Stormy Monday, 6/30/14

StormyMondayThe 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to contest his primary loss last week to Congressman Frank Lucas on the grounds that Lucas is actually deceased and has been replaced by a body double.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

For Obama: One Great Final Step

Oklahoma is the 20th largest US state by population. Its 77 counties rank 17th in states by number of counties. Oklahoma is also the only state where President Barack Obama failed to carry a single county—in both elections. Cimarron County give him only 9.6% of its 2012 vote; Cherokee’s 6,137 votes gave him his best 2012 state showing with 43%.

Statewide, Obama received only 33.6% of Oklahoma’s 2012 Presidential vote. He won a few urban precincts in Oklahoma City, Lawton, Norman and Tulsa, and in the state’s east. But twice in Oklahoma, the President met dismal defeat. No state was more red and more solid in its votes against him. And he did worse the second time.

You would not know this from the reception the President received during his recent visit to Moore, a town leveled by the worst tornadoes in years. No grandstanding or finger-pointing, no back-turning or ugly signs of protests met his inspection tour of a red state now needing federal assistance. He was received with genuine voices of goodwill and relief.

It was same when the President visited Cushing, OK in March 2012, where a local boom in oil storage led to opening a new, 65-room Best Western. Cushing’s size? About 8,000, including the correctional institution that is counted in the town’s numbers. Protesters were gearing up, but many locals felt it rude to not to extend the President gracious hospitality.

Cushing wanted the XL Pipeline built; it passes right through town. Obama promised to fast track its southern end. It should be finished by the year’s end. But will it be connected to its northern half?

Many find Obama’s decision-making weak, but I think it alternates between courageous, risky and indifferent. For a host of reasons, including the type of slurry it carries and Houston’s refining capacity, the pipeline makes no sense in US energy policy or as a job development project.

It only makes sense if you are Ottawa, Canada, and because of opposition and jurisdiction issues, cannot build a pipeline to Canada’s Pacific coast and need a global outlet and port.

The President has a decidedly laissez-faire approach to business, whether in the oil fields or on Wall Street—or in pushing for a faster recovery with greater job growth. In the right combination, courage, risk and the benign can work successfully to stifle political opposition and overcome structural obstacles, but will seldom accelerate progress. But we are in a rare era, where these values can hasten our economic success. The President faces an opening that matches his skill set.

In economics, progress is tied not to profit but to opportunity and productivity. In the US, both measures are stagnant or falling. Industrial production is recovering from a deep hole and has not yet returned to pre-recession levels.

The aggregate hours for workers engaged in production follow exactly the same trend.

The chart of workers not in the labor force but actively looking follows a pattern that is the inverse of how we think about charts. Its upward trend means the numbers of displaced workers who want work are high and appear to be entering and leaving the work force with high volatility, finding work only in brief squirts after the recovery’s initial bounce. Continue reading For Obama: One Great Final Step

Stormy Monday, 5/27/13

If this week brings some blessed relief from IRS-gate, AP-gate and Benghazi-gate, it will probably be because  Salute-gate has crowded them out of the headlines. Republicans have presumably been availing themselves of the long weekend to decide whether the “incident” is proof that the President hates: a) the Marines, b) white people, c) America, or d) all of the above.

After a weekend visit to tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, the President will tour the Jersey Shore Tuesday to survey the progress of post-Sandy recovery measures with frenemy Chris Christie. It’s a fitting way to underscore National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Then he returns to a disaster area of a different sort, Washington DC, to confront whatever set of talking points the GOP will have settled on to express their dismay, disappointment, disgust and derision that the President went and spoiled the whole doggone War on Terror TM.

Who knew that the namby-pamby filibuster “reforms” the Senate implemented back in January wouldn’t change a damned thing? Everybody except Harry Reid, who last week suggested that he’s considering scrapping the cloture requirement entirely in order to speed up Senate confirmation of nominees. Fresh from a Memorial Day weekend filled with barbecue and regret, Reid and Mitch McConnell resume yelling at each other about the issue on Tuesday.

The same day, 115,000 employees at the IRS, HUD, OMB and the EPA return to work after an extended long weekend resulting from Friday’s sequester-related furlough, which applied to roughly five percent of the federal workforce. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/27/13

Take Five (Wild, Wild Life edition)

ONE: “Turkeys are bad enough.”

Not that there had been much suspense about it beforehand, but Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made her loyalties in the Republican Party’s War on Women abundantly clear when she suffered mild friction burns in her haste to sign the Women’s Health and Safety Act into law.

The bill has nothing to do with women’s health and safety, of course. It’s just another iteration of the standard Republican end-run around women’s reproductive rights, comparable to those already implemented in various other states:

… the law includes education in public schools prioritizing birth and adoption, signs throughout health-care facilities warning against abortion “coercion,” and an order for the state health department to create and maintain a website touting alternatives to abortion and displaying images of fetuses. Also required is abortion counseling for women aiming to abort pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities, and if the abnormality is certain to be fatal, the counseling incorporates perinatal hospice information before ending the pregnancy. It reaffirms existing barriers to access, like the requirement of a notarized parental consent form for minors and a mandatory ultrasound screening within 24 hours of having an abortion.

