Lazy Caturday Reads

Matticchio Pat pat

By Pat Matticchio

Good Afternoon!!

I’m beginning to accept that we are never going to return to “normal.” After 6 years of dealing with Trump and his domination of the Republican party, after 2 long years of Covid-19 and the loss of more than 800,000 lives, we now face the threat of losing our democracy as we deal with a new Covid variant that is already spreading rapidly and is likely to kill many more Americans. And I haven’t even touched on the dangers we face from climate change. 

On the threats to U.S. democracy:

The Washington Post: Opinion: 3 retired generals: The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection, by Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba, and Steven M. Anderson

As we approach the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we — all of us former senior military officials — are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.

In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.

One of our military’s strengths is that it draws from our diverse population. It is a collection of individuals, all with different beliefs and backgrounds. But without constant maintenance, the potential for a military breakdown mirroring societal or political breakdown is very real.

Le Chat Van Gogh by Toni Goffe

Le Chat Van Gogh by Toni Goffe

The signs of potential turmoil in our armed forces are there. On Jan. 6, a disturbing number of veterans and active-duty members of the military took part in the attack on the Capitol. More than 1 in 10 of those charged in the attacks had a service record. A group of 124 retired military officials, under the name “Flag Officers 4 America,” released a letter echoing Donald Trump’s false attacks on the legitimacy of our elections.

Recently, and perhaps more worrying, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the commanding general of the Oklahoma National Guard, refused an order from President Biden mandating that all National Guard members be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Mancino claimed that while the Oklahoma Guard is not federally mobilized, his commander in chief is the Republican governor of the state, not the president.

The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed.

Please go read the rest at the WaPo.

Molly Jong-Fast at The Atlantic: How Do You Get People to Care About Democracy? The preservation of Democracy shouldn’t be a partisan activity.

Every time the January 6 committee holds a hearing, it seems clearer and clearer that Donald Trump was trying to keep control over the government after losing reelection. The past week alone produced the “how to coup” PowerPoint, widely circulated in Trumpworld, and a slew of text messages, including this sorry we weren’t able to pull off a coup note from an unidentified lawmaker to Mark Meadows: “Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked.” It’s pretty clear what Trump was up to: trying to reinstall himself as president and end American democracy as we know it.

Trump’s crew surely knew how bad the events of January 6 were even as they were unfolding. “The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home … he is destroying his legacy,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote to Mark Meadows in a text message read by Republican Representative Liz Cheney during the opening statements of the Jan 6 committee meeting on Monday night. A range of journalists sent similar messages. Actual reporter Jake Sherman—who had been stuck in the Capitol during the riot, and who released his texts with Meadows “out of transparency”—wrote, “Do something for us. We are under siege in the [Capitol].” Another “journalist” exchanging texts with Meadows at the time: Fox propagandist Sean Hannity, who wrote, “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol.”

We are not alone, Greeting card by Alison Friend

We are not alone, Greeting card by Alison Friend

It’s a long piece, but here’s the conclusion:

But how you safeguard democracy when only one party supports it is a riddle. How do Democrats permeate the Fox and Facebook anti-fact chamber, which paints Trump as the real victim of the insurrection he helped instigate?

I don’t know how you get Republicans to see past this election, to understand that losing democracy is about more than just a win for their guy. Some members of the mainstream media have been defensive, saying they aren’t covering the threat to democracy because lawmakers aren’t talking about it. But here’s the thing: It’s the media’s job to make people care, to highlight the stories that matter. We don’t look to elected officials to tell us what to write about. We journalists may be the bulwark that keeps America from resembling Hungary or Turkey in a few years. Keeping democracy shouldn’t be a partisan fight, but it is, and perhaps that’s the most damning thing of all.

Okay, then how do we get the most powerful newspaper–The New York Times–to care about democracy?

About that text to Meadows expressing sorrow that the coup failed? It appears to have come from Rick Perry’s phone. CNN: Exclusive: Jan 6 investigators believe Nov. 4 text pushing ‘strategy’ to undermine election came from Rick Perry.

Members of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol believe that former Texas Governor and Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry was the author of a text message sent to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows the day after the 2020 election pushing an “AGRESSIVE (sic) STRATEGY” for three state legislatures to ignore the will of their voters and deliver their states’ electors to Donald Trump, three sources familiar with the House Committee investigation tell CNN.

Kitty Librarian, by Liselotte-eriksson on DeviantArt

Kitty Librarian, by Liselotte-eriksson on DeviantArt

A spokesman for Perry told CNN that the former Energy Secretary denies being the author of the text. Multiple people who know Rick Perry confirmed to CNN that the phone number the committee has associated with that text message is Perry’s number.

The cell phone number the text was sent from, obtained from a source knowledgeable about the investigation, appears in databases as being registered to a James Richard Perry of Texas, the former governor’s full name.

The number is also associated in a second database as registered to a Department of Energy email address associated with Perry when he was secretary. When told of these facts, the spokesman had no explanation.

Kyle Cheney at Politico: ‘Stop the Steal’ founder told Jan. 6 committee about contacts with GOP lawmakers.

Ali Alexander, who founded the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement and attended the rally that preceded the Capitol attack, told congressional investigators that he recalls “a few phone conversations” with Rep. Paul Gosar and a text exchange with Rep. Mo Brooks about his efforts in the run-up to Jan. 6, his lawyers confirmed in a late Friday court filing.

Alexander also told the Jan. 6 House select committee that he spoke to Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in person “and never by phone, to the best of his recollection,” his lawyers say.

