Monday, May 27, 2013

Guest Blogger Handicaps 2016 Race

By Michael Brenner

 The 2013-2016 presidential election season is now underway after the traditional post-inauguration break.  There are only 1,258 days till American voters choose the 45th President of the United States. Time to check the racing form.

The race is expected to be fiercely contested by an unprecedented number of aspirants. So many in fact that the run for the roses may require an auxiliary starting gate for the first time in the nation’s history. Eagerly chomping at the bit, the would-be candidates are inspired by the surprise outcome of recent races won by dark horses with scant track records. The American Dream that anyone can become President has been realized – literally.

  HILLARY is the early favorite. She has some obvious strengths. Hillary has been around the track at least once before;  twice was there as a pacifier pony; has been a (sometimes) stable mate of a proven winner, enjoys considerable crowd appeal especially among the distaff set; has demonstrated the necessary endurance, and has a driving ambition to stand in the winner’s circle draped with flowers. That keen competitive edge often reveals itself in the employment of ruthless tactics that, in some circles, have opened her to charges of dirty play. On balance, that factor should figure on the plus side of the ledger in today’s anything goes climate. An additional strength is a deep bench of supporters, donors and well-wishers who share her ambitions and dedication to self-service. In addition, she now can claim that her peripatetic travels to 110 countries, including the Cook Islands, makes her uniquely qualified to handle 3 A.M. phone calls as her biological clock doesn’t know night from day.
Weaknesses:  Concern that Hillary may be getting long in the tooth – prone to injury, her peak seasons behind her, and her diminished nimbleness that could leave her boxed in along the rail . Her much touted record as Secretary of State is tarnished by the serial failures of American foreign policy in the Middle East and devoid of tangible accomplishment.

Joker: Will Barack Obama throw his inconsiderable weight behind her – that’s the big unnown. Obama evidently does feel an obligation to the Clintons, for reasons no one can decipher. Whispers around Georgetown suggest that he is grateful for what she did back in 2008 when confronted with the question: “Do you believe that Mr Obama is a Muslim?” Her unhesitating answer, ”not as far as I know” helped to put the matter to rest at a time when the Obama camp feared Hillary’s answer would be: “not as far as I know; but anyway, there is no reason why Americans, in principle, should not accept as President a man who in good faith prays 5 times a day with his forehead touching the ground and whose pals call him Hajji.” The other joker in the pack is Bill. His irresistible impulse to grab the limelight could further solidify support for Hillary among her core constituency. On the other hand, the unpredictable independent vote may find the prospect of a sequel to past White House melodramas a retro form of comic entertainment.

Joe Biden, or ‘Lock Jaw’ as he is affectionately known to friends and admirers, is Hillary’s most formidable rival. As the incumbent Vice-President, he wears the invisible mantle of legitimate successor to Obama. He sits in all the big meetings, goes in and out of the Oval Office, visits foreign capitals with an entourage of 224 whose upkeep for a night at a Paris hotel tops half a million, and keeps his celebrity portrait in the public gaze. Biden is a seasoned veteran who ran the course on several occasions dating back to the last century. He could appeal to the Obama loyalists whose belief that something has changed in Washington is unshaken by the greatest policy continuity across Republican and Democratic administrations since Harrison/Cleveland II. A hybrid Blue Dog Yellow Dog mix, Biden will try to hog the Democratic middle-of-the-road where one finds the bundlers, the pundits and no small number of dead armadillos.

Weaknesses: A stale quality only partially offset by a hyper active style and a high voltage smile. Biden’s stock of platitudes is wearing thin after long exposure. It’s a liability made all the heavier by the fact that the same words and phrases have been uttered non-stop by President Obama and Hillary for years. But spoken in Obama’s portentous tones, they can pass muster – if barely. Spoken by Hillary, they profit from a gender inflection. Biden may have to reinvent himself to give Hillary a run for her donors’ money. There surely are no convictions or character traits that would stand in the way of his trying to do so. The selection of public persona is rich and there is an abundance of advisers and job seekers willing to help. The trick will be to pick the right one:  grizzled veteran fighting one last campaign to do what’s right for America; champion of the “middle class” who has discovered his working class roots – once again; or, simply, the plain vanilla alternative to the unbearable risk that the Clintons may lodge in the White House for four more years.

