Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It’s A Big Deal

If the reaction by the GOP is any guide, the deal between Iran and six nations to control their nuclear arms is a very big deal and will change the way we deal with both that country and the rest of the Middle East.

Before Congress had even begun its official review, Republican leaders vowed Tuesday to kill President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran, setting up a fierce fight to save the president’s signature diplomatic achievement.

Congress will have 60 days to review the deal, once all documents have been sent to the Capitol, after which it can pass a resolution of approval, pass one of disapproval or do nothing. Mr. Obama would veto a resolution of disapproval, and the opponents could derail the agreement only if they could rally the required two-thirds vote of Congress to override his action.

Republican leaders were denouncing it as a sell-out, a betrayal of Israel, “appeasement,” and in the words of House Speaker John Boehner, “unacceptable.”  The fact that none of them had read the document in its entirety or even if they did, had the cognitive skills to know what was in it, made no matter; they were too busy rushing to get on camera at Morning Joe or Fox News to get their sound bites in and doing very little to restrain their anger and frustration at the fact that once again, Barack Obama had pulled off something against the odds, and, more importantly, had undercut one of the major planks of the party platform, which is, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, “Please, sir, I want some war.”

Regardless of what it means for diplomacy, peace, and the fact that we will not be sending yet another army in to invade yet another sovereign nation over yet more made-up lies and leaving our nation wounded yet again, politics drives this response and Congress’s actions on it.  Not unlike the response to Obamacare, the stimulus, the automobile industry bailout, or even the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the degree of GOP vitriol tells you how important this agreement is.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Reading

Divide and Conquer — From The Economist, the reason Donald Trump is rallying the base of the GOP.

Because America’s electoral system all but guarantees the irrelevance of small parties, there’s no point to an American version of the Green Party or, for that matter, of UKIP or the National Front, which would absorb the country’s most rabidly anti-immigration white voters. The Republican Party is therefore a very big tent, covering tolerantly wealthy Chamber of Commerce types and upbeat religious conservatives, as well as working- and middle-class whites anxious about their dwindling majority and declining status in an increasingly multicultural America. When it was possible for Republicans to win national elections with only a smattering of support from non-white voters, the occasional venting of xenophobic paranoia about the criminality and infectiousness of immigrants might have helped as much as it hurt. But those days appear to be gone for good. If a Republican is to win the White House in 2016, he or she really must put a serious dent in the Democrats’ advantage with black, Hispanic and Asian voters—which poses a serious problem for the GOP. They’ve got to somehow pack both non-whites and bigots, immigrants and xenophobes, into the same big tent. Mr Trump is now exploiting this tension to his advantage.

A viably inclusive Republican presidential campaign will have to mute the coded and not-so-coded messages of white cultural superiority that have turned Americans of colour into reliable Democrats. But many conservative whites are still twitchy about their waning dominance. And they still matter in Republican politics, and have the power to decide primaries in many states. Perhaps the wariness of their party’s leading lights to cater to them as conspicuously as they once did leaves them feeling jilted. And that spells opportunity for an enterprising Republican candidate who is willing to damage the GOP’s brand, and his own, among Hispanics in order to steal some spotlight and, possibly, an early primary. Presidential politics is the ultimate reality show and, like it or not, Mr Trump knows how to play.

A famous billionaire may seem an unlikely populist champion, but Donald Trump is brilliantly suited to the role. The gaudy Mr Trump has always been a poor-man’s idea of a rich man, cunningly embodying America’s by-the-bootstraps cult of can-do capitalist success. Mr Trump has spent decades assiduously cultivating a public image as an unabashedly prosperous, fearlessly candid, hard-nosed negotiator. He is to millions of Americans more a figure of admiration than ridicule. For conservative whites who also feel that their relative position is slipping in an increasingly multicultural nation, such an unflappably indomitable fighter and audaciously authoritative voice makes a most welcome standard bearer.

Although Mr Trump’s divisive primary strategy, and seemingly inevitable presence on the GOP primary debate stage, is a headache to his more inclusive Republican rivals, it also presents them with an opportunity to prove their political chops and run away from the pack. If a candidate emerges from the Republican field who can manage to win over Hispanics by persuasively denouncing the Donald, all the while maintaining the loyalty of conservative xenophobes, he or she is a unique, high-wire-walking coalition-building talent who deserves to, and very well might, win it all.

You Call It Hypocrisy, They Call It Legislating — Steven I. Weiss in The Atlantic on the deal-making that runs our lives.

Political hypocrisy is so pervasive that it calls to mind Gregg Allman’s objection to the term “Southern rock.” The one has so much to do with the other, Allman said, that one might as well say, “rock rock.” To many voters, the seeming lack of ideological consistency in our elected officials smacks of corruption.

