Stormy Monday, 9/29/14

StormyMondayA new round of baleful partisan bickering – business as usual, in other words – could get underway this week if the Obama Administration follows through on a trial balloon floated Friday by White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Earnest suggested a Senate confirmation vote to replace outgoing AG Eric Holder could be called in the upcoming lame duck session. If that doesn’t come to pass, I reckon it’ll take Republicans about three and a half minutes to find something else to be hyperbolically indignant about.

Deficit hawks will applaud the timing of this week’s visit to Washington by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In addition to an Oval Office summit focused on trade, energy and climate change, Modi is scheduled to have supper with the President and lunch with the Vice President, but he won’t be eating anything because he’s in the middle of a nine-day fast for Navratri, a religious festival honoring the goddess Durga. I don’t know if there’s some sort of penance aspect to Navratri, but I can’t think of any other reason why Modi will also be meeting with John Boehner. The Speaker’s office has commented that Modi will be offered “beverages.” Presumably, the PM’s polite “No, thank you” will be followed by a hearty “More for me, then” from Boehner, especially if the “beverages” have a measurable alcohol content.

Afghanistan’s new President, Ashraf Ghani, will be sworn in Monday, while his former electoral nemesis Abdullah Abdullah will become the country’s first “chief executive officer.” The two take office just days after the Afghan government’s announcement that thousands of civil servants will have to wait for their paychecks this month because the cupboard is bare, a sure sign that Afghanistan is moving from failed state to red state, American-style. John Podesta leads the US delegation at the inauguration.

One of Ghani’s first orders of business, at least as far as the White House is concerned, is to sign the new “Bilateral Security Agreement,” which outgoing Afghan President Karzai had refused to ratify. The agreement would permit 12,000 US and NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. To what end, ultimately, I’m afraid I have no idea.

Literature & Law of American Slavery, a free non-credit online course offered by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, begins Tuesday. I recommend this because the eight-week course is taught by John Matteson, a too-rare example of a white man whose thoughts on the relationship of slavery to today’s race relations, and particularly to institutionalized violence against African-Americans, are well worth careful consideration. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/29/14

Stormy Monday, 7/14/14

StormyMondayAfghanistan has begun an audit of all ballots cast in its infamous June 14 presidential runoff, following white-knuckle weekend negotiations in Kabul refereed by Secretary of State Kerry. The audit process is expected to take weeks. Despite supervision by an international team of monitors, further allegations of cheating and corruptions leveled by the Abdullah and/or Ghani factions won’t be even mildly surprising. It’s taken nearly 13 years, but we’ve finally succeeded in altering Afghanistan from a totalitarian theocracy into, well, Florida.

Kerry has now pivoted to meetings in Vienna aimed at salvaging negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions ahead of next Sunday’s deadline for an accord. Happily, he was also able to make time for a photo op with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, to aver what “great friends” the two nations are, despite continuing fallout from revelations that one of the great friends has been spying on the other. Revelations notwithstanding, you can bet the spying has been mutual and will continue to be so, but probably a little more clandestine in future.

Perhaps Kerry can spare time for a trip to Ireland to quell another international crisis in the making. Garth Brooks, ready to hit the comeback trail, was booked to play five concerts at Dublin’s Croke Park later this month, but Dublin city council would only agree to grant permits for three, prompting the singer to cancel all of them. Disappointed fans have mounted protests, and Ticketmaster has now put a hold on refunds until Thursday, as negotiations between Brooks and the city continue.

Wednesday, the House Rules Committee sits down at 10:00 a.m. to mull over a draft resolution “providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President inconsistent with his duties under the Constitution of the United States.” The resolution is crucial to the next phase of Speaker Boehner’s ongoing attempt to make himself into the most embarrassing Washington laughingstock since Wilbur Mills.

Also on Wednesday, teabagging Senator-wannabe Chris McDaniel will hold a press conference to announce his next moves, after claiming last week that he’s unearthed 8,300 “questionable ballots,” a number which – if accurate – would more than erase the 7,667-vote win by Thad Cochran in last month’s runoff. I’m no Jeane Dixon, but I’m pretty confident that his next moves will involve petulance, paranoia, hyperbolic accusations, and a whole crawfish boil full of lawsuits. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/14/14

Stormy Monday, 5/5/14

StormyMondayThe great John Conyers might not make it onto the primary ballot this year as he seeks a 26th term. Cathy Garrett, Wayne County’s Clerk, said late last week that signatures collected by two Detroit circulators are apparently invalid since the circulators are not registered voters or weren’t at the time they collected signatures, leaving the Congressman short of the required 1,000 signatures. Pursuant to a formal complaint from primary rival Horace Sheffield, a final ruling in the matter will be issued Wednesday, and Conyers could be forced to run this fall as a write-in candidate.

