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

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

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

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

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

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

Stormy Monday, 6/23/14

StormyMondayIn a primary season that has already seen the odious Eric Cantor kicked to the curb by voters for not being quite odious enough, it’s probably smart to take nothing for granted. Charlie Rangel certainly isn’t, despite the latest poll showing him up by double digits over rival Adriano Espaillat mere days before tomorrow’s vote in the New York 13th. If he wins, Rangel might want to mend some fences with the New York Times, which endorsed Espaillat last week.

Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, another odious Republican, faces a runoff against teabagger Chris McDaniel on Tuesday, after nearly being bested by him in the June 3 primary. McDaniel’s support among blinkered conservative tax-me-not voters has been steadily increasing even as their state slides ever further toward Third World status. If Republican infighting is one of your favorite spectator sports, check out the Cochran campaign’s eleventh-hour ad, which takes a metaphorical 2×4 to McDaniel’s metaphorical cranium.

After passing a resolution on Saturday calling for President Obama’s impeachment (ostensibly for exchanging five Taliban detainees for POW Bowe Bergdahl, though mostly, I suspect, for being not entirely white) the South Dakota Republican Party can now go on to other important business, like resolutions opposing gravity and the changing of the seasons. Word is they’ll also consider a resolution to seize Mount Rushmore from the National Park Service and alter all the faces to likenesses of Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of Sgt. Bergdahl, he was discharged from hospital last week and transferred to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where he will receive outpatient care for up to a month. His long-term prognosis is still unknown, but what’s already certain is there’s no known cure for the syndrome that has so many on the right still howling about his release and repatriation.

John Kerry kicked off a busy week with a visit to Cairo for talks with new Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on Sunday, before making a surprise visit to Iraq for private meetings with PM Nouri al-Maliki and several sectarian leaders. To the edification of absolutely nobody, least of all the Iraqis, he described the current precarious situation as “a critical moment for Iraq’s future” and “a moment of great urgency.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/23/14

Race and Obama: The Longstanding Silence of Hate's Empty Dream

DDFor President Obama, a list of difficulties has become the equivalent of a list of failures. If the world is a mess, it is because of his foreign policy. If Republicans are obstructionists, he didn’t “lead” and win them over. If a mid-level bureaucrat in one of the six far-flung federal districts creates a public crisis and embarrasses the government, the President should have been standing over his shoulder. Scope or scale no longer matter. The only accounting is a single ledger list of his faults—which includes policies and fights that were on Democrats’ wish list–and even things he should have done, extrapolated from current events. How dare he not have a prophetic vision?

This idea of a list of his failings has expanded to include even his obvious victories. Obama fail is a helpless craving, prompted by a President who inspired a phantasmagoria of fallacies and fear so rich that he alternates between being considered utterly inept and having embedded diabolical wiles whose ruses and ploys are able to summon and capture world-class terrorists in faraway lands on command, to protect and distract the public from his failures.

“Too neat,” several pundits have described Obama’s announcement of the capture of one of the leaders of the 2012 armed strike on the US consul in Benghazi. Add it to the list as a coarse example of another Obama political stunt.

Boehner pointedly thanked the troops.

Obama is a dumb guy who keeps terrorists in his back pockets. He stages their capture whenever he needs a political boost. The new list of failures even allows for mutually exclusive ideas.

This line item strategic equivalence of failure is assigned to every presidential action Obama undertakes—and for every event that takes place anywhere in the world. It is an easy default of add-ons that avoids a list of reasons, requires no thought, and plays well in the press.

The narrative of Obama failure is not only the one in the press. One of his difficulties is the narrative of our history. Unique to America’s DNA, that historical narrative also finds a way to wrap its tentacles around every act and view of the President. It is the host and source for his failures and has proven malleable and durable through the years.

To some, it is invisible; to others, it is denied. It is alternatively small and large. Mainly it is dismissed. But it is a silent, unspoken constant; one that makes the fur fly about equality, equal opportunity, qualifications, character, ideology, justice, safety nets, slavery, education, personal ethics, stereotypes, American strength. It is attached to our tailwinds, our progress as a nation.

The President rarely makes note of it. The few times he has, he has been excoriated for it. It has come up in jokes at the WHCD. In remarks to the press about gun violence. The fact that the President seems unfazed by it infuriates many people even more.

Its presence and weight, its burden and well known place is demonstrated by the fact that, although unnamed, by now you know exactly what I am talking about. (His birth certificate? His inexperience? His vacations? No?) It’s race.

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It has an inverse effect on his power. The greater Obama’s accomplishments, the greater the denial. The more low-key the recognition, the louder the cry that he exceeds his authority.

The media is especially culpable in creating the boxed-in myth of post-racialism—in the midst of one of the most active periods of individual and political expressions of race we have witnessed in our history.

The media drags the President down by its omission of race as a silent embed in our national noise, around since Frederick Douglass was begged and implored not to march in a Republican street parade in Washington, DC (he ended up carrying his delegation’s banner!); since W.E.B. DuBois identified its effects as a “double consciousness” regarding African-Americans; since lynchings by color persisted through the early 20th century, followed by vigilante violence and Midwestern sundown towns (all blacks out by sundown!)—since the only Supreme Court decision whose full effect of law was delayed with “all deliberate speed” (Brown v. the Board of Education, Topeka, KS). Race has been used to tarnish achievements since Dr. King’s legacy (his desire for equality made him a communist!) and before and since to justify the brutal lynching of Emmett Till, the smearing of the NBA, to advance the coverage of television reality stars who rewrite history to deny their visceral, unrelenting hate of President Obama—due to race—by making race and fault the same, with nothing between. Continue reading Race and Obama: The Longstanding Silence of Hate’s Empty Dream