Andrew Cuomo doubtless will throw his figurative hat into the presidential ring – unlike his father who in 1992 had a private jet fueled and ready to go at the Albany airport before deciding at the last moment that sleeping in strange beds for a year wasn’t his thing. Andrew is not a Hamlet – he knows what he wants and will pull out all stops in going after it. That was evident in early 2010 when he announced publicly that his aggressive pursuit of Wall Street malefactors, as Attorney general of New York, was reaching the end - a few months before declaring himself a gubernatorial candidate. His campaign was well funded by members of the financial community. Cuomo will stress his Executive experience which includes a stint as Secretary of Housing under Bill Clinton. That is the one resume item that differentiates him from Hillary and Biden whose may claim to have been high level policymakers but never managed much of anything. It also allows Cuomo to assume the outsider role in the stylized Kabuki that is American politics. This is at a time when Americans’ disillusionment with “Washington” is at an all-time high.

Weaknesses: Cuomo’s self-portrayal as the can-do executive free of Washington’s insider entanglements is counterbalanced by his silence on the great issues domestic and foreign that are wracking the Republic. This discretion has kept him out of the crossfire but it leaves him without a core constituency or a cadre of devout followers. He is no one’s “great white hope.” Cuomo may opt to become the standard bearer of progressives simply because that is the niche along the spectrum that is unoccupied. Dusting off his credentials as one-time scourge of Wall Street might help; and his lack of conviction about most things would facilitate such a calculated move.  So, too, could memories of father’s genuine identification with the common man before retiring prematurely from public discourse to devote himself to enrichment. At the same time, it would open him to charges of opportunism. In the end, he will have to slog it out with Hillary and Biden without the one’s well crafted celebrity or the other’s ‘incumbency’ advantages. That means lots of money, which also means tempering any revival of his youthful reformist tendencies.

Sure Runners & Sure Losers: Al Sharpton

Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren


Paul Ryn: is the early line favorite on the GOP side. By virtue of having made the circuit in an auxiliary role last time, he acquires a bit of that Presidential timber image. He’s done the debates with the lectern and Stars-and-Stripes thing, he has made the necessary contacts with the money-bag types, the media have promoted him to benefit-of-the-doubt status, and the name recognition is high – thanks in part to the millions who think that he is the Jack Ryan of novelist fame who has made the jump from the Navy to politics. In addition, he is lionized among the frenzied Tea Party crowd who admire his gumption, his dogmatism and his instinctive facility in subordinating reality to fantasy. Moreover, he can stand up to the Liberal Establishment because he can talk in numbers. The fact that they don’t add up is another endearing trait.

Weaknesses: Ryan still looks like a kid with something of the hustler in him. Neither youth nor a penchant for sharp-dealing is itself frowned upon by American voters. They do, though, prefer to have it masked by a more serious demeanor that conveys gravity and sobriety. This clearly did not stop 60 million voters from being comfortable with putting Sarah Palin within a couple of melanoma cells of the Oval office. Then again, Ryan doesn’t have her legs - nor is either Hillary or Biden or Cuomo black. A perhaps more formidable liability is that Ryan’s positions on most domestic issues are out of synch with the attitudes of about 60-70% of the electorate. That arithmetic will work against any conceivable Republican candidate – assuming that this time around the Democrats bother to point it out. Ryan, though, is the poster boy for Republican reaction.
Chris Christie: the big man from New Jersey has an outsized appetite for everything – power foremost among them (since he has gotten his stomach stitched). His natural impulse is to holler, a trait that goes down well with the high octane elements that now dominate the Republican Party. Decibel readings correspond to passion, to outrage, to fighting spirit, to courage – all of which are dear to Republican hearts. Blood is what they want and blood is what Christie promises them – even if the wounds he inflicts are only verbal.  Furthermore, his electoral successes in a Northeastern state suggest that he might be able to tear loose a few much needed electoral votes from what has become a solid Democratic bloc. His supposed appeal to working class Reagan Democrats tempts the Republican movers and shakers. Like Cuomo, he will foster the image of a down-to-earth Washington outsider with a can-do record – while reaching his hand across the Hudson.

