Friday, January 31, 2014

Keeping Him Honest, Maybe

What has gotten into Harry Reid?

Whatever it is, it should be bottled and forcibly fed to Barack Obama.  Salon's Elias Isquith on Thursday wrote

Democrats think 2014 is shaping up to be a tough year for them politically. So instead of trying to persuade the public that they’ve got the best answers to the problems we face, they try to shut everybody else out of the political process, they try to shut them up,” McConnell said. He went on to accuse the president of wanting “to use the IRS to drive conservatives right off the playing field.”

Isquith continued

Reid wasn’t having it, and pointed to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers — who directly and indirectly fund many of these organizations — as a prime example of how the rules are being disregarded or abused by outside political actors. “Because of a United States Supreme Court decisions called Citizens United, there’s been some really untoward stuff going on in the political world,” Reid said. “We have two brothers who are actually trying to buy the country.”

“What they’re doing is spending their … dollars on governors races, and on the state level and, of course, spending huge amounts of money around the country attempting to defeat Democrats both in the House and the Senate,” Reid continued. “The Koch brothers hide all their campaign efforts. They disguise themselves with rare exception as social welfare organizations, with all these fancy names going after people who are trying to improve the country.”

Reid is blowing the whistle on the complex web of organizations (graphic, as well as the passage below, from The Washington Post) funded by the right-wing and horrifyingly mainstream Koch Brothers, whose

funders remain largely unknown; the coalition was carefully constructed with extensive legal barriers to shield its donors.

But they have substantial firepower. Together, the 17 conservative groups that made up the network raised at least $407 million during the 2012 campaign, according to the analysis of tax returns by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.

A labyrinth of tax-exempt groups and limited-liability companies helps mask the sources of the money, much of which went to voter mobilization and television ads attacking President Obama and congressional Democrats, according to tax filings and campaign finance reports.

No Democrat- publicly- will defend the Koch brothers, who would like to put every one of them out of business. But the day before, Reid boldly had taken on the President of his own party. The Huffington Post reported

"I'm against fast track," Reid told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill, before suggesting a fast-track bill introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) may not get a vote.

"We'll see. Everyone knows how I feel about this. Senator Baucus knows, [potential backer] Sen. [Ron] Wyden knows. The White House knows."

Indeed, Reid cautioned the president and his allies to back off.

"I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now," the majority leader said.

Reid may be aware that since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the share of national income captured by the 1% has shot up and real income barely increased as productivity has grown substantially.  Far more corporations than previously have shut down and gone abroad while the threat to do so by many employers has stymied union drives.  The U.S.A. trade deficit- especially with Mexico and Canada, the other parties to the NAFTA- has climbed dramatically.  And much of this has taken place under the nose of the man who as both a candidate and President promised to renegotiate the agreement.

Still, the President isn't satisfied, and at his State of the Union address promoted the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, stating

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.  We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines.  Neither should we.

Keith Ellison, chairperson of the Congressional (really, the House) Progressive Caucus,  responded "How can you say on one hand you want to address income inequality, you want to make this economy work for everyone, and on the other hand, say you want trade promotion authority so you can pass these NAFTA-style trade deals? It doesn’t make any sense."

Indeed. Additionally, Richard Eskow notes

Here are some of the words and phrases that did not appear in President Obama’s speech: “Wall Street,” “bank,” “regulation,” “fraud,” “settlement,” “investigation,” “too big to fail,” and “Glass-Steagall.” He didn’t mention the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Dodd/Frank financial reform bill. He didn’t discuss the cynical attempts to roll back financial reform in Congress – attempts that are supported by members of both parties – much less insist that those attempts be defeated.

Although the president discussed the economic plight of the majority of Americans, he made no mention of the financial industry’s central role in the devastating 2008 financial crisis, which made that plight so much worse. He talked of wage stagnation, but did not explore the financial industry’s role in the increasingly unjust economic redistribution of recent decades. Inequality doesn’t just happen. It’s produced by many forces, most of which either originate on Wall Street or are heavily influenced by it.

We can’t create a newer, fairer economy without talking about Wall Street. Building that economy begins with preventive measures. The last bank-fueled crisis robbed the nation of millions of jobs and trillions in wealth. Preventing the next crisis means stronger financial regulation, a breakup of the big banks, and rock-solid walls between customers’ money and bankers’ gambling funds.It also means prosecuting the fraudsters who helped perpetrate this crisis, no matter how prominent they may be in the banking community. There’s no sign that those prosecutions are imminent, even as the statute of limitations runs out.

On that score, it’s noteworthy that the president didn’t mention the enormous fines and settlements banks have paid in the past year as the result of the fraudulent behavior. Leaving aside the issue of whether those payments were sufficient, one would think the president might have touted them – if only as a modest first step. But they weren’t mentioned. Even JPMorgan Chase’s record payouts for fraud – $20 billion in a single year – went unremarked.

Some people, most notably the Senate Majority Leader, have been paying attention to what's going on with the American economy  Perhaps if they don't back off, President Obama can evolve on trade and the crimes of the banking industry as he has on the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and the need to raise the minimum wage. But probably not.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014


Perception is reality, some say. Actually, perception isn't reality, or they would call it "reality."  Still, none other than the third ranking Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-Wall Street), apparently does believe perception and reality are synonymous.

All through the media- sports and otherwise- one hears references to the Super Bowl (or "The Big Game") as being in New York, even to be played in New York (or, more specifically, New York City).Accordingly, Blue Jersey has caught Schumer tweeting a welcome to the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, and the worldwide media to "the greatest city on earth."

As a New Jersey resident, I say: Bravo, Senator Schumer.  It's time East Rutherford is recognized as the greatest city on earth. Or given that East Rutherford (where the game Sunday will be played) is a suburb, perhaps Schumer meant Jersey City, NJ, where the organizations of the Broncos and Seahawks are being sheltered.

But if Chuck Schumer really was referring to New York City as "the greatest city on earth," perhaps he should explain why (choose one):  a) NYC had been conducting a racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk program; b) NYC had to conduct stop-and-frisk of some sort; or c) both.  It's a great city for Schumer's pals in the financial industry to make millions, not so good for some of the others who have to live there.

