Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

StormyMondayAlready a month overdue, the President’s budget proposal is expected to drop Tuesday. Various House committees are already poised to posture, pontificate and proclaim their dismay, disgust and dudgeon, or – as it’s known in Washington – hold hearings.

The Senate will follow suit, and the liveliest of its proceedings will probably be the Wednesday appearance before the Armed Services Committee of Defense Secretary Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey. The witness panel will have the “best” seats in town at the pathetic spectacle of Republican committee members snuffling about that uppity President trying to destroy America’s ability to defend itself. Any day now, James Inhofe or Saxby Chambliss will realize that the President’s proposed cuts could leave the nation wide open to invasion… by Kenya.

Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington this week. His Monday schedule includes meetings with President Obama and with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, plus a meeting and press conference with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Netanyahu’s standard call for a hard line against the supposedly grave and gathering threat of Iran might not garner much enthusiasm from American politicians suddenly more concerned with reality in Ukraine than hypotheticals in the Middle East. Tuesday, though, Netanyahu addresses this year’s AIPAC conference, where he’ll undoubtedly find plenty of people very, very enthused.

Work is slated to begin Monday morning on a two-year, $60-million restoration of the Capitol Dome, the first such work there since 1960. A covered walkway in the Rotunda during renovations will ensure safe passage into and out of the Senate and House, which will themselves remain broken indefinitely.

However, DC is expected to receive between five and eight inches of snow this particular Stormy Monday, so the restoration schedule could be off to a rough start. Weather has already been cited for the postponement of a planned Monday evening Senate cloture vote in the confirmation proceedings of controversial nominee Debo P. Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

Stormy Monday, 10/28/13

StormyMondayWill HHS Secretary Sebelius fall on her sword? Will Websitegate force Barack Obama from office? Will Republicans ever shut their damn mouths and concentrate, for once, on doing something positive, rather than devoting all their time and tons of public money to futile attempts at de-legitimizing this President? No, no, and hell no.

After initial refusals, followed by scheduling issues, it now appears that Secretary Sebelius will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Expect majority members on the Committee to grandstand vigorously, hoping to compile some tasty video clips they can use for next year’s reelection efforts when they try to convince their constituents to save them from having to go and earn an honest living for another two years.

Wednesday morning, the 29-member Conference Committee holds its first meeting on the budget. Can Democrats and Republicans agree on a way forward? Can anything actually get done? Well, one thing that might get done this week is the passage of a House resolution formally giving the President a wag of the finger for having the colossal temerity to suspend the debt ceiling until February 7.  Laissez les bipartisan temps rouler! Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/28/13

Retrograde Anomalies

Students of astrology have long known about the retrograde function of planets, but we ignore its presence in politics. Increasingly, progress in America’s politics points to retrograde functions on both sides of the aisle.

For Republicans, it’s cuts, returns, and a retro-vision that becomes regressive, a serious intent to curtail the expansion of protections for women, restrictions on voting, increased hunger, decreased wages and jobs, and to place profit above all else, including competition, cooperation and quality of life.

When Apple is holding cash on hand, an unfettered sum greater than the GNP output of 140 nationsthat puts Apple in the top 50 countries in the worldprofit and its spun-off cash (not federal debt!) is crowding out economic growth and job creation, in the US and abroad.

For Democrats, it’s a series of fixes that hand out corporate welfare. It’s revisiting social programs with tweaks, patches and amended authority that offer a backdoor to special interests.

Recently the Senate, including the majority of Democrats, voted on budget guidance and recommended the removal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. The industry opposes the tax. Consumers will see no direct impact. But it matters to the industry; the multiplier in real numbers represents $30 billion over the next 10 years. It also matters to the budget, which would face a $30 billion hole.

Both sides of retrograde politics are being used in the attacks on the IRS. If a group is named Tea Party, associated with a historic act of civil disobedience to protest and refuse to play taxes, is it unreasonable or conspiratorial to review the applications of such groups as non-profits–especially when donations to these 501(c)(4) groups are not tax-deductiblebut allow donors to remain secret? Is it dark thinking to suggest that dark money might be behind the sudden profusion of these groups, numbered among the 1,751 applications the IRS received in 2010.

So in hindsight, the term “scandal” is being applied to a incident in retrograde. For Republicans, it’s the idea that any government review or regulation is intrusive, an abridgment of freedom, the loss of democracy, a death peal of the Founders’ intent. This reverse osmosis removes all of the benefits to the public good and social order and creates an imbalance of power and wealth to which the Founders (some!) would have been inextricably opposed. But dead men make no objections. Continue reading Retrograde Anomalies

How Come Big News Is Seldom About Big Ideas?