Weaknesses: Christie has a couple of serious liabilities. To the right, he has turned off some fans by two acts of betrayal. One, he greeted Obama personally when the President visited in the wake of the Sandy catastrophe and, horror of horrors, thanked the Socialist closet Muslim Obama for his assistance. Two, he has shown signs of going soft on gay marriage. Whether these twin sins will sink his candidacy will depend on how they are judged: mortal or just venal. Doubtless, Christie will manage to get a clutch of Archbishops and a Cardinal or two to vouch for him. It is by no means certain, though, that Catholic Church authorities can quell the unease felt by the largely Evangelical religious constituency that is the heart of the Tea Party. Christie’s other liability is his impulse to shoot from the hip – often with an AK-47. At times, his foot gets in the way. This may help him bond with the Tea Party militants but could hurt him in places where violence is not prized as a presidential asset.

Sure Losers: Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul(s)
Wild Card: Jeb BUush


President Obama declines to endorse a candidate. “I have devoted my eight years in office to binding up the wounds of partisan conflict in the belief that we are first and foremost Americans. Not Republicans and Democrats, not conservatives and liberals, not Red states and Blue states. The people of this country want us to pull together in facing the great challenges of the Twenty-First century rather than to engage in endless partisan bickering. I believe that we have made progress in moving to overcome our differences. The task is not completed but we have set a solid foundation on which future leaders and future generations of Americans can build – going forward. After much reflection, I have reached the conclusion that most valuable parting gift, for the sake of this noble cause, that I can leave my fellow countrymen is to refrain from endorsing either party’s candidate. God bless you; God bless the truly UNITED States of America”

WINNER: WARREN over Bush by 50.45 vs 49.55 in the popular vote and 270 - 268  in the Electoral College. Warren is President (the Supreme Court permitting).

  •  Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why Chuck Schumer (et al) Bit the Hook

The study group Just Foreign Policy says the New York Times has "gone Judy Miller" again, a reference to the discredited NYT reporter who shilled for the invasion of Iraq. JFP's complaint centers on the paper's stenographic reportage of the U.S. government line regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, without a scintilla of responsible journalistic skepticism or supplemental reporting.

In my opinion the Times "went Miller" a long time ago in its reporting on Iran's nuclear program, and continues to do so in articles like the recent story by William Broad and David Sanger under the headline "Iran Is Seen Advancing Nuclear Bid." For several years, these two reporters and others at the Times have been, at the very least, writing about Iran's nuclear program in loaded language, reeking of pro-hawk bias.  At worst they seem to have been weaving into their stories tainted information, colored by Mossad, concocted by Likud, conveyed by AIPEC and intended to influence world and American public opinion against Iran.

The Times's  public editor, an independent monitor of the paper's ethics, reportedly is looking into the Syria business.  Let us here and now look once again at the Iran reporting, because the Times and other complicit journalists like George Jann of the Associated Press have created a climate wherein, when a reader sees the phrase "Iran's nuclear program," he or she thinks "Iran's nuclear weapons program."  There is no credible evidence of a  nuclear weapons program in Iran.

At least as far back as 2010, the Times has used quarterly reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to introduce hints, innuendo or outright falsehoods.  On March 1, 2010, an independent online analyst wrote, "The Times imputes to the IAEA report statements, declarations and conclusions that just are not there." The very same statement can accurately  be made about the latest Broad-Sanger piece.

The headline writer obviously intends one to infer "weapons bid." The lede paragraph reports what the IAEA reports -- that Iran continues to enrich uranium -- but immediately invites the reader to doubt that it's doing so for peaceful purposes.  It goes downhill from there.