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It's Not Just Speech Anymore

In an old and tired cliche- repeated here at your home of old and tired cliches- we hear "you can't yell fire in a crowded theater."

Tell that to Emily Bazelon, Slate senior editor and Truman Capote fellow at Yale Law School... and also to the Supreme Court. The latter, having heard McCullen v. Coakley, is expected to overturn a Massachusetts law which requires abortion protestors to remain outside the "buffer zone" of 35 feet from a clinic's front entrance.mandates 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics.

Bazelon explains

The purpose of the 35-foot buffer zone is to keep clinic entrances “open and clear of all but essential foot traffic, in light of more than two decades of compromised facility access and public safety,” Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley argued in her brief defending the law. The state and the abortion providers say they still need the 35-foot buffer zone for the safety of patients. Otherwise the strip of sidewalk outside a clinic turns into a kind of “1-yard line,” with one group pushing its way through the crowd to get in the end zone, and the other trying to prevent them from doing so. Massachusetts has a history of violent demonstrations to back up its lawmakers’ 2007 decision to create the buffer zone, including multiple shootings at two abortion facilities in 1994.

She argues, however

The problem with the state’s argument is that peaceful demonstrators like Eleanor McCullen are not rushing linebackers. They’re using their voices, not their bodies. Maybe the state could draft a narrower statute that only applied to more belligerent protesters, but it’s not clear how that would work, since we already have laws that protect patients and clinic staff from physical harassment and intimidation, and make it a crime to obstruct entry. No abortion protesters in Massachusetts have been prosecuted under those laws, according to the argument Wednesday.

Except that sometimes they are using their bodies.  In an amici curiae brief filed to describe life before buffer zones at a Boston abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood wrote (p. 13)

Protesters attempted to force literature into the hands of unwilling recipients. Other protesters at the Boston Facility wore Boston Police Department hats and shirts and stationed themselves, carrying clipboards, at the garage entrance. They demanded contact information from people trying to get into the building. These protesters persisted in this intimidating and deceptive conduct despite several arrests. When it rained, “umbrella wars” erupted, with protesters using umbrellas to “knock [volunteer patient] escorts out of the way.” Protesters spit at escorts while they were assisting patients to the Facility entrance. The area in front of the pedestrian entrance of the Boston Facility was still a free-for-all...

For Jackson, Mississippi clinic (photo, below) escort/defender Lori Gregory-Garrott as for others, it's not about being called "baby killer' or "murderer" or "the devil" or even of photographs taken of clinic employees and patients.  It's about physical intimidation and, similar to crying fire in that metaphorical theatre, the safety and security of individuals.  In July, Gregory-Garrott wrote on her blog, The Last Abortion Clinic

In the beginning of the day I’m a parking attendant. We have precious few spaces at the clinic and they all must be used exactly correctly or the antis will call in a report to the Health Department stating the clinic is breaking standards. So, I usher cars into spaces as tightly as I can—despite the fact that the women driving them are usually not in their best mental state. When the parking at the clinic gets full, we have no choice but to lead them to another public lot down the hill from the clinic. When this happens, usually one or two escorts run down the hill and walk the patient into the clinic. I affectionately call this “Running the Gauntlet,” because once we step off clinic property, we are fair game. The antis chase us to the woman’s car and try to get in between her and us. They will stand outside the car so she cannot open her door. And we cannot do a thing. We are taught to “not engage.” And we keep this rule regularly. But there are days when “not engaging” isn’t something I can do.

Bazelon, a noted pro-choice advocate and critic of so-called "pregnancy crisis centers," sees a free speech issue. But as Amanda Marcotte notes and the photo from Brendan Smialowski below demonstrates, 35 feet isn't really far away. As a liberal/progressive (one very familiar with abortion controversies), Bazelon- graduate of a Quaker high school in Philadelphia- may believe all pro-life protestors play nice, not unlike the pro-choice crowd.  But it just isn't so.They are convinced (notwithstanding the evidence) that abortion is murder- and murder is condemned, most famously, in the best-seller of all best-sellers, which they believe justifies almost any tactic.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bipartisan As Always

The mainstream media has failed, thankfully.   Keen on convincing Americans that lack of bipartisanship in Washington can be attributed to both major political parties equally, the public has instead seen through the maze of confusion sewn by the Fourth Estate.   In a poll taken by the Pew Research Center in which 21 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrats, and 41 percent as independents

Asked to chose which party was more extreme in its positions, 54 percent of Americans picked the GOP, while 35 percent selected the Democrats. On the question of who was more willing to work with the other party, 52 percent pegged the Democrats, and 27 percent deemed Republicans more bipartisan.

Gee, why would that be? In only the latest answer to an easy question, Talking Points Memo reports

On Tuesday, the Obama administration confirmed it was pulling back a judicial nominee in Florida after it became apparent that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would not allow a vote, even though the nominee was originally his own recommendation. But Rubio isn't the only Republican senator holding up a judicial nominee he previously supported.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is also refusing to advance Jennifer May-Parker, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, though Burr previously put May-Parker forward for the post.

In a July 2009 letter to the White House, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post, Burr recommended May-Parker for the slot and described her as having "the requisite qualifications to serve with distinction."

Obama formally submitted her nomination to the Senate in June 2013. But May-Parker hasn’t moved since because Burr is withholding his "blue slip" to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- a de-facto rule in the committee that allows a senator to advance or block a nominee for his or her home state. Fellow North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has submitted her blue slip.

Burr hasn't said why he's holding up May-Parker, and there is urgency to the delay: The North Carolina judicial seat, empty since 2005, is the longest-standing district court vacancy in the country. May-Parker would also make history, if confirmed, as the first African-American district judge in the 44-county Eastern District.

A request for comment from Burr’s office was not returned.

Rubio had also been using his blue slip privilege to block the nomination of William Thomas. The irony was that Rubio had recommended Thomas to President Barack Obama in late 2012, for the long-vacant slot on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Rubio's office insisted the senator's change of heart on Thomas was based on questions about his "judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences." If he had been confirmed, Thomas would have made history as the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge.

These efforts are not as widespread as GOP efforts to avoid providing American citizens health insurance, but they are emblematic of the obstructionism the Democratic Party, and especially its centrist President, has faced for almost exactly five years. In what was first revealed by Carl Cannon and Tom Bevan in November 2011, the following year The Huffington Post explained 

As President Barack Obama was celebrating his inauguration at various balls, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington.

