Stormy Monday, 6/23/14

StormyMondayIn a primary season that has already seen the odious Eric Cantor kicked to the curb by voters for not being quite odious enough, it’s probably smart to take nothing for granted. Charlie Rangel certainly isn’t, despite the latest poll showing him up by double digits over rival Adriano Espaillat mere days before tomorrow’s vote in the New York 13th. If he wins, Rangel might want to mend some fences with the New York Times, which endorsed Espaillat last week.

Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, another odious Republican, faces a runoff against teabagger Chris McDaniel on Tuesday, after nearly being bested by him in the June 3 primary. McDaniel’s support among blinkered conservative tax-me-not voters has been steadily increasing even as their state slides ever further toward Third World status. If Republican infighting is one of your favorite spectator sports, check out the Cochran campaign’s eleventh-hour ad, which takes a metaphorical 2×4 to McDaniel’s metaphorical cranium.

After passing a resolution on Saturday calling for President Obama’s impeachment (ostensibly for exchanging five Taliban detainees for POW Bowe Bergdahl, though mostly, I suspect, for being not entirely white) the South Dakota Republican Party can now go on to other important business, like resolutions opposing gravity and the changing of the seasons. Word is they’ll also consider a resolution to seize Mount Rushmore from the National Park Service and alter all the faces to likenesses of Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of Sgt. Bergdahl, he was discharged from hospital last week and transferred to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where he will receive outpatient care for up to a month. His long-term prognosis is still unknown, but what’s already certain is there’s no known cure for the syndrome that has so many on the right still howling about his release and repatriation.

John Kerry kicked off a busy week with a visit to Cairo for talks with new Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on Sunday, before making a surprise visit to Iraq for private meetings with PM Nouri al-Maliki and several sectarian leaders. To the edification of absolutely nobody, least of all the Iraqis, he described the current precarious situation as “a critical moment for Iraq’s future” and “a moment of great urgency.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/23/14

Stormy Monday, 6/2/14

StormyMondaySgt. Bowe Bergdahl begins the week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany after nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. He was released Saturday after the conclusion of negotiations which included the release of five Afghani detainees from Guantanamo. Sgt. Bergdahl’s next stop is expected to be San Antonio Military Medical Center. And if his newfound freedom isn’t heartwarming enough, there’s this: Republicans are pissed off about it. So, apparently, is Hamid Karzai.

Thursday, the incomparable Bernie Sanders will chair a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on his proposed Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act, which, among other important and overdue measures to enhance veterans’ benefits, would go a very long way toward straightening out the unconscionable VA healthcare mess that cost Eric Shinseki his job last week.

The President heads to Europe today for a five-day junket that will include stops in Poland (to honor the 25th anniversary of democratic elections there), France (to honor the 70th anniversary of D-Day), and Belgium (to honor whatever it is that gets honored at G7 meetings).

Today, the EPA proposed a 30-percent reduction in power plant carbon emissions over the next 15 years. The plan gives states considerable flexibility in achieving targeted reductions. Even Republicans have found something to like about the proposal: an opportunity to score cheap political points. Tomorrow, the National Republican Senatorial Committee begins a series of predictably dishonest robocalls in four states, portraying incumbent Democratic senators as radical tree-huggers determined to bankrupt their constituents with out-of-control electric bills. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/2/14

Obama's Ukraine Affair

DDPresident Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.

Did you know about it? I didn’t.

A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.

To me, that’s news.

Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.

Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.

Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.

Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.

In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.

Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.

Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:

Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.

The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.

Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.

It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.

It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.

Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.

Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.

Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair

Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

StormyMondayMere days after Republican capitulation on the debt ceiling, scientists don’t yet know whether the violent disruption of the space-time continuum will be temporary or permanent. Congressional Republicans aren’t waiting on a verdict, of course, since they’re already working on other ways to ensure that the government does very little actual, you know, governing. Plus they hate science anyway.

Monday, the President returns to Washington from Sunnylands, the California retreat where he and China’s Xi Jinping held talks last year. The President hosted King Abdullah of Jordan at Sunnylands on Friday, and once the statecraft was completed he headed for the golf course with some old friends from Hawaii.

