Sunday, November 23, 2014

Facts Be Damned-- As Usual-- The Republican Party Has No Intention Of Giving Up On "Benghazi"


Boehner, McConnell and, with them, the Republican-dominated Congress, slinked out of town Friday for another epic paid vacation... instead of dealing with raising the minimum wage, crumbling U.S. infrastructure, student-loan reform and other matters the American public-- overwhelmingly-- wants dealt with (or even what Fox and Hate Talk Radio consumers want them to deal with). Instead they quietly-- quietly as possible-- released the big Benghazi report from the Republican-controlled Intelligence Committee.

As Rachel explains in the clip up top, it was a Friday news dump just before the Thanksgiving holiday when the fewest people possible would be likely to hear about it. After all, two years of smearing Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and the Democratic Party with unfounded lies about a Benghazi conspiracy that the Republican base completely embraced, had come to naught. Could be a big letdown in Limbaughland or for the zombies who get all their information from Fox "News." But even the Republican Party newspaper of record, the Wall Street Journal, was forced, grudgingly, to acknowledge the report.
A House report on the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, concludes that the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military responded properly and that Obama administration “talking points” were flawed, but didn’t find that administration officials attempted to mislead the public.

The two-year-long investigation by the Republican-led House intelligence committee is the latest congressional probe to examine the attacks, and its conclusions deflate allegations suggesting misconduct by the Obama administration. Among other findings, the report concluded that a CIA response team hadn’t been ordered to “stand down” after an assault began on the U.S. compound, and didn’t delay a rescue operation.

The report also said there had been no intelligence failure prior to the attacks, and that intelligence on those who participated in the attacks “was and remains conflicting” concerning their identities, affiliations and motivations.

The panel said the CIA received all U.S. military support available at the time in the region, and said the military didn’t miss a chance to perform a rescue operation.
Not that this is going to shut the Republicans up-- not by a long shot. When have facts ever mattered on the right? That's why Boehner appointed South Carolina pinhead Trey Gowdey and his completely politicized Select Committee on Benghazi (which features raving extremisst and ridiculous GOP apparatchiks like Martha Roby (R-AL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), and Mike Pompeo (R-KS), the last two of whom are-- like kooks Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Peter King (R-NY)-- also members of the Intelligence Committee. The Republican Party and its affiliates have figured out how to turn Benghazi into a cash cow for themselves. They're not going to let some dinky report from some committee spoil that any time soon. Clowns like Darrell Issa, Louie Gohmert, Steve King, John Mica have too much riding on it. So does Fox News, which called Benghazi an inside job and made it the theme of their "news" programming for two full years. Back to the Journal for a minute:
The report by the House intelligence panel is unlikely to be the last word on the furor over Benghazi. A separate investigation by a House select committee is under way and members said Friday they have reviewed the House intelligence report.

The issue is certain to be raised in the 2016 presidential race if Democrat Hillary Clinton , the secretary of state in 2012, decides to run. GOP attacks over Benghazi have focused on Mrs. Clinton, as well as on Susan Rice , then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now the White House national security adviser.

Alan Grayson, in September 2013, at a meeting of the House Foreign Relations Committee, called Benghazi, "the scandal that never was." Since then the Republicans have wasted tens of millions of dollars on it-- something they don't regret, since the cost to the taxpayer was dwarfed by the amount of money the GOP and its allies raised by shrieking "Benghazi," meaningfully. Don't expect that to stop, after this report they worked so hard to bury in obscurity. Fox's coverage of the report was, predictably, a joke. If they had even a shred of concern for the country, the GOP leaders in the House, would have announced they were disbanding the Trey Gowdy clown show immediately. They haven't. That's an integral part of their 2016 anti-Hillary Clinton campaign strategy.

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Looking back at and with Molly Ivins (including her terrible times at the NY Times)


Molly Ivins (1944-2007)

"I know what kind of governor [George W. Bush] has been -- if you expect him to do for the nation what he has for Texas, we need to talk."

"We are pleased to announce the reelection of Senator Drew Nixon of Carthage. Nixon is the fellow who was found by Dallas police in a car with not one but three prostitutes. He explained he thought they were asking for directions."
-- "Mollyisms" from Molly Ivins: Letters to The Nation

by Ken

As I mentioned recently, I ordered the paperback (as opposed to e-book) editions of a pair of anthologies published by The Nation in its varied book series, volumes dedicated to the great Texas-born and -bred journalist Molly Ivins (1944-2007) and the great American novelist and political commentator Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), both edited by a former executive editor of the magazine, Richard Lingeman, who was in harness when they were contributing to it.

They're smaller books than I was imagining, but none the worse for it -- we get to savor the contents more fully. The Vonnegut volume is gently and wittily cataclysmic, and I definitely plan to come back to it. I thought I'd start, though, with Molly Ivins: Letters to The Nation."


Editor Lingeman has a starter section called "Mollyisms: Is Texas America or Vice Versa?" From this section I've taken the liberty of extracting a bunch of the Mollyisms and grouping them thematically.

It seems natural to start with an unholy trinity of Texas governors.

Bill Clements (governor, 1979-83 and 1987-91)
"Our only Governor, Sweet William we call him, might be described as irascible. Actually, he's mean, bad-tempered and has a face that would sour milk. . . . Turns out the man lies like a skunk puts out stink. He couldn't change his mind without looking like a sackful of fishhooks. . . . Lots of politicians paint themselves into corners by making stupid campaign promises. Bill Clements is one of the few to ever survey the situation and apply a second coat."
"Clemens said he knows the NCAA has a hard task and he 'commensurates' with 'em and he hopes they 'secede.' "
"As our former Governor Bill Clements said during an etiquette lesson preceding the visit of Deng Xiaoping of China to Houston, 'We have to be nice to this little fella and remember we all like chop suey.' "

George W. Bush (governor, 1995-2000)
"One of the funnier slogans, from George W. Bush's last run for governor, was 'end social promotion.' Social promotion is the story of Bush's life."
"Hearing [GWB] has the charm and suspense of those old adventure-movie serials. Will the man ever fight his way out of this sentence alive?"
And as president --
"The fact is that unless someone else writes a speech for him, the President of the United States sounds like a borderline moron. But the media sit around pretending that he can actually talk -- can convince, inspire and lead us."

GWB's Texas successor, "Governor Goodhair" (2000-present)
"Bush was replaced by his exceedingly Lite Guv Rick Perry, who has really good hair."


Lingeman raises the question of how Molly came to write for The Nation.
The short answer is because the magazine's former editor, Victor Navasky, asked her. Originally, he planned to sign her up as the magazine's television critic, a post we were always trying to fill without success and one that would presumably elicit her wit with minimal demands on her time. [This "Victor Navasky" would be the same person known to us via Calvin Trillin as "the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky," the man who, as we've noted, got Trillin to write a column for The Nation for a fee "in the high two figures." -- Ed.]

Here is Victor's account of her hiring interview. The next time Molly was in New York, he invited her to dinner at Orso's, an "in" dining spot in the theater district popular with stage folk and first-nighters. Upon her arrival at the restaurant, Victor did a double take. She was dressed in an evening gown and a fur coat. On her six-foot frame that rig would have looked statuesque to say the least. Maybe this was her way of spoofing the idea of a good ol' gal from Texas trying to make a big impression in the Big City.