The description of the testimony comes in a lawsuit Alexander filed to block the committee from obtaining his phone records from Verizon. Alexander says in the suit that the records include contacts with people protected by privileges: religious advisers, people he counsels spiritually and his lawyers. He also indicated that he already shared more than 1,500 text messages with investigators, in addition to sitting for an eight-hour deposition. The Brooks text, he indicated, is among the texts he turned over.

Cat in a box, by Ruskin Sphere

Cat in a box, by Ruskin Sphere

Alexander’s testimony underscores the degree to which the select committee continues to probe the roles of their Republican colleagues in efforts to promote former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud — and their potential support for fringe figures who helped gather people in Washington on Jan. 6, the day Congress was required to certify the 2020 election results.

The panel hasn’t formally requested testimony from any of the GOP lawmakers yet but has continued to ask witnesses about Gosar, Biggs, Brooks and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who helped push a strategy to use the Department of Justice to promote the fraud claims.

Per Alexander’s attorneys Jonathon Moseley and Paul Kamenar, members of Congress may have been on an organizing call with him in early January. Several were invited but he did not take attendance, the lawyers said.

When will these Congressional seditionists be brought to justice?

More January 6 investigation news

Mother Jones: A Di.sturbing Gun Case Further Reveals the Peril of January 6.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Opinion: ‘We are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe,’ new study says

The New York Times: Jan. 6 Committee May Add New Expertise for Investigation.

On the threat from the omicron variant of Covid

USA Today: Omicron is spreading ‘every place at once,’ experts say. What it could mean for holiday plans.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The omicron variant of the coronavirus is moving faster than surveillance systems can track it and has so unnerved some medical experts that they’re starting to put the brakes on preparations for their holiday gatherings.

“Personally, I’m reevaluating plans for the holidays,” Bronwyn MacInnis, director of pathogen genomic surveillance at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “It’s the responsible thing to do and what feels right given the risk.”

She and a handful of other Massachusetts-based researchers on the call said they’ve been stunned by the pace by which omicron has been crowding out other variants and taking over the pandemic.

Tetsuo Takahara

By Tetsuo Takahara

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 3% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are omicron. But MacInnis said she believes that number was probably an underestimate on Dec. 11 – just three days ago – when the CDC first announced it, and now it’s likely much higher.

“At the rate that it seems to be spreading, there isn’t a surveillance system on the planet truly that could keep up with it,” MacInnis said.

In some parts of the country, there are hints omicron already accounts for about 15% of cases, said Jeremy Luban, a virus expert at the UMass Chan Medical School .

Omicron has been moving “faster even than the most pessimistic among us thought that it was going to move,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease expert at Massachusetts General Hospital. “There’s a high likelihood that it will come to your holiday gathering.”

NPR: Omicron may be less severe in South Africa. That may not be the case for the U.S.

It’s been about a month since scientists first detected the highly mutated coronavirus variant dubbed “omicron.”

Since then, scientists have come to learn that omicron spreads faster than the delta variant and is the quickest-spreading variant the world has yet faced. It also has a huge ability to bypass immune protection and cause breakthrough infections.

The big open-ended question right now centers on omicron’s severity: Does omicron cause milder disease, compared to previous variants? Does it thereby lower the risk of severe disease and hospitalization?

There’s no doubt everyone wants this to be the case. And some recent data out of South Africa sure makes it look like that might be the case. Researchers there have found that South Africans infected with omicron are, on average, less likely to end up in the hospital, and they also appear to recover more quickly from illness, compared to the other variants.

However, as many scientists have been pointing out, that evidence from South Africa could be misleading. The omicron variant may end up acting differently in the U.S.

Read the explanations at the link.

The Washington Post: Highly vaccinated countries thought they were over the worst. Denmark says the pandemic’s toughest month is just beginning.

COPENHAGEN — In a country that tracks the spread of coronavirus variants as closely as any in the world, the signals have never been more concerning. Omicron positives are doubling nearly every two days. The country is setting one daily case record after another. The lab analyzing positive tests recently added an overnight shift just to keep up.

Tea Cats, by Francesca Buchko

Tea Cats, by Francesca Buchko

And scientists say the surge is just beginning.

As omicron drives a new phase of the pandemic, many are looking to Denmark — and particularly the government institute devoted to testing, surveillance and modeling — for warnings about what to expect.

The emerging answer — even in this highly vaccinated, wealthy northern European country — is dire. For all the defenses built over the last year, the virus is about to sprint out of control, and scientists here expect a similar pattern in much of the world.

“The next month will be the hardest period of the pandemic,” said Tyra Grove Krause, the chief epidemiologist at Denmark’s State Serum Institute, a campus of brick buildings along a canal.

Ever since the omicron variant emerged in November, the best hope has been that it might cause less severe sickness than the delta version it is competing with, which in turn might make this wave more manageable and help the transition of covid-19 into an endemic disease. But Denmark’s projections show the wave so fully inundating the country that even a lessened strain will deliver an unprecedented blow.


Thursday Reads: A Baby-Man In Charge

 baby-man-1Good Morning!!

Just one more day before the authoritarian baby-man becomes the “leader” of our once-great nation. It’s obvious that he’s not qualified for the job and he has done very little to prepare himself to do it. He has surrounded himself with other wealthy men who in many cases have no experience in government service. Will we survive this catastrophe? We’ll have to wait and see.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg yesterday: The Empty Trump Administration.

We’re two days away from having a new president. But we’re apparently a lot longer than that from having a Trump administration with even a minimally functional ability to govern.