Evidently convinced that the millions of dollars and many thousands of person-hours already blown on brainless, redundant parallel committee hearings on the Benghazi pseudo-scandal were just not an egregious enough exercise in Congressional overreach and grandstanding, John Boehner announced last week that he will soon convene a select committee to conduct the mother of all pseudo-investigations. Hey, it’s an election year, and House Republicans have to be seen to be doing something so that they can avoid actually, you know, doing something. Or something. Watch for committee hopefuls to audition via the airwaves this week, eagerly showcasing their outrage.

Speaking of stale-dated nonsense, the House is expected this week to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for her supposed role in the agency’s supposedly unfair treatment of conservative groups.

This week, the Senate takes up the Shaheen-Portman energy bill, which would do good things like stepping up conservation practices at federal agencies and providing training in energy-efficient technologies. Since the bill as authored apparently didn’t contain anything terrible, along came North Dakota Senator John Hoeven (a Republican) and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu (who is almost one) to offer up an amendment which would mandate construction of the infamous Keystone XL Pipeline despite the State Department’s continuing review and a pending lawsuit over the pipeline’s proposed route. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/5/14

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

Take Five (100th edition)

Take-FiveONE: It’s All Over Now, Sacre Bleu

The first edition of this column, three years ago today, began with an item about Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for “The Times They Are A-Changin’” selling for $422,500. Last week, the Stratocaster Dylan (possibly) played at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival fetched $965,000, a world record auction price for a guitar. The previous record was for another Strat, formerly belonging to Eric Clapton, which sold at auction in 2004 for $959,500.

The guitar was sold by a New Jersey woman named Dawn Peterson, whose father, Victor Quinto, had been a pilot employed by Dylan’s then-manager Albert Grossman. Quinto claimed the Strat and two other guitars were left on his plane, and that his attempts to contact Grossman about them got no response. After the guitar was authenticated in 2011 by experts from PBS’ History Detectives, Dylan initiated legal proceedings (since settled) to get it back, although he disputed its Newport connection:

“Bob has possession of the electric guitar he played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965,” his attorney, Orin Snyder, said in a statement. “He did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics.”

Dylan is now enmeshed in legal proceedings of a different sort, having been charged in France with “public insult and inciting hate.” The charge stems from comments he made in a 2012 interview, comments that did not sit well with the Council of Croats in France:

“If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

The Council of Croats is demanding that Dylan “present an apology to the Croatian people.” The charge was filed a couple of days prior to Dylan becoming an Officier of the Légion d’Honneur.

TWO: The Liar Next Time

Rand Paul says he’s “seriously thinking” about a presidential run. His wife doesn’t want him to do it, but his father thinks he “probably will.” And, you know, why the hell not? Last time around, Republicans tried hard to convince the nation that the likes of Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, the aforementioned Ron Paul, and – most outlandishly – Mitt Romney were actually suitable candidates for the Oval Office. Other than that improbable thatch of pubic hair on his head, Rand Paul’s not significantly worse or weirder than any of them. Or is he?

Paul already has a surefire plan to get unemployed Americans back to work. He wants to cut off their benefits:

“When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy,” he said on Fox News Sunday. If the unemployed stopped receiving benefits sooner, they would be back to work sooner, he suggested.

Wow! It’s genius, I tells ya, and it’s the kind of approach that could be extended to all sorts of issues. Cut SNAP benefits and people will immediately hunt their own meat and grow their own crops. Get rid of Medicare and the elderly won’t get sick anymore. Cut education funding and we’ll reap a generation of self-taught geniuses. Cut police budgets and crime will be a thing of the past.

Give Rand Paul the presidency and watch the country circle the drain. Continue reading Take Five (100th edition)

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, 11/4/13

StormyMondayTomorrow, Virginians choose one of milquetoast Clintonista Terry McAuliffe or Tobacco Belt Taliban Ken Cuccinelli to succeed Bob McDonnell in the Executive Mansion. The Democrat’s lead in the polls still holds, though a low projected voter turnout suggests Cuccinelli could pull off an upset with a sufficiently large turnout of irate Teabaggers and/or plain old Republican electoral tampering. Two Obamas, two Clintons and a Biden have been campaigning on McAuliffe’s behalf, while Cuccinelli’s audiences have, deservedly, been talked at by the likes of Marco Rubio, Reince Priebus, Rick Santorum, the Duggars and Rand Paul.

