With immigration reform, gun control, jobs, the economy and a host of other priorities ignored, mishandled or otherwise botched by the worst Congress of the modern era (and maybe ever), it’s time for Congressional Republicans to make an utter mess of government itself. This week the fools on the Hill try to beat the clock on a continuing resolution on spending, and may God help the United States of America.
Will the government still be fully operational at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday? Not if House Republicans and their fellow travelers in the Senate get their way. With the House GOP determined to make a continuing resolution contingent on the demise or delay of Obamacare, and the Senate’s Democratic majority determined to resist the effort, the eleventh-hour negotiations look suspiciously similar to the negotiations gone before, which you might remember have led precisely nowhere.
Even if, by some unanticipated miracle, a continuing resolution amenable to both chambers can be cobbled together, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reckons that the nation will bash its head on the debt ceiling no later than October 17, another unnecessary fiscal crisis tailor-made for Republican foot-stomping intransigence and pre-adolescent brinkmanship. The President summed all this up the other day, neatly:
“No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget.”
Also on Tuesday, the health insurance exchanges, a central component of Obamacare, are scheduled to open, and according to remarks by the President last Friday, they will: “Those marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there’s a government shutdown. That’s a done deal.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/30/13
ONE: 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)
Tuesday, more IRS crap hits the fan with the release of a watchdog’s report that fingers the agency for, among other things, spending $49 million on employee conferences over the past three years. Some of the expenses have already been described by Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel as “inappropriate” (like $60,000 for two training videos, one of which was a Star Trek parody featuring a large, taxpayer-funded mock-up of the bridge of the Enterprise, and the other showing IRS employees learning how to do the Cupid Shuffle).
House of Representatives Thug-in-Residence Darrell Issa has announced a Thursday hearing on the watchdog report. This will follow two more IRS-related House hearings this week, an Appropriations Committee hearing Monday, at which Werfel will testify, and a Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Teabaggers will complain publicly about how dreadfully unfair it was for the IRS to scrutinize them simply because they loudly hate the government, hate paying taxes, and hate democracy.
After a Wednesday stop in Charlotte on his continuing “Middle-Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour,” the President will attend some California fundraising events for Congressional Democrats before meeting Friday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for a brief summit at Sunnylands, the Rancho Mirage home of the late Walter Annenberg. This comes mere days after the State Department called on China to end persecution of Tiananmen Square dissidents and “fully account for those killed, detained or missing,” an exhortation that prompted China’s foreign ministry to accuse the United States of “interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
No information has been released about summit menus, but after a few hours discussing trade, human rights and North Korea, let’s hope the hungry leaders avoid tucking into a ham or other pork product from Smithfield; the company’s food safety record is so dreadful that Smithfield was just bought up by the even more dreadful Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui International. Hold the clenbuterol.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on Fisher v. University of Texas, a decision that could have a significant impact on the future of affirmative action. Elena Kagan has recused herself, increasing the odds that the Supreme Court’s conservative faction will find against the school’s minority admissions policy. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/3/13
With all the crazy things he says, if Mitt Romney were a student on any of America’s college campuses, he would be profiled on a watch list. His radical speech continually advocating the abolition of the federal government while attending classes with classmates with tuition paid for by federal student loans would register as a blind contradiction and personality disconnect (dissociative identity) that could easily cross the line from blame and denigration to violence. Instead, he is running for President of the United States as a candidate for the Republican Party and ducking questions about his claims, saying conversations about inequity should be held in quiet rooms where, promising to “do more” if he could to cut jobs, he rails against 47% of Americans whose incomes are so low they are exempt from income taxes.
He is not alone in the group home; group homes are normally places where people with special challenges are given love and support and encouraged to break through their veils. But Mitt does a Mitty; his advocacy network of irrational politics has the power to make his cruelest fantasies real and impose them on the rest of us, no matter our own dreams. He and his ilk are well funded by operators who see dollars in the vast disability that shadow hims and others: parts narcissism, delusion, paranoid, manic, a bundle of anti-social behaviors including the lack of empathy, guilt, or remorse for pathological lying, a grandeur that writes its own morality and rules of the game.
For instance, Michael Brown, the infamous “Brownie” who let New Orleans turn into Atlantis, publicly chided President Obama for reacting to hurricane Sandy too soon, claiming the President’s actions were “premature.” Brownie is also on record claiming Obama “wanted” the Gulf oil spill so he could suspend offshore drilling. Brown never saw a disaster he couldn’t make worse or find faults and conspiracies in the tragedy. And he once ran the nation’s emergency response.