Two essential points must be made here: First. Iran, thanks to technology originally given to it by the United States during the reign of the Shah, has been enriching uranium for years.  As new technology has become available, Iran has acquired some of it.  The enrichment levels it produces are about 5% -- suitable for a wide range of medical procedures and treatments -- and exactly 19.7%, suitable to produce fuel for nuclear power plants like the 105 now operating in the United States. According to the the American Federation of Scientists, 90% enrichment is the minimum threshhold for "weapons grade" material.  Broad and Sanger, in their latest article, describe Iran's uranium as being "close to" weapons grade.  That is like saying $19.70 is "close to" $100.  Second point: As a signatory to the international accord on atomic energy, Iran was legally entitled to enrich uranium up to the maximum 20% level for peaceful (power, medicine, etc.) use. The Islamic republic insists that it retains that  right.  Israel and its western allies, particularly the United States, the U.K. and France, say, "No, we took that right away from you because you broke the rules."  But the issue has never been adjudicated in anything resembling an international body of law.  A diplomatic solution has been sought through negotiations between Iran and  the so-called P5+1 -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.   No new talks were scheduled when the April session ended with little progress.  Broad and Sanger characterized the talks as "collapsed."  An American government official said, however, “There may not have been a breakthrough, but there also was not a breakdown." Surely the difference between these characterizations cannot be lost on such experienced diplomatic reporters.  Sober analysts in such diverse countries as Japan and Canada have suggested the obvious: the talks are in suspended animation until Iran elects a new president in a little more than two weeks from now.

Once they've written circles around the fact that there's very little news in the latest IAEA report, Broad and Sanger go off on a tangent that seems as transparent as the bizarre Rube Goldberg devices the AP's Jann has fallen for.  I've reread the IAEA text half a dozen times and find nothing in it to substantiate their claim that it bares a new three-part strategy for Iran to get A-weapons before Israel and the U.S. can stop them by going to war.  Their strategy hypothesis reads like a "what-if" memo written by a Mossad intelligence analyst.

It concludes: "The third element of the strategy involves speeding ahead with another potential route to a bomb: producing plutonium. The energy agency’s report indicated that Iran was making significant progress at its Arak complex, where it has built a heavy-water facility and is expected to have a reactor running by the end of next year."

Nowhere -- repeat, nowhere -- in the IAEA document does the word "plutonium" appear.  Nor does its U.N. chemical ID symbol (Pu) or any of its variations appear in the text. Its mention of the Arak heavy water plant notes that its inspectors were there in August of last year, but since have had to rely on satellite images to monitor its activity.

Perhaps the Times raised eyebrows at those parts of the IAEF report that mentioned the production or transfer to other facilities of small quantities of UO2 or U3O8.  While these could be used to produce plutonium, they are also consistent in their reprocessed state with efforts to produce high-efficiency fuel for a new Iranian nuclear power plant nearing completion.

Just as one must learn to walk before one runs, so also most of the verified Iranian nuclear activities could be stepping stones to starting work on nuclear weapons. My neighbor just bought shoes for his two-year-old toddler. Ergo, the kid plans to enter the Olympic Games.

No wonder Sen. Chuck Schumer thinks Iran already has enough weapons-grade material to arm a nuclear warhead, and has broadcast that lie to his constituency.  He thinks he read it in his hometown paper. The one that used to be respectable.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Beach Volleyball, Drought and the Very Very Rich

They're playing beach volleyball in the Rio Grande.  The "great river" of New Mexico and Texas is one long ribbon of sand.

Young people in bikinis are serving, digging and spiking where a year ago flowed the irrigation water that nurtured the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys' crops of pecans, onions, alfalfa, barley, lettuce, cabbage, beef and dairy products and, of course, chile. (New Mexico has an official state question: "Red or green?")

Caballo "Lake," the nearest reservoir to Las Cruces, is a mud puddle after more than a decade of drought.  Nearby Elephant Butte "Lake," the main water management facility for southern New Mexico and west Texas, is 90 per cent empty, man's management efforts mocked by a series of bathtub rings towering above the present surface level. They used to "turn on" the river, releasing outflow from these containments, in March or April when the snowmelt from the southern slopes of Colorado's San Juan mountains brought the Rio Grand to life.  Last year it was early May before they turned on the river; this year's target date is June 1, and the flow season will only be about a month.

This year's snow pack was only about 62 per cent of normal. By the time the melt flow reached Elephant Butte, it was 5 percent of normal. This after a decade of drought had already reduced reservoirs to mere ponds. "Each successive year of short water gets worse and worse," explains Phil King, who manages the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.  "This year is the most critically short in the history of the Rio Grande Project" (the system of dams and containments of which Elephant Butte is part).

