Saturday, March 06, 2021

Democrat-Bashing


As is widely known now

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) faced criticism Friday afternoon for the way in which she chose to vote against a provision to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour ― with an exaggerated thumbs-down hand gesture.

Seven Democratic senators and one independent ended up joining Republicans in voting down a motion to include the wage hike in the new round of coronavirus relief, saying it didn’t comply with rules on budget legislation.

Although hand gestures are commonplace on the Senate floor, particularly in the coronavirus era, Sinema’s casual body language was disappointing to some who saw the gesture as belittling the fight to end poverty wages.

Sinema’s office responded to a question about the gesture by making the absurd claim that the inquiry is sexist. “Commentary about a female senator’s body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet,” Hannah Hurley, a spokesperson for Sinema, told HuffPost.

As is widely known now

If a male Senator had appeared in a flannel shirt- or even dressed without a tie- a whole lot of people would notice. Sinema's outfit wasn't appropriate to the occasion- but that's clothing and as long as she doesn't violate the dress code for members while on the floor, she is entitled to wear whatever she wants.

But physical demeanor and body language? That was the whole point of Sinema's ostentatious display. The Young Turk's Cenk Uygur believes (at 2:50 of the video below)

This is Sinema raising her hand going "I will do anything for corporate donors, anything at all, and I'll have fun doing it...

So that explains the mystery of why kick us when we're down because she's signaling to corporations "I'm the worst of the worst. So make sure you back me for my higher ambitions."



In the unlikely even Krysten Sinema has higher ambitions in the Democratic Party, she will be sorely disappointed. And even Donald Trump apparently has determined that the non-partisan, independent route is a dead end in American politics (unless running for the US Senate from New England). Further, corporate donors have no particular interest in whether an ally has fun. Instead, I'll go with Steve M when he explains

Much of America thinks Democrats are awful. The message is so pervasive that even politicians running as Democrats reinforce it. During the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden couldn't stop telling us how many Republicans had endorsed him. Hillary Clinton did this too, as did Barack Obama to a lesser extent in 2008. The message was: I'm a Democrat, but I'm not one of the bad Democrats. See? Even Republicans like me! Which helps explain why down ballot Democrats didn't do as well as Biden. Republicans were trashing their party, and in a subtler way, so was the guy at the top of their own ticket.

Sinema and Manchin are bashing the party. They're saying, See? You can trust me. I'm a Democrat, but I hate Democrats, too. They vote like Democrats reasonably often, but when the spotlight is on them, they need to make a great show of contempt for their party.

As Uygur suggests, yet the Senator's spokesperson implicitly denies, it was a signal. However, it was not meant to be a show of being the worst of the worst but of being independent-minded and refusing to be one of the bad Democrats, who believe living on $14,500 a year as a full-time employee is suboptimal.



Friday, March 05, 2021

Reading Catholics Out Of Catholicism


Conservatives an obsession with wrapping itself in the cloak of God and accusing Democrats of being anti-religion, anti-God, anti-Christian, or anti-Catholic. They've started in with Joe Biden:


Nonetheless, probably nobody has been so attacked on those grounds as Nancy Pelosi.

And so it is that Red State's Mike Miller, condemning the Speaker of the House for allegedly being "Catholic in Name Only," quotes Dr. Paul Kangor, a proudly Catholic right-winger:

“The list of outrageous statements by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, is unending. Her statements—and actions—advancing abortion have been nothing short of astounding, and extremely damaging. They are scandalous.

“But her latest comment may be her worst yet.

“Asked why she refuses to support a bill banning late-term abortions, Pelosi said: ‘As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me…. This shouldn’t have anything to do with politics.’

“Her statement speaks for itself. And frankly, I’m grateful she said it. Clearly, this is where Nancy Pelosi’s heart and mind and soul is. And she is speaking for countless other radical ‘abortion rights’ advocates.

“In the past, I’ve gotten nasty responses when I’ve referred to abortion as a ‘holy sacrament’ in the ‘feminist church.’ I was told this was over the top, too harsh, exaggerated. Well, it isn’t.

“For certain extreme liberal feminists, there’s nothing more dear—nothing more sacred—than abortion. Nancy Pelosi has simply publicly reaffirmed the fact.”

In this country alone, tens of millions of Roman Catholics support reproductive freedom.  Further ,the Protestant Christian right has its roots in opposition to the the federal government's effort in the 1970s to deny segregated Christian academies tax-exempt status. 

However, Miller's screed is Catholic-centric and he blasts Pelosi predominately for the hypocrisy he perceives because she cleaves to her Catholic faith while being pro-abortion rights. Nonetheless, if Pelosi can be charged with heresy solely because of her view of abortion rights and "untold numbers of her actions and the causes she supports," Miller should aim a little higher.

For over five years the country was regaled with Donald Trump's personal insults: "Morning Psycho" (Joe Scarborough); "stone cold Crazy" (Adam Schiff); "little Eric Schneiderman"; "weirdo" (Tom Steyer); "dumb as a rock" (Rex Tillerson); "Crazy Bernie Sanders"; "the dumbest man on television" (Don Lemon); with many other targets including, of course, "Crooked Hillary," she of "no strength, no stamina." The list is much, much longer.

