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

Stormy Monday, 6/9/14

StormyMondayWith every lurid allegation and wheezing harrumph over Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the circumstances of his captivity and release being debunked, Republicans are left to stand around looking not just damn foolish, but hypocritical and heartless. That’s not a novelty, of course; they’ve been doing it pretty much forever. Sgt. Berhdahl is simply the latest excuse for GOP poutrage spun out of whole cloth. On the brighter side, at least Republicans are spending so much time hyperventilating about him that they’ve hardly had time to keep grinding the stubs of their ax handles over Benghazi, the IRS, Syria, and whatever other pseudo-scandals have slipped my mind at the moment. Small mercies. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies on the Bergdahl release before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Any remaining unexploded Republican heads will probably explode today as direct talks begin in Geneva between officials of the US and Iran, as efforts continue to reach a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program by July. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns leads the US delegation.

The results of an internal audit on the VA’s hospital scheduling issues were released this morning. The details were heartbreaking and infuriating. Over 57,000 vets have been awaiting initial appointments for more than 90 days, and 64,000 enrollees over the past decade have never got an appointment. Also today, the House Veterans Affairs Committee hears testimony from the office of the VA’s Inspector General and representatives from the GAO. Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson has vowed swift reform.

Hillary Clinton, who says in an interview with Diane Sawyer airing tonight that she won’t announce her presidential plans until 2015, is kicking off a national book tour this week, during which she’ll be asked by every local media figure and every autograph-seeking fan at every stop in every city whether she intends to run in ’16. She’ll also be campaigning for a variety of Democrats, each of whom will ask her whether she intends to run in ’16.

The President kicks off the week with an expansion of the “Pay As You Earn” program and other executive modifications to student loans, while urging Congress to take legislative action. Presumably, he won’t be holding his breath about the latter. The President hosts a Monday event at the White House, with Dr. Jill Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in attendance.

On Tuesday, the focus on education cost and quality continues with the “President’s first-ever Tumblr Q&A” at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. The event will be moderated by Tumblr founder David Karp. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/9/14

The Five

DDI usually write analysis. I identify important points left out of the conversation (Ukrainian gas pipelines; the Koch brothers’ shadow governments in the states, race in the halls of power). I explain how these ideas and forces play out and their potential for unexpected turns. I keep open a global eye, especially in finance (recently, Argentina) and military force multipliers (the Navy’s AEGIS destroyer fleet). My slant is more German, the idea that the world has organic, multi-leveled interconnections, rather than English with its view of the sanctity of contracts or the French faith in rationalism.

I think the South wrote the book on how to leverage denial. And that Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has turned denial and fear into a major capital industry to direct politics without creating jobs. AFP just defeated a zoo levy in Columbus, Ohio by calling a slight increase in the zoo levy a “105 percent property tax hike,” calling their effort “education.”

By no means am I an Austrian, the counter flag for conservative ideology about government and markets whose views Paul Krugman describes as cockroach ideas—no matter how many times the ideas are defeated, proven wrong by experience, meticulously deconstructed by theory, they keep crawling back.

I admit I use the I Ching and find dialectical materialism, properly used, produces powerful insights. My thinking revisits the delta—not in Mississippi—but the eight grade algebraic function that calculates and expresses the rate of change, how fast and in what direction change is accelerating or slowing. My 10-year record of writings shows I’m usually a little ahead of the curve.

But today, I am writing head on. As an African-American, I understood the power of emotion and its power to color perspectives—I have witnessed six years of reactions to Barack (and Michele and the children). Frederick Douglass spoke of this emotional power to color and shape discussions in which race was a factor in his time. So did Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who warned of those who “stand in the most sacred places on earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of God, the universal Father of all men, and declare that ‘the best possible condition of the Negro is slavery.’”

The emotional distortion at the heart of race and power in a different form is at the unspoken center of the nation’s latest firestorm and to understand it, we must return to Aristotle, to his ideas of equality. Aristotle identified two main forms of equality; the relevant one is based on proportion, which for Aristotle meant looking at distribution. How will the effects of an action be distributed? To whom? When? Why; for what end?