Politico’s Michael Crowley has a nice piece explaining the missing National Security Council staffers, and the dangers that could cause if there’s an early crisis. Hundreds of briefing papers have been created by Obama’s NSC and sent to Team Trump, but the New York Times reports that no one knows if they’ve been reviewed.

Yet the NSC is ahead of the curve for this administration. Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman had a good story two weeks ago about how far behind Trump was. Since then? If anything, it’s getting worse — he’s added only two of those 28 since Jan. 5. As Berman reported, the Partnership for Public Service suggested a president should have “100 Senate-confirmed appointees in place on or around Inauguration Day.” At this pace, he won’t have 100 nominees by the end of February, let alone having them confirmed and hard at work.

Please read the rest at Bloomberg View.

donald-trump-rancor-baby-revised-web-8-26-15

Politico: Distrust and empty desks could stunt Trump’s government.

Just days before he ascends to the presidency, there are lingering questions about whether President-elect Donald Trump’s team is fully prepared to take over the sprawling federal government, according to more than two dozen interviews with Trump and Obama administration officials, lobbyists, experts and others close to the process.

A deep distrust has taken hold between Trump’s transition officials and Obama’s political appointees at a number of federal agencies, slowing down the handover of agency responsibilities on everything from meat inspections to drug pricing. There’s confusion over policy on several major agenda items, as Trump gives conflicting signals and often disagrees with his Cabinet nominees. And a number of federal agencies are far from having the staff they need to run on Day One, people close to the transition say….

“They look like they are designed for chaos,” said Stephen Hess, an expert on transitions at the Brookings Institution. “It’s just, there is no other word for it, weird for those of us who have been involved in government for decades.”

Trump transition officials insist that they are prepared. They say they have written detailed action plans for every major agency, adding they’ve even been charting a path forward at more obscure subagencies and departments. They note that securing the confirmation of their nominees is the most important near-term task and that they will soon announce hundreds of hires.

Much more at the link.

Many of us are apprehensive about tRump having the sole power to order a nuclear strike. But what about the man tRump has chosen (perhaps unknowingly) to maintain and manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal?

forbes12-16-16-color

The New York Times: ‘Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood.

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Two-thirds of the agency’s annual $30 billion budget is devoted to maintaining, refurbishing and keeping safe the nation’s nuclear stockpile; thwarting nuclear proliferation; cleaning up and rebuilding an aging constellation of nuclear production facilities; and overseeing national laboratories that are considered the crown jewels of government science.

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who advised Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked on the Trump transition’s Energy Department team in its early days. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

Unreal. And this is one of the departments presidential candidate Perry said he wanted to eliminate.

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

Mr. Moniz had such deep experience with nuclear weapons that in 2015, President Obama made him a co-negotiator, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, of the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr. Perry would sit atop the men and women making the judgments about whether Iran is complying with that accord. In the basement of the Energy Department’s headquarters, the agency’s intelligence unit monitors compliance, working closely with the C.I.A., the National Security Agency and other intelligence bodies.

That is just plain frightening. According to Politico, Perry now “regrets” calling for the elimination of the Energy Department.

luckovich-right-hand

Journalists and biographers are still trying to figure out what’s going on in tRump’s psyche.

Politico: ‘He Has This Deep Fear That He Is Not a Legitimate President.’ I’d say that fear is very well-founded. The piece is a follow up to a previous one in which Politico talked to tRump’s biographers.

Now, after more than two months of Trump’s norm-shattering transition, we gathered Gwenda Blair, Michael D’Antonio and Tim O’Brien by conference call (Wayne Barrett, the dean of Trump reporters, could not participate because of illness) to assess whether Trump has continued to surprise them. Their collective wisdom? In a word, no.

From his pick of nominees for posts in his cabinet to his belligerent use of Twitter (our conversation was a day before he traded barbs with Congressman John Lewis) to his unwillingness to cut ties with his business to avoid conflicts of interest, they see the same person they’ve always seen—the consummate classroom troublemaker; a vain, insecure bully; and an anti-institutional schemer, as adept at “gaming the system” as he is unashamed. As they look ahead to his inauguration speech in two days, and to his administration beyond, they feel confident predicting that he will run the country much as he has run his company. For himself.

“He’s not going to be that concerned with the actual competent administration of the government,” D’Antonio said. “It’s going to be what he seems to be gaining or losing in public esteem. So almost like a monarch. The figurehead who rallies people and gets credit for things.”

Read the rest at Politico.

One more interesting read from Thomas Edsall at The New York Times: What Does Vladimir Putin See in Donald Trump?

luckovich-puppets

At noon on Friday, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Millions of Americans will rejoice at the sight, and millions more will not. As a rule, foreign leaders don’t attend the inauguration of American presidents, but Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will be there in spirit. To understand why and to understand what’s happening as Trump takes over the White House, we need to go back two weeks.

On Jan. 6, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency asserted with “high confidence” that “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election” formed part of a broader, worldwide agenda “to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”

According to the intelligence report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” Vladimir Putin

ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

The intelligence assessment raises the question: what made Trump an attractive vehicle through which to attempt to weaken the liberal democratic order. Why him?

The article is an excellent summary of reporting and opinions on Russia’s successful campaign to elect their own puppet to the U.S. presidency. Now we will have a baby-man in charge. It’s going to get very hairy folks.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy our country’s final day of sane, adult leadership.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Grown-Ups on the Left and Clowns on the Right

Beryl Cook: Tea in the Garden

Beryl Cook: Tea in the Garden

Good Afternoon!!

There’s big news today from the UK. The Brits have elected Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader–which, according to the Guardian, means that “the party now has one of the most leftwing, anti-establishment leaders in its history.”

