Saturday: A Grab Bag For Your Reading Pleasure

in other news2

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the State Department released its report on the Keystone XL Pipeline, apparently giving it their seal of approval. The original NYT headline on their story by John Broder was “A 2000-Page Lubricant for Keystone XL.” At some point it was changed to “Report May Ease Path for New Pipeline.” I guess the first was was a little too graphic for the Gray Lady, but the two combined sound even more lewd–or is is just me? Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

The State Department issued a revised environmental impact statement for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline on Friday that makes no recommendation about whether the project should be built but presents no conclusive environmental reason it should not be.

The 2,000-page document also makes no statement on whether the pipeline is in the United States’ economic and energy interests, a determination to be made later this year by President Obama.

But it will certainly add a new element to the already robust climate change and energy debate around the $7 billion proposed project. The new report does not make any policy recommendations, but its conclusion that the environmental and climate change impacts are manageable could provide Mr. Obama political cover if he decides to approve the pipeline.

Although the study will help guide the president’s decision, it does not make the politics any easier. Environmental advocates and landowners along the route have mounted spirited protests against the project, including a large demonstration in Washington last month. They say they view Keystone as a test of Mr. Obama’s seriousness about addressing global warming.

And of course, as Broder points out, “the pressure from industry, the Canadian government, most Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, local officials and union leaders” is also intense.

Are you getting the feeling this is a done deal? Isn’t John Kerry supposed to be an environmentalist?

The “sequester” cuts have begun, and guess who has an op-ed in the NYT about it? Brace yourself.

Singing the Sequester Soap Opera, by Joe Scarborough. I’ll skip the fake-poetic introductory paragraphs {Gag} … go to the link and read them if you desire. Actually, all the paragraphs are over-the-top, IMO. Joe’s point seems to be that Obama “overplayed his hand”

Americans who endured the grimmest warnings from President Obama and his administration need not fear that the cuts will jeopardize military readiness; limit our nation’s ability to forecast hurricanes; compromise food safety; lead to outbreaks of E. coli; undermine airport security; and cause older Americans to go hungry.

The Republicans have won this round, according to “Morning Joe,” because no one is going to feel any pain whatsoever.

…this year’s reductions will not do great damage to domestic and defense programs. Congress will have $85 billion less to spend this year, but the Congressional Budget Office projects that the actual cuts implemented this year will amount to only $42 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget. That means that politicians will have to cut a little more than a penny out of every dollar that it spends this year.

Does Mr. Obama really want to claim that his administration, which has added $6 trillion to the national debt, is unable to save a penny out of every dollar it spends? Does he really expect Americans to believe — after four years, the banking and auto bailouts, several stimulus bills and a run of record deficits — that our $16 trillion economy cannot absorb $42 billion of spending reductions?

Good to know, Joe. Thanks for that comforting message. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if your predictions are accurate.

Oddly, WBUR in Boston is reporting that thousands of Federal workers in the city are facing furloughs:

Thousands of people work in the John F. Kennedy Federal Building at Boston’s Government Center. It’s actually twin 26-story buildings. On Thursday, the word “sequester” seemed to be on the lips of federal employees going in and out. Bethany Seed said she’s not looking forward to Monday, when she might be handed a furlough notice.

“For me, personally, a furlough would be a problem because I’d still be paying for full-time child care,” Seed said. “And I’d be losing my pay from work. So it’s not something I would like to see happen.”

Seed is an economist with the U.S. Department of Labor. When you hear things like jobless numbers, she works on those statistics. Her boss — not her director supervisor, but way up the chain — is Seth Harris, the acting U.S. labor secretary, who was visiting Boston Thursday.

“Unfortunately, a sizable number of my workers are going to be subject to furloughs,” Harris said. “It’s going to vary from agency to agency across the department. We’re going to lose about six days of work from our employees on average. That’s a big loss.”

But Seed can now breathe a sigh of relief, because “Morning Joe” has decreed that no one will be hurt by the “sequester” cuts. Or did he only me no one who is important to him will be hurt? Again, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In contrast to Know-Nothing Joe Scarborough, Bob Cesca seems to know a little bit about the issues–at least this piece at HuffPo made sense to me: The Sequestration Fight Is Based on Lies and Stupidity. Here’s the introduction; if it grabs you too, please read the whole thing at the link.

