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)
Over the past four-plus years, it has been downright mind-blowing to watch you, the GOP, rewrite history in a never-ending attempt to compare the current administration to the overwhelming failure that was the Dubya presidency – and somehow come to the conclusion that between our man and your boy, Obama is the one who is somehow found wanting.
You have compared every aspect of Obama’s term in office to the Reign of Error that preceded him. And while those comparisons have been blatantly ridiculous, the entertainment value of watching you equate the astounding accomplishments of one with the dismal record of the other is priceless.
For the record, let me remind you of history as it actually unfolded, rather than as you want it to be perceived.
Barack Obama never received a briefing entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in the US”, which he immediately ignored, along with dismissing the constant and dire warnings of the intelligence community. The attack of 9/11 happened on your boy’s watch, and you can chalk up the resulting deaths of over 3,000 people in his column. You can, of course, count that as a win in your “war on terror” – although I doubt most Americans think of it in that light.
Barack Obama never invaded a country based on wholly fabricated assertions of possession of WMDs, leading to the deaths of thousands of US troops, untold numbers of innocent civilians, and expenditures that led to the largest deficit in US history. That was your boy. In fact, the only aptitude your boy ever demonstrated in his eight years in office was his ability to lie to the American people almost as easily as he spent their money.
Barack Obama has never landed on an aircraft carrier to announce “Mission Accomplished” when the only thing accomplished was the prelude to a disastrous war that plunged our own nation into unfathomable debt, and the nation of Iraq into unfathomable death and destruction. Again, that was your boy (the one who never did come up with even a modicum of proof that he had completed his military service) strutting around, all gussied-up in military gear as he sent US soldiers to die for what he perceived to be his political glory. Our man’s citizenship, despite your propensity for spewing bullshit, has been proven. When did your boy even come close to proving that he actually served?
Barack Obama never boastfully vowed to “get Bin Laden, dead or alive” only to sheepishly admit later that, “I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.” It was our man who stated unequivocally that he would get Bin Laden – and then did so. It was your boy who turned out to be all hat and no cattle – a term in keeping with your boy’s pretense of being a tough-talkin’ Texan, when what he really was is a gutless mama’s boy whose lack of intelligence, skill and work ethic would have landed him a career of pumping gas at some obscure interstate truck stop were it not for his daddy’s connections.
Barack Obama has never overseen the phenomenon of millions of US dollars in cash simply disappearing in the “fog of war”. It was your boy and his cohorts who pulled off that magic act – while funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into their own pockets via their shareholdings in corporations that were coincidentally awarded no-bid government contracts, the oversight of which was conveniently non-existent.
Barack Obama never sent our troops into harm’s way ill-equipped, lacking the most basic necessities in order to complete their mission safely. It was your boy who sent our soldiers into battle without body armor, and then added injury to insult by supplying them (via his VP’s corporation, Halliburton) with contaminated drinking water while they risked their lives in the middle of the fuckin’ desert.
Barack Obama never outed a covert CIA agent, jeopardizing her life and the lives of others in service to the country, nor did anyone from his administration. That was your boy’s administration, the same group of pathological misfits who freely used their political power to discredit their detractors, regardless of the consequences to the individuals involved, and the country at large.
Barack Obama has never vacationed while a major US city and its citizens was left to drown in the aftermath of a hurricane. That was your boy eating birthday cake with John McCain, and strummin’ the ol’ geetar for a photo-op in California while NOLA residents died for lack of food, water, shelter and medical attention. It was our man who responded to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy with skill and expediency – and eating cake and strummin’ wasn’t even remotely part of the picture.
Barack Obama has never owned a fake ranch in Texas, an off-the-beaten-track hideaway where he can drink himself rancid every weekend out of public view. It was your boy who required his lackeys to explain the cuts and bruises resulting from his drunken escapades as a brush-clearing mishap, a biking excursion gone awry, or an epic battle-to-the-death with what was undoubtedly a would-be al Qaeda assassin disguised as a pretzel.