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the British Labour party, in a stunning first-round victory that dwarfed even the mandate for Tony Blair in 1994.

Corbyn won with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who trailed on 19%, and Yvette Cooper who received 17%. The “Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall came last on 4.5%.

Minutes after his victory, Corbyn said the message is that people are “fed up with the injustice and the inequality” of Britain.

“The media and many of us, simply didn’t understand the views of young people in our country. They were turned off by the way politics was being conducted. We have to and must change that. The fightback gathers speed and gathers pace,” he said.

The north London MP is one of the most unexpected winners of the party leadership in its history, after persuading Labour members and supporters that the party needed to draw a line under the New Labour era of Blair and Gordon Brown.

Wow! Could this be the beginning of the end for austerity politics in Europe? Reuters and other U.S. media outlets are calling Corbyn a “Marx admirer.”

Beryl Cook: End of Term

Beryl Cook: End of Term

Reuters: Marx admirer Corbyn elected UK opposition Labour leader.

Karl Marx admirer Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party on Saturday, a victory that may make a British EU exit more likely and which one former Labour prime minister has said could leave their party unelectable.

Greeted by cheers from supporters in the room and hailed by radicals across Europe, Corbyn’s triumph opened up the prospect of deep splits within Labour with some fearing he will repel voters with radical policies that include unilateral nuclear disarmament, nationalization and wealth taxes.

“Things can and they will change,” Corbyn, who when he entered the contest was a rank outsider, said in his acceptance speech after taking 59.5 percent of votes cast, winning by a far bigger margin than anyone had envisaged.

“I say thank you in advance to us all working together to achieve great victories, not just electorally for Labour, but emotionally for the whole of our society to show we don’t have to be unequal, it doesn’t have to be unfair, poverty isn’t inevitable,” the grey-haired, bearded 66-year-old said.

His victory reflects growing support for left-wing movements across Europe, with Syriza winning an election in Greece in January and Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos performing well in opinion polls.

Beryl Cook: The Dancing Class

Beryl Cook: The Dancing Class

Here’s a profile of Corbyn in Time Magazine: Meet the Man Shaking Up Britain’s Political Establishment (September 4, 2015).

Before announcing his candidacy for the Labour Party leadership, Jeremy Corbyn was a little-known member of parliament (MP) who had represented the same London constituency, Islington North, for 32 years. His career had always been more focused on left-wing activism than government — he is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition — but this has not prevented him becoming the odds on favorite to become the next leader of the 115-year-old party, which has been without one since Ed Milliband resigned following a disastrous election campaign which saw the party all but eradicated in Scotland and far behind the Conservatives elsewhere.

The Labour Party governed Britain under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010 after they rebranded the party as ‘New Labour’, adopted more centrist policies and persuaded many formerly Conservative voters to back them. Corbyn was often opposed to his own government in power and he hopes to shift Labour from being a centre-left party to one that is decisively left wing.

Corbyn makes some in the Labour Pary nervous, according to author Tara John.

The Labour Party leader is elected by the membership from a shortlist selected by MPs. Many in Labour fear that if the membership elect Corbyn on Sept. 12, it will mean the end of the party as a viable candidate for government, instead devolving into a left-wing pressure group. “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below,” warned Tony Blair in the Guardian. “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

Corbyn’s platform seems like a return to the postwar Britain of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when the foundation of the welfare state was laid. Corbyn has called for the renationalization of rail and energy companies and funding increased government spending with higher taxes on the wealthy. He would also withdraw the U.K. from NATO and abandon its independent nuclear deterrent, which would be catastrophic for its relations with the U.S. and other nations and reduce the U.K’s role in international affairs.

Speaking at the Union Chapel in London to hundreds of supporters last month, Corbyn blamed the post-2008 policies of economic austerity on bankers and economists who were forcing the poorest and most vulnerable in the world to pay for the mistakes of the banking system. “We are saying something very very different in this campaign. And we are saying the problem was that Labour lost the election not because we were too left-wing or spent too much, because we were not offering a clear economic alternative. We want a new society where we all care for each other and everyone cares for everyone else; it’s called socialism,” he said to loud applause.

Read more at the link.

5beryl

Of course many in the U.S. media are comparing Corbyn to Bernie Sanders. For example, in the Wall Street Journal, Ian Birrell called him “Britain’s Bernie Sanders,” (September 4). Birrell strongly disapproves of both candidates of course.

…in perhaps the strangest twist in modern British politics, this left-winger, now 66, finds himself at the helm of a youth movement that may sweep him to the head of the Labour Party when the summer-long leadership election results are revealed on Sept. 12. To call this a surprise would be massive understatement. Labour lost a general election in May because it was seen as too militant. Mr. Corbyn stood for the party’s leadership only reluctantly as the hard left’s token candidate. At first he struggled to find enough supporters to make the ballot, and was written off by bookmakers as a 100-1 shot.

But like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential race, Mr. Corbyn has electrified disenchanted young voters, leading to a surge in support for his antiquated brand of socialism. New members have flocked to join the party, while his rallies overflow with fans enthralled by his “authenticity.”

It’s going to be interesting to see what comes of this surprising turn of events in Britain.

Back in the USA, the Clown Car will go on down the road to destruction with one less passenger.

Beryl Cook: Getting Ready

Beryl Cook: Getting Ready

Sam Reissman at The National Memo: Rick Perry Drops Out Of Presidential Race.

On Friday afternoon, Rick Perry became the first candidate in the congested Republican field to drop out of the presidential race.

