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)
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
Because I stand firmly against conflict violence, I support the President’s plan for missile strikes against Syria.
Even before the hands fly to ask why, the fingers pointing tick off the bewildering absurdity of opposing violence by supporting military intervention!
Next, they point to the absolute foolishness of supporting any war or war event for any reason. They wag and say we have no business there. They point to a long short list of all the bad things that can happen as outcomes—escalation of the conflict, within and outside of borders, breaches of international relations, harmful economic exchanges, increased threats across the world, the blood-smeared bodies pointing to America not as a moral protector but as a bully, acting on its own whim, ignoring—and inflaming—the world’s outrage.
Before that contorted outrage is a mask of stoic indifference. A moral blindness hides behinds that outrage, a moral position that can only be challenged and met by military actions.
Its challenge is to end conflict violence. Conflict violence is a political form with its own goal and means. For several decades, conflict violence has been growing, and has come to be a central strategy in civil warfare and insurgencies.
Broadly, conflict violence has as its purpose the destabilization of the society or the state by direct attack on non-combat civilians.
Conflict violence has three components: it deliberately targets civilians, often whole villages and towns, most frequently women and children; it uses the bloodiest atrocities to carry out wanton killing (in Nigeria, just this summer, army trucks delivered stacks of dead bodies in the dark of night to a regional hospital for disposal, removing the dead from their ancestral homes and overwhelming the hospital); conflict violence is employed as a tactical and strategic end in itself. And conflict violence is protected by national borders—the rule of sovereignty that says states are not allowed to intervene in the internal affairs of others states.
Conflict violence is the most important moral, social, and military issue of violence around the globe. It cuts across ideological and religious lines and locales. It includes plunder and rape; its extreme is genocide. And so far, it’s avoided a reset. It receives mere news mentions, and gathers attention from underfunded organizations and an occasional, toothless UN resolution.
It is virtually unstoppable. It hides behind the sanctity of borders—the sacrosanct invention of the modern nation-state. Two women have been elected Presidents of African countries (Sierra Leone, Malawi) in part on platforms to try to bring it under control in their countries.
It’s a horror story, but it is meticulously planned and systemically carried out by stealth operations and denied always by governments. It is more egregious than terror.
Conflict Violence Across the Globe
Within its borders, a neighbor to the south, Guatemala, experienced raids on 626 villages that killed 200,000 Ixil Mayans in state-sponsored violence between 1966 to 1990. It took 30 years for the cases against a former president to be brought to trial for military-ordered mass deaths between 1982 and 1983. Last May, his conviction was overturned. His lawyer accused the Indians of lying to gain settlement money. Continue reading Conflict Violence: Obama, Syria and the Nobel Speech
Handily 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
With Syria roiling and the situation increasingly unpredictable, the White House has announced that it “will be consulting appropriately with the Congress” about next steps. Once he’s received their advice, the President will at least be in a better position to know what not to do. It was reported this afternoon that the White House has had “preliminary communication” with John Boehner regarding Syria.
John Kerry delivered scathing remarks at the State Department today, confirming the Administration’s belief that the Syrian regime is guilty of carrying out chemical weapons attacks on civilians, actions Kerry described as “a moral obscenity.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey is in Jordan for a two-day summit with defense officials from Jordan and other nations, where the topic of Syria is no doubt on the agenda. Last week, Dempsey implied that US military involvement in the Syrian conflict is unlikely.
A new poll, meanwhile, indicates that roughly 60% of Americans oppose US military involvement in Syria, but if roughly half of respondents were Republicans, their answers were of course wrong, no matter which position they took.
Wednesday, exactly 50 years after Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, the Lincoln Memorial will be the venue for the “Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action,” with speeches by President Obama, President Carter and President Clinton. Bell-ringing ceremonies will be held across the nation to mark the anniversary. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/26/13
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 Syrian government announced this morning that it is “suspending indefinitely” its involvement with the United States’ “extraordinary rendition” program, effective immediately.
The program, begun under the Clinton administration and later accelerated beyond all recognition under the Bush administration following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, allows for foreign nationals detained by the military, FBI and CIA to be transported, for interrogation purposes, to other countries where their protections guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions and international law presumably do not apply. Syria has long been one of the program’s preferred destinations due to the Assad regime torture program’s reputation as one of the world’s elite as well as for low labor costs.
A short time later, the Assad regime issued a statement emphasizing that this action was necessitated by current manpower constraints, and “should in no way be interpreted as retaliation for the imperialist dogs’ support of the terrorist rebel forces seeking the overthrow of Syria’s legitimate government.”
Major Ali Qik-Bhutti, a high ranking Syrian official connected with the program, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisals, corroborated the official line.
“Under normal conditions, we seldom have a shortage of qualified, experienced torturers. But ever since the entire country outside Damascus hit the fan, we can’t keep up,” Major Qik-Bhutti confirmed, “Even with the influx of Libyan and Egyptian refugee contractors, our manpower is spread dangerously thin just dealing with our own domestic infidel pigs.”
According to Professor Newton Toomey, Distinguished Fellow and Honorary Chair of Enhanced Interrogation Studies at Pueblo State University, Syria’s move could not have come at a worse time for the Obama administration.
“There are two things no administration wants to have happen in an election year,” Toomey noted, “First: you don’t want the country to appear more vulnerable to a terrorist attack, and second: you don’t want to raise public awareness to the fact that you’re still doing these things. If I were the President, I’d be trying to figure out a way to get Putin to warm up to me ASAFP.” Continue reading Syria Cuts Off U.S. Access to Torture
In a stunning move that rocked the political world from Nome to Homs, Bashar al-Assad announced earlier today that he will be stepping down as President of Syria and will immediately focus his full attention on his pursuit of the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States. According to aides, he has also already resigned from the Ba’ath party and will register as a Republican as early as Monday, presumably in La Jolla, California where he owns a residence which is currently undergoing an expansion.
Due to a diplomatic technicality, Assad, whose mother unexpectedly went into labor and gave birth to him during a function at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, is eligible to hold the office of United States President since the embassy grounds are recognized as American soil and he is therefore a “natural born” U.S. citizen. Also, according to Hafez al-Fi-Slammaj Amma, a member of his personal staff who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, “According to longtime members of the presidential security detail, President Assad coincidentally was also conceived at a U.S. Embassy function – so any obstructionist who might invoke the ‘where his life began’ argument would be barking up the wrong bush, as I believe the expression goes.”
And even before the first reports of a possible cessation of the artillery fire striking the city of Homs came in, Assad was already busy lobbing mortars at the four current GOP contenders.
Referring to his new rivals as “the Marx Brothers” and commenting that “not one of them has the remotest clue of what it takes to be a strong chief executive,” Assad told reporters that he is looking forward to his first contested campaign and expressed his belief that, “America is ready for an openly Muslim president.”
When asked for clarification of his “Marx Brothers” reference, the Middle Eastern strongman who most observers believe will leap to GOP front-runner status as soon as the first polls including his name are released, explained, “Well, I think of Gingrich as Groucho just because the name seems to fit. Romney, of course, is Chico, as he is the son of a Mexican immigrant. Santorum I like to think of as Harpo because I believe he is a good and sincere man whose career would benefit greatly if he could only learn to maintain silence when the cameras are on. And Ron Paul, naturally, is Zeppo, because after following American news coverage of the campaign, it is only when I see Dr. Paul on stage with the others at the debates that I am reminded there is indeed a fourth candidate.” Continue reading Syria’s Assad to Step Down, Launch Belated GOP Bid