Stormy Monday, 10/13/14

StormyMondayLiberian nurses and physician’s assistants intend to go on strike Monday over insufficient hazard pay, an action that could deal a terrible setback to the country’s efforts to get on top of the Ebola epidemic. During a weekend tour of treatment facilities in Monrovia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf personally appealed to health care workers to stay on the job.

Now that a Texas health care worker, despite wearing protective gear, has tested positive for Ebola after “extensive contact” with victim Thomas Duncan before his death last Wednesday, the mainstream media can really get to work fanning the doomsday hysteria with even less regard for scientific accuracy or pesky fact-based caveats such as CDC Director Tom Frieden’s insistence that the new case resulted from “a breach in protocol.”

And if End Times Ebolamania doesn’t gain traction with the audience, at least the media has ISILW (Islamic State in, Like, Wherever) to fall back on. Sunday’s announcement by Defense Department officials that Turkey will make bases available to US and coalition forces conducting air strikes against Islamic State forces is sure to set off another wave of talking heads eager to explain how this move is a complete vindication of the President’s surefooted IS policy, or how it’s sad confirmation of a flailing, rudderless White House.

John McCain, meanwhile, is getting increasingly shrill in his calls for ground troops to be deployed against IS. Scoff if you must, but after destroying five planes himself, the Senator is at least something of an expert on aircraft vulnerability.

You’ll be happy (or maybe not) to hear that Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician of Congress, posted a reassuring eight-minute video on an internal website last week, explaining special protocols developed to ensure that even in the event of a catastrophic epidemic affecting huge numbers of Americans, Congress will be able, disease-free, to continue doing not much of anything. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/13/14

Congressional candidate Mike Bost believes fracking is safe but environmentalists want people to die

WillinoisIllinois Republican Congressional candidate Mike Bost (IL-12) has some unusual beliefs about environmentalists and fracking. In a recent radio interview, Bost said about environmentalists:

“…if it was up to them, people should die and everything else should exist. Now, I know because I was in the negotiations with them.”

Bost was referring to his role negotiating the law that will open Illinois to fracking. Several groups based in Chicago, including Faith-in-Place, NRDC, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center participated in negotiations and supported the law over the objection of environmentalists in areas that will be most impacted.

Now, I wasn’t present for negotiations but I’ve never heard staff for any of those groups suggest anything remotely similar to the opinion that people should die and everything else should exist. In fact, most climate change and anti-fracking activists are involved to save human life.

Many of us noticed that fracking made North Dakota the deadliest state to work in.

We’re bothered that fracking operations use chemicals known to cause cancer respiratory problems, birth defects and other health impacts.

We know the massive increase in trucks transporting dangerous chemicals is yet another unavoidable deadly hazard, especially since toxic spills shutting down I-57 in southern Illinois is already a regular story.

Since fracking contributes to climate change we’re also working to reduce climate disasters like extreme flooding in southern Illinois.

But Mike Bost is excited about fracking because it will bring tax revenue and jobs. He’s willing to sacrifice human life for the sake of transient temp jobs that will mostly go to out-of-state workers for the profit of out-of-state companies. And he has the balls to accuse environmentalists of not caring about human life? Continue reading Congressional candidate Mike Bost believes fracking is safe but environmentalists want people to die

Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

WillinoisIllinois’ most embarrassing Congressman, John Shimkus, faced an outraged backlash for pro-fracking statements he made on Facebook. He’s already well known as a climate change denier and conspiracy theorist on the fringe of the energy debate. Although there’s a long tradition of coal mining in his district, fracking is very controversial.

Shimkus has a steady stream of constituents who regularly respond to his misleading and foolish Facebook posts. But several posts supporting fracking attracted unusually strong pushback.

