Stormy Monday, 12/8/14

StormyMondayThe 113th Congress, having covered itself with neither dust nor glory, holds its last session Friday. Members have a whopping five days to try and figure out how to keep the government funded, along with all sorts of other pending measures that – darn the luck! – they were just too busy to get to sooner. Ironically, the only thing that might keep the 113th out of the history books as a singular national disgrace is the incoming 114th; with Republicans running the show in both chambers, nothing good can possibly come out of it.

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who recently made controversial remarks about the crafting of the Affordable Care Act (a process in which he participated as a consultant) will sit down with Darrell Issa and the rest of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday. Committee Republicans are desperate to leverage Gruber’s remarks to prove that the White House used deception to win passage of the bill. And if that effort fails, they can just go back to squawking about Benghazi. To that end, the Select Committee on Benghazi holds its second hearing on Wednesday. Beats working, I guess.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on efforts to halt the Ebola epidemic. Just in time, too. Come January when Republicans become the majority in the chamber, the loftiest discussion will probably be restricted to topics like whether to reintroduce Freedom Fries in the Capitol cafeterias.

Rain in New York City over the weekend temporarily quieted ongoing protests over police violence in the aftermath of a grand jury failing to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner. In contrast, weekend demonstrations in Berkeley and Seattle, goaded by the response of law enforcement officers, turned violently confrontational.

Kings County DA Kenneth Thompson has started the process of impaneling a grand jury to weigh charges against rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang, who killed Akai Gurley, another unarmed African-American man, on November 20. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/8/14

Stormy Monday, 10/6/14

StormyMondayExisting inventories of Styrofoam food and beverage containers are now being exhausted as the House of Representatives begins transitioning to paper containers following last week’s official announcement. Rest assured that despite this modest green initiative, the House will continue to be a hotbed of climate change deniers, science-averse throwbacks and assorted bullet-headed regressive Tea Party know-nothings. Fun fact: under Nancy Pelosi’s speakership, the House had already switched to “compostable, corn-based products” as part of the “Green the Capitol Initiative,” before Republicans regained the majority and un-greened everything.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will, I suppose, wow ‘em at the American Enterprise Institute Monday morning, when he’ll take the podium for an hour to “[present] a plan to rebuild America’s military strength and reaffirm the United States as a force for freedom and stability around the world.” Meaning he’ll be mouthing a raft of stale clichés about the crying need to reverse every sensible foreign policy direction the Obama Administration has pursued and double down on those that weren’t very sensible. Emboldened by the worthlessness of his possible 2016 primary rivals, the worthless Jindal will repeat his speech the next day at the Citadel in South Carolina, something Republican presidential hopefuls do before moving on to obscurity.

Gregory Holt, a Muslim incarcerated in an Arkansas prison, might be allowed to grow a beard if the Supreme Court finds in his favor. Had Holt thought to commit his offenses (which included stabbing his girlfriend in the chest and cutting her throat) in any of 44 other state jurisdictions, or federally, he could already have grown one. Argument in the case begins Monday.

Has Thomas Duncan infected anyone else in the United States with the Ebola virus? Whether he has or not, US mainstream media will continue a torrent of poorly informed, embarrassingly hyperbolic, offensively America-centric coverage this week, even as it mostly ignores the situation in western Africa, where urgent efforts to staunch the epidemic continue. Among other recent developments, successful containment strategies in Nigeria and Senegal are now being studied for application in other countries.

Duncan ‘s condition was downgraded from serious to critical on Saturday, while further names were added to the list of those being monitored for possible infection after contact with him. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/6/14

Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

StormyMondayFresh from hastily scheduled trips to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, John Kerry begins the week in Cairo, where the Secretary of State hopes to get more countries onside with efforts to fight Islamic State extremists. In case Kerry doesn’t get his fill of truculence, skepticism and outright intransigence overseas, he has a backup plan: he’s returning to Washington to testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The President will be in Atlanta Tuesday for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he’ll receive a detailed briefing on both the West African Ebola epidemic and the enterovirus-related respiratory disease outbreak in the US Midwest. The visit comes several days after a direct appeal for US assistance from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Watch for Republican demands this week that both viruses be bombed into submission and the operation paid for with a Social Security benefits clawback.

