Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

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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

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Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

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Take-FiveONE: Death Becomes Them

Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).

Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).

It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.

TWO: Squeaker of the House

John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”

Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.

THREE: China Syndrome

You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.

I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”

Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:

The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…

The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.

Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

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Sometimes, good strategy is overwhelmed by circumstances. Last week, time stood still as events bobbled up and down, spinning by on a supernatural carousel.

My evidence: Radio show hosts in California, suspended for mocking the explosions at the Boston marathon, complained of bullying because of the public outcry. A Minnesota radio talker boasted if he met the Newtown families, he would tell them “go to hell.”

A Philadelphia doctor, on trial for the murder of a woman patient, performed abortions in a clinic that smelled like urine, his refrigerator filled with fetuses in plastic bags. He joked about aborting late term babies “big enough to walk him to the bus stop,” and severed spinal cords from the heads by “snipping.” He severed pairs of tiny feet and collected them in green-lidded, clear specimen jars. He saved them, he said, for their DNA.

A Texas fertilizer plant blew up. Houses fifty miles away shook. Its mushroom cloud unfolded and hovered like an angry jinn. Highly volatile ammonia gas, liquefied, stored under high pressure in tanks that regulators were told presented no danger—at worst a release of ammonia to vent pressure—proved fatal for the 16 people the blast killed.

In the midst of bloody words, bombs, bullets and dead babies dropped into our consciousness and politics, we see a distress deeper than grief. Last week, the Massachusetts governor put several suburban communities and the entire city of Boston on lockdown—the official term is “shelter-in-place.”

When a gun is sheltered at home, the chances of women being victims of gun violence increase sixfold. The Senate, with electronic scanners, guards and pat-downs, voted no to women’s safety—refused to pass into law background checks for gun purchases that 90% of Americans—and 85% of gun owners—approve.

All Photographs by Leslie Jones, Boston Herald photographer; from Boston Public Library Collection on Flickr.

The Boston lockdown was a consequence of two backpack bombs made from pressure cookers filled with metal bearings and small nails, triggered by kitchen timers that exploded within yards of the finish of America’s most famous marathon.

One bomb killed an 8-year-old. A photograph of him in school shows him with his fingertips holding high for the camera a poster he made after the Newtown tragedy. It says “NO MORE hurting people.” “PEACE.” On talk radio, a national talker accepted call-in jokes about banning pressure cookers the day the 8-year-old died.

Media strategy: walk the bomb story to the edge (terrorism trumped the 3 dead and 170 wounded—some lost feet, legs and arms); ignore the irascible jokes and voices walking through our pain; bury in a solemn complacency the wild surge of furies that seemed to knock on every door; ask over and over: Is there a global plot? (Broadly, yes.) Are the two brothers and the Boston incident tied to it? (Specifically, no.) And ask what my 97-year-old uncle calls “the stupid questions,” the ones obviously with or without answers: “Can he die from his wounds?” “Where did they get the pressure cookers?”

What is the strategy for dealing with the events and damages of the national insanity? Strategy targets maximizing the middle. What’s the strategy when living is moving over the edge? When we are overwhelmed?

Personal Coping

First, recognize the unusualness and the uniqueness; the incredible effects on all of us, how it will amplify our bewilderment and burdens.

Increase your spiritual practice. Media avoids acknowledging the deeper inner space that lies beyond our feelings, but that is where our most cherished beliefs find their foundation.

Violence is not only a physical danger. It splinters our emotional bedrock. But it reminds us there’s strength in the void. So listen to your inner voice. Look beyond first impressions. Let your inner feelings flow. In times like these, trust their source, follow its lead. It’s on your side.

Just breathe. Pray or dance, laugh, cry, close your eyes, open your heart. Beyond the smoke and blaze and wealth, build no bars; not pity, have courage and resolve. Stray not from the old 18th century word, the “gladsome.” Healing requires purging. It’s not getting worse (but worse is to come!); it’s actually getting better. Our vision is clearing.