From time to time, we all violate Jesus' warning (Matthew 15:11, ESV) "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

But Donald Trump did this as President.  And none of us (except possibly the extremely mentally ill) ever has claimed "I am the Chosen One."  Few of us has been so contemptuous of Jesus Christ's warning "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).   

And Donald Trump's fruits, culminating - or maybe not- with the riot he instigated on January 6 are clear. By contrast, according to Michael Miller, this is one of Nancy Pelosi's greatest sins:





Thursday, March 04, 2021

Hit Piece Falls Short


There is no reason Democrats should eat their own when Republicans glorify theirs. Mike Allen of Axios may be auditioning for a stand-up gig when he writes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

I don't remember Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking for Donald Trump's resignation.  It's true that the all 26 women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment or assault allege that the misconduct took place before Trump was elected President. It's also true that he ordered payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels/Stephanie Clifford shortly before that election so that he might become President Donald Trump.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

The most notable man "run out of town" for sexual impropriety was Al Franken after charges of sexual impropriety, behavior which would have taken place before he was a US Senator. He was run out of town by Democrats, because that's what Democrats do.

Their only plausible explanation would be to argue that three women are exaggerating or misremembering things. This is precisely what Democrats said was unacceptable in GOP cases.

Democrats didn't say the behavior was unacceptable because they were committed by Republicans. They said it was unacceptable regardless of party. And they were wrong- wrong because each case deserves to be considered on its own merits rather than a blanket "believe women."  Men don't always tell the truth.  Unless women are of a super gender, they, too, are capable of exaggerating, forgetting details, or- occasionally- lying. It's the human condition.

One top New York Democrat told me the reaction has been "disheartening" — an approach by both parties of believing women "except if they accuse a member of your party."

As pointed out by Axios Sneak Peek on Sunday: Democrats hammered Donald Trump after "Access Hollywood," pilloried Brett Kavanaugh over Christine Blasey Ford and defended Joe Biden when he was accused of inappropriate touching.

The reference to Brett Kavanaugh is the most telling in this hit piece. Were Andrew Cuomo to have a sense of humor, he would urge an investigation of the allegations against him similar to the one conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of charges against Brett Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh was not serving in an elected position, had never served in an elective position, and had been nominated for a lifetime appointment. It would be (is) a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court, to serve alongside a mere eight other individuals to make rulings which are not reviewable.

If ever there needs to be a thorough review by law enforcement of a nominee for any position, it would not be of an individual who was elected to his position and could not continue in the position without again facing the voters.  It would be of someone tapped to serve on the High Court.

Nonetheless, the FBI "investigation" of accusations against Brett Kavanaugh took a mere five days in which neither of the two principals- Kavanaugh and Ford- was interviewed. . One of the accusers, Deborah Ramirez, had been at a drunken dormitory party at Yale when, according to the authors of "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation,"

a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it. Some of the onlookers, who had been passing around a fake penis earlier in the evening, laughed.

Therefore, Ms. Ramirez's legal team

gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.

Two F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Ramirez, telling her that they found her “credible.” But the Republican-controlled Senate had imposed strict limits on the investigation. “‘We have to wait to get authorization to do anything else,’” Bill Pittard, one of Ms. Ramirez’s lawyers, recalled the agents saying. “It was almost a little apologetic.”



Nonetheless, maybe Donald Trump is a victim, as Jonathan Allen seems to believe.

Trump was a victim who bragged about routinely sexually assaulting women. He then got elected President, tried to pressure a foreign government into investigating his political rival, then obstructed an investigation into his actions, and gained nearly nearly unanimous support from his party's members of Congress. On his way out the door, he incited an insurrection against the United States government, receiving the support of the vast majority of those members of Congress. He now is extended the privileges of all former Presidents:  office space and staffing allowances; travel expenses (up to $1 million in costs annually); health annuities, lifetime Secret Service protection, and the right to burial with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery, next to individuals he has called "losers" and "suckers."

Whatever the future may hold for him, Trump has enjoyed a charmed life- and charmed presidency, thanks to a party whose leaders have found no crime, no grift, and no contempt for Americans unacceptable as long as it's committed by Donald Trump. When the governor of New York gets 5% of the breaks the 45th President has, or 20% what Brett Kavanaugh has, Mike Allen can legitimately accuse Democrats of hypocrisy.



Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Not In The Nick Of Time


At 2:18 of the video below, Senator Elizabeth Warren can be seen asking General Gustave F. Perna, Chief Operating Officer, Federal COVID-19 Response For Vaccine, "will D.O.D. commit to procurement transparency on our federal vaccine efforts?" Perna deferred to an aide but justifiably dissatisfied with the answer given, Warren a moment later stated 

The terms of these contracts were bad, too. Public interest groups had to fight OWS to release its contract and when it did it became clear that the Trump Administration had sold out the American public. Key contracts including contracts with Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson excluded critical taxpayer pricing protections.



