Take Five (Well, Shut My Mouth edition)

Take-FiveONE: Vinny Laughs Last

With NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and his career hanging by a thread, it’s been fascinating to contemplate his attempts at apology and explanation for his Iraq tall tale. He claimed he “would not have chosen to make this mistake,” which begs the peculiar question of which mistake he might have opted for instead. He went on to note that he “[doesn’t] know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Elsewhere, he implied he does know, ascribing his “mistake” to what he termed “the fog of memory.”

The fog bank apparently stretched across many months, all the way to New Orleans, where Williams’s recollections of armed gangs, dysentery, and bodies floating outside the Ritz-Carlton are now receiving some Category 5 scrutiny. As are other instances of Williams and the truth not being on the same page; the list will likely be augmented as his suspension continues. His very public humiliation is especially striking set against his remarks to an audience at New York University back in 2007:

“You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.”

Well, of course he hasn’t left that apartment, Brian. Who the hell wants to risk getting hit by an RPG crossing Jerome Avenue?

It’s worth noting that the credentials Williams has spent all his life developing began with his very first job, busing tables at a Perkins. Good thing he has a fallback career. Efficiency apartments, even in the Bronx, don’t come cheap these days.

TWO: Cloudy with a chance of stupid…

Vinny might also be wondering how someone as loathsome and nakedly biased as John Stossel could have won nineteen Emmy Awards. It certainly beats the hell out of me. Stossel has been acting like a jerk for such a long time that it’s pretty much automatic for him these days. Case in point, a recent Fox News appearance with colleague and fellow cretin Tucker Carlson, wherein Stossel got all nostalgic about the real heroes of Katrina. Apparently, it’s a story Brian Williams was too dysentery-ridden to investigate:

“After Katrina, Walmart and private charities helped people in many more ways than FEMA did… because FEMA is incompetent because government tends to be. But also Walmart everyday needs to know what people need, and they were ready. They had more weather forecasters than some of the local governments do.”

Missing from Stossel’s “analysis” were some inconvenient facts: the Bush administration’s initial indifference followed by its comprehensive mishandling of the crisis, the appointment of the monumentally unqualified Michael Brown to head up FEMA, chronic underfunding of federal agencies at the insistence of Republican fiscal hawks-of-convenience, and the general rightwing guiding principle of “if it’s busted, just leave it.” And though I’ve only ventured into a Walmart twice in my life, I don’t recall seeing a weather forecasting department.

THREE: Almost Heaven, part 1

West Virginia may rank 38th in state population, but it’s positively brimming with bonehead Republican politicians enthusiastically elected to public office by bonehead Republican voters. One in the news recently is Delegate Brian Kurcaba. Despite his pre-politics background as a financial adviser, Kurcaba is comfortable pontificating on a range of subjects, like “voter fraud,” traffic in Morgantown, and “Second Amendment freedoms.” Oh, and rape.

Kurcaba, in the presence of a reporter, recently weighed in on the topic during a House of Delegates debate on the imposition of a strict ban on abortions after 20 weeks, something West Virginia Republicans have been trying to impose for some time. While Kurcaba sagely allowed that rape is “horrible and terrifying and brutal… absolutely disgusting,” he managed to find a silver lining to inspire female rape victims everywhere: “But what is beautiful is the child that could come as a production of this.”

Or maybe not. A day later, Kurcaba issued a mea sorta culpa to “anyone who took my comments about the sanctity of human life to mean anything other than that all children are precious regardless of circumstances.” Delegates in West Virginia serve two-year terms. Sadly, then, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Brian Kurcaba. Continue reading Take Five (Well, Shut My Mouth edition)

Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

StormyMondayAt the behest of Attorney General Eric Holder, the body of Michael Brown will be autopsied for a third time this week as federal and state investigations into his fatal shooting by police officer Darren Wilson continue. Tensions between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri showed little sign of abating over the weekend, despite Governor Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of a curfew.

The President is still in Washington for a previously announced interruption in his Martha’s Vineyard vacation with the family. The White House announced Sunday that he will receive a briefing from the Attorney General on the situation in Ferguson, and another from the National Security Council on Iraq. He’s scheduled to return to the Vineyard on Tuesday, barring the undeniable possibility that someone somewhere will do what the President would probably describe as “stupid shit.”