The first recent post linked a radio interview in which Shimkus says fracking, “isn’t really new. Its been around since the ’40s.” This is a common talking point industry propagandists use to confuse people.
Some forms of vertical fracking have been around for decades. Recent debates and regulation are focused on horizontal, high-powered fracking, which people in the industry know was developed in the ’90s. Shimkus then says with no irony that “it’s difficult to separate what’s fact from fiction these days.” That’s especially true when someone’s Congressman is lying to them.
Shimkus then posted a picture of a fracking operation with the comment, “Looking forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois” that generated 85 mostly brutal responses from downstate residents.
  • Great idea! Let’s frack away our future! Goodbye geological stability. Hey…we’re going to need more lawyers, doctors, and environmental remediation services in the area to deal with all of the negative impacts of fracking. What a short sighted plan.
  • Southern Illinois has beauty beyond compare. Crystal clear water to drink. Clean air to breath. Why in the world do you think God would want you to do any more to this area than has already been done by strip mining and underground mining? Piling shale on the ground making our highways nasty. Please rethink this highway of thinking. You’ve been there for us in the past, please think of our future.
  • Proof we have the best congressman money can buy.
  • I’m not looking forward to such ruin of our region. Ban fracking. Put your support behind wind, solar and energy efficient design please, Otherwise, you do not have my vote.
  • Can we put one next to your house?
  • Yeah, because that well is so much more beautiful than Shawnee National Forest and the surrounding land. Idiot.
  • They are fracking in Central Illinois bypassing the Regulatory Act by staying under the volume that would cause them to wait for the rules to be finalized and by using fluids other than water to frack. See what they can get away with in this state! The Regulatory Act is going to be useless against these companies.
  • In 2012 the State of Texas reported $1.5 billion in revenues from all fracking activities. That same year the Texas Department of Transportation determined that fracking truck traffic was causing $4 billion in roadway damages statewide annually. http://www.FrackingRoadDamage.com
  • You support this you will condemn us all .It is your obligation to get the facts. Remember John we live on two fault lines.
  • “this” should be NOwhere near Southern Illinois. Trashing the land, air and using precious water to frack the earth? Oh also fracking near New Madrid fault….are you so out of touch you don’t see that?
  • So, will the first “test” sites be in YOUR backyard, contamination affecting YOUR family? Most folks boosting southern Illinois look forward to seeing forests, rock formations, lakes, and… Wineries… This picture does none of those justice. It also makes me want to move for the sake of my baby boy!!!!!!!
  • You are totally wrong about this issue; Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in the union with some of the best water anywhere. Now you want to ruin it? What the hell is wrong with you? We intend to fight this fight to the end!
  • You can’t restore ruined buildings from earthquakes, and you can’t restore polluted water once it has made people sick. You are gambling with people’s lives, to make a few dollars for a few people, most of whom don’t need it. Shame on you.
  • Fracking destroys. Fracking destroys wildlife. Fracking destroys tourism. Fracking destroys drinking water. Whoever is for Fracking has no empathy for our planet.
  • You are either incredibly stupid, incredibly uncaring, or a combination of both if you look forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois. Do you also look forward to the earthquakes that will devastate Southern Illinois? Do you look forward to the land and water being destroyed? What is WRONG with you politicians? Is that almighty dollar that you’re getting from all of these people destroying our planet going to be worth it when you also don’t have decent air to breathe, water to drink, or constituents to vote for you? I hope all politicians supporting fracking are ousted from office as soon as possible. Fracking in Southern Illinois is a terrible, terrible thing and the fact that you don’t know this makes me sick.
  • With all due respect, Congressman: ABSOLUTELY NOT! No way are the people of southern Illinois prepared for the noise, traffic, and pollution this will create. Take fracking to Chicago!
  • NO! This is *not* a sight I want to see in Southern Illinois, now or EVER! We live on two active faults. I have friends in many areas that have allowed fracking. They have constant earthquakes. No job, no income, is worth endangering millions of lives. Please re-think this.
  • why weren’t we considered for the Tesla Plant, you have any idea what 6500 decent jobs would mean to this district, well are you trying to bring long term development here? oh and talk to folks in Ohio about fracking jobs, transients living in hotels and apartments leaving on Friday, lots of work for restaurants, bars and gas stations and when the crews move on so do those crappy jobs…

I could copy dozens more.

