Friday, October 31, 2014

Cheetos, Really?

Barack Obama must be the luckiest politician in America. When he ran for the state senate in Illinois, he successfully challenged the nominating petitions of all three of his opponents. In the primary for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, he faced off against a candidate engulfed in a personal scandal.  During the general election, his GOP opponent was forced to drop out because of a personal scandal, whereupon Obama had only to defeat the infamous Alan Keyes, an extremist who had been a Maryland resident until, oh, a few minutes earlier.  

We all know that as a presidential nominee, Obama merely had to defeat a Republican with such limited judgement as to believe that Sarah Palin would be qualified to become President in a pinch; as a candidate for re-election, he merely had to defeat a Republican with such limited judgement and irresponsibility as to put Paul Ryan a heartbeat from the presidency. (Admittedly, BO did have the good sense to select Joe Biden as his running-mate.)

Now, after Barack Obama has run his last race, the aggressively pro-immigrant "United We Dream" asks on its website that you "add your name to tell President Obama that we won't tolerate him choosing politics over the humanity of immigrants" because he has "further cemented his legacy as the #Deporter in Chief by delaying the usage of his executive authority to stop the extradition of millions of immigrants."  (Credit United We Dream for eschewing "undocumented workers" in favor of "immigrants"; not so much for failing to note no legal immigrant ever is deported.)

But while Barack Obama is unlikely ever to face the voters again, Hillary Clinton in all likelihood will.  Politico's Maggie Haberman observes Mrs.

Clinton, who has said she will decide on a White House run by early next year, has repeatedly been targeted by Dreamers since she re-emerged in politics as a campaign surrogate this fall. The activists are frustrated with President Barack Obama’s delay in taking executive action on immigration reforms, and they are pushing Clinton to be more outspoken on the issue.

And so President Obama's former Secretary of State gets heat from activists.  But, intentionally or otherwise, it's directed not only against her.  Haberman reports

Hillary Clinton was heckled repeatedly during a rally Thursday in potential 2016 rival Martin O’Malley’s home state of Maryland, when more than a dozen pro-immigrant activists staggered their protests so they lasted throughout most of her speech.

The rolling protests by members of the group United We Dream came during a rally at the University of Maryland for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. They also came nearly a week after so-called Dreamers interrupted Clinton’s speech in North Carolina, where she was campaigning for Sen. Kay Hagan; the activists reportedly said they were mishandled by officials at that rally when they were being led out.

The group, frustrated by President Obama's policies, protests Hillary Clinton and, for no extra charge, undermines Democratic gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates.    It's par for the course, though, liberals flocking to the polls (as for Barack Obama, twice) for the Democratic presidential nominee, then lifting not a finger in off-year elections.  Better  to take the advice of Lena Dunham In a video, directed to young women, the actress created to support Planned Parenthood's Action Fund's Women Are Watching Campaign. Beginning at 2:35, she advises

I used to think that all that mattered was to vote for Obama and go back to eating Cheetos and reading gossip magazines.  But the fact is the mid-term elections matter. This is how you keep sexist health care policies from passing.  This is how you keep sexist politicians out of office. This is how you create the change you want.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Giants Win The World Series! The Giants Win The World Series!

Rush Limbaugh admits he is not always right. But he also boasts, again and again, that he's almost always right, as he did on April 22, 2009 in this conversation:

RUSH: John, Charlotte, North Carolina, glad to have you, sir, welcome.
CALLER: Hey, Charlotte dittos and wax awe dittos and all the dittos in between, Rush.
RUSH: Thank you, sir.
CALLER: Got a question for you real quick.
RUSH: Yes, sir.
CALLER: Your accuracy rating as stated yesterday or the day before, 99.1.
RUSH: No, no. Documented now to be almost always right 99.
CALLER: Okay. When you started, obviously before you had an opinion, it was a hundred percent. What were you wrong to drop it?
RUSH: It's so long ago. You know, it wasn't just one giant thing. I mean a bunch of small, insignificant things. But they still count if they're offered as opinions. And they're just small, insignificant things that happened over the years. I mean my opinions have been audited since 1988. And so if you want to say, okay, I started out a hundred percent right, why was it that I didn't start out at zero?
CALLER: Well, I guess it's all how you look at it from a math point of view.
Lest you think he was joking about being right approximately 1% less often than God, note that Limbaugh immediately afterward blamed his staff for the 1% when he remarked
Well, you're an optimist. I started out never being wrong because I'd never expressed an opinion. Some would say you start out never being right. (laughing) So I've gone from 100 to 99%. One of the primary penalties that I suffered in my opinion audit -- and it was just in the past two years -- I took the fall for just horrendous mistakes and errors by the staff. I forget, there were two things I was totally misinformed about, I trusted the staff, and when I announced those things, I was wrong. These were factual things. But I then got penalized for expressing my opinion that it was my fault, when it wasn't, it was the staff's. And there was another one. I think perhaps these two, taking the fall for the staff and then saying it was my fault when it wasn't, and I predicted Hillary Clinton would not run for the Senate in New York, all by myself. I didn't have any help from the staff. In fact, the staff argued with me about that, everybody else did. But those two things probably are largely responsible for my opinion audit being only 99%. That's a great question out there, John, it's a great Open Line Friday on Wednesday question.
This was not a one-off deal; Rush frequently reiterates that he is certified to have been right 99% of the time.
A test of his theory recently transpired when the former Royals employee, on October 16 as the World Series was about to begin, predicted
When I worked there, I'll just share with you a little thing here and then, Sarah, I have to move on.  But when I worked there, you know, every year you hope you make the playoffs 'cause there's nothing better. The postseason is fun, the excitement, the place is packed, the town's buzzing, it's the best.  During a season, you see things -- I did.  I saw plays, late-game heroics, home runs that made me think this is the season of destiny, turning an unlikely double play in the ninth inning in Texas, I'll never forget one of those. I got on the phone, when I still used the phone back then, and I said, "This is the year. This is our year. We're gonna make it. Did you see that play?"
I saw so many of those things this season with the Royals, it made me say, even during the playoffs, that this team is destined.  And, so far, it's proven out.  So the World Series opens Tuesday night in Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.
So how did that work out, big guy?
Not so well. It seems this symbol of the "Left Coast," the city of Nancy Pelosi  and lots of Democrats, has something to celebrate as the San Francisco Democrats defeated that team of destiny in game 7 of the World Series (video from Fox, which televised it).   
LImbaugh would have hailed himself had his Kansas City Royals won. He ought either to eat crow, which is possible, given the insignificance of the event compared to passage of the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama's victory dealing with Syria, or the far superior performance on the economy by President Obama than by Saint Reagan.   Or he could acknowledge that baseball is simply a sport and therefore is not real life.
That he won't do, and the defeat of the Royals stands as one of the innumerable things that Rush Limbaugh has been wrong about- and therefore a great, joyous event.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hot Air