After Victor opened the negotiations, she confessed that she didn't own a television set. Victor apparently was not daunted by her lack of experience as a TV critic, indeed as a TV watcher. For she had the one essential qualification for the job: a built-in bullshit detector, fine-tuned on the bloviations of some of the windiest politicians on the Great Plains. And so he offered to buy her one and she signed on.

Time passed, and you know what? She never wrote a damn thing about television.

Instead, she did something better. She started contributing what might be described as Letters from Texas, bringing to the magazine's East and West Coast-concentrated readership the latest political developments in the Great State, which seemed to be full of exotic people known as the Gibber, Governor Goodhair and the Breck Girl ["House Speaker Gib Lewis, Governor Rick Perry, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, respectively"]. . . .


More Mollyisms, branching out to other Lone Star political life forms, and beyond.
"The bill to make English the Official State Language came to naught, which is just as well, since we'd have had to deport the entire state leadership if it was passed."
"Former Congressman Tom Loeffler [from the 21st Congressional District, 1979-87, before losing to Bill Clements in the Republican gubernatorial primary] is now the Reagan Administration's new point man . . . for lobbying on aid to the contras. Loeffler . . . is the guy who thinks you can get AIDS through your feet, as we learned when he wore shower caps on his while on a trip to San Francisco, lest he acquire the disease from the bathroom tile."
"Jim Collins [U.S. representative from Texas's 3rd Congressional District, 1968-83] is the man who once moved me, in the days when I wrote for the Dallas Times Herald, to observe, 'If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day.' "
With some special love for a pair of Pats --
"Many people did not care for Pat Buchanan's speech [at the Republican National Convention]; it probably sounded better in the original German. No one could decide whether Phil Gramm or Pat Robertson made the worst speech of the convention, perhaps because no one listened to them."
"In trying to determine just how far to the right the GOP's loony wing will go, it's worth noting how Pat Robertson, past and possibly future GOP presidential candidate, is fighting Iowa's proposed equal rights amendment. Pat says feminism 'encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.' "


You'd think this would have been a good thing, Molly being hired by the New York Times, but somehow it didn't work out the way one would have hoped. Lingeman clues us in to some of what that "somehow" was, and how unhappy a time it was for Molly. It seems to have had more than a little to do with Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, who -- as anyone knows who's read or heard much about his career -- had a lot of screwy ideas about journalism which he upheld as if they were journalistic holy writ, quite apart from being a raging sociopath who managed to carry around more chips than you could fit on a dozen shoulders. To me it says a lot about him that he had this awesome talent on his payroll and managed to get less out of her than you would imagine possible.
In 1976, the New York Times beckoned to her as part of a feminization drive at the newspaper. There also seemed to have been some hope that her humor-brightened reportage would liven up the Gray Lady of West Forty-third Street.

As it turned out, her career with the Times was not a happy one, though she started off covering big stories like the Son of Sam murders. But she didn't really fit in. Maybe that all started when she showed up in the newsroom wearing jeans and trailed by her dog, Shit. The story goes that when she was serving as Rocky Mountain bureau chief in Denver (comprising a staff of one), she filed a story about the annual chicken slaughter in Corrales, New Mexico, which she referred to as a "gang pluck." The Times's executive editor Abe Rosenthal, who hated what he deemed to be wise-ass reporters who fooled with the news or snuck in double entendres, called her into his office and confronted her.

"Molly," he said, getting right down to the obvious, "you are going to make readers think of a gang fuck."

"Abe," she replied, "you're a hard man to fool."

He consigned her to purgatory -- covering City Hall -- which left her little to do. Eventually she resigned. "Abe was a hard man to fool," she commented.

A psychiatrist might guess that her double entendre was a subconscious protest. She had been unhappy at the way Times editors declawed her prose and dampened her humor. "Naturally, I was miserable -- at five times my previous salary," she later said of that period. "The New York Times is a great newspaper; it is also No Fun."
Lingeman points out that Molly's return to Texas proved "a great career move" -- she became a columnist first for the Dallas Times Herald, then for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and, nationally, Creators Syndicate. It was a terrible thing, though, for the NYT, its readers, and the country, that the Times editorial command didn't know how to make this treasure a jewel in its journalistic crown.


As the great literary critic, commentator, and editor John Leonard can be read observing in Vonnegut by the Dozen: "Like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, even when he's funny Kurt Vonnegut is depressed." He was a great novelist, and in his own distinctive way as great and cataclysmic a political observer, and perhaps even more distressing.

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Will His Mania To Destroy The U.S. Post Office Be Ron Johnson's Final Undoing?


I suppose once the likes of right-wing steeped-in-profound-ignorance sociopaths Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and James Lankford (R-OK) show up scores will change, but right now ProgressivePunch rates Wisconsin nut-case Ron Johnson as owner of the worst voting record in the Senate. It's not just that his 0.48 Lifetime crucial vote score is significantly lower than even radical right freaks like Ted Cruz (2.60), Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (2.36) and Mike Lee (6.31), it's that when you take the partisan lean of states into account, Johnson is the senator least likely to serve the basic interests of the most people in his state. His score there is -79.52. I've never seen a score that low before, or even close to that low. Johnson doesn't care what people back in Wisconsin think or need; he's governed entirely by a bizarre, foreign ideology that would be right at home in 1930s Europe. That's MINUS 79.52. Is he trying to lose his seat in 2016?

Wisconsin appears to be pretty ready for Hillary and the state is usually unkind to Republicans in presidential years to begin with. With Russ Feingold likely to run for his old seat, Johnson, the 10th richest member of the Senate (with a net worth of north of $13 million), is looking like the underdog. Polls have consistently shown that Feingold would beat him by between 6 and 10 points in a rematch.

With the Republicans having grabbed control of the Senate, Johnson will be the new head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which, among other things, oversees the post office-- which Johnson wants to drive into bankruptcy and then privatize, not a popular option back in Wisconsin... but we already saw that he doesn't care what people want back in Wisconsin. And he opposes the bipartisan compromise reform package worked out by Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). He sees destroying the U.S. Post Office as a last legacy. If you're wondering, yes, the man is seriously insane and, yes, he really hates working families.

How did a crackpot like Ron Johnson ever get into the Senate? Long, sad story, but he always claims he self-funded his way to the top. That's not 100% true-- and, of course, not free from the corruption that is always swirling around Ron Johnson and the family firm, Pacur, a plastics manufacturer that's involved in medical device packaging and high-tech printing applications. He told a CNN audience on Thursday that he's not going to self-finance his campaign "again" in 2016. "I made my $9 million investment in this country…I gave it once," he boasted, "I don't think I should do it again."
According to campaign finance data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Johnson did in fact contribute $8.8 million to his 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate while working at PACUR, a plastics company started by Johnson’s brother in law whose biggest client is a company founded by his now-deceased father in law and is currently run by another brother in law.

But like most every other story with Tailgunner Ron, you need to know the rest of the story - his "investment in America" was immediately paid back by his in law's company as soon as the campaign was over. Johnson wants voters to think this was a selfless act-- a great generous contribution-- but it was no more than a Ponzi scheme to get elected.