Shimkus got cute with his response and posted a graphic of outdated and out of context quotes from former and current Obama administration officials. Then another of academics who have worked for the industry claiming there has been no water contamination from fracking.

I added my own comment this time that got 14 likes.

243 cases of drinking well water contaminated in Pennsylvania. Does it bother anyone else to have their Congressman lie to them?
http://triblive.com/mobile/6696428-96/wells-released-gas

Plenty of others chimed in with more stories, studies, and facts to correct Shimkus’ attempt to mislead his constituents. Continue reading Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

DDA big part of the American legacy is to reduce things to a simple either/or. It creates the illusion of being willing to make tough choices, of moving forward with decisive shows of strength while leaving piddling details unexamined.

Often this preferred way turns out be a stumbling block; America trips over details and consequences patience would have allowed the nation to foresee. Barack Obama’s mighty effort to restore the nation to the security and values of patience has been met at every turn with resistance that insists on immediate either/ors. But his patience is not incompetence, as America is soon to find out in the fight against ISIL.

Rush in, says John McCain. Despite being the Senate’s senior war hawk, his state’s Republican Party voted last January to censure their senior Senator for a voting record insufficiently conservative. Send troops, “think of an American city in flames,” Lindsey Graham cries. The terrorists have already occupied space in his mind.

But the criticisms of the President continue, this time from sources who attended a recent off-the-record press meeting and a White House invitational dinner. At both, the President reportedly said he would not rush to war. He would be deliberate. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater,” sources quote him as saying.

But the Wall Street Journal used these sources to speculate about his motivation rather than applaud the President’s principles. Richard N. Haass, an invitee (a former Bush official and president of the Council of Foreign Relations), said the President has been “forced to react to events here.” Haass goes on in the Wall Street Journal article:

“… attention to nuance is a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

Haass is wrong. Patience provides you with a better perception; it prevents the errors that come from a rash rush to judgment. But Haass has assumed his conclusion and made it fit the circumstance. He has reduced the President’s incredible strength to wait without wasting resources into a waste of time. He deliberately denies that patience is an investment of time, rewarded by its unique benefits of resolve and understanding—a special quality of the President’s keen insight, tied to his clarity and force of intellect. For some, the President is always on the wrong side of their either/or. Likewise, the either/or of “boots or no boots” (to use US combat troops in Iran and Syria or no) is distorting the military argument and misleading strategy by failing to focus on choices outside the forced choices that neocons like Haass embrace and take comfort with in their sleep. The purpose of forced choices is to create limits. They do not enhance freedom; they tighten restrictions. They ignore options.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

We see how the forced choices of either/or set limits on the domestic front. Voting rights, women’s rights, fracking, education standards, taxes, healthcare, immigration are all discussed without nuances—which prevents using the overlooked details to find a path that is reinforced and refined by answering its objections and working in its strengths; instead, Haass and his ilk double down on win or lose and participate in the giddy exercise of shutting down the government or the repetitive stupidity of voting 54 times to repeal a healthcare bill without a chance of success and with no alternative. Continue reading In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

Who Is Our Neighbor?

DDThe story of the Jericho Road is well-known to many; a man traveling down the dangerous 17-mile old world passage that climbs between Jericho and Jerusalem; it is winding, steep, remote. Historically known as the Bloody Pass; in the one biblical story from the Gospels, a man is jumped by a gang of marauders and falls injured, unable to help himself. Several men of supposed good will—including a priest—pass him without offering aid. They see him and ignore him. Who knows why? One thing is clear: the victim is not their neighbor.

Not only in the sense of a person who is not of their community or one whose identity is unknown, but also in the sense of ethical action—a willingness to offer a hand to someone in need in times when danger threatens even good intent.

