A Storm Of Disrepect

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(Some of you know I live near Charleston, SC and the area felt the effects of Irma’s outer bands of winds and rain. Power was out for several hours. No major damage . . . → Read More: A Storm Of Disrepect

Stormy Monday, 1/19/15

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StormyMondayTuesday, the President delivers his sixth State of the Union Address, his first to a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans. He’ll call for tax increases on wealthy Americans and expanded tax credits for the middle class. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, including Democratic Senators Leahy, Durbin, Stabenow and Whitehouse, who, along with Congressmen Peter Welch and Chris Van Hollen, will return from a three-day Cuba junket in time for the President’s speech.

Also in the audience for the SOTU, as the President’s guests, will be people whose letters to the White House were among those selected for his personal reading. Their stories will form part of the his pitch for helping middle class citizens and their families.

Wednesday, the President will expand on his SOTU proposals in a speech at Idaho’s Boise State University.

The same day, the White House hosts the second annual Big Block of Cheese Day, a tradition inspired by beloved fictional President Josiah Bartlet. More info, courtesy of former cast members from The West Wing, is available here.

A 10-year, $757.7 million renovation of the Cannon House Office Building is now underway. Work will be divided into five major phases, with the first devoted to installation of new building systems, among other things. Cheaper and easier than reforming the House itself, I suppose. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/19/15

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Stormy Monday, 12/22/14

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StormyMondayFuneral services for Lowell Steward, a Tuskegee Airman, will be held Monday morning in Los Angeles. Steward earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in Italy in 1944. He died of pneumonia last Wednesday, aged 95.

The World Health Organization reported last week that western Africa’s death toll from Ebola is approaching 7,400. Nearly half the deaths have occurred in Sierra Leone, where there are an estimated 8,800 active cases (6,900 confirmed). As an anti-contagion measure, Sierra Leone and Guinea have imposed bans on New Year’s Eve celebrations. In related medical news, those politicians who went into a frothing-at-the-mouth frenzy over the supposed threat of Ebola to Fortress America have apparently all been struck miraculously mute, though, sadly, only on this particular topic.

Friday, the Obama family arrived in Hawaii for a winter vacation, or, as the President characterized it, a “quiet time-out” before the fourth quarter of his tenure in office. The President is scheduled to return to Washington on January 4, two short days before Republican Congressional majorities start trying to legislate and deregulate the nation back to the 19th century.

Vacation notwithstanding, the President is expected to announce tomorrow that Sally Yates, US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, is his pick for next Deputy Attorney General, replacing James Cole.

The Satanic Temple’s “Snaketivity” holiday display went up yesterday outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, two days after state Senator Rick Jones erected a traditional nativity scene at the same venue. Jones boldly declared, “I’m not afraid of the snake people. I’m sure that Jesus Christ is not afraid.” Both displays have to be dismantled every night. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/22/14

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The Handshake

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DDThis is one of the internet’s great spaces and I am proud to write for it. I am thankful for the readers who find relevance in the interior ideas I often describe. I appreciate more than they know the great staff, friends, and dedicated workers that gather to make this space special. Persistently, the site gets the facts right, the interpretation sound, and keeps up the good fight.

It’s different in the world beyond, especially in the corporate mainstream; the producers and purveyors of what I have called marketplace speech. Snippets, sound bites, and commentary that spin a discourse removed from facts and causes, and only feature manufactured make-believe.

The handshake between Barack Obama and Raul Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday is a perfect example of marketplace speech and its manufactured process. Alternatively described as “historic,” some Cuban-American reactions have been characterized as “dismayed.” A Wall Street Journal headline proclaimed it showed a “thaw in relations with Cuba.” Yahoo reported it was “seen by millions.” The Globe and Mail called it “a rare gesture” that “caused a stir.”

The Boston Globe said the “offending handshake” led to the “predictable hysteria.” USA Today said it “shocked the world.”