A quick fact check reveals that the former family-made businessman received a $10 million deferred compensation payoff from PACUR shortly after the election. Federal law prohibits corporations from donating to individuals running for public office; absent a written deferred compensation agreement signed and dated prior to Johnson’s Senate campaign, the compensation package potentially constitutes an illegal corporate campaign contribution.

Despite previous calls for transparency in campaign finance disclosures, Johnson was unwilling to offer an explanation for the questionable payout. Speaking with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time, Johnson said, "It's a private business. I've complied with all the disclosure laws, and I don't have to explain it any further to someone like you."

“Through his words and his actions in the U.S. Senate, Ron Johnson has made clear that he is not to be taken seriously, but the same can’t be said for corporate money flowing through campaigns in the dark,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Wednesday. “We know that Tailgunner Ron’s family business financed his first campaign but it’s anyone’s guess which special interests will underwrite his second campaign.”

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If there's nothing to do about this demented quote but scream, well, I'm screaming


Yes, fine, but is Aris really the problem?

by Ken

You'll be relieved to hear that I don't plan to keep you here long. In an article I was reading yesterday, I was stopped dead by a quote, and I haven't come close to recovering.

It was a piece by in The New Yorker's "Tech" issue (November 24) by Ben McGrath, "Good Game: The rise of the professional cyber-athlete," and I have to say there probably aren't a lot of other writers who could get me to read a piece on something called StarCraft II, an apparently phenomenally difficult and brain-challenging online game. I'm going to try to spare you as much of the detail as possible, which you can get far better from Ben directly. I think there are just a few things you need to know:

• The game, which began its rise in Korea, has spread through the international online gaming community and now also draws large crowds for live matches with big-time cash prizes, and pretty much out of nowhere, so far as that community is concerned, a powerhouse player has emerged with the handle Scarlett, in reality a girl from eastern Canada, Sasha Hostyn, now 20, who has staggering analytical and problem-solving abilities, and also enthusiastic support from her father, a geology professor, and her mother, "who has worked in public radio, politics, and software design."

• The online gaming community is not only overwhelmingly male but -- and this is a concern of Sasha's father, the geology professor -- afflicted with what Ben describes "the toxicity of gaming culture, with its adolescent sexuality and its tendency toward misogyny."

Which almost brings us to the quote I want to get to. It harks back to spring 2012, when, as Ben writes,
a controversy arose in a coarser corner of the e-sports world, when a prominent Street Fighter personality named Aris Bakhtanians was asked by a Twitch employee [ is "a game-streaming site . . . which Amazon acquired three months ago for just shy of a billion dollars"], Jared Rea, whether the fighting-game community’s habits of using vulgar and, in some cases, hostile language toward women could be tamped down. As Rea put it, “Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?”
Now comes The Quote:
Bakhtanians replied, “You can’t, because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, fifteen or twenty years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting-game community it’s not the fighting-game community—it’s StarCraft.
I get that our Street Fighter sage is specifically exempting StarCraft from the "culture" he's talking about, but that's not my point. The fact is that this quote disturbed me to such a degree that I haven't yet read much farther in Ben's piece. Here we are being told that the fighting-game community is a culture in which sexual harassment is inextricably bound. And it's not being treated as if it were the end of the world?

What I'm hearing here is that the human race is corrupted to the point where there's hardly any point in trying to save us, even if it might be possible to do so. I don't know what an appropriate response would be, but the least I can think of to do is scream. So I'm screaming.


This is a world I have no connection to, the gaming community, so I'm coming in late. I see that in August 2012 Amy O'Leary wrote a piece for the NYT called ". At the end she quoted James Portnow
a game designer who has worked on titles including Call of Duty and Farmville, wrote an episode about harassment for his animated Web series “Extra Credits.” In it, the narrator says: “Right now, it’s like we gave the school bully access to the intercom system and told him that everyone would hear whatever he had to say. It’s time we take away that megaphone.”

At the end of the video, viewers were encouraged to e-mail Microsoft’s Xbox Live’s team, asking for changes to communication tools and improvements to reporting systems.
Microsoft in fact wound up inviting Portnow to its headquarters, where "he met with a team of executives, including a vice president, for four hours, and they discussed how Microsoft was developing better algorithms for things like automatically muting repeat offenders. Microsoft confirmed it was working toward improvements to its community tools." I don't know, maybe they solved the problem. But I'm thinking that this isn't a problem about community tools or algoritms.
The O'Leary piece ended:
“For the longest time, people have seen games as a children’s pastime, and we as an industry have stood behind this idea,” said Mr. Portnow, who will be speaking on a gaming convention panel later this month called “Ending Harassment in Gaming.”

“But that’s not true any longer,” he added. “We are a real mass medium, and we have a real effect on the culture. We have to take a step beyond this idea that nothing we could possibly do could be negative, or hurt people.”
Again, it's possible that that gaming convention panel at least paved the way toward solving the problem. But I don't believe that. It's out there, it's part of the "culture," and it terrifies me. For one thing, does anyone believe we're talking about just the gaming community?


I commend to readers' attention the comments left by reader Larry P.. who (I was relieved to see) understood what so shook me about this business and really ran with it, applying some valuable cultural perspective. Thanks, Larry!

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Those DCCC Emails Will Still Be Generated Even When Only Cockroaches Remain On The Planet


Neither gone nor forgotten

The DCCC is still sending out their despised e-mails. Wednesday, deposed committee chairman, Steve Israel, sent one titled "I'm So Proud." The greatest failure in the history of the committee but he's proud... why? Because, he says, "Moments ago, we learned that we beat Boehner in one of the last uncalled Congressional races. This one was Republicans’ top target in the entire country. The Republicans spent a fortune to elect Obamacare-repealing, Social Security privatizing extremist Doug Ose. In fact, Boehner, Rove, and the Republican outside groups spent more money to win California’s 7th district than any other race in the country. On Election Night, the race was too-close-to-call. But in the end, their right-wing cash was no match for your grassroots strength. Your donations and volunteer hours allowed us to reach out to key voters over 126,000 times-- and pull off a big victory!" The sad little man is in serious denial-- and because Pelosi gave him another undeserved leadership position, he's putting the Democratic Party in serious jeopardy. Obama won that California district both times he ran. It was so close because the wretched New Dem incumbent is utterly unqualified to be in Congress or to represent himself as a Democrat. His crap, tepid voting record-- a ProgressivePunch crucial lifetime progressive score of 51.54%-- inspired contempt from Republicans and confused resignation from Democrats.

Of course it wasn't just the discredited Israel-- discredited everywhere except in the minds of Pelosi's geriatric leadership clique-- who was sending out pitifully self-justifying e-mails. One DCCC staffer bragged about how they won races because they spent money on them. They also lost races-- far more-- that they spent money on. "Nearly half (47%) of the DCCC IE dollars were invested in races that House Democrats won," she wrote. Really? Well over half was spent on races they lost. And she's as excited as Israel is that of the 14 races too close to call on Election Night, Dems have won 13 so far and Republicans have won none. Is that some kind of a new benchmark we should be measuring success by? Races in blue districts that should never have been close to begin with wind up being won?