The event -- which provides a telling revelation for how quickly the post-election climate soured -- serves as the prologue of Robert Draper's much-discussed and heavily-reported new book, "Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives."

According to Draper, the guest list that night (which was just over 15 people in total) included Republican Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Pete Sessions (Texas), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.), along with Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Ensign (Nev.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). The non-lawmakers present included Newt Gingrich, several years removed from his presidential campaign, and Frank Luntz, the long-time Republican wordsmith. Notably absent were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- who, Draper writes, had an acrimonious relationship with Luntz.

For several hours in the Caucus Room (a high-end D.C. establishment), the book says they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama's legislative platform.

"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority," Draper quotes McCarthy as saying. "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."

The conversation got only more specific from there, Draper reports.

As was true roughly 2400 years ago, so it is now (cartoon, undated, from Steve Sack of Star Tribune of Minneapolis) that "What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

and Pete Seeger (5/13/19-1/27/14):

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Revolution Has Been Postponed

It is, as they say, the "takeaway:"  85 people in the world own more than the poorest half of the world's population.

But the briefing paper from Oxfam examines other important trends, such as

Rich people are pulling further away from everyone else in terms of wealth in many countries. The World Top Incomes Database covers 26 countries, with information on the share of pre-tax income going to therichest one percent since the 1980s.  In all but two countries (Colombia and the Netherlands), the share of income of the richest percentile increased – and in Colombia, it stayed at around 20 percent. The richest one percent of people in China, Portugal, and the US have more than doubled their share of national income since 1980, and the situation is getting worse.

The following two graphs (both from Oxfam) indicate, respecively, that the percentage increase in the share of income going to the richest one percent in the USA has risen approximately 140% from 1980 to 2012, and at an even faster rate in the past four years than in the previous twenty-eight.

The Oxfam authors, as displayed below, have found a strong correlation between financial deregulation and income share of the top 1%.

This is of little concern at this year's annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where we read

“It used to be just bankers that were bashed,” the chief executive of a large European consumer goods company said with a sigh after coming out of his morning trance. He spoke on condition of anonymity, perhaps not wanting to seem as if he was complaining. “Now it’s all of us.”

Oh, how frightful. David Atkins remarks

If the Davos crowd wants to keep the current order that has made them so wealthy, they need to work on making it fairer for everyone. That means not just making it easier for a few lucky poor people to become rich, but also vastly improving the lives of all those in the poor and middle class who don't hit the lucky jackpot. Otherwise, sooner or later the current order will be replaced--peacefully or otherwise--with something better that actually provides results.

If only.  Robert Reich identifies three reasons there is no revolution in the USA, why there isn't "more of a ruckus."  As jobs and wages are lost, economic insecurity has grown, resulting in a working class "paralyzed with fear."  With the decline of unions, the major means of workers organizing and protecting themselves has all but disappeared.

Students, Reich recalls, were a major force of social change in decades past but now are laden with debt and face a daunting job market and therefore "don't want to make a ruckus." Further, the American public generally "has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible" (and no doubt want to steer clear of a "ruckus"),

There are other factors, including a lingering belief in get-rich-quick schemes, now known as "lotteries" and "gambling" (more disingenuously, "gaming").  While some workers believe that, someday, they may get lucky and strike it rich, even more workers buy into the myth, sans adequate wages or benefits, that they are part of a "team."  Author Edward McClelland describes a tour given by retired United Steelworkers official "Oil Can Eddie" Sadlowski in which

In the parking lot of the ironworkers’ hall, I noticed that most of the apprentices were driving brand-new pickup trucks — Dodge Rams with swollen hoods and quarter panels, a young man’s first purchase with jackpot union wages. Meanwhile, I knew college graduates who earned $9.50 an hour as editorial assistants, or worked in bookstores for even less. None seemed interested in forming a union. So I asked Sadlowski why white-collar workers had never embraced the labor movement as avidly as blue-collar workers.

“The white-collar worker has kind of a Bob Cratchit attitude,” he explained. “He feels he’s a half-step below the boss. The boss says, ‘Call me Harry.’ He feels he’s made it. You go to a shoe store, they got six managers. They call everybody a manager, but they pay ’em all shit.”

Sometimes all it takes is a title, as with this fellow:

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pretty Something, But Not Great

There are a 2:38 video (below) and a :31 second television commercial (further below) for the Honda Civic, called "Today is Pretty Great."  David Atkins of Hullabaloo and the Ventura County (CA) Democratic Committee comments

Let's be clear: this is a perfect distillation of the message that corporate executives and the politicians who feed out of their hands are peddling to Millennials everywhere. And it's bullshit.

No. Today is not great. Today is terrible. All the petty personal freedoms to dress up funny, grow funny facial hair, watch funny videos online and do silly things doesn't make up for the fact that jobs are less available than ever, wealth is more concentrated than ever in fewer hands than ever, wages are lower than ever, and the climate is spinning out of control.

Let's be clear: this is a perfect distillation of the message that corporate executives and the politicians who feed out of their hands are peddling to Millennials everywhere. And it's bullshit.

No. Today is not great. Today is terrible. All the petty personal freedoms to dress up funny, grow funny facial hair, watch funny videos online and do silly things doesn't make up for the fact that jobs are less available than ever, wealth is more concentrated than ever in fewer hands than ever, wages are lower than ever, and the climate is spinning out of control.

In the article (summarized here in The New York Times) he wrote for the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Miles Corak graphically displays The Great Gatsby curve (below), in which "countries with greater inequality of incomes also tend to be countries in which a greater fraction of economic advantage and disadvantage is passed on between parents and their children."    He found more income inequality in the USA than in the UK, Italy, Australia,France, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Norway,Denmark, Finalnd, or Sweden.  And not coincidentally, there is less mobility across the generations n the USA than in each of these countries except the UK and Italy.

Jaime Dimon, however, is doing just fine. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the board of directors of JP Morgan Chase

gave the bank’s chairman and CEO a 74% raise. Compensation for 2013: $20 million. Now true, that’s a mere fraction of the $23 billion in fines the bank incurred in the same year for a variety of criminal and civil offenses. The cost of doing business one supposes.

