Stormy Monday, 9/1/14

StormyMondayLabor Day in an election year. Enjoy it, because tomorrow the gloves come off. Hammer time. Time for the excrement to plot a course for the fan. Time for September call-ups of every last little shred of dubious opposition research that campaigns big and small, Democratic and Republican alike, focus-grouped unsuccessfully all summer. Time for pollsters – good, bad, indifferent, biased or unbiased – to line their spreadsheets up against the wall. Time for the kitchen sink and all who sail in her. Ain’t democracy grand? New season notwithstanding, this might be a very good time to turn off the TV.

Jurors in the trial of Smilin’ Bob McDonnell, who used to be Governor of Virginia, and his wife Maureen, who used to be its First Lady, will receive instruction from Judge James R. Spencer and begin deliberations this week. Jury morale has been kept admirably confidential, but I don’t see how the jurors can feel anything but relief at not having to listen to any more testimony from either of the accused.

On Wednesday, Vice President Biden heads to – gasp!New Hampshire. He’s going as part of a continuing White House series of speeches and events focused on the economy, but the mainstream media will be crafting its own narrative for the visit. Expect 24 to 48 hours of asinine headlines like “Biden: Serious About ’16?” or “Veep Reads Granite State Tea Leaves” or “Clinton/Biden?” or “Biden/Clinton?” or “Hey, Who’s the Old Guy?” At some point midweek, I predict Wolf Blitzer will wet himself on the air, and he might not be the only one.

Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas’ voter ID law (or, more accurately described, Texas’ transparent attempt to suppress probable votes for Democrats by raising the bugaboo of “voter fraud” and invoking phony concern for “confidence in the system”) will go to court. One election law expert interviewed for the piece at the link believes the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Which, in these days of modern times, as the Firesign Theatre once put it, could be very unfortunate if that’s how things unfold.

The President goes to Europe this week, first to Estonia for a visit designed to reassure that nation it won’t be next on Vladimir Putin’s Back in the USSR Comeback Tour, and then to a NATO summit in Wales, the first time a sitting United States President has visited there. Nobody knows whether the notorious tan suit is being packed for the trip, but you can bet all the “news” networks have deployed “journalists” to the White House for the latest presidential wardrobe revelations. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/1/14

Stormy Monday, 5/12/14

StormyMondayWith the Benghazi pseudo-scandal momentarily on hold as John Boehner’s Republican-dominated kangaroo court – uh, I mean select committee, is assembled, the Secret Service has set tongues wagging with the revelation by the agency’s former director, Mark Sullivan, that agents were routinely pulled from White House perimeter duty to protect Sullivan’s assistant at her Maryland home. Expect calls this week for House and Senate investigations. And don’t be surprised if Louie Gohmert, Michele Bachmann or one of their GOP colleagues gets the bright idea to have Sullivan reappointed to his old position so that they can then demand his resignation again. Hell, one or more conservative pundits clamoring for the President’s impeachment on the grounds that he failed to micromanage his own security detail wouldn’t shock me either.

In other Secret Service news, Thomas Lemuel “Lem” Johns, who was assistant to the special agent in charge of LBJ’s security detail in Dallas on November 22, 1963, died Saturday, aged 88. The Alabama native was present at Johnson’s ad hoc inaugural aboard Air Force One, and would later head the agency’s Birmingham field office. His son and grandson also went on to serve on presidential security details. Lem Johns will be interred at Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray of Washington will introduce the Social Security and Marriage Equality (SAME) Act of 2014, which would “amend the Social Security Act to grant survivor benefits to any individual legally married anywhere in the United States, regardless of whether he or she lives in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.” The bill is co-sponsored by another Democrat, Colorado’s Mark Udall. Yep. Not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties. Yep.

With a ton of testosterone-tinged rancor left over from his aggression in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin could be poised to invade the Eurovision Song Contest following Friday’s victory in Copenhagen by Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst’s impassioned “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Russia was unsuccessful in its efforts to strong-arm the contest into banning Wurst’s performance. Following the result, Russian Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin noisily tweeted about Europe’s future being “a bearded girl,” while numbskull MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky described the win as “the end of Europe.” Wurst’s performance is a marvel, no question, and certainly anything that ticks off Pootie is a good thing, but to a codger like me it’ll never top Eurovision winner “Waterloo,” which poured non-stop out of every transistor radio in Europe during my summer there in 1974. Yes, it was a simpler, more innocent era: the Paris Peace Accord had crumbled, resulting in renewed hostilities in Vietnam, civil war raged and Haile Selassie was dethroned in Ethiopia, Turkey invaded Cyprus (twice), the Red Brigades were bombing seemingly every passenger train I wanted to take, and Richard Milhous Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Tuesday, Vice President Biden heads to St. Louis with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to call for renewed Congressional spending to supplement the shrinking Highway Trust Fund. Wednesday, he’ll repeat the message in Cleveland. The President will reinforce the call to action with a Wednesday speech at New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge, currently undergoing costly but long overdue refurbishment, and a Friday brainstorming session in Washington devoted to infrastructure renewal.

