Tomorrow, 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
0 – 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.
In 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
As 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.
It 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
ONE: Death Becomes Them
Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).
Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).
It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.
TWO: Squeaker of the House
John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”
Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.
THREE: China Syndrome
You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.
I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”
Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:
The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…
The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.
Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)
Now that Congressional Republicans have slunk back from their extended and entirely undeserved late summer holidays, they have a lot of catching up to do in their continuing efforts to make pretty much everything worse for everybody except the wealthy, and eventually even for them. Look for a bill to be introduced this week that would double the $20 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years previously endorsed by the House Agriculture Committee and reintroduce work requirements for eligibility in an economy where the official jobless rate is still north of 7.5%. Look for renewed efforts to kill federal nutrition programs. Look for a measure to erode federal standards and increase timber harvesting in national forests. Look for more blather about a spending resolution, and a possible government shutdown. Listen for exploding irony meters across DC on Wednesday when the Joint Economic Committee convenes a hearing titled, “The Economic Costs of Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship.”
Sybrina Fulton, mother of murder victim Trayvon Martin, will testify Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on “stand your ground” laws. Senators will offer condolences to Ms. Fulton, listen politely to her remarks, ask a few questions, make sympathetic noises, then head for the nearest Capitol Hill steakhouse to try and forget, over Wagyu medallions and merlot, just how heartrending their jobs can be sometimes.
Lest newer and even more egregiously contrived pseudo-scandals fail to hobble the Obama Administration, this week the House GOP also revisits – wait for it – Benghazigate, with exciting new hearings by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The former is designed to ferret out previously unidentified State Department scapegoats, while the theme of the latter is “unanswered questions,” although really the only unanswered question still remaining is how much longer Boehner’s Complainers can keep up this obsessive/compulsive inquisition.
Speaking of scandals, you might have noticed that this column didn’t appear last week. I was busy buying duct tape and plastic sheeting in advance of a world war triggered by Barack W. Obama and John Kerry, his bumbling rube of a Secretary of State. Miraculously, after their bellicose mishandling of the Syrian crisis exposed the United States as a bloodthirsty rogue state and international pariah, that nice Mr. Putin came along and insisted on a diplomatic solution, thereby pulling Obama’s incompetent ass out of the deep fryer. Thank God we have the internet to keep us all informed, huh?
Back on Earth, the details of a chemical weapons agreement were finalized in Geneva on Saturday. Kerry then visited Israel over the weekend, eliciting a statement of support for the deal from the Netanyahu government, and will meet Monday in Paris with top diplomats from France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK.
Meanwhile, some Republican Congressional grandees are already rushing to proclaim that the US/Russia accord over Syria sucks ostrich eggs and needs to be toughened, while still others are magically rebranding themselves as principled peaceniks. And the Wall Street Journal weighed in Saturday with a cheery analysis of the deal’s probability of failure. Guess I’ll keep the duct tape handy. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/16/13
Handily enough, September is National Preparedness Month, so let’s brace ourselves. Whatever happens – and any number of things could – it could be just all kinds of ugly.
On Saturday, the President committed to seeking Congressional approval for military strikes against the Syrian regime. The same day, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House “leadership” issued a joint statement resisting calls to reconvene before the scheduled end of their recess, claiming that waiting until September 9 to convene gives President Obama “time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”
Not incidentally, it also provides time for Boehner’s caucus to sit on their entitled asses for a few more precious late-summer days, squeeze in a few last rounds of being influence-peddled over pulled pork and/or Peruvian flake, and strategize how they’re going to defund Obamacare, shut down the government over another manufactured debt ceiling crisis, and cement the reputation of the 113th Congress as the worst and least productive in modern times, all while somehow finding time to turn their minds to this whole – ugh! – Syria thing the White House keeps talking about, whatever the hell that’s all about. Hooray for National Preparedness Month.
Pending Congress doing much of anything, Syria’s state-run newspaper, Al-Thawra, crowed in a front-page editorial Sunday about recourse to Congressional approval being “the start of the historic American retreat,” even as the USS Nimitz and its strike group headed for the Red Sea and five US destroyers armed with 200 cruise missiles patrolled the eastern Mediterranean.
Invitations have gone out to chairs and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee for a Tuesday confab about Syria at the White House. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/2/13
With Syria roiling and the situation increasingly unpredictable, the White House has announced that it “will be consulting appropriately with the Congress” about next steps. Once he’s received their advice, the President will at least be in a better position to know what not to do. It was reported this afternoon that the White House has had “preliminary communication” with John Boehner regarding Syria.