Weather Channel co-founder John Coleman, forced out at the network soon after it hit the air, was interviewed  (video below) Tuesday evening by Megyn Kelly of GOP TV.  Coleman is a long time climate change denier and his appearance gave Rush Limbaugh an opportunity to push his denialism when the latter remarked

One of my all-time favorite TV weather people is John Coleman.  John Coleman founded the Weather Channel.  John Coleman was the best weatherman Good Morning America has ever had.  I remember when I first heard of John Coleman, it was a winter in which Chicago had a week's worth or 10 days' worth of blizzards, and this would have been back in the seventies.  John Coleman didn't go home, and by day five he looked like he was asleep on that show doing the weather.  It was a yeoman job. 

They cut away to Chicago when it was time to do the weather.  He was entertaining. He was credible.

He may have been very entertaining and apparently worked hard three or four decades ago, but Coleman was not then- nor has he ever been- a meteorologist, much less a climate scientist.  When Kelly asked him about carbon dioxide, he contended

Well, there are 9,000 PhDs and 31 scientists who have signed a petition saying it is not a significant greenhouse gas.  Oh, it's a teeny, itsy-bitsy greenhouse gas. But it's not in any way significant, and we are sure of it.  It's not like something I made up or just thought of.  I've studied and studied and studied.

Media Matters swiftly debunked both this claim and Coleman himself, explaining

Moreover, Coleman's experience in weather forecasting does not make him an expert in climate science -- there is an immense difference between a scientist and a weather forecaster. For starters, they use different models and ask different questions: climate scientists observe and predict long-term trends over entire ecosystems, while meteorologists focus on weekly, daily, and hourly changes in the weather. MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel previously compared asking a meteorologist's opinion on the state of climate science to "asking a country doctor to comment on the latest developments in biomedical research." Disregarding the fact that Coleman never received a formal education in meteorology -- his degree was in journalism -- his experience predicting the weather does not make him a credible source to debunk the vast majority of scientific literature on climate change.

Coleman also claimed that "9,000 Ph.D.'s and 31 [thousand] scientists" agree with his position on climate change, referring to the widely discredited Oregon Petition Project. Its signatories are mostly engineers with master's degrees, and it once included the names of fictitious characters and a member of the Spice Girls.

Coleman thanked Fox News for giving him a platform (in contrast to "the media" he berated), and in fact, Fox News has frequently turned to Coleman to deny the scientific consensus on global warming.

For years, Coleman has been connected to the Heartland Institute, which has been funded by fossil-fuel interests, and its promotion of climate change denial. Coleman was featured at a Heartland Institute climate conference in July of this year. Previously, he hosted four paid associates of Heartland to deny climate change on the San Diego station where he worked as weathercaster for 20 years (he has since retired). As Coleman told Kelly, the Heartland Institute has been promoting his letter urging UCLA's Hammer Museum to "provide balance" to a debate it recently hosted on climate change. In the letter, Coleman wrote, "It is important to have those who attend know that there is no climate crisis."

Along with the claim that innumerable (though one number or another is invariably cited in order to appear more credible) scientists believe global warming is a hoax, conservatives love to claim the ice sheet in the Antarctic or, in the case of Coleman, in the Antarctic and the Arctic is diminishing. Coleman maintained

Well, I would like to announce tonight to people who are friends of Algore's that, whoops! He got that one wrong.  The Antarctic ice cap is at an all-time record high in both coverage and thickness, and the Arctic ice cap at the North Pole is at the highest it has been in several years.  It's in its so-called normal range since we got satellite observations that could measure it.  So not only is the ice not melting, more polar bears are alive and happy today than we've had in a hundred years! Life is good, Miss Kelly. I gotta tell you, life is good.