Have you noticed how we now log our tragedies by their dates?

We have killed more of our own citizens with guns than have died in all the wars the US fought since the Revolution (212,000+).

Robbing Peter to pay Paul, it’s March, time to take advantage of the wind energy from the GOP check-kiting plan to use empty Treasury coffers to pay government debt in lieu of their first choice of default.

When is the time ninety percent of Americans agreed on anything? Astounding, across the hills and vales of the majestic plains below the purple mountains, ninety percent of America agrees on purchasers of guns being reviewed by background checks. 

Old Westerns had heroic characters famed for the use of guns, who often worked indirectly on-screen to prevent the ownership and use of guns for self-defense or to settle disputes, due to the lessons learned from their own personal, on-screen (or back story) experience (fictionally!). As famed gun users in a violent era, no Western movie hero argued on-screen for increasing the ownership of guns. Those who assembled armies of guns were labeled bad guys. Of course, the NRA would now call good guys trying to limit guns a fantasy. The NRA position is now the one endorsed by Hollywood’s worst outlaws. (I call their view a curse. And at least thirteen senators want America to become the OK Corral.)

Maybe the two or three members of Congress from Florida who are calling the shots for a full congressional investigation of Jay-Z and Beyoncé visiting a children’s dance troupe, an arts school, and an elderly, well known Cuban singer, and Jay-Z being photographed with a Cuban cigar and the two eating in privately-owned restaurants while visiting Havana will come in time to see such a call as a demand for government to grossly intrude in the lives of citizens (a position the Congress members profess to abhor!), and more importantly, a spurious, non-productive use of government resources, a waste of money for political frivolity that represents the excesses that give government a bad name (and negate the fervent claim of fiscal fidelity put forth by these same Congress members who are suddenly eager to practice a violation of their core campaign, party, and personal principles!).

The couple had the proper license for cultural exchanges that meet US guidelines for travel to Cuba. To call the famous couple’s trip “tourism” is another example of the petty insignificance associated with outsized, politically faked outrage (their indignation targeted at wealthy minority celebrities who didn’t stay up late in South Beach clubs). The Cuban people themselves seem to disagree with the American Congress members; they cheered wildly, smiled, clapped, and were excited everywhere the couple went. (Was this a state demonstration ordered by Raul Castro?)

The Congress members manufactured a non-issue to stoke anger and resentment. Do you believe there is a patriotic cause to be served by closing cultural contacts with Cuba—and leaving open the pipeline to Mitt Romney’s Grand Cayman accounts?

In fact, what has the boycott of Cuba proven other than we can boycott Cuba? Did it improve the lives of Cubans? Bring them closer to full liberty? Topple the regime? End human rights violations? Or comfort an old anger?

Both Virginia and Florida have new state educational standards that differ for children based on their ethnicity and race. In Florida, the tax dollars of a black parent buy fifty percent of the standard that the tax dollars of a white parent do. When vouchers are created, vouchers for black parents will buy fifty percent less education than those of whites—but both meet state-approved standards. Suddenly, black children will be successful in charter schools—achieving an official, approved state standard fifty percent lower than the one set for whites.

Who thinks of these things?

How come big news is never any longer about big ideas?

GOP Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader of the Senate, brought up a big name this week, a seminal event in America’s history, Watergate. In his description of the leak of a strategic meeting for his re-election, he conveniently compared it to the famous Watergate break-in (done by operatives working for a Republican Presidential campaign effort!) and re-wrote the history of political taping: he suggested the tapes were obtained by bugs placed in his office!

He ignored the rich irony that the content of the tapes brought the presidency of Richard Nixon down. Nixon’s tapes revealed and documented acts illegal and unethical. McConnell’s tapes called for focusing on an opponent’s mental health issues. McConnell’s own mental health and morals should be questioned and come under inspection. He lies. He is delusional (by any standard). He utterly lacks standards of social behavior. He violates community ethics. He is unable to accept responsibility. He is devoid of honesty or fair play. Will the same personal flaws that once got Richard Nixon impeached get Mitch McConnell reelected?

In the House, McConnell has a kindred spirit in Paul Ryan. In submitting his budget plan for marking, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) detailed the rules Paul Ryan and his staff specified “by which revenues and spending would evolve.”

Ryan told the CBO to assume his Medicare plan would hold costs to half a percent above GDP growth. He required the CBO to assume spending on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would grow at the rate of inflation. He told the CBO to assume that federal spending, outside of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, will fall to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050. He chairs the committee that oversees our national budget!

