Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

StormyMondayAlready a month overdue, the President’s budget proposal is expected to drop Tuesday. Various House committees are already poised to posture, pontificate and proclaim their dismay, disgust and dudgeon, or – as it’s known in Washington – hold hearings.

The Senate will follow suit, and the liveliest of its proceedings will probably be the Wednesday appearance before the Armed Services Committee of Defense Secretary Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey. The witness panel will have the “best” seats in town at the pathetic spectacle of Republican committee members snuffling about that uppity President trying to destroy America’s ability to defend itself. Any day now, James Inhofe or Saxby Chambliss will realize that the President’s proposed cuts could leave the nation wide open to invasion… by Kenya.

Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington this week. His Monday schedule includes meetings with President Obama and with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, plus a meeting and press conference with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Netanyahu’s standard call for a hard line against the supposedly grave and gathering threat of Iran might not garner much enthusiasm from American politicians suddenly more concerned with reality in Ukraine than hypotheticals in the Middle East. Tuesday, though, Netanyahu addresses this year’s AIPAC conference, where he’ll undoubtedly find plenty of people very, very enthused.

Work is slated to begin Monday morning on a two-year, $60-million restoration of the Capitol Dome, the first such work there since 1960. A covered walkway in the Rotunda during renovations will ensure safe passage into and out of the Senate and House, which will themselves remain broken indefinitely.

However, DC is expected to receive between five and eight inches of snow this particular Stormy Monday, so the restoration schedule could be off to a rough start. Weather has already been cited for the postponement of a planned Monday evening Senate cloture vote in the confirmation proceedings of controversial nominee Debo P. Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

Stormy Monday, 2/3/14

StormyMondayFor what it’s worth, Punxsutawney Phil’s outrageous prediction of six more weeks of this vile winter ensures that Broncos fans aren’t the only people shocked and saddened this week. It would cheer me up greatly if the Administration responded this week to the 242,995 signatories on a White House petition to revoke Justin Bieber’s green card and ship the insufferable little brat back over the Peace Bridge. Sadly, Press Secretary Jay Carney would go no further than saying an official response will be issued “relatively soon.” Stay tuned, and keep the signatures coming.

Tuesday, Bill Nye heads for Kentucky’s Creation Museum to debate Ken Ham, the museum’s founder, on the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” You can watch the debate live online, but I’m going ahead and calling it right now. Nye will win, Ham will claim otherwise, and nobody’s mind will be changed.

The President will “deliver remarks” at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday at the Washington Hilton. If he’s stuck for material, one remark that would suit the occasion is the famous quote from Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association:

… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/3/14

Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

StormyMondayThe 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

Stormy Monday, 9/16/13

StormyMondayNow 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

Stormy Monday, 9/2/13

StormyMondayHandily enough, September is National Preparedness Month, so let’s brace ourselves. Whatever happens – and any number of things could – it could be just all kinds of ugly.

On Saturday, the President committed to seeking Congressional approval for military strikes against the Syrian regime. The same day, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House “leadership” issued a joint statement resisting calls to reconvene before the scheduled end of their recess, claiming that waiting until September 9 to convene gives President Obama “time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”

Not incidentally, it also provides time for Boehner’s caucus to sit on their entitled asses for a few more precious late-summer days, squeeze in a few last rounds of being influence-peddled over pulled pork and/or Peruvian flake, and strategize how they’re going to defund Obamacare, shut down the government over another manufactured debt ceiling crisis, and cement the reputation of the 113th Congress as the worst and least productive in modern times, all while somehow finding time to turn their minds to this whole – ugh! – Syria thing the White House keeps talking about, whatever the hell that’s all about. Hooray for National Preparedness Month.

Pending Congress doing much of anything, Syria’s state-run newspaper, Al-Thawra, crowed in a front-page editorial Sunday about recourse to Congressional approval being “the start of the historic American retreat,” even as the USS Nimitz and its strike group headed for the Red Sea and five US destroyers armed with 200 cruise missiles patrolled the eastern Mediterranean.

Invitations have gone out to chairs and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee for a Tuesday confab about Syria at the White House. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/2/13

Stormy Monday, 7/15/13

Will Harry Reid go nuclear to stop Senate filibusters of executive branch nominees? We’ll probably find out Tuesday, when a series of votes will be held to end debate on Richard Cordray (for CFPB chief), Thomas Perez (for Secretary of Labor), and five other stalled nominees. Unsurprisingly, Reid and Mitch McConnell have been rattling their sabers about this for days now; I’d love to see Reid do it because it’s the right thing to do, but the very best part would be seeing McConnell’s apoplectic reaction. Here’s hoping.

The House, meanwhile, continues to do what it does best, which is to struggle mightily to avoid actually doing much of anything. In keeping with that theme, Majority Leader Eric Cantor has announced pointless votes this week to repeal both the employer and individual mandates of Obamacare, and possible consideration of a bill that would revisit No Child Left Behind.

And the uselessness continues on the micro level as well as the macro; House committees will also spend the week spinning their wheels and flapping their gums. The Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on – wait for it – Benghazi, while Darrell Issa and his Oversight & Government Reform Committee compadres will throw a little bash they’re calling “The IRS’ Systematic Delay and Scrutiny of Tea Party Applications.” Good times.

Will the Justice Department consider a civil rights case against George Zimmerman following Saturday’s infuriating verdict? The NAACP, Harry Reid and others are urging it to do just that. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/15/13

Stormy Monday, 6/24/13

This afternoon, the Senate will probably attempt a vote on an omnibus amendment to the comprehensive immigration bill, following last week’s agreement on inclusion of border security measures. If the amendment passes, the bill moves one large step closer to Senate approval. This coincides with a TV ad sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce debuting today, featuring Rand Paul and Marco Rubio (and someone named Paul Ryan) pitching the need for reform to skeptical Republican viewers. Presumably, Rubio was plenty hydrated before the cameras rolled.