It was a nice touch- "satellite observations" and "in its so-called normal range."  If one didn't know who this guy Coleman is, or that his forum was Fox News, he might be half as credible as Limbaugh thinks he is.  However, summarizing a study from earlier this year in the journal The Cryosphere, The Guardian reports

German researchers have established the height of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps with greater precision than ever before. The new maps they have produced show that the ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. 

The maps, produced with a satellite-mounted instrument, have elevation accuracies to within a few metres. Since Greenland’s ice cap is more than 2,000 metres thick on average, and the Antarctic bedrock supports 61% of the planet’s fresh water, this means that scientists can make more accurate assessments of annual melting.

Dr Veit Helm and other glaciologists at the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, report in the journal The Cryosphere that, between them, the two ice sheets are now losing ice at the unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometres a year.

Further, September

also marked the highest departure from average for any month since records began in 1880, breaking the previous record of 0.65°C (1.17°F) set just one month earlier in August. This is the third time in 2014 this all-time monthly high temperature record has been broken. Record warmth was observed in parts of every major ocean basin, particularly notable in the northeastern and equatorial Pacific Ocean. 

And in a startling coincidence, August (temperature anomalies in degrees of Celsius, map below from NASA) and September were the 354th and 355th consecutive months in which the average global land and sea temperature was higher than the 20th century average for those months. Self-proclaimed expert John Coleman is right about one thing, though: life is good for ideological extremists like Limbaugh and himself who shoot their mouths off with little accountability.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Christie Being Christie

"Last night Jon Stewart tore into the state level response to the first Ebola patient in New York City, writes Salon's Sarah Gray, "starting with the knee-jerk quarantines set up by Governors Christie and Cuomo."

"'Why does Christie have to be such a dick about everything!” (Jon) Stewart exclaimed" (video below).

Well, because he's set to run for the Repub nomination for President, silly man.

As found in the video below, Christie had self-righteously patronized caretaker and nurse Kaci Hickox by remarking "I know she didn't want to be there. No one ever wants to be in the hospital. I suspect,and so I understand that. But the fact is I have a much greater, bigger responsibility to the people and the public, and so I think when she has time to reflect she will understand that as well." Digby responded

No, she is not a silly bimbo who didn't understand her situation and "upon reflection" will understand that Daddy Knew Best. She is a medical professional, an epidemiology specialist, who knows very well that Chris Christie is completely ignorant about protecting the public from this disease and had no business spending several days talking about her as if she was a spoiled child who needed to go to bed without her supper. He betrayed his ignorance by repeatedly saying she was "ill" and hoping that she "recovered" even tough she has tested negative and has no symptoms at all.  (It was assumed that he meant she had Ebola but looking more closely at his comments it's possible that he was saying she was having a mental breakdown. That's what gaslighting pigs like Christie commonly do...)

That hospital quarantine actually took place in an unheated tent with a portable toilet for a bathroom. Will Bunch termed the move "bone-headed, tone-deaf and cowardly." Now that the policy has been reversed, apparently with a nudge by the Obama Administration, it appears bone-headed, and it was clearly cowardly.

As quintessential Chris Christie, however, it was hardly tone-deaf. .Simultaneously defending his initial move and attacking his opponents, Mr. Macho threw some red meat to the base, declaring "I will take whatever steps are necessary to protect the public health of the people of New Jersey, and if someone wants to sue me over it, they can."  Hickox hired a legal team, it threatened to sue, and promptly the governor had a change of heart.

But of course Christie wouldn't concede he had budged an inch. "I didn't reverse any decision," contended the Governor, because a Republican can never be seen as unsure, indecisive,or admitting to a mistake.  And now, he may be able to avoid a lawsuit and still not be held accountable for a bone-headed move.

Prior to Christie reversing but not reversing his policy, Digby had added

Judging from what I read around the internet this week-end, the right-wingers think Christie's jackboots are awesome. He can lock up nurses in FEMA camps all day long on a whim and it's fine with them. All it takes for their little authoritarian skirts to show is a little tough guy action toward a woman and they're on board. 

It helps if it is a woman, but this is a character who once called a former Navy SEAL an "idiot" (video below). It's what he does, and he does it well, exciting conservative voters and impressing much of mainstream media.

Nonetheless, Steve M. believes Christie made a tactical error in claiming "There’s been no reversal or change in any way to our policy or to our approach" because it will prevent him from

actively playing the victim card. If he were whining now that he was forced to do this by jackbooted Obama administration thugs, or possibly by evil trial lawyers (as Newell notes, Hickox was threatening a federal lawsuit), he might be looking good right now in the eyes of Limbaugh and his crowd whining now that he was forced to do this by jackbooted Obama administration thugs, or possibly by evil trial lawyers (as Newell notes, Hickox was threatening a federal lawsuit).