The Department of Defense has not been the only cabinet-level agency to hide from the public. Only four days after that Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, we would learn from STAT News

The Trump administration quietly took around $10 billion from a fund meant to help hospitals and health care providers affected by Covid-19 and used the money to bankroll Operation Warp Speed contracts, four former Trump administration officials told STAT.

The Department of Health and Human Services appears to have used a financial maneuver that allowed officials to spend the money without telling Congress, and the agency got permission from its top lawyer to do so. Now, the Biden administration is refusing to say whether the outlay means there will be less money available for hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and other providers.

Several provider groups said they had not heard that $10 billion for providers was spent on Warp Speed contracts until STAT’s reporting. Congress set aside that money to help health care providers pay for pandemic-related expenses including staffing, personal protective equipment, care for uninsured patients, and vaccine distribution. One of the top hospital lobbyists in D.C., who also did not know about the outlay, emphasized how much some hospitals still need the funding.

Operation Warp Speed was widely celebrated in the media as one of the great successes of the Trump Administration. On November 13, Reason declared

President Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden at the White House this afternoon touting the truly amazing progress that Operation Warp Speed has made with respect to developing COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Launched officially on May 15, 2020, the Trump administration deserves much credit for the successes of Operation Warp Speed.

But as the AP observed in a fact check of the President's speech

Pfizer notably did not accept government money to develop, test or expand manufacturing capacity under Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative to quickly find a vaccine and treatments for the disease sweeping the country.

In fact, Pfizer partnered with the vaccine’s original developer, Germany’s BioNTech, in March and the following month announced the first human study in Germany. The White House announced Operation Warp Speed in May.

Nonetheless, the propaganda from Reason and other portions of the media would have been politically crucial had Pfizer and BioNTech announced "evidence of efficacy" of its Covid-19 vaccine before a majority of the votes were cast in the last election cycle, rather than on November 9.

It's likely that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense were manipulating levers of government to enhance the possibility of an announcement of a viable vaccine before the presidential election.  Had that ensued, the impact of the propaganda from Reason and elsewhere would have had a much greater impact.

As Senator Warren summarized, the Department of Defense has been opaque.  The Department of Health and Human Services was sneaky, sleazy, and dishonest with the $10 billion they kept from health care providers. Fortunately, their timing was off and, probably as a consequence, we're not now six weeks into a second Trump term.



Monday, March 01, 2021

Andrew Cuomo Giuliani


Daily Beast reporter has an excellent analogy:


It was spring and summer of 2020 and Andrew Cuomo, presenting near-daily coronavirus news conferences and deftly showing compassion mixed with a high degree of deference for facts and the scientific method, was praised for his handling of the novel coronavirus.  He even wrote a book entitled "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."

Once thought by the media to be America's governor, he's now embroiled in twin controversies. His administration allegedly lied to state legislators about the number of elderly individuals who had died from Covid-19. Many of those had been returned, at his urging, from hospitals to nursing homes after testing positive for he coronavirus. Additionally, two women in his administration have accused the governor of sexual harassment. If the latter seems far less serious than the former, you haven't recently noticed the American media and contemporary political messaging.

Rudy Giuliani, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, was commonly labeled "America's mayor," with frequent and glowing tributes.  Seven years after the two planes hit the World Trade Center, the New York Times (which should have known better) printed a story by Michael Powell (who, remarkably, is still at the paper), who wrote that the Mayor

was two blocks from the south tower, in an office on Barclay Street, trying to get the vice president on the phone, when his world went dark with smoke. Back at City Hall, Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington waited and wondered and dialed the governor.

“We really didn’t know what had become of the mayor,” he said. “I spoke to Governor Pataki, and we closed the schools and canceled the election.”

Then Mr. Giuliani was led through a basement and out onto Church Street, his head and shoulders dusted white with ash. He walked north into the surreal brightness of that day, comforting a police officer and dragooning reporters.

He would walk north two miles, pausing in the bay of a deserted fire station in Greenwich Village to call a television station and urge calm. Three hours later he stepped into a press conference with Gov. George E. Pataki.

“Today is obviously one of the most difficult days in the history of the city,” he said softly. “The tragedy that we are undergoing right now is something that we’ve had nightmares about. My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism. And our focus now has to be to save as many lives as possible.”

Inevitably the question arose: How many lost? The mayor looked up through his glasses, aware that among the viewers of this live broadcast were the mothers, fathers, spouses, lovers and children of those who labored in the smashed towers.

“The number of casualties,” he said, “will be more than any of us can bear ultimately.”

That walk north, the spareness of his words and his passion became the founding stones in the reconstruction of the mayor’s reputation, transforming him from a grouchy pol slip-sliding into irrelevancy to the Republican presidential candidate introduced as America’s mayor. The former mayor has made this day the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, aware that millions of Americans hold that heroic view in their collective mind’s eye.

He was "comforting a police officer and dragooning reporters" so he could "urge calm" with "the spareness of his words and his passion."