The Mesilla Valley still has verdant fields of onions, alfalfa and cabbage and soon the lucky few farmers with access to ground water will plant the beloved crops of chile. "If you can pump," one farmer said earlier this year, "you pump.  If you can't, you're out of business."   This isn't the giants of Argribusiness; these are small, individually-owned farms and ranches operated pretty much the same way they operated two generations ago. But pumping water from the aquifers is a self-defeating process: wells are beginning to go dry or produce brackish water.  Ground water in aquifers is a finite resource, and there are lots of straws sucking away down there.

Not far from El Paso and Las Cruces is one of the last magnificent natural grasslands in the American west.  It sustains an array of biota whose abundance is almost non-existant throughout North America. It has enough ground water to slake the thirsts of El Paso, Las Cruces and surrounding areas for 100 years. It's called Otero Mesa and the congressman who represents this part of the southwest desperately wants to turn it over to his pals in the extraction industries for drilling and fracking. Steve Pearce is a member of the ultra-wealthy one percent.  Like his fellow plutocrats, he looks around and sees only dollars on the bushes and trees and under the mountains and in the canyons.  Since he's already rich enough to truck in his drinking water from Lake Michigan, he cares not a whit that the people he "represents" are perilously close to lacking the water necessary to sustain human life, let alone crop life or animal life.

And he's just a microcosm of the planet-raping, corporate-controlled, money-grubbing U .S. of A.

Let them eat cake.

Let them drink  champagne.

Pearce periodically conducts "job fairs" in his impoverished district, designed to prove that if the jobless ones who live here had any gumption, or got off drugs, they'd have their own hunk of the American Dream.

He seems not to notice that most of those jobs pay the minimum wage, less after unscrupulous franchise holders in the fast food joints siphon workers' money off the top.  Or pay nothing after the crop is picked.

The jobless can always join the volleyball game under the bridge.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh, to Be a One Percenter!

Drat.  I didn't win the big lottery prize, or any part of it.

The can't-miss start-up stock my savviest friend tipped me to last year is worthless already.

Just like my big California land investment of 10 years ago.

I still have the stock certificates for the company that, back in '84, was about to manufacture a 50-mile-per-gallon gizmo to attach to your carburetor.  Had the idea of buying a private island in the Carribbean with the profits from that one.

But the sad fact is that I'll still be wallowing among the other 99 percenters on the day I die. Curses on you, my father, for not leaving me a fortune to squander!  Oh, yes, for a long time I had hope.  Why else to buy a lottery ticket at those odds?  But even hope eventually dies, albeit slowly. 

But there is still The American Dream.  Everyone has an equal chance at The American Dream, right? Isn't that what Capitalism is all about?  God Bless America and American Capitalism. And so to sleep . . .

. . . "Gretchen!" (my secretary, who pays more taxes than I do).  "Gretchen, call the accountants into the office."

"Yes, sir." (They assemble around the emerald-inlaid oak table in the conference room with a view of the sea.)

"Crunch numbers.  How much did I make in the last hour?"

"Nine million, sir."

"That's all?  I must spend my way out of this Depression.  Buy me four more senators, 10 congressman, a governor and two cruise lines.  Also another small country or two."

"Consider it done, sir."

(A few hours later).

Gretchen: "The accountants are back, sir."

"What news, number crunchers?  How much have I made since last I saw you?"


"Speak up!  How much?"

Milquetoast, the most junior accountant, hesitantly: "A- . . . a- . . . .about 4 billion, sir."

"A mere langiappe!  I'll have your heads!!  Explain yourselves."

"Sir, you ordered us to buy some countries.  (Pause).  And we . . . we bought Bangladesh."


"Gretchen! Get me Kim Jong Un on the hotline."

(Red phone rings.)

 "Hi there Kimmer, you old Hook Shot!  TW here, Dennis Rodman's pal in the USA.  I remember you were looking for a place to test your new neutron bomb? Well, I've got the perfect spot and I can let you have it for a mere trillion, give or take a bill."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thuggery to Keep the Press in Line

I cannot work up a great deal of sympathy for a press association that has transgressed against responsible journalism as often as the AP has in the last decade or so.  But count me in the chorus of outrage against the Obama administration's Nixonian netful of subpoenaed records from 20 phone lines of the Associated Press and its editors and reporters.

