The President and First Lady will attend a national memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Tuesday, but other details of the trip are still unannounced. Mandela’s state funeral will be held Sunday.
In the Obamas’ absence, Vice President and Dr. Biden will fill in today and tomorrow as hosts of the White House Congressional Holiday Balls. Presumably the Bidens have been warned to watch for untoward events like Michele Bachmann stealing silverware or Rand Paul peeing behind a potted palm.
The Bidens signed a condolence book at the South African Embassy, which has been hosting candlelight prayer vigils. The Vice President will speak at a National Cathedral memorial service on Wednesday morning, ending a week of mourning in Washington.
Others traveling to South Africa this week to honor Mandela’s memory include Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush the Lesser, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the prime ministers of the UK, Spain, Canada and Australia, the presidents of France, Brazil and India, and, from the non-political world, Pope Francis, Prince Charles, Peter Gabriel, Oprah and Bono.
The United States will also be represented by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have announced their intention to mar the week by “protesting” outside various events, while South Africans look on and marvel at how a nation could tolerate such hatemongering.
Phil Schiliro, former chief congressional liaison for the Obama White House, returns to Washington this week to help with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Described as a “short-term appointment,” the gig will keep Schiliro busy coordinating with various government departments and with Congress. Naturally, Republicans will impugn his moral fiber, condemn him as out of step with mainstream values, and accuse him of murdering Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Foster and Jesus. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/9/13
0 – 2!
Boehner lost the fight, as I predicted in my last article! Barack Obama kept alive the string that began with Boehner’s loss to Oklahoma Representative J.C Watts (R) for Chair of the House Republican Conference in 2001; that began Boehner’s string of losing fights of personal importance (important because Boehner makes them personal) to astute African-American politicians who take advantage of Boehner’s weaknesses and overreach.
Okay, the string is a twist: Boehner lost because his position was untenable. But the coincidence is history and makes good myth.
And from the mythical traditions of how the dead are buried, Obama has introduced something new to American politics: the political second line. It defines the way politics moves forward after a tough fight, when grief and anger are heavy in the air, and fury burns in the hearts of those vanquished, as, their ideals trounced, they walk past inanimate spirits of dead goals lying in the political infirmary of conference rooms.
In the recent battle of the bulge over the budget and debt ceiling, we knew the Republican defeat was nigh and the plug was pulled on its life support when the Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC sent a widely publicized letter to the each member of the US Senate. The letter accused Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, of lying, as the Koch organization categorically denied any effort in funding or directing Congressional Republicans to shut down government and default on debt to force an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal or rollback.
“Non mas,” the Koch letter says. It attempts to portray Koch as the aggrieved victim, demanding that Senator Reid and other politicians stop misrepresenting and distorting his positions. Indicted by its arrogance and its in-evidence presumption of power, the letter makes its own ellipsis of the source and blunt force of Harry Reid’s argument; it completely ignores the legitimacy and weight of Reid’s source.
The New York Times published a series of master articles and commentaries in the middle of the debate, documenting and citing the numbers of millions of dollars the Koch organization spent and passed through its several front organizations to other groups to fund campaigns in the media and live events opposing the ACA. That documentation—including ads on YouTube—the Senate is told, in an oblique reference, is “erroneous.”
Here’s some what the Times has to say. In its editorial blog, Taking Note, on July 9, David Firestone wrote:
The advocacy group backed by the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, is spending more than $1 million on an advertising Taking Note to (yet again) discredit President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s already been in effect for three years, but they want to soften it up just as its most important changes (mostly, the insurance mandate) begin to go into effect on Oct. 1.
The Kochs and their Republican allies continue to take advantage of the law’s complexity and public ignorance to spread the worst kind of misinformation, hoping once again to create chaotic town halls and anti-government protests once the mandate goes into effect.
Then on October 6, the Times printed:
The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.
The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.
All of this was “misrepresented,” in the words of the Koch organization.
But it led to Harry Reid making the unusual statement of calling out Koch by name in a Twitter post:
At the heart of any democratic action by government is a concept I introduced when exploring Edward Snowden’s actions a few weeks ago, a concept I called “permission.” An informal concept, it refers to the idea that every political act has around it a broad consensus about whether the act itself (not its outcome!) is right or wrong: permitted. It represents the politics of manners and determines our limits and edges.