Barack Obama has never made a complete fool of himself on the international stage by attending events of global importance too soused to speak coherently, too drunk to know that giving a “massage” to a fellow world leader is inappropriate, too stupid as well as stupefied to understand that the office he held not only demanded a certain decorum, but deserved it. It was your boy who repeatedly embarrassed our nation in front of the entire world; it was our man who had to undo the damage your clueless idiot caused to our international reputation.
And while we’re on the topic… Continue reading Please Proceed, GOP
ONE: One Fling to Rule Them All…
What’s more mawkish than Republicans rallying moistly and noisily around a new standard bearer? Absolutely nothing.
While all but the most stalwart or blockheaded of the party faithful ended up too embarrassed to admit how embarrassed they finally were by George Bush and Dick Cheney, many of them shamelessly went on to embrace a succession of greasy mediocrities like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Marco Rubio.
The mass infatuations mostly dwindled miserably into scandals, lawsuits, ridicule and/or simple morning-after remorse, but it’s worth remembering that most of these intellectual pipsqueaks retain a mystifying and immovable popularity among one or more dependably Republican demographics.
Enter Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the one fling to rule them all. I confess I’d never even heard of this guy until he appeared at last year’s Republican National Convention. Even then he didn’t make much of an impression, if my synopsis of the first day of the convention is a reliable yardstick:
Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz forsakes the podium and gives a pointless speech as he paces the stage. It’s as if he’s auditioning to be an evangelist. Or a stand-up comic. He points to the debt clock. Yep, the nation is still in debt.
Cruz bellows, “Government is not the answer,” which makes me wonder why he and his fellow Republicans are so damned keen on being elected to office.
As it turned out, the position Cruz was actually auditioning for, then and since, was President of the United States of America. Happily, even some Republicans seem completely appalled by that idea, but Cruz effectively capitalized on the government shutdown and flirtation with default to enhance his grassroots popularity and leadership cred. He also realizes that the GOP’s actual leadership is laughably inept, something he telegraphed by upstaging Mitch McConnell‘s announcement of a budget deal. The party is ripe for hijacking, and Cruz – a shrewd demagogue, equal parts Cotton Mather and Joe McCarthy – seems poised to do just that, at least temporarily.
Lest Cruz’s increasingly high profile and rock star status among zero-information conservative voters make you queasy with thoughts of a presidency in his future, Paul Bibeau offers some reassurance on the subject of Ted Cruz Yet to Come:
We know what happens to Ted Cruz, because it’s happened before…
Ted Cruz runs for president. Jackasses in Iowa talk about his honesty and his directness. They portray him as an outsider, a renegade, a fresh new face. What they mean is something else, something darker. Anyway, soon after that – because of dropping polls, stories of infighting, and some hideous thing he says into a hot mike or on hidden camera – his campaign turns into a space shuttle made of balsa.
Does it stop there? Christ, no. Because then Ted Cruz finds what he was meant to do all along. He’s going to get a TV show, a radio gig, or an income stream from giving speeches to the kind of folks who think the UN is a totalitarian plot and gay people are poisoning our water supply…
Yeah, that sounds about right. If Republicans do only one thing well – and indeed, yes, they actually do only one thing well – it’s that never go away. Examples come readily to mind. Not only did the outlandishly repugnant Tom Delay avoid prison; he’s working on a book with infamous huckster Jerome Corsi. Dick Cheney, risen from the dead for the sixth or seventh time, is energetically spitting ichor at Barack Obama and still stubbornly insisting that the invasion of Iraq actually had something to do with weapons of mass destruction. Sarah Palin also has a book coming out, and still found time to pretend she shot a bear. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has remade himself yet again, this time as a Democrat, and is probably going to run for another term. Hell, Ronald Reagan has been dead for almost a decade, but stick any Republican in front of a microphone and you’re bound to hear his name invoked, with stupefying reverence, within about 60 seconds.
No, they never go away, so get used to Ted Cruz. He’s only just getting warmed up.