At worse, however, Christie did himself no harm among Repub primary voters because he will be seen as doing whatever he reasonably could to make at least one liberal Democrat and member of Doctors Without Borders suffer.  He can be seen as standing up to the Obama Administration as much as reasonably possible and, just as importantly, maintaining his manhood.  And if he can derail Scott Walker from being derailed in his gubernatorial re-election bid in Wisconsin, it will indeed have been a fine election season for Governor Christie.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Comedian Is Right (Or Left) Again

James Foley, James Risen, Dianne Feinstein, race, and golf would seem to have no connection to each other. But they have.
Bill Maher nearly nailed it on Friday night.  He was interviewing embattled New York Times reporter James Risen (video apparently not available for embedding), who explained that in the panic after 9/11/01, President Bush and Vice-President Chaney acted in a "hurried and ad hoc" fashion.  But citing "the crackdown on whistleblowers and leaks," he lamented, "Obama "has made all these things permanent." That, he continued, is "really difficult to understand because as you say, he's a constitutional law professor and it doesn't seem to be a part of his background."
Understanding something beyond (or instead of) ideology or principle is at play, Maher responded "it might also have to do something with, with the fact that as the first black president, he doesn't want there to be a terrorist attack on his watch. He knows they would blame him. There wouldn't be a black president for another hundred years."
Consistent with Risen's analysis, Dan Froomkin wrote  

Continued White House foot-dragging on the declassification of a much anticipated Senate torture report is raising concerns that the administration is holding out until Republicans take over the chamber and kill the report themselves. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s intelligence committee sent a 480-page executive summary of its extensive report on the CIA’s abuse of detainees to the White House for declassification more than six months ago.
In August, the White House, working closely with the CIA, sent back redactions that Feinstein and other Senate Democrats said rendered the summary unintelligible and unsupported.
Since then, the wrangling has continued behind closed doors, with projected release dates repeatedly falling by the wayside.  The Huffington Post reported this week that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a close ally of CIA Director John Brennan, is personally leading the negotiations, suggesting keen interest in their progress — or lack thereof — on the part of  Brennan and President Obama.
Human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, who interviewed a wide range of intelligence and administration officials for his upcoming book,  “Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy,” told The Intercept that the White House and the CIA are hoping a Republican Senate will, in their words, “put an end to this nonsense.”
Stalling for time until after the midterm elections and the start of a Republican-majority session is the “battle plan,” Horton said. “I can tell you that Brennan has told people in the CIA that that’s his prescription for doing it.”
Republicans are widely expected to win control of the Senate Nov. 4.
Victoria Bassetti, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, wrote this week that the administration is playing “stall ball” and that Senate staffers expect Republicans would “spike release of the report” should they take over the chamber.
Asked if the White House is slow-walking the negotiations on purpose, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan replied:
The President has been clear that he wants this process completed as expeditiously as possible and he’s also been clear that it must be done consistent with our national security. The redactions to date were the result of an extensive and unprecedented interagency process, headed up by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to protect sensitive classified information. We are continuing a constructive dialogue with the Committee.
She notably did not rule out the possibility that negotiations will extend beyond the 113th Congress.
The report, which Senate Democratic staffers worked on for five years, is over 6,000 pages long and is said to disclose new details about both the CIA’s brutal and systemic abuse of detainees and the pattern of deceit CIA officials used to hide what they had done.
The CIA’s hostility toward the Senate investigation burst into public view in March, when Feinstein disclosed that the CIA had improperly searched computers being used by her staffers — and then had leveled false charges against those staffers in an attempt to intimidate them. Brennan at firstangrily denied those charges, then apologized, then angrily qualified his apology for the CIA’s actions.
Critics of the Bush administration’s torture regime are hoping the report’s release will lead to a long-sought moment of accountability. That, of course, is exactly what Republicans and people who were part of the regime — many of who are still in top positions in the intelligence community, and close to Obama — don’t want.
But the committee’s investigation was narrowly limited to the CIA’s involvement in torture programs. That will leave the people who gave the CIA its orders — starting with Dick Cheney and George Bush — essentially off the hook.
The findings also don’t address the considerably more widespread and common use of torture by the military at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. A bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report in December 2008 definitively blamed senior Bush administration officials for sanctioning those practices. But coming at a time when the nation was anticipating a period of intense change as Obama succeeded Bush, the reaction was muted.
There we have the connection among Risen, Feinstein, and race, but nothing on journalist James Foley and golf.  However, Will Bunch, linking to a New York Times article explaining the effort by various governments to effect the release of their citizens held hostage by ISIL, commented
A question....and a couple of observations. First of all, as the story makes clear, other nations pay ransom for hostages but the United States doesn't, although (unlike the ransom payers) America did try a military operation to rescue Foley. The argument against paying ransom is a sound one: That it simply leads to more hostage taking. But is this the right approach -- knowing that Foley could be alive today if we'd paid? I have to admit I'm torn on this one.
Also, as I'm sure some of you will amplify in the comments below, the story doesn't reflect particularly well on President Obama, and I'd have to agree. It's not that he wasn't on top of the situation -- he did order that failed rescue mission -- but his golf and general detachment were an unnecessary slap to the Foley family in their worst hour. I hope the president plays golf 2017.