Or take Romney’s television and radio commercial claiming GM and Chrysler both intend to send American production jobs to China. Both companies have taken the unusual step of calling the “car guy” a liar. A GM spokesperson cited galactic-length differences between the Romney ads and reality. The spokesperson went on: “no amount of campaign politics at its cynical worse will diminish our record of creating jobs.” Chrysler’s CEO, calling the ads, “inaccurate,” pointed out Chrysler has added 2,900 jobs at downtown Detroit’s Jefferson Avenue plant, which builds Jeep Cherokees. Ironically, Romney’s father built Jeeps in China in the 1980s, as CEO of American Motors. Chrysler will build there, too, for China’s market, the world’s largest.
Romney knows a list of facts don’t add up to truth. But America has frequently confused villains and heroes; the bad man is often the good guy. And the good guy often has fatal flaws. Barack Obama has shouldered the abuse and crises and carnage left by the former and potential residents of office, and his flaw seems to be a stoic good cheer for which he is mercilessly heckled. Many (some from both sides!) seem angry that they haven’t been able to seduce the President into a meltdown. Continue reading When A List Of Facts Don’t Tell The Truth
Barack Obama has a modest economic record and here’s why: Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and others gave him bad advice; his political people, David Axelrod, Patrick Gaspard, David Plouffe and others, had no feel for the broad suffering of America and lacked technical know-how or institutional experience in managing the world’s largest macro-economy; from Europe to Asia, global headwinds stalled job growth, the Council of Economic Advisors was a revolving door, and Barack’s own mastery and knowledge of economic fundamentals is weak. Twenty-nine million Americans looking for working is the result, a dismal record, especially four years past the Great Crisis.
Legislatively, Republicans blocked the recovery by threatening the integrity of American credit, by turning wrongheaded ideas into talking points, by ignoring truth (government does create jobs!), by passing bill after bill never destined to reach the President’s desk, bills never intended to help American families, never proposing a change in the rules that aided families burdened by mortgages and foreclosures, never stimulating demand—the key to job growth. They offered instead cuts in safety nets.
Yet the index for equity markets doubled from their 2009 bottom and more than ever companies saw record profits by 2012. Capital tells a very different story than jobs. Why the contradiction between record profits and job recovery, between community suffering and corporate swag?
Hidden in plain sight, it’s the part Mitt Romney conveniently leaves out of his message. Again, Mitt switches positions to pretend he is something he is not: he has no “know-how” about creating jobs—none. Mitt is a balance sheet guy. He creates capital—not work. He extracts capital gains—he does not increase paychecks. Wealth is profit; labor is an expense. His goal is to take out cash, not increase what workers take home. His entire corporate life, his constant activity has been extracting wealth, trading capital, increasing its return as capital gains. His ideas have a single source: profit, capital wealth.
And where did that capital wealth come from? He robbed labor. Without conscience, he fired workers, stole their pensions, stripped their benefits, sold their machines overseas to increase his personal wealth. He did not grow production; he extracted its value. He wrecked perfectly solid companies.
Now, with relish, he thinks his success and its carnage of unemployed workers will benefit the nation, the “small businesses” he cites. He never mentions the word “workers”—or their families, hoping we confuse capital wealth with increased demand. If Romney’s view were true, record profits would already be driving hiring. The top ten companies holding cash are behemoths of strength and stability, all in Fortune’s Top 100 US.
Here’s a partial list: Exxon Mobil (energy), $17.8 billion; WellPoint (health insurance); $20.3 billion; Amgen (biotech), $22.5 billion; Pfizer (drugs, equipment), $24.3 billion; Apple, (technology) $27. 6 billion; Oracle (software) 30.7 billion; Google (technology networks), $41.7 billion; Cisco Systems (technology) $48.7 billion; Microsoft (technology) $62 billion.
These are not small businesses. Mitt Romney knows nothing of small businesses, whether tailoring or coffee shops, lawn care or day care, mobile labs or fund raising, bed & breakfasts or convenience stores. He never walked their path. He does not know their craft—or the balance sheets of the Patels, the name identified with the large Indian community who now own 70% of American hotel rooms; they know more than Mitt about creating jobs and wealth. Washington, DC’s immigrant Ethiopian community turned service jobs into a several-block area of restaurants and stores (bounded by U and 9th Streets NW), creating a core of businesses and experiences that supports a network opening new neighborhoods and cities. Koreans and Iraqis have done the same with inner-city groceries.
The list of cash hoarders that Mitt wants to help in the name of workers are not small business—or job creators. He ignores the successful examples and models right under his nose! The culture of the giants he comes from and supports pushes profit and power, demanding concessions, lowered costs, global franchises. The frantic pleas of 29 million Americans are written off as national depreciation, a group that exceeded its usefulness and is somebody else’s problem. The 47 percent. Continue reading Obama Will Make Bad Better
A partisan critique of the President’s foreign policy is not a foreign policy plan. Mitt Romney is conducting his review, and his VFW convention stump speech on foreign policy sounded remarkably similar to his stump speech about America’s standing. All fault, no forward. All will, no way. All blame, no shame. His grand strategy sounds like a call for global domination. We know he doesn’t practice what he preaches! He is the first major party candidate to express his faith in America by moving his money out of the country. The real question is: what does he preach?
