We’ve got a lot to get to in our weekly roundup of politics this week, it seems.
For those watching the Olympics (or trying to, in and amongst the soap opera that is NBC’s coverage, and the accompanying forty bazillion commercial breaks) and wondering what’s going on in Russian politics, well, we direct you to the panty protests. Not the most important issue of the week, but quite possibly the most bizarre (and that’s even in a week that saw members of Pussy Riot getting horsewhipped by Cossacks, mind you).
This week, President Obama issued a handwritten apology to an art history professor, for denigrating the value of an art history college degree in a speech. This, for some reason (as if he really needs one) made Marco Rubio angry. A handwritten apology from the president must be nice — we’re still waiting for our apology for pretty much everything nasty Rahm Emanuel ever said (although we’re not exactly holding our breath, on that one).
Johns Hopkins released a study proving that background checks for buying guns works exactly the way they are supposed to, but (speaking of not holding our breath) the media and the politicians pretty much ignored it.
A New York state senator introduced a bill banning killer whales in waterparks from the state, and he apparently plagiarized a student’s article posted on the Huffington Post. Well, I’m not sure if “plagiarizing” is the right word, really, since he wasn’t trying to sell the work as his own in any way, he just used part of it in the text of the bill (justifying its necessity). We would like to issue a blanket permission for all Democratic lawmakers, in response: please feel free to quote liberally from any of these columns in any legislation you wish. Dropping us a note informing of such an occurrence would be nice, but is not necessary.
In marijuana news (which has become a weekly staple, on these pages), Doug Gansler, Maryland’s attorney general, seems to think that medical marijuana’s acceptance is pretty much as inevitable as gay marriage, at this point. Gansler’s running for governor, in a field with other Democrats. As time goes on, more and more Democrats are going to have to accept the fact that marijuana is now (1) a potent and valid political issue, and (2) worth supporting, because public attitudes are changing fast.
New York is moving closer to legalizing medical marijuana (beyond just a pilot program), and even two Republicans have now joined the effort — so it’s not just Democrats who are waking up to the new political reality. And in Colorado, the governor just admitted that pot sales (and therefore pot tax revenues) are going to be higher than expected. Feel free to make your own “higher than expected” joke, here.
Or, perhaps, insert your own “munchies” joke instead, because we’re moving on to news from the world of pizza. Chevron decided to compensate citizens affected by one of their fracking wells blowing up by delivering coupons for a free pizza and bottle of soda to affected residents. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks. In more positive pizza news from Arizona, one pizza parlor showed its displeasure of the state government passing a “religious freedom” law (which would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people) by posting a sign in the window reading “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators.” Bravo! I’d like a slice with extra snark, please….
In other news from the Wild West, a Republican state representative in Colorado left a hearing on concealed handgun permits, but he apparently left a handbag behind… with his loaded handgun in it. The jokes just write themselves, on that one.
Anyone who read What’s The Matter With Kansas? will want to check out an article by the author where he updates his opinion with a look at the current state of affairs in the Sunflower State.
And finally, to end on this Western theme we seem to have moseyed into, George W. Bush is now channeling his inner Georgia O’Keeffe by creating paintings of animal skulls. Make of that what you will.
What with Congress on yet another weeklong taxpayer-funded vacation, there wasn’t much happening in Washington this week that caught our eye in the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week category.
So (to use a question format, for reasons which will become apparent in a moment): who was the most impressive Democrat in the news this week? Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — From Russian Panties to Animal Skulls
There’s never a shortage of false news on the climate change front. This week is no exception with the climate deniers flooding the airwaves to counteract Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama as they seek to jumpstart the global discussion on climate change.
