Stormy Monday, 9/22/14

StormyMondayThe Secret Service’s Office of Professional Responsibility will undertake a procedural review following Friday’s disquieting incident involving a knife-carrying man jumping the fence and actually gaining access to the White House.  Through a spokesman, the President has since expressed “full confidence” in his security detail, a presidential statement I sincerely hope is a bald-faced lie.

Also helping shut the barn door after the horses have bolted, Congressman Peter King told Fox News Sunday he’s “sure” that the House Homeland Security Committee, on which he sits, will launch its own investigation into the incident. Which actually makes the whole thing even scarier…

Accompanied, presumably, by the most hyper-vigilant Secret Service detail ever mustered, the President and Mrs. Obama head for New York City on Tuesday for the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly. After addressing the 2014 Climate Summit at the UN, the President will speak at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. Wednesday, he’ll address the General Assembly, then chair a Security Council summit on terrorism. The First Lady will give the keynote address at Wednesday’s meeting of the UN Global Education First Initiative. Thursday, the President will speak at a special UN meeting on the Ebola epidemic, before the Obamas return to Washington in the afternoon.

Speaking of the Ebola virus, Sierra Leone yesterday ended a three-day lockdown intended to stop the spread of the epidemic among the country’s six million citizens. The lockdown enabled collection and safe burial of over 70 highly infectious bodies of Ebola victims; Ebola has claimed 560 lives in Sierra Leone during the current outbreak. If the large-scale containment attempt proves effective, expect it to be replicated in other parts of western Africa.

Is it that time again already? Sadly, yes. The 2014 Values Voter Summit descends on Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel Thursday evening, with two and a half days of trash talk and trashy ideas to follow. This year’s theme is “Defending the Dream, Defining the Future,” which, translated from Hyperbolese, means “Liberals hate America.” In other words, pretty much the same theme as the previous eight annual iterations of the event. Someone named Sarah Palin will be speaking at this year’s shindig. If that’s insufficiently loathsome news, the 2014 version of the conclave also features Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Any way you look at it, that’s an impressive amount of pure suckage. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/22/14

Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

StormyMondayFresh from hastily scheduled trips to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, John Kerry begins the week in Cairo, where the Secretary of State hopes to get more countries onside with efforts to fight Islamic State extremists. In case Kerry doesn’t get his fill of truculence, skepticism and outright intransigence overseas, he has a backup plan: he’s returning to Washington to testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The President will be in Atlanta Tuesday for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he’ll receive a detailed briefing on both the West African Ebola epidemic and the enterovirus-related respiratory disease outbreak in the US Midwest. The visit comes several days after a direct appeal for US assistance from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Watch for Republican demands this week that both viruses be bombed into submission and the operation paid for with a Social Security benefits clawback.

Thursday, Scots go to the polls for a historic vote on independence from the United Kingdom. Well over four million people have registered to vote, while another 800,000 or so have signed up to vote by mail. That represents roughly 97% of eligible voters, a percentage the Democratic and Republican Parties alike can only view wistfully just weeks ahead of the typically anemic midterm electoral turnout stateside. Recent polls suggest momentum building for the “No” faction, but it’s likely to be close whichever way it goes.

Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its, uh, long-awaited first hearing. Think they’ll discuss the August 1 report by the House Intelligence Committee, which found absolutely zero malfeasance by the Obama Administration? Neither do I.

Timed to coincide with a UN summit on climate change, a huge march in Manhattan is planned for Sunday. Organizers of the People’s Climate March are aiming for a turnout of 100,000 or more. The following day, the sixth annual Climate Week NYC gets underway, with scores of events planned around the city. The climate may be screwed, but I hope at least the weather is nice for the march.

On a related note, new efficiency standards for refrigerators begin Monday, amid cheerful forecasts by the Department of Energy that post-regulation models will use about 25% less electricity than existing models, with a projected 30-year savings to consumers of $36 billion. No word yet on whether the new models can be readily converted into seaworthy craft to deal with rising ocean levels. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

Stormy Monday, 9/1/14

StormyMondayLabor Day in an election year. Enjoy it, because tomorrow the gloves come off. Hammer time. Time for the excrement to plot a course for the fan. Time for September call-ups of every last little shred of dubious opposition research that campaigns big and small, Democratic and Republican alike, focus-grouped unsuccessfully all summer. Time for pollsters – good, bad, indifferent, biased or unbiased – to line their spreadsheets up against the wall. Time for the kitchen sink and all who sail in her. Ain’t democracy grand? New season notwithstanding, this might be a very good time to turn off the TV.

Jurors in the trial of Smilin’ Bob McDonnell, who used to be Governor of Virginia, and his wife Maureen, who used to be its First Lady, will receive instruction from Judge James R. Spencer and begin deliberations this week. Jury morale has been kept admirably confidential, but I don’t see how the jurors can feel anything but relief at not having to listen to any more testimony from either of the accused.

On Wednesday, Vice President Biden heads to – gasp!New Hampshire. He’s going as part of a continuing White House series of speeches and events focused on the economy, but the mainstream media will be crafting its own narrative for the visit. Expect 24 to 48 hours of asinine headlines like “Biden: Serious About ’16?” or “Veep Reads Granite State Tea Leaves” or “Clinton/Biden?” or “Biden/Clinton?” or “Hey, Who’s the Old Guy?” At some point midweek, I predict Wolf Blitzer will wet himself on the air, and he might not be the only one.

Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas’ voter ID law (or, more accurately described, Texas’ transparent attempt to suppress probable votes for Democrats by raising the bugaboo of “voter fraud” and invoking phony concern for “confidence in the system”) will go to court. One election law expert interviewed for the piece at the link believes the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Which, in these days of modern times, as the Firesign Theatre once put it, could be very unfortunate if that’s how things unfold.

The President goes to Europe this week, first to Estonia for a visit designed to reassure that nation it won’t be next on Vladimir Putin’s Back in the USSR Comeback Tour, and then to a NATO summit in Wales, the first time a sitting United States President has visited there. Nobody knows whether the notorious tan suit is being packed for the trip, but you can bet all the “news” networks have deployed “journalists” to the White House for the latest presidential wardrobe revelations. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/1/14

Stormy Monday, 8/25/14

StormyMondayMichael Brown’s funeral will be held at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis on Monday. Brown’s father Michael Sr. has appealed to protesters to suspend their activities temporarily. “We just want a moment of silence that whole day. Just out of respect for our son,” he told hip-hop station Hot 104.1 FM. Along with planned memorial services and vigils across the country, a protest is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. outside the White House.

Now that the Iberia Parish, Louisiana Coroner’s Office has released information flatly contradicting outlandish police claims that Victor White III fatally shot himself while handcuffed with his hands behind his back as he sat in a patrol car last March, his death can be expected to resonate anew.

Protests against yet another example of police violence are likely to continue on Staten Island this week after a large Saturday rally led by Al Sharpton over the July 17 death by chokehold of an unarmed African American, Eric Garner, while in custody.

This week, the administration undertakes a review of federal funding and provision of surplus military-grade weaponry to police departments, practices that, like so many other foolish, wasteful and counterproductive policy decisions, were instituted soon after September 11, 2001. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/25/14

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