In a concession speech delivered to the Eagle Forum in St. Louis, Missouri, the former Texas governor took aim at Donald Trump — without directly mentioning the business tycoon’s name. He challenged voters to resist the lures of celebrity, nativism, racism, false conservatism, and candidates who did not have true Christian faith.

He asserted that the U.S.-Mexico border can be secured “without inflammatory rhetoric, without base appeals that divide us based by race, culture, and creed.”

“Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant,” he said. “It betrays the example of Christ.”

He nodded to Martin Luther King, Jr., saying in his prepared remarks: “We need to get back to the central constitutional principle that, in America, it is the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin – that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you are going.”

“We have a tremendous field of candidates,” he said, faltering. “Probably the greatest group of men and women. I step aside knowing our party’s in good hands.”

Buh-bye Rick, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Who will be the next to fall by the wayside?

Now for the clowniest of the clown car riders:

Beryl Cook: Clubbing in the Rain

Beryl Cook: Clubbing in the Rain

Donald Trump claimed yesterday that he can kick out all the undocumented immigrants in 18 months to 2 years. From the Wall Street Journal:

Donald Trump estimated that it will take 18 months to two years to get the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to leave the country, and that he would then build a wall running along the border with Mexico.

The businessman’s statement made on a call with Alabama Republicans Thursday night added a bit of specificity to the Republican presidential frontrunner’s hardline stance on immigration….

Mr. Trump was asked for details about how long it would take to round up illegal immigrants living in the U.S., with the questioner asking if five or ten years was an appropriate timeframe. Mr. Trump said his two year benchmark could be met with “really good management.”

“We have to get them out. If we have wonderful cases, they can come back in but they have to come back in legally,” Mr. Trump said in an audio clip posted on YouTube Thursday night by a person on the call.

Mr. Trump said he would remove illegal immigrants from the country “so fast that your head will spin,” and long before he could embark on his plan to build a wall spanning the 1,900 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Trump didn’t say how he would accomplish this or how much it would cost taxpayers, but he did say that Ben Carson would not be able to do it: “It wouldn’t work for him because he has absolutely no management capability.”

So that’s what’s happening in the lowest-common-denominator campaign . . . Sigh…

The Justice Department stuck a hatpin in the GOP MailGhazi ballon yesterday.

Beryl Cook: Strip Poker

Beryl Cook: Strip Poker

Ruby Cramer and Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed News: Justice Department Lawyers: Clinton Had Authority To Delete Personal Emails.

In a little noticed brief, filed on Wednesday to a federal court, Department of Justice lawyers outlined a comprehensive defense of the contentious decision by Hillary Clinton to wipe the private email server she used as secretary of state: The attorneys assert that, regardless of whether she used a personal or government account, Clinton was within her legal right to handpick the emails that qualified as federal records — and to delete the ones she deemed personal.

“There is no question that former Secretary Clinton had authority to delete personal emails without agency supervision — she appropriately could have done so even if she were working on a government server,” write the Justice Department attorneys, representing the State Department in the brief.

The lawyers add that under policies issued by the State Department and by NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, government employees “are permitted and expected to exercise judgment to determine what constitutes a federal record.”

Be sure to read the whole thing!

And of course the NYT continues its tired attacks: Hillary Clinton’s Long Road to ‘Sorry’ Over Email use. Because they know more than the Justice Department and they only focus on gossip these days.

Other News, Links Only

Beryl Cook: Two on a Stool

Beryl Cook: Two on a Stool

Reuters: Russia to U.S.: talk to us on Syria or risk ‘unintended incidents.’

NYT: US Drops Charges That Professor Shared Technology With China.

MSNBC: Poll: Democrats claim resounding Latino support over GOP.

Jonathan Chait: Bobby Jindal Upset That Trump Is Stealing His Act. (funny!)

The National Memo: This Week In Crazy: Come Hell And High Water.

Reuters: At least 107 killed by falling crane at Grand Mosque in Mecca.

BBC News: India restaurant blast in Madhya Pradesh kills 89.

Buzzfeed: This Is What Refugees Are Given in Germany. (Nice, upbeat story)

NPR: Camerawoman Who Tripped Migrant In Hungary Apologizes. (What a horrible woman!)

NY Daily News: James Blake doesn’t want NYPD cop who tackled him to ‘ever have a badge and gun again.’ 

What else is happening?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Two Republican Candidates in Trouble

 Rick Perry readsGood Afternoon!!

Poor Rick Perry. He just can’t seem to catch a break. First there was his indictment on two felony charges. Then he had to face the further indignity that being indicted on felony charges means he can no longer swagger around with a concealed weapon on his person. According to the Washington Times,

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment on felony corruption charges means he can no longer carry a concealed weapon under state law.

Federal law also prohibits him from being able to buy more guns or ammunition, as long as the indictment is pending, Reuters reported.

I wonder if he knows that? Because when he was in New Hampshire last week, he told voter he didn’t understand the charges against him. From ABC News last Friday, Aug. 22:

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to New Hampshire Friday for the first time since 2012, as he tries to rehab his political image after a failed presidential bid.

Speaking to a group of business leaders here, Perry tried to focus on substance, talking about issues like economic development and the border crisis, but his recent indictment on two felony charges was hard to ignore.

Asked about his indictment during a question-and-answer session with business leaders, Perry was a little unclear when explaining what felony charges were issued against him.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.

A grand jury indicted Perry last week on two felony counts – abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official – over a 2013 veto threat.

Texas Governor Perry

At The Wire, Arit John has a funny post in which he describes Perry’s confusion as just one step in the grief process over the indictment, Rick Perry Enters the Final Stage of Indictment Grief: Confusion.