My outrage is less on behalf of the AP than it is in mortal fear for the First Amendment, for the very notion of free speech, a free press, a free people. Obama and his henchmen have been ruthless in their use of laws of questionable constitutionality to suppress dissent, intimidate news media, squelch responsible whistle-blowing and operate an ever more despotic presidency in utter secrecy.

The secret subpoenas in the AP case affected the work of more than 100 journalists.  No administration in history has attempted such a bald-faced mass intimidation of the press.  Moreover, Obama's hoodlum administration has brought leak-related criminal charges against six present or former government officials -- twice the number of all previous administrations combined,  including Bushes I and II.

You have to go all the way back to the Nixon administration to find precedent for the climate of hostility against good reporting and the public's right to know.  We at the New York Times Washington Bureau who made Tricky Dick's famous "enemies list" considered it to be a badge of honor when it finally became public. Yet as recently as ten years ago, some of us were still feeling repercussions of being named on that list. James Goodale, the great First Amendment lawyer who defended us in the Pentagon Papers case, considers the Obama team to be a far worse threat to press freedom than Nixon was.

At a time when the Obama thugs had already been caught red-handed abusing IRS powers to suppress dissent by the Tea Party and other conservative political groups, an understandably jumpy Attorney General Eric Holder sought to justify the the AP raid by scaring the hell out of  the common folk.  There was, he said, "a very, very, very serious" national security leak which "put the American people at risk."  Bovine excrement of the most hyperbolic sort.

Holder is the very same former Wall Street lawyer whose DOJ refused to even consider criminal cases against his former employers and their bonus-bloated banker pals who almost destroyed the entire American economy.  Probable cause?  R.J. Eskow, a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future, suggests these for starters:

    •    Which bankers conspired to rig LIBOR pricing or fix other rates?  
    •    What discussions were held among MERS users about using the database and shell company to conceal the identity of mortgage lien holders or evade local taxes and fees?   
    •    What conversations were held between accounting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and executives at AIG, Goldman Sachs, or other institutions about concealing their true financial status?
   •    How frequently was JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in touch with the "London Whale" and his office, and how aware was Dimon of the extent of losses when he told investors the six-billion-dollar blunder was a "tempest in a teapot"? 
   •    When and how did CEOs and other senior bank executives learn of widespread fraud in the foreclosure process at their banks, and to what extent were they accessories after the fact in these crimes?

Holder has no prosecutorial stomach for such cases as these.  But he'll make an example of journalists doing their traditional jobs as a warning shot across the bow of other potential venturers into the deep dark secrets of the Obama White House.

No wonder so many of the mainstream media have shrugged and quit trying to do real journalism.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

One Deficit You Can Believe In

While virtually all U.S. politicians excel at hypocrisy, a clutch of right-wing Republicans lead the league.

They're at it again right now, manufacturing another phony "-gate"  over the  Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya.  Four people were killed, including  U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

The point of the GOP slumgullion in Congress is to gain political points among the unsavvy in the electorate and divert attention from important issues where even some of the unsavvy realize that Republicans are on the wrong side.  Background checks for gun purchases, for example.

One irony is that most of the loudest noisemakers about Benghazi voted against increasing funds for embassy security as part of their support for another GOP bogeyman, the so-called "deficit crisis."

But the ultimate hypocrisy is that the bellyachers of today were absolute sphynxes when, during the Bush administration, 98 persons including four members of the diplomatic corps were killed in attacks on 13 American consulates or embassies. What's sauce for the goose today obviously wasn't sauce for the gander yesterday.

A posse of Diogeneses would find it difficult today to put the finger on a single member of Congress who is not a hypocrite, a liar, a cheat, a crook, a dissembler, a kakistocrat or a coward.  They'd find plenty who are all of the above.

Congress, a legislature, is supposed to legislate, to pass laws.  The 112th Congress passed only 90 bills into law, the fewest in more than 60 years.  The so-called "do-nothing" Congress of 1947-48 did better than that.  The current batch of geniuses, the 113th, has so far passed only nine bills into law. Seven of them originated in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. None of the seven will appreciably improve the lives of  the Common Man.