Worse, he would "walk two miles," which someone should have noticed was a centerpiece of the public relations spectacle being promoted, especially because the major criterion for placement of the center was that it be within walking distance of city hall.  Four months later, a different NYT reporter would explain

The New York Police Department produced a detailed analysis in 1998 opposing plans by the city to locate its emergency command center at the World Trade Center, but the Giuliani administration overrode those objections. The command center later collapsed from damage in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“Seven World Trade Center is a poor choice for the site of a crucial command center for the top leadership of the City of New York,” a panel of police experts, which was aided by the Secret Service, concluded in a confidential Police Department memorandum.

Well, no, it was an excellent choice for a mayor whose image was invaluably enhanced by the enduring image of him walking around the city, seemingly sensitive yet strong, portrayed as having a love for his city second only to his love for these United States of America.  Giuliani was catapulted into a leading candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

If the decision to place the emergency command center at arguably the most vulnerable site in New York City didn't directly cost lives, another Giuliani policy did.

The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 prompted New York city officials, spurred by first responders, to replace inadequate analog radios with new, digital radios.  They were developed after a no-bid deal with Motorola in which the city (according to its comptroller) "willfully violated" contracting rules.

They had not been properly tested and failed in an emergency situation in early 2001. The city returned to its insufficient analog radios, when  

at 9:32 am. on Sept. 11, an FDNY Chief ordered all members in the North Tower to the lobby. Even though he repeated the order, not a single company responded.

At 9:59 the WTC South Tower collapsed; and at 10 am the order to abandon the North Tower was repeated. Inside the North Tower were 121 firefighters who never heard that order. They perished when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am.

“On 9/11 firefighters went into the North Tower and started ascending the tower, yet they were being called back and they kept going,” said Richard Salem, an attorney who has been representing several of the firefighters’ families who lost loved ones when the North Tower collapsed. “Not one other uniform[ed] officer from any other department [who had functioning radios], perished in that tower other than the FDNY.”



So when various figures in cable news speculate as to where it all went wrong for Giuliani, when America's Mayor was magically transformed into a reactionary, lying hot mess for Donald Trump, recall that the man was in fact a bad mayor.

Opinions differ as to whether Giuliani functioned well or poorly aside from the 9/11/01 catastrophe, but his sterling reputation was founded on the grossly faulty perception of his handling of that crisis. Similarly, Andrew Cuomo was exalted because of the grossly faulty perception of his response to SARS-CoV-2.

Governor Cuomo, if as likely he still harbors a desire for higher office, would do well strategically to take a page from Giuliani's response to questions about 9/11/01. The ex-mayor has never taken any responsibility nor conceded any failure, even denying that a different site for the command center was recommended to him.

Consequently, Andrew Cuomo would be wise- albeit unethical- to deny, deny, deny.  It took nineteen years, abominable behavior followed by an effort to overturn a democratic election, to understand clearly that Rudolph Giuliani is indeed a sub-human creature.

 


Saturday, February 27, 2021

"When What You're Doing Sounds Like An "Onion" Headline, Stop."


"Bill Maher" was trending on Twitter Saturday morning as he frequently does after having the audacity on Real Time to suggest that freedom of expression is a liberal value liberals shouldn't erase.

Tweeters responded to an interview the evening before in which Maher, in what was probably not his finest 10-15 minutes, chatted with Megyn Kelly about the now fashionable (both as behavior and as cliche) "cancel culture."  Most of the comments were negative, including "Bill Maher giving a platform to Megyn Blackface Kelly why?"; "Bill Maher and Megyn Kelly feel the biggest problem in America right now is white people being targeted;" "Can’t wait for Bill Maher to go the way of Chris Matthews. Wake up people;."

Of course, we must not have good interviews (though this one uncharacteristically fell short) on television.. Although the Megyn Kelly interview was not up to his standards, Maher's "New Rule" commentary at the close of the show continued the theme of the Kelly segment. The comedian remarked

In an era where everyone is online, everyone is a public figure. It's like we're all trapped in the hills, have eyes and wi-fi.

Take Mr. Emmanuel Cafferty. He is- was- a San Diego Gas and Electric worker but he got fired because someone reported him making a white supremacist hand gesture outside the window of his truck.

But he's not a white supremacist, he's a Latino and he wasn't making a hand gesture. He's probably just flicking a booger.

Is this really who we want to become- a society of phony clenched asshole avatars walking on eggshells always looking over your shoulder about getting ratted out for something that actually has nothing to do with your character or morals?



When expressing a conservative viewpoint, even liberals can play fast and loose with the truth, and a fact-check thus is critical.

In June, 2020, in midst of the protests over the killing of George Floyd, Cafferty was indeed employed by San Diego Gas and Electric. According to a piece written by The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk at the time, Cafferty is of Mexican and Irish descent on his father's side and Mexican on his mother's side. That doesn't completely preclude someone from being a white supremacist but makes highly questionable any suggestion that he is. As to the event to which Maher alluded, Mounk explained

At the end of a long shift mapping underground utility lines, he was on his way home, his left hand casually hanging out the window of the white pickup truck issued to him by the San Diego Gas & Electric company. When he came to a halt at a traffic light, another driver flipped him off.

Then, Cafferty told me a few days ago, the other driver began to act even more strangely. He flashed what looked to Cafferty like an “okay” hand gesture and started cussing him out. When the light turned green, Cafferty drove off, hoping to put an end to the disconcerting encounter.

