Stormy Monday, 2/24/14

StormyMondayHouse Republicans return to Washington this week, and among a host of very bad things, will attempt to expedite the ALERRT Act. While it might sound like yet another example of famously bad rightwing spelling, “ALERRT” is an acronym for “Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency,” which means the bill is actually just another example of famously bad rightwing ideas.

Also on the GOP House agenda is a bill to improve (meaning hobble) the CFPB, and the equally craptacular Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act, which of course is intended solely to stop what Republicans consider targeting of conservative political beliefs.

On Thursday, animatronic has-been Mitt Romney will be shipped to Boston and temporarily uncrated for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser. This is being spun as a show of support for the increasingly radioactive has-been-in-the-making Chris Christie, who chairs the RGA. How can you tell he’s radioactive? Because various fellow Republican governors are already making it a point to tell the press that he isn’t.

In a move almost comically emblematic of the term “military industrial complex,” on Tuesday the President will announce two new so-called innovation institutes, one in Chicago and one in Detroit. The institutes will be developed and funded through a partnership of private industry and the Department of Defense. Can’t see any downside to this. Nope.

Wednesday, the President heads to St. Paul’s splendidly refurbished Union Depot for another in his continuing series of speeches on the economy, this one focusing on “transportation and transit issues.” The White House website notes that he will “announce a new competition encouraging investments to create jobs and restore infrastructure as part of the President’s Year of Action.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/24/14

Stormy Monday, 12/2/13

StormyMondayAccompanied by his son Hunter and granddaughter Finnegan, Vice President Biden begins a week-long Asian junket on Monday with a stop in Tokyo. His itinerary includes meetings with Japanese, Chinese and South Korean leaders, and the mooted Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and regional security concerns are expected to top the agenda. The Veep’s trip comes at a time when China and Japan are engaging in a Falklands-style dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

David Cameron is also in China this week, desperate to kiss some State Council butt after his meeting with the Dalai Lama in May of last year got them all riled up. For good measure, the British PM brought along scores of business people, all eager to be the first and biggest (and perhaps only) recipients of what Cameron recently termed “real rewards for our peoples.”

Elsewhere in the Far East, the tense situation in Thailand shows no signs of easing. Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government faction, claims he told Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a secret meeting on Sunday that she and her government have two days to step down and turn control of the county “over to the people.” Violent, sometimes deadly protests continue, but it’s unclear what will happen should Yingluck fail to heed the dissidents’ ultimatum.

Although acknowledging that more remediation is needed, the White House claimed Sunday that HealthCare.gov is now largely fixed and capable of handling 50,000 visitors at a time, meeting the President’s self-imposed repair timeline. Watch for renewed efforts this week to undermine or sabotage the site, if enough Republican hackers can figure out how to turn on their computers. And if that effort fails, they’ll always have Benghazi.

The House will be back in session this week, with a light schedule befitting its inability to actually get anything accomplished. The Senate is out until next week, though efforts continue behind the scenes to prepare new sanctions in case current State Department and international efforts at rapprochement with Iran falter. Both chambers are “working” against a December 13 deadline to agree on a budget deal, and short of that will have to come up with another continuing resolution in January to keep the government open past the 15th. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/2/13

Obama's Political Second Line

DD0 – 2!

Boehner lost the fight, as I predicted in my last article! Barack Obama kept alive the string that began with Boehner’s loss to Oklahoma Representative J.C Watts (R) for Chair of the House Republican Conference in 2001; that began Boehner’s string of losing fights of personal importance (important because Boehner makes them personal) to astute African-American politicians who take advantage of Boehner’s weaknesses and overreach.

Okay, the string is a twist: Boehner lost because his position was untenable. But the coincidence is history and makes good myth.

And from the mythical traditions of how the dead are buried, Obama has introduced something new to American politics: the political second line. It defines the way politics moves forward after a tough fight, when grief and anger are heavy in the air, and fury burns in the hearts of those vanquished, as, their ideals trounced, they walk past inanimate spirits of dead goals lying in the political infirmary of conference rooms.

BigChiefIn the recent battle of the bulge over the budget and debt ceiling, we knew the Republican defeat was nigh and the plug was pulled on its life support when the Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC sent a widely publicized letter to the each member of the US Senate. The letter accused Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, of lying, as the Koch organization categorically denied any effort in funding or directing Congressional Republicans to shut down government and default on debt to force an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal or rollback.

“Non mas,” the Koch letter says. It attempts to portray Koch as the aggrieved victim, demanding that Senator Reid and other politicians stop misrepresenting and distorting his positions. Indicted by its arrogance and its in-evidence presumption of power, the letter makes its own ellipsis of the source and blunt force of Harry Reid’s argument; it completely ignores the legitimacy and weight of Reid’s source.