As a political writer, being outraged by certain issues and policies is like rocket fuel. I’m not an angry guy by nature, but there’s a universe of things in politics that anger me and, combined with an almost involuntary drive to seek and disseminate the truth, I’m never really at a loss for topics to cover.

But the sequestration issue has been one of those rare items that frustrate me to the point of being incapable of spending time on it. When I read about sequestration, my brain seizes. The stupidity of it all simply confounds me to the point of being speechless. For me, this is a shocking and rare predicament.

It’s not even the chronic brinksmanship — the reoccurring doomsday countdowns and the Republican-manifested economic sabotage that’s behind it all. It’s not the Keynesian in me who opposes the very notion of deficit reduction during a sluggish recovery. Granted, these are both points of irritation, but the characteristic of the sequester that ought to force us all into complete apoplexy and subsequent outrage-induced catatonia is the epidemic of ignorance regarding the status of the federal budget deficit.

This post by David Atkins at Hullabaloo is also well worth a look: Alternate Universe Land.

Sinkholes and a Missing Governor

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Florida man who disappeared into a sinkhole. This morning NPR (via AP0 reported:

Engineers worked gingerly to find out more about a slowly growing sinkhole that swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom, believing the entire house could eventually succumb to the unstable ground.

Jeff Bush, 37, was in his bedroom Thursday night when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five other people were in the house but managed to escape unharmed. Bush’s brother jumped into the hole to try to help, but he had to be rescued himself by a sheriff’s deputy.

Engineers were expected at the home to do more tests after sunrise Saturday. They spent the previous day on the property, taking soil samples and running various tests — while acknowledging that the entire lot was dangerous. No one was allowed in the home.

“I cannot tell you why it has not collapsed yet,” Bill Bracken, the owner of an engineering company called to assess the sinkhole, said of the home. He described the earth below as a “very large, very fluid mass.”

Apparently sinkholes are endemic in Florida, so much so that homeowners must have insurance for the possibility that their home may be sitting on one.

“You can almost envision a piece of Swiss cheese,” Taylor Yarkosky, a sinkhole expert from Brooksville, Fla., said while gesturing to the ground and the sky blue home where the earth opened in Seffner. “Any house in Florida could be in that same situation.”

A sinkhole near Orlando grew to 400 feet across in 1981 and devoured five sports cars, most of two businesses, a three-bedroom house and the deep end of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

More than 500 sinkholes have been reported in Hillsborough County alone since the government started keeping track in 1954, according to the state’s environmental agency.

Assumption Parish sinkhole

Assumption Parish sinkhole

Yikes! So…what about that sinkhole near New Orleans then? Residents angry as Assumption sinkhole keeps growing

BAYOU CORNE, La. — The Assumption Parish sinkhole is a lot like a living, breathing thing. More than 200 days after it mysteriously started swallowing up the swamp, hundreds of residents are still under a mandatory evacuation order.

Geophysicists say the cavern that caused the sinkhole at the surface is still collapsing, leaving Bayou Corne residents wondering if there will ever be an end in sight….Geophyisicists [sic] now say the western side of one of the brine caverns is collapsing, filling in from deep in the Earth, causing the sinkhole at the surface to expand and contract.

Former residents of the area would like some answers.

Many of the ones they keep getting are conflicting and confusing, especially from the state and the company that once mined the collapsing salt cavern Texas Brine.

“The cause of the sinkhole is the subject of pending litigation. At this point, I don’t think it’s proper to have any discussion about what the cause is and whether we accept what anyone has said regarding the cause of the sinkhole,” Troy Charpentier, an attorney for Texas Brine, told the committee.

The secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources flat-out testified at the same hearing, “The cavern collapse led to the sinkhole and created a path for the natural gas to come to the surface.”
But Secretary Stephen Chustz slipped out a backdoor, with his press secretary only offering an interview with himself after the hearing without giving us the chance to ask him any questions.

Hmmmmm… What about the governor then?

From David J. Mitchell at the Baton Rouge Advocate: Inside Report: Sinkhole critics: O, Governor, where art thou?

For months now, a vocal group of activists and residents has found fault with Gov. Bobby Jindal over his absence from the scene of the Bayou Corne sinkhole.

Why, they ask, has he not made the commonly seen leadership visit to a disaster area that, while brief, boosts morale and provides hope?