Speaking of Hawaii, the state’s legislature has an interesting week scheduled. Among other things, lawmakers will debate whether to force stores to lock up spray paint and other “graffiti materials,” forcing consumers to ask retail staff for the items. They’ll also be considering a one-year exemption from jury service for breastfeeding mothers, a ban on smoking in and around public housing complexes, and a ban on the use of drones for information-gathering purposes by anyone other than law enforcement officials.

Wednesday, the POTUS heads for Toluca, Mexico for a brief summit with President Enrique Peña Nieto. Tagging along will be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still ardently trying to pitch the Keystone XL pipeline. Will he offer to take back Justin Bieber to sweeten the deal? Stay tuned. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

Stormy Monday, 1/20/14

StormyMondayLast weekend, Chris Christie packed up his troubles in his old kit bag and went to Florida to shill for Rick Scott. As much as he’d probably prefer to stay there, his second inauguration is scheduled for this Tuesday, so we can assume he’ll be slinking back up the coast any minute now. Following his swearing – I mean swearing in, an inaugural ball will be held in the Grand Hall on Ellis Island.

After thoroughly screwing over West Virginia and its citizens, tax deadbeat and environmental menace Freedom Industries initiated Chapter 11 proceedings last Friday, effectively bringing to a halt a raft of lawsuits already filed against the company and others that were no doubt imminent, at least until a bankruptcy court reviews the situation. The water situation in a number of counties remains, well, fluid.

On Wednesday, Edgar Tamayo is scheduled to be killed by the State of Texas for the 1994 murder of a Houston cop. But Tamayo is a Mexican national, and Mexico alleges that he was not informed of his right to consular assistance following his arrest, contrary to a provision in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. And, as Amnesty International points out:

In 2008 a psychologist put Edgar Tamayo’s intellectual functioning in the “mild mental retardation” range, which would render his execution unconstitutional under US law.

Expect frantic last-minute legal and diplomatic maneuvers, almost inevitably followed by Tamayo becoming the 269th recipient of a lethal injection during Rick Perry’s tenure. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/20/14

Stormy Monday, 1/13/14

StormyMondayNine West Virginia counties begin the week under state and federal emergency declarations after last Thursday’s spill of up to 7,500 gallons of toxic 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River. 300,000 West Virginians are without safe water and are expected to remain so for “several days,” according to area utility West Virginia American Water. The leak has prompted over a hundred people to make their way to hospitals for various symptoms, but the folks in charge at Freedom Industries, owners of the errant MCHM, probably feel just awful about the whole goshdarned thing, so there’s that.

Early in the week, the House and Senate are expected to approve a temporary spending measure to fund the government all the way until… Friday! Once a temporary measure is agreed on, both chambers will turn their collective attention to an omnibus spending bill. What could go wrong? Plenty, but there’s really no point in panicking yet. Best to wait until midweek.

The Senate will also go back to work on an emergency unemployment benefits extension, after Harry Reid backtracked on Republican insistence that the cost be offset. You were right the first time, Harry. The idea of an offset is indeed “foolishness.” Speaking of foolishness, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made the asinine claim last Friday that his party’s focus is “on employment, not unemployment.” Consider it an indication of what any Senate agreement on unemployment will face once Cantor and his fellow jackals in the House get hold of it.

It’s one of those delegated duties that have led countless politicians to refuse a position at the bottom of a presidential ticket. Vice President Biden will lead the Presidential Delegation to Monday’s memorial service for Ariel Sharon. Hey, maybe at least there’ll be a nice buffet afterward. Accompanying the Vice President will be Reps. Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Eliot Engel, plus US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro and one of his predecessors, Daniel Kurtzer.

John Kerry will not be attending the memorial service. Instead, he’ll be in Paris for multilateral talks on Syria. Kerry is trying mightily to get the Syrian National Coalition to attend peace talks with the Assad regime.

Wednesday, the President heads to North Carolina for another in his series of addresses on the economy, this one focused on manufacturing. Expect common sense, some innovative proposals, and a giant shrug from Congressional Republicans. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/13/14

Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Take-FiveONE: 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)

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

Conflict Violence: The President's Stand On Syria And His Nobel Speech

DDBecause 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

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