Rick Perry will be busy this week insisting to every friend and family member, fellow Texas Republican, probing reporter, and/or pizza delivery guy he encounters that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing despite last week’s grand jury indictment on two felony counts. In a hilarious appearance on Fox News Sunday, Perry claimed:

This is not the way we settle political differences in this country. You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.

Which I guess explains his vigorous efforts in 2011 to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, who favor Democrats, with a draconian voter ID law that, like Rick Perry, will soon be the subject of a court case.

In more than one sense of the term, Amanda Curtis hits the ground running this week as she begins an 11th-hour campaign to hold a Democratic Senate seat after incumbent John Walsh plagiarized himself out of the contest. Montana Democrats chose her over the weekend to replace Walsh, who was himself tapped to replace the mercifully retired Max Baucus. Curtis teaches high school math by day, and hasn’t yet secured a leave of absence from her school board for what virtually all observers consider to be a doomed campaign against Republican Steve Daines. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

Stormy Monday, 8/11/14

StormyMondayHostilities intensified over the weekend as assorted anti-American theocrats, terrorists and heavily armed extremists – Republicans, in other words – ratcheted up their rhetoric against President Obama’s latest efforts to help Iraq’s faltering government defeat Islamic State insurgents. If you opted not to spend part of Sunday watching foreign policy luminaries like John McCain and Peter King tell the nearest TV camera just what a mess the President has made of Iraq, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that they believe it’s a terrible mess indeed. Really terrible. Very terrible. Terribly terrible. What a refreshing change from the Bush era, when Republicans strenuously insisted that criticism of the Commander-in-Chief during wartime is inappropriate; nowadays they deem it inappropriate not to be screeching about every decision and announcement emanating from the Oval Office.

Reports began circulating Sunday evening of a coup attempt against Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki, who stated over the weekend that he will pursue a third term.

If that’s not quite ominous enough for you, there’s this: Laura Ingraham, of all people, is urging restraint in assessing the President’s handling of the situation in Iraq. “I don’t think you can judge how he did right now,” she said on Fox News Sunday. While there have been no other harbingers yet of imminent apocalypse, political commentators, theologians and Ingraham groupies are fretfully monitoring the situation.

The Obama family has begun a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The President will, however, take a break from his break with a return to Washington next Sunday for what has been cryptically described as “meetings,” before returning to the Vineyard the following Tuesday. Expect Congressional Republicans, currently enjoying their own five-week recess, to hit the airwaves Sunday to complain that the president can’t even vacation competently. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/11/14

Stormy Monday, 7/7/14

StormyMondayThe Republican National Committee unveiled a new fundraising gimmick over the weekend, and this week’s sales figures might provide a handy gauge for just how far gone Republicans currently are. The RNC will reward a $27 donation with a t-shirt bearing the slogan “I MISS W.” The GOP somehow being unaware of that whole universally known red versus blue symbolism thingie, you can have any color you want as long as it’s blue. Though I wonder if a rejected alternate slogan was “I’M STILL WITH STUPID,” I suppose “I MISS W” is close enough. It’ll be an effective way to telegraph to people that they should cross the street if they see you coming, but I’ll bet the RNC could raise way more money by modifying the slogan to “I MISSED W” and adding an image of a shoe to the design. Or a pretzel.

Afghanistan’s election commission, prudently, has not announced preliminary results from the controversial mid-June presidential runoff, but might this week. Meanwhile, Senator Carl Levin, visiting Kabul, and US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham have joined other US officials (like the lamentably ubiquitous Lindsey Graham and John McCain) in calling for an audit of the ballots. In retrospect, our clumsy attempt to bring democracy to Afghanistan should at least have omitted hanging chads.

With all the travails they’ve endured daily for many years now, at least the people of Afghanistan won’t be deprived of, um, Facebook via government decree, as was initially mooted. Hooray. I guess.