Sinkhole activist John Achee Jr., a regular critic of Jindal and state government’s handling of the sinkhole and salt dome regulation, leveled this complaint again during a Feb. 19 joint hearing of the House and Senate committees on Natural Resources.

He called Jindal’s absence “disheartening” and “very concerning.”

Jindal’s office issued a response, saying that the good governor gets updates on what’s happening and that he thinks “abundant resources” have already been provided. Translation: “I couldn’t possibly care less, so f&ck off, loser!”

Odd and Ends

I just had to share this story from Gawker about a nervous mom and her fight to find out where her son had got off to: World’s Most Embarrassing Mom Makes Peruvian Government Hunt Down Her Son When He Stops Posting on Facebook. I have to say I’m much more sympathetic to the mom than Gawker is. I think someday the young man will grow older and wiser and will look back and understand how much his mom loves him. I’d much rather have a mom like that than one who doesn’t worry when I disappear into the wilderness for months.

I’m running short on space, so I’ll end with this oldie-but-goodie from 1996 by the great Joan Didion at The New York Review of Books, in which she ripped Bob Woodward and his clunky writing from stem to stern: The Deferential Spirit. It’s long, but please go read it–even if you read it back in 1996. It’s priceless!

Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Morning Reads

cuppaGood Morning!!!

I’ve been a little out of the loop recently since I have a friend here to visit.  So, I’m going to start with a Happy 65th Birthday wish to Bernadette Peters because I saw her in concert last night. She’s 59 in this youtube but  she wore the same dress and did this song.  I was shocked!! shocked!  to hear that she told us that it was her first time!!!

It was a night of Broadway songs and overtures with the Louisiana Symphony Orchestra.

So, the House passed the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act which is finally on its way to the President for his signature.

After months of delay, GOP leaders allowed the bill to come to the floor only after a Republican substitute version of the legislation — set up as an amendment to the Senate’s bipartisan bill — failed, 166-257. The House amendment was expected to fail, but allowed members to vote for a version of VAWA while not supporting the Senate bill.

Still, House leaders were under pressure from members of their own party to pass the Senate version without any changes. Nineteen House Republicans sent a letter to Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner urging them to pass a bipartisan version of VAWA.

This is the third time Boehner has allowed a bill to pass with a majority of Democratic votes.

Democrats for the most part were united in their opposition to the House version, arguing it stripped out important protections for LGBT and Native American women. Sixty Republicans joined them in opposition. Only two Democrats, Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, supported the House version.

Eric–VAGINA–Cantor evidently played an interesting role in its passage which is odd given his role its problems last year.

In the last Congress, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) played a critical role in blocking reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. In this Congress, Cantor was so eager to get VAWA passage over with, he told House Republicans yesterday to either clear the way for the already passed Senate version or risk causing a “civil war” within the party.

Well, that’s some progress, however.  TODAY is SEQUESTER day!!

It’s Friday, March 1, and that means the federal government has crossed the much-hyped and dreaded deadline for the fiscal reductions known as the “sequester.”

The members of Congress who for voted for the Budget Control Act – and the budget cuts contained within – and President Barack Obama who signed it into law on Aug. 2, 2011, may not have believed the day would arrive, but now it has.

But today is only the beginning of the beginning.

For one thing, Obama must sign an order formally starting the “sequester” or spending reductions – which according to a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office – would amount to $42 billion in the current fiscal year.

And White House aides have indicated that the president is not likely to put pen to paper on that order until after he meets with congressional leaders, a meeting slated for Friday morning.

Once Obama signs the order to start the spending cuts, any furloughs of federal workers could not begin at least for another 30 days due to federal regulations and to collective bargaining agreements which the government has with the unions that represent roughly half of the federal workforce.

I guess Transvaginal Ultrasounds are fine as long as your representative doesn’t feel it’s all that relevant for him.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) declined to take a position last week during a town hall meeting on whether transvaginal ultrasounds should be mandatory for women seeking abortions, saying he has never heard of the practice and couldn’t weigh in on it because “I haven’t had one.”

Ultrasound requirements are a top priority for anti-abortion advocates in Wisconsin and other states. Similar legislation in past years has landed Republicans in political hot water, and this time around many GOP leaders are distancing themselves from proposed ultrasound requirements.

Duffy has described himself as “100 percent prolife without exceptions” (though he also said “To qualify, I believe that if we have the life of a mother as an issue, the mother’s life takes priority, but we must make every effort to save the life of the child.”) Asked about one of the main goals for the pro-life movement, however, Duffy said he had not heard of transvaginal ultrasounds at all.