But hypocrisy, suggests recently retired Representative Barney Frank, is less evidence of corruption than evidence of its absence. It is what makes Congress function. It is the only tool legislators have after they’ve rooted out real corruption.

“Legislators do not pay each other for votes, and every member of a parliament in a democratic society is legally equal to every member,” Frank writes in his new memoir, Frank:A Life in Politics From the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage. For legislators, cooperation is a form of political currency. They act in concert with other legislators, even at the expense of their own beliefs, in order to bank capital or settle accounts: “Because parliamentary bodies have to arrive at binding decisions on the full range of human activity in an atmosphere lacking the structure provided by either money or hierarchy, members have to find ways to bring some order out of what could be chaos,” Frank writes. So trading votes is how the business of politics is conducted. “Once you have promised another member that you will do something—vote a certain way, sponsor a particular bill, or conduct a hearing—you are committed to do it.”

In other words, constituents might not find their representative’s vote on an environmental bill to be consistent with their ideology, or might think that their senator’s take on the filibuster is dependent almost entirely on which party is in the majority—and they’re probably right. What Frank is revealing is that elected officials understand their votes in the same way, but that there’s no shame in that. As Frank has it, legislators have to act in ideologically inconsistent ways in the short run if they want to advance their larger objectives in the long run, as those larger objectives can only be achieved with teamwork. And the other members of their legislative team are only going to play ball with them if they know that they’ll take one for the team, that they’ll vote for something they don’t like because the team needs it.

And Frank goes further: Instead of seeing political flip-flopping as a necessary evil, he suggests it is inherent to democracy. In an interview for the TV show I host on The Jewish Channel, Up Close, he explained that, “Any legislator is in an essentially compromised position, given the nature of democracy, because your decision about how to vote inevitably is a compromise—our system wouldn’t work otherwise—between your own views and your voters’.” Frank argues that observing a legislator in any single moment or vote can give a false perspective on that legislator. Votes cast in support of apparently contradictory measures on several different occasions offer a more accurate view of a particular representative than any single vote held up to exemplify their approach to legislating.

As legislators are pulled this way and that by public opinion and by their commitments to fellow legislators, there’s also another force at play: the passage of time. Legislatures have a “strong bias against relitigating an issue that has been legitimately decided,” Frank writes. So legislators are left to choose among the available options at the time of the initial vote, and then often unable to revisit the issue later, even as opinions shift. “If every issue is always on the active agenda, if an issue that was already disposed of by a majority can be reopened whenever the side that lost regains and advantage, instability infects not just the body that made that decision but also the society that it is governed by.”

[…]

This is how Frank, the first gay member of Congress to come out voluntarily, ended up as an early architect of the policy that would eventually become “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To head off the prospect of gays being entirely banned from the military in 1993, Frank advocated a middle path that he felt was the best achievable result at the time. Even though Bill Clinton ultimately took the plan in a harsher direction than Frank had hoped for, Frank knew he couldn’t introduce a bill to remove it at every subsequent congressional session. But choosing not to revisit “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at every opportunity didn’t say anything about his desire to see it end, in the same way that the initial proposal didn’t say anything about his desire to see gays serve openly in the military.

Frank’s view of hypocrisy is a self-serving narrative, to be sure, but it’s also a very rare example of a legislator choosing to actually explain such behavior, rather than pretending that such behavior does not exist.

The Perils of Snorkeling — Colin Stokes in The New Yorker explains why it’s better to stay on shore when you come down to the Keys.

Sharks

When you are in the ocean, you are exposing yourself to the extremely likely possibility that you will be attacked and subsequently eaten by a shark. All fish that are not brightly colored look like they could be sharks, especially against a backdrop of murky water, which is terrifying.

Non-Shark Fish

Fish swim in ways that will make you anxious. If they are swimming toward you, they must logically be swimming away from something that you should swim away from, like a shark. If they are swimming with you, they are probably escaping from a shark that is pursuing you. And the fish are much faster swimmers than you. They are also visibly defecating in the water near your face, possibly out of spite.

Coral

This is the thing that you are meant to swim near, but which is apparently lethal if you touch it.

Other Snorkelers

They will be sure to abandon you as they swim on ahead, pretending not to be paralyzed by the fear of being eaten by a shark, leaving you vulnerable to an attack. If they are not too far away, they will be too close, and they will either scare you to death by touching your leg with a shark-like fin or will swim directly in front of you, giving you a perfect view up their swim shorts.