Thursday, Scots go to the polls for a historic vote on independence from the United Kingdom. Well over four million people have registered to vote, while another 800,000 or so have signed up to vote by mail. That represents roughly 97% of eligible voters, a percentage the Democratic and Republican Parties alike can only view wistfully just weeks ahead of the typically anemic midterm electoral turnout stateside. Recent polls suggest momentum building for the “No” faction, but it’s likely to be close whichever way it goes.

Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its, uh, long-awaited first hearing. Think they’ll discuss the August 1 report by the House Intelligence Committee, which found absolutely zero malfeasance by the Obama Administration? Neither do I.

Timed to coincide with a UN summit on climate change, a huge march in Manhattan is planned for Sunday. Organizers of the People’s Climate March are aiming for a turnout of 100,000 or more. The following day, the sixth annual Climate Week NYC gets underway, with scores of events planned around the city. The climate may be screwed, but I hope at least the weather is nice for the march.

On a related note, new efficiency standards for refrigerators begin Monday, amid cheerful forecasts by the Department of Energy that post-regulation models will use about 25% less electricity than existing models, with a projected 30-year savings to consumers of $36 billion. No word yet on whether the new models can be readily converted into seaworthy craft to deal with rising ocean levels. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

Stormy Monday, 7/28/14

StormyMondayMonday, at long goddamned last, the travesty that is the Department of Veterans Affairs might be moved a giant step closer to getting fixed, when a joint Congressional committee announces its roadmap to reform. Among a number of major changes, largely at the instigation of co-chair Senator Bernie Sanders, the committee is expected to recommend a significant  increase in funding for additional medical professionals, something likely to cause some Congressional Republicans to balk, given how they much prefer throwing borrowed trillions at creating wounded veterans rather than, you know, spending millions to treat them.

Encouragingly, over 100 House members co-signed a letter last week requesting Congressional leadership to keep both houses in session past the scheduled August recess if a bill hasn’t been completed. The other 335 or so were too busy packing their flip-flops and sunscreen, presumably.

Well, it’s now “official,” or at least as “official” as anything emanating from CNN can be. Their breathless new poll shows that if the 2012 election were held today, Mitt Romney would best Barack Obama 53% to 44%. Interestingly, though equally fictionally, the other 3% of voters would divide their benighted ballots among (in no particular order) George W. Bush, Thomas Dewey, Lyndon LaRouche, Rush Limbaugh, Ross Perot and Ted Nugent. While I won’t be sharing my raw data anytime soon, trust me, that conclusion is rigorously scientific. Just like the CNN-ORC International poll was. Of course, the election of 2012 was actually held in – surprise! – 2012, and Mitt Romney, deservedly, now resides in the “where are they now” file. Just like CNN does, come to think of it.

California Governor Jerry Brown heads to Mexico Monday for three days of meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and later with various Central American leaders, as the migrant children crisis continues to develop. Meanwhile, Texas fathead Senator John Cornyn predicts that a “skinnied-down” bill to provide emergency border funding could pass this week, “skinnied-down” being fathead Cornynese for “starved for funds” or “useless” or “c’mon, now, we got us an August recess to get to.”

With 100 days remaining until the mid-terms, Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted over the weekend that November 4 would be a “wave” election for his party. And with 99 days remaining until the mid-terms at time of writing, I predict Greg Walden will be job-hunting beginning November 5. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/28/14

Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

StormyMondayAlready a month overdue, the President’s budget proposal is expected to drop Tuesday. Various House committees are already poised to posture, pontificate and proclaim their dismay, disgust and dudgeon, or – as it’s known in Washington – hold hearings.