Our other nation-gelding – uh, building enterprise in Iraq has to be going better, though, no? In fact, no. 30,000 Saudi troops are amassed at the border between the countries, and the insurgents – ISIS, IS, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week – control some cities large enough that Fox News cheered when troops from the “Coalition of the Willing” took them 11 years ago. Will Iraq’s civil war become a regional war this week? Could be. It’s hard to understand why anyone has to “MISS W,” when in some respects it’s like he never left. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/7/14

Stormy Monday, 6/30/14

StormyMondayThe Supreme Court might get the week off to a terrible start with a bad decision in Harris v. Quinn, which could hobble the right of public sector unions to act as sole representatives of their membership, and/or a bad decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, which could open a mile-wide “religious conscience” loophole in Obamacare requirements that for-profit corporations furnish particular birth control services under employee health plans.

Monday, the President will nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which could sure as hell use a good cleaning. McDonald is a West Point grad with five years of Army service, but he would enter the job as an outsider. If you’re impressed by such things, be advised that he apparently acquitted himself with some distinction at P&G. Whether that’s any qualification for straightening out his new organization is very much an open question.

With Arizona’s Joe Arpaio teetering on the brink of jail and/or senility, the title of America’s Worst Sheriff could soon go to Louisiana’s Julian Whittington, of Bossier Parish (“fastest-growing parish north of Interstate 10″). Whittington will celebrate the Fourth with his second annual “In God We Trust” rally. Roll your eyes if you want, Mr. or Ms. Smartypants Lieberal, but the event will feature, among many other delights, “patriotic and God-lifting music,” just as the Founders – George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Pat Robertson, Ron Paul and PT Barnum – intended. Bobby Jindal can’t make it this time around, but he’s recorded a video for the occasion, and we all know how scintillating Jindal is in front of a video camera.

Teabagger Chris McDaniel, who failed to dethrone Senator Thad Cochran in last week’s Mississippi Republican primary runoff, continues his inspiring quest to become the highest-profile crybaby in US politics, as he ratchets up claims that Cochran won with votes cast by Democrats who had already voted in the Democratic primary. Should that desperate tack fail, McDaniel will likely have to spend the rest of the summer rummaging under couch cushions and down sewer grates for the roughly 7,000 votes he would need to edge Cochran.

McDaniel’s chief competition for highest profile crybaby is of course Oklahoma Teabagger Timothy Ray Murray, who will move to contest his primary loss last week to Congressman Frank Lucas on the grounds that Lucas is actually deceased and has been replaced by a body double. (While it’s a bafflement that anyone aspiring to rationality could continue to support Republicans, don’t forget that 60,932,152 Americans saw fit to vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket in 2012. Be afraid. Be very afraid.)

But hey, if it’s any consolation to voters in Oklahoma and Mississippi, things are also just a tad muddled in Afghanistan since its presidential runoff two weeks ago. The imaginatively named Abdullah Abdullah, after showing initial deference to the country’s Independent Election Commission, has decided they can go to hell, deepening the uncertainty surrounding the vote. The commission will announce “preliminary” results as early as Saturday. You know, it’s beginning to seem that we really did bring that nation American-style democracy. More’s the pity. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/30/14

Stormy Monday, 6/23/14

StormyMondayIn a primary season that has already seen the odious Eric Cantor kicked to the curb by voters for not being quite odious enough, it’s probably smart to take nothing for granted. Charlie Rangel certainly isn’t, despite the latest poll showing him up by double digits over rival Adriano Espaillat mere days before tomorrow’s vote in the New York 13th. If he wins, Rangel might want to mend some fences with the New York Times, which endorsed Espaillat last week.

Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, another odious Republican, faces a runoff against teabagger Chris McDaniel on Tuesday, after nearly being bested by him in the June 3 primary. McDaniel’s support among blinkered conservative tax-me-not voters has been steadily increasing even as their state slides ever further toward Third World status. If Republican infighting is one of your favorite spectator sports, check out the Cochran campaign’s eleventh-hour ad, which takes a metaphorical 2×4 to McDaniel’s metaphorical cranium.

After passing a resolution on Saturday calling for President Obama’s impeachment (ostensibly for exchanging five Taliban detainees for POW Bowe Bergdahl, though mostly, I suspect, for being not entirely white) the South Dakota Republican Party can now go on to other important business, like resolutions opposing gravity and the changing of the seasons. Word is they’ll also consider a resolution to seize Mount Rushmore from the National Park Service and alter all the faces to likenesses of Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of Sgt. Bergdahl, he was discharged from hospital last week and transferred to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where he will receive outpatient care for up to a month. His long-term prognosis is still unknown, but what’s already certain is there’s no known cure for the syndrome that has so many on the right still howling about his release and repatriation.