This morning, I was going through an old copy of The Nation from 2002, soon after the Republicans won a midterm and claimed a mandate. Jim Hightower-- remember a dozen years ago-- wrote about what the Beltway Democrats must do to regain the trust of grassroots voters-- "Only if the party gets a clue, gets a program and gets with the people." They didn't and they won't now either, not with the sad sacks running the DC party leadership.
PROGRAM: To get them, the party has to get a program, because (here's another wacky concept) people tend to vote when their self-interest is touched. So let's touch it, unabashedly and unequivocally, by offering a short to-do list that would include such measurable benefits as (1) a tax cut for working stiffs: remove the cap (now $85,000) on the grossly regressive payroll tax, reduce the percentage bite and spread the burden up to include the billionaires' club; (2) healthcare for all, provided by a single-payer system; (3) free education for everyone, preschool through higher ed, modeled after the enormously successful GI Bill; (4) energy independence for America through a ten-year moonshot project that'll put Americans to work building an oil-free future based on alternative technologies and systems; (5) public financing of all elections, so we can get our government back from the greedheads; and (6) [Add Your Favorite Here]. A six-pack is plenty. Stay focused.

PEOPLE: Get out of Washington, literally and figuratively. At present, progressive groups and funders direct probably 80 percent of our energy, talent and money toward DC, putting only 20 percent into the countryside. Yet our strength is not inside the Beltway but out here, where people are doing great things and wondering why the Democratic Party isn't with them. Reverse that ratio. Start by scrubbing McAuliffe's $28 million plan to upscale the party's headquarters, move the DNC's whole kit and caboodle into an abandoned, gone-to-China factory somewhere in the heartland and put the money into building a grassroots organization that communicates, organizes and mobilizes across America, block by block.

Politics can't be viewed as something that involves people only in the last thirty days of an election. Rather, to be a movement capable of governing, it has to be rooted in people's reality. In addition to high-tech outreach, we have to get back to a high-touch politics that physically, emotionally and soulfully connects with people's lives 365 days a year. Yes, talk issues. But through potluck suppers, block parties, festivals, salons and saloons. Fewer Meetings, More Fun. There's a bumper sticker.

Nothing's more fun than winning, and it's time to tell the Democratic jefes that winning in politics requires getting more people (not more money) than the other side gets. To get people, there has to be a long-term strategy of going to them with something of interest. As the fighting populist Fred Harris puts it: "You can't have a mass movement without the masses."
And another DCCC e-mail, this one from Ben Ray Luján, right after he announced he would keep the incompetent Executive Director and the entire incompetent, corrupt staff in place: "My name is Ben Ray Luján. I’m honored to be emailing you as the new Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. There’s so much I want to say, but right now we don’t have time for pleasantries." And then he asked everyone to sign a petition so the DCCC can harvest contact info they can monetize.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Which Freshmen Will Wind Up With Ethics Violations? You Can Already Tell By Their Attitudes


New Jersey corruption: Norcross (D), Christie (R)

New Jersey politicians have a reputation. There's a transpartisan/transactional culture of corruption that permeates Garden State politics, exemplified by the cozy relationship between the country's most corrupt Governor, Republican Chris Christie, and the most venal and slimy batch of Democratic Machine bosses anywhere in America, particularly Brian Stack, Joseph DiVincenzo and George Norcross. Norcross just installed his younger brother, Donald, in an open congressional seat. And the sclerotic, out of touch Democratic party leadership in Congress gave Norcross-the-Younger a plumb seat on their caucus' Steering Committee. Aside from being installed as the next Congressman from Camden, Cherry Hill and the Jersey suburbs east of Philly, Donald Norcross is filling in the last days of the unexpired term of Rob Andrews-- who retired as part of a deal to avoid a criminal investigation into campaign finance fraud charges. Though he sits in a D+13 district Obama won with 66% in 2012, Norcross' first vote was to join the Republicans to vote for the Keystone XL Pipeline. IT's going to be a long, ugly tenure.

The Norcross name defines grotesque corruption in South Jersey. Like all the other freshmen, he was required to take an ethics training course as part of his freshmen orientation last week. Fear not; he's immune. And so are most of the Republican freshmen, many of whom went on the record claiming there's no reason to force them into ethics training. Like Norcross, right-wing fanatic Tom Emmer (R-MN) is replacing a scandal-plagued crook, Michele Bachmann, who escaped a serious investigation by prematurely retiring.
“Pay for everything yourself, don’t take any gifts, and-- if you have a question about either of those two rules-- here’s the people you call,” Emmer quipped Tuesday morning, resting up in the basement of the Capitol Hill Club after a chilly photo shoot on the East Front Capitol steps with his fellow freshmen. “It’s that basic.”

Emmer and three other incoming members preparing to replace House lawmakers leaving Washington with open ethics reviews, all seemed to feel confident they were well-equipped to navigate Congress within the bounds of the 675 pages of rules governing the House, after a three-hour ethics briefing on the first day of the second week of orientation.

The session, featuring staff from the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Compliance and the Office of House Employment Counsel was helpful, according to Emmer, but nothing new. With nearly a decade of city council service, six years in the Minnesota House and a career as a lobbyist and lawyer under his belt, the 53-year-old said he is familiar with “conflicts of interest” and ethics policies.

Republican Glenn Grothman told CQ Roll Call, “Wisconsin ethics laws are even stricter than these,” as he exited the briefing. After more than two decades in state-level lawmaking, Grothman will replace retiring Rep. Tom Petri, who asked the House Ethics Committee to review his actions, amid questions about his relationship with defense contractors headquartered in his district that may have benefitted Petri’s financial interests.

The lesson delivered in the Capitol Visitor Center basement could be the only training incoming members receive on what might land them at the center of an ethics probe.

Although all new staffers must receive ethics training within 60 days of their start date, and get refreshed on ethics each year, there is no mandate for House lawmakers to undergo annual ethics training.

Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline and Virginia Republican Scott Rigell, both elected to the House in 2010, are teaming up to request a rule change that would require all lawmakers to undergo an annual class on ethics in the 114th Congress. In an interview, Cicilline described a letter the bipartisan duo will send to leadership to make their case. Cicilline said undergoing annual training is “not only beneficial to members,” but also to the reputation of the institution.

In 2007, the Senate mandated training for all senators and staff. Senior staff must complete an additional hour of ethics training once per Congress. Employees who work on Capitol Hill must attend a live briefing, while district staff based in other cities can fulfill ethics training online.

“My takeaway would be there’s a very complex problem of trying to maintain ethics in Congress,” said Republican Brian Babin, a Texas dentist who replaces GOP firebrand Steve Stockman in January. The congressman and three members of his staff were recently subpoenaed by a federal court in the District of Columbia for what appears to be a grand jury investigation into Stockman’s alleged flouting of campaign finance law.

Babin said that after the general overview, he was sure he would have discussions and questions, probably related to gifts and travel. “If there’s any area where it doesn’t look like it’s cut and dry,” he said he will seek advice. He will also hire a team of veteran Capitol Hill staffers who know how to abide by all the rules.