The New York Times published a series of master articles and commentaries in the middle of the debate, documenting and citing the numbers of millions of dollars the Koch organization spent and passed through its several front organizations to other groups to fund campaigns in the media and live events opposing the ACA. That documentation—including ads on YouTube—the Senate is told, in an oblique reference, is “erroneous.”

Here’s some what the Times has to say. In its editorial blog, Taking Note, on July 9, David Firestone wrote:

The advocacy group backed by the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, is spending more than $1 million on an advertising Taking Note to (yet again) discredit President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s already been in effect for three years, but they want to soften it up just as its most important changes (mostly, the insurance mandate) begin to go into effect on Oct. 1.

The Kochs and their Republican allies continue to take advantage of the law’s complexity and public ignorance to spread the worst kind of misinformation, hoping once again to create chaotic town halls and anti-government protests once the mandate goes into effect.

Then on October 6, the Times printed:

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

All of this was “misrepresented,” in the words of the Koch organization.

But it led to Harry Reid making the unusual statement of calling out Koch by name in a Twitter post:

At the heart of any democratic action by government is a concept I introduced when exploring Edward Snowden’s actions a few weeks ago, a concept I called “permission.” An informal concept, it refers to the idea that every political act has around it a broad consensus about whether the act itself (not its outcome!) is right or wrong: permitted. It represents the politics of manners and determines our limits and edges.

In America, it reaches high, often violent extremes: secession, complete with declarations, votes, and an enduring war with sixteen times more dead that Vietnam; the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, in May 1838, the week it opened as a public meeting space and forum dedicated to presenting views and speaking out for abolition and women’s rights. Lynching, whose historic victims exceed the numbers of Iraqi war dead and was endorsed by Southern governors and representatives; Midwestern sundown towns that required blacks to be be out of the town limits by dusk; sterilization of women without permission (North Carolina led the way); prohibitions against interracial and same-sex marriage.

Include an impeachment trial for the “high crime” of a President lying about oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern.

The current push for permission includes: the demand that former Vice President Dick Cheney be charged with war crimes (unlikely) and for individual charges against Wall Street executives and functionaries. (Also unlikely: because of the oversight/review/decision chain, institutional patterns protect individuals from being singled out; instead, the firm which acts in concert is charged as a whole with penalties and fines—including the $13 billion Goldman Sachs voluntarily agreed to this week! )

But back to the President’s point: the recent fight was not over a win or loss, or about policy, although Republicans tried to make it so: it was a fight over “what are the rules?” Continue reading Obama’s Political Second Line

Stormy Monday, 7/8/13

If you don’t feel like doing something interesting with your Monday, like clipping your toenails or trying to teach your goldfish to roll over, watch for Rick Perry’s announcement about his “exciting future plans.” Will he declare his intention to run for a fourth term as Texas Governor? Or has he finally remembered the third federal government department he wants to shut down, clearing the way for another presidential run in 2016?

With none other than George Walker Bush urging Congress to get comprehensive immigration reform done, I now have to reassess my own enthusiasm for it. And don’t even get me started on the macabre irony of Bush uttering the words: “It’s very important to fix a broken system…”

Foreshadowing the probable fate of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” bill, Rep. Michael McCaul claimed in an interview this morning that Americans “don’t want a comprehensive bill like what we saw with Obamacare.” How he knows this, he didn’t say. Maybe he’ll explain it after he and his House Republican colleagues get together behind closed doors midweek to discuss how they’re going to derail reform.

Speaking of Obamacare, if you’re in Virginia or Ohio, watch for this week’s rollout of new TV ads (funded by the infamous America-hating Brothers Koch) designed to convince you that it sucks. The ads will later appear in other states. If the campaign is successful, watch for future Koch-financed commercials aimed at making you doubt and/or despise kittens, electricity and oxygen.

Secretary of State John Kerry returns to Israel later in the week to continue efforts to broker direct talks between that nation and the Palestinians. After last week’s flap about the State Department first denying then later admitting that Kerry spent time aboard his yacht in Nantucket as Egypt’s government was being overthrown, the Secretary no doubt craves the peace and tranquility that have always been hallmarks of the Middle East. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/8/13

What Do You Believe?

What do you believe? Who do you believe? And what is the foundation for your beliefs? Those questions were overwhelmed in the noise but were underlined by the rage in the public square this week, on issues from sequestration to the Onion’s infamous tweet during the Academy Awards.

