Stormy Monday, 3/9/15

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StormyMondayMonday, the Department of Justice will begin notifying approximately a million federal workers of their eligibility to join a class action suit against the government for being forced to work without pay during the Republican-engineered shutdown in October 2013. Eligible employees will have 105 days to sign on; voters will have 610 days until the 2016 election to decide that throwing Republicans out of all federal offices is an urgent priority for the health of the nation.

By next weekend, or so, the United States will have again exhausted its ability to borrow money. Fear not, though. Mitch “Old Lightnin'” McConnell promised Face the Nation Sunday that “the debt ceiling will be handled over a period of months.” He added that “hopefully, it might carry some other important legislation that we can agree on in connection with it,” which, on Planet Mitch, presumably means the repeal of Obamacare or the gutting of Social Security. The White House has meanwhile implemented “emergency cash measures” to forestall a possible collision with the debt ceiling.

Speaking of dysfunctionality and debt, the Eurogroup convenes in Brussels tomorrow to “discuss next steps” related to debt assistance for Greece. Tensions ratcheted up considerably today with the threat by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that Greece could hold an election or a referendum over what those “next steps” might entail.

Too bad Senator Inhofe won’t be in Fairbanks tomorrow for the competitive start of this year’s Iditarod. If he were, he’d learn that 350 dump-trucks’ worth of snow were needed to facilitate Saturday’s ceremonial start in Anchorage, where daytime temperatures flirted with 40 and the only thing falling from the late-winter sky was a thin rain.

Fires are still not totally extinguished following Thursday’s derailment of a crude-carrying BNSF train near Galena, Illinois. Ten more derailed cars remain to be cleared via a new temporary “haul road.” The railway says it anticipates the mainline to be back in operation Monday, which would clear the way – whew! – for the week’s usual 40 or 50 oil trains to run through the area. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/9/15

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Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

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StormyMondayMere days after Republican capitulation on the debt ceiling, scientists don’t yet know whether the violent disruption of the space-time continuum will be temporary or permanent. Congressional Republicans aren’t waiting on a verdict, of course, since they’re already working on other ways to ensure that the government does very little actual, you know, governing. Plus they hate science anyway.

Monday, the President returns to Washington from Sunnylands, the California retreat where he and China’s Xi Jinping held talks last year. The President hosted King Abdullah of Jordan at Sunnylands on Friday, and once the statecraft was completed he headed for the golf course with some old friends from Hawaii.

Speaking of Hawaii, the state’s legislature has an interesting week scheduled. Among other things, lawmakers will debate whether to force stores to lock up spray paint and other “graffiti materials,” forcing consumers to ask retail staff for the items. They’ll also be considering a one-year exemption from jury service for breastfeeding mothers, a ban on smoking in and around public housing complexes, and a ban on the use of drones for information-gathering purposes by anyone other than law enforcement officials.

Wednesday, the POTUS heads for Toluca, Mexico for a brief summit with President Enrique Peña Nieto. Tagging along will be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still ardently trying to pitch the Keystone XL pipeline. Will he offer to take back Justin Bieber to sweeten the deal? Stay tuned. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

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Stormy Monday, 10/28/13

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StormyMondayWill HHS Secretary Sebelius fall on her sword? Will Websitegate force Barack Obama from office? Will Republicans ever shut their damn mouths and concentrate, for once, on doing something positive, rather than devoting all their time and tons of public money to futile attempts at de-legitimizing this President? No, no, and hell no.

After initial refusals, followed by scheduling issues, it now appears that Secretary Sebelius will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Expect majority members on the Committee to grandstand vigorously, hoping to compile some tasty video clips they can use for next year’s reelection efforts when they try to convince their constituents to save them from having to go and earn an honest living for another two years.

Wednesday morning, the 29-member Conference Committee holds its first meeting on the budget. Can Democrats and Republicans agree on a way forward? Can anything actually get done? Well, one thing that might get done this week is the passage of a House resolution formally giving the President a wag of the finger for having the colossal temerity to suspend the debt ceiling until February 7.  Laissez les bipartisan temps rouler! Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/28/13

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Stormy Monday, 10/21/13

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StormyMondayWhew. Debt ceiling raised, spending resolution passed, constitutional crisis averted. Now everything can get back to normal: more meaningless votes to kill Obamacare, more putrescent hypocrisy about deficits, more infantile refusal to compromise, more chicken fried grandstanding, more outrageous policy “ideas” that were intellectually stillborn the first, second or third time they were proposed, back at the lowering, ominous dawn of the Reagan era.

