The 113th Congress, having covered itself with neither dust nor glory, holds its last session Friday. Members have a whopping five days to try and figure out how to keep the government funded, along with all sorts of other pending measures that – darn the luck! – they were just too busy to get to sooner. Ironically, the only thing that might keep the 113th out of the history books as a singular national disgrace is the incoming 114th; with Republicans running the show in both chambers, nothing good can possibly come out of it.
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who recently made controversial remarks about the crafting of the Affordable Care Act (a process in which he participated as a consultant) will sit down with Darrell Issa and the rest of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday. Committee Republicans are desperate to leverage Gruber’s remarks to prove that the White House used deception to win passage of the bill. And if that effort fails, they can just go back to squawking about Benghazi. To that end, the Select Committee on Benghazi holds its second hearing on Wednesday. Beats working, I guess.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on efforts to halt the Ebola epidemic. Just in time, too. Come January when Republicans become the majority in the chamber, the loftiest discussion will probably be restricted to topics like whether to reintroduce Freedom Fries in the Capitol cafeterias.
Rain in New York City over the weekend temporarily quieted ongoing protests over police violence in the aftermath of a grand jury failing to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner. In contrast, weekend demonstrations in Berkeley and Seattle, goaded by the response of law enforcement officers, turned violently confrontational.
Kings County DA Kenneth Thompson has started the process of impaneling a grand jury to weigh charges against rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang, who killed Akai Gurley, another unarmed African-American man, on November 20. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/8/14
The 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
The 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
Small-time Republicans and big-time media money have been able to change the political messaging in this country by openly calling for an agenda of false rebellion in the name of freedom that actually exerts greater control and is more expensive. Many people hear the previous sentence as: “Republicans have changed the political agenda in the name of freedom.” One of the ways Republicans are successful is they offer a complicated subterfuge and dissemble pieces a few at a time. Democrats respond by talking among themselves (as this piece does!) instead of to the country.
Messages that dissemble or only speak to insiders create a disconnect, but only one of these disconnects has leverage with voters, and it is the Republican choice. Republicans confine truth to the background and focus on the places where logic has become disconnected—the places where things terribly wrong can be easily examined, using lies and blame.
In the global pop news of the moment, the Russia seizure of Crimea, a preposterous event in the modern world where respect for the sanctity of borders is the first principle of international relations, Republicans avoid this first principle and the details of Russia’s energy exports being controlled by a state-owned corporation (which means its revenues are paid to the state not the private sector). Republicans avoid the analysis of how important the massive spider-work of Ukraine’s pipelines is to Russia’s efficient transmission of gas and oil to Europe. They avoid the fears Russia has internally of becoming a country influenced by its Muslim population in its southern regions (14 percent of its population).
Instead, Republicans have created a public narrative which comes close to defending Putin’s actions by blaming Obama for not defending America’s imperialism. It is circulating as if Russia is ideologically free of imperialist tendencies. In essence, it seeks to elevate the false illusion of Russian “strength”—which is its criminality—over the policy of President Obama to allow each country to find its internal stability with a minimum of big power influence.
Imperialism is a big idea with a long history, and blame is short and sweet. Blame is the lemonade made from the political lemons handed your opponents—if you are Republican.
But no evidence supports the GOP recipe (except magical thinking!) that Putin or any Russian leaders have based moves or calculated Obama’s response into their positions and military actions.
Beginning with the Russian revolution itself, the partitioning of Germany after World War II, the 1950s invasions of several eastern European countries, the placement of missiles in Cuba, the support of insurgencies in Africa, the invasion of Afghanistan, and most recently Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia, there is no predictive proof that a country with a long history of using military force within its region, through a variety of governments, under a variety of leaders, is tempered by American or European reaction!
Blame doesn’t need proof, just popular sentiment; blame Obama.
History and facts show the contrary. Russia plays no zero sum, either/or game; it views its interests singularly. Weighing the importance of the pipelines through Ukraine to the West and the sudden toppling of its puppet, Viktor Yushchenko (who cut bait), had far more to do with Putin’s moves than any imagined review of Obama’s policies.
Putin would be insulted at the idea he contemplated or was influenced by Obama’s policies, rather than acting on his own. He would vehemently argue his view is what is best for Russia and Russians faced with a neighbor whose family income had dropped 25% in 20 years and was leaning heavily westward in search of opportunities missing in the 1930s state-owned Russian political economy.
Putin ignored Barack and did what Russians have always done. Republicans did what they have always done: ignore truth and blame Obama.
Even at home, in the face of one of the most magnificent political successes since the passage of social security, by a President whose failure was an avowed goal of the Republican Party and the House of the national legislature, even with seven million people enrolled in health care through the new marketplace, without demonstrations or riots in the streets, with no more upheaval than paid commercials and very long, calm lines of last minute enrollees, Republicans still plan to run against “Obamacare” in November. It will be an ultimate test of blame against truth, dissembling facts against critical thinking, of bias versus logic. Continue reading Democrats: Speak Up!