The President apologized to California’s Attorney General for saying she was America’s “best looking” state Attorney General. In a country whose largest media event, the Super Bowl, included Jay-Z’s wife in full breakdown mode, and after a CBS memo for the Oscars, the Onion’s Oscar night misstep that many called “free speech,” thousands of scatological posts about the President’s own sexuality (one asking the First Lady how it feels to be “a beard”) and scathing comments about the First Lady’s body image, none which rise to the level of a comment using the phrase “good looking,” why all the noise?

The point here (and for the whole piece!) is to point out that when an event or phrase is singled out and profiled, it is generally tied to a deeper cultural meaning that the media ignores, one hidden by the obvious and transparent political claims being made. And these deeper meanings must be reviewed and weighed not as tit and tat or good and bad or double evils or final reasons (or tennis returns! Go Serena!), but for the weight they add to or take away from the collective progress, peace, and love, and how they mark our path. 

The diet of Republican politics has a lot of fat and greasy palms and bad choices for America’s health. But the GOP has staked a claim on obscuring facts and proclaiming the end of the world.

Fact: No President in history has been as emotionally public and transparent as Barack Obama. (Try to imagine any GOP President or nominee saying to a crowd, “I love you back.”) His hugs of Michelle I sometimes feel should be private, so intimate do they appear. (I have written here of eagles locking talons!) But to my memory, his words should have been public; beauty is a gift and an aesthetic that we can appreciate, and should not be tied to the idea that its acknowledgement belittles others or crosses a conventional line of correctness—but more, in the complex of my own memory, I have waited for this day, because I am a Southerner and I remember the hoped-to-be pardoned Scottsboro Boys and I remember Emmett Till. Continue reading How Come Big News Is Seldom About Big Ideas?

Take a Look At the Arleigh Burke Destroyers: The Best of Class

While not a militarist, I point to the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers, the world’s most advanced destroyer class, whose motto is, “If it flies, it dies.” The US Navy calls it “a total weapons system, from detection to kill.” It can search, track and direct fire simultaneously at more than 100 targets. Its multi-mission capacity includes land, water surface, air and underwater intercepts against all known foes and current systems. Built in Mississippi and Maine, its Aegis combat system makes the Arleigh Burke destroyers the world’s most advanced ships by two generations. Its various technologies are in high demand by our naval allies.

The center of many debates, Defense, for most of the public, is a mystery. The political sirens avoid the specifics of US advanced weapon systems like the Aegis or tests of electronic infantry weaponry that can shoot and hit targets around corners. It sounds like comic book fantasy, but is described openly in Defense newsletters, in interviews by government and private officials.

Arleigh Burke class destroyers caught my eye when I met an Ex-O (Executive Officer, 2nd in command!) who was a young woman, confident and trained to meet any challenge. Invited to visit the yet-to-be commissioned ship, I stood at the bridge, its computerized displays dark. I was within easy reach of dials and switches that could defend against simultaneous attacks by air, land and sea. Whether the threat be ships, submarines, aircraft or land-based missiles, the bridge officer issues commands launching the ship’s loaded-in nuclear warheads, rockets and torpedoes. Columnists and politicians speak of “decline,” and politicians warn of cuts, and create partisan fights. I think it is a blatantly unfair description of our readiness, and our technology.

The real military decline is in citizen participation. We have a volunteer military that privatizes war into a profession; the military is now a public enterprise rather than a public service. We thank those who serve, but the rest of us avoid the military’s experience of dangerous, underpaid public duty. Its fiscal pain is in private, no-bid contracting that produces shoddy, incomplete, dangerous work, and massive waste (and profits!) through cost overruns. The human costs of revolving deployments of three, four and five tours in combat, more than seen by any modern combat troops, destroys the members of our uniformed services as much as the acts of our enemies.

Women in uniform are still more likely to be assaulted than see combat; suicide rates are way too high. The nation and the military—and certainly the families—would welcome a decline in these statistics!

But what are we getting or giving up in the debate over the strength and readiness of our national defense? An example is the Arleigh Burke destroyers, ships with the best pair of eyes and coordination on the seas. Continue reading Take a Look At the Arleigh Burke Destroyers: The Best of Class

The Differing Prices of Freedom and Profit

Recycling is a noble goal except when it comes to politics. Unless it’s a way forward, pushing the same ideas year after year is ignoble and ignorant. But yet again, we see the return of the single note of the dead horse of the tax cut, with the Republicans grabbing the crop and flailing away, going nowhere. Soundly rejected at the polls, they keep the idea alive that tax cuts are an idea that America can ride.