...Those who want to mandate ethics training claim the rules are not only complicated, but evolve over time. For example, Ciccilline pointed out that the House has “very specific limitations on how your name can be used” in coordination with nonprofit events. There are also complex, perhaps murky rules when it comes to social media. Incoming members might not realize their Facebook pages, or the foreign trips they are planning, could be subject to ethics review.

“New members are obviously developing a whole set of procedures for their offices, building staff, receiving a lot of information,” Cicilline said. He clarified that he’s not “pre-judging” what his new colleagues might do, but believes all members would benefit. A bill he introduced with the same intent has support from 52 Democrats and six Republicans.

None of the freshmen of the 114th Congress expressed explicit support for mandatory House ethics training, though Zeldin indicated he might be open to learning more about the proposal. Emmer is opposed.

“The idea that you would make it mandatory, I mean … if you can read, if you are capable of being here, doing the work to become a representative, I think you’re capable of doing the homework and understanding the rules,” he said.
And what, exactly, does that say about his predecessor? And, by the way, not every politician from New Jersey is part of the Christie/Norcross system of corruption. Former state Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman is a freshman now too. She's an enthusiastic proponent of reform and honesty in government. "I support," she told me this morning, "mandatory ethics training for incoming members, or members who have never received it. And then, I support mandatory training on changes and updates, annually, if there are any."

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When is a problem not a problem? Words to live by from Dilbert's Pointy-Headed Boss


DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

by Ken

As wonderful as today's Dilbert strip is -- I expect to get ample rest-of-lifetime use out of those words-to-live-by of Dilbert's PHB -- it's even wonderfuller when you think about it a little, because there are at least two issues going on here. (Possibly three, maybe more.)

Issue No. 1

I suppose Issue No. 1 has to be that sublime utterance of the PHB: "It isn't a problem if you can give it to someone else."

Issue No. 2 (or possible the actual Issue No. 1)

But that still leaves, as Issue No. 2, the actual original issue: Dilbert's dilemma in trying to figure out how to find some kind of meeting ground between: (a) their products and (b) the needs of the potential customer, which we've established aren't met by (a). The more I think about it, the more it seems to me a description of Our Modern World.

Example 1: Imagine there's a presidential candidate cobbling an RFP proposal from the electorate, which calls for Hope and Change, and his product -- which is to say himself -- doesn't do what they need. Should he give up and accept failure or lie about his features and transfer the problem to them?

Example 2: Imagine that a somewhat different segment of that same electorate grows surly about the government's unwillingness to wave a magic wand and make that surliness disappear, and issues an RFP which is answered by a smooth-talking foreign fella from Alberta whose feature set, which consists of pathological lies and crackpot demagoguery, again doesn't meet their needs. Does he give up and accept failure? (Is that the Albertan way?)

Issue No. 3

Then there's the issue, or perhaps constellation of issues, relating to the relationship between the PHB and his daddy -- the person who actually said, "It isn't a problem if you can give it to someone else.

Issue No. 4

And of course there's the issue, or perhaps constellation of issues, relating to the relationship between Dilbert and the PHB -- notably the PHB's utter indifference to Dilbert's input (on, well, practically anything) on the one hand, and on the other the not-exactly-subtle Dilbertian sarcasm that as usual goes over the PHB's head.

Issue No. 5

Finally, and I can't help thinking that this should really rank higher than No. 5, since it goes to the heart of both Dilbert's dilemma and the PHB's solutiion, because there's an issue with that proposed solution to the problem ("It isn't a problem if you can give it to someone else."), elegant as it is. Namely, does lying about the product features in the RFP proposal actually transfer the problem to the customer? Why would the customer buy the product without verifying that it actually meets the his/her/their needs? Or if the product is actually ordered and supplied, when the customer takes delivery and discovers that it doesn't meet his/her/their needs, won't he/she/they simply demand a refund or some other form of redress, thereby transferring the problem back to the supplier?

Oh wait, I just looked back at our Examples 1 and 2, and it appears that there really isn't an the problem-transfer problem. You'd think there would be, but there doesn't seem to be. Never mind.


Why Ursula Le Guin's National Book Award Is A Thing


I've never read any of Ursula K. Le Guin's futuristic books, not The Lathe of Heaven, nothing from the Earthsea series, nothing from the Hainish cycle, not Hugo Award winners, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed or The Word for World is Forest or any of the many others. After hearing her acceptance speech on radio at the National Book Awards this week (above), I decided to remedy that. In the speech-- a lifetime achievement award-- she went right after Amazon and its deleterious effect on literature through commodification. Her speech was wildly cheered-- by everyone but the Amazon contingent, who seem themselves differently from the way most authors and literature lovers see them. "We need writers who know the difference between the production of a commodity and the practice of an art," she told her peers. "Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write... I think hard times are coming. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality... We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings."

Two more videos: Le Guin's interview with Bill Moyers two years ago:

And... two acts from an operatic adaptation of her novella Paradises Lost by American composer Stephen Andrew Taylor and Canadian librettist Marcia Johnson. The opera premiered April 26, 2012 on the campus of the University of Illinois:

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Racism Rears Its Ugly Head In Xenophobic Alabama-- Meet Mo Brooks


Last summer we looked at the story of a once powerful dead congressman from Pascagoula, Mississippi, William M. Colmer, a virulent racist who was elected as a New Deal Democrat. Soon after getting to Washington, Colmer figured to his horror that the New Deal programs would not just help white people but blacks as well, and quickly turned into one of the most reactionary members of Congress.

In 1932, Colmer won a primary against Robert Hall, and that turned out to be a very good year for Democrats. Congressional Republicans lost 101 seats in the House that year. Colmer was elected with 94.5% of the vote. He was swept into office as a New Deal Democrat but, like we saw, soon figured out that the New Deal not only helped whites, which he was fine with, but helped blacks… which he was very much not fine with. The Mississippi Democrat made opposing racial equality his life's work-- and, alas, that lasted an awful long time. He finally died in 1980 at age 90.

By all accounts he was a disgusting political figure and in no ways-- except the for "D" next to his name-- a Democrat. He was a blight on the party brand, just the way Blue Dogs, New Dems and corporate shills are today. Even though "Democrat" Colmer endorsed Nixon against JFK, Humphrey and McGovern and endorsed Goldwater against LBJ, the idiot House Democrats-- nearly as pathetic and worthless back then as they are today-- allowed him to retain the Rules Committee chairmanship, putting him in a position to slow down desegregation and other progressive policy for years. When he finally retired in 1972, his administrative assistant, Trent Lott-- another pile of racist dogcrap-- ran for his House seat and won… as a Republican-- the first elected there since 1873.