The ethical will which fails or is abandoned has a political and social side. Ethical choices have powerful consequences that quickly grow complicated and cover a broad range of actions. Immediate reflection shows the idea of the neighbor is at the center of our domestic politics. And the idea of the neighbor and ethical action is a paired “who and what” that underscores the immigration crisis that carried tens of thousands of children to our borders, our school lunch programs and the fight against obesity, the school-prison pipeline (middle school children in handcuffs taken out of school), our support for affordable healthcare (ethical actions of costs, coverage and value) and violence against women (perpetrator and societal victim blaming). The answer to “who” identifies the persons and communities, the victims we are ethically tasked to love and help, to take risks ourselves in order to render aid, to challenge the inherent dangers by our actions. As our national resolve weakens or gives in to hate and fear, the list of  ”who” grows short.

The Jericho Road.

The Jericho Road

Who we see as our neighbor positions us on the political spectrum. It often determines the laws we support and social action we engage in (California communities illegally stopping government buses of immigrants from entering government facilities weren’t met with militarized policing as has been seen in protests elsewhere). Who we see as our neighbor often shapes the attitudes that are the milieu of society and define the bottom line of survival. It determines who we look up to and down on, the level of anger and respect we have for individuals and institutions. It separates us into friends and enemies.

So on the verge of US military engagement, as the world is rife with hot spots, as US domestic officials’ and pundits’ sound bites call, without clear specifics, for Presidential impeachment for high crimes (an echo that also engulfs Hillary Clinton’s unannounced run for President!), who is our neighbor? Is the President right to patiently, stubbornly push Iraq to create an inclusive government (making neighbors of distrustful clans) before increasing military aid to resist ISIL? ISIL, the well armed and financed jihadist extremists who control oil production facilities, and at one point held Iraq’s major dam, and whose fighters are only a short drive from Baghdad? Do the beheadings of two Americans change the equation? What should the good neighbor do?

Surprisingly, President Obama foresaw these choices. He wrote about them in the The Audacity of Hope, pointing out the many advantages of coalition building as a pillar of foreign policy and as an answer to global threats (among the advantages: improved skill sets in intelligence gathering, analysis, tactics, strategy, execution, weaponry, sanctions, coordinated isolation, diplomatic dialogue).

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, N.H., Feb. 2, 2010.

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, NH, Feb. 2, 2010

His Nobel Prize acceptance speech later identified the looming threat of intra-national violence (violence within states by non-state insurgencies and movements operating across borders) and the heightened risks to civilians. He foresaw the dramatically increased demand for refugee services. He is well acquainted with how the mass movement of people escaping violence places destabilizing pressure on regional governments and local communities not engaged in conflict.

Right now, more than 50 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps, according to the UNHCR (the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; created in December 1950, the worldwide agency coordinating refugee assistance; it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1954). President Obama knew the effect disruptions have on generations of children who would be denied education and families denied income. He understood how violence set back peace and prosperity by indirect means felt and experienced by refugees and by their host countries,who are often ill-equipped and under-resourced to receive those fleeing violence. In the President’s world view, our neighbors were any global citizens of good will who sought a concord with the American Promise—prosperity and peace in mutual association.

In all of his writings and speeches about how we help our neighbors, the President has argued for minimum military force over maximum force. He was aware of the paradox of maximum force: in the long run, it often expands the threat it is intended to crush. Continue reading Who Is Our Neighbor?

Eat Your Lunch and Don't Hold Your Breath

DDAn old Revolutionary War tale begins with a meeting between a British officer and the legendary Swamp Fox, the American officer Francis Marion. As an act of hospitality, Oscar, Marion’s manservant, prepared a dinner of sweet potatoes baked in the campfire’s hot coals.

A painting depicting the dinner hangs in the Congressional gallery in the US Capitol. It’s meaning and importance is found in the report the British officer took back to his general staff. “We cannot defeat the colonials,” he concluded. When asked why, he replied, “Men willing to fight for freedom on suppers of sweet potatoes will not be defeated.”

Marion’s men were living on roots, drinking water, and “all for liberty.” This example of the exceptionalism of the American Promise—the willingness to sacrifice and show the courtesies of humanity even to enemies engaged in bitter war is never raised by originalists who put priority on budgets over values. John Blake White’s painting of the American heroic spirit is forgotten and today unknown.