Senator John McCain and a Florida House member said it awarded Cuba a “propaganda victory.” The House member (of Cuban descent) called it “nauseating.” McCain added the President “shouldn’t have done it.”

Enter my other favorite concept, the looking glass syndrome, the practice of seeing the world only as I believe it to be, despite evidence, circumstances, and common sense.

Can you imagine the propaganda victory for Cuba at the other end of the looking glass if the “American Imperialist” had snubbed Raul Castro, who was an invited speaker by South Africa, representing a country that sent aid and personnel to the fight against apartheid in South Africa and imperialism in Namibia at a time when the US stood against the struggle for freedom and full rights—human rights!—for black South Africans and others in the region by failing to support sanctions and armed South Africa against the independence movements in the region. Which side of that history do you want to stand with?

Foreign policy cannot be advanced or retarded by simple gestures at times when decorum is expected. But in the looking glass, decorum no longer maintains the status quo!

For some, issues of human rights intrude. Cuba convicted and sentenced an American aid worker to 15 years in prison for bringing in less than 20 cell phones and hard drives without a permit. And on Twitter: “Find strong hand sanitizer. Surely some of the innocent blood on @RaulCastro’s hand rubbed off.”

Yes, it’s a harsh sentence. I am sure the chances of a negotiated early release or commutation would have immediately improved with a Raul Castro snub. I am convinced that such a snub would have created an opportunity for diplomatic dialogue on a vast range of issues. Didn’t Reagan’s snub of Russia’s leaders result in the dismantling of the Evil Empire and ended the Cold War? Oh, Reagan actually shook hands with Russia’s Communist leader, President Mikhail Gorbachev?

No blood was more innocent than that of the people of South Africa, who spilled their blood at the hands of their country’s citizens because of race, power, and wealth. The day of the “dismaying, offending” handshake, they sat together in the blood of their memory and danced and mourned and celebrated the man whose forgiveness and faith in redemption made possible South Africa’s new day.

A man, imprisoned for 27 years, came of prison to lead a country not by blame and recrimination but by forgiveness and reconciliation—a lesson and example and witness over 100 global leaders of every ideology traveled to an open air stadium on a rainy day to gather with thousands of South Africans to celebrate, including many with mixed records on freedom, abuse, violence, and power.

They have their own looking glasses and elaborate ruses to hide their hypocrisy. Yet finger-pointing at a handshake leads to the dead end of blame.

Just minutes before the handshake, Barack Obama presciently captured the obscene imbalance now surrounding his handshake in his remarks about Nelson Mandela. Continue reading The Handshake

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How Come Big News Is Seldom About Big Ideas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who thinks of these things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stormy Monday, 4/8/13

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Senate bills on immigration reform and gun control originally anticipated this week will likely be delayed. The former is being drafted by a “bipartisan” group of eight senators, who apparently have yet to reach agreement on a guest-worker program, among other details. Despite optimistic noises from New York’s Charles Schumer, an anonymous “member of the business community” quoted by the Washington Post claims the eight have “substantial disagreements on almost all the major parts.”

As to gun legislation, “Senate staffers say a bipartisan agreement has yet to be reached on universal background checks.” The NRA has, um, targeted various lawmakers for heavy lobbying efforts, including Virginia’s Mark Warner. Also lobbying this week are the President, who will speak on gun control at the University of Hartford on Monday, Vice President Biden, who hosts a gathering of law enforcement officials at the White House on Tuesday, and Michelle Obama, who will address the subject of gun violence at a Wednesday appearance in Chicago.

Wednesday sees the unveiling of President Obama’s considerably overdue budget proposal, which will reportedly call for the adoption of chained CPI in exchange for closing some tax loopholes. The budget is also expected to include a proposal for reforming federal employees’ retirement benefits, supposedly saving $35 billion by upping employee pension contributions for newer workers.

No word yet on whether the President’s budget will include new Obamacare provisions to cover all the hair that’s been set on fire as rumors have circulated for weeks. Senator Lindsey Graham has already offered up tentative praise, which is never a good sign. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/8/13

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