Maybe we should have looked at Colmer again Thursday in the discussion about what's wrong with American white people. He symbolizes the primitive tribalism and reflexive racism that dominates the South entirely and has spread northward as well. But what reminded me of Colmer today was another ugly racist wing-nut from the area, Mo Brooks (R-AL). Brooks told Fox's Geraldo Rivera that he literally wants to deport all 11 million undocumented Latinos and Asians in America. And he wasn't talking about Romney's "self-deportation" scheme. Brooks has been running round his deep red (R+17) northern Alabama congressional district stirring up racial hatred-- he's the 'War on Whites" guy-- and suggesting Obama be thrown in prison... or, at least, impeached. "At some point," he drawled menacingly, "you have to evaluate whether the president’s conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America. That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it." The Democrats didn't bother running a candidate against Brooks this cycle. Brooks beat Independent Mark Bray-- who had said he would caucus with the Republicans if elected-- 115,212 (74.8%) to 38,830 (25.2%). In 2012, Obama took just over a third of the vote in this KKK heartland district that butts up against Tennessee's southern border and includes Huntsville, Decatur, Florence and the incredibly backward region where Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee all meet. The AL-05 voters back Brooks' extremist, racist, politicized approach to immigration policy. Don't get the idea this isn't an accurate look at what's going on in the Deep South in regard to how these fearful, hate-filled people view immigrants.
The far-reaching scope of President Obama's immigration plan unveiled Thursday night exceeded the expectations of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who described the president as acting like a "petulant child."

"I expected the president to consider each of the individual parts of what he proposed tonight but even I was surprised at how far the president went with everything-- including the kitchen sink-- in order to appease the open borders wing of the Democratic Party," said Brooks, R-Huntsville. "It's astonishing."

In an interview with following the speech, Brooks said Obama's plan is "declaring open borders" to those who want to enter the country.

"It is astonishing the magnitude of economic damage President Obama is willing to inflict on the average American family in order to appease the open borders wing of the Democratic Party," Brooks said.

"In effect, the president is declaring open borders for all past illegal aliens, which will in turn encourage open borders for all foreigners who want to come to America with the exception of people the president says he can identify as criminals or terrorists."

In response, Brooks ticked off a list of possible actions Congress could take-- including consideration of filing articles of impeachment against Obama.

Brooks also repeated a GOP concern that allowing those who entered the country illegally will create a Democratic voting bloc.

"It's brazen," Brooks said. "He's acting like a petulant child who is upset with the American people because they disagree with the worthiness of his public policies. He doesn't want the American people in future elections determining the outcome of those elections. Rather, he wants to import millions of foreigners who he hopes will tip the balance of future election in the Democratic Party's favor."

Addressing specific points of Obama's speech:

Brooks on Obama's plan to strengthen border security: "That's bunk. The president's plan effectively eliminates security at the border by establishing a policy of amnesty for everyone except for known criminals and terrorists who violate our border security laws."

Brooks on the plan to return newly undocumented people back to their homeland: "That's today. The policy he's establishing, sometime in the near future, he'll give amnesty to those folks, too. We just don't know when."
Not to be outdone by Brooks-- after all, this is his territory-- Texas' silliest congressman was busy trying to incite violence, warning his backward, well-armed constituents that the Democrats are inciting violence. "Civil disobedience comes from the left,” said Louie Gohmert. "They’re the ones that loot and shoot up and shoot up stores and do all kinds of things like that. If you look at the conservative gatherings, we even pick up our own trash. But it could be that this president is doing all he can to get conservatives who remember the country when presidents didn’t exceed their bounds and wish we would go back to those days, it may be enough to make them that angry. But I hope not, I hope there’s no violence." Sure Louie hopes there's no violence. You believe him?

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Progressives Should Stop Confirming Wall Street Hacks Nominated By Obama


Elizabeth Warren relentlessly grilled a hapless Federal Housing Finance Agency Director, Mel Watt Thursday. Watch the questioning above. Clearly he was the wrong guy for the job and Obama should never have made this pathetic, political appointment-- and the Senate shouldn't have approved it. They did it as they were rushing to get home for Christmas along with half a dozen judges, the Secretary of Homeland Security, an Assistant Secretary of the State, a Deputy Secretary of State and a bunch of other administrators the Republicans had kept bottled up for partisan reasons. The Republicans filibustered Watt, for no particular reason, and two of his Republican political pals-- home state Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Rob Portman (R-OH)-- joined every Democrat in passing cloture. Warren voted for cloture. In the end he was confirmed 57-41. Is Warren sorry now she voted for him? If you're asking, you haven't watched the video.

A few days ago Warren wrote a piece about a new Obama nominee, multimillionaire Antonio Weiss-- net worth somewhere between $55 million and $200 million, but who's counting?-- as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department, a position that oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection. Something tells me this isn't going to be one Warren votes for-- nor should she... and neither should anyone else. As she said, enough is enough. "Who," she asked, "is Antonio Weiss?" Well, besides a generous donor to the Democratic Party, here's how Elizabeth Warren describes him:
He's the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. He has spent the last 20 years of his career at Lazard-- most of it advising on international mergers and acquisitions.

That raises the first issue. Weiss has spent most of his career working on international transactions-- from 2001 to 2009 he lived and worked in Paris-- and now he's being asked to run domestic finance at Treasury. Neither his background nor his professional experience makes him qualified to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury. As someone who has spent my career focused on domestic economic issues, including a stint of my own at the Treasury Department, I know how important these issues are and how much the people in Treasury can shape policies. I also know that there are a lot of people who have spent their careers focused on these issues, and Weiss isn't one of them.

The second issue is corporate inversions. Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren't enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more. No one is fooled by the bland words "corporate inversion." These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits.

One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then "inverting" the American company to Canadian ownership. And Weiss was right there, working on Burger King's tax deal. Weiss' work wasn't unusual for Lazard. That firm has helped put together three of the last four major corporate inversions that have been announced in the U.S. And like those old Hair Club commercials used to say, Lazard isn't just the President of the Corporate Loopholes Club-- it's also a client. Lazard moved its own headquarters from the United States to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a particularly slimy tax loophole that was closed shortly afterwards. Even the Treasury Department under the Bush administration found Lazard's practices objectionable.

The White House and Treasury have strongly denounced inversions, and rightly so. But they undercut their own position by advancing Mr. Weiss. Already Senator Grassley has denounced the move as hypocritical, and Senator Durbin has expressed his opposition to the nomination over the inversion issue. The Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents smaller banks from across the country, has opposed the nomination as well-- only the second time in thirty years that they have publicly opposed a presidential nomination.

The response from the White House to these concerns has been two-fold. First, they say that Mr. Weiss was not involved in the tax side of the Burger King deal. But let's speak plainly: This was a tax deal, plain and simple. It was designed to reduce Burger King's tax burden, and Weiss was an important and highly-paid part of the team. Second, the White House claims that Mr. Weiss is personally opposed to inversions. Really? Did he work under protest, forced to assist this deal against his will? Did he speak out against tax inversions? Did he call out his company for profiting so handsomely from its tax loophole work? The claim of personal distaste is convenient, but irrelevant.

Third, there's the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party's, overall economic policymaking apparatus. I wrote about this problem a couple of months ago on The Huffington Post in more detail.

Here is what I wrote then:
Just look at the influence of one mega-bank-- Citigroup-- on our government. Starting with former Citigroup CEO Robert Rubin, three of the last four Treasury secretaries under Democratic presidents held high-paying jobs at Citigroup either before or after serving at Treasury-- and the fourth was offered, but declined, Citigroup's CEO position. Directors of the National Economic Council and Office of Management and Budget, the current Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. trade representative, also pulled in millions from Citigroup.