Maybe Rick Perry should have read up on his indictment charges before he started using them as a campaign talking point. During a speech last week, the Texas governor said he was being indicted for bribery, which isn’t actually true.

“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” he said,according to the Houston Chronicle. But Perry is actually being indicted for abuse of power and coercing a public official, after he threatened to veto District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s budget if she refused to resign after her drunk driving conviction.

This is another oops moment for Perry, but it also signaled his transition into the 5th and, likely for him, final stage of indictment related grief: confusion. After grinning mugshot denial, angry ads “setting the record straight,” bargaining over who should pay the lawyers and depression over a loss of Second Amendment privileges, all that’s left for Perry is to be slightly unsure of what, exactly, people are accusing him of doing.

Read the details at the link.

Rick Perry gun3

Then there are the embarrassing stories about how Perry hasn’t paid the National Guard troops that he sent to guard the Texas-Mexico border. From Gawker:

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent National Guard soldiers to the Mexico border to much fanfare earlier this summer, he couldn’t say how long they’d be there. It turns out he also couldn’t pay them: At least 50 soldiers haven’t seen a paycheck and are getting sustenance and vehicle fuel from a local food bank.

Via KGBT News, the sudden call-up took those weekend warriors away from their day jobs and deposited them in the Rio Grande valley, but the service hasn’t covered their losses yet….

Perry—who’s busy being indicted for criminal abuse of power—and the National Guard didn’t respond to reporter queries earlier this week, but the pay lag could be related to the governor’s refusal to fund the mobilization he ordered, and his insistence that the federal government cover it. (In the meantime, Perry was supposedly attempting to finance the deployment “by diverting $38 million in public safety funds earmarked for emergency radio infrastructure,” the L.A. Times has reported.)

Yesterday afternoon, the Austin Statement reported that unnamed “National Guard officials” were claiming the stories about hungry troops were exaggerated, but it sounds like they may be just trying to clean up Perry’s mess.

The Guard said it had identified 50 service members who, because of their early August start date, weren’t going to be paid until Sept. 5.

None of those 50 troops have notified leaders that they had used the food bank, officials said.

According to the Guard, troops receive one meal while on duty, plus a $32 per diem food reimbursement that is included in their paychecks.

According to Omar Ramirez, Food Bank RGV’s manager of communications and advocacy, the food bank made extra preparations after being contacted by someone from the Texas National Guard Support Foundation, but that he wasn’t aware of any troops being served.

“Maybe they come in and they just don’t tell us they’re National Guard,” he said.

OK, but if the $32 dollars is included in their paychecks, then that means the troops have to front the money for two meals a day until Sept. 5, right? Read the rest at the link.

CoatHangerPerryW480_zpsc5ed0bd9

Finally, yesterday Perry learned that his latest anti-abortion bill–the one that Wendy Davis filibustered–has been struck down by a federal judge. From AP:

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with clinics that sued over one of the most disputed measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new restrictions that would have left seven abortion facilities in Texas come Monday. There are currently 19 abortion providers in the state, according to groups challenging the law.

“The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion,” Yeakel wrote in his 21-page ruling.

The trial in Texas was the latest battle over tough new abortion restrictions sweeping across the U.S.

The law would have required clinics “to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers,” according to The New York Times.

Adopted as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure last year, the rule would have forced the closing of more than a dozen of Texas’ remaining abortion clinics because they were unable to afford to renovate or to open new facilities that met the standards for such things as hallway width, ceiling height, advanced ventilation equipment, staffing and even parking spaces.

The closings would have left Texas, the second-biggest state by population and by size, with seven or eight abortion clinics, all in major cities like Houston and Dallas. Women in El Paso in West Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley in the south would have lived more than 150 miles — a distance ruled constitutional by a federal appeals court — from the closest clinic in the state, in San Antonio.

Fortunately for Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, her opponent Greg Abbott plans to appeal the decision.

Mitch McDonnell at Morris' Deli in Louisville, KY

Mitch McDonnell at Morris’ Deli in Louisville, KY

Mitch McConnell is also experiencing some difficulties in his Senate reelection campaign in Kentucky. He has been in a close race with Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes–they’ve been running neck-and-neck for a long time now. And recently McConnell has had a couple of setbacks. First there was the secretly recorded audiotape released by The Undercurrent Youtube channel, of McConnell’s remarks at a “meeting for millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers,” in which he promised to continue blocking Obama proposals and emphasized his opposition to raising the minimum wage. The contents of the tape were first reported in The Nation.

Last week, in an interview with Politico, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) outlined his plan to shut down President Obama’s legislative agenda by placing riders on appropriations bills. Should Republicans take control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, McConnell intends to pass spending bills that “have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.”

What McConnell didn’t tell Politico was that two months ago, he made the same promise to a secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers. The Nation and The Undercurrent obtained an audio recording of McConnell’s remarks to the gathering, called “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society.” In the question-and-answer period following his June 15 session titled “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights,” McConnell says:

“So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible]. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”

Mitch McConnell gun

The article notes that the McConnell campaign has received $41,800 from Koch Industries in addition to outside groups who get funding from the Kochs.

“And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [inaudible]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.”

In late April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, successfully filibustered a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a widely popular measure that would increase wages for at least 16.5 million Americans. Earlier in the year, McConnell also led a filibuster of a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to some 1.7 million Americans. At one point in the negotiations, he offered a deal to extend unemployment only if Democrats agreed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA does not add to the federal deficit.

More from The New York Times:

The [Undercurrent] channel released audio of three other Republicans in tough Senate races — Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado and Joni Ernst, a state senator in Iowa — all of whom praised Charles G. and David H. Koch and the millions of dollars they have provided to help Republican candidates….