For, in this unique moment in our history—on the “occasion,” as W.E.B. DuBois called it in his book, Darkwater, “beset by constant perils”—the dark voices have never been more menacing, rude or absurd. And dangerous; politicians are wrapping the flag around tyranny.

They claim, especially on radio, that collective action, taken in close quarters and in concert, undermines the Constitution’s liberty—as they collectively undermine and ignore the entire 2.5-million-year history of humanity: an extraordinary accumulated record, marked in stone, which shows from its beginnings on the African plains that humanity required teamwork, sharing, cooperation, peaceful settlement of differences, and mutual respect. Compassion, especially when the community suffered a loss, or when tragedy struck beyond its control. Silence, maybe song, when words were too much.

The bones of barefooted ancestors show they didn’t complain loudly about the abridgment of their rights when the time came for them to contribute to something beyond their own satisfaction. They rose up as one in feats of hunting, wisdom, healing and protection, laughter and silence—that set the foundation course of our civilization and society. They built communal fires for the soul.

From China to Chile to Kenya to England to Russia to Australia to the Solomons and Seychelles, to the Great Plains and the Mississippi, the long march of human time shows one constant: that every hero knew we shared one heart and one blood, and those with real courage sacrificed to protect others. Continue reading Overwhelmed

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Take Five (Fresh Hell edition)

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ONE: California Knows How to Party

Since I’ll probably find out soon enough, the precise nature of eternal damnation isn’t something I spend much time wondering about. I’m inclined to think it’ll resemble being stuck in an elevator with an endless loop of Adele songs blaring from unseen speakers, but for all I know it could be even worse. One thing I’m sure of is that sharing this mortal coil with the rabid right is an excellent warm-up for it.

Let’s begin with Harmeet Dhillon, clearly a young woman on the rise. A founding partner of the San Francisco “boutique business law” firm Dhillon & Smith LLP, the Indian-born graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Virginia is an accomplished, respected member of her profession. Unfortunately, she’s also a Republican.

After an unsuccessful 2012 run for a California state senate seat, she has just become vice-chair of the California Republican Party, the first woman ever to hold the position. But Dhillon is also a devout Sikh, so her ascension to the post was marred by her party’s famous disinclination to rid itself of racists and other assorted scum.

Enter Vera Eyzedooren, president of the San Bernardino County Federation of Republican Women. Desperate to short-circuit Dhillon’s vice-chair bid, Eyzedooren took to Facebook with this little punctuation-challenged screed:

I was told by one of Harmeets friends that because of her religion her loyalty is to the Muslim religion. So she will defend a muslim beheading 2 men without any hesitation. The person who told me that on Facebook private message, erased it. But I copied the screen and saved it in case. She is not Republican….

Eyzedooren then linked to a blog reposting of an piece entitled: “Muslim who beheaded two men arraigned in New Jersey.”

The Facebook page where she posted this (“AlwaysRightUSA”!) now returns a “link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed” message, but the San Bernardino County Federation of Republican Women site still features this uplifting message from Eyzedooren herself:

Our goals are to promote an informed public through political education, communications and use persuasive tools on issues that matter to us the most, registering Republicans, and spreading the word of Republican values and principles.

I think you can safely consider the word spread and the public informed now, ma’am. Thanks much.

TWO: He Said, She Said

That wasn’t the only foul odor emanating from the California GOP spring convention. Celeste Greig, a high-profile attendee who heads the California Republican Assembly, a volunteer organization, was asked the other day to comment on Todd Akin’s offensive musings on rape and pregnancy from last August. Greig was happy to oblige, first by decrying Akin:

“That was an insensitive remark… I’m sure he regretted it. He should have come back and apologized.”

And then by, essentially, agreeing with him:

“Granted, the percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it’s an act of violence, because the body is traumatized.”

And then by more or less admitting that she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about:

“I don’t know what percentage of pregnancies are due to the violence of rape. Because of the trauma the body goes through, I don’t know what percentage of pregnancy results from the act.”