That's what the revolving door looks like at just one Too Big to Fail Bank. What about others? The influence of Goldman Sachs in Washington has been much documented, including here at The Huffington Post. JPMorgan? Shortly before the [Eric] Cantor episode, another former member of Congress -- Democrat Melissa Bean -- took the same senior job at JPMorgan Chase previously held by Democrat Bill Daley before his recent service as White House Chief of Staff. Yes-- this is just a single position at JPMorgan Chase, evidently reserved for the latest politician ready to cash in on Wall Street.

I could go on-- and I will. Soon after they crashed the economy and got tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, the biggest Wall Street banks started lobbying Congress to head off any serious financial regulation. Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics found that in 2009 alone, the financial services sector employed 1,447 former federal employees to carry out their lobbying efforts, swarming all over Congress. And who were their top lobbyists? Members of Congress-- in fact, 73 former Members of Congress.

According to a report by the Institute for America's Future, by the following year, the six biggest banks employed 243 lobbyists who once worked in the federal government, including 33 who had worked as chiefs of staff for members of Congress and 54 who had worked as staffers for the banking oversight committees in the Senate or the House.
In recent years, President Obama has repeatedly turned to nominees with close Wall Street ties for high-level economic positions. Jack Lew, who was a top Citigroup official, now serves as Treasury Secretary. The President's choice for Treasury's highest international position, Nathan Sheets, also comes from Citi. For the number two spot at the Federal Reserve, the President tapped Stanley Fischer, another former Citigroup executive. A Bank of America executive, Stefan Selig, was put in charge of international trade at the Commerce Department. The President's two recent picks for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission-- including his choice for Chairman-- are lawyers who have spent their careers representing big financial institutions.

There's plenty of financial expertise in this country. People with banking experience haven't all flocked to the biggest banks; community banks and regional banks, along with smaller trading houses and credit unions, have some very talented people. Nor must every government official come from the financial sector; executives from other business areas, lawyers who have practiced in a wide range of fields, academics, financial advisers, non-profit employees, think-tank researchers, and people with experience elsewhere in government have deep wells of knowledge-- and perspectives that sometimes differ from those who run Wall Street banks.

The over-representation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message. It tells people that one-- and only one-- point of view will dominate economic policymaking. It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first. That's yet another advantage that Wall Street just doesn't need.

I have voted against only one of President Obama's nominees: Michael Froman, a Citigroup alumnus who is currently storming the halls of Congress as U.S. Trade Representative pushing trade deals that threaten to undermine financial regulation, workers' rights, and environmental protections. Enough is enough.

It's time for the Obama administration to loosen the hold that Wall Street banks have over economic policy making. Sure, big banks are important, but running this economy for American families is a lot more important.

UPDATE: Bernie's A No Vote

Bernie Sanders announced he's voting against Weiss. "The Wall Street crash of 2008, caused by the greed and illegal behavior of major financial institutions, created the worst recession in modern history. We need an economic team at the White House which will hold Wall Street accountable and fight for the needs of working families, not more Wall Street executives," he said. "The American people are disgusted with Wall Street bankers who find loopholes in the tax code to help profitable companies shelter profits in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. taxes. We need economists in government who have a history of helping to create jobs, not helping corporations avoid taxes."

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Friday, November 21, 2014

TV Watch: AMC's "Better Call Saul" premiere is now scheduled as a two-night affair, February 8-9


by Ken

Don't get too excited -- there's not much to it, but come on, it's been two full weeks since we passed on news of the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul. I realize we're being manipulated shamelessly by the AMC publicity machine, dribbling out snitches 'n' snatches of not much, but what're ya gonna do? Anyway, here is the "Tingle Fingers" promo:

As to the breaking news about the Better Call Saul rollout, the deal now is that Episode 1 will air Sunday night, February 8, in what I take to be the show's regular time slot, and Episode 2 has been slotted in for a special Monday-night airing. [UPDATE: Check the comments for the understanding of the commenter that Monday, not Sunday, is to be the show's regular day. Thanks, Michael!]

Meanwhile, here's a clip we haven't passed along before called "Better Call Saul: The Song," described as "an exclusive video featuring an original song performed by Junior Brown, with lyrics by show creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould."


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Just for the record, we all know that the Ooh That Damn Obama Party was never going to play nice with the president, don't we?


Yeah, theze guyz wuz really gonna do a heapa cooperatin' with Ooh That Damn Obama.

"[Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell's conciliatory statements are encouraging, but he's about to discover that he cannot persuade Republican Senators and Congressmen to cooperate on anything constructive. We're about to get two years of intense, horrifying stupidity. If you thought Benghazi was a legitimate scandal that reveals Obama's real plans for America then you're an idiot, but these next two years will be a (briefly) happy period for you."
-- "GOPlifer" blogger Chris Ladd, in a November 10
"The missing story of the 2014 election"

"We have constitutional authority to do a string of things. [Impeachment] would be the very last option, but I would not rule it out.”
-- Rep. Steve "The Stupe" King (R-IA), on CNN yesterday

"The fact that there were no rape gaffes from Republican candidates this year doesn’t mean that the Party has moved toward the center. Instead, it has learned how to muffle its extremism. . . . But building a Republican Party that can entertain ideas and pass laws with far-reaching answers to the country's problems is harder than winning an election."
-- George Packer, in his November 24 New Yorker
"Comment" piece,
"The Harder Part"
by Ken

If the story of the GOP response to the president's immigration initiative were accounted for honestly, it would go something like this: Republicans who felt obliged to pretend that they hoped to cooperate with President Obama have been gifted with an excuse why they don't hafta.

When I had my brief say Wednesday night about the announcement of last night's address ("As the president prepares to make his big announcement, we ponder what it means to be an American"), I made fun -- or at least tried to -- of the anti-immigration zealotry of a natio of immigrants. I intentionally avoided wading into what would obviously be the No. 1 story, which was not immigration but That Damn Obama.

I didn't go into it because it was both preordained and obvious. You don't get a lot of surprises these days from people (and I use the term in the most inclusive sense possible, covering all life forms that can be shown to be genetically human) whose political agenda begins and almost ends with Ooh That Damn Obama. Well, there's also the business of freeing the predatory oligarchs to rape and pillage the economy and re-creating the social agenda of the Inquisition. But that's all wrapped up in Ooh That Damn Obama.

Naturally it has all played as we could have written it up Wednesday, or the week before, or the week before that. The only (mild) surprise is that, as the Washington Post's Robert Costa reports today: "GOP hopes backlash doesn't backfire." Of course we can tell easily enough that our Robert has apparently spent too much time hobnobbing with Village types:
Just two weeks ago, Republicans handed President Obama a humiliating defeat at the polls, winning full control of Congress. But already, party leaders fear that the conservative uproar over the president’s immigration actions will doom any hopes for a stable period of GOP governance.

The moves announced Thursday night by Obama — which will protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation — have sparked an immediate and widening rebellion among tea party lawmakers that top Republicans are struggling to contain.