“Positive Bunny” kicks off the week with a Monday morning performance of his “sunny bunny” dance outside the Capitol. Brainchild of “Purge Day” activist Patricia Taylor, the event is somehow intended to help restore America’s “sunny disposition.” I can assure Ms. Taylor that this American, at least, doesn’t have a sunny disposition, and this stunt won’t do a thing to change that, though I applaud her work on behalf of troubled teens.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, speaks Tuesday at the Institute of Peace, an event moderated (in an astonishingly garish display of irony) by war criminal and former Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

Sharif then visits the White House on Wednesday, as the Obama Administration prepares to restore $1.5 billion in aid suspended shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/21/13

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Stormy Monday, 10/14/13

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StormyMondayCan 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

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Stormy Monday, 9/30/13

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StormyMondayWith 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

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Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

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StormyMondayThe most compelling evidence yet for the non-existence of God was revealed earlier this month by Roll Call, which announced that Darrell Issa is now the richest member of Congress. Flush with his undeserved success, Issa flew to Libya yesterday, breaking an Oversight and Government Reform Committee rule he himself instituted that mandates all committee-sanctioned foreign junkets be bipartisan. While Issa frantically searches under every couch cushion in Benghazi for a smoking gun that will destroy the Obama Presidency, it sure would be a fine time to revoke his passport.

A government shutdown on October 1 remains a distinct possibility following last Friday’s passage by the House of a continuing resolution that would fund government operations through mid-December, but also defund Obamacare. Despite Ted Cruz huffing and puffing about a filibuster, the Senate will no doubt remove the provisions related to the Affordable Care Act and punt the bill back to the House, probably this week. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but assuming the worst seems an increasingly safe bet.

The House resolution includes a “death gratuity” payable to the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg in the sum of $174,000, a common though not automatic Congressional perk. If the gratuity makes it into a bicamerally-approved version of the resolution, I expect Mrs. Lautenberg will probably steer the money to some worthy cause or another. She certainly doesn’t need it; her late husband’s net worth has been estimated at $57 million.

Having botched the continuing resolution, the House might also hork up a debt ceiling bill this week, according to reptilian Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor is on record as saying it will include a provision to “delay” the implementation of Obamacare for one year, and another to ensure completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Plus a bunch more provisions to do other bad things. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

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Stormy Monday, 9/16/13

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StormyMondayNow that Congressional Republicans have slunk back from their extended and entirely undeserved late summer holidays, they have a lot of catching up to do in their continuing efforts to make pretty much everything worse for everybody except the wealthy, and eventually even for them. Look for a bill to be introduced this week that would double the $20 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years previously endorsed by the House Agriculture Committee and reintroduce work requirements for eligibility in an economy where the official jobless rate is still north of 7.5%. Look for renewed efforts to kill federal nutrition programs. Look for a measure to erode federal standards and increase timber harvesting in national forests. Look for more blather about a spending resolution, and a possible government shutdown. Listen for exploding irony meters across DC on Wednesday when the Joint Economic Committee convenes a hearing titled, “The Economic Costs of Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship.”

Sybrina Fulton, mother of murder victim Trayvon Martin, will testify Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on “stand your ground” laws. Senators will offer condolences to Ms. Fulton, listen politely to her remarks, ask a few questions, make sympathetic noises, then head for the nearest Capitol Hill steakhouse to try and forget, over Wagyu medallions and merlot, just how heartrending their jobs can be sometimes.

Lest newer and even more egregiously contrived pseudo-scandals fail to hobble the Obama Administration, this week the House GOP also revisits – wait for it – Benghazigate, with exciting new hearings by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The former is designed to ferret out previously unidentified State Department scapegoats, while the theme of the latter is “unanswered questions,” although really the only unanswered question still remaining is how much longer Boehner’s Complainers can keep up this obsessive/compulsive inquisition.

Speaking of scandals, you might have noticed that this column didn’t appear last week. I was busy buying duct tape and plastic sheeting in advance of a world war triggered by Barack W. Obama and John Kerry, his bumbling rube of a Secretary of State. Miraculously, after their bellicose mishandling of the Syrian crisis exposed the United States as a bloodthirsty rogue state and international pariah, that nice Mr. Putin came along and insisted on a diplomatic solution, thereby pulling Obama’s incompetent ass out of the deep fryer. Thank God we have the internet to keep us all informed, huh?