Defended as free speech and satire, whose firestorm of response by many was evidence of its success, the Onion’s 140-character post was never covered by the cover it claimed, of being the occasional moment in a society that cherishes free speech, when a good intent to poke fun goes awry.

It was, instead, the perfect example of irresponsible speech, an imitated form of liar’s rage, a flawed imitation of the disdain that has marked the political language of Republicans, especially, and dominates the airwaves and the internet. This mock and real rage is often packed with lies, to avoid responsibility and to deny its purpose by claiming: look, it’s absurd. This liar’s rage is engaged in; denigrating the President and others, often not for their views, but simply because hate is seen as a constitutionally protected act. The Onion poster falls into using liar’s rage as a mock model. So it’s okay to call a nine-year old a sexually explicit name. No different than other daily online fare. As long as it’s just words, and they are not used to incite, the Bill of Rights says speech is free, and restrictions can’t be imposed.

The folk who make that argument miss the point: the outrage about the Onion post wasn’t over a narrow legal view of whether it violated free speech or whether it was misinterpreted, or as I suggest, it’s evidence of a cultural faux pas, or whether the rest of us didn’t get it. The reaction was a collective, strong-willed assertion that the comment was wrong. Not all free speech is right, and the right to speak or tweet freely doesn’t guarantee that what is said will have an equal place in the public square, which also has the right to shout it down.

The short tweet combined the worst of Rush Limbaugh and Mitt Romney with Donald Trump. It was uncomfortably sexually explicit without the redemption or condemnation found in the best satire. It applied a smear with the full force of scatological misogyny. My daughter tells me it’s a frat boy word. Mis-gauging its impact channels Romney, who repeatedly put forth a worldview that took away the humanity of others. Its crudeness and bullying attack was pure La Donald.

By closer reading, the poster was also a male. (Read it, you’ll agree.) As it was defended, it revealed a large subculture who skip the who and cite their belief in the what; in this case, free speech, its foundation in the constitution.

I agree that the post didn’t “cross the line.” It was wrong. Murder doesn’t “cross the line.” It’s wrong. A country can’t maintain a dual morality, one for crimes of property and persons, and another that says if legal penalties aren’t at stake, anything goes. Gun owners are now citing the right to “constitutional carry,” without restriction or concealment permits (repeal!). A constitutional right doesn’t guarantee approval of every position (guns or free speech) that attempts to be derived from that right. The constitution also guarantees the equal right to be wrong under its authority.

Long before appeals to law, a society decides in dynamic ways its limits and order, its boundaries of behavior, its conscience and sense of embarrassment and shame, its priorities and patterns of care. The Constitution should not be cited to excuse bad taste at best, to conceal honest error, or to be the enabling document for the erosion of the full humanity of others who are diverse and different.

I see the post as a thoughtless and harmful example of how the decency of words has degenerated into a culture that sets no limits on impropriety, including using a sexually explicit, denigrating word against a prepubescence girl in the harsh light on the internet’s public square. Retreating to free speech was something that even the Onion CEO didn’t do. He says in a Facebook the post was “crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”

It should remind us that such an ill-advised attack is not by “rights” exempt from being wrong, and by its irresponsibility undermines the protections it cites.

It wasn’t that the rest of us “were afraid to say it.” We knew better. Continue reading What Do You Believe?

BREAKING: Boehner, Cantor in Standoff with Capitol Police

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Capitol police have called for a hostage negotiator to respond to an ongoing situation in the Capitol building in which House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have barricaded themselves in a conference room, demanding that they be joined there by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell along with President Obama and the Obama family dog Bo. Authorities have confirmed that the eight Republican House members appointed by the ‘Cincinnati Cinnamon Stick’ to the conference committee which he was expecting to negotiate the pending tax holiday legislation with Senate Democrats are with the Speaker and Majority Leader, but it is not certain if they are there voluntarily or have been taken hostage like the rest of the country.

The standoff began early this afternoon when Boehner returned to the Capitol shortly after extricating himself from the bus Sen. McConnell had just thrown him under. First he summoned Cantor and the others into the conference room, and shortly after all were assembled he and Cantor began contacting various press outlets and communicating their demands.

Newton Toomey, a Capitol police official familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that as a precaution, authorities are acting based on the assumption that the top two ranking House Republicans are armed. Toomey also indicated there is a suspicion among many at the scene that ‘The Bronze Clod’ may be suffering from a condition he described as “tanning booth stroke” which might be impairing his judgment. “With him you can’t always tell,” he noted. Continue reading BREAKING: Boehner, Cantor in Standoff with Capitol Police