Greig’s organization proudly notes on its website:

President Ronald Reagan called the California Republican Assembly, “the conscience of the Republican Party.”

I never thought I’d say this, but I have to agree with Reagan.

THREE: Ignoble Gases

California Republicans don’t have a monopoly on stupid, of course. Up the coast, there’s Ed Orcutt, a representative who is the ranking Republican on Washington’s State Transportation Committee. Orcutt is bucking the GOP’s beloved no-tax ideology and expressing willingness to support a Democratic proposal that consumers who spend more than $500 on a bicycle in the state be subject to a new $25 tax. Orcutt explained his position in an e-mail to Dale Carlson, a Tacoma bicycle store owner:

… you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclists [sic] has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.

In fairness to Orcutt, he soon issued a retraction:

… let me apologize for the carbon emissions line of an e-mail which has caused so much concern within the bicycle community. It was over the top and I admit is not one which should enter into the conversation regarding bicycles.

Although I have always recognized that bicycling emits less carbon than cars, I see I did a poor job of indicating that within my e-mail. My point was that by not driving a car, a cyclist was not necessarily having a zero-carbon footprint. In looking back, it was not a point worthy of even mentioning so, again, I apologize – both for bringing it up and for the wording of the e-mail.

Hmm. Orcutt better watch that contrition thing; I’d bet money that it contravenes one or more planks in the official Republican platform. Another Republican state representative, Jim Sacia of Illinois, is in no such danger. Sacia is miffed because Chicago’s daunting level of gun violence might prompt firearms control measures that would also affect – gasp! – non-Chicago Illinoisans. Continue reading Take Five (Fresh Hell edition)

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Take Five (There Oughta Be a Law edition)

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ONE: A Good Week for Civil Rights

On February 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared California’s infamous Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Six days later, Washington became the seventh state to enshrine marriage equality into law. These are causes for celebration, but neither fight is over.

The Court of Appeals decision is merely the latest chapter in a story that began in 2008. The next chapter will likely be the written in Washington, once the organization files a Supreme Court Appeal. The group, which describes itself as a “broad-based coalition of California families, community leaders, religious leaders, pro-family organizations and individuals from all walks of life who have joined together to defend and restore the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman,” also has the option of an en banc appeal to an expanded judicial panel in the Ninth Circuit.

California marriage rights advocates will have to hope that court action(s) go their way; there seem to be no alternative approaches at this point. Love Honor Cherish, who have fought Prop 8 every step of the way, announced this week that they’ve abandoned their quest for a November ballot measure for formal repeal, following in the footsteps of LGBT advocacy group Equality California, which announced last fall:

In 2009, we anticipated that 2012 would provide our best opportunity in the near term to overturn Proposition 8 at the ballot. However, based on our analysis of public opinion and the significant challenges of the current political and economic climate, we concluded in fall 2011 that more work must be done and announced that we will not lead an effort to return to the ballot in 2012.

Following the enactment of Washington’s new law, marriage inequality zealots immediately began to close ranks:

A group called Preserve Marriage Washington filed Referendum 73 Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures needed by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned…

The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify the referendum to overturn the new law.

Given the time allowed and the low signature threshold, a November ballot measure seems inevitable. To find out how you can help defend hard-won equal rights under the law, go to the Washington United for Marriage website.

TWO: Justice Under Siege

While chilling at his vacation home on the Caribbean island of Nevis last Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, along with his wife and two guests, was robbed at machete-point by an intruder. The robber’s take was roughly $1,200. Happily, no one was hurt.

Since the story was fairly short on details, a number of media outlets supplemented it with crimes involving other justices:

Known crimes against the current justices are rare. In 2004, a group of young men assaulted now-retired Justice David Souter as he was jogging near his apartment in Southwest Washington.

And in 1996, Justice Ruth ­Bader Ginsburg was the victim of a purse-snatching as she and her husband and daughter were walking near the Kennedy Center.