TWO: Houses of the Holy Moly
Further to that last-ditch attempt to block construction of Mitt Romney’s La Jolla McManor discussed in the previous edition of this column, the California Coastal Commission recently shot down Anthony Ciani’s appeal, clearing Casa Romney to go forward, weird-rich-guy car elevator and all.
Romney being Romney, he’s also building a house in Holladay, Utah, and it’s going to have a weird-rich-guy feature of its own: a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. Why a secret room? It’s just a guess, mind you, but behind those shelves I picture an exact replica of the Oval Office, a place where the hapless millionaire, safely hidden from view, can pretend he became leader of the free world after all, manage imaginary crises, sign imaginary executive orders, conduct imaginary diplomacy, and give imaginary addresses to the nation, while “Hail to the Chief” loops stirringly in the background. Continue reading Take Five (We Don’t Need Another Zero edition)
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
Can Wall Street talk sense to Congressional Republicans? It’s a trick question, of course; nobody can talk sense to Congressional Republicans. Still, all eyes will be on the financial markets Monday as sluggish negotiations to reopen the government and avert a default continue.
After a weekend marked – make that marred by contrived freak show events, Debtpocalypse, a mere three days away, begins to seem almost appealing, like Snake Plissken triggering a global EMP at the end of Escape from LA. From the grubby spectacle at the World War II Memorial, featuring a joint appearance by Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz (picture two egos the size of Macy’s parade balloons vying for attention) to the farcical Truckers Ride for the Constitution protest (which caused less traffic disruption than the recent surprise lunchtime stroll to Taylor Gourmet by the President and Vice President) to the supremely offensive display of a Confederate flag outside the First Family’s residence, Republicans have spent most of the weekend scribbling new chapters in the history of American public service. Poorly.
If you’re curious about White House doings this week, a visit to whitehouse.gov won’t provide much information, but you will see this message:
Due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation to fund the government, the information on this web site may not be up to date. Some submissions may not be processed, and we may not be able to respond to your inquiries.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will head the US delegation as representatives of the US, France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany and Iran meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva to discuss curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program as a quid pro quo for a limited reversal of sanctions. On Sunday, Iran refused to comply with a demand that it ship its uranium stockpiles abroad, a demand Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called “a red line.” While President Obama’s late September phone call with Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart, might not have signaled the new morning in relations between the two nations many had hoped, there’s still reason to remain hopeful. After all, House Republicans – as far as anyone knows – are not advising Iran’s leadership. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/14/13
War is a series of battles, but is always about a bigger prize. The I Ching warns of this, and every hunter knows: watch with your eyes, listen with your ears. Know where you are and what’s ahead before you make your next step.
War has two goals: 1) win; take away, tie up or use up options to bring defeat to your enemies and put people, resources and authority under your control; 2) a new system; alter the methods and positions of power, both as a deterrent and control.
Without guns, America is witnessing a political civil war. It’s not loose talk or noise. It is advanced by legislative procedures that breach trust, crater resources, and weaken the entire Republic. It leaves opponents without a defense. It accumulates power for a well funded, fortressed minority. Its losses embolden its backers and voters.
Let’s look at the logic of the healthcare-government funding fight: why will Republicans not eliminate tax credits for Big Oil not tied to life or death, or cut defense? Why will they endanger the lives of citizens by denying healthcare in the name of freedom and jobs?
Because healthcare is only a flag; as in battles of old when the the object was to bring down the flag and the courageous flag holder—the battle within the battle—healthcare is one of the main dynamics of changes the GOP targeted in their march and attacks to restrict opportunity and install limits on personal liberty, especially for women.
Flag and flag holder: on the day that marked his greatest success, perhaps the greatest day of his presidency, Barack Obama was forced to watch the government he was elected to head shut down.
That government, while he has held its flag, tightened equal pay requirements, protected financial consumers, increased Wall Street oversight, enabled people with intra-gender sexual preferences to serve openly in the military, provided middle class tax cuts, cleaned up the Gulf, and developed a working agreement to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
America rejects the New Orleans idea of the spy boy; it doesn’t seem to want a President with forward vision. It’s too busy looking backward, or stuck in the present. The national character is one of passion, excited by the unexpected, without realizing these moments are often planned.