Republicans said the recordings were insignificant. Josh Holmes, a senior McConnell campaign aide, said the senator was in no way suggesting a strategy to shut down the government unless Mr. Obama capitulates.

Nonetheless, the audio recordings are likely to become fodder for the campaigns in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Kentucky. Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, have tried to demonize contributions by the Koch brothers as corruptive to the political system.

In Arkansas, especially, the audio could touch a nerve. Mr. Cotton, a freshman House member, skipped a popular political event in his state, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, to attend the Koch brothers’ meeting in California. According to the audio, he was repaid with praise for his willingness to hew to the most conservative line, even if it meant voting against legislation popular in his state.

o-MITCH-MCCONNELL-JESSE-BENTON-facebook

Then yesterday, McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton was forced to resign because of a scandal involving his work for the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa in 2012. From CBS News:

Benton’s resignation, effective Saturday, comes barely two months before Kentucky voters choose between McConnell, a five-term incumbent and the top-ranking Senate Republican, and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In Iowa this week, former state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of support from one Republican presidential candidate to another before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. He received thousands of dollars in “under the table payments” before switching loyalties from candidate Michele Bachmann, whose Iowa campaign he headed, to candidate Ron Paul, then lied to federal investigators about the money, the Justice Department said.

Prosecutors refused to say which campaign paid Sorenson. A representative for Bachmann didn’t immediately return voice and email messages seeking comment Friday. A phone message for Paul also wasn’t immediately returned.

Benton, a tea party insider, worked as a top aide to Paul. On Friday he said that he has been the target of “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors” about his role in past campaigns that are “politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”

Benton had been hired to help McConnell appeal to Tea Party extremists in Kentucky. Is it possible McConnell misjudged his constituents? I sincerely hope so.

So I’ve ended up focusing this post on just two struggling Republicans–but there are plenty of others I could write about. I don’t think we should give up on Democrats holding the Senate yet. I know there is plenty of other news, but I thought I’d shift the focus to electoral politics today. What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Labor Day weekend!!

 

 


Sunday Reads: Israel-Palestine Conflict and Presidential Break-Out

woman-reading Childe Hassam 1885

Good Morning!!

Is it just me, or is there less exciting news this summer than usual? Today, the top stories are the Israel-Palestine conflict and President Obama’s supposed sudden freedom to be himself. Oh, and the so-called “super moon” that reached its peak last night.

I have to be honest; I don’t understand why Israel is stepping up its attacks on the Palestine territory; Israel-Palestine discussions always seem to lead to bitter fighting on blogs, so I tend to avoid the issue entirely. But I’ll try to pick out some helpful stories on the conflict this morning.

From USA Today: Thousands flee Gaza as Israel ramps up offensive.

GAZA CITY — Thousands fled northern Gaza on Sunday as the Israeli military notified residents of an impending attack and its ground troops briefly crossed the border on a mission to destroy a launching site.

“Civilians are requested to evacuate their residences immediately for their own safety,” the leaflets dropped by air said, before listing specific areas that would “prove to be most dangerous.”

Israeli airstrikes hit more than 200 homes and buildings across Gaza on Sunday, bringing the death toll in the sixth day of the Israeli offensive Operation Protective Edge to 166 with more than 1,000 injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Despite calls from the United Nations and world leaders, there are no signs the two sides will agree to a cease-fire anytime soon.

“We don’t know when the operation will end,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting Sunday. “It might take a long time.”

From the UK Guardian: Israel calls on residents to leave northern Gaza as death toll continues to spiral.

The death toll passed 160 on Sunday on the Palestinian side, with no Israeli fatalities reported. The United Nations called on Israel and Hamas to end hostilities. Instead the violence escalated with more exchanges of rocket fire from Gaza and missiles from Israel….

The military said four Israeli navy commandos were lightly wounded in a shootout with Gaza-based Hamas fighters as they carried out a raid to destroy a rocket launching site on Sunday morning. It marks the first time the sides have directly clashed since Israel began a devastating bombardment in response to rocket fire. Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Both sides have dismissed calls for a truce and Israel has continued to build up troops along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion.

So is this all-out war?

There has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities, which appeared to be ramping up over Saturday night….

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said on Friday that “no international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction”.

Hamas’s Haniya sounded a similar tone, saying: “[Israel] is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are [simply] defending ourselves.”

The latest conflict unfolded after last month’s kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

What are we to think about this seemingly endless, unresolvable conflict? I gained a bit of insight from two posts at Tikkun by David Harris-Gershon.

From July 5, As a Jew living in America, the past week has changed me forever

Gershon writes that he was brought up by parents who were very liberal; at the same time he was taught to be loyal to the state of Israel and to believe that the Palestinians were evil.

As an adult, I’ve moved away from such naiveté while holding on to both my Zionist and progressive leanings, despite the growing struggle for coexistence between the two. And it’s not as though I’m mildly informed about the region or mildly invested in Israel and my Jewishness. The opposite, in fact, is the case. I’m a Jewish studies teacher at a day school, yeshiva-educated with a master’s degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I’ve authored a memoir about my experience with terror and reconciliation, and write extensively about the region, often critiquing Israel from a progressive perspective while maintaining my desire for a two-state solution to the conflict.

As an adult, I’ve learned about the cleansing of Arab villages which took place from 1947-1949 to make way for the Jewish state. I’ve learned about the ongoing settlement enterprise, the appropriation and bifurcation of Palestinian lands. I’ve learned the horrors of Israel’s decades-old occupation of the West Bank, about the suppression of basic human rights and the atrocities committed. I’ve studied Israel’s use of indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on goods and movement, and the violence visited upon those being occupied.