But when Cafferty reached another red light, the man, now holding a cellphone camera, was there again. “Do it! Do it!” he shouted. Unsure what to do, Cafferty copied the gesture the other driver kept making. The man appeared to take a video, or perhaps a photo.

Two hours later, Cafferty got a call from his supervisor, who told him that somebody had seen Cafferty making a white-supremacist hand gesture, and had posted photographic evidence on Twitter. (Likely unbeknownst to most Americans, the alt-right has appropriated a version of the “okay” symbol for their own purposes because it looks like the initials for “white power”; this is the symbol the man accused Cafferty of making when his hand was dangling out of his truck.) Dozens of people were now calling the company to demand Cafferty’s dismissal.

By the end of the call, Cafferty had been suspended without pay. By the end of the day, his colleagues had come by his house to pick up the company truck. By the following Monday, he was out of a job....

When Cafferty was wrongly accused of being a white supremacist, he fought hard to keep his job. He said he explained to the people carrying out the investigation—all of them were white—that he had no earthly idea some racists had tried to appropriate the “okay” sign for their sinister purposes. He told them he simply wasn’t interested in politics; as far as he remembered, he had not voted in a single election. Eventually, he told me, “I got so desperate, I was showing them the color of my skin. I was saying, ‘Look at me. Look at the color of my skin.’”

It was all to no avail. SDG&E, Cafferty told me, never presented him with any evidence that he held racist beliefs or knew about the meaning of his gesture. Yet he was terminated.

Sadly, the incident did occur as Maher scantily described it, and there are other incidents which threaten to have a significant political effect.  Republicans now are continuallycomplaining about "cancel culture" and being cancelled, even when (especially when) there is no cancellation involved, because they recognize the political power in it. The theme of this year's CPAC is "America Uncanceled."

Mounk understands

such injustices are liable to provoke a political backlash. If a lot of Americans come to feel that those who supposedly oppose racism are willing to punish the innocent to look good in the public’s eyes, they could well grow cynical about the enterprise as a whole.

However, the primary reason this rush to judgement against anyone who at any time said something which might have offended a protected class is destructive. As philosophy professor Luke Cuddy argues

One of the core tenets of liberal democracy is that people should not be punished for accusations against them that are unsubstantiated, for actions that are perfectly reasonable, or for offenses that were committed by others. No matter how worthy the cause they invoke, you should not trust anyone who seeks to abandon these fundamental principles.

Or as Maher recommends, the left should begin to "stand your ground (and) stop apologizing."



Friday, February 26, 2021

Strange Argument


Senate Minority Whip John Thune on Wednesday explained his reasoning for opposing a major minimum wage hike and stated

And I can tell you, as somebody like Senator Scott who was growing up in a small town, I worked for less than the minimum wage. I worked for the minimum wage. I started busing tables at a dollar an hour. I went up to $2.25 when they moved me up in the place and I finally made it up to cook, which was big-time. That was six bucks an hour.


Thune apparently worked at Star Family Restaurant, a diner-like eatery in Murdo, South Dakota.  (The service is praised but it closes early, so go for breakfast or lunch.)  He evidently worked there in the 1970s because he graduated high school in South Dakota in 1979, then went to college in California.

The senator stated that he was paid $6.00 per hour, which is meant to sound as if he had a humble beginning earning wages which pale in comparison to the $15 per hour Democrats are seeking in the coronavirus stimulus package.

Let's assume for a moment that Thune's hourly wage was $6.00 an hour as late as 1979, which would be a less generous wage than if, for example, he was referring to 1975 or 1976.  The $6.00 in 1979 is worth $23.08 in 2021.

Senator Thune thus has made the argument that $23.08 is today a modest wage. It is, if his words mean anything, one fitting for a chef without a formal education in the culinary arts and working in a small town in a state with a relatively low cost of living. 

That's $5.08 more than congressional Democrats are pursuing, and which virtually every Republican is opposing.  But that's not surprising because Thune gave it away when he claimed "the minimum wage is something that is particularly troubling and harmful at a time when you're trying to get people back to work and trying to create jobs again."   

Thune therein did not blast an increase in the minimum wage but the minimum wage itself. Now that is particularly troubling.



Thursday, February 25, 2021

Trust Everybody, But Always Cut The Cards



Politico has reported that nearly three dozen House Democrats have sent to the White House a letter proposing that the President relinquish sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. Alternatives suggested include one which would require the Speaker of the House or the vice president  "neither of whom can be removed by the president if they disagree — to concur with a launch order.”

As usual, the right-wing propaganda machine is not arguing against the merits of the proposal, instead borrowing from their bag of ad hominem attacks.  This includes Gateway Pundit retweeting the remark "Joe Biden is mentally compromised and they know it" and concluding "Biden is not nearly as sharp as he used to be. Anyone who has watched him trying to speak knows this."

In 2019 Elizabeth Warren introduced (with six co-sponsors) the Senate version of a bill to declare as USA policy no first use of nuclear weapons. The proposal was met with hostility from Republicans and skepticism from some Democrats. However, it should bring to mind this BBC story of a Cold War near-miss:

In the early hours of the morning, the Soviet Union's early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States. Computer readouts suggested several missiles had been launched. The protocol for the Soviet military would have been to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.