And as far as his board of directors are concerned, Dimon, has been conducting business just fine. Didn’t he play the leading role in negotiating the settlements? Without his sure hand and charismatic personality, the fines could have been even bigger. He actually saved the company money, not to mention presiding over another boffo year of profits. And he only gets half of the $49.9 million he got in 2007 –  just prior to the entire financial system going down the tubes.

Forgotten, it seems, is the list of JP Morgan’s crimes and misdemeanors on Dimon’s watch — mortgage fraud, insurance fraud, illegal billing, kickbacks, manipulating California’s energy market, rigging the Libor benchmark interest rate, turning a blind eye to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme; and who could forget the London Whale? Shouldn’t there be another price to pay?

So for some, today is "pretty great" as long as, Atkins points out, "you can take selfies, watch Nyan cat, grow out a beard, dress up like a comic book character, maybe get fifteen minutes of fame on Youtube, put on a virtual reality mask and volunteer for causes."

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Republican Media- No. 39

Politico always has been one of the media organs most aggressively pushing the "on the one hand and on the other hand" meme.  On Thursday, January 16, Dylan Byers didn't disappoint when he wrote

Back in May 2012, five months before the presidential election, Fox News produced and aireda four-minute video attacking President Obama. The decision to create an attack advertisement was seen as so ethically questionable that, after criticism even from conservatives, Fox News issued a rare statement clarifying that the video "was not authorized at the senior executive level."

On Wednesday night, MSNBC's Lawrence O’Donnell produced and aired an anti-Chris Christie ad (above) and offered ideas for future ads that could be used against the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.

"I wrote that ad in a few minutes,” O'Donnell told viewers. “I was just sitting there listening to him, just grabbed those quotes and wrote it. You can do this at home, it’s easy.”

We've reached out to MSNBC for comment regarding their decision to produce and air the advertisement. We will update here if and when we hear back.

Notwithstanding the title of the piece, "MSNBC Creates, then Airs, Anti-Christie Ad," there is no evidence the network itself produced the hypothetical campaign spot (video, below). Before going to commercial O'Donnell, who is a veteran television writer and producer, remarked

Chris Christie has already written the attack ads that his opponents will use against him when he runs for president. I actually took some of Chris Christie`s own words from his press conference last week and produced a perfectly respectable fake attack ad against Chris Christie which I will show you in tonight`s rewrite. You are not going to believe how easy it is to do this. And yes, you can try it at home.

Immediately before running the ad, O'Donnell stated "I wrote this commercial while Chris Christie was actually still doing his press conference."

Unless O'Donnell is lying, he himself wrote the commercial. Compare that with the way Fox News rolls, as described by the author of "The Loudest Voice in the Room." Asked by Chris Hayes why Fox News is so successful, Gabriel Sherman explained

One simple answer, Roger Ailes. He starts in everything (sic) with the network starts with him. It is a completion reflection of his world. He has two meetings a day, where he comes in, monologues about the news, gives his take on the headlines and that radiates through the building, from the daytime news shows to the pundits at night. Everything works together. It`s one cohesive package. At other networks, shows do their own thing. Different points of views. Fox, even with different hosts, it`s essentially one 24-hour product that`s packaged by Roger Ailes.

Five days after O'Donnell's piece, on January 20 MSNBC's Chris Matthews took a different tack than had his colleague, editorializing

The fact of the matter is that this case will proceed and will be judged not by the politics, but by the facts as they come to light. If it is found that the governor has set up a political operation that turned on punishing rivals and holdouts while favoring friends, the question then will be whether the tough-guy tactics crossed the line into criminality.

Certain hosts, including O'Donnell, on MSNBC have come down hard on the ruthless, incompetent governor.  Not so Matthews, for whom the standard is criminality. if Christie's tactics have not "crossed the line into criminality," he will be "exonerated,"  an awfully low bar for the governor of a state. But Dylan Byers evidently thinks MSNBC is run like Fox News.  While he first attributed production of the ad to Lawrence O'Donnell, he then refers to the network and "their decision to produce and air the advertisement."  It is a slick sleight-of-hand and a nefarious means of implying that management of MSNBC maintains the same control over that network's hosts as Roger Ailes does over his own.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

And For Youth, Presidential Silence

Barack Obama is not stupid.  He knows not to say he doesn't like apple pie, believes Christmas should not be a national holiday, or think banks should be nationalized. (For a long time he knew not to say he supports same-sex marriage. Then Joe Biden gave him religion.)   Even saying he's from Kenya or is really a Muslim probably would be less damaging politically.  He knows not to get between parents and the sports their offspring play.

That's probably why he left something out in his interview for the 1/27/14 edition of The New Yorker when he told The New Yorker's David Remnick, who wrote "On and Off the Road with Barack Obama"

At one point on the trip from Andrews Air Force Base to Seattle, I was invited up front for a conversation. Obama was sitting at his desk watching the Miami Dolphins–Carolina Panthers game. Slender as a switch, he wore a white shirt and dark slacks; a flight jacket was slung over his high-backed leather chair. As we talked, mainly about the Middle East, his eyes wandered to the game. Reports of multiple concussions and retired players with early-onset dementia had been in the news all year, and so, before I left, I asked if he didn’t feel at all ambivalent about following the sport. He didn’t.

“I would not let my son play pro football,” he conceded. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”

Good luck with that, fellow, barring your mythical 21-year-old son (his likely age upon being eligible for the NFL draft) from going into the NFL. It's likely that the prospect of a contract for a few million, or even a few hundred thousand, dollars will trump your advice.

An individual entering the National Football League, with skill, hard work, and some luck, can be on the precipice of earning money to make himself fabulously rich.  Surely, he is a young adult who, along the way, may be headed toward a head injury (video from ESPN from a few years ago, below) with major, long-term repercussions. But advice from an older adult will not deter him from pursuing his life-long dream of doing for a living what he enjoys and being able to provide very handsomely for himself, his family, and his heirs at the same time, thank you very much.