In America, it reaches high, often violent extremes: secession, complete with declarations, votes, and an enduring war with sixteen times more dead that Vietnam; the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, in May 1838, the week it opened as a public meeting space and forum dedicated to presenting views and speaking out for abolition and women’s rights. Lynching, whose historic victims exceed the numbers of Iraqi war dead and was endorsed by Southern governors and representatives; Midwestern sundown towns that required blacks to be be out of the town limits by dusk; sterilization of women without permission (North Carolina led the way); prohibitions against interracial and same-sex marriage.
Include an impeachment trial for the “high crime” of a President lying about oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern.
The current push for permission includes: the demand that former Vice President Dick Cheney be charged with war crimes (unlikely) and for individual charges against Wall Street executives and functionaries. (Also unlikely: because of the oversight/review/decision chain, institutional patterns protect individuals from being singled out; instead, the firm which acts in concert is charged as a whole with penalties and fines—including the $13 billion Goldman Sachs voluntarily agreed to this week! )
But back to the President’s point: the recent fight was not over a win or loss, or about policy, although Republicans tried to make it so: it was a fight over “what are the rules?” Continue reading Obama’s Political Second Line
Can Wall Street talk sense to Congressional Republicans? It’s a trick question, of course; nobody can talk sense to Congressional Republicans. Still, all eyes will be on the financial markets Monday as sluggish negotiations to reopen the government and avert a default continue.
After a weekend marked – make that marred by contrived freak show events, Debtpocalypse, a mere three days away, begins to seem almost appealing, like Snake Plissken triggering a global EMP at the end of Escape from LA. From the grubby spectacle at the World War II Memorial, featuring a joint appearance by Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz (picture two egos the size of Macy’s parade balloons vying for attention) to the farcical Truckers Ride for the Constitution protest (which caused less traffic disruption than the recent surprise lunchtime stroll to Taylor Gourmet by the President and Vice President) to the supremely offensive display of a Confederate flag outside the First Family’s residence, Republicans have spent most of the weekend scribbling new chapters in the history of American public service. Poorly.
If you’re curious about White House doings this week, a visit to whitehouse.gov won’t provide much information, but you will see this message:
Due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation to fund the government, the information on this web site may not be up to date. Some submissions may not be processed, and we may not be able to respond to your inquiries.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will head the US delegation as representatives of the US, France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany and Iran meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva to discuss curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program as a quid pro quo for a limited reversal of sanctions. On Sunday, Iran refused to comply with a demand that it ship its uranium stockpiles abroad, a demand Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called “a red line.” While President Obama’s late September phone call with Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart, might not have signaled the new morning in relations between the two nations many had hoped, there’s still reason to remain hopeful. After all, House Republicans – as far as anyone knows – are not advising Iran’s leadership. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/14/13
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)
Because I stand firmly against conflict violence, I support the President’s plan for missile strikes against Syria.
Even before the hands fly to ask why, the fingers pointing tick off the bewildering absurdity of opposing violence by supporting military intervention!
Next, they point to the absolute foolishness of supporting any war or war event for any reason. They wag and say we have no business there. They point to a long short list of all the bad things that can happen as outcomes—escalation of the conflict, within and outside of borders, breaches of international relations, harmful economic exchanges, increased threats across the world, the blood-smeared bodies pointing to America not as a moral protector but as a bully, acting on its own whim, ignoring—and inflaming—the world’s outrage.
Before that contorted outrage is a mask of stoic indifference. A moral blindness hides behinds that outrage, a moral position that can only be challenged and met by military actions.
Its challenge is to end conflict violence. Conflict violence is a political form with its own goal and means. For several decades, conflict violence has been growing, and has come to be a central strategy in civil warfare and insurgencies.
Broadly, conflict violence has as its purpose the destabilization of the society or the state by direct attack on non-combat civilians.
Conflict violence has three components: it deliberately targets civilians, often whole villages and towns, most frequently women and children; it uses the bloodiest atrocities to carry out wanton killing (in Nigeria, just this summer, army trucks delivered stacks of dead bodies in the dark of night to a regional hospital for disposal, removing the dead from their ancestral homes and overwhelming the hospital); conflict violence is employed as a tactical and strategic end in itself. And conflict violence is protected by national borders—the rule of sovereignty that says states are not allowed to intervene in the internal affairs of others states.
Conflict violence is the most important moral, social, and military issue of violence around the globe. It cuts across ideological and religious lines and locales. It includes plunder and rape; its extreme is genocide. And so far, it’s avoided a reset. It receives mere news mentions, and gathers attention from underfunded organizations and an occasional, toothless UN resolution.