Rather than prosperity, their argument is really about power. In a government the size of America’s, more important than legislative power, the power to make laws, is budget power, the power to buy and cut, to control the purse. The advantage of politicizing the balance sheet is that buying and cutting happens outside of the public’s eye. Name the builder who got the plumbing contract for your local schools; name the company that makes the cockpit canopies for jet fighters; or the manufacturer of something as common as the military’s MREs (ready to eat meals); I can’t. Through government, we spend lots of money on things we don’t know about and have no idea how much they they cost. We also spend money on services—health care, food—that impact people directly, and these programs are well known.

The Republican path to power doesn’t involve innovation or efficiency; nor is its end goal savings. Their hunger for power recycles the buzz words “tax cut” because it opens the way to changes in the balance sheet and advances the Republican drive for power on different fronts at the same time.

One of the unique properties of democracy is that rights are expanded through government. By the same authority of government, rights can be diminished. For those with intra-gender preference, the expansion of rights to marriage, open military service, survivor’s benefits, child adoption, non-discrimination and job opportunities is tied directly to the powers of government, state and federal. The contraction of rights, say in a woman’s right to choose, also results from attacks led through government, aimed at the money spent to create the opportunities of reproductive choice. State legislation barred money from being used for choice procedures and has piled on building requirements that make it almost impossible to operate a clinic; the costs of the required modifications are too high. Continue reading The Differing Prices of Freedom and Profit

Take Five (Who Has Seen the Windbag edition)

ONE: Spin v. Spin

The ongoing battle between proponents of Scotland’s mooted European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre and walking wind farm Donald Trump, who insists the project will ruin his nearby golf resort, took a wonkish turn this week as the media temporarily forsook its frenzied pursuit of yet another loquacious Trumpian tantrum in favor of some, you know, information and stuff. The information, such as it was, was offered up by Vattenfall, the government-owned Swedish utility hoping to build the renewable energy project.

For very good reasons, Vattenfall is not too popular with environmental groups. Its business practices and fondness for ecological window dressing have drawn justified scorn from Greenpeace, for example. Vattenfall was even “honored” with a Climate Greenwash Award in 2009:

Vattenfall plans to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, capturing CO2 and storing it underground, to clean up its coal-fired power stations… Vattenfall uses coal in 20 power plants across Europe and wants to build more. According to the International Energy Agency (a champion of CCS) the technology is unlikely to be commercially viable until after 2020 – too late to prevent dangerous climate change.

Vattenfall has successfully lobbied for political and financial support for CCS in Europe and the company is also actively lobbying for nuclear power – despite leaks at its generators in Germany and Sweden.

One of Vattenfall’s strategies to decrease emissions is to burn coal with biomass, mainly from wood pellets and straw, continuing demand for coal and increasing pressure on forest resources. Vattenfall also burns peat causing huge environmental damage. Vattenfall claims it will be “climate neutral” by 2050 but emitted 82.5 million tonnes of CO2 in 2008 – more than its home country which emitted 67 million tonnes (2005).

Safe to say, then, that Vattenfall is by no means necessarily the hero here, but since Take Five previously featured some of bullet-headed microphone hog Donald Trump’s exorbitantly self-interested views on all this, let’s just hear what Vattenfall had to say:

Jason Ormiston, a senior executive with the firm, told Holyrood’s energy committee yesterday that schemes such as the planned 11-turbine test site in the North Sea could help turn Scotland into a “world leader” in the renewable energy sector…

Mr Ormiston, Vattenfall’s head of public and regulatory affairs, said that projects such as the wind farm off the Aberdeen coast were “urgently required” to meet the UK’s renewable energy targets.

He said: “They could see gross value added to the UK economy of £7bn and a cumulative cost-reduction impact of £45bn for the whole offshore wind sector in UK waters by 2050.”

Mr Ormiston went on to say that the scheme would also help the Scottish Government meet its flagship renewable energy target of creating all of Scotland’s electricity from green sources by 2020.

To the extent that any of that turns out to be true, that’s great, but reaction from The Donald’s camp was swift and hostile. Trump second-in-command George Sorial angrily alleged that the project would result in higher consumer prices for electricity, a predictably off-the-rack criticism of wind power and one that generally fails to stand up to much scrutiny. He also claimed that any economic benefits obtained would accrue only to the Swedes, although he was at least polite enough to refrain from calling them “bloodthirsty Viking breeze-thieves.”

Of course, Sorial doesn’t really give a damn about how much Scots pay for their power, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Trump were to announce tomorrow that he’s going to build a luxury golf resort near Uppsala. What this really comes down to is a rich clod who’s irrationally upset about the idea of 11 wind turbines two and a half miles out to sea from his golf course. Despite the potential loss of caddying jobs if Trump makes good on his threats to pull the plug on his resort, I suspect Scotland will do the right thing here and – assuming the wind is right – tell him to go fly a kite.