When Obama plays golf in 2017, there will be no need to be photographed. 
If the President did not play golf, he presumably he would be spending his leisure time engaged in other pleasurable activities, just as President Bush 43 did by clearing brush (photo of bush from Center for American Progress; of Obama, from the Telegraph of the UK) and playing golf. Still, the optics in this case were hurtful to the family of the victim and did nothing positive for the President's image.

In this case.  It should not be inferred that President Obama, the nation's first black President, allows himself to be photographed playing golf with little concern for his image. He plays golf- and makes sure there are photographs and/or video- to enhance the view Americans (especially the moneyed interests which control the political process) have of him.
Republicans remind us we elected a black man as President in 2008 because they believe it it inoculates themselves from a charge of racial bias.  Some liberal Democrats remind us of the event because, they believe, it accounts for a substantial portion of the GOP's knee-jerk response to everything Obama. But too infrequently is it uttered that race plays a significan role in many of the policies undertaken by the President. Barack Obama has to prove- or believes he has to prove- that he's really no different than a white President.  
Call it the unfortunate flip side of a bi-racial man who understands the experience of African-Americans in the USA and nonetheless bears no ill will toward white people.  It's the thoughtful- albeit destructive- response of a president born outside of the continental United States who was a community organizer in a big bad city, and who not coincidentally has been criticized especially harshly because of his (Muslim! Kenya!) background.
It should be no surprise, then, that Barack Obama has not been seen playing basketball- viewed as a sport favored by blacks- since Election Day of 2008.  Nor should it be surprising that he allows himself to be captured photographically playing golf, viewed as an activity favored by whites  Obama, Frank Rich once wrote (page 3 here), "falls hardest for the best and brightest white guys."  Putting for a birdie allows Barack H. Obama to hobnob with rich white fellows, whom he probably perceives as the best and brightest guys, and to be perceived as one in a long line of American presidents. 

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Law Enforcement Gets It Right

On Friday, a freshman athlete and Homecoming Prince from Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington opened fire in the school cafeteria.  The assailant appears to have been Jason Fryberg, who killed one student and then wounded four others, and then killed himself, accidentally or otherwise.

The same day, a man identified as 34-year-old Marcello Marquez, along with a female companion, was arrested for allegedly shooting dead two sheriff's deputies, wounding one other deputy and wounding another individual in northern California.

There may be lessons to be learned from both crimes as more is learned of each but it is clear that, coupled with an increasingly unstable situation abroad, things are not going well. It is nearly as clear that both events included a hero, though only in one will it be widely recognized.

Evidently, north of Seattle

Amid the chaos of Friday’s shooting, a young teacher attempted to halt the shooter and pulled a fire alarm, according to a food-service employee at the school, who declined to be named. The teacher was identified in some news reports as Megan Silberberger. She declined to comment when reached by The Seattle Times.

The teacher will be heralded and hailed and celebrated. In a year or two she may be laid off for what will be cited as budgetary reasons, while teachers around the country experience their pensions cut, their hours extended, or their unions attacked, all the while they're held responsible for the socio-economic ills of the neighborhoods from which their students hail. Silberger (or whomever it was) did, in a more dramatic and courageous fashion, what her colleagues around the nation do daily, sacrificing for their students.

Less acclaim will be accorded a true hero of the Placer County Sheriff's Department (video below), of whom it was written

I think there's those people who would say, 'You know what, I wish you'd killed him,'" Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner said at a news conference Friday evening. Now, that's not who we are. We are not him. We did our job. I'm incredibly proud of the men and women who go out there every day and put their life on the line.

That's not who we are. We are not him.  As Camus commented about a remark in an entirely different context, "It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man."  It does not sound like the Ferguson (Mo.) Police Department, though, admittedly, it did not involve white authority and a black citizenry.Nothing bloodthirsty or questionable here, only  a sheriff's department assuming its proper role, determined to do what was needed and to allow the court system to pick up where it left off.  Like tens of millions of Americans every day, the Placer County Sheriff's Department would do its job, with no unnecessary fanfare or false humility, do it well and to do it right.

Unlike the teacher in Washington State- who will receive her just due- leadership in the sheriff's department in Placer County, though possibly praised, will not be glorified.  They did, though, all they could be expected to do, and performed as public servants must..

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

This, Though, Will Be Ignored.