It is virtually unstoppable. It hides behind the sanctity of borders—the sacrosanct invention of the modern nation-state. Two women have been elected Presidents of African countries (Sierra Leone, Malawi) in part on platforms to try to bring it under control in their countries.
It’s a horror story, but it is meticulously planned and systemically carried out by stealth operations and denied always by governments. It is more egregious than terror.
Conflict Violence Across the Globe
Within its borders, a neighbor to the south, Guatemala, experienced raids on 626 villages that killed 200,000 Ixil Mayans in state-sponsored violence between 1966 to 1990. It took 30 years for the cases against a former president to be brought to trial for military-ordered mass deaths between 1982 and 1983. Last May, his conviction was overturned. His lawyer accused the Indians of lying to gain settlement money. Continue reading Conflict Violence: Obama, Syria and the Nobel Speech
The Supreme Court returned a decision in the voting rights case, Shelby County, AL v. Holder (2013), that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. In short, the jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination no longer have to go to the Justice Department in advance of any changes in voting laws.
Please pardon my cynicism, but I’m not losing any sleep over this. It is not that it isn’t a bad decision; I think it is, but it does not rise to the level of the worst Supreme Court decisions. There are four of those, and two have invalidated the rights of black people, specifically Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), denying citizenship to all black people and invalidating the 1820 Missouri Compromise and allowing slavery in all territories. The other is Plessy v. Ferguson (1898), which allowed “separate but equal” Jim Crow segregation. The rights of black people have always been at the whim of the powerful and those whose rights are not in question at any given moment. The activist judges have done it again. Not the first time this has happened.
There are options the federal government still has; they will have to be prepared to work a lot harder. Section 5 is still intact, but weakened. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. However, that will be difficult with a divided Congress. Note that the corporatist Chief Justice said this out loud, so that is an option, though not an easy one. Section 2 is still intact: any jurisdiction that has passed a law that is discriminatory in nature can be taken to court. The Justice Department must remain vigilant, now even more so. Sections of the Voting Rights Act can be rewritten to pass Constitutional muster and be reauthorized by Congress. Maybe voting laws can be standardized at the federal level. I’m sure there are other options available.
There is something that can be done at the grass roots level, also. The obvious one is to use this as impetus to vote out the GOP and their racist counterparts at all levels. There is the coming demographic shift, especially in the red states, where people of color will eventually outnumber white people in general, not just in certain areas. There’s also the GOP’s vulnerability – they tend to cater to older white racists. Those are becoming fewer in number, in spite of their attempts to increase their numbers, while those who do not vote GOP are increasing. The struggle is far from over. Continue reading Why I’m Not Losing Any Sleep on the Voting Rights Act Decision
That didn’t take long. An Illinois Republican party official made a racist and sexist attack against Erika Harold two weeks after she announced her Congressional primary campaign against a Republican incumbent. The ugly comments by the chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party have gotten plenty of coverage so I won’t repeat them here. Conservative talk show hosts are advised to wait a week before going back to arguing that racism is no longer a problem in America.
Her opponent in the Republican primary, freshman incumbent Rodney Davis, did the right thing by removing the official’s name from a list of supporters on his website and asking him to resign as party chair.
The episode reminded me about a piece of Davis campaign literature I wrote about last year as an example of “othering” or as I like to call it, fill-in-the-blank-prejudice. A Davis campaign representative handed it out during a 9-12 & Take Back America event in Montgomery County, which is now looking for a new Republican chair.
During campaign season, 9-12 groups were usually careful not to make overtly racist slurs, but the movement includes plenty of appeals to a vague sense of America as they know it being under attack by this new socialist black President and his scary allies. So, it’s no wonder that the Davis campaign would give the group literature claiming that he’s one of them. It says Davis will represent “Our America” where people put in an honest day’s work.
The card doesn’t need to tell a 9-12 group in an overwhelmingly white small town who those other people are from somewhere else where they don’t put in an honest days work and who aren’t part of “our america.” They can fill in the blanks. This the same crowd who claim that most of their state tax dollars are being taken from rural downstate and spent in Chicago because that’s where most of the welfare recipients live. Of course, that belief is absurd since much of rural Illinois is poor and most of the state’s millionaires and Fortune 500 companies are located in the Chicago area. Continue reading Racist, sexist attack against Congressional candidate a reminder of opponent’s subtle appeal to prejudice
Have Republicans forgotten they were elected to govern? Not when it comes to money and power. Money, especially. It’s being used in South Carolina to raise support for Lindsay Graham, up for reelection next year, by touting an immigration solution that matches his work with the Senate bill introduced by the Gang of Eight. Now in committee, the bill is the object of scorn by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. But Graham says he, “believes in it with all his heart.”