The Senate will follow suit, and the liveliest of its proceedings will probably be the Wednesday appearance before the Armed Services Committee of Defense Secretary Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey. The witness panel will have the “best” seats in town at the pathetic spectacle of Republican committee members snuffling about that uppity President trying to destroy America’s ability to defend itself. Any day now, James Inhofe or Saxby Chambliss will realize that the President’s proposed cuts could leave the nation wide open to invasion… by Kenya.

Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington this week. His Monday schedule includes meetings with President Obama and with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, plus a meeting and press conference with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Netanyahu’s standard call for a hard line against the supposedly grave and gathering threat of Iran might not garner much enthusiasm from American politicians suddenly more concerned with reality in Ukraine than hypotheticals in the Middle East. Tuesday, though, Netanyahu addresses this year’s AIPAC conference, where he’ll undoubtedly find plenty of people very, very enthused.

Work is slated to begin Monday morning on a two-year, $60-million restoration of the Capitol Dome, the first such work there since 1960. A covered walkway in the Rotunda during renovations will ensure safe passage into and out of the Senate and House, which will themselves remain broken indefinitely.

However, DC is expected to receive between five and eight inches of snow this particular Stormy Monday, so the restoration schedule could be off to a rough start. Weather has already been cited for the postponement of a planned Monday evening Senate cloture vote in the confirmation proceedings of controversial nominee Debo P. Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Take-FiveONE: 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)

Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

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

Stormy Monday, 9/16/13

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

Stormy Monday, 9/2/13

StormyMondayHandily enough, September is National Preparedness Month, so let’s brace ourselves. Whatever happens – and any number of things could – it could be just all kinds of ugly.

On Saturday, the President committed to seeking Congressional approval for military strikes against the Syrian regime. The same day, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House “leadership” issued a joint statement resisting calls to reconvene before the scheduled end of their recess, claiming that waiting until September 9 to convene gives President Obama “time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”

Not incidentally, it also provides time for Boehner’s caucus to sit on their entitled asses for a few more precious late-summer days, squeeze in a few last rounds of being influence-peddled over pulled pork and/or Peruvian flake, and strategize how they’re going to defund Obamacare, shut down the government over another manufactured debt ceiling crisis, and cement the reputation of the 113th Congress as the worst and least productive in modern times, all while somehow finding time to turn their minds to this whole – ugh! – Syria thing the White House keeps talking about, whatever the hell that’s all about. Hooray for National Preparedness Month.

Pending Congress doing much of anything, Syria’s state-run newspaper, Al-Thawra, crowed in a front-page editorial Sunday about recourse to Congressional approval being “the start of the historic American retreat,” even as the USS Nimitz and its strike group headed for the Red Sea and five US destroyers armed with 200 cruise missiles patrolled the eastern Mediterranean.

Invitations have gone out to chairs and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee for a Tuesday confab about Syria at the White House. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/2/13

Stormy Monday, 7/15/13

Will Harry Reid go nuclear to stop Senate filibusters of executive branch nominees? We’ll probably find out Tuesday, when a series of votes will be held to end debate on Richard Cordray (for CFPB chief), Thomas Perez (for Secretary of Labor), and five other stalled nominees. Unsurprisingly, Reid and Mitch McConnell have been rattling their sabers about this for days now; I’d love to see Reid do it because it’s the right thing to do, but the very best part would be seeing McConnell’s apoplectic reaction. Here’s hoping.

The House, meanwhile, continues to do what it does best, which is to struggle mightily to avoid actually doing much of anything. In keeping with that theme, Majority Leader Eric Cantor has announced pointless votes this week to repeal both the employer and individual mandates of Obamacare, and possible consideration of a bill that would revisit No Child Left Behind.

And the uselessness continues on the micro level as well as the macro; House committees will also spend the week spinning their wheels and flapping their gums. The Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on – wait for it – Benghazi, while Darrell Issa and his Oversight & Government Reform Committee compadres will throw a little bash they’re calling “The IRS’ Systematic Delay and Scrutiny of Tea Party Applications.” Good times.

Will the Justice Department consider a civil rights case against George Zimmerman following Saturday’s infuriating verdict? The NAACP, Harry Reid and others are urging it to do just that. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/15/13