John Kerry kicked off a busy week with a visit to Cairo for talks with new Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on Sunday, before making a surprise visit to Iraq for private meetings with PM Nouri al-Maliki and several sectarian leaders. To the edification of absolutely nobody, least of all the Iraqis, he described the current precarious situation as “a critical moment for Iraq’s future” and “a moment of great urgency.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/23/14

Stormy Monday, 1/6/14

StormyMondayWill the 1.3 million people stripped of unemployment benefits by Republican callousness get them restored this month? Doubtful, but Congressional Democrats are trying to make it happen, while the President is pitching in with repeated appeals for legislative action and a Tuesday event at the White House featuring people whose benefits were terminated.

This week the Senate will take up a bipartisan proposal by Senators Reed and Heller to restore and extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for three months. Some Republicans have signaled a willingness to support such a measure, but only after offsetting the $6 billion cost of a three-month extension by slashing other spending they hate. Harry Reid has in turn described the idea of an offset as “foolishness” (a word many people automatically associate with Congress already). Meanwhile, Harvard economist Lawrence Katz has calculated that the expiration of unemployment benefits will cost the economy a billion dollars a week; naturally, there’s no word from the GOP about offsetting that.

The House of Representatives will get back to “business” Tuesday. So will cokehead Republican Congressman Trey Radel, who will make his first attempt to do his job since November. Radel is fresh off what he described as a “life-changing” 28 days in rehab and a return to regular church attendance. With those fig leaves firmly affixed, he released a statement about how eager he is to help his constituents fight the challenges of “the burdens of Obamacare, a jobless recovery, and a federal government that continues to spend more than it takes in.” He said nothing about the challenge of being represented by a dim, sanctimonious hypocrite, but they’re probably all used to that by now.

House Republicans will start the new year pretty much the same way they ended 2013: with an unhealthy obsession with the Affordable Care Act. This week’s follies include a bill requiring the government to inform consumers of any breach of their personal data on healthcare.gov (notwithstanding that such a breach has not occurred) and a bill requiring the administration to provide weekly public reports on user traffic and the functionality of the website. There is some method to this madness, though. If Obamacare is the success Republicans fear it will be, they can take some of the credit by crowing about their pointless legislative tinkering around the edges. And if it fails, they can tell the nation that they tried to polish the turd, but it was hopeless. How they would reconcile either stance with their loud and sweaty series of attempts to defund, cripple, undercut, end run or repeal the ACA, I have no idea. I suspect they don’t either. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/6/14

Stormy Monday, 10/28/13

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

Hooking Up the Wrong Way

Have Republicans forgotten they were elected to govern? Not when it comes to money and power. Money, especially. It’s being used in South Carolina to raise support for Lindsay Graham, up for reelection next year, by touting an immigration solution that matches his work with the Senate bill introduced by the Gang of Eight. Now in committee, the bill is the object of scorn by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. But Graham says he, “believes in it with all his heart.”

The same 501(c)(4) money supporting Graham opposes Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, a moderate from an established political family, the kind of Democrat that once won easily in South Carolina, as Bill Clinton once did in Arkansas. A 30-second commercial opposes Sheheen by saying he wants South Carolina to be the only Southern state to accept Obamacare. The spot openly touts the region’s solidarity with regression.

Win or lose, Republicans have put buzz words in place. Now at the state level, voters hear the bell and respond. This is one reason why Republicans repeatedly raise Benghazi. It’s not only to tie Hillary Clinton to the incident, but to pound into it a connotation of failure, weaknesses and cowardice. Hence the angry testimony of State Department officers in a recent hearing which added nothing to what was known except more reports and confessions of anger.

The white men expressed their anger at being told troops would add to the confusion, especially when conditions were not clearly understood. The Republican purpose is to add anger and fear—to turn Benghazi into a brand like Obamacare. All one need do is hear the word, and a parade of negatives immediately comes to mind for the uninformed majority.