So, can a political party who shut down the entire US government and all of its functions—the certifications that maintain the smooth flow of commerce, its payments to small businesses, its legal protections and inspections, its funds to education, hindering the operation of the national defense—who tried to kill health care and leave the poor and elderly to die in states claiming the sanctity of balance sheets–can this party and a rabid Congress convince a nation the Republic is at Defcon One because of the release of five “high ranking” Taliban from Guantanamo in Cuba, to a year’s vacation in Qatar?

I get the anger. I don’t get the threat. Continue reading The Five

Stormy Monday, 6/2/14

StormyMondaySgt. Bowe Bergdahl begins the week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany after nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. He was released Saturday after the conclusion of negotiations which included the release of five Afghani detainees from Guantanamo. Sgt. Bergdahl’s next stop is expected to be San Antonio Military Medical Center. And if his newfound freedom isn’t heartwarming enough, there’s this: Republicans are pissed off about it. So, apparently, is Hamid Karzai.

Thursday, the incomparable Bernie Sanders will chair a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on his proposed Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act, which, among other important and overdue measures to enhance veterans’ benefits, would go a very long way toward straightening out the unconscionable VA healthcare mess that cost Eric Shinseki his job last week.

The President heads to Europe today for a five-day junket that will include stops in Poland (to honor the 25th anniversary of democratic elections there), France (to honor the 70th anniversary of D-Day), and Belgium (to honor whatever it is that gets honored at G7 meetings).

Today, the EPA proposed a 30-percent reduction in power plant carbon emissions over the next 15 years. The plan gives states considerable flexibility in achieving targeted reductions. Even Republicans have found something to like about the proposal: an opportunity to score cheap political points. Tomorrow, the National Republican Senatorial Committee begins a series of predictably dishonest robocalls in four states, portraying incumbent Democratic senators as radical tree-huggers determined to bankrupt their constituents with out-of-control electric bills. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/2/14

Stormy Monday, 5/26/14

StormyMondayAfter his invigorating Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan, the President leaves the storied delights of Bagram Airfield behind for the shilling fields of DC. No wonder he’s planning to get out of town again by midweek, when he’ll head to West Point to deliver a commencement address focused on foreign policy, advocating what one Administration official calls “interventionism but not overreach.”

But before he gets that far, on Tuesday the President plays host to the fifth annual White House Science Fair. This year’s edition celebrates the achievements of women and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions nationwide.

Speaking of the President, Senator Ted Cruz, intrepid Texan-Canadian-Cuban defender of all things he considers Constitutional, warned last Thursday that the wily Kenyan Usurper and his Senate henchmen are goiing to repeal the First Amendment. Will it happen this week? You never know. Stay vigilant, and keep a bag packed in case you have to flee the house ahead of the secret police coming to haul you off to that FEMA camp you heard tell was being built out there in the woods past Transit Road.

Tuesday, voters will decide whether veteran Congressman Ralph Hall – 91 years old and a lurid example of that weirdest of political creatures, a Democrat turned Republican – should get another kick at the can, or whether he has already done sufficient damage to the Republic and should be replaced by the even more odious John Ratcliffe. If you’re a voter in the Texas 4th, well, to paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, “any way you look at it, you lose.”

Edward Snowden’s first interview with US mainstream media appears Wednesday, when NBC airs a sit-down he taped with the oleaginous Brian Williams in Moscow last week. I reckon the odds of Williams eliciting anything probative are roughly the same as Snowden’s chances of returning home to a tickertape parade and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

With John Conyers’ name back on the primary ballot by order of US District Court Judge Matthew Leitman last Friday, all eyes are on Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who has until June 6 to appeal the reinstatement before the ballot is officially certified. With Conyers on the ballot or as a write-in candidate, the primary will be held on August 5. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/26/14