The word "incredible" is abused nowadays but is perhaps fitting to describe George Will's criticism of Democratic- yes, Democratic- "obstruction" of the US Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid. The syndicated columnist contends
Such paralysis of the Senate leaves Obama uninhibited in his use of executive orders and bureaucratic mission-creep to advance goals that should require legislation. In January, in the most statesmanlike Senate speech in years, McConnell explained how, under Republican leadership, the Senate would be restored as the creator of consensus:
“An executive order can’t [create consensus]. The fiat of a nine-person court can’t do it. A raucous and precarious partisan majority in the House can’t do it. The only institution that can make stable and enduring laws is the one we have in which all 50 states are represented equally, and where every single senator has a say in the laws that we pass.”
Eviscerating Will's argument, Salon's Jim Newell explains
McConnell made a decision at the very beginning of the Obama presidency that he, and his conference, would filibuster every significant piece of legislation that the Obama administration proposed, before even hearing out the merits. He and his party would then criticize the president for refusing to work with Republicans. This, in turn, would give the administration a reputation for being partisan and ineffective. This plan was as cynical as it gets, was in purely bad faith, and it worked.
That the Senate has lurched away from the consensus-building body so idealized by Will and toward a more majoritarian, parliamentary system is a direct result of McConnell’s tactics. When not filibustering legislation as pure political sport, McConnell and his conference were rampantly filibustering judicial and executive nominations. They filibustered nominees to court vacancies not because they had legitimate concerns over qualifications, but because they didn’t want Democratic appointees on the benches. They filibustered nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Labor Department, to name a few, simply because they (and the particular corporate interests that fund the Republican Party) don’t think these agencies should exist. It was only a matter of time before some minority leader abused the filibuster to this extent — as a weapon to prevent the government from functioning — and it was Mitch McConnell who finally did it. So Harry Reid responded by eliminating the 60-vote cloture threshold on executive and judicial appointments.
Whether the Senate or the House, the GOP long ago decided it simply wouldn't consider anything the President did as legitimate, and would criticize him at nearly every turn.
That would be nearly every turn, because most of the time that Barack Obama deserves scrutiny, Republicans won't provide it.  For all the hysteria about Benghazi, the GOP has failed to notice, or chosen to ignore, an event in which the White House appears to have acted badly.  Eli Lake, soon to depart The Daily Beast, reports 
The parents of James Foley, the journalist ISIS beheaded in August, learned about the U.S. government’s attempt to rescue him about an hour before the rest of us did.
The grieving parents got word from President Obama himself....
The president, according to John, responded, “Well I should tell you, we did try to save him.” Then Obama stunned John and his wife Diane, informing them of the failed special operations rescue mission from early July.
In the call, Obama explained that this information about the rescue mission was classified. But not for long, it would seem. Foley added, “An hour later he went and told the world.”
White House spokesmen have said that there was never any intention to share with the public details of the failed rescue mission in Syria. Word of the mission began to leak out on August 20, a day after James Foley was beheaded in a gruesome and slickly produced internet video narrated by a man with a thick British accent. White House officials briefed reporters that afternoon on the failed mission.
For the Foleys, it was a tragic ending to an awful ordeal. Since their son first went missing right before Thanksgiving in 2012, Diane Foley, in particular, began a mission to find any way she could to try to get her son back alive. She pressed the White House, the FBI and the State Department for any information she could find on James. Often, she and John would tell the FBI about what they learned from other European hostages who were released this year by ISIS. The response the Foleys received was, for the most part, beyond disappointing—little more than a “pat on the head,” John said.
Two months after the murder of James Foley, his parents are still frustrated with how they were treated by the White House—even as the Foley family works to establish a legacy fund for their son.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, John Foley explained that the President seemed upset during their phone call. Diane was unimpressed with Obama’s empathy. “In between golf games mind you,” she said. “He did stop to call us in the middle of his vacation,” she continued. “In the United Kingdom, the prime minister came home from his vacation.”
The Foleys were frustrated with the Administration and began arguing their case to the media in September. Lake continues
They discussed a moment in May, right after the White House announced a prisoner exchange that released Army Private Bowe Bergdahl. Diane Foley said she and other families of ISIS hostages thought there was hope the Obama administration would reverse its longstanding policy against paying ransom or negotiating with ISIS.
But only a few days after Bergdahl’s release, the Foleys and other families of the hostages were on the phone with a senior White House official who informed them there was no chance at all for negotiations with ISIS. “It was out of the question,” Diane Foley remembers the official saying. (The Daily Beast is declining to name the official at the request of the White House).
John Foley remembered the White House official going even further than that, saying there was no chance third parties would pay ransom or trade hostages with ISIS either. “’We will not ask any of our allies to do something we ourselves wouldn’t do like pay ransom, or trade hostages,’” Foley recalled the official as saying.
Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined Thursday to discuss the details of the communications with the Foley family. She did, however, defend the policy of not negotiating with ISIS.
“The United States has a long-standing policy that we do not offer concessions to hostage takers because doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive,” she said. “Sergeant Bergdahl was not a hostage—he is a member of the U.S. military who was detained during the course of an armed conflict. His return was consistent with the longstanding practice of prisoner exchanges in war and, as such, is different from policy and practice relating to civilians held hostage.”
While Meehan speaks for the White House, other parts of Obama’s government have pressed to change the U.S. policy of not paying ransoms to terrorists.Foreign Policy magazine’s Shane Harris reported this month that the White House and the State Department remain opposed to paying ransoms to terrorist groups, while the FBI and the Justice Department have asked for more flexibility.
Diane Foley detected a difference in tone and emphasis on ransom payments from the FBI, which “was very willing to walk us right up to that point,” she said. “They made it clear that an exchange of funds may be necessary, but they themselves could not do that.”