I’ve learned that – and this is just one example of many – a Palestinian child has tragically been killed every three days for the past 14 years. That bears repeating, since such deaths are rarely, if ever, given any attention in America: Palestinian parents have had to bury a child every three days for the past 14 years.

Knowing all this, I’ve still held fast to my ‘progressive Zionism,’ hoping Israel could become that beacon of liberalism I was presented as a child, a beacon which never truly existed in the first place, despite the country’s socialist roots. Why have I done so? For two reasons: 1) deep down, I still believe in the promise of Israel, and 2) I can’t shake the notion that a Jewish state is absolutely necessary for our security….

Gershon writes that he has worked with others to try to get Israel to change its warlike, even racist, policies, but with little success. he has come to the conclusion that the Israeli government has “little interest in peace.”

These realities have forced me to consider the incongruity between my American-borne progressivism and my Zionism. They have forced me to admit, like Peter Beinart, that in order to continue supporting Israel as a Jewish state, with everything it continues to do, I must compromise my progressivism.

However, the mind-numbingly horrific events of the past week have forced me, for the first time, to wonder whether such compromising can be sustained.

Smoke and fire rise above the skyline following an Israeli air strike on July 11 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Friday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border (NBC News).

Smoke and fire rise above the skyline following an Israeli air strike on July 11 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Friday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border (NBC News).

And from July 12, My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I’ve Ever Written

I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.

I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.

So I shut the book – Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which argues that only a bi-national state can justly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and quickly hid it from those milling about.

Gershon goes on to discuss his recent epiphany about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

…recent, unspeakable events of the past two weeks have begun to make me question whether a two-state solution is even remotely possible anymore, particularly as Israeli officials begin embracing various one-state solutions.

Such internal questioning reached a climax on Friday, when Netanyahu explicitly stated that he wanted Israel to control the West Bank indefinitely, marking his first-ever public rejection of the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.

My jaw dropped.

There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll check it out.

 

The famous reluctant handshake in Texas

The famous reluctant handshake in Texas

Now for President Obama’s supposed break-out.

From The Washington Post: ‘The bear is loose’: Is Obama breaking free or running away?

Bears, beer and horse heads: What exactly is going on with the leader of the free world?

On a single day this week in Denver, President Obama scarfed down pizza and drinks with strangers, shot pool with Colorado’s governor and shook hands with a guy on the street wearing a horse mask. His top staffers are promoting these stops on Twitter with the hashtag#TheBearIsLoose — a term one of Obama’s aides coined in 2008 when the candidate would defy his schedule.

More than five years into his presidency, Obama is trying to free himself from the constraints of office, whether by strolling on the Mall or hopscotching the country as part of a campaign-style tour. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer says the president “just wants to get out” and influence “our overall political conversation” by connecting with ordinary Americans.

But to some, breaking free can also look like running away.

Obama’s trip to Colorado and Texas this week took place against the backdrop of a burgeoning crisis on the Mexican border, where tens of thousands of children have been apprehended seeking entry into the United States. In Dallas, Obama dismissed the idea of heading farther south for a border visit as a “photo op” — not long after those photo ops showing him shooting pool and sipping beer in Denver.

Read more at the link. To me it looks like Obama is feeling freed up lately–mostly because he seems to be ignoring Republican nonsense and express his real opinions. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it feels that way to me.

fist bump

Obama’s latest photo-op came at an Austin, TX barbecue restaurant. From The Advocate: Texas Restaurant Worker Gets Gay-Supportive Fist Bump From Obama.

A gay employee at Franklin Barbecue in Austin had “a lucky day to be the register girl” Thursday, as he not only got to wait on President Obama but got a fist bump in support of LGBT rights.

Daniel Rugg Webb, a musician and comedian who works part-time at the restaurant, was on duty at the register as the president came up to pay for more than $300 worth of takeout, The Austin Chronicle reports. Webb slapped the counter and shouted, “Equal rights for gay people!” Obama asked, “Are you gay?” and Webb replied, “Only when I have sex.”

“That’s when he laughed and said, ‘Bump me,’” Webb told the Chronicle. Several onlookers photographed the fist bump and circulated the photo on Twitter. “It was just a lucky day to be the register girl,” Webb added.

From the Austin Chronicle via Buzzfeed:

Webb told the Chronicle:

“As a comedian, it was cool to have a moment where I was making a sitting president laugh — over something that might be considered inappropriate is a bonus,” Webb said of the experience.

He said he had been hoping to get in a joke about Texas Governor Rick Perry, who he described as “famously anti-gay.”

While Webb said he appreciates Obama’s social progressiveness, he expressed hope that the president will close the gap between his own relative forward-thinking on gay rights, and his general quietness on the anti-gay views of many state leaders before he leaves office.

“It would be interesting if he could call some people out for it. People can use a lot of things—religion, freedom of speech—to be anti-gay, but I need people to understand you can call people out for civil rights things,” Webb said.

“We are an anti-gay state. We are a state with a whole bunch of hungry children and sick old people, and [Rick Perry is] grandstanding on things that will get him a better election,” Webb said. “And it’s glaringly obvious. He’s kind of primitive in his social beliefs. I would like to see Rick Perry negatively influenced by any kind of attention. Even Obama laughing at something as, hopefully, acceptable as sexuality can show the difference.”

What do you think? Is Obama really changing?

What other stories are you following today? I have a few more news links, but I’ll post them in comments.