On a related note, it’s National Transportation Week. So go somewhere. Infrastructure conditions permitting, of course. Stay safe. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/12/14

Stormy Monday, 4/21/14

StormyMondayAmong other heightened security precautions, helicopter flyovers were conducted over Boston as law enforcement officials scanned for signs of excessive radiation in advance of today’s marathon. If all goes well and the roughly 36,000 expected participants and many thousands of spectators remain safe, an added bonus is that Big Papi won’t have occasion to utter the F-word to a sold-out Fenway this year. Unless it’s regarding the inability of the Sox to play .500 ball through their first 19 games, of course.

Deadbeat Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy continues to host dozens of heavily armed nimrods who apparently believe the Bill of Rights somehow guarantees freedom from grazing fees, or something. Compounding the nimrod factor, Nevada Senator Dean Heller, a – surprise! – Republican, recently described Bundy’s flea-bitten mob of sycophants as “patriots” and is now demanding a Senate hearing into the brouhaha.

The President heads to Asia on Tuesday for an eight-day junket including stops in Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines. He’ll likely tout the supposed benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the sprawling, dubious multilateral trade deal whose negotiations the Administration has admitted are currently at an impasse over a variety of issues. The trip was originally scheduled for last fall, but was postponed when Republicans decided to stamp their collective feet, hold their collective breath, and shut down the government.

Conveniently, perhaps too conveniently, the rescheduled trip comes on the heels of the Administration’s shocking refusal to respond to an online petition to deport Justin Bieber, a petition which garnered almost three times the signatures officially required to trigger a response. Really, Mr. President? Really? Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/21/14

Stormy Monday, 4/14/14

StormyMondayYou’re no doubt delighted that your hardworking Congressional representatives have begun their desperately needed two-week break to recharge their batteries, get a little spring sun on their overwhelmingly white and male faces, and mull over “new” legislative ideas that haven’t a prayer of becoming law (which of course is, mostly, a good thing). On the brighter side, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran’s notion of adding a new housing stipend to Congressional remuneration appears to be a non-starter, so at least they’ll be lollygagging at their existing undeserved rate of pay.

Meanwhile, 2.4 million unemployed Americans will spend the same two weeks tearing their hair out over unpaid bills, wondering how they’re going to feed their kids, and continuing not to matter worth a damn to Republicans.

John Boehner kicked off his spring break today with a surprise visit to Afghanistan, accompanied by seven senior House Republicans. He’s expected to hug anyone in uniform he sees, lurch aimlessly around the streets of Kabul in search of happy hour, and top off the junket with a tear-stained tribute to whatever the hell it is American troops are supposed to be accomplishing there.

Following the Bureau of Land Management’s weekend return of 400 confiscated head of cattle back to deadbeat Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the ludicrous confrontation between the government and Bundy’s creepy nitwit militia buddies appears to be over, at least until the BLM attempts to pursue other remedies against the scofflaw and the nitwits get all riled up again. Stay tuned.

Today and tomorrow in New York, China and the United States will hold talks on dealing with North Korea, followed by a third session in Washington on Thursday. While I have no expertise in international relations, it seems to me the two nations could do worse than shipping 400 head of cattle Kim Jong-un’s way for starters. It might at least buy a little time. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/14/14

Stormy Monday, 1/13/14

StormyMondayNine West Virginia counties begin the week under state and federal emergency declarations after last Thursday’s spill of up to 7,500 gallons of toxic 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River. 300,000 West Virginians are without safe water and are expected to remain so for “several days,” according to area utility West Virginia American Water. The leak has prompted over a hundred people to make their way to hospitals for various symptoms, but the folks in charge at Freedom Industries, owners of the errant MCHM, probably feel just awful about the whole goshdarned thing, so there’s that.