Secretary Kerry’s Asian tour included an announcement that China and the United States will work together on climate goals and the reduction of air pollution. He also delivered a major climate change speech in Jakarta when he point-blank branded those who continue to deny climate evidence as “shoddy scientists”. President Obama addressed climate change and its increasing costs as he promised millions of dollars of relief to the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley, despite the region’s Congressman being a member of the Flat Earth Society, as Secretary Kerry has taken to calling them. The President is no longer molly-coddling the issue, flatly stating that we must “combat carbon pollution that causes climate change.” He also addressed the increasing costs of extreme weather and the need to “address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis.”
I thought that Marsha Blackburn would be a shoo-in for the queen of the Flat Earthers, but stunningly, real journalists with real educations beat her out. I don’t care who you are or whether you agree or disagree, but you know that the basic tenet of climate change is that the earth is warming. No matter how many snowstorm jokes you tell, you understand temperatures can change weather and over a course of years, will change climate. Not so Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday or Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal. (And you want to trust her on the economy?)
Here’s the learned exchange that took place on Fox News Sunday, after Wallace wondered how the President could make a case for climate change in the parched west, when the east was “in the grips of a brutal winter”:
WALLACE: So, Kim, what is going to happen to the climate change/global warming movement? And maybe, you know, because I don’t – when did global warming become climate change?
STRASSEL: It became climate change when you couldn’t prove that there was much global warming anymore, you know. As the temperatures didn’t change.
It would be fascinating to know whether guest George Will was startled by this news, because his stated view earlier in the show was that, “Of course the climate is changing. It’s always changing. That’s what gave us the medieval warm period. That’s what gave us subsequent to that for centuries the brutal Ice Age. Of course it’s changing.”
So there you have it. Climate deniers can pick their poison. Either climate change is happening and there’s nothing can be done about it – or global warming and climate change is just a big old game of charades, nothing to see here, move along.
Compared to this exchange, Marsha Blackburn was an intellectual marvel in her debate with every kid’s favorite professor, Bill Nye the Science Guy.
You would think the man who taught us inertia and moving molecules and barometric pressure would be above reproach. But Blackburn didn’t wait 30 seconds before attempting to belittle Mr. Nye by dismissing his life’s work as a scientist and engineer to that of an “actor”. An actor? I guess she missed his work at Boeing, his contributions to the Mars mission, his Cornell professorship, his three honorary PhDs, and his directorship of the Planetary Society. It shouldn’t be surprising; this is an important method of neutralizing the credibility of speakers for skeptical viewers. They don’t have to take the scientist seriously because the Congresswoman just gave them an excuse not to.
Then she pulled a different trick out of the hat, raising the names of trusted “liberal” sources promptly followed by taking quotes out of context to distort their views. I don’t know which strategy is more devious, flat out lying from your own mouth a la the Fox News guests, or putting your lies into the mouths of individuals who aren’t there to defend themselves. Continue reading Climate Change Is A Hoax? It’s FALSE NEWS!
Is it a delusion or a lie? A mistaken identity under stress and unreliable circumstances, or a catch-all fix, a safety outlet for violence and murder? The “I-thought-I-saw” defense?
Is ordering a pizza and not calling the police after shooting at a parked and then moving car filled with black male teenagers, striking one of them three times inside the car fleeing in self-defense, a reckless disregard and depraved indifference to human life—the legal text book definition of manslaughter? Or is it the vivid derangement of a mind and soulless heart that knows its own privilege to murder will be protected on a chain of unfounded, unsupported claims (I was in fear; I heard threats; I saw a gun; I fired to kill)?
That privilege tied to the new code, the “I-thought-I-saw” defense, was upheld with the same dispatch as the pizza was ordered. In Florida prosecutor Angela Corey’s office, justice is served as a custom order to defendants who have one thing in common: inflict death by shooting upon black male youth and acquittals and hung juries will result, letting defendants walk away from a justice blind to its own faults. Black life—and sympathy for its death—finds no justice in mercy.