The painting is a powerful reminder of three things. One, Marion’s manservant was an adult, Oscar; rarely did historic portraits show children except in family portraits. Two, this simple sharing of meager provisions led to the perception of greatness and put fear and doubt into an American enemy with a superior force. Three, the budget has never been the guidebook to politics, but wars are made and fought for wealth.

Before the era of public relations and short-form spin by analysts out of power who are not scholars, but ideologues, cultural events provided the meanings for trends and predictions of success. Modern media removes culture and replaces it with a scrubbed, filtered view of reason and half-truths in which meaning is misplaced. The immigration crisis is a heroic, three-nation pilgrimage of children. How different from Marion’s time! This exodus of children has nothing to do with border protections. It has two push-pull factors; the first, the daily violence, deaths and threats, beatings and rapes the children are witnessing against their friends and families pushes them to leave to survive, to protect their lives.

But what pulls them to America are not the beds and hot meals many Republicans in Congress insistently emphasize over and over—instead it is a belief in themselves and a belief in opportunity—the idea that America has kept faith with the promise it fought for in its founding—that it offers liberty and justice for all. The repeated insinuations that children have walked thousands of miles for America’s table scraps is ugly and demeaning. It belittles democracy. It rips away its hope. It says America’s beacon is only a light of limited material welfare, offered as sandwiches and sleeping mats.

C-SPAN broadcast a July 29th House hearing organized by the House Progressive Caucus and chaired by Arizona House member Raul Grijalva, attended by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others, in which three immigrant children spoke and answered questions, giving Congress and the American people their first opportunity to hear their experiences and reasons in their own voices.

Among the speakers were a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old. The 15-year-old came with her younger sister five years ago and has learned nuanced English She has a beaming, abiding love for America. She wants to be a doctor. The 10-year-old recently arrived, speaks confidently in flat Spanish and is finding her center.

But the welcome mat has loud voices of opposition. And the Republican Congress is taking the opportunity to create a crisis you can believe in. They emphasize the law, not justice. Turn them back, they say. More, they speak of political mistrust as a reason to do nothing.

Public Television’s Frontline recently showed clips of Iranian Sunni leaders during the Bush administration counting out thousands of dollars in support of “democracy,” but the new Republicans have lost their compassionate humanism and would deny children the fair play of due process. And a recent study shows 90% of children with attorneys show up for their hearings, with a 60% average overall.

This reduction of life to a balance sheet, with a thousand cited reasons to keep the poor and the foreign and low-wage workers away from prosperity and opportunity as defense spending and farm subsidies increase and huge tax breaks are in place for major industries like oil is not what Oscar, a black slave, had in mind when he stirred the coals of a colonial American campfire; nor is it the dream that lit up the faces of children who never once mentioned the nice meals and warm beds of America in their testimony before Congress.

Instead, they told of violence against their families, seeing the adults in a household killed because they didn’t have “rent,” an extorted payment demanded by gangs from powerless citizens. They spoke of dreams. How they felt secure in America. They spoke of how they were hungry for education.

But some in Congress think only of bread and costs.

This latest migration of children to our borders is a cultural event that points to the plight and treatment of children around the globe. Go back to October 9, 2012 when Malala Yousafzai was shot, with some of her friends and classmates, for denying an order by the Taliban for girls not to attend school. Her incident can be used to mark a shift to children as the intentional targets of terrorist and state violence, as deliberate targets of drug gangs and human traffickers, as main players in the violence tied to politics and greed and balance sheets.

Since then, we have seen the bodies of Syrian children, wrapped in shrouds, dead from chemical attacks carried out by their own political leadership. We have seen 300 or more girls from northeastern Nigeria disappear into the forest after being kidnapped from schools, and others beaten and raped. We have seen children at the beach and at schools, and playing in the street killed by rocket fire aimed a residential neighborhoods in Gaza.