But duty officer Stanislav Petrov - whose job it was to register apparent enemy missile launches - decided not to report them to his superiors, and instead dismissed them as a false alarm.

This was a breach of his instructions, a dereliction of duty. The safe thing to do would have been to pass the responsibility on, to refer up.

But his decision may have saved the world.

"I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it," he told the BBC's Russian Service 30 years after that overnight shift.

Mr Petrov - who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel and now lives in a small town near Moscow - was part of a well-trained team which served at one of the Soviet Union's early warning bases, not far from Moscow. His training was rigorous, his instructions very clear.

His job was to register any missile strikes and to report them to the Soviet military and political leadership. In the political climate of 1983, a retaliatory strike would have been almost certain.

And yet, when the moment came, he says he almost froze in place.

"The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word 'launch' on it," he says.

The system was telling him that the level of reliability of that alert was "highest". There could be no doubt. America had launched a missile.

"A minute later the siren went off again. The second missile was launched. Then the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Computers changed their alerts from 'launch' to 'missile strike'," he says.

Mr Petrov smokes cheap Russian cigarettes as he relates the incidents he must have played over countless times in his mind.

"There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike. But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time; that the Soviet Union's military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay.

"All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders - but I couldn't move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan," he told us.

Although the nature of the alert seemed to be abundantly clear, Mr Petrov had some doubts.

Alongside IT specialists, like him, Soviet Union had other experts, also watching America's missile forces. A group of satellite radar operators told him they had registered no missiles.

But those people were only a support service. The protocol said, very clearly, that the decision had to be based on computer readouts. And that decision rested with him, the duty officer.

But what made him suspicious was just how strong and clear that alert was.

"There were 28 or 29 security levels. After the target was identified, it had to pass all of those 'checkpoints'. I was not quite sure it was possible, under those circumstances," says the retired officer.

Mr Petrov called the duty officer in the Soviet army's headquarters and reported a system malfunction.

If he was wrong, the first nuclear explosions would have happened minutes later.

Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief," he says with a smile.



One of President Reagan's favorite quips- "trust, but verify"- was a translation of the Russian "Doveryai no proveryai." It's critical that other nations trust that the USA will avoid using nuclear weapons as a first option. When Senator Warren was asked at an 8/19/15 debate about her bill, she explained "We don't expand trust around the world by saying, ‘You know, we might be the first ones to use a nuclear weapon." 

In order to trust that a decision by the federal government to order a nuclear strike is reasonable, there should be two very high-ranking officials, neither beholden to the other, to agree. If that policy were known to our rivals- as obviously it would be- they would be less likely to mistake an act of ours for a nuclear attack. Thus, it probably wouldn't be necessary in the coming decades or centuries for another Stanislav Petrov to save the world.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Incredible Shrinking Rafael Edward


If there is one thing Donald Trump is right about (and there must be) it's Ted Cruz. The New York Daily News reports

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, bombarded with national criticism over a Cancun getaway as his frozen state shivered in the dark last week, said Tuesday that the incident illustrated “how ridiculously politicized” the country is — but he didn’t stop there.

“Here’s a suggestion, just don’t be a--holes,” said Cruz (R-Texas). “Yeah, like just you know treat each other as human beings. Have some degree, some modicum of respect." Somehow, that was not the fault of Heidi Cruz's friends, who leaked the information, nor to Mrs. Cruz herself, who, as an executive of Goldman Sachs feels so entitled as to flaunt a trip to coastal Mexico while her husband's state is being devastated. It was the fault of the press, you see.

Complaining about a paparazzi who photographed his wife wearing a bikini on the beach in Cancun, Cruz nonetheless added "Heidi is smoking hot, so I looked at the pictures and said, ‘Man, you look great.’” Fortunately, though he once called Ohio senator Sherrod Brown on the Senate floor a "complete ass," Cruz spared us his favorite "a" word in describing his wife's physique.

The whine took place on the podcast Ruth Less, not coincidentally begun soon after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. However, Cruz is more than peculiarly classless.  We recall March of 2016 when

After a super PAC unrelated to Cruz published an ad using a suggestive photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, from GQ, Trump laid the blame on Cruz anyway.

“Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!”

While it remains unclear what “beans” Trump was referring to, he posted an image on his Twitter account Wednesday another user had tweeted insulting the appearance of Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz

As the Texas Tribune pointed out in December

Cruz has proven in the past four years that he’ll stand by Trump in the president's most pressing times. During Trump's impeachment trial early this year, Cruz joined forces with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as part of the in-house impeachment advisory team and met with Trump and his lawyers to help “frame their legal strategy,” which ultimately contributed to the president’s acquittal.

And now, Cruz has been a leading voice in sowing doubt in Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat.