Each killing enters a subterranean chamber of horrors. Each act of murder flogs moral courage and truth until they are unrecognizable. Then courage and truth are released to wander, broken and voiceless, though communities where they are eyewitnesses to their demolition as virtues, smashed over and over by a pall of evil that appears normal, that feints to want what we want—love, security, protection, joy, an inner peace, an outward happiness, the unspeakable treasures of a life. Yet that evil turns to strike with its stake, to destroy virtue and abandon love, and fill every empty heart with fear and hate, the passions of evil.
Killing and death are evil’s rewards. This subterranean chamber knows nothing of self-defense—as an act born of love, whose grief is forgiven by our mercy.
Instead, we have hate and make-believe.
The cry of the earth in pain has never been so great. Massacres reign after church in Northern Nigeria, killing hundreds. Conflict violence abounds throughout Africa, raping thousands. The brutality of bombs across the globe kills innocents by tens. For a century now, the great genocides against humanity have become political metaphors for attack politicians who blame the victims and dead. With impunity.
Military assaults against women rise steadily, in and out of the service, also by athletes from high school to professionals, by members of Congress who enable death and sexual violence by their silence and their words, by a politics whose ideology is more important than the statesmanship of an old fashioned, stand-up morality. The Republicans have no Abraham Lincolns. No Everett Dirksens. Continue reading Self-Defense: An Outlet for Violence and Murder?
Mere days after Republican capitulation on the debt ceiling, scientists don’t yet know whether the violent disruption of the space-time continuum will be temporary or permanent. Congressional Republicans aren’t waiting on a verdict, of course, since they’re already working on other ways to ensure that the government does very little actual, you know, governing. Plus they hate science anyway.
Monday, the President returns to Washington from Sunnylands, the California retreat where he and China’s Xi Jinping held talks last year. The President hosted King Abdullah of Jordan at Sunnylands on Friday, and once the statecraft was completed he headed for the golf course with some old friends from Hawaii.
Speaking of Hawaii, the state’s legislature has an interesting week scheduled. Among other things, lawmakers will debate whether to force stores to lock up spray paint and other “graffiti materials,” forcing consumers to ask retail staff for the items. They’ll also be considering a one-year exemption from jury service for breastfeeding mothers, a ban on smoking in and around public housing complexes, and a ban on the use of drones for information-gathering purposes by anyone other than law enforcement officials.
Wednesday, the POTUS heads for Toluca, Mexico for a brief summit with President Enrique Peña Nieto. Tagging along will be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still ardently trying to pitch the Keystone XL pipeline. Will he offer to take back Justin Bieber to sweeten the deal? Stay tuned. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/17/14
On ABC’s This Week, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Climate Central chief climatologist Dr. Heidi Cullen, ABC News senior meteorologist Ginger Zee and ABC News chief business and economics correspondent . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 2/16/14
John Boehner has a song in his heart. That song is “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which he was heard quoting from as he was busy passing a clean debt ceiling bill in his House. He followed up with another lyric from the tune: “Plenty of sunshine coming my way.” Mr. Boehner is, of course, being amusingly ironic. He does not, in fact, have a song in his heart, and he is not looking for beams of sunshine heading his way from his fellow Republicans.
Boehner passed the clean debt ceiling bill with 193 Democratic votes and only 28 Republican votes, after all. He ignored the self-imposed “Hastert Rule,” surprisingly early in the legislative fight — two whole weeks before the crisis was scheduled to hit. He did so because the Tea Party faction in his party informed him that he didn’t even have the votes for the usual round of hostage-taking — Republicans, on their own, couldn’t pass any bill. Boehner, realizing the futility of his position, then gave President Obama exactly what he asked for by going ahead and passing a clean bill with mostly Democratic support. Beams of sunshine did not follow, from his fellow Republicans.
The most amusing response was the circulation of bizarre threats via email to House Republicans. The email (with an anonymous sender) told Republicans who voted for the bill to expect outside groups to mobilize against them. One anonymous Republican in the House pointed out that the email addresses it was sent to were closely-guarded official emails of the representatives, and concluded that the sender “[has] got to be another member. Probably one of the crazy ones.” That characterization comes from a fellow Republican, mind you.