Brewer’s stance on another issue, however, was a little more surprising. She vetoed for a second time a bill that would have allowed firearms to be carried on public property, although the veto was motivated by fiscal and consensus concerns rather than ideological ones:

“The decisions to permit or prohibit guns in these extremely sensitive locations — whether a city council chamber or branch office staffed with state workers — should be cooperatively reached and supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including citizens, law-enforcement officials and local government leaders,” Brewer wrote in her veto letter…

House Bill 2729… proposed making it legal for people to enter public property with a weapon unless the property was secured by either a state or federal certified law-enforcement officer or an armed security guard and metal detectors…

Cities, counties, law-enforcement agencies and business organizations opposed it, saying they would have had to either let guns into buildings where the public would rather not have them or pay millions of dollars to provide the security required to keep them out.

A study conducted by legislative staff estimates that security costs for a government entity to ban guns could have ranged from $5,000 to $113,800 per public entrance in the first year with ongoing costs of $54,400 to $108,800 per year.

Hey, scoff if you must, but if you want smart policy from an administration like Brewer’s, it’s invariably going to be unintentional.

Elsewhere on the gun (out-of-) control front, an Oklahoma legislator recently offered up a novel rationale for the open-carry bill that recently passed out of committee and is headed for a legislative vote. Ralph Shortey, a – surprise! – Republican, treated fellow members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety to this harrowing anecdote:

“I was in oil and gas,” Shortey said. “I was out on a lease at one time and I got attacked by a turkey. Wait until you get attacked by a turkey. You will know the fear that a turkey can invoke in a person. And so I beat it with a club. That was all I could do.

“I wish that I had a gun with me,” he said. “And I started carrying a gun in my truck after that without a license because I didn’t want to get attacked by a mountain lion. Turkeys are bad enough.”

Maybe I’m naïve, but it seems to me that all this proves is that Oklahoma should consider an open-carry law for clubs. If they’re good enough for Shortey, they should be good enough for everyone else.

TWO: “… one of these massive, nuclear submarine-type sturgeon.”

It’s a pleasure to report that, despite Scott Walker’s worst intentions, at least one part of Wisconsin’s government is still functional, the Department of Natural Resources.

Near Shawano, DNR wardens recently discovered a sturgeon reckoned to be 125 years old. The fish was laying eggs in the Wolf River, over 30 pounds’ worth. The sturgeon’s length was measured at seven feet, three inches, and its weight at 240 pounds.

Said Wisconsin DNR sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch: “I knew they were out there and I thought, ‘We finally got one of these massive, nuclear submarine-type sturgeon.’”

The wardens kindly tagged and released the fish before Wisconsin Republicans could take a cleaver to it like they have everything else in the state.

THREE: Do you know the way to San Jose? And could someone please turn up the heat in here?

Two recent incidents indicate that the TSA might finally have succeeded in its apparent mission to drive air travelers completely bonkers.

On April 10, a woman lit up a cigarette in a nonsmoking area of the B Concourse at Denver International. Asked to extinguish the cigarette, she complied. Then she removed her clothing. Whatever the relevance may be to the smoking and/or the stripping, the woman told Denver police officers that she hadn’t slept the night before (the incident occurred at about 8:45 in the morning). She was later taken to an area hospital for a medical assessment.

You’re probably thinking this was just a weird, one-off occurrence, worthy of a smile but not a second thought. Not so fast, gentle reader. Consider a question recently posed by Gothamist:

So is naked TSA protesting now a trend?

Well, maybe. A week after the Denver incident, one John Brennan, bound for San Jose, California, was going through security screening at Portland International. At some point in the process, Brennan decided to – whoops! – take his clothes off, too:

Police charged John E. Brennan with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure after he disrobed while going through the security screening area at the airport Tuesday evening.

“When interviewed about his actions, Mr. Brennan stated he fly’s (sic) a lot and had disrobed as a form of protest against TSA screeners who he felt were harassing him,” a police incident report said…

“Mr. Brennan’s actions caused two screening lanes to be closed and while some passengers covered their eyes and their children’s eyes and moved away from the screening area, others stepped out of the screening lanes to look, laugh and take photos of Mr. Brennan,” the police report said.

Which, for the latter group mentioned, at least, put a little fun back into the reliably crappy experience of modern air travel.

Gothamist didn’t venture into woo territory searching for a connection between the two incidents, but there’s no reason why I shouldn’t. Who’s to say that there isn’t something nefarious afoot here? Some plot to destabilize America via inconvenient nudity? Some weird George A. Romero scenario, but instead of becoming zombies, the infected attack an unsuspecting world by jiggling their jiggly bits at them in inopportune settings? Or maybe Brennan was just on something?

He was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time, police said.

Until further data is available, I guess I’ll just go with the Romero scenario, then. I hope at least the judge remembers to thank Brennan for not smoking. Continue reading Take Five (Wild, Wild Life edition)