Early in the week, the House and Senate are expected to approve a temporary spending measure to fund the government all the way until… Friday! Once a temporary measure is agreed on, both chambers will turn their collective attention to an omnibus spending bill. What could go wrong? Plenty, but there’s really no point in panicking yet. Best to wait until midweek.

The Senate will also go back to work on an emergency unemployment benefits extension, after Harry Reid backtracked on Republican insistence that the cost be offset. You were right the first time, Harry. The idea of an offset is indeed “foolishness.” Speaking of foolishness, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made the asinine claim last Friday that his party’s focus is “on employment, not unemployment.” Consider it an indication of what any Senate agreement on unemployment will face once Cantor and his fellow jackals in the House get hold of it.

It’s one of those delegated duties that have led countless politicians to refuse a position at the bottom of a presidential ticket. Vice President Biden will lead the Presidential Delegation to Monday’s memorial service for Ariel Sharon. Hey, maybe at least there’ll be a nice buffet afterward. Accompanying the Vice President will be Reps. Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Eliot Engel, plus US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro and one of his predecessors, Daniel Kurtzer.

John Kerry will not be attending the memorial service. Instead, he’ll be in Paris for multilateral talks on Syria. Kerry is trying mightily to get the Syrian National Coalition to attend peace talks with the Assad regime.

Wednesday, the President heads to North Carolina for another in his series of addresses on the economy, this one focused on manufacturing. Expect common sense, some innovative proposals, and a giant shrug from Congressional Republicans. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/13/14

Stormy Monday, 12/9/13

StormyMondayThe President and First Lady will attend a national memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Tuesday, but other details of the trip are still unannounced. Mandela’s state funeral will be held Sunday.

In the Obamas’ absence, Vice President and Dr. Biden will fill in today and tomorrow as hosts of the White House Congressional Holiday Balls. Presumably the Bidens have been warned to watch for untoward events like Michele Bachmann stealing silverware or Rand Paul peeing behind a potted palm.

The Bidens signed a condolence book at the South African Embassy, which has been hosting candlelight prayer vigils. The Vice President will speak at a National Cathedral memorial service on Wednesday morning, ending a week of mourning in Washington.

Others traveling to South Africa this week to honor Mandela’s memory include Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush the Lesser, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the prime ministers of the UK, Spain, Canada and Australia, the presidents of  France, Brazil and India, and, from the non-political world, Pope Francis, Prince Charles, Peter Gabriel, Oprah and Bono.

The United States will also be represented by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have announced their intention to mar the week by “protesting” outside various events, while South Africans look on and marvel at how a nation could tolerate such hatemongering.

Phil Schiliro, former chief congressional liaison for the Obama White House, returns to Washington this week to help with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Described as a “short-term appointment,” the gig will keep Schiliro busy coordinating with various government departments and with Congress. Naturally, Republicans will impugn his moral fiber, condemn him as out of step with mainstream values, and accuse him of murdering Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Foster and Jesus. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/9/13

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

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

Stormy Monday, 6/17/13

This year’s G8 summit kicks off Monday at Northern Ireland’s posh Lough Erne resort. Agenda items include trade advancement, international action on tax evasion, and transparency standards. Further to that last item, the White House confirmed Friday that President Obama will discuss NSA surveillance with his G8 counterparts.

Following the summit, the President will head to Germany for talks with Angela Merkel, and will speak to an invitation-only crowd at the Brandenburg Gate, a venue he was denied permission to use in his Berlin visit during the 2008 campaign.

This week, the House of Representatives gets its grubby hands on the Farm Bill, hoping to scrap the shameful SNAP cuts approved in the Senate and replace them with shameful SNAP cuts five times worse. And on Tuesday, the House is expected to waste its time and the public’s money with a ridiculous bill called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, sponsored by the reliably pain-inducing Trent Franks (R-AZ). The bill seeks to ban abortions after 22 weeks, with a few grudging exceptions belatedly added by the House Rules Committee in a desperate attempt to make Franks and his fellow Republicans seem like rational adults.

Wednesday, a statue of Frederick Douglass donated by the District of Columbia will be unveiled at the Capitol Visitors Center. In return, a grateful Congress will continue to deny DC any meaningful political representation.

Monday marks the deadline for Democrats to file a motion with New Jersey’s Supreme Court opposing Governor Chris Christie’s plan for an October 16 special election to fill Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat. The court agreed Friday to hear the case, which was previously decided in Christie’s favor by a lower court. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/17/13

Stormy Monday, 4/8/13

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

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

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

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