Speaking of Rand Paul, expect more fun this week centering on his weakness for “borrowing” words and ideas without attribution or shame. If a few more examples of the Senator’s plagiarism turn up, he could be forced to issue a major “clarifying” statement to try and muddy the waters. If it comes to that, I hereby offer him a preliminary draft that he’s welcome to pass off as his own: “I am not a crook and I have not yet begun to fight, or to remember the Maine. It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times, it’s been a date which will live in infamy, but I have nothing to fear but fear itself and I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. Now, watch this drive and read my lips: no new taxes. For the rich, anyway. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what it can do for me. So long, and thanks for all the fish, and good night and good luck, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. Oh, and would somebody please tear down this wall?”

Voters in 11 Colorado counties get a chance to weigh in tomorrow on whether they want to secede from the state. One of these rural (meaning Republican) counties would supposedly become part of Wyoming, while the other 10 would form a new state called North Colorado or Brigadoon or something.

Chris Christie is the odds-on favorite to win another gubernatorial term in New Jersey tomorrow, so certain of victory that he spent part of Saturday afternoon indulging in one of his favorite activities, publicly belittling a constituent. Christie wagged his finger in the face of teacher Melissa Tomlinson, who says he told her, “I’m tired of you people.” A Christie staffer later disputed the quote, so you just know Tomlinson described it accurately. Once safely sworn in for another term, Christie will immediately forget about New Jersey and turn his attention to a presidential run.

Boston’s mayoral election is also happening tomorrow, with last-minute polls still showing a tight race between Democrats Martin Walsh and John Connolly, and a significant number of voters still undecided. New York City, by contrast, will shock nobody by electing Bill de Blasio to succeed Michael Bloomberg; a poll released this morning shows the Democrat leading GOP opponent Joe Lhota by 41 points. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 11/4/13

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

Boehner's Demons

DDAs the Republicans now scream and complain about why nobody will play as they put the government in sunset, they have silenced America’s foreign policy voice and put it in darkness.

The day is waning on nations who trust America as an ally. A nation can not be strong without and unstable within. A nation that refuses food to its own hungry children, healthcare to its sick and ill, support for its old, and opportunity for its workers is not one that keeps its position in the ranks of world leadership.

The shutdown affects global diplomacy. The raids the US conducted in Libya and Somalia reminded the world how efficient we are at small war. Obama has turned the swift strike, with minimum targets, usually human, into a high art of daring skill and execution.

But are we wasting blood and treasure as others are trying to win hearts and minds? To quote the blackmamba, a New York Times commenter from Illinois:

“American values in practice should exalt a diverse civil secular socially conscious humble humanitarian commercial democracy. American interests and values extend well beyond the military-industrial complex.”

He goes on to say:

“The shut down is a self inflicted wound well beyond the power or imagination of any American foe.”

A British paper put in this way:

“At the moment, Washington is fighting over the budget. Yet nobody knows if the country will still be solvent in two weeks.”

China picked up meetings with Asian countries the shutdown forced Obama to cancel, and it expands its influence in Africa while avoiding the volatility of North Africa and Asia Minor.

On the domestic front, the shutdown presented in plain sight of history a modern myth; an American classic equal to the tales of the Norse or the Greeks.

boehnIt begins with John Boehner. The son of hard-working, plain folk, the second of twelve kids, the only one to finish college. Why does he seem to have so little empathy for people from similar backgrounds and why does he refuse to enlarge a pathway for their success?

The details are complex. Robert Caro, for instance, has made a living examining the decisions and experiences that shaped Lyndon Baines Johnson, the poor Texas farmer known as LBJ, who rose to be the Majority Leader in the Senate, and as President, one of the great figures of American civil rights, having brought more racially connected social change to the federal and national landscape than any other president.

Boehner and Johnson both came from modest circumstances; both wanted wealth, power and respect; both had a passion for the big stage of politics. Decades apart, they rose to the highest levels of the House and the Senate during times of tumult, involving race and war, but their views part ways.

And Boehner’s path is littered with political rock slides that block social progress.

The Speaker appeared to be addressing President Obama when,days ago, he uttered loudly, “This isn’t a damned game.” But was the remark really meant for him?

John Boehner drinks and smokes (both legal), as a lot of people do. He regularly smokes cigarettes between votes in the House. Prudence says people steadily use alcohol because they have something to drown, either large or small or both. Alcohol dulls a chronic itch.

Perhaps for Boehner his “small” is “big.” Tough, almost angry, he is an inner cauldron of emotion. People who smoke use nicotine to create a momentary haze and rush of high-flying exhilaration. Is it insecurity and bitterness he is trying to cloud and drown?

An old social axiom observes the demons we fail to exercise return to haunt us and mock us. They find their way back and get in our face if we do not change.

Since 1991,when he was first elected to the House, Boehner hasn’t changed much. His route to power, with a few bumps, was outside-in. Boehner and six other freshman formed a group known as the “Gang of Seven.” Of the seven, which included Rick Santorum, only Boehner remains as a member of Congress. Continue reading Boehner’s Demons