John Kerry delivered scathing remarks at the State Department today, confirming the Administration’s belief that the Syrian regime is guilty of carrying out chemical weapons attacks on civilians, actions Kerry described as “a moral obscenity.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey is in Jordan for a two-day summit with defense officials from Jordan and other nations, where the topic of Syria is no doubt on the agenda. Last week, Dempsey implied that US military involvement in the Syrian conflict is unlikely.
A new poll, meanwhile, indicates that roughly 60% of Americans oppose US military involvement in Syria, but if roughly half of respondents were Republicans, their answers were of course wrong, no matter which position they took.
Wednesday, exactly 50 years after Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, the Lincoln Memorial will be the venue for the “Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action,” with speeches by President Obama, President Carter and President Clinton. Bell-ringing ceremonies will be held across the nation to mark the anniversary. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/26/13
Karl Marx would either laugh or be terribly perplexed by what has been wrought from his dialectic. With all of their bluster, the GOP has now stood Marx on his head. Against every assessment of his philosophy, the progress that comes from the clash of opposing forces has come to a standstill, especially in the states, and on jobs and wages. And states are the place where workers have the best knowledge of taxes, services, economic development, wages and power.
And despite wage stagnation, unemployment, low saving rates and other family income issues hiding in plain sight, workers seem unable to unite. Online, support for raising the minimum wage to nine dollars is overwhelming. Yet the expected firestorm of legislative action, lobby days, public rallies, organizing and bill writing at the state level is almost non-existent.
Democrats are missing a chance to take advantage of a winning bi-partisan opportunity, one in which personal interest and motivations meld perfectly with good public policy. One in which plenty of research and previous experience refutes the knee-jerk resistance that Republicans offer, as they never offer a single measure that advances workers’ income. Real inroads into the Republican base in red states is possible. The growing income gap, the direct refusal of Republicans to consider raising the minimum wage while focused on deficits and cutting spending leaves them exposed. Democrats, Carpe diem!
Robert Reich, President Clinton’s former Labor Secretary, makes two telling points. One, there’s plenty of capital available to pay higher wages; it’s being used by businesses to buy or take over other corporations or to make giant buybacks of their own stock. Both increase shareholder value. Two, total private worker compensation is now 57% of GDP, the lowest it’s been since Eisenhower.
Neither of the two uses of capital stimulates the economy or produces jobs, but they add market value to the balance sheet. The balance sheet is the writ of GOP economy policy. They will smother the idea of increasing the minimum wage, and other progressive policies on tax breaks and physical and social investments, by allowing sequestration to take place, literally smashing the recovery. We will lose 750,000 jobs this year. It will affect services from air traffic control to meals on wheels.The Army reports layoffs of 250,000 workers by year’s end.
The narrative for putting blame on Obama has started; Paul Ryan calls Boehner’s claim of getting 98% of what he wanted the result of President Obama seeking “partisan advantage.” Mr. “98%” Boehner now calls it “the President’s sequester.” Continue reading Freedom’s Noble Name
Barack Obama, at his inauguration, spoke memorable words: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” He called for the unity of the country, especially its national legislators in the House and Senate.
House Budget Chair, Paul Ryan, who ran for Vice President against the winning Democratic ticket, later said these words in a television interview:
All of the statements and all of the comments lead me to believe that he’s [Obama is]thinking more of a political conquest than a political compromise…”
We must choose our battles carefully, and stay united in them to succeed. We can’t get rattled. We won’t play the villain in his [Obama's] morality plays. We have to show that — if given the chance — we can govern. We have better ideas.
No doubt, among those better ideas is Speaker of the House John Boehner’s main priority — a national priority of the “will of the people,” he says — to “help make abortion a relic of the past… Let that be one of our most fundamental goals this year.”
Neither the House Budget Chair or the Speaker of the House mentioned jobs or made jobs a top priority. Ryan seemed to forget about all those millions out of work that he mentioned at every stop during the campaign. For him, did they just go way, having served their usefulness?
The President did not mention jobs directly in his speech, but he expressed three fundamental national principles, endorsed by polls that show his focus on jobs to be “the will of the people.” The first: Continue reading A Dialogue of Givers and Takers