In the weekly roundup of marijuana news, the farm bill that Obama has now signed did indeed legalize industrial hemp-growing experiments in states that have approved the idea. Eighteen members of Congress signed a letter asking Obama to reschedule marijuana to reflect the reality that it is not, in fact, more dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine. Rescheduling truly is an idea whose time has come, but it’s not going to happen without some political pressure, so it was good to see these Congressmen stepping up to the plate. Check out the letter, and check out the list of who signed it (and then, if your representative isn’t on the list, call them up and ask them why not) over at the Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, Representative Steve Cohen has introduced the “Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act” which would remove the restrictions Congress put on the Office of National Drug Control Policy which, in essence, add up to “the O.N.D.C.P. can never never never never say one tiny good thing about marijuana, the end, forever.” During last week’s epic testimony by the assistant drug czar (see last week’s column for a rundown), Cohen asked about this restriction, only to get the answer from the poor sap testifying that he didn’t “know the background” of such muzzling. He also was unfamiliar with the name Harry Anslinger, the report Nixon commissioned (and then buried) on marijuana law, how many people had died through marijuana overdoses, and even whether marijuana was more dangerous than heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Or maybe not — his entire testimony may have been muzzled by precisely the clause in the O.N.D.C.P.’s budget that Cohen is now trying to remove. Anyone who believes in free speech and who is against tax dollars going to censor scientific facts from being uttered by high government officials should heartily cheer Cohen’s legislation.
Marco Rubio, however, is being coy on the subject without the benefit of a legal reason to do so. When asked at an education forum this week whether he had ever smoked the evil weed, he responded: “If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me. And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, ‘Well, I can smoke marijuana because look how he made it.’ ” Not exactly the best non-denial denial ever uttered, but it’s definitely better than “I didn’t inhale,” so you’ve got to give Rubio at least that, we suppose.
On another subject, a while back the New Yorker pointed out how low the Public Broadcasting System had sunk in terms of sucking up to fatcat donors at the expense of the truth, and this week brings more confirmation that, as Salon put it, the network should now be called the Plutocratic Broadcasting System. From the Pando story which originally broke the news:
On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “The Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.
However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “The Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.
So you might think about that the next time pledge drive season comes around (which seems to be roughly every three weeks, these days). Maybe just pick up the phone to your local PBS station and tell them why you won’t be donating any money to them, since their editorial policies seem so far from what they should be. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
Most have heard by now of the earth-shattering release of the OMB report on the Affordable Care Act and its devastating announcement of a loss of 2 million American jobs. You’ve probably also heard the White House response led by Jay Carney, and his now infamous remark that seems to indicate people should have no problem with not working and getting free Medicaid, if they want to. But here are a few details you might not have heard.
First – there is no OMB report on the Affordable Care Act. The OMB has released its regular Budget and Economic Outlook for 2014-2024; they release a 10-year forecast every year. It’s chock full of fascinating information, including things like the prediction of a 5% unemployment rate by 2017 and a continuing reduction in the deficit. A 12-page portion of the report, Appendix C, outlines the “Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act”; that’s actually the title of the appendix.
Second, and where it gets interesting and a little comical in my estimation, yes, the appendix does say the loss of hours worked will be the equivalent of 2 million full time jobs, rising to 2.5 million by 2017. The report goes on to describe various scenarios wherein workers could choose to work less hours in order to retain either Medicaid or exchange subsidies. This led GOP lawmakers, like Eric Cantor, to conclude, “Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”
Now is the time you get to put on your thinking cap, as our 3rd grade teachers used to tell us. If Johnny and Susie quit their job at Daisy’s Diner – does the job disappear? Apparently, yes, if you rely on the thinking of the leading minds of the GOP.