If Benghazi is in, military sexual assault is out. Silence reigns about a problem so severe that both males and females in a US uniform are more likely to be sexually assaulted than killed in combat. The Republican concern for mission-readiness and discipline so displayed when gays were allowed to serve openly does not extend to violence and force within inter-gender (and intra-gender) relationships.

Any civilian organization facing year-on-year statistics for sexual assaults at the level of the military would be gravely criticized and shut down. Yet the focus of Congressional national security is on e-mails about Benghazi talking points, while the rampant, growing, out-of-control epidemic of military sexual assaults undermines military working order—widespread reports cite the difficulties of working with your rapist—and puts the nation’s security at risk. And brings home a lot of hurt.

Last year, 26,000 assaults were committed, by the military’s own score. The Air Force Chief of Staff discussed it in a Senate subcommittee hearing as the result of a “hook-up” culture. Yet the Air Force’s officer in charge of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention was charged two weeks ago with groping an unknown woman in a Virginia parking lot, and was arrested by civilian authorities. Yesterday, the Army reported the arrest of an officer at Fort Hood, a Texas base, who was the Sexual Assault Prevention Office Coordinator. He is being held on multiple charges of abusive sexual misconduct.

Outrage? The tempest over revised talking points and e-mails also ignores three of the most important global developments in recent weeks: the factory fire in Bangladesh that left more than 1,100 workers dead, calling into question issues of global working conditions and safety; the massacres in Northern Nigerian villages by the Nigerian army; and the conviction of Guatemala’s former president and military dictator, 86-year-old Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide. Continue reading Hooking Up the Wrong Way

Dear Alleged News Reporter/Journalist

As I read the various articles, blogs, and political message boards discussing the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I can’t help but be reminded of the brave men and women of the mainstream media, who – as the nation stood poised to launch on a misadventure of mammoth proportions and unimagined consequences – picked up their poms-poms and cheer-led a president and an administration that had already proven themselves to be incompetent decision-makers at best, and lying warmongers at worst.

Of course, we all now know the latter proved to be the case, beyond all reasonable doubt.

So I thought this would be an appropriate time to ask a few questions of our illustrious “news reporters/journalists”, with a view to getting some answers that might enlighten us all as to exactly what it is that causes once-aspiring truth-tellers to turn into people who will lie to their own countrymen in order to make a buck.

My questions are as follows:

When you find your vision completely obscured as though you are trapped in a narrow, dark tunnel, do you immediately realize that the sensation is caused by your head being, yet again, stuck firmly up your own ass? As a follow-up question: When your head is stuck up inside someone else’s ass, can you tell the difference between one asshole and another?

At what point in your career did you lose your ethics? Was it all at once, or was it due to a gradual wearing away of that part of you where your obligation to your profession and your loyalty to your fellow citizens also used to be?

Has the term “journalistic non-integrity” become part of the reporters’ lexicon, or do you pretend amongst yourselves that you still have integrity, all evidence to the contrary? Or have you simply changed the definition of the word “integrity” to now mean a lack thereof , in which case you can proudly boast that you are indeed – uh, full of it.

Does your paycheck include bonuses for things like (a) being a spineless shill for the corporations that own your network or sponsor your “news” programming, (b) perfecting the art of “going to commercial” when someone confronts you with the truth, (c) standing outside in a hurricane because your viewers are too fuckin’ stupid to know what a hurricane is without constant visual reminders each time one occurs?

Are fledgling on-air newscasters expected to be able to lie convincingly from their first day on the job? Or are occasional slip-ups, where actual facts might be inadvertently blurted out, overlooked due to whatever remaining vestiges of truth-telling they learned in journalism class having not been completely expunged – yet?

Do you ever experience a twinge of conscience when you look straight into the camera and lie to the American public? Or was your conscience surgically removed as part of the terms of your employment?

Did you ever want to grow up to be a conscientious news reporter? Or did you always want to grow up to be a professional propagandist who will say anything for money?

Can you pinpoint the day you decided to sell your soul for financial compensation? Do you celebrate the anniversary of that day each year by buying yourself something extravagant as a reminder of exactly why selling your soul was worth it? Continue reading Dear Alleged News Reporter/Journalist