Most have heard by now of the earth-shattering release of the OMB report on the Affordable Care Act and its devastating announcement of a loss of 2 million American jobs. You’ve probably also heard the White House response led by Jay Carney, and his now infamous remark that seems to indicate people should have no problem with not working and getting free Medicaid, if they want to. But here are a few details you might not have heard.
First – there is no OMB report on the Affordable Care Act. The OMB has released its regular Budget and Economic Outlook for 2014-2024; they release a 10-year forecast every year. It’s chock full of fascinating information, including things like the prediction of a 5% unemployment rate by 2017 and a continuing reduction in the deficit. A 12-page portion of the report, Appendix C, outlines the “Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act”; that’s actually the title of the appendix.
Second, and where it gets interesting and a little comical in my estimation, yes, the appendix does say the loss of hours worked will be the equivalent of 2 million full time jobs, rising to 2.5 million by 2017. The report goes on to describe various scenarios wherein workers could choose to work less hours in order to retain either Medicaid or exchange subsidies. This led GOP lawmakers, like Eric Cantor, to conclude, “Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”
Now is the time you get to put on your thinking cap, as our 3rd grade teachers used to tell us. If Johnny and Susie quit their job at Daisy’s Diner – does the job disappear? Apparently, yes, if you rely on the thinking of the leading minds of the GOP.
Frankly, the OMB report doesn’t do much better, rarely clarifying their “labor supply” analysis with statements that acknowledge the obvious fact that “other applicants will be readily available to fill those positions.” In other words, no jobs lost. For instance, if a full-time worker decides they can work part-time and become eligible for an exchange subsidy, they would instantly quit their full-time job and go to a part-time job. In the OMB’s calculation, that means there would be 20 labor hours per week missing from the work force; two individuals making that choice would be the loss of the supply of labor equivalent to a full-time job. (Not the loss of an actual job.) Continue reading Obamacare Destroying 2 Million Jobs?!? It’s FALSE NEWS!
Will 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
The 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
ONE: Season of the Which?
“Silly season” used to refer to a specific time of year when substantive news was temporarily replaced with outsized coverage of trivial events, quirky happenings, fluff, and the occasional 15-minute political or celebrity scandal. Much like “election season” before it, the term has become meaningless; both “seasons” are now essentially perpetual.
The notion of anything being recognized by huge segments of the corporate media as “important, substantive news” has of course become absurd. They don’t need to bother, since everything is already treated with the monotonous, insincere gravitas they freely bestow on the newest controversy over Justin Bieber or Black Friday brawls or minor clinical studies of caffeine toxicity in rats. Come World War III, I expect to breathe my last with Wolf Blitzer yammering some idiocy faintly at the far edges of my fading consciousness, having screwed up my part of the end of the world by turning on CNN to see what the hell was going on.
But why shouldn’t the media be mired in an endless silly season when one of the two major political parties is too? And Republicans get more ludicrous by the day. Booking Rand Paul to headline the opening of the “African American Engagement Office,” the Michigan GOP’s minority outreach center? Check. George Bush the Lesser’s Chief of Staff carping about President Obama and his administration “misleading” the American people? Check. A white Republican winning office in a predominantly African American district by conning voters into thinking he’s black? Check. Rating Ronald Reagan the nation’s greatest Chief Executive and Barack Obama its worst? Check.
I use the word “silly” with regard to Republicans only because it’s more polite than saying “completely unhinged” or “out to lunch” or “a danger to themselves and others” or “just flat-out batshit.” They embrace a shopworn collection of ideas long ago proven to be unworkable, inequitable and fundamentally anti-American. They put forward candidates with no respect for or knowledge of the political institutions they yearn to become part of. They pander furiously to old-fashioned populism while working strenuously for the elites. They loudly level accusations of class warfare whenever Democrats rightly point out how Republicans themselves declared class warfare and have waged it, brutally, for decades. They play the race card by accusing liberals of playing the race card. With the exception of a very few bravely dissenting voices in their ranks, they hold women, the poor, minorities (visible and invisible), gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, immigrants, the New Deal, the Great Society, the Affordable Care Act, TANF, SNAP, community organizers, the Girl Scouts, the United Nations, the Peace Corps, and most of Europe, the Middle East and Asia in contempt. They’d hate Africa and South America too, if they ever thought about them much.
Republican silliness has left federal agencies hamstrung and courts unable to administer timely justice. It has severely hampered recovery from the worst downturn since the ’30s, a downturn directly caused by Republican profligacy. It has damaged the nation’s credit and credibility, strained international relations, undercut meaningful efforts to combat climate change, advance equality of opportunity, equality of rights. This kind of silliness sickens societies. Its season needs to end.
TWO: North to Alaska
My friend Linda in Anchorage, noting my unwholesome fascination with asshat Republican governors, suggested I check out Sean Parnell. Names like Scott, Snyder, Brewer, LePage, Perry, Walker, Kasich and Haley often make national headlines, but Parnell’s profile has been lower, if only because anyone succeeding Sarah Palin would seem, pending further evidence, unremarkably normal by comparison. Yet Linda’s blunt description of Parnell as a “disaster” looks pretty accurate as far as I can tell.