Back on Earth, the details of a chemical weapons agreement were finalized in Geneva on Saturday. Kerry then visited Israel over the weekend, eliciting a statement of support for the deal from the Netanyahu government, and will meet Monday in Paris with top diplomats from France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK.

Meanwhile, some Republican Congressional grandees are already rushing to proclaim that the US/Russia accord over Syria sucks ostrich eggs and needs to be toughened, while still others are magically rebranding themselves as principled peaceniks. And the Wall Street Journal weighed in Saturday with a cheery analysis of the deal’s probability of failure. Guess I’ll keep the duct tape handy. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/16/13

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Stormy Monday, 5/6/13

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Now that their nine-day recess is over, picture members of both houses of Congress returning to Washington refreshed, energetic, eager to tackle the nation’s woes, and ready to work in a genuinely bipartisan fashion for the good of their constituents. Now picture the exact opposite, which is what will happen this week as the 113th Congress resumes. Oh, and if you’re sick and tired of the phrase “debt ceiling,” you might want to go on recess yourself.

The House Homeland Security Committee begins hearings Thursday on the Boston Marathon bombings. The hearings will continue until House Republican leadership is satisfied that they’ve come up with a way to blame everything on President Obama.

Meanwhile, deceased suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s remains remain uninterred, while Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors continues its search for a cemetery to take them. Surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s three public defenders, meanwhile, might be forced to take three-week furloughs before September 30, the close of the federal budget year, due to sequestration.

Jim Porter looks to become the NRA’s new president tomorrow, succeeding David Keene. Is Porter qualified, you ask? Well, a ThinkProgress item on Friday looked at a June 2012 speech Porter gave to the New York Rifle & Pistol Association, in which he referred to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression,” described Barack Obama as a “fake president” and called Eric Holder “rabidly un-American.” Yes, Porter sounds like the perfect guy for the position. And don’t worry; NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre isn’t going anywhere. Nor will he ever shut the hell up. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/6/13

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How We Got Here, and What Liberals Could Do Now

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Americans are now at a place where our credit worthiness as a nation has been downgraded, and more economic hard times are looming. Republicans succeeded beyond their expectations in putting the nation at risk, holding our economy hostage via their one-sided debt ceiling demands. After taking debt negotiations all the way to the wire, Speaker Boehner proudly proclaimed that his party had won as much as 98% of what Republicans wanted. For most Americans and the economy, however, the deal represented about 100% of what they hadn’t asked for.

S&P’s Research Update explains the agency’s downgrading of America:

“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options.” 

The Tea Party’s original raison d’etre was protesting the government’s Wall Street bailouts, an event that had been initiated by the Bush Administration after eight years of George Bush’s disastrous economic policies. The Tea Party didn’t actually show up until after Pres. Obama had been inaugurated, although no one ever bothered to ask these so-called activists why they arrived so late to their own party.

In the summer of 2009, at the onset of the health care debate, the “Teabaggers” focused on opposing Pres. Obama in every way, shape and form, which included a confused mix of “government is bad/health care is bad/righting the economy is bad/socialism is bad/Obama is as bad as Hitler” and whatever else was anti-Democratic Party. They were the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” corporate-funded brigade, an older, richer, whiter America’s version of civil rights activism, protesting the new Democratic administration and its attempts at utilizing government spending, a la Keynes, to spur a failing economy.

The corporate media, for varied reasons, began immediately showering these newly minted faux-Howard Beales with wall-to-wall television coverage. If there was one protester at one town hall meeting, he got as much media coverage as the President. The same three video clips of an angry white person, or two or three, shouting down Democratic congresspersons in purple districts were shown on the tube repeatedly. As the networks and cable outfits cheered in excitement at the tantalizing possibility of a death match between proponents of health care reform and those who insist that government should keep their hands off of their government-run health care, the Tea Party grew shrill and loud.

Tea Party members were always relatively small in numbers, which makes one wonder if intense media coverage of their existence was ever justified. I don’t believe the media ever explained adequately their fascination with this crew. What we did learn is that the size of a protest group never really matters, because the numbers can be made to multiply and grow. The media assigned itself that duty, and there is evidence that they worked hard to get the job done. Continue reading How We Got Here, and What Liberals Could Do Now

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