Efforts at reducing head injuries in the NFL, at times encouraged and at other times resisted by the NFL, need to intensify.  So does research, which as PBS' Frontline last spring reported, the league has been prone to suppress.  But professional football players are just that- professionals- as well as adults, beyond the reach of in loco parentis.   Dr. Anna McKee, director of neuropathology at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bedford, Massachusetts, has studied the brains of dozens of deceased football players for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)   A portion of her interview with Frontline (video, here; applicable portion begins at 37:31) for League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis follows ("Q:" added):

Q: If you had children who were 8 and 10 and 12, would they play football?

Eight, 10, 12? No, they would not.

Q: Why?

Because the way football is being played currently, that I've seen, it's dangerous. It's dangerous, and it could impact their long-term mental health. You only get one brain. The thing you want your kids to do most of all is succeed in life and be everything they can be. And if there's anything that may infringe on that, that may limit that, I don't want my kids doing it.

Q: High school OK?

You know, I just don't feel like I'm in a position to say anything is OK right now. I'm not going to -- I'm not even sure about high school football, even well-managed high school football. We see this in some high schoolers. Let's figure out what this is and how to prevent it, and then I'll say we should all be playing football

Q: College?

I have a lot of college football players in my Brain Bank with CTE.

I don't think it's just a disease of professional players. That's what I'm saying. You know, we've seen it- I don't know where the counts are now, but I've seen it in a number of college-level players. Now, what distinguishes that player from the player who doesn't get it, that's what we need to know. That's what we need to know tomorrow so we can prevent this in college and younger players.

While President Obama recognizes the danger concussions present for pro football players, he does not publicly address the greater danger head injuries pose for younger people.  Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston university School of Medicine maintains "The young child is particularly vulnerable to head injury.... We believe that kids under the age of 14 should not play college sports as they are currently played. We believe they should not be playing tackle football."  (As, thankfully, fewer now seem to be.) While the NFL has instituted rules changes to reduce the incidence of such injury, children throughout the country but heads and dream of the glory of a professional football career.  If Barack Obama- who has stood for elective office for the last time- wants to display a little courage and have a lasting impact on the lives of future generations, he can applaud Dr. McKee's remarks and remind parents that youthful football players are more at risk of brain injury than are professionals.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In A World With No Race

Back in the relatively early days of radio, when AM radio was king with its playlist of pop music, it was common to hear "the hits keep on coming" (or a variant).  And they still do, except now, it's Sarah Palin (photo below from CNN, with John McCain as latter concedes 2008 presidential race) and often with her Facebook page, where on Monday she posted

Happy MLK, Jr. Day!

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card.

Being fact-challenged, Palin didn't specify what set her off. But we do know President Obama is quoted for a January 27 profile in The New Yorker as stating

There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,  Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President...

It is especially likely the ex- half term governor was exorcised about this remark precisely because it is, clearly, accurate.  And balanced- in fact, fair and balanced.

Unwilling to face reality, many conservatives desperately want to be seen as color-blind, either as a cover for extremist, retrograde policies which disproportionately harm minorities or because they actually see color-blindness as a virtue.  Are they trying to deceive the electorate- or do they really believe it themselves?  If the latter, they should heed Ian Haney-Lopez, author of "Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class," who writes

“Is your baby racist?” The question blared from the cover of Newsweek Magazine in September 2009, eight months after the inauguration of the nation’s first black president. The accompanying story reported on several recent studies showing that young children not only notice race, they repeat painful stereotypes. In one study, a researcher recruited roughly 100 families from Austin, Texas; all of the families were white, with children between the ages of five and seven. When the children were asked how many white people were “mean,” they commonly answered “almost none.” But when asked how many blacks were mean, many answered “some” or “a lot.” The thrust of the article seemed to be that children possess racial biases. 

However eye-catching the title, though, it pointed in the wrong direction—at infants and little children rather than adults. The core of the article focused on parenting strategies, and especially on the desire to raise children to be colorblind—to be blind to race. The parents were not teaching their children to be bigots. Instead, they were doing their utmost to teach their children to reject racism by studiously ignoring race. Yet, even in a liberal bastion like Austin, it wasn’t working.

Today the dominant etiquette around race is colorblindness. It has a strong moral appeal, for it laudably envisions an ideal world in which race is no longer relevant to how we perceive or treat each other. It also has an intuitive practical appeal: to get beyond race, colorblindness urges, the best strategy is to immediately stop recognizing and talking about race. But it is especially as a strategy that colorblindness fails its liberal adherents. We cannot will ourselves to un-see something that we’ve already seen. In turn, refusing to talk about a powerful social reality doesn’t make that reality go away, but it does leave confused thinking unchallenged, in ourselves and in others. The Austin children exemplify this. Differences in race—including physical variation and its connection to social position—resemble differences in gender: they are plainly visible to new minds eager to make sense of the world around them. When unexplained, however, children (and our unconscious minds) are left susceptible to the power of stereotypes. As the Newsweek authors conclude, “children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue— but we tell kids that ‘pink’ means for girls and ‘blue’ is for boys. ‘White’ and ‘black’ are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own.”

An effort, then, to block out race from our consciousness- to pretend it doesn't exist- can help implant notions of inherent racial superiority,  the classic, and accurate, definition of racism.  (Stephen Colbert, sarcastically: "I don't see race.)  To acknowledge race as a factor is not to play "the race card."  

Conservatives are apoplectic about Obama recognizing that race oftentimes plays a role in perception of his performance and disinterested in the President remarking

I think it’s important for progressives not to dismiss out of hand arguments against my presidency or the Democratic Party or Bill Clinton or anybody just because there’s some overlap between those criticisms and the criticisms that traditionally were directed against those who were trying to bring about greater equality for African-Americans.

The hits keep on coming: Barack Obama as Kenyan or Muslim or, even more absurdly, a socialist. Add to it the charge that he is a racist or prone to playing the race card.

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Confusing Kwanzaa and Hanukkah

In his annual war on the "war on Christmas," Fox News' Bill O'Reilly accurately noted Macy's department store promotes Santa Claus as emblematic of the holiday. Then, however, he wrote

What holiday is Santa celebrating? Winter solstice, the birthday of a reindeer -- what? On the national front, there are three primary culprits seeking to diminish Christmas, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association. The most aggressive is the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which routinely threatens to sue small towns and school districts if they dare utter the word "Christmas" or allow choirs to sing carols in public schools.