Water

It is extremely salty, unlike the water that comes out of the tap in your apartment in the city, where you are comfortable and things are safe. The water will seep into your mask and make it extremely hard to see where the sharks are in the water. It will also fill your snorkel, giving you a glimpse of what it is like to be waterboarded while you are on holiday, which was not on the itinerary.

The Sun

You will be burned horribly on your exposed back as you snorkel. The only solution is to wear a T-shirt in the water and feel like the fat child at a pool that is filled with sharks who like to eat fat children.

Alcohol

You drank four beers and a Sex on the Beach before making the decision to get in the ocean, and you are now sobering up underwater, worrying about what will happen if you throw up into your snorkel.

Aquariums

You could observe all the tropical fish and coral that you are seeing now from the comfort of an air-conditioned room in Coney Island, with the added bonus of not having to pay the airfare to go to the Caribbean. Plus, there’s a roller coaster. But, on second thought, that might be something you should not do either.

Doonesbury — Through the lens, dimly.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bum’s Rush

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) used to be the head of the congressional committee investigating Benghazi!, but when the new Congress came in back in January he got rotated out and replaced by Rep. Trey Gowdy pf South Carolina.  That didn’t stop him from trying to get in on what he considers to be the worst political scandal since Queen Victoria and the ladies of the bedchamber, so he tried to sneak into a closed hearing of the committee to hear what former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal had to say.

Hilarity ensued.

Issa marched into the closed-door deposition and remained inside for about a minute before he was escorted out by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

The pair briefly exchanged hushed words in a nearby hallway before Issa stormed off, throwing an empty soda can into a nearby trash bin.

Gowdy returned to the private session after the incident.

“Sorry about that,” he said as he went back in.

“And stay out!”

Monday, June 8, 2015

No Judges For You

Mitch McConnell’s latest tantrum:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he doesn’t expect to confirm any of Obama’s circuit court nominees for the remainder of his time in office, a blow to White House efforts to fill empty federal court seats despite working with a Republican-controlled Senate.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell was asked about judicial confirmations.

“So far, the only judges we’ve confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican senators,” McConnell said. Asked if he expects that to be the case through 2016, McConnell said, “I think that’s highly likely, yeah.”

If McConnell is serious, that means at least two GOP-backed circuit court nominees are toast.

Remember how the Republicans said that if they were in the majority in the Senate they would show us how they would govern and get things done?  Well, if they were going to show us how they really suck at it, they’re doing a great job.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Short Takes

California clean-up crews are rushing to clean up an oil spill north of Santa Barbara.

The Nebraska legislature voted to abolish the death penalty.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) goes Jimmy Stewart over the USA PATRIOT Act.

Turns out Osama bin Laden read Bob Woodward.

Israel rescinded their segregated-buses-for-Palestinians plan.

The Tigers beat the Brewers 5-2.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Give Us A Break

George Stephanopoulos gave $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation — a charity that buys medicine for poor people and supports AIDS research among other things — and the Beltway goes into meltdown.  He has to apologize on the air and and has now set himself up as the target for all the right-wing nutsery as proof of the “liberal media.”

Charles and David Koch, who run a huge oil and gas conglomerate, gave billions of dollars to PAC’s for Republican candidates and helped write right-wing legislation against combating climate change, and no one gives a shit.

What am I missing here?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Short Takes

The engineer is now the focus of the inquiry into the train wreck in Philadelphia.

Fast Track back on track: Senate Democrats reverse course and hand President Obama a victory.

Man arrested for trying to fly drone over White House fence.

Proofread: Clinton-bashing book gets some error corrections.

R.I.P. B.B. King, 89, blues guitarist and legend.

The Tigers wallop the Twins 13-1 thanks to two homers by Miggy.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Train Wreck

Perfect timing:

The bodies had not yet been fully recovered from the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia before Capitol Hill erupted hours later into its usual partisan clash over how much money to spend on the long-struggling national rail service.

As investigators picked through the rubble on Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers in Washington angrily demanded an increase in Amtrak funding, calling Tuesday night’s accident a result of congressional failure to support the rail system. Republicans refused, defeating the request in a morning committee hearing and accusing Democrats of using a tragedy for political reasons.

Just like after a gun massacre, their excuse is “Now is not the time to talk about fixing the system.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Short Takes

Amtrak train derails en route from Philadelphia to New York City; at least 5 dead.

U.S. Marine Corps helicopter missing on rescue mission in Nepal.

Keeping an eye on Iranian ships off the coast of Yemen.

Senate Democrats slow down “fast track” trade bill.

Verizon buys AOL.

No charges filled in police shooting of unarmed black teen in Madison.

The Tigers beat the Twins 2-1 in 10.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama apologizes for drone strike in Pakistan that killed two hostages.