A Democratic operative recorded Duffy’s exchange with the questioner at a Feb. 21 townhall meeting in Spooner, Wisc. Through his congressional office, Duffy declined to comment or clarify his views on mandated ultrasounds.

Arkansas has passed–over the veto of its governor–the most restrictive anti-abortion law since before Roe v. Wade.

Arkansas became the eighth state Thursday to enact a near-ban on abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy, and by next week it could outlaw most procedures from the 12th week onward, which would give it the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

The Republican-led Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a bill barring most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy that was based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain by that point. The Arkansas House voted to override the veto Wednesday. A simple majority was needed in each chamber.

That law, which took effect immediately but which will likely be challenged in court, includes exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, voted to override the veto, but later told reporters he wasn’t sure the new law would survive a constitutional challenge.

“If it was an easy answer, then people wouldn’t be raising that subject,” he said after the vote.

After overriding the veto, the Senate voted 26-8 in support of a separate measure that would outlaw most abortions starting in the 12th week of pregnancy. In addition to the exemptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life, it would allow abortions when lethal fetal conditions are detected.

The proposed 12-week ban, which would ban abortions from the point when a fetus’ heartbeat can generally be detected through an abdominal ultrasound, would give Arkansas the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Yes, the religious extremists in this country have taken over a number of state legislatures.  Look for more violations of your civil rights–except the right to arm yourself with a nuclear bomb–in a state near your.

So, I’m going to make this short this morning . What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Gene Sperling: “A mix of entitlements and revenues was part of the DNA” of the Sequester “from the start.”

Gene Sperling and Barack Obama

Gene Sperling and Barack Obama

I want to call attention to some rather startling statements in Gene Sperling’s e-mail to Bob Woodward, which I posted earlier. Please note the highlighted sections.

From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013

Bob:

I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.

My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.

Gene

Really? Does anyone recall President Obama saying that at the time the sequester was proposed and voted on in 2011? Did President Obama discuss these plans for entitlement cuts during his campaign for re-election? I’ve always suspected he did plan cuts in Social Security, Medicare, but when did he publicly state this? I’ve done a somewhat cursory search, but I can’t find anything.

There is no mention of these agreed-upon cuts in the Wikipedia entry on the Budget Control Act of 2011. There no mention of “entitlement” cuts in this extensive article at The Bipartisan Policy Center. This analysis (pdf) notes that the Supercommittee was authorized to cut Social Security:

The “Super Committee” deficit reduction plan: BCA also creates a new, special joint committee of Congress charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction to avoid any potential sequestration. This “Super Committee” can cut spending (including Social Security and Medicare), raise revenue, or propose a combination of both. If the committee cannot agree on a plan, or Congress fails to approve it, automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion will be triggered through sequestration. To assist the Super Committee with its task, Congress also provided for an accelerated review of the Super Committee recommendations, provided that the Super Committee followed specific timelines, as outlined in the text.

But I think it was generally assumed that the Super Committee would not be able to agree on anything, and if they did that the Senate at least would not vote for Social Security cuts.

So now the truth has come out. Certainly no one from the White House has come rushing out to deny that cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are what is supposed to balance any new revenue. A few other bloggers have written about this.

Digby is always alert for any mentions of Obama’s seeming obsession with cutting Social Security, and she didn’t miss this one.

I don’t know that anyone’s ever admitted that in public before or that the president was completely, shall we say, honest when he ran for his second term about that specific definition of “a balanced approach”. I haven’t heard anyone say publicly that the sequester “deal” as far as the White House was concerned was to cut “entitlements” in exchange for new revenues. I wonder how many members of congress were aware of this “deal” when they voted for the sequester? The public certainly wasn’t.

I wish I could understand why it is so important to Barack Obama to cut these vital programs before he leaves office. It seems to be his obsession. But there you have it. It’s not just in the DNA of the sequester, it seems to be in the DNA of this White House.

In this sense, it seems that Sperling and Woodward–and by extension Obama–do “see eye to eye.”

At FDL, John Walker gets right to the point in his headline: Sperling: Obama Wanted Sequester to Force Democrats to Accept Entitlement Cuts.