Yesterday, Paul told CNN’s Candy Crowley that the failure of his proposed amendment granting Congress final authority to decide if border security is adequate will lead him to vote against the bill. Pendejo.

Speaking of immigration, Edward Snowden is said to be seeking asylum in Ecuador, aided by legal advisers provided by WikiLeaks. The leaker’s passport has supposedly been revoked, but he traveled to Russia on Sunday from his previous fastness in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, Massachusetts voters will fill John Kerry’s Senate seat with either Democratic House veteran Ed Markey or self-described “moderate Republican” Gabriel Gomez. The latest polls put Markey up by eight to 12 points, which Gomez tacitly acknowledged on Fox News over the weekend by discussing his intention to make another run for office if he loses this one.

With Congress as useless on climate change as it is on most other issues, the President will lay out a series of executive measures in a Tuesday speech at Georgetown University. Details of the speech have been closely guarded, but the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline will apparently not be part of the subject matter, and might not be announced until 2014. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/24/13

Retrograde Anomalies

Students of astrology have long known about the retrograde function of planets, but we ignore its presence in politics. Increasingly, progress in America’s politics points to retrograde functions on both sides of the aisle.

For Republicans, it’s cuts, returns, and a retro-vision that becomes regressive, a serious intent to curtail the expansion of protections for women, restrictions on voting, increased hunger, decreased wages and jobs, and to place profit above all else, including competition, cooperation and quality of life.

When Apple is holding cash on hand, an unfettered sum greater than the GNP output of 140 nationsthat puts Apple in the top 50 countries in the worldprofit and its spun-off cash (not federal debt!) is crowding out economic growth and job creation, in the US and abroad.

For Democrats, it’s a series of fixes that hand out corporate welfare. It’s revisiting social programs with tweaks, patches and amended authority that offer a backdoor to special interests.

Recently the Senate, including the majority of Democrats, voted on budget guidance and recommended the removal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. The industry opposes the tax. Consumers will see no direct impact. But it matters to the industry; the multiplier in real numbers represents $30 billion over the next 10 years. It also matters to the budget, which would face a $30 billion hole.

Both sides of retrograde politics are being used in the attacks on the IRS. If a group is named Tea Party, associated with a historic act of civil disobedience to protest and refuse to play taxes, is it unreasonable or conspiratorial to review the applications of such groups as non-profits–especially when donations to these 501(c)(4) groups are not tax-deductiblebut allow donors to remain secret? Is it dark thinking to suggest that dark money might be behind the sudden profusion of these groups, numbered among the 1,751 applications the IRS received in 2010.

So in hindsight, the term “scandal” is being applied to a incident in retrograde. For Republicans, it’s the idea that any government review or regulation is intrusive, an abridgment of freedom, the loss of democracy, a death peal of the Founders’ intent. This reverse osmosis removes all of the benefits to the public good and social order and creates an imbalance of power and wealth to which the Founders (some!) would have been inextricably opposed. But dead men make no objections. Continue reading Retrograde Anomalies

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

The Bad News Is There Is No Rock Bottom

When things are going bad, people often set out in the wrong direction. It happens all the time and it only makes things worse. The Justice Department’s decision to fine HSBC, a British bank that is Europe’s largest, $1.92 billion was enough to show how wrongheaded American policy is putting belief before truth.

If we believe as hard as we can, and say something over and over while we hide the process from the public, we can rob the country blind, dominate the Congress, and even bring shame to a wounded veteran and former Presidential candidate and Senate leader who, in a wheel chair at age 89, asked the Senate to vote to approve a UN treaty establishing a pledge to full rights for the disabled. This no-brainer only requested the US approve something it had already done; in fact, the US Disabilities Act was the model for the UN treaty. But instead of watching the Senate endorse a treaty that reflects established success in global leadership for the disabled, Bob Dole, former senator from Kansas, watched from the Senate floor as the members of his own party voted the treaty down.

The reason? The fear that the UN treaty with no enforcement or monitoring power, which calls each nation to review its progress for an annual report, would impose yet-to-be-expressed and completely unrelated standards for home schooling on American families. The treaty’s opponents claimed that US honor would obligate the country—each state, city, hamlet and home–to voluntarily submit to the treaty’s principles (whose goals have nothing to do with home schooling!) even if we disagreed. Except that we had agreed to the goals and signed the treaty, but it had not been approved by the Senate.

So an imaginary commitment was used to bring shame to a man who had served his party and his country with real commitment and honor. The imagined idea trumped the real ideals and practices firmly in place, without threat to hamlet or home. Bob Dole, a disabled veteran, watched the Senate vote use the idea of honor to bring shame to the US, before the world.

But things got worse quickly, in the name of justice. The British chartered Hong Kong bank, HSBC, agreed to the US Justice Department’s imposition of $1.92 billion in fines and penalties for the bank’s actions in financing terrorism and crime. HSBC had thousands of violations of the US’ Trading With The Enemy Act. HSBC moved trillions by wire transfers and other means for groups including al-Qaeda and Colombian and Mexican drug cartels for over a decade. The bank’s actions were so far out of control that the Justice Department claimed that no pattern of individual behavior could be established, so egregiously was the total institutional default on every standard and regulation aimed at denying legitimate banking services to global terrorism and crime. Shades of Catch-22! The Justice Department is claiming so many people were engaged in providing traditional banking to criminals and terrorists that it is impossible to tell who was at fault because the entire sphere of activity became routine practice,with its own procedures and rules! In other words, the bank was too big and too greedy to be bad! Continue reading The Bad News Is There Is No Rock Bottom