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
As though any further proof were necessary, the reaction of the mainstream media to the launch of the Obamacare website, and its attendant glitches, has become yet another example of one overwhelming truth: if there is anything that can be used to discredit this President’s competency, motives, or ability to govern, it will be discussed 24/7 on every major news outlet ad nauseam.
Could the rollout of the Obamacare website have been smoother? Duh, do ya think? Should the website have been tested more extensively before launch? I’m leaning towards the bleedin’ obvious here. Should the website’s glitches have been anticipated and dealt with to every extent possible before its launch? I think “you’re damned fuckin’ real” sums it up nicely.
All of that being said, it is still a given that had the Obamacare website been perfect from day one, had millions of people been successfully registered without a hitch within weeks of its launch, had the site’s efficiency surpassed every expectation, no one would have heard about it – because when it comes to Obama’s achievements, the MSM is only interested in reporting perceived failure rather than any actual success.
To hear the media bobbleheads tell the tale, the website’s glitches have resulted in a disaster that ranks somewhere between the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9/11 – only much, much worse.
“The Dems are abandoning Obama in droves! This spells heavy losses for the Dems in the next election! This will be the ruination of the Obama presidency!”
If those phrases sound familiar, they should – because they are trotted out like clockwork. Thus far, the entire Democratic party, according to the Cabal of the Clueless, has abandoned Obama at least twice a week for the past four-plus years – and counting.
While we are all aware that over-the-top hyperbole has now completely replaced honest reportage, the lengths to which the MSM have gone to discredit the launch of Obamacare is only surpassed by the depths to which they are willing to sink when it comes to this administration – and sadly, those depths continue to be plumbed.
In the past week, I have heard the phrase “Obama’s Katrina” bandied about – and truth be told, the similarities between the aftermath of Katrina and the problems with the Obamacare website cannot be easily dismissed. How many heart-wrenching photos of people standing on their rooftops, holding up hastily-crafted signs saying, “We cannot access the website – please send help!” have assaulted our senses since October 1st? What level-headed American does not immediately see the connection between people stranded without food, water and shelter and those who are living the nightmare of not being able to log onto a website?
Offering millions of Americans access to affordable healthcare is – as our no-bullshit VP Joe Biden pointed out quite correctly – a Big Fuckin’ Deal. In fact, it is the Biggest Fuckin’ Deal the citizenry of our nation has witnessed in decades, a program that means an end to those with preexisting conditions being denied coverage, an end to life-saving measures like preventative care and early detection of disease being dismissed as unimportant, an end to hardworking Americans being bankrupted by exorbitant medical bills – an end to good health being a privilege of the wealthy rather than the right of all Americans.
In the meantime, while the all-but-brain-dead idiots who pass themselves off as “journalists” babble incessantly about website woes, the rights of millions of voting Americans are being compromised, the rights of millions of American women to exercise control over their own bodies are being gutted, and the rights of millions of Americans to find work that pays a fair wage are being jeopardized at every turn. Continue reading Good News Is No News
If you’re reading this, either the fragments of the Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer didn’t fall on you or you have an admirably hard head. The European Space Agency satellite ran out of fuel on October 21 and was predicted to crash late Sunday or early Monday. The ESA expects it to break up at an altitude of about 50 miles, resulting in a spray of debris centered over… well, they don’t really know.
If I got to choose a location for GOCE’s crash landing, I’d be tempted to pick room 2154 in the Rayburn House Office Building. Barring such celestial fallout, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will use the room Wednesday morning for yet another of what its chair, Darrell Issa, likes to refer to as “hearings” into the Affordable Care Act. (Far from being exercises in hearing, the proceedings have to date generally resembled the shambolic tribunal of orangutans convened to decide Charlton Heston’s fate in Planet of the Apes.)
To that end, Issa has subpoenaed Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer for the Obama Administration, to appear. Despite having nothing much to do – other than, oh, directing the repair and remediation of healthcare.gov, the site whose technical issues have caused such consternation to Issa and so many others who were completely opposed to Obamacare from the get-go – Park so far shows no sign of complying with the subpoena. It goes without saying that we haven’t heard the last of this, because of course when it comes to Darrell Issa, there is no last of this. Ever.
Speaking of never ending, Rick Santorum heads to Des Moines on Monday, ostensibly to shill for the forthcoming movie A Christmas Candle, produced by his new family-friendly film venture, EchoLight Studios. The fact that the Iowa caucuses remain the first noteworthy date on the presidential electoral calendar is, of course, a coincidence so remarkable that it’s almost a Christmas miracle. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 11/11/13
Will 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
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
Whew. Debt ceiling raised, spending resolution passed, constitutional crisis averted. Now everything can get back to normal: more meaningless votes to kill Obamacare, more putrescent hypocrisy about deficits, more infantile refusal to compromise, more chicken fried grandstanding, more outrageous policy “ideas” that were intellectually stillborn the first, second or third time they were proposed, back at the lowering, ominous dawn of the Reagan era.
“Positive Bunny” kicks off the week with a Monday morning performance of his “sunny bunny” dance outside the Capitol. Brainchild of “Purge Day” activist Patricia Taylor, the event is somehow intended to help restore America’s “sunny disposition.” I can assure Ms. Taylor that this American, at least, doesn’t have a sunny disposition, and this stunt won’t do a thing to change that, though I applaud her work on behalf of troubled teens.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, speaks Tuesday at the Institute of Peace, an event moderated (in an astonishingly garish display of irony) by war criminal and former Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Sharif then visits the White House on Wednesday, as the Obama Administration prepares to restore $1.5 billion in aid suspended shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/21/13
With immigration reform, gun control, jobs, the economy and a host of other priorities ignored, mishandled or otherwise botched by the worst Congress of the modern era (and maybe ever), it’s time for Congressional Republicans to make an utter mess of government itself. This week the fools on the Hill try to beat the clock on a continuing resolution on spending, and may God help the United States of America.
Will the government still be fully operational at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday? Not if House Republicans and their fellow travelers in the Senate get their way. With the House GOP determined to make a continuing resolution contingent on the demise or delay of Obamacare, and the Senate’s Democratic majority determined to resist the effort, the eleventh-hour negotiations look suspiciously similar to the negotiations gone before, which you might remember have led precisely nowhere.
Even if, by some unanticipated miracle, a continuing resolution amenable to both chambers can be cobbled together, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reckons that the nation will bash its head on the debt ceiling no later than October 17, another unnecessary fiscal crisis tailor-made for Republican foot-stomping intransigence and pre-adolescent brinkmanship. The President summed all this up the other day, neatly:
“No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget.”
Also on Tuesday, the health insurance exchanges, a central component of Obamacare, are scheduled to open, and according to remarks by the President last Friday, they will: “Those marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there’s a government shutdown. That’s a done deal.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/30/13