Conspicuously unmentioned in such reports were Justices Scalia and Thomas, but I suppose that’s because they’re much more apt to be perpetrators than victims when it comes to criminal behavior.

THREE: Motor City Madman

General Motors, which you might recall is one of the two giant auto companies Barack Obama saved from extinction, had some good news to share today:

G.M. said it earned a quarterly profit of $472 million, or 28 cents a share, down from $510 million, or 31 cents a share, a year ago. It was the eighth consecutive quarterly profit for the carmaker…

For all of 2011, G.M. earned $7.6 billion, nearly all of it from North America. That was 62 percent higher than the $4.7 billion it earned a year ago and nominally more than G.M.’s previous record of $6.7 billion in 1997 (in today’s dollars, the 1997 profit would be about $9.4 billion).

This comes two days after someone named Mitt Romney (apparently the leader of a group of people who believe Mitt Romney should be President) contributed an op-ed to the Detroit News, in which he vacillates – sometimes within the same paragraph – between decrying President Obama’s handling of the auto bailout and trying to take credit himself for its success:

The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business… The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better… Instead of a bailout, I favored “managed bankruptcy” as the way forward… Shorn of… excess costs, and shorn of the bungling management that had driven them into a deep rut, they could re-emerge as vibrant and competitive companies. Ultimately, that is what happened. The course I recommended was eventually followed…

Now, I’m no diagnostician, but I’m guessing Romney’s confusion could be a result of the weird medical condition he mentions in the same piece:

Cars got in my bones early. And not just any cars, American cars.

Ouch! That might also explain Romney’s apparent preference for driving imports:

[Romney has] released an ad showing him driving around in a fancy Chrysler while he talks about how much he loves Michigan, and all…

And here’s the problem: that Chrysler that he’s driving is a 300 model, and the 300 is made in Canada.

In fairness, Romney does seem to have been driving American back in the days when he, his family, and his Irish setter Seamus made their annual vacation trip to, uh, Canada.

Romney is unambiguous in advising the White House what to do next:

The Obama administration needs to act now to divest itself of its ownership position in GM.

The shares need to be sold in a responsible fashion and the proceeds turned over to the nation’s taxpayers.

As always, President Obama is taking a smarter, more patient approach:

Shares of G.M. are worth about one-quarter less than the price set in an initial public offering in November 2010, when the federal government sold most of the 60 percent stake it received in G.M. after shepherding the company through bankruptcy.

The government still owns 26 percent of G.M., but the Obama administration has delayed plans to sell those shares in the hopes of recovering a larger percentage of its investment as the share price increases.

Oh, and Mitt? One more noteworthy item from today’s report:

The results mean G.M.’s hourly workers in the United States will receive profit-sharing checks next month of up to $7,000, a record…

Sounds like crony capitalism at its finest. Continue reading Take Five (There Oughta Be a Law edition)

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Take Five (Bled State, Rue State edition)

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ONE: Remember the MaineCare!

Governor Paul LePage, holly-jolly elf that he is, has a present in mind for 65,000 Mainers: no more health care. And another one for 4,400 people who made the misguided career choice to work in the health care field in Maine: no more job.

These Dickensian – uh, why don’t we just shorten that to “dickish”? – proposals would have to be approved by the legislature to become law, of course, but a poll last month gives LePage an approval rating of 47%, up from 31% last spring, so it seems that anything is possible in Maine these days. How that approval rating might hold up if LePage gets his way on this initiative is tough to predict, but prognostication of other effects is all too easy:

LePage’s proposal could increase the number of uninsured Mainers by about 50 percent, said Joseph Ditre, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “Our uninsured rate would go from one of the lowest in the country (10 percent) to one of the higher rates in the country (15 percent),” he said. “More people will go to hospital emergency rooms after delaying care and the costs will be tacked onto every insured person’s premiums in the state.”

But wait! There’s more:

The proposal would end MaineCare support for residential facilities for the mentally and physically disabled, labeled “private, non-medical institutions,” to save $47 million in state funds. The facilities often house senior citizens who no longer own a residence but don’t need nursing home care.