Cruz even collaborated with Trump's legal team during the more recent impeachment trial, when "after Democrats wrapped up their case against Trump"

Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Mike Lee huddled for roughly an hour with Bruce Castor and David Schoen, evidently to go over strategy. “I just wanted to sit down and say, ‘Okay, what are y’all looking to put forward?’ and to share our thoughts in terms of where things are,” Cruz recalled in a Fox News interview Thursday evening. “And certainly what I urged to the Trump defense lawyers was to focus on [on the legal standard of incitement].” On Friday morning, CNN’s Kaitlin Collins reported that the three senators specifically intended to give Trump’s legal team “advice for the rebuttal” to Democrats’ arguments.

Although few if any senators of either party would confront their colleagues, this does not make for credible jurors.. Nor was Cruz credible when on his podcast he complained of the paparazzi's photograph "I will tell you,that she is pissed about." The senator was terribly concerned about his wife, once publicly humiliated by Donald Trump a few months before his boots were licked by Cruz.

And that is why Donald Trump understands Ted Cruz.  The Washington Post noted a year ago after Trump's first acquittal

at a Jan. 29 event celebrating the ratification of a new North American trade deal, Trump singled Cruz out for praise. “Thank you, Ted, for everything,” he said. “You’ve been incredible.”

Incredible.  That is one of the best descriptions ever of Ted Cruz- incredible, as in "not credible."

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Propagating Propaganda


Emerging from his basement, Donald Trump will soon be making his first public appearance, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, since leaving the presidency. So Chris Cuomo on Monday night interviewed the chairman of CPAC, veteran Republican strategist Matt Schlapp. They spoke about GOP claims of (imaginary) widespread voter fraud. But then the exchange turned (at 7:12 of the video below) to a related topic:

Schlapp: And you spent four years saying there was Russian collusion and that there was not- and that the election should be questioned and Hillary Clinton said Joe Biden should never, ever concede and this is like, this is like hypocrisy I've never seen.

Cuomo: Not only, hold on, hold on, this is why. Not only did I say there was collusion. I will say it now that there was collusion. Collusion is not a crime; it's a behavior. And Trump's people did what they do best. They did dumb things for bad reasons. But look, you made your arguments. I gave you your time. We'll look to see what happens at CPAC. You're welcome on the show.

Schlapp: Bob Mueller found no collusion, my friend. He did not find no collusion.

Cuomo: Collusion is not a crime. He wasn't even looking at it as such. Learn to read, my brother. It's right in the details. Good to see you. I gotta go.

Schlapp: There was nothing inappropriate with Russia in the 2016 election.

Cuomo: He never said that; never said it. I'm glad to offer you the platform. Let the people decide.


No collusion; nothing inappropriate with Russia in the 2016 election.  Following Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in June, 2018 about the Special Counsel's report, lawyers Barbara McQuade and Joyce White Vance explained in June 2019

Mueller spent almost 200 pages describing “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.” He found that “a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” He also found that “a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations” against the Clinton campaign and then released stolen documents.

While Mueller was unable to establish a conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians involved in this activity, he made it clear that “[a] statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” In fact, Mueller also wrote that the “investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

Thanks in part to the pre-emptive report of then-Attorney General Barr which flagrantly misrepresented the Special Counsel's findings, the Republican base denies the link between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The likes of Matt Schlapp know better but are well-versed in Mythmaking 101.

Nonetheless, lies about the election of 2016 and of 2020 both serve to undermine public confidence in elections, thus laying the groundwork for accelerated voter suppression. It's not bad strategy, actually. for a party which knows it cannot win other than by preventing the other side from voting.

 


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Michael Che Forgot The Four-Letter "K" Word



Anti-semitic, mostly left, Twitter is ablaze with support for Saturday Night Live's Michael Che, who claims "Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half their population. And I'm going to guess it's not the Jewish half."  Unfortunately, Ryan Grim also is pleased:


Nice try, Ryan. But when one is criticizing a government for alleged religious bias, one needs to have one's facts straight.

There is no documented bias in administration of Covid-19 vaccination in Israel. None. Although vaccination rates there are higher than in most of the world, individuals in some groups have been reluctant to receive their dose (s) and

Einav Shimron, the Health Ministry’s deputy director for international relations, said the ministry is working with physicians and religious leaders to counter misinformation, such as claims that the vaccine can cause infertility.

The ministry manages a command center with 11 trackers who monitor social media activity for anti-vaccination posts in Hebrew, Russian, Amharic, Arabic and English on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram. The center is adding more staffers in the coming days.

Hebrew- and Arabic? This does not sound like a government pleased that its Arab residents are not receiving the vaccine.  The Palestinian Authority is responsible for vaccinating its own residents and, as The Guardian recently reported, "after international pressure, Israel agreed this month to transfer 5,000 Moderna vaccine doses to Palestinian medical workers in the West Bank, while the Palestinian Authority intends to source the majority of its doses elsewhere."  (This has been its policy throughout.)


Grim presumably was referring to vaccine doses held up on Monday, but allowed through on Wednesday, by Israeli security forces. There has been no word recently on the two Israeli citizens, nor of the remains of two Israeli soldiers, held by Hamas.

Last July, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recognized “anti-Semitic tweets and posts from sports and entertainment celebrities (which) are a very troubling omen for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement.”  While referring to Israel itself, Michael Che may have been thinking about the West Bank. In which case he should have replaced “Israel” with “the West Bank," the "occupied territories," or the "land under control of the Palestinian Authority." 