TWO: Another Pleasant Valley Wednesday

Back in 1935, Manchester, Connecticut took to describing itself as the “city of village charm” but young Eric Didio learned last week that Manchester has its wrong side of the tracks, and he has the misfortune to work there:

Didio, 23, an employee of Boston Market restaurant, was cavorting in his bright yellow [chicken] costume, waving a small American flag to passersby on Pleasant Valley Road, when a brazen thief interrupted his chicken-hawking.

“He was standing out here, doing his little chicken dance, and a guy hopped out of a car stopped at the light, ran over here, grabbed the flag and took off,” restaurant general manager Nathan Atwood said.

Shortly after the theft, reported at about 12:30 p.m., Atwood stood next to Didio, providing security for his “chicken dude.” Atwood said a customer who witnessed the theft called police.

The emergency dispatcher could not relay the entire call, twice breaking into laughter while trying to say, “chicken suit.”

Terrorist? Political activist? Flag fetishist? Poultry-phobe? Hard to say, but let’s hope the “city of village charm” devotes all necessary crime-fighting resources to finding the dumb cluck who did this and bringing him to justice.

THREE: Brother, Can You Spare a Camel?

Yes, it’s a cliché, but times really are tough all over.

NASA, for example, which last year sucked up a whopping half a percent of the federal budget, is now facing severe cutbacks:

It has come to this: planetary scientists across the United States hawked baked goods to the public on Saturday in an effort to drum up awareness of their field’s dwindling financial support. They were protesting plans in US President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget request to cut 21% from NASA’s planetary-science budget, and 38% from its Mars projects.

The planetary scientists weren’t hoping to fill their coffers with the revenue from the sale; instead, they offered free sweets in return for signatures on letters beseeching Congress to reverse the cuts…

Elsewhere, planetary scientists showed that they would do anything to raise awareness. In Boulder, they polished shoes. In Houston, Texas, scientists from the Lunar and Planetary Institute joined forces with the dark side, colluding with costumed Star Wars stormtroopers to attract supporters.

The space agency’s 2012 budget was $17.8 billion, an amount that would pay for less than nine weeks of the war in Afghanistan, a war that President Obama and other attendees at the recent NATO summit confirmed will continue until the end of 2014. Per ardua ad astra, as the saying goes.

Speaking of cash-strapped, Somali radicals have resorted to the barter system in their quest for “intelligence” to support whatever the hell bad stuff they’re currently up to:

Al-Shabaab has placed a bounty of 10 camels for President Barack Obama and two camels for information on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

An audio statement posted on jihadist websites purportedly from Al-Shabaab jeered news that the United States is offering millions of dollars for information on seven key members of al-Shabaab through its Rewards for Justice program.

The man on the audio claimed to be Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, considered by the State Department to be Al-Shabaab’s leading fundraiser. The United States has offered $5 million for information of his whereabouts.

“Whoever brings the mujahidin information about the whereabouts of infidel Obama and the lady of Bill Clinton, the woman named Hillary Clinton, I will give a reward,” the man said.

Since Khalaf has apparently never heard of a place called “Washington, DC” it’s hard to believe he poses much of a threat, but better safe than sorry. If he ends up at Gitmo, he should at least get some special privileges for confirming that the President is not a Muslim.

Shockingly, even the Nobel Foundation has been feeling the pinch, and intends to pass the pain on to the “consumer”:

Nobel Prize winners are to receive a smaller cash sum in future, after a cut to prize winnings was announced.

The Nobel Foundation said the economic crisis was to blame for the move, which will see a 20% cut in prize money.

The foundation said the returns on its capital had not grown at the same rate as its costs, and that future winners would receive $1.1m (£700,000).

Good thing noted infidel and penny-pinching NASA-hater Barack Obama got his Peace Prize back in 2009. Continue reading Take Five (Who Has Seen the Windbag edition)

It Didn't Have to Happen

This whole debt ceiling fight didn’t have to happen. It’s never happened before; it didn’t have to happen now. It just didn’t.

The debt-ceiling has been raised over 80 times, including 7 times under President Obama’s immediate predecessor, . . . → Read More: It Didn’t Have to Happen

TSW #15

Every mom who has ever been at her wit’s end recognizes Barack Obama. The president who earlier nagged Congress that it was time for Americans to “eat our peas” finally threw his own peas to the floor and . . . → Read More: TSW #15

TSW #14

Now Mr. Obama is using the debt-ceiling debate as a battering ram not to control spending but to command a tax increase. We’re told the White House list of immediate budget savings, the ones that matter most because . . . → Read More: TSW #14