The way Obama has handled basically every manufactured crisis from the debt ceiling, to the Bush tax cuts expiration, to the sequester has been about trying to force both Democrats and Republicans to embrace his version of a “grand bargain.” While it is clear this has been the driving force behind Obama’s decisions, if you pay close attention to his actions is is rare than an administration official will directly admit this. This is actually what I think it most interesting about the recently leaked email exchange between Bob Woodward and Gene Sperling up on Politico…..

Obama wants to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Obama also wants to raise taxes, but he only wants to do these unpopular things if he can get bipartisan cover to destroy basic democratic accountability. If everyone is to blame than no one is to blame.

What has sometimes been viewed as incompetence on the part of Obama during negotiations is actually Obama trying to weaken Democrats’ hand to “force” them to accept entitlement cuts while being able to blame it on the mean Republicans.

That is why even now Obama isn’t calling for the sequester to be simply repealed or delayed. Obama still wants to use this manufactured crisis to force congressional Democrats to betray their base by adopting Social Security cuts and get Republicans to accept revenue increases.

Finally, thanks to JJ for sending me the link to this piece by Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect: Dear White House, You’ll Regret This.

[Gene Sperling’s] e-mail is pure confirmation that Obama’s position, dating back to at least 2011, has been to try to trade cuts in Social Security and Medicare for new revenues. It confirms that Sperling and his boss have been channeling the likes of Robert Rubin, Pete Peterson, the corporate-sponsored Fix the Debt campaign, et al., who have been promoting exactly this grand bargain. Sperling confirms that the sequester was designed to force exactly such a dismal deal.

But even worse, writes Kuttner, is what the e-mail demonstrations about Sperling’s–and Obama’s–pathetic negotiating skills.

The Woodward-Sperling exchange is far more interesting for what it reveals about Sperling/Obama’s propensity for giving ground on core issues and getting almost nothing in return. I supposed we should be grateful that Sperling is only wrecking the economy, the Democrats, Social Security, and Medicare—and not negotiating nukes with the Ayatollah.

I’ve said ever since I read The Audacity of Hope back in 2007 that Obama wanted to cut Social Security. Actually, he made it clear in the book that he wanted to privatize it, but he must have realized that wasn’t going to happen. It’s time for those of us who care about these issues to start screaming bloody murder again. We need to get on this ASAP. So tell your friends and call your Congress critters.

The floor is open for discussion.


President Obama Is Driving The Village Pundits Insane!

bob_cat

Wow. The Village pundits are so wound up over the “sequester” these days that I hate to think what’s going to happen over the weekend when the automatic budget cuts have taken effect. Will there be weeping and wailing instead of dancing at Disco Dave’s place? Will Bob Schieffer have to talk David Ignatius off a ledge? Will Dana Millbank freak out and require hospitalization? Will Bob Woodward’s hair catch fire? Will Major Garrett spontaneously combust?

Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like the temper tantrums the Village pundits have been throwing over the past week or two; and now that they are finally realizing that they’re not going to get the White House and Congress to agree to replace the “sequester” with Simpson Bowles 2.0, they’ve begun to scream and stamp their feet. I’m afraid one of them may throw himself to the floor and have a kicking and shrieking tantrum soon.

First up, Bob Woodward. Last Friday, the poor, frustrated stuffed shirt published a hectoring op-ed in the Washington Post in which he assigned full blame for the “sequester” to President Obama. As evidence, Woodward misleadingly sourced his own book on last year’s debt limit fight. He was rounding mocked on numerous liberal websites, and that must have really gotten his dander up.

Today Woodward appeared on Morning Joe and upped the ante. Mediaite reports:

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s ongoing war of words with President Barack Obama’s White House escalated on Wednesday when Woodward took to the set of MSNBC’s Morning Joe to slam the president’s handling of the sequester fight. Woodward said that the president has displayed a “kind of madness” in his decision to make those cuts as painful and deleterious to the nation’s war fighting capability as possible….

He then turned to the sequester: “I think peoples’ heads are about to explode about all of this, you know, what the hell is going on here,” Woodward said. “I’m not sure the White House understands exactly what happened in all of these negotiations at the end of 2011 with the sequester and the super committee, because they were really on the sidelines.”

Woodward slammed Obama’s decision to announce that sequester cuts would force an American aircraft carrier to not deploy to the Persian Gulf.

“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document’?”

Watch it:

h/t to TPM and to RalphB for the catch!