France: Police say they’ve foiled five terror attacks since Charlie Hebdo.

Finally: Loretta Lynch confirmed as Attorney General.

The Deal’s Off: Comcast walks away from Time Warner merger.

The Tigers lost to the Yankees again 2-1.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Short Takes

Standoff in the Gulf between the U.S. and Iran continues.

Saudi Arabia is ending its airstrikes in Yemen.

Over 850 reported dead in the Mediterranean after immigrant-smuggling ship capsizes.

The Senate will finally get to vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be Attorney General.

A real Monkey Trial: Chimpanzees are granted the right to sue for unlawful imprisonment.

The Tigers lost to the Yankees 5-2.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Colorful Language

From the New York Times on the GOP “quandary” over confirming Loretta Lynch as the first African-American woman to be Attorney General:

The inert situation shows just how Republican anger and resentment over the president’s immigration actions color issues ranging from Ms. Lynch’s status to trade negotiations to the nuclear talks with Iran.

“Color” being the operative word here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

This Is A Hold-Up

It’s been five months since Loretta Lynch was nominated to replace Attorney General Eric Holder and almost two months since the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of confirmation.  But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still hasn’t scheduled a floor vote because… well, basically because he can and because he’s a shitheel.

Lynch has public support from five Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. With support from all Senate Democrats, that would give Lynch 51 votes, enough to be confirmed.

But her nomination is tangled up in an unrelated Senate fight over a human-trafficking bill that has been bogged down by a partisan dispute over its abortion provisions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated earlier this week that the chamber would not move on to Lynch until it resolves the dispute over that bill.

The partisan spat over the trafficking legislation took an even sharper rhetorical turn earlier Wednesday when the Senate’s two top leaders fought over the impasse in dueling speeches.

McConnell accused Democrats of choosing to aid doctors who serve Medicare patients, while shunning sex trafficking victims. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot back that his counterpart’s complaints were “illogical” and devoid of facts.

Mr. Holder will remain as Attorney General until Ms. Lynch is confirmed.  So I’ll bet if his Justice Department were to open an investigation into Dick Cheney’s meetings with oil company executives back when he was in office and issue a few subpoenas, Ms. Lynch would be confirmed this afternoon.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holder or Folder

The nomination of Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General is still stuck in the Senate because the Republicans are scared to vote on it.  Via the New York Times:

Senate Republicans bolted for a two-week spring recess with the confirmation of Loretta E. Lynch as attorney general in jeopardy, and themselves in a quandary: Accept a qualified nominee they oppose because she backs President Obama’s policies or reject her and live with an attorney general they despise, Eric H. Holder Jr.

The nomination of Ms. Lynch, a seasoned United States attorney from New York, has laid bare the difficult politics confronting the new Republican majority. Lawmakers have found nothing in Ms. Lynch’s background to latch on to in opposition, and many are loath to reject the first African-American woman put forth to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

But, they say, their constituents have told them that a vote for Ms. Lynch affirms Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which she has said she finds lawful.

I can’t help but think that even though both Mr. Holder and Ms. Lynch would like to get this over with, there are a lot of people who are amused in a sardonic way by the fact that the Republicans are so afraid of their rancid base that they can’t even do what most of them want to do.

If this is their way of showing that they really want to reach out to voters in both the African-American and immigrant communities, they have got a long way to go.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What A Schock

AaronSchock-300x157Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) resigned because he was under suspicion of mismanagement of his use of campaign and taxpayer funds.

He had his office decorated for free like the set of Downton Abbey and  set up an Instagram account that had more pictures of him with his shirt off or with celebrities than a Kardashian.  (Doesn’t hurt that he’s built like a well-muscled frat boy.)  In other words, he didn’t know the meaning of “discrete.”  Naturally his lavish proclivities caught someone’s attention.

There are plenty of ways to be on the take from rich benefactors who feed your campaign fund, who make life comfortable for you and your loved ones, and who make sure that their interests and causes get frontsies when bills concerning them come up for a vote.  The trick is to make those ways so invisible and untraceable that you can go through your entire career in the pocket of a donor and no one else knows or at the most it’s just seen as part of good constituent service.  The quid pro quo is hush-hush-hush.  Life goes on and someone pays to wax the Explorer.

It’s not unlike men who fool around on their wives; if they’re smart, no one will know they’ve got a little something on the side, but if you parade through the halls of Congress with your girlfriend — or take trips with your personal photographer — you’re just asking for trouble.

I can’t decide if Mr. Schock was just stupid or was getting bored with being a congressman and didn’t care if he got caught.  No doubt he’ll land on his feet somewhere, either as a commentator on cable news or as a model for Abercrombie & Fitch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015