A lot of style points are being racked up in the reporting and debates about the rocket attacks in Israel and Gaza as both sides overlook the fundamentals to see who can build the tallest house of cards. Continue reading Eat Your Lunch and Don’t Hold Your Breath

Bombs, Beds and Benefits

DDBad, bad stuff going round. A dangerous mystique. Macabre riddles and atomized vapors of blood. Thieving from the dead. Justifications without prayers. Turning the smiling children back to the vipers nest. Turning the rivers into toxic stew. Paying billions for doubling down on cheating and walking away free. Dropping the no-knock tradition of bombing to provide five minutes of pre-terror before the incoming kills the noncombatant outgoing, the grandmothers and their grandchildren. Strikes at invisible, unseen weapons and munitions that never go off—are we too stupid to have common sense? Where are the secondary implosions? Only dead civilians exploding. Only the dead silenced. The lies go on. Like drones. Mid-air explosions. Loud. They hurt our ears and brains. Bad stuff: death, lies, and theft. The wholesale breach of universal taboos.

In 8th grade algebra we learned about proof. If you make a statement, it must withstand questioning and challenges, it cannot be veiled in secret pretenses without transparent evidence. On C-SPAN, I watched an ambassador’s blithe disregard for these ancient conventions and modern principles: trust his country, he cooed; they have the goods; we don’t, nor will we be informed—but proof is evidence of logic’s action and reaction; if you blow up munition stashes, secondary explosions happen; if you fire rockets from dense urban neighborhoods whose rumble now makes passage impossible, how do you do so without neighbors protesting the stupidity of a tactical senseless risk; how do you get munitions in and out of these dense population centers, now collapsed heaps of rubble; where are the photographs, the evidence; the fire trails released in the videos of the opposing forces don’t show launches from the middle of civilian neighborhoods.

Why have only neighborhoods been taken out—warned by “the knock,” an unarmed thud on the roofs announcing the coming doom of fire and destruction; informed by dropped leaflets—are leaflets dropped on sites of viable military targets: are tunnels blown up above ground, and where are the secondary explosions, the fireworks that mark the site of a struck cache. How come there is 100 % accuracy with the dome of missile intercepts without knowing the place or time of missiles launched, and 0 % targeting and destroying of the sites and mechanics of the launches?

Is the air game for the country that suffered no causalities in its defense or from missile attacks for 10 days that much better than its ground game? Where’s the evidence that offers proof? That shows the world why neighborhoods have to been destroyed. Are these military targets? If we can be shown the destruction in the air and on the ground, can’t we see the proof?

Rattlesnakes, immoral smugglers, dehydration, and personal risk have not been able to achieve a goal near to the hearts of many of America’s citizens: turning back the cavalcade of children landing on our shores of sagebrush plains, now guarded by the National Guard whose mission is “greet and hold,” and to facilitate federal law. A deterrent force? No. But better than the current police departments around the country that have launched their own killing sprees, acting as invincible vigilantes.

It was Ramadan when the war began. At least one mosque has been blown up. It hoarded no weapons. At home, some think a bed and a 1,500 calorie meal is a greater incentive to come to America than hope and promise. They are foolish. Motivation is never about bread alone. Freedom fighters who steal from the dead they have mistakenly killed give Marx and Mao a legacy of despicable corruption; yet no one has asked if all Russians rob their dead. But the children are stereotyped as beggars of bread.

I remember the first time I saw an injured person robbed. A homeboy got hit by a car crossing the street and before the ambulance and paramedics could come, folk emptied his pockets and stripped his feet of shoes. Continue reading Bombs, Beds and Benefits

Harry Truman, Obama and Thomas Frank's Disillusionment

WillinoisThomas Frank has an interesting column in Salon that typifies the cynical view of Obama by speculating what his Presidential Library might look like.

Republicans in Congress want to make sure President Obama takes the blame for their obstruction. Thomas Frank helps them out by presenting the Jed Bartlett version of the Presidency. On the TV show West Wing, President Bartlett can accomplish anything by pounding on his desk and giving an inspiring speech. It’s a romantic, but childishly unrealistic version of how government works. When Republicans obstruct, according to this view of the Presidency, we should pin the blame on Obama for not being an imaginary character on television.