Ignatius

Woodward’s pompous WaPo colleague David Ignatius also strongly disapproves of President Obama’s failure to make what Ignatius thinks is the obviously correct choice:

We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the nation’s car off the road. I don’t know if the sequestration that’s set to begin Friday will produce a little crisis or a big one; the sad fact is that the Republicans don’t know, either, yet they’re still willing to put the country at risk to make a political point.

At least Ignatius admits the Republicans are mostly to blame for the crisis. But…

I’m no fan of the way President Obama has handled the fiscal crisis. As I’ve written often, he needs to provide the presidential leadership that guides Congress and the country toward fiscal stability. In my analogy, he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.

Why is it always Social Security and Medicare that these guys want to cut? Surely there has to be a better way to deal with the noncrisis than to starve granny and then refuse her health care when she’s dying in the street?

Dana Millbank in drag

Dana Millbank in drag

Last Tuesday Dan Millbank, also of the WaPo, stated his demand that Simpson-Bowles be enacted right now!

On Tuesday morning, as President Obama and House Republicans were abandoning hope of reaching a compromise to avoid across-the-board spending cuts on March 1, the indefatigable duo of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson made one more attempt to float a bipartisan compromise. They were literally shouted down.

Seconds after Bowles and Simpson were introduced at a breakfast forum hosted by Politico, hecklers in the audience began to interrupt: “Pay your share of taxes! Stop cutting jobs! Stop cutting Medicare and Medicaid!”

“Wait your turn,” pleaded the moderator, Politico’s Mike Allen, as the half-dozen demonstrators were gradually removed.

Good grief! How shocking that the peons would dare to demand that the Villagers “sacrifice” instead of resigning themselves to “feel the pain” so that the Villagers and their wealthy friends aren’t inconvenienced!

These politicians aren’t “serious,” Millbank tut tuts, claiming that “neither [Obama nor Boehner] is offering anything close to a workable plan.”

I’ve left the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) for last. Major Garrett’s bizarre and incomprehensible (to me anyway) op-ed in the National Journal: Tennessee Williams Offers Window Into the Mendacity That Defines the Sequester.

Major Garrett disapproves

Major Garrett disapproves

According to Garrett, the way to understand the “sequester” is to listen to Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The problem is “mendacity,” which is a fancy word for lying.

How can anyone look upon the sequester with anything but revulsion and venom — the kind of smoldering rage that spills out of Big Daddy Pollitt (played by Burl Ives in the 1958 movie) when he begins to peel back the slippery layers of deception that defined his seemingly respectable Mississippi Delta life. Big Daddy’s life and all those who spin around it are reduced, as if by the centripetal force of fakery, into one word: mendacity.

Williams was not speaking for the South or plantation owners, but everyone who can kid themselves into believing something that simply isn’t true. Acid drips from Big Daddy’s sweet-sounding and recurrent question: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?” After listening to all the varied finger-pointing and blame-shifting on our latest budget crisis, I will from now substitute the word “mendacity” for “sequester.”

Ooooookaaaay….

Encapsulated within the confines of a tortured Mississippi family, Tennessee Williams captured in the 1950s a bit of the writhing, frustrating, and at times grotesque antics of modern American budget mendacity. In his immortal Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Big Daddy Pollitt and his son Brick — a high school football hero turned town drunk — argue over Brick’s refusal to see the consequences of his drinking, how his indolence breeds chaos in the lives of others. Earlier, Brick speaks mournfully of mendacity — the lies of his young life.

Big Daddy: “But it’s always there in the mornin’, ain’t it—the truth? And it’s here right now. You’re just feeling sorry for yourself; that’s all it is — self-pity.… Life ain’t no damn football game. Life ain’t just a buncha high spots. You’re a 30-year-old kid. Soon you’ll be a 50-year-old kid, pretendin’ you’re hearin’ cheers when there ain’t any. Dreamin’ and drinkin’ your life away. Heroes in the real world live 24 hours a day, not just two hours in a game. Mendacity, you won’t … you won’t live with mendacity but you’re an expert at it. The truth is pain and sweat and payin’ bills.”

Big Daddy and Brick

Big Daddy and Brick

Garrett doesn’t mention that Brick’s drinking and “indolence” stems from clinical depression triggered by denial of his homosexuality, but maybe Garrett doesn’t know that. But we now know how what Garrett believes is the solution to the financial noncrisis:

Our mendacities now are about dollars and cents. We hate ourselves, at some level, for being unable to produce enough to pay our bills. Our politics invites us to dream our life away. But the sequester and the fiscal cliff and the debt/default drama fractiously and dramatically remind us of our limits. We are frustrated. We don’t want to live with mendacity. But, sadly, we’ve become experts at it.