Frankly, the OMB report doesn’t do much better, rarely clarifying their “labor supply” analysis with statements that acknowledge the obvious fact that “other applicants will be readily available to fill those positions.” In other words, no jobs lost. For instance, if a full-time worker decides they can work part-time and become eligible for an exchange subsidy, they would instantly quit their full-time job and go to a part-time job. In the OMB’s calculation, that means there would be 20 labor hours per week missing from the work force; two individuals making that choice would be the loss of the supply of labor equivalent to a full-time job. (Not the loss of an actual job.) Continue reading Obamacare Destroying 2 Million Jobs?!? It’s FALSE NEWS!
An insurance company downgrade is such a serious act that it can, and does, alter the entire financial health of a company. It can easily send it into a downward tailspin. That’s why the recent news of the downgrade of the entire insurance industry was especially shocking and worrisome. When Moody’s, a leader in the analysis of capital markets, makes a credit rating, as the saying goes, people listen. And in the case of the right wing scream machine, they make sure everyone in America listens too. Unfortunately, they too often get it wrong, as Fox News, The Hill and others did in the case of the non-existent downgrade.
But as is typical with the anti-Obamacare headlines, the story is a bit more complicated than that. Most importantly, according to Carrie Sheffield, formerly an analyst at Moody’s, “Moody’s has a very specific vocabulary for what it means to ‘downgrade’ or ‘upgrade’ something.” To the point, they upgrade and downgrade companies, bonds and credit ratings. They do not upgrade or downgrade industries. And in this instance, despite The Hill’s headlines, there was no downgrading of any insurers in connection with the Moody’s report.
What the report does say is that Moody’s believes there are issues that change the outlook for health insurers, a change that can put creditors at risk. Specifically, they say that they expect “reduced net earnings margins of approximately 2% in 2014, compared to an average of 3% the previous year”. The report also cites enrollment numbers, regulation changes, Medicare Advantage premium reductions, and unemployment that reduces enrollment in commercial insurance companies.
Oddly enough, most of these concerns could be quickly dismissed with just a cursory review of health care and health insurance news. WellPoint, specifically mentioned in interviews surrounding the report, released its own 2013 financials just a few days after the Moody’s report. They report 500,000 in new enrollees and WellPoint CEO Joseph Swedish said that they were “‘encouraged by the level of applications we’ve received’ as well as by the health-risk profiles of new members.” This news sent WellPoint stocks up 2%.
As to Medicare Advantage products, WellPoint adjusted products and pricing in 2011 in response to a reduction in federal reimbursements in the program. In 2012, they happily reported an increase in senior business, “primarily due to the Company’s geographic expansion into new Medicare Advantage service areas during 2012,” and cited a loss of Medicare business in 2013 as a reason for revenue reductions, not reimbursement reductions. In short, they want Medicare business, and if the second-largest health insurer wants Medicare business, I would suspect the majority of health insurers are in the hunt as well. Continue reading Health Insurance Downgrade? It’s FALSE NEWS!
Rand Paul is a political predator with a double standard.
In talking about a prospective Hillary Clinton candidacy, he mentioned the incident with Bill. The incident Newt Gingrich tried to impeach Bill for, Rand Paul reframed and called Bill’s involvement an act of “violence.” “Violence”? “The kind we should all be opposed to,” Rand Paul said.
So how did Rand Paul, who said “we should all oppose” sexual “violence” vote on the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the Senate last year? He voted “no”.
It seems some violence he doesn’t oppose. Here’s why, in his own words: “The legislation would increase benefits available under VAWA to specifically include victims of stalking and ‘cyber-stalking,’ as well as same-sex couples, and illegal immigrants who are victims of any sort of violence.”
It seems he doesn’t oppose the “violence” of GOP elected members of Congress, which, if framed from the same time period as President Clinton, includes inappropriate activities with pages and staffers’ wives, and more.