After some mind reading about Obama’s bad intentions, Frank recommends:

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress.

Actually, Obama has done both of those things. He has relentlessly campaigned for a second stimulus jobs bill and has talked about economic issues from a progressive viewpoint non-stop.

When politicians say something conservative, Fox and talk radio act as an echo chamber. It helps those ideas spread and become accepted as mainstream. When Obama says something progressive, much of the cynical pundit left help the corporate press by ignoring it. The progressive blogosphere often acts as a muffler on good, progressive statements by Obama instead of an echo chamber. I haven’t figured out how it helps advance progressive ideas to ignore when a sitting President espouses them.

For example, has anyone noticed how many times Obama called to end oil industry subsidies, including in major addresses to Congress? Probably not, since most progressive pundits have joined the corporate-owned press in ignoring those calls.

We’ve had another President in the same situation as Obama who did exactly what Frank suggests: Harry Truman. President Truman advanced an aggressive civil rights and economic agenda that would have made him one of the most successful Presidents in American history, rivaling FDR. Few people know about that agenda because almost all of it was blocked by an obstructionist Republican Congress. We remember Truman’s accomplishments that didn’t require Congressional action instead, like desegregating the military.

“Give ‘em Hell” Harry gave speeches more aggressively partisan than Obama. He coined the term “Do-nothing Congress.” When Republicans published a reasonable agenda in their convention platform, Truman called a special session of Congress to demand they pass it. What a great stunt! It’s just what Thomas Frank is calling for. And none of it worked. The Constitution still places severe limits on Presidential power when people elect a lousy Congress.

The big problem with Frank’s essay is that, by identifying the wrong problem, he points us toward the wrong solution. The implication is that we need to look for a better Presidential savior who will make change happen by giving just the right fist-pounding speeches. That’s a fruitless, counterproductive expectation.

Two important things separated this time in history from the eras that passed the Great Society programs and the New Deal. FDR and LBJ had two things Obama doesn’t:
1) A super-majority in Congress.
2) Aggressive mass movements pressuring Congress and the President to do more.

Those are two things in our power to change. Obama almost had those two factors during his first two years and managed to pass the largest expansion of the safety net since LBJ, and the largest regulation of the financial sector since the New Deal. Continue reading Harry Truman, Obama and Thomas Frank’s Disillusionment

The Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?

WillinoisFracking has begun in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn’s Department of Natural Resources issued a permit for a test well at a site where oil fracking is planned. The well isn’t subject to Illinois fracking rules due to loopholes in the law passed last year.

By utilizing methods that require a lower volume of water, and exploiting other loopholes, oil frackers can avoid new regulation. As Illinois State University emeritus professor William Rau writes, that will deny the state tax revenue from those operations, along with other consequences.

Public notice requirements, baseline water testing, insurance provisions, modest environmental protections and setbacks, earthquake mitigation, bans on open pit storage of frack waste water, etc., are all gone. Illinois will become the wild and woolly west of fracking.

The public doesn’t yet know how much horizontal fracking will occur outside compliance with the law. Illinois residents are facing a major public safety crisis and state politicians don’t seem to notice.

Opposition continues as people learn more about the inadequacy of a law that was written behind closed doors and rushed through the legislature with very little public scrutiny. A recent day of action saw citizens in Chicago and southern Illinois bring accountability to those responsible for the dangerously weak fracking law.

“For sale” signs were placed at the campaign office of state representative Mike Bost, who co-sponsored the law while claiming it would “keep our air clean, protect our water supply and maintain our environment.” In fact, the law contains no provisions to limit toxic air emissions that harm the health of those living nearby.

Bost is running for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ 12th district. Like many legislators, he mistakenly believed the fracking law was a consensus issue. Now, he’s confronted with the reality of people in his district outraged at seeing the law-making and rule-making process up for sale to the oil and gas industry. Continue reading How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?