The truth is pain and sweat and payin’ bills.

Except that American does pay its bills and will continue to do so unless the Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling. And yes, as Garrett writes, most American families pay their bills too. But just like the federal government, most American families go into debt in order to buy a house or a car. Only the very richest among us can pay cash for those items. Like the government, families borrow and then pay the loans back with interest.

If anyone can figure out what else Garrett is trying to say, I’d be glad to hear it. Frankly, I think he’s lost his mind, and so have the rest of these Village idiots. I’m going to be fascinated to watch what happens to them over the next few days as their Simpson-Bowles fantasies crash and burn.


Lundi Gras Reads

355311-Mardi_Gras Yes!  It’s that time of year again!  I was awakened by the familiar beat of drums and a brass band and the noises of a lot of people promptly at 7:30 am on Sunday.  It was the Krewe of Eris which is a totally unauthorized and completely fun parade around the neighborhood and there were literally hundreds of people in costumes and bicycles.   Eris is a krewe of young artists, actors, and performers here in the neighborhood and has been known to be bothered by the NOPD.  It’s a bit of a circus parade.  Literally.  Many of the participants are puppeteers and performers of all kinds and sorts.  Anyway, there are many parades and events that happen off the main streets and tourist areas.  There are the Baby Dolls, the Skeletons, the Mardi Gras Indians, and many many other fine black street traditions too.  I usually hang out in the neighborhood celebrations these days.  They’re hard to miss unless you stay in  your house.  Check out NOLA DEFENDER for some great stories and pictures that you won’t see just anywhere.

So, here’s a few reads to keep you busy this morning while we get ready for the big day on Fat Tuesday.~Wikstrom - Proteus Costume 1907

Here’s a great read by Bill Keller on the “Conscience of a Corporation” about all those folks who claim religiousity as an excuse to deny women access to complete health care.

The Obama administration, in an unrequited search for compromise, has also proposed to excuse nonprofit organizations such as hospitals and universities if they are affiliated with religions that preach the evil of contraception. You might ask why a clerk at Notre Dame or an orderly at a Catholic hospital should be denied the same birth control coverage provided to employees of secular institutions. You might ask why institutions that insist they are like everyone else when it comes to applying for federal grants get away with being special when it comes to federal health law. Good questions. You will find the unsatisfying answers in the Obama handbook of political expediency.

But these concessions are not enough to satisfy the religious lobbies. Evangelicals and Catholics, cheered on by anti-abortion groups and conservative Obamacare-haters, now want the First Amendment freedom of religion to be stretched to cover an array of for-profit commercial ventures, Hobby Lobby being the largest litigant. They are suing to be exempted on the grounds that corporations sometimes embody the faith of the individuals who own them.

“The legal case” for the religious freedom of corporations “does not start with, ‘Does the corporation pray?’ or ‘Does the corporation go to heaven?’ ” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby. “It starts with the owner.” For owners who have woven religious practice into their operations, he told me, “an exercise of religion in the context of a business” is still an exercise of religion, and thus constitutionally protected.

The issue is almost certain to end up in the Supreme Court, where the betting is made a little more interesting by a couple of factors: six of the nine justices are Catholic, and this court has already ruled, in the Citizens United case, that corporations are protected by the First Amendment, at least when it comes to freedom of speech. Also, we know that at least four members of the court don’t think much of Obamacare.

In lower courts, advocates of the corporate religious exemption have won a few and lost a few. (Hobby Lobby has lost so far, and could eventually face fines of more than $1 million a day for defying the law. The company’s case is now before the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.)

Meanwhile, it’s been determined that Cardinal Mahony will steal the pennies from your eyes to pay for his stable of pedophile priests.

The Archdiocese of L.A. took $115 million from its cemeteries’ maintenance fund in 2007, nearly depleting it. The move seems legal, but it was not announced, and relatives of the dead were not told.

float-design-mistick-krewe-of-comus-parade-1912-japan-embassy-louisiana-research-collectionMinnesota Congressman Keith Ellison pointed out Republican lies and hypocrisy on the so-called sequester agreement on Sunday.