The same 501(c)(4) money supporting Graham opposes Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, a moderate from an established political family, the kind of Democrat that once won easily in South Carolina, as Bill Clinton once did in Arkansas. A 30-second commercial opposes Sheheen by saying he wants South Carolina to be the only Southern state to accept Obamacare. The spot openly touts the region’s solidarity with regression.
Win or lose, Republicans have put buzz words in place. Now at the state level, voters hear the bell and respond. This is one reason why Republicans repeatedly raise Benghazi. It’s not only to tie Hillary Clinton to the incident, but to pound into it a connotation of failure, weaknesses and cowardice. Hence the angry testimony of State Department officers in a recent hearing which added nothing to what was known except more reports and confessions of anger.
The white men expressed their anger at being told troops would add to the confusion, especially when conditions were not clearly understood. The Republican purpose is to add anger and fear—to turn Benghazi into a brand like Obamacare. All one need do is hear the word, and a parade of negatives immediately comes to mind for the uninformed majority.
If Benghazi is in, military sexual assault is out. Silence reigns about a problem so severe that both males and females in a US uniform are more likely to be sexually assaulted than killed in combat. The Republican concern for mission-readiness and discipline so displayed when gays were allowed to serve openly does not extend to violence and force within inter-gender (and intra-gender) relationships.
Any civilian organization facing year-on-year statistics for sexual assaults at the level of the military would be gravely criticized and shut down. Yet the focus of Congressional national security is on e-mails about Benghazi talking points, while the rampant, growing, out-of-control epidemic of military sexual assaults undermines military working order—widespread reports cite the difficulties of working with your rapist—and puts the nation’s security at risk. And brings home a lot of hurt.
Last year, 26,000 assaults were committed, by the military’s own score. The Air Force Chief of Staff discussed it in a Senate subcommittee hearing as the result of a “hook-up” culture. Yet the Air Force’s officer in charge of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention was charged two weeks ago with groping an unknown woman in a Virginia parking lot, and was arrested by civilian authorities. Yesterday, the Army reported the arrest of an officer at Fort Hood, a Texas base, who was the Sexual Assault Prevention Office Coordinator. He is being held on multiple charges of abusive sexual misconduct.
Outrage? The tempest over revised talking points and e-mails also ignores three of the most important global developments in recent weeks: the factory fire in Bangladesh that left more than 1,100 workers dead, calling into question issues of global working conditions and safety; the massacres in Northern Nigerian villages by the Nigerian army; and the conviction of Guatemala’s former president and military dictator, 86-year-old Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide. Continue reading Hooking Up the Wrong Way
Benghazi memo underwent multiple revisions by Jay-Z and William Ayers! IRS scrutiny was merely groundwork for tossing Teabaggers into secret FEMA concentration camps! They’re gonna confiscate and melt down all privately owned guns for a statue of Obama taller than the Washington Monument! The Tsarnaev brothers smoked crack on the Truman Balcony and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom! For Congressional Republicans, the Obama Administration is just one scandal after another, and – by God and the Founding Fathers! – they’re going to get to the bottom of every last fictional one of them.
Turning to more rational events, the Senate Environment Committee will vote Thursday on Gina McCarthy, the President’s nominee for EPA head. The nomination has been held up for a month by Senate Republicans, whose rationale for opposing McCarthy apparently boils down to the fact that she was nominated by Barack Obama.
In any even bigger surprise, the full Senate may vote as early as Tuesday on another stalled nominee, Ernest Moniz, who has been put forward for Secretary of Energy.
It’s National Women’s Health Week, which was part of the rationale for a White House event last Friday underscoring Obamacare’s measures to improve women’s health. The President noted on Friday:
… there are times when I just want people to step back and say, are you really prepared to say that 30 million Americans out there shouldn’t have health insurance? Are you really prepared to say that’s not a worthy goal? Because of politics?
Strangely enough, this Thursday a majority of the House of Representatives will essentially say (for approximately the 7,148th time) that 30 million Americans out there shouldn’t have health insurance, that it’s not a worthy goal. And they’ll say that because of politics. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/13/13