What uses of soft power does Romney propose? Where does he stand on the UN call for nations to give 0.07% of GDP to foreign aid? What is his approach to the military and political conflicts that have destabilized and disrupted important African states? Does he see the connections between political stability and gender equality recently outlined in Foreign Policy? What are his views on international agreements on fishing stocks? How will he limit the theft of intellectual property?
Does he see AIDS treatment as an arm of American policy? Will he switch to local purchases of food aid, a model that reduces workers’ risk, stimulates local markets, and broadens the aid’s impact? Will he strengthen ties with Brazil, already a major partner of China? Will he aid in developing Brazil’s enormous oil find or expand its steel industry, redirecting energy and infrastructure trade to a hemispherical partner? Does he support greater access to education and greater economic opportunity for the world’s women?
Could Romney rally the world against Iran as the President has done? Will he continue drone strikes? Does he support rendition?
Romney’s policy seems to be to search for enemies, spend billions more on building outmoded traditional defenses like battleships and carriers, and restore imperialism. For him, global social reform means suppressing the rights of laborers and workers and controlling the results of democratic actions by organizing efforts to undermine self-determination. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Romney on Foreign Policy: All Fault, No Forward
Who thinks fines work? Large fines, in the millions and billions of dollars, do they really change the corporate culture of open corruption, criminal behavior, the rule-breaking practices, the willingness to cheat that they are supposed to punish and deter? Or are they the cost of doing business for many businesses, especially large, multi-national corporations, whose continued violations damage US security and policy and are a major theft of taxpayers’ money?
In May 2011, the Department of State levied its largest civil penalty ever, $79 million, against a subsidiary of a British firm, BAE Systems, for illegal arms trafficking, after the firm was convicted of conspiracy to violate two international laws an estimated 2,591 times. 2,600 arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Hungry, Tanzania and Sweden, among other countries, were a part of the violations. The State Department settlement was the civil case. BAE Systems paid a $400 million criminal fine.
The Department of State’s Office of Defense Trade Controls addresses civil violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the two acts most frequently violated.
After it was all over, BAE Systems issued a statement thanking the State Department for its help in bringing the company’s inventory, record keeping, and sales program into international compliance. Of course, it has “initiated the appropriate steps.” BAE System is one of the Defense Department’s Top 10 contractors.
Penalties and fines–paid to the Department of State? By military procurers? Yes, State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs investigates, charges and negotiates civil settlements of US and international violations of arms trade agreements and regulations. This March (2012) it settled nine violations by New Jersey’s Alpine Aerospace Corporation acts for $30,000.
In late June (2012), DDTC landed a bigger fish, a major Connecticut defense contractor, the bellwether United Technologies (UTC). According to a State Department announcement, UTC was fined $75 million “global settlement” for violations of ITAR with China, dating back to 2002, some involving military software. Its stock price rose 3.5% last Friday on the news. State said, “UTC’s numerous violations demonstrated a systemic, corporate-wide failure to maintain effective ITAR controls.” The investigation and fine addressed “arms export violations to China, false and belated disclosures to the U.S. Government about these illegal exports, and many other compliance failures.” But $20 million of the fine was suspended and returned to UTC to be used for remedial compliance!
What court or legal authority gives you money back? Especially after you have potentially damaged foreign policy and arms trade agreements involving software with a major power with whom we have major differences? This is not an intervention with a certificate of completion. These fines were not for acts that were inadvertent, causal or occasional. They were multiple, sustained, and intentional.
In many cases, they were corruption in plain sight, a complete failure of oversight.
Since 2007, the Justice Department has a 44 page list that summarizes its major indictments and arrests for defense exports. These include:
- ~A January 2011 arrest for possession of 300 automatic assault rifles, 150 grenades and other remote detonated explosive devices.
- ~A January 2011 $15.5 million fine and prison terms for providing China with restricted electronics including military phased array radar, guidance systems and satellite communication systems.
- ~A January 2011 attempted sale of an F-5 fighter plane to Iran.
- ~October 2010, 58 tons of weapons and ammunition to Sri Lanka.
- ~A $4 million arms ship to the Ivory Coast.
Are fines closing the gates on the commerce that daily seems to compromise US security? Are the variety of violators operating without fear, taking advantage of lax regulation and oversight to direct arms and technology worldwide while reaping spectacular profits? Media covers the financial markets and their stumbles are front page news. Defense is an ongoing market that represents a bigger and more deadly threat that accumulates daily violations as a matter of course, but is ignored and off the radar of public consciousness. Why? Continue reading Digging Deeper: Are Government Fines a Firewall?