When Cole tried to pin the cuts on Obama, Ellison reminded him that Cole himself voted for the Budget Control Act that created the sequester:

COLE: I think it is inevitable.  This was a presidential suggestion back in 2011, an idea. And yet the president himself hasn’t put out any alternatives. Republicans twice in the House have passed legislation to deal with it, once as early as last May and again after the election in December. Senate never picked up either of those bills, never offered their own thing. Now we’re three weeks out, and folks are worried. They ought to be worried. On the other hand, these cuts are going to occur. […]

ELLISON: Well, Tom,  the problem with saying this is the president’s idea is that you voted for the Budget Control Act. I voted against it. We wouldn’t have ever been talking about the Budget Control Act but for your party refused to negotiate on the debt ceiling something that has been routinely increased as the country needed it. You used that occasion in 2011 August to basically say we are going to default on the country’s obligations or you’re going to give us dramatic spending cuts. That’s how we got to the Budget Control Act.

Ellison also pointed out that the new GOP kinder and gentler message is simply another shade of lipstick on the same old pig.

This morning on “This Week,” Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., dismissed recent gestures by prominent members of  the GOP suggesting a softening of Republican positions as simply “lipstick on a pig.”

“I think all of this stuff is just surface stuff. It’s like lipstick on a pig, ” Ellison said. “I mean, the bottom line is, the Republicans have a core values problem, not a ‘who knows who Tupac Shakur is’ problem.”

Ellison was responding to ABC News political analyst and contributor Nicolle Wallace, who praised Marco Rubio on the roundtable. The Florida senator is seen as a rising star in the GOP and a member of the party that could help Republicans win more Latino support. Rubio recently endorsed a bipartisan senate proposal aimed at reforming America’s immigration system.

Rubio also gave an interview to BuzzFeed this week where he spoke at length about the late hip hop star Tupac’s lyrics.

“He’s everything we need and more. He’s modern. He knows who Tupac is. He is on social media,” Wallace said. “I mean, he’s got the policy.  He’s in touch with, I think, the lives of ordinary people.  And he’s a very accessible guy.  He talks about being a working dad and juggling his own priorities.”

How stupid do Republicans think we are?  There’s so many demographics moving against their ideas that they really seem clueless.

It is no secret that young voters tilt left on social issues like immigration and gay rights. But these students, and dozens of other young people interviewed here last week, give voice to a trend that is surprising pollsters and jangling the nerves of Republicans. On a central philosophical question of the day — the size and scope of the federal government — a clear majority of young people embraces President Obama’s notion that it can be a constructive force, a point he intends to make in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

“Young people absolutely believe that there’s a role for government,” said Matt Singer, a founder of Forward Montana, a left-leaning though officially nonpartisan group that seeks to engage young people in politics. “At the same time, this is not a generation of socialists. They are highly entrepreneurial, and know that some of what it takes to create an environment where they can do their own exciting, creative things is having basic systems that work.”

Here in Montana, a state that backed John McCain in 2008 and Mr. Romney last year, voters under 30 have helped elect two blogpic3Democratic senators and a new Democratic governor. Nationally, young voters have since 2004 been casting their ballots for Democrats by far wider margins than previous young generations — a shift that could reshape American politics for decades.

China’s economy continues to eclipse that of the US.  It will shortly have the largest annual GDP.  As of now, it’s the largest Trading Country in the world.

China surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s biggest trading nation last year as measured by the sum of exports and imports of goods, official figures from both countries show.

U.S. exports and imports of goods last year totaled $3.82 trillion, the U.S. Commerce Department said last week. China’s customs administration reported last month that the country’s trade in goods in 2012 amounted to $3.87 trillion.

China’s growing influence in global commerce threatens to disrupt regional trading blocs as it becomes the most important commercial partner for some countries. Germany may export twice as much to China by the end of the decade as it does to France, estimated Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Jim O’Neill.

“For so many countries around the world, China is becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner,” O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs’s asset management division and the economist who bound Brazil to Russia, India and China to form the BRIC investing strategy, said in a telephone interview. “At this kind of pace by the end of the decade many European countries will be doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe.”

One of my absolute favorite groups one big in the grammies last night.  Here’s one of the great songs from the BLACK KEYS!!! The lead singer also brought some in for Dr. John so we’re all happy for the Keys tonight!   (And no, the dude in the video is not one of the band!)

This is the band:

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?