Like a magician’s act.
Republicans have leveraged this naive view of politics into skillful deceptions, with the assistance of media’s commitment to the doctrine of false equivalency. Media reports a world that lacks comparisons, outcomes and consequences, and in the name of fairness, only reports narratives of blame.
The media didn’t widely report some Republicans in the House ran on the intent of shutting government down. Republicans blitzed the flag and flag holder, the people’s government and its elected President. If they didn’t get the flag, they took up the siege.
A few spy boys took note: A New York Times commenter on Paul Krugman’s blog wrote:
“None of this is about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare; It is about whose legacy this legislation stands to benefit: A black man.”
It’s also about how easily he has dismantled their most cherished myths and took power that was for so long in the grip of their hands. So, chagrined at losing their mojo, they confuse their decline with insolence. But they are impertinent about the basics we expect of national elected officials. As the Washington Post put in an editorial:
“Pay the bills and try not to embarrass us in front of the world.”
Publicly and privately, these officials have named and targeted government the enemy. And before day one, these officials and their financiers questioned, at every level that involves rumor and error, Barack Obama’s constitutional right to be President.
Hardball MSNBC show host Chris Matthews had the following exchange with Rep. Steve King (R-NY) this week:
MATTHEWS: I’ve had members, they know who they are, they say — ‘I really can’t say with these lips that this man, Barack Obama, was elected President.’ They choke on that. How many are there in Congress on your side that represent that rejectionist front? [...]
KING: I would say there are probably 30 or 40 who are like that. As there were a number of Democrats who felt that way about George W. Bush, and going back to when you and I first met, Republicans who felt that way about Bill Clinton… This is a very dangerous aspect to our government… The fact that we have people who are willing to demonize the President of the United States because he’s from a different party… and now, obviously, with President Obama, it’s definitely there.
Texas Governor Rick Perry said implementing Obamacare is a felony.
So, in the riving throes of contempt, the GOP wants to show that America can do without government and nothing bad will happen. It is a near-sighted approach to power, because, in fact, government manages the long term. The drift of environmental poisons, food safety, federal land, highway safety, air traffic, weather reports, passports and a host of other invisible services dampen short-term shocks by effective long-range planning.
Government has a positive, sustaining impact on our lives. So nothing will happen today. Or likely, tomorrow.
But that’s not the point! The short term is safe not because we don’t need government, but because government has worked effectively to make it secure. Continue reading The Spoils of War: For One Side, Healthcare; For the Other, an Incurable Condition
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
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)
The most compelling evidence yet for the non-existence of God was revealed earlier this month by Roll Call, which announced that Darrell Issa is now the richest member of Congress. Flush with his undeserved success, Issa flew to Libya yesterday, breaking an Oversight and Government Reform Committee rule he himself instituted that mandates all committee-sanctioned foreign junkets be bipartisan. While Issa frantically searches under every couch cushion in Benghazi for a smoking gun that will destroy the Obama Presidency, it sure would be a fine time to revoke his passport.
A government shutdown on October 1 remains a distinct possibility following last Friday’s passage by the House of a continuing resolution that would fund government operations through mid-December, but also defund Obamacare. Despite Ted Cruz huffing and puffing about a filibuster, the Senate will no doubt remove the provisions related to the Affordable Care Act and punt the bill back to the House, probably this week. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but assuming the worst seems an increasingly safe bet.
The House resolution includes a “death gratuity” payable to the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg in the sum of $174,000, a common though not automatic Congressional perk. If the gratuity makes it into a bicamerally-approved version of the resolution, I expect Mrs. Lautenberg will probably steer the money to some worthy cause or another. She certainly doesn’t need it; her late husband’s net worth has been estimated at $57 million.
Having botched the continuing resolution, the House might also hork up a debt ceiling bill this week, according to reptilian Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor is on record as saying it will include a provision to “delay” the implementation of Obamacare for one year, and another to ensure completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Plus a bunch more provisions to do other bad things. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/23/13
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