Of the two laws that originated in the Senate, one, the Violence Against Women Act, is a landmark victory to protect the rights and human dignity of more than half the population.  Even amid the consensus on this legislation, however, Congress was not absent the taint of hypocrisy.  Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), for example, giddily joined the photo op to applaud Preident Obama when he signed the thing into law.  But he voted against it in the Senate. This is the Janus tactic, long popular in Washington, whereby a pol shows the general public one face but votes quite another way to please the special interests that own him.  President Obama is the ranking master of the tactic.

The other new law that originated in the Senate has less redeeming virtue.  It modified the so-called STOCK Act, a work of the 112th Congress, loudly applauded by Congress and the President as an act to "end the deficit of trust" between Washington and the rest of the country. It was specifically intended to end insider trading by members of Congress based on information to which they were privy only because they were in Congress.  It also required thousands of high government officials to post their stock holdings online.  The new law, passed not in the glare of mass media approval but in stealth just before adjournment for a holiday back home, nullified the latter provision.  More hypocrisy.

"Deficit of trust" indeed.  It's the only believable "deficit" in all of the District of Columbia, and it's grown too enormous to calculate.

* * *


The latest Janus tactic: House Republicans have passed and sent to the Senate the "Working Families Flexibility Act.” It gives business owners the flexibility of not paying hourly workers a higher wage for overtime work.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

We Have Sold Out "The Vision Thing"

The United States is in a sorry state because it elects leaders who cannot see beyond the next election and whose policies are dictated solely by the profit motive.  They don't consider the consequences of their actions, what's beyond the next bend in the road or over the next hill.  They don't contemplate the lessons of history and so they usually repeat it.

Government by such as these -- what Bush the First contemptuously called "the vision thing" -- offers no hope for digging out of the terrible hole we're in.

In a recent discussion, an engineer friend agreed with my statement that we've got the technology right now to run our vehicles with cleaner engines that don't use fossil fuel.  He shrugged and said, "As soon as they figure out how to make money on them, they'll start making them."  I inferred that he was OK with that .  A preponderance of his fellow Americans share the same attitude.

If you're in Congress, or in the White House, or in a governor's mansion, you know that pandering to the industries stuck in the present, earth-polluting, climate-changing  but obscenely profitable operating systems, and taking their bribes and calling them "campaign contributions," is a sure path to re-election.

And the jobs you're re-elected to are the easiest jobs in the world.  If you're a legislator, you don't need to understand anything about science, education, war, history, finance or social responsibility. You just take the bills ALEC writes, sign your name as a sponsor, and send them to committee as your own. When they reach the floor you vote for them.  If you need extra cash despite all your graft, you telegraph hesitancy to support this or that bill and, presto!, a lobbyist for the special interest involved will appear with a handful of cash for you.

Whether you hold a legislative or elected executive job, you hire spokespeople who wite and talk the same doublespeak  advocated by the likes of Frank Luntz. In this cockamamie dialogue things are what you call them, not what they really are.   It's a world populated by "financial cliffs,"  say, or "sequestration," or "entitlements."  These are all scarecrows, designed to sow fear among the people in order to obscure the ever-growing power of oligarchs and big business over every aspect of their lives. In a smiliar vein, "collateral damage" or "enemy combatants" become the useful euphemisms for the horrors of murder, assasination, torture and endless incarceration that our government commits in our name.

If you're President Obama, your rhetorical flights to neverland mask the import of your policies to serve our real overlords.  You nominate Penny Pritzker, the bankster who funded your rise up the political ladders, to be Secretary of Commerce; Jack Lew, a gofer for the very too-big-to-fail banks that almost destroyed our economy, to be treasury secretary; Rep, Mel Watt of North Carolina, who is owned by Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other insurancce and lending industry corporations, to oversee the mortgage shenannigans of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. You proclaim the need to assure that every man, woman and child in this country is guaranteed decent health care, and then sell out to the profit-rich drug makers, chain hospitals and insurance giants so they can further engorge themselves on profits written in our blood.

You shy away from commitments to the environment, the social safety net and government spending to enhance the lives of the people. You don't even think about the inevitable outcome: a war-mongering police state run by a handful of the richest among us while everyone else becomes the poorest among us, wallowing in hunger, poverty and fear.

That will be the legacy of our short-sighted so-called leaders, who can't see beyond the next bribe or rigged election.