O'Reilly leads the cable network's war on the War on Christmas while some of his colleagues exploit Christianity to cloak an anti-Obama, anti-liberal bias without rational basis, reflecting the perspective of founder and chairman Roger Ailes.

In his highly critical "The Loudest Voice in the Room," Gabriel Sherman describes one of the earliest exchanges between Ailes and fellow Putnam County and Garrison, NY resident Gordon Stewart, revelatory of the (sarcasm alert) tolerance of the the most powerful person in television news:

In 2005, after living many years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Stewart and his wife bought a place in Garrison. They looked forward to watching their young adopted daughter run in the backyard and swim in their pool. Stewart often dropped by Pete’s Hometown Grocery on Main Street to pick up a copy of the PCN&R. Reading the articles each week, he did not at first see glaring signs of right-wing agitprop. He especially liked the paper’s tough coverage of a contract dispute at the local school board. Shortly after Stewart gave a quote to the PCN&R criticizing the Garrison school, he bumped into Ailes in Manhattan at lunchtime at Michael’s, a restaurant frequented by media executives. “We gotta get together on this, that school sucks!” Ailes said to him.

“What’s your problem with it?” Stewart said.

“There’s no Christ child on the lawn at Christmastime!” Ailes said. “They have all this fucking Kwanzaa stuff, they have this Hanukkah shit, and you can’t even get Jesus! They think it’s illegal. You can’t show any flags. So I’m not sending our kid there.” As Stewart turned to leave, Ailes told him to stay in touch. “Call me,” he said.

Ailes evidently, colloquially speaking, has had it up to here with Kwanzaa and Hanukah.   Kwanzaa was born not of historical events or theological yearning and thus appears gradually to be passing into oblivion. Alas, he will not be as lucky with Hanukkah.   Asbury Theological Seminary professor Craig S. Keener explained the holiday's connection to Christianity through the latter's raison d'etre, Jesus Christ:

John's Gospel reports Jesus regularly traveling to Jerusalem for Jewish festivals, affirming his Jewish identity and continuity with his heritage. Although this Gospel focuses on major biblical festivals such as Passover (Pesach) and Tabernacles (Sukkot), it also reports that Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication -- Hanukkah...

although John's interest in festivals is more extensive, the earlier Gospels also report Jesus celebrating Passover. Jesus keeping festivals was not invented by later Gentile Christians, and it is intrinsically likely historically, barring evidence to the contrary, that Jesus did in fact observe the festivals observed by most other Galileans and Judeans. Despite John's theological interest, then, his account may also tell us something about Jesus' practice. Indeed, even the reported setting of Jesus' visit to the temple for Hanukkah fits: winter could be cool in the Judean hill country, including in Jerusalem; thus Jesus was walking in the colonnaded area of Solomon's portico, sheltered from the wind. (Romans destroyed Jerusalem a quarter century before the probable time when John wrote his Gospel, so this setting was not likely an idea simply invented in his own day.)

Keener comments

We might not always agree on the meaning of Jesus' participation in Jewish festivals, but we can agree that Jesus honored these traditions of his people. For Christians, this model should invite an appreciation for Jewish tradition. Jesus offers a bridge between what has historically evolved into two separate faiths, and an opportunity for deeper reconciliation and mutual appreciation.

It's unsurprising that "offering a bridge between what has historically evolved into two separate faiths" is an alien concept to an individual (photo and caption below from Media Matters) who, as someone in the know reportedly remarked, "has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim -- which is consistent with the ideology of his network."  Nor is it surprising coming from the king of GOP TV.  What I'm doing posting about this topic a month after Christmas and almost two months after Hanukkah, however, is less easily explained.

"I've been kicked out of every damn church I"ve belonged to," Zev Chafets quotes Ailes in his admiring, authorized biography.  Chafets writes "It is a buccaneer's boast, meant to convey a hard-core irreverence."

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's The 1%

On Thursday, David Brooks was exorcised about emphasis on socio-economic inequality rather than "mobility (and) individual and family aspiration."  He hasn't noticed that it's primarily those who address the issue of inequality who propose policies and programs pertaining to mobility and individual and family aspiration.  He claims

Fourth, the income inequality frame needlessly polarizes the debate. There is a growing consensus that government should be doing more to help increase social mobility for the less affluent. Even conservative Republicans are signing on to this. The income inequality language introduces a class conflict element to this discussion...

Some on the left have always tried to introduce a more class-conscious style of politics. These efforts never pan out. America has always done better, liberals have always done better, when we are all focused on opportunity and mobility, not inequality, on individual and family aspiration, not class-consciousness.

Paul Krugman responded by noting that Brooks was misleading readers by focusing on the top 5%, rather than the top 1%, of the income distribution and offered the table below from economists Piketty and Saez:

The Nobel Prize-winning economist explains

If you look at the bottom 4 percent of the top 5, you see good but not spectacular income gains. These are the kinds of gains that you might be able to explain in terms of skills, assortative mating, and so on. But the top 1 percent is in a different universe altogether. And in fact the gains within the top 1 percent are concentrated in an even smaller group: this is a Pareto distribution thing, in which the higher the income the greater the percentage gains. 

Without directly pointing his finger at his New York Times' colleague, Krugman recognized that Brooks was fronting for the Masters of the Universe in the commercial and business capital of the world.   He remarks "using wider definitions than the one percent is, in effect, diluting the wolves of Wall Street by lumping them in with the upper middle class. Not the same story at all."  Ironically, Brooks himself was waging class warfare.

Brooks also engages in a sort of class warfare when he accurately cites "no jobs for young men" as a serious problem while neglecting low wages.   As of August (according to the Social Security Administration), fully 40% of all U.S. workers were earning less than $10.74, what the 1968 minimum wage of $1.60 per hour would be in today's dollars.  If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation since the late 1960s, it would have been $10.52 per hour in 2012; if it had kept pace with productivity since 1960, it would have been $21.72 in 2012.

But Brooks' most entertaining, if completely subjective, claim is that the U.S.A. and liberals always have done better when eschewing class-based politics.  This was put to the test, however, several decades ago, when a fellow maintained "These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power."   He stated additionally

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor — other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

The previous year he had noted

Great accumulations of wealth cannot be justified on the basis of personal and family security.  In the last analysis such accumulations amount to the perpetuation of great and undesirable concentration of control in a relatively few individuals over the employment and welfare of many, many others.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt won four terms aided by such rhetoric of "class consciousness," which exceeds what even socialist/Independent Bernie Sanders could say today.  And America did fine, too.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Taking A Flyer, Or Not.