In 2004, Rep. Robert Sherman (PA) admitted a five-year affair with a staff member who had locked herself in the bathroom of his apartment and called 911 saying he tried to choke her. No charges were filed, but she later sued and won a non-disclosed settlement. The GOP leadership supported Sherman for re-election and so did Rick Santorum, who made a robo-call on his behalf.
2007 brought us Larry Craig (ID) and the bathroom toe tapping at the airport (considered a sign of solicitation for anonymous same-sex encounters) and Joseph McDade (PA), accused of flashing two women on a Florida beach in front of several eye witnesses. He reportedly fondled himself as he followed one.
In 2010, Congress member Mark Jackson (IN) admitted to having an extra-marital affair with a married woman hired to prepare weekly audio tapes of Rep. Jackson’s views on family values. When he resigned from Congress, he said in his statement, “I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff.”
An earlier post I wrote on Rep. Scott Desjarlais (TN) covers Congress’ biggest stud: a doctor who had multiple affairs with hospital staff and even patients. An anti-abortion politician whose wife had an abortion as a result of his affairs.
Rand Paul is silent against the long-trending epidemic of inappropriate forms of sexual contact that plague his party. At the state and local levels, it often involves children. For safety’s sake, I omitted the stories and facts.
In fact, the Speaker, John Boehner, first won his seat after he beat Rep. Buz Lukens in a Republican primary. Lukens had been found guilty of paying a 16-year-old $40 for sex, and refused to resign from his Congress.
And of course, by Rand Paul’s own words, he’s open to cyber-stalking and sexual violence against gays and undocumented residents; this violence is okay—since it caused him to vote “no”.
But Rand Paul, who offers Hillary fake concern that doesn’t jibe with his politics or actions, gives a second reason for opposing VAWA and bringing his policy bona fides into question. Again, in his own words: “mandatory arrest laws can actually aggravate further domestic violence.” Continue reading Rand Paul’s Vicarious Politics
Tony Mayville is a candidate for State Representative in southern Illinois and Chairman of the Washington County Democratic Party. He has also supervised the Mine Safety Division and served as acting director of Mines and Minerals at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Over several years, including time while Mayville was responsible for regulating Illinois coal mines, he collected thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies owned by billionaire coal mine operator Chris Cline. In November 2013 a fatal accident occurred at a coal mine owned by Chris Cline and regulated by Tony Mayville.
Mayville chairs the political fund of the Washington County Democratic Party Central Committee. Their campaign finance reports show the committee raising thousands of dollars from multiple companies owned by the Cline Group at least since 2008 through 2013.
Several contributions were from Cline subsidiary Hillsboro Energy. They gave Mayville’s Washington County Democratic fund $1,000 in 2008, $500 in 2010, and another $1,000 in 2011. During that time, the company was seeking a permit from the Department of Natural Resources for the Deer Run longwall mine. Mayville was already collecting coal industry campaign contributions when Governor Pat Quinn made him acting director of the Office of Mines and Minerals, where he would oversee the mine permitting process.
Similarly, Mayville’s Washington County committee took $500 from Macoupin Energy LLC, another Cline subsidiary seeking a new mine permit.
More recently, Cline-owned Foresight Energy donated $1,000 in 2012 to the party committee, and another $2,000 to Mayville’s state representative campaign fund in March of 2013. Foresight Energy’s donation to Mayville’s campaign attracted negative attention, so last week his campaign sent a letter to the state board of elections claiming it was accepted by accident. He transferred the contribution to the Washington county party committee he chairs. The distinction may be legally significant, but regardless of which of his committees he used, Mayville accepted campaign contributions from coal mine owners while overseeing mine safety at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
This obvious conflict of interest highlights the notoriously cozy relationship between the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals and industries they’re charged with regulating. Citizens have had to fight foolish coal mines permits granted by an agency with employees collecting political donations from mine owners. The fatal accident last November at a mine owned by Chris Cline is a tragic reminder that regulation of the coal industry is literally a life and death issue. Continue reading Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline