 Republican senators decided it would be a good idea to sign an extraordinarily condescending letter to the leaders of Iran’s government. Maybe, in the future, Republicans should try avoiding anything associated with the number 47? Just a suggestion, guys….
The Republicans’ effort to hobble President Obama’s negotiations with Iran failed spectacularly. That much, everyone agrees upon. Perhaps the best commentary on the letter came from Iran’s foreign minister, who dismissed it as an attempt at “propaganda,” and went on to school the Republicans in the way international and U.S. laws and agreements actually work.
The only real difference in the reactions to the senators’ letter was in the terminology used to condemn it. The New York Daily News ran a gigantic headline that stated: “Traitors.” The Wall Street Journal was a little more reserved in its language, but not by much. The New York Times ran an editorial under the headline “Republican Idiocy On Iran.” The Washington Post pointed out that Republicans seem to think they’re running some sort of breakaway nation of their own (calling it “Republicania”).
European leaders soon joined in the chorus of condemnation. Conservative commentators admitted the entire thing was a fiasco. Cartoonists, of course, had a field day (our favorite so far is Jeff Danziger’s take on Tom Cotton). One retired general rejected the term “traitors,” but didn’t exactly mince his own words:
I would use the word mutinous. I do not believe these senators were trying to sell out America. I do believe they defied the chain of command in what could be construed as an illegal act. What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better. I have no issue with Senator Cotton, or others, voicing their opinion in opposition to any deal to halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Speaking out on these issues is clearly part of his job. But to directly engage a foreign entity, in this way, undermining the strategy and work of our diplomats and our Commander in Chief, strains the very discipline and structure that our foreign relations depend on, to succeed. The breach of discipline is extremely dangerous, because undermining our diplomatic efforts, at this moment, brings us another step closer to a very costly and perilous war with Iran. I think Senator Cotton recognizes this, and he simply does not care. That’s what disappoints me the most. I expect better from the men and women who wore the uniform.
Remember those halcyon days when all Republicans maintained that “listening to the generals” was the way to deal with questions of war? Ah… memories!
Liberals, of course, were universal in their disgust at the 47 Republicans. A movement quickly began to charge all 47 with violating the Logan Act (a law passed in the era of the Alien and Sedition Acts). The petition to demand charges be brought under the Logan Act at the White House’s website currently has over 275,000 signatures. I wrote about this idea yesterday, pointing out the history of the Logan Act, and why bringing charges would probably not be the best idea, but I realize others differ in their opinions. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Best Pi Day Of The Century!
Somewhere along the way, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, one of a chain of small towns and neighborhoods buried near St. Louis, began to carry out a criminal enterprise. In a short time, that enterprise grew inside-out. It was wildly successful. It set goals and developed guidance; it applauded and defended its corruption. But Ferguson’s malfeasance never managed to get right-side-up.
In painful details, with statistics, records, and conversations—with emails that matter—the Justice Department shows Ferguson slipped into a parallel world that went almost unnoticed, as Ferguson openly created a criminal enterprise founded on crime! But Ferguson thought it was doing good by doing bad! What guided Ferguson’s fascinating dance on the wild side was a stern Puritan approach toward the majority of its citizens, easily identified by color. That Puritan judgment became racial bias. In the neighborhoods of Ferguson, two-thirds of its residents. people of color, made easy pickings for schemes to fill its coffers and to increase arrests for the city’s public order crimes.
Ferguson acted swiftly and expanded its violations of public order; many crimes were added to the city’s legal statures in order to increase revenues despite having no real public safety benefit. Public order crimes were the gateway to a broad labyrinth of administrative fees and fines, and added costs which developed after routine contact with the police and the court.
Public order crimes usually have no victims; they emanate from statures that criminalize certain behaviors interpreted by the police. “Failure to comply” was a common favorite; so was “manner of walking.” These crimes become an issue when police are out of control and use broad powers to target every slight, real or perceived. Discretion is not only judgment, it is power. In Ferguson, it was only power, a drill abused.
Crime is frequently about bigger things, about money and power. These motives underline bad acts. But Ferguson’s crimes began at the other end; they were the consequence of power: Ferguson converted its public safety and justice missions into revenue streams. Its systems became an ongoing criminal enterprise by violating citizens’ constitutional rights. The city institutionalized these violations as way to make public order crimes pay off for the city! These constitutional violations brought this small city more than a million dollars a year. On Ferguson’s scales of justice, one side, a minority, enjoyed special privileges. They rose above the other, a majority without power, on whom the systemic thumb of authority was an economic burden that weighed freedom down.
Corrupt? Criminal? Unfair? Biased? Ferguson officials disagree. They reject these descriptions and they are sincere. But their story, as they tell it, recycles a familiar canon: biased beliefs and myths about its majority, people of color. The same biases Mitt Romney expressed in the Presidential election. The ones he mentioned during his call to President Obama when he conceded. The ones related to the mythic stories Ronald Reagan often told. The difference in values and beliefs that Rudy Giuliani feels between white Presidents and a black President; a causal, mean-spirited disrespect echoed in the House and the Senate, in every political talking point flashing through social media; in part, the unstoppable outrage of acceptable mistreatment whose vicious blame and ugliness carries with it a simultaneous pledge of no ill will.
But Ferguson was loose about race. Police and court personnel often shared racial humor in moments of levity. In all of these jokes, they claim no intent to harm; it’s only small stuff. One official remarked about Ferguson’s unwritten policy of illegal 72-hour detention, “it was only few days.” When challenged, “it” was only funny/humorous/no big deal/why all the fuss/everyone jokes? Challenges meet with grievance or indifference.
When the police department and court clerks make jokes about eugenics and genocide that’s no laughing matter.
The town, Ferguson, which in the 1960s required all blacks to exit its limits by sundown and at night chained off the main street to Kinloch, the all-black town that was its closest neighbor, saw itself as honest in its bias. It found humor in its version of ugly truth.
Among city officials, court workers, and law enforcement personnel and supervisors, emails made the rounds which supposedly mirrored the profound—and pathetic—truth of being black. In one example, humor lay in associating abortion by black mothers with the laudable and socially acceptable goal of reducing crime. (Why did the pregnant mother who aborted receive a $5,000 check from Crime Stoppers?)
Think about it. As assembled, the joke slips out of joint. On closer reading, the joke implies not only does black life not matter—but that it matters even more and is worth something if and only if it becomes dead.
Of course, the pretense is it is a joke about crime and criminals and criminal activity. But its core intent makes a clear case about competing ideals: about the values society rewards and the reasons why. The joke laces values, rewards, and reason to color by offering a large bounty for aborted black children, who, even unborn, are presumptive criminals—and born to be worthless.
Stand the joke on its head. It points back to a society monitoring intrusively the activities of black families. (In the joke, Crime Stoppers is monitoring the arrivals and birth certificates of black newborns; vigilant in its fear!).
The narrative of the joke denies an opportunity even for life itself; black death is an event and value to be glorified—and made valuable by the illegal cash award (mocking the truth of Ferguson’s illegal transfers!) that strongly suggests that normal social institutions endorse death and share common, dark fears. In the joke, a death certificate is like a coupon. It could be a lottery ticket, a scratch-off. The joke’s world view says the only choice for black youth is crime. It replaces grief and helplessness with cash incentives, makes the high point of black life an early death.
People who laugh at these jokes hold the jokes’ embedded values in their own core. Whether in anger or fun or rage, the narrative’s ruthlessness, closed-off coldness and concept of social good is easy to see, after the shock. Memory (and photographs!) say Southern lynchings were well attended. Black death has long been entertainment in live form or repeated stories. In Ferguson’s world of fungible humor, bounties were offered for dead black children. In the context of crime, laughter was invoked by a bounty for an unviable fetus.
The media, of course, failed to notice this. But CNN did discuss this “second” set of emails (after Hillary’s); its “expert” commenter ignored them and staged the report as the Justice Department coming after the police. He obviously had not reviewed any section of the report. His bit was familiar: liberals and black officials against the police; what else? He was a racist enabler. The anchor had not read the report either. Their questions and answers not in evidence called for speculation and went off-topic to familiar ground. By their insincerity, they were part of the problem. Continue reading Eugenics Is No Laughing Matter: Unconstitutional Humor Laughs at Black Death in Ferguson’s Emails
Monday, the Department of Justice will begin notifying approximately a million federal workers of their eligibility to join a class action suit against the government for being forced to work without pay during the Republican-engineered shutdown in October 2013. Eligible employees will have 105 days to sign on; voters will have 610 days until the 2016 election to decide that throwing Republicans out of all federal offices is an urgent priority for the health of the nation.
By next weekend, or so, the United States will have again exhausted its ability to borrow money. Fear not, though. Mitch “Old Lightnin'” McConnell promised Face the Nation Sunday that “the debt ceiling will be handled over a period of months.” He added that “hopefully, it might carry some other important legislation that we can agree on in connection with it,” which, on Planet Mitch, presumably means the repeal of Obamacare or the gutting of Social Security. The White House has meanwhile implemented “emergency cash measures” to forestall a possible collision with the debt ceiling.
Speaking of dysfunctionality and debt, the Eurogroup convenes in Brussels tomorrow to “discuss next steps” related to debt assistance for Greece. Tensions ratcheted up considerably today with the threat by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that Greece could hold an election or a referendum over what those “next steps” might entail.
Too bad Senator Inhofe won’t be in Fairbanks tomorrow for the competitive start of this year’s Iditarod. If he were, he’d learn that 350 dump-trucks’ worth of snow were needed to facilitate Saturday’s ceremonial start in Anchorage, where daytime temperatures flirted with 40 and the only thing falling from the late-winter sky was a thin rain.
Fires are still not totally extinguished following Thursday’s derailment of a crude-carrying BNSF train near Galena, Illinois. Ten more derailed cars remain to be cleared via a new temporary “haul road.” The railway says it anticipates the mainline to be back in operation Monday, which would clear the way – whew! – for the week’s usual 40 or 50 oil trains to run through the area. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/9/15