Maybe the next attempt to build a democratic republic of the people, by the people and for the people -- wherever and whenever it takes place -- will learn from our mistakes. That's the best we can hope for.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Letter to the Pianist - and YOU

Hi Thomas,

My name is Susan Vento, and I am writing to you about a cause very close to my heart. My husband, Bruce, was a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives until October 10th, 2000 when he died of pleural mesothelioma––a rare disease caused by asbestos exposure. Recently, asbestos companies are using their political influence to push a new bill in Congress, led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is called the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act.” In short, this bill would delay and, in some cases, deny justice to people suffering from asbestos-related diseases. The FACT Act marks the beginning of a state-by-state strategy to dismantle the rights of victims. We must take action to protect these victims before it’s too late, like it was for my husband.

In the name of so-called “transparency,” the bill places burdensome reporting requirements on victims applying to the bankruptcy trusts. Yet, the companies who knowingly caused the asbestos exposure have no comparable requirements. The legislation is a one-sided and unfair effort designed to harm those who have already been injured. You can find more information on the bill here. This legislation is not an effort to make the legal system more responsive. Instead, it is merely the latest attempt by companies and individuals like the Koch brothers to avoid responsibility for their wrongdoings.

Because of your influence and experience in the political blogosphere, I am asking for your help. I am a spokesperson for the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign. The ACVRC is a national campaign dedicated to protecting the rights and privacy of cancer victims and their families.  I hope that you will join our fight to defeat this unfair legislation and the potential precedent it sets. Here are a couple simple steps you can take to make a difference:

1.     Sign the petition to stop legislation that threatens cancer victims!
Go to and follow the instructions to sign the petition at the bottom of the page.

2.     Spread the word!
Share your thoughts on the bill and our cause with your blog audience. Place a link to our petition on your blog to allow your readers to sign and showcase their public support––every signature matters!

Thank you in advance for your time. Individuals and families affected by cancer already have enough on their plate. With your help, the ACVRC is committed to fighting legislation that further burdens them.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

To Be 5 and Have a Notch in Your Gun

Among the gunshot deaths in the United States Tuesday was this one, in Burkesville, Ky., near the Tennessee state line: Kristian Sparks, 5, slew his sister, Caroline, 2, with his very own .22 rifle, which he received as a gift.

Her death was an accident, said the coroner, Gary White. “Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation. You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.”

The local judge, John Phelps, said,“It’s a normal way of life, and it’s not just rural Kentucky, it’s rural America — hunting and shooting and sport fishing. It starts at an early age. There’s probably not a household in this county that doesn’t have a gun.”

Guns are a normal way of death in this sorry nation, as well -- but by five-year-olds?  Is there no limit to the derangement of the American gun culture and the spineless politicians who tolerate it while accepting the NRA's filthy lucre? How many more children must die before the sane portion of our citizenry rises up and demands sensible regulation of firearms?

Caroline Sparks's brief life was snuffed by something called a Crickett.  "It’s a little rifle for a kid. ... The little boy’s used to shooting the little gun,”  Coroner White said.

The company that makes the rifle,  Keystone Sporting Arms, is based in Milton, Pa. The  “Kids Corner” on its website displays pictures of young boys and girls at shooting ranges and out hunting. It says the company produced 60,000 Crickett and Chipmunk rifles for kids in 2008. The smaller rifles are sold with a mount to use at a shooting range. Keystone also makes guns for adults, but most of its products are geared toward children. “The goal of KSA is to instill gun safety in the minds of youth shooters and encourage them to gain the knowledge and respect that hunting and shooting activities require and deserve,” the website says.  Bill McNeal and his son Steve McNeal, according to the site, founded the company in the mid-1990s. In 1996, with just four employees, they produced 4,000 rifles for little children. Today it employs about 70 people. Now they all have blood on their hands.

The Washington Post quotes Sharon Rengers, a longtime child advocate at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville: "Oh, my God, we’re having a big national debate whether we want to check somebody’s background, but we’re going to offer a 4-year-old a gun and expect something good from that?”

Only in America. Only in ignorant, gun-toting, misguided, crazed, deluded, too often angry America.

How must it feel to be five years old and know that you have killed your baby sister?

Only in America.