That could be a baby or a sexual act, but in this case it is  S1881,  an attempt of some United States Senators to kill the baby in the crib.

Section 301 of the Nuclear Weapon-Free Iran Act of 2013, sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois, clearly is aimed at sabotaging P5+1 negotiators in their effort to stem Iran's uranium enrichment program.  Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and Bloomberg News, who describes himself as "someone with hawkish views about the Iranian nuclear program," believes the "impetus" behind the legislation is "Additional sanctions might soon prove to be necessary during these negotiations, if the Iranians resist the demands of Western interlocutors to dismantle important components of their nuclear program."

Goldberg maintains, further, "there is a high likelihood that the negotiations that will soon commence in Geneva will not succeed."  He notes "Iranian leaders say they will quit talks if additional sanctions are enacted. I don't quite believe that- the regime has agreed to negotiations not because it wants to give up its nuclear ambitions, but because it needs sanctions relief in order to revive its economy. It will be difficult for Iran to quit these negotiations entirely."  Still

at least in the short term, negotiations remain the best way to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. And U.S. President Barack Obama cannot be hamstrung in discussions by a group of senators who will pay no price for causing the collapse of negotiations between Iran and the P5 + 1, the five permanent members of the security council, plus Germany. “You have a large group of senators who are completely discounting the views of the administration, the actual negotiators, the rest of the P5 + 1, the intelligence community and almost every Iran analyst on earth,” said Colin Kahl, who, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East during Obama’s first term, was responsible for preparing all of the options that the President says are still on the table.

And that isn't all.  Goldberg explains

precipitous Senate action will embolden Tehran’s hardliners, buttressing their “Great Satan” narrative. Kahl said that Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would find themselves in a corner: “Even if the talks don’t collapse, Rouhani and Zarif will have to bargain and negotiate with even more toughness because they will have to defend themselves against hardliners who will argue that they got suckered.”

It seems like just yesterday that foreign policy analysts, pundits, and politicians, were raising the specter of a nuclear-armed regime in Tehran largely because of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   The name of Ahmadinejad, who advocated the replacement of Israel with a Palestinian state, became nearly synonymous with his most wish that the Jewish state be "wiped off the map."

But Iranian presidents are term-limited and three candidates stood for election to the position. Shortly before the vote, the Guardian (from which the photograph below is taken) described the eventual- and unexpected- 65 year old winner Hassan Rouhani as

the only cleric among the eight candidates, but (who) is seen as a pro-reform moderate figure expected to win the support of the country's reformers. He is a former chief Iranian nuclear negotiator who served as the secretary of Iran's supreme national security council for 16 years. Under the former president Mohammad Khatami's presidency, Rouhani was responsible for negotiating with the west over Tehran's nuclear dossier. Under Rouhani, Iran halted its enrichment of uranium and showed more cooperation with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Organisation. He is keen to transform Iran's damaged relations with the west. 

Rouhani, whose campaign slogan had been "moderation and wisdom," promptly set as a priority a deal on Iran's nuclear program.   And The Nation reported that this month

in close coordination with the P5+1 and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran will begin concrete implementation of the November 24 accord. That is when Tehran will freeze its stockpiles of low-enriched, fuel-grade uranium, halt the installation of new centrifuges and refrain from using any of its already installed advanced units, begin to neutralize its medium-enriched uranium by converting it into a form unsuitable for further refinement, freeze development on its heavy-water reactor in the town of Arak, and accept stepped-up, more intrusive daily inspections of its entire program.

As Goldberg posits, no lasting, viable agreement is probable.  But the bill pushed by the Senate extemists would make a settlement less, and war more, likely.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

That Much Is True: There Is No Guarantee He's Telling The Truth

On the blog of Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg so generously concedes "a complete investigation of the (George Washington) bridge fiasco is well-warranted."  But he maintains also

given the governor’s immediate reaction to the personal crisis that has engulfed him, it isn’t too soon to wonder when the accusations and media frenzy crossed the line from inquiry and investigation to political lynching.

I said I initially assumed that Christie had some knowledge of the plan to tie up traffic in Fort Lee that has caused so much outrage. But after the governor’s news conference, in which he was so definitive in his denials — and so dismissive of the charges when they aired initially, even mocking them by saying that he was the person who put the cones out on the road — I changed my mind.

Rothenberg admits "There is no guarantee that Christie is telling the truth."

But the governor’s performance was persuasive. There was no hemming and hawing, no uncomfortable pauses, no sense that he was parsing his words to make sure that he was answering a question without actually answering it.

There is no guarantee that Christie is telling the truth. But the governor's performance was persuasive. Rothenberg was played by Christie, who claimed "I've worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk, one that I think is well-deserved."

Rothenberg argues "He has developed a reputation for directness and blunt talk."  That has been displayed numerous times, as when he called a law student and former Navy SEAL "idiot" (video below).

But directness and blunt talk are not substitutes for honesty, in which the Governor repeatedly has fallen short.   Nine months ago, The New York Times reported

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey exaggerated when he declared that unforeseen costs to the state were forcing him to cancel the new train tunnel planned to relieve congested routes across the Hudson River, according to a long-awaited report by independent Congressional investigators.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, to be released this week, found that while Mr. Christie said that state transportation officials had revised cost estimates for the tunnel to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, the range of estimates had in fact remained unchanged in the two years before he announced in 2010 that he was shutting down the project. And state transportation officials, the report says, had said the cost would be no more than $10 billion.

Mr. Christie also misstated New Jersey’s share of the costs: he said the state would pay 70 percent of the project; the report found that New Jersey was paying 14.4 percent. And while the governor said that an agreement with the federal government would require the state to pay all cost overruns, the report found that there was no final agreement, and that the federal government had made several offers to share those costs.

It appears Christie lied- er, uh, "exaggerate" by about 56%.  And then there was the time when

Days after Governor Christie’s administration gave a Florida business a multi-million dollar contract to clean up after superstorm Sandy — a contract that bypassed normal competitive bidding procedures — the company contributed $50,000 to a Republican organization that played a crucial role in the governor’s 2009 run for office.