For the most part the Foleys had high praise for the FBI. Diane Foley said that the bureau gave them advice on how to craft a response to an email they received from ISIS at the end of 2013. “The FBI told us to write back a letter humanizing Jim,” she said. “They would look them over and tweak a word or two.”
As the summer dragged on, the Foleys began to seek out their own ways to get their son back. Towards the end of Foley’s captivity, John and Diane Foley began a pledge drive to raise money for a possible ransom, even though they say the White House informed them that any efforts to pay a ransom to ISIS would violate U.S. law.
“We had a million dollars in pledges at the end,” Diane Foley said. “Our hands were tied, we could not make it obvious, it had to be done under the guidance of pro bono attorneys… We didn’t want the money, we didn’t want to handle it, so we sought pledges. We didn’t want the money unless we needed it.”
European governments, for their part, have long agreed to pay groups like ISIS ransom money. And that has yielded tangible results. Foley was held in Syria at the same location as several European hostages. But the Europeans had been freed in the weeks before Obama ordered the rescue mission into Syria, the Foleys said.
In the end, the Foleys say they hope other families of hostages will be able to learn and benefit from their experience. They were in Washington this week to receive an award given posthumously to their son on behalf of the Oxi Day Foundation, a Greek American organization that celebrates Greek resistance to the Nazis.
“The enemy is ISIS, not our government,” Diane Foley said. “All we are saying is that our government can do better for our citizens. We hope the James Foley foundation can foster dialogue for a more consistent policy on this.”
We can debate till the cows come home, or till there is no more hokey cliches in this blog, the wisdom of negotiating with terrorists or of involving private actors in rescue attempts.  We can point out that President Obama takes less time off his job than did President Bush or that it really doesn't matter, given that a President is not overworked and has agencies and individuals perform whatever- including rescue attempts- need to be done.
But it can't be denied that Obama entered the presidency promising considerably more transparency than received from the office in the past. After being sworn in, the President told his senior staff "I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness .... Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." Federal agencies similarly were assured "We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” 
Yet, as Paul D. Thacker observed
in March 2010, the Associated Press found that, under Obama, 17 major agencies were 50 percent more likely to deny FOIA requests than under Bush. The following year, the presidents of two journalism societies— Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Professional Journalists—called out President Obama for muzzling scientists in much the same way President Bush had. Last September, Bloomberg News tested Obama’s pledgeby filing FOIA requests for the 2011 travel records of top officials at 57 agencies. Only about half responded. In fact, this president has prosecuted more whistleblowersunder the Espionage Act than all prior administrations combined. And an analysis released Monday by the Associated Press found that the administration censored more FOIA requests on national security grounds last year than in any other year since President Obama took office.
Thacker, a former Senate investigator, wrote this 19 months ago.  In his article this past week, Lake revealed
In September, the Foleys began to talk to the media about their frustrations with the Obama administration. At the time they said the White House threatened them with prosecution if they tried to raise private funds to purchase their son’s freedom. 
Threatened them with prosecution?  The heavy hand of big government (which Republicans endlessly claim to despise) comes down on the family of a victim of terrorism (photo of James Foley, below) and Republicans say.... nothing.
So Thacker's aggravation, reflected in a tweet from "one of Washington's watchdogs " in which Administration supporters were giving Obama a free pass on "drones & assassinations & military commissions & secret memos expanding secret surveillance powers," is misplaced.  Admittedly, there has been little complaint from Democrats- but even less from Republicans, who complain incessantly about the Administration because of the IRS and other matters when their criticism is baseless.  The Foleys allegedly try to save their son with assistance from private actors (the Republican modus operandi) and their is silence.
Notwithstanding attacks on other fronts from Republicans, the President may have been keeping them at bay with a kind of triangulation-lite which has characterized his Administration. Similarly, Lake notes “I told Obama that Jim worked hard to get him elected,” John Foley, James’s father, told The Daily Beast. “He believed till the end his country would come and get them.”

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Brown, Changing With The Weather

Could there be any candidate for Congress more phony than Senate candidate Scott Brown? Any one?

Debating incumbent Jeanne Shaheen on Tuesday night, Brown, who had moved to New Hampshire to run for the Senate, was asked by NBC's Chuck Todd why he is running in the Granite State after he lost his Massachusetts seat in 2012 to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.  The Concord Monitor reported

“Because I live here,” Brown said, explaining that his mother worked as a waitress on Hampton Beach and his father worked in the state as an airman. “I have long and strong ties. I’m running because I care about New Hampshire and care about restoring America. That’s why I’m running.”

The audience laughed, though far less than the candidate deserved.  Brown, who has run a commercial arguing that President Obama and Senator Shaheen "don't understand" the terrorist threat, was reminded by Todd that he had "suggested that the Islamic militant group ISIS could come across the U.S. border, in fact, saying that is, quote 'the most obvious pathway for terrorists to enter our country.'"  So Scott Brown was asked ” What is the evidence for that assertion? We've had terrorists come across the border, the north of the border. "

Brown responded "with respect, I did not say that. What I have said is that ISIS is real." Yet David Weigel points out that last month the Repub had claimed "these ISIS thugs have been saying for months that they’re going to send people here to kill Americans on as big a scale as they can, and never mind that a porous border is the most obvious pathway for terrorists to enter our country.”

Then there is climate change.  Grist's Ben Adler notes of Brown

During his 12 years in the Massachusetts state legislature, from 1998 to 2010, he voted for strong state limits on greenhouse gases and in favor of forming the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon-trading system for Northeast states. In 2007, the Massachusetts Audubon Society gave him a perfect rating on its scorecard.