Case in point, Parnell recently refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, putting his state on par with such shining exemplars of civilization as Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. He even described Medicaid expansion as a “failed experiment” and “hot mess,” which will probably wow the zero-information voters he’ll be relying on for reelection next year. Others are less than wowed:
The Anchorage and Alaska chambers of commerce, the Anchorage NAACP, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, AARP Alaska, Anchorage Faith and Action-Congregations Together, and numerous Democratic legislators and candidates all have pushed for the new coverage.
Asked why he was going against such a diverse list of Alaska groups, Parnell said “each one of those groups you’ve named are responsible for their membership. I’m responsible for all Alaskans.”
Parnell’s definition of “responsible” is, to say the least, idiosyncratic:
Expansion would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans, many of them low-income adults without children who currently have no health insurance. It also would have helped hospitals and doctors by reducing the amount of uncompensated care they have to write off and would have brought billions of federal dollars into the Alaska economy.
The story gets worse. While supposedly giving prudent consideration to Medicaid expansion, Parnell’s administration commissioned a study on the subject by the Lewin Group (a subsidiary of the cuddly, community-minded folks at UnitedHealth Group). The study was delivered in April, although Parnell mysteriously claims it only got to his desk mere weeks ago. After months of public records requests for it were refused, the study was publicly released on November 15, just prior to Parnell’s announcement:
Asked whether withholding a study while he and others were thinking it over was a novel interpretation of the state law that requires state records to be made public with few exemptions, Parnell said no one asked him personally for the report. He said he would need to consult with attorneys for more explanation.
Even the Lewin study acknowledges that at least 20,000 of the state’s poor will have no health coverage absent Medicaid expansion. What to do, what to do? Could Parnell’s predecessor have the answer? Of course not, but Sarah Palin recently took time out from promoting a book she’s pretending she wrote, to offer up a synopsis of… hey, let’s just go ahead and call it Sarahcare. Ironically, just reading through it can make a person feel sick:
“The plan is to allow those things that had been proposed over many years to reform a health-care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases, and those plans have been proposed over and over again. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left. It’s President Obama and his supporters who will not allow the Republicans to usher in free market, patient-centered, doctor-patient relationship links to reform health care.”
But the current Republican-dominated political scene in Alaska isn’t all poorly informed heartlessness and grossly uninformed pseudo-policy. Happily, after a long convalescence, Stubbs, feline “mayor” of Talkeetna, is back on the job:
The owner of Stubbs the cat, Talkeetna’s honorary mayor, says he’s settling back into his creature comforts months after being mauled by a dog and severely injured…
A number of city councils have written to Stubbs, with mayors in at least four states — both near and far — offering their sympathies since the attack.
“Even the mayor of Wasilla sent him a card,” [owner Lauri] Stec said.
Stubbs is back to spending time at the bar of Talkeetna’s West Rib Pub, mingling with the citizenry and knocking back catnip water. Stec, who manages the pub, reports that the mayor’s spirits are improving steadily:
“He’s into his routine again and probably being just a little extra-loving, because it’s so nice for him to be social again…”
It’s encouraging to know there’s at least one politician in Alaska who actually cares about people, even if he’s a cat. What a shame Stubbs can’t take on Parnell next November. Continue reading Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)
Bio-rhythms were the inspiration to eliminate human suffering before Prozac, and it became a cliché that people complained about their triple critical days—the times when all three bio-cycles were at their lowest. The growth in American manufacturing may well be coming from pills—a story in the New York Times cites new addictions to control the old addictions; clients serviced at pill clinics run by doctors who were addicted in the new and old ways, which means blood tests are out and pill counts are in.
The lines, legally and culturally, are converging to create new vortices of future misery, even as some politicians try to substitute the politics of memoir and the politics of money.
The point is certain ideas persist in America’s pop psychology and politics, chief of which is government is bad and blacks are inept (except for the exceptional!), and the combination is lethal. The current political tragi-drama defies all common sense, and isn’t the least bit affected by evidence. More than the Affordable Care Act computer glitches, the twin pillars of hate and meanness have found a place to roost. The chickens have come home. Smug looks abound, with “I told you so-s” all around.
Amazon should have been given the job of messaging health care; they service thousands of products with all sorts of interfaces and seldom crash. Pay them a percentage and let them run banner ads.
But the question isn’t what’s wrong, but how it was missed? Whose triple critical reviews missed the important functions, especially security? Why was the software not tested against cyber attacks? Who missed that the most important piece of software of the American Promise wasn’t being tested at the same level as the code constructed for the President’s re-election campaign, when so much was riding on it working properly? And not just politically, but in creating real coverage for the medically uninsured?
That no one has come forward to say what steps were skipped and how they were covered up, who signed off and why the failure was aided and abetted until it exploded under its own weight brings to mind the Bangladesh incident in April in which the garment industry building collapsed and killed a thousand workers. The construction used inferior materials, took shortcuts, didn’t meet building specifications. It was a predictable failure. So was the code for the ACA sign-up. But it’s predictable failure rests more on the vortex in which blame inside and outside of government passes for oversight, and the denial common among addicts substitutes for work product, and the pill the public has to swallow is maintaining the old condition. Continue reading A Triple Critical for ACA