At least four other companies hired by New Jersey in the wake of Sandy have also opened their checkbooks to the Republican Governors Association, making donations totaling more than $110,000, according to disclosure forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Christie was vice chairman of the association when almost all the companies, including AshBritt — the Florida disaster-recovery firm that’s now drawing scrutiny for its pricing policies and use of politically connected lobbyists — made their donations, the IRS records show.

So Christie was completely in character when during his Bridgegate news conference he claimed

I don't remember ever meeting Mayor Sokolich in that -- certainly I never did in that context. I don't ever -- I'm sure I met him at some point in an event in Bergen County, but I have to tell you, until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a lineup.

Oops. The picture below- which ABC News found on the governor's own website- finds Christie about to pick Mayor Sokolich out of a lineup at an event pertaining to sick pay reform.

But Rothenberg is at his most noxious when equating scrutiny of Governor Christie to slavery. The New Jersey governor will be slaving away this January weekend- in Florida- at three events, two fundraisers and the other a meeting with major donors. After taking note of Christie's schedule, No More Mister Nice explains

If it doesn't involve conscience-shocking violence or the equivalent in brutality, it's not a lynching -- or a rape or slavery, for that matter. When the person perceived as a victim has power, status, high-powered lawyers, media defenders, and a future that involves due process, and has not suffered grievous physical harm or been summarily deprived of human rights, do not say the person is being raped or lynched or enslaved.

Hyperbole is gratifying, and sometimes entertaining.  But it would have been reasonable for the esteemed Mr. Rothenberg to wait, oh, at least a day into the investigations being launched by the NJ Assembly, the US Attorney's Office, and possibly the US Congress before chalking up to "partisan politics and pettiness"  disruption of transportation on a bridge leading into New York City on days including the anniversary of 9/11.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Schweitzer's Sin

Benjy Sarlin's profile of Brian Schweitzer (photo, below- but you knew that), who has strongly indicated he wants to run for the Democratic nomination for President, is intriguing on several levels.   Although some liberal/progressive Democrats- including at No More Mister Nice- are skeptical that he can (or should) be nominated. there is reason to like the former Montana governor.  One of them is

Schweitzer met Obama once. It didn’t go well.

In August 2009, the president traveled to Montana to deliver a speech touting health care reform. His efforts to transform the health care system were then under siege from the tea party movement, which warned of a European-style “government takeover” of health care and spread myths of federal “death panels” to execute the infirm. So Schweitzer raised a few eyebrows when he introduced Obama by declaring his unabashed love for Canada’s government-run health care program.

“Did you know that, just 300 miles north of here, did you know they offered universal health care 62 years ago?” he said. He praised Tommy Douglas, father of the country’s health program, who, he noted, was named in a TV poll the greatest Canadian in history – nine spots ahead of Wayne Gretzky.

Minutes later, the president used his own speech to declare, “I’m not in favor of a Canadian system, I’m not in favor of a British system, I’m not in favor of a French system. What we’ve said is, let’s find a uniquely American system.”

This wasn’t the only source of tension between the two men.

Schweitzer was concerned the emerging legislation would rely too heavily on expanding Medicaid, which he complained could prove too costly for states and give conservative governors room to undermine coverage. He wanted a strong public option, which Obama favored but the Senate would soon jettison to appease wavering Democrats. Schweitzer had campaigned on importing cheaper drugs from Canada (he personally bused seniors across the border to buy medicine) and wanted the government to negotiate lower prices, two policies that the White House rejected to secure alternative savings and pharmaceutical industry support.

After the speeches were over, Obama sat Schweitzer down for a private talk. According to Schweitzer, the president said his voice wasn’t helping the health care debate and asked him to step away. The White House, through a spokeswoman, disputed his account.

Schweitzer said he agreed to to tone down his attacks after their meeting. But he went on to engineer a series of confrontations with the Obama administration that highlighted his critique of the law.

His request for permission to sell drugs at Medicaid prices in Montana was rejected. He tried to get a waiver to turn Medicaid into a single payer system, modeled on Saskatchewan’s, for all Montanans. That idea was rejected, too. But he did build a small network of free clinics for state employees that pay doctors by the hour instead of by the procedure to lower expenses. So far, they’ve gone over pretty well.

It's not surprising that Brian Schweitzer doesn't get along well with Barack Obama; after all, his name isn't Chris Christie.  The President prefers governors who yell at teachers and block Medicaid expansion to those who want a single payer system which, presumably, would contrast extremely well with the Rube Goldberg contraption known as Obamacare.

Citing Schweitzer's traditional opposition to gun control and lukewarm approach to the environment, Sarlin suggests Schweitzer probably is targeting the vice-presidential, rather than presidential, nomination. He notes

On guns, Schweitzer now supports closing loopholes on background checks. But he still opposes an assault weapons ban. While Howard Dean managed to capture the progressive imagination with a matching “A” rating from the NRA, the issue is more emotionally raw in the post-Newtown era, and Schweitzer himself has expressed concern that it might disqualify him from national politics. 

Well, yes, it might disqualify him from national politics, though there are other reason(s) he's unlikely to gain the Democrats' nod in 2016 (more on that at a later date. Also, the last post.) And we might be reluctant to ascribe legitimacy to a Schweitzer run because he supports gun rights, though as a politician in Montana, any other stance likely would be disqualifying.

A President Schweitzer might be unwilling to limit the firearm carnage in America. The contrast would be startling, apparently, from a President who in his eulogy at the service for the victims of the massacre in Tucson, Arizona stated only this about the issue:

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "When I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

"Mistakes were made," President Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) said after it was revealed he sent arms to the murderous thugs in Tehran. "Terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding," an admirer, Barack Obama, said while he ignored the need to stem violence on America's streets.  Brian Schweitzer of Montana does not understand the need for sensible gun control now, but he may "evolve," as Obama apparently has with same-sex marriage. And after five years after an Obama presidency, we have this list of  firearms safety measures enacted:

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An American, Technically

The Daily Beast notes Justice Samuel Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann, once again unwitting made herself the internet’s Main Character on Tuesda...