“These people have given up everything to get this level of care,” said Karen Higgins, executive director of the Phillips-Strickland House in Bangor, where 42 of the 48 residents rely on MaineCare. “They have no home to go back to.”

You might think something like that would concern Paul LePage, who was once homeless himself, but you would be wrong. As to that claimed $47 million in savings from the residential facilities, the number is bogus on its face:

It will also be hard to explain why it makes sense to cut the MaineCare budget by eliminating funding that supports 4,000 assisted living residents, who would likely have to move to much more expensive nursing home beds, which also are part of the MaineCare budget.

Ah, but I’m sure LePage will get around to gutting state support for those nursing home beds some other time. Maybe Christmas 2012. As the same editorial notes, LePage’s general approach to fiscal responsibility is decidedly irresponsible:

These cuts would also result in the state losing federal funds, which match state dollars at a 2-to-1 rate. Under the LePage plan, that money would stop coming into Maine to support doctors, nurses, pharmacies, clinics, group homes and other businesses in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors of our economy.

It is hard to see how the governor could say with a straight face that this plan is an “effort to fix” the state’s high health care costs “once and for all.”

Instead, he appears to be using a crisis to further his pre-cooked political agenda that starts by demonizing poor people.

Yes, he sure as hell appears to be doing just that, doesn’t he? In an opinion piece for the Bangor Daily News, David Farmer, who was communications director for former Governor John Baldacci, puts this latest LePage fiasco into a broader and starkly unpretty context:

Gov. LePage passed his first budget in the spring, and just barely six months in, the CEO who promised to bring business experience to the Blaine House is in trouble.

His budget projections are on life support. His top people don’t understand what’s happening with spending inside their own department, and it’s left them chasing an ever-growing financial storm.

A $70 million budget problem morphed, almost overnight, into a $120 million problem just for the current fiscal year, which is just six months old. Now the problem, according to the governor, requires more than $220 million worth of cuts, which target the state’s elderly, disabled, children and working poor.

LePage and other so-called fiscal hawks were swept into governors’ mansions in 2010 by an electorate that had been carpet-bombed with ludicrous Teabagger rhetoric and scurrilous media misrepresentations of the agenda of President Obama and his party, in an economy still reeling from the stultifying hangover following the GOP’s drunken binge of tax cuts for the wealthy, criminal wars of choice and the orgiastic excesses of deregulated capitalism, but keep in mind that in a state with a population of about 1,300,000, LePage attained office in 2010 with a roughly 8,000-vote plurality in a four-way race.

He may have been even quicker to shout “Mandate!” than George Bush the Lesser back in 2001, but a few thousand people thinking twice about their votes could have sent him back to the private sector. Mainers won’t get another chance to do that until 2014.

TWO: Eight Legged Freight

Another story out of Maine this week has no evident connection to LePage. Well, maybe a metaphorical one, come to think of it. Bath Iron Works, which is building a destroyer for the Navy, received what was intended to be a routine shipment of missile launcher parts from a California supplier, but also received a little something not mentioned on the bill of lading: two dozen black widow spiders:

BIW spokesman James DeMartini said the spiders were eradicated by a professional pest service and that none have been seen in the past week or so… A warehouse where the crates were stored initially, as well as some compartments of the future USS Michael Murphy, an Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer under construction at BIW, were fumigated, said DeMartini…

Aside from hiring the exterminator, DeMartini said BIW officials communicated with state and Navy officials as they dealt with the problem. Company doctors also had discussions with several employees who work in the affected areas, but DeMartini said no one was bitten. Despite the fact BIW receives shipments of parts and materials from far and wide, DeMartini said the arrival of the venomous spiders was a first to his knowledge.

Weird, though maybe not as weird as naming a destroyer after a likeable character actor whose credits include An Unmarried Woman, Manhattan and Batman Returns. Continue reading Take Five (Bled State, Rue State edition)

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