Soon afterward, unfortunately, Scott Brown became a Repub on the national stage and accepted gobs of money from the fossil fuel industry. He voted for oil subsidies and against higher fuel standards and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. As of his (losing) re-election campaign in 2012, he had whittled down his acceptance of scientific fact, maintaining "I do believe man plays a role." Two years later, he now denies climate change is scientifically proven.

When Lindsay Graham, stoking additional fear of ISIS, declares "this president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home," he appears almost to believe it.  Anyway, he's a Senator from South Carolina and may need to compensate for a suspected sexual orientation differing from the majority of his constituents.

However, Cosmo Scott (second and third photographs, below, from the AP) does not need to compensate, he's from the (relatively) liberal northeast, and he played a progressive previously.  Not so now, and the editors of Cosmopolitan magazine wrote in September, "Scott Brown may have been Cosmopolitan’s ‘sexiest man’ in 1982, but in 2014, we’re picking brains over brawn — and that’s Jeanne Shaheen,”

But Scott Brown, positioning himself between what he once was (or posed as) and what his party now demands, joining Chris Christie as a Repub who believes in nothing other than himself. Or as Adler figures, "either Scott Brown was lying in 2012, or he is lying now, or he doesn’t really believe in anything at all. (I’d put my money on the latter.) "

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Introducing The Sexiest Woman In One Industry In One Part Of The World

Esquire Magazine has labeled Penelope Cruz "the sexiest woman alive" and as you can see below, it's not a bad choice, nor is it the worst thing to be labeled.

Or perhaps it is a bad choice. Not because of Ms. Cruz's politics, which are, as applied to the Mideast, abhorrent.

In July, Ms. Cruz joined "dozens of Spanish film stars, directors, musicians and writers" in signing an open letter apparently penned by her husband, fellow actor Javier Bardem, condemning the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Ms. Cruz and Mr. Bardem (especially) faced much criticism, including from Hollywood screen directors, who even threatened to cut off business with the couple, which will probably work until they look at their bottom line.

Subtly entitling the letter "Genocide," Mr. Barden declared the Israeli actions "a war of occupation and extermination" and described as "disgraceful that western countries are permitting such genocide."   He noted  "my son was born in a Jewish hospital because I have very dear close friends who are Jewish." Some of us choose a hospital because it's close, takes our insurance, or has a particularly good reputation.  Barden selects one associated with the religion of his friends. Hollywood celebrities are different.

The actor maintained additionally "I also work in the U.S. where I have a lot of Jewish friends and acquaintances" ("who reject" Israeli policies). His effort at inoculating himself against charges of anti-Semitism should fall upon deaf ears of Americans old enough to recall people pleading, as once was the fashion, "some of my best friends are colored." Be forgiving: it was far more discreet and diplomatic than wearing a white sheet.

Not all, or even most, criticism of Israeli actions constitutes anti-Semitism.  Let's put aside those leaflets Israeli forces typically showered upon areas to be bombed, giving residents at least some time to evacuate.  Accusing a nation of genocide and pursing extermination when said nation is a nuclear power which invaded a country, then stopped and agreed to a cease-fire as it was attaining military success, is well over the top. It is so patently inaccurate (as well as obviously incendiary) that it fails to qualify as anti-Semitic only when compared to promiscuously labeling Jews as "k_ _ _ _.," which even in Mr. Barden's case would have been deleterious to a career

Still, signing a ridiculous letter penned by her husband should not be (and wasn't) sufficient to disqualify Penelope Cruz as being selected the sexiest woman alive.  Fortunately, there is something, to merit.

Nonetheless, it is extremely unlikely that Penelope Cruz is the sexiest woman in the world, and probably not even the second sexiest. (Must we say sexiest woman alive? The competition from corpses is limited.) Ms. Cruz may be the sexiest female celebrity, more impressively the sexiest female public figure, or at best the sexiest woman working in the United States of America.

But Ms. Cruz, it is safe to say, is not the sexiest woman anywhere in the world. In the USA alone, there is very likely a female college student, waitress, engineer, lawyer, retail clerk, truck driver, teacher, or homemaker who is sexier.  She faces huge odds.

And that is only in the U.S.  There are approximately 196 countries, as well as numerous territories and colonies, in the world.  Somewhere, there is a sexier woman, be it in Belgium, Zaire, Thailand, Palestine, or in 200 or so other places. We don't know where, but she is somewhere.

Penelope Cruz's talent is justifiably enjoyed and admired by millions of Americans and her beauty is appreciated, inevitably and understandably, by millions more. But her selection, added to that of prior winners Jessice Biel, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Beckinsale, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Minka Kelly, and Halle Berry, make clear the bias toward Americans- and much more so members of the Hollywood community.  

Esquire is not alone, as People magazine and others exhibit similar ethnocentrism, a partiality for individuals who make their bones entertaining us in the west. (And People is worse- its Most Beautiful List is all women. Quite a coincidence.) So let us celebrate the physical beauty of those women and men we know and love. But let's not pretend that we have reason to believe they are the sexiest human beings in the world.

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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...