Instead, he believes attributing bias to Israel is good sport, binding anti-Semites, some religious and secular Christians, and left-wing Jews hurt that Israel has not been able to provide for Arab Palestinians the prosperous and free homeland denied them for centuries by Arab nations.

Under some circumstances, criticizing Israel- or even Jews- is  legitimate. However, there is one description for a brazenly inaccurate. religiously-based, attack:  Anti-Semitism.


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Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Free Market, Not Only In Texas


"Free markets." With all due respect to the non-partisan Renew Democracy Initiative, which is dedicated to the critical project of promoting liberal democracy in the USA and abroad, this is not a good time:

 

A non-profit media organization based in Austin notes

Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures brought on by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune. 

A Corpus Christie newspaper explains

In 1999, Texas deregulated its energy market. This meant that instead of cities or other local entities completely controlling the supply of energy to customers, the provision of electricity would be broken up into three components -- generation, transmission, and retail. Under this new regime, a customer would have the choice between various retail electric providers, with the hopes that such a move would lower prices. However, as we have experienced before and are learning yet again -- you often get what you pay for.

As part of the change to a deregulated energy market, prices were no longer fixed by the government. Companies were instead encouraged to compete to attract customers. With that competition came fewer rules from the state by which each of these players in the energy market had to abide.

Unfortunately, this system created incentives for energy companies to cut corners and invest as little as possible in order to maximize their profits. It would be easy to just blame the energy companies for doing this, but it is the system that the state created that is truly to blame. When electric generators are told they should take certain actions, like winterizing their power plants, but that simply remains a suggestion, then most companies will not do so out of fear that their competitor will choose not to and ultimately make more money or attract more customers.

The free market functioned relatively well, creating great wealth and a vibrant middle class, before deregulation was promoted by President Jimmy Carter and thereafter more robustly by President Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6).  As deregulation and its first cousin, privatization, gained steam, the size of the middle class declined and income inequality grew.

Even now, as the Never Trump contingent of the GOP decries the Trump wing for its racism, xenophobia, denial of global warming and other scientific realities, and attack on democratic norms, there remain three conservative nostrums which never can be challenged.

One is "pro-life" and another is "cutting taxes," euphemism for slashing corporate taxes and income taxes of the wealthy. The third is an attack on regulation.  Democrats will advocate for reproductive freedom and periodically assail Republicans for their fealty to tax cuts for the wealthy. But notwithstanding the few progressive critiques now being made of the deregulation of the energy market in Texas, rarely does any Democrat, and nary a progressive, challenge deregulation in general. The obsession with maintaining "free markets"- with as little regulation as possible- continues. The cost to consumers and the public in general is incalculable.

The unquestioning rhetorical devotion to a free market is a major stumbling block to efficient and productive regulation. The donor class, which reinforces the GOP's ideological commitment to deregulation, desensitizes Democrats to the danger it poses to the middle and lower classes In the long run, this obsessive commitment to "free markets, as the disaster in Texas reveals, can be devastating.

 


Friday, February 19, 2021

A Very Negotiable "Faith"


The magazine of Decision, "The Evangelical Voice For Today," reported in January, 2019 that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas remarked

We love Mike and Susan. Susan is warm and inviting, smart and caring. Both are followers of Jesus. Mike was a small business owner when he served as deacon. He was a humble, competent and hard-working man who cared about his employees, his family and his church.

The truth, not so much.  According to The Washington Post. after an interview with NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly in January, 2020, Pompeo launched a profane tirade in which

“He asked me, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ ” she continued. “He used the f-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes; he called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine; he put the map away. He said, ‘People will hear about this.’ ”

Despite an email chain which preceded the interview, Pompeo "accused Kelly of having 'lied to me, twice,' first in setting up the terms of the interview and then again in agreeing to keeping the 'post-interview conversation' off the record. "  Moreover

The statement ended with a vague, unexplained assertion — “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine” — that seemed to imply Kelly, who holds a master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University, got her geography wrong.

A week after the election, Pompeo was asked by a reporter at a news conference "is the State Department planning to engage with the Biden transition team...?  He responded in part "there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump Administration." That didn't happen.


 

Moreover, now-private citizen Mike Pompeo is not done. 

The article itself to which Pompeo helpfully linked described the podcast hosted by Ben Rhodes, who served in the National Security Council under President Obama, in which

Rhodes speculated on what drives Netanyahu’s world view: “Maybe the view is, ‘Jews have been screwed throughout history, by a corrupt cruel world. And so you know what, we just have to be corrupt and cruel ourselves. That’s the only way to survive in this world.’”

Yet for Pompeo, that somehow became Rhodes stating "all Jews are 'corrupt and cruel.'"

The fawning article in Decision was entitled "Mike Pompeo's Non-Negotiable Faith."  It seems, though, that Mike Pompeo's most abiding faith is in (pardon the redundancy) deceit and Donald Trump.   

 


Democrat-Bashing

As is widely known now Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) faced criticism Friday afternoon for the way in which she chose to vote against a p...