Despite expanded powers and some new titles, soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) remain sharply limited in their ability to persuade their most conservative members. The duo has been thrust back into the same cycle of intraparty warfare that has largely defined the GOP during the Obama years and that has hurt the party’s brand among the broader electorate.
Chief among these mysterious people who are reputed to have been fantasizing about "a stable period of GOP governance," presumably, is the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, the lovely "Miss Mitch" McConnell. Why is why I've plunked the quote from "GOPlifer" blogger Chris Ladd atop this post, with the note that it dates from November 10, and thus really isn't connected to the current immigration follies. Already Chris was pointing out that our Miss Mitch is "about to discover that he cannot persuade Republican Senators and Congressmen to cooperate on anything constructive."

(I should note that Chris's post on "GOPlifer" -- which appears on the Houston Chronicle's website -- is called "This missing story of the 2014 election," and insists that "this was a dark week for Republicans," arguing at some length and in considerable detail that his party, far from broadening its appeal, merely deepened it, winning in places that seem already well served by the Republican congressional clowns who have provided a steady diet of "Climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings. Lots and lots of hearings on Benghazi" -- definitely worth a look. Daily Kos's murphthesurf3 has written a swell piece about Chris's post.)

Have we already forgotten how much time (which is to say every minute of every working day) those glorious "leaders" Miss Mitch and "Sunny John" Boehner have devoted to destroying the Obama presidency? And gotten away scotfree? Did nobody notice that Sunny John already had no effective control over the House majority caucus in the last session of Congress? And that his new Class of '14 warriors are going to be even more wildly out of control?

Just for laughs, and perhaps a touch of nostalgia, I've put that new humdinger of a Steve "The Stupe" King quote at the top of this post. We've got incoming freshman Republican congresscreeps who may make The Stupe look like a statesman. Okay, maybe not like a statesman, but you get the idea.

Ditto the new crop of GOP senators -- you know, the life forms who are putting Miss Mitch at the helm of the Senate majority.

Now how long do you think it would have taken these people to find a reason to rise in righteous dudgeon against the source of all evil, Ooh That Damn Obama.

At this point I'm going to turn the floor over to The New Yorker's George Packer. In his "Comment" piece, "The Hard Part," in the November 24 issue, the tizzy Republicans were thrown into in 2012 by President Obama's reelection. Much as the Democrats did after their midterm congressional whupping in 2010, George writes, Republicans in 2010 "ask[ed] themselves what went wrong."
They wrote earnest opinion pieces, organized soul-searching retreats, formed high-minded study groups, and launched reformist efforts such as the Growth and Opportunity Project, which published a scathing report about the dire state of the Party.

On November 4th, it all seemed to pay off. Political offices around the country, from governorships and state legislatures to Congress, are now decisively red. Even given the Republicans’ advantages in electoral geography and turnout, their sweep should be more chilling to Democrats than the Tea Party triumphs of 2010, because it came in a period of partial economic sunshine, with Republicans statistically less popular than Democrats. The Party that has spent the past six years doing everything in its power to prevent the President from stimulating growth, boosting wages, improving infrastructure, controlling health-care costs, and regulating Wall Street was rewarded with clear majorities in both houses. The only prize left is the big one in 2016.

Republican leaders, determined to prove that they can build as well as destroy, have made a mighty effort not to seem high on victory. “There will be no government shutdowns,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader-elect, promised. Cory Gardner, the Senator-elect from Colorado, warned, “If Republicans don’t prove that we can govern with maturity, that we can govern with competence, we’ll see the same kind of results two years from now, except it will be a wave going back a different direction.” Senator Rand Paul, a potential candidate for the Presidency, said, “You know, I think the gridlock is going to end.” He sounded like a patient trying to talk his way out of rehab.

There are reasons to be skeptical that the Party has really turned a corner on its chronic obstructionism. Within ten days of the election, McConnell was sounding like himself again. After China and the United States announced common goals for reducing greenhouse gases, he accused Obama of sending “a signal that he has no intention of moving toward the middle”—a place, apparently, where the two parties agree on limitless carbon emissions from coal plants, like the ones in McConnell’s home state, Kentucky. The House Speaker, John Boehner, concurred: “The President intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact.”

The recent, utterly alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change got through to the Chinese leadership, but not to the G.O.P.’s. The probable next chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, who has called global warming a “hoax.” He’s joined in ignorance by Senator Ted Cruz, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, and Senator Jeff Sessions, who will likely chair the Budget Committee. The Republican leadership is determined to prevent or undo any executive action by Obama on greenhouse gases, as well as on immigration reform.

When the Republicans talk about proving that they can govern, they don’t mean that they intend to solve the country’s core problems. The bills that the leadership has vowed to bring to the floor include corporate tax reform, fast-track trade agreements, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a repeal of the tax on medical devices. Most of these proposals are marginal enough to betray a tactical mind-set: the purpose is not to address important issues but to corner the President with bipartisan votes and improve the G.O.P.’s image ahead of 2016.

In a post-election editorial, the conservative National Review dismissed the whole idea that congressional Republicans need to mature, arguing that the “desire to prove Republicans can govern” will only divide the Party between its establishment and its extremists, play into the hands of opponents in the Democratic Party and the media, and perhaps even persuade voters to keep government divided by electing a Democratic President in 2016. The editorial urged the Republican leadership to dedicate itself to one goal: winning the White House—an extension of McConnell’s stated determination in 2010 to make Obama a one-term President. In both cases, the main objective is power. You can hear the voice of the Party’s enablers: why sober up now that the bad behavior is paying off?

A party that dedicated itself to extreme policy positions and a strategy of legislative intransigence won’t find reform easy. Some moderate Republicans studied the résumés of the midterm candidates and decided that the Party was returning to its respectable self of the Eisenhower years—the party of Rotarians, prudent business owners, patriotic veterans. This is wishful thinking. That party no longer exists, and neither does the political consensus of the postwar years. It was based on a wide distribution of economic rewards, a high degree of civic participation, and respected national institutions, including the federal government, which the modern Republican Party has done everything it can to discredit (with help from feckless Democratic ideas and actions, not least the rollout of Obamacare).

The fact that there were no rape gaffes from Republican candidates this year doesn’t mean that the Party has moved toward the center. Instead, it has learned how to muffle its extremism. The Growth and Opportunity Project’s withering assessment had no new policies to propose—it seemed wary of the very notion of ideological debate. The report was a strategy plan—a guide to using messaging, polling, technology, fund-raising, and other “campaign mechanics,” in order to reverse the Party’s growing isolation as a bastion of the older, rural, white electorate.

By the standard of the midterms, the report was a success. But building a Republican Party that can entertain ideas and pass laws with far-reaching answers to the country’s problems is harder than winning an election. It might even take losing another one.

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Dead Armadillos? An Analysis Of The 2014 South Dakota Senate Race By Peter Stavrianos


Just so you know, Peter Stavrianos served as Chief of Staff for South Dakota Senators George McGovern, Jim Abourezk and Tom Daschle from 1962-1995. Stavrianos holds a BA and MA in political science from Harvard and UC Berkeley respectively. He's been retired since 2005 but served as an occasional adviser to Rick Weiland's campaign. This is his analysis:

Most Democrats ran hard toward the muddled middle in the 2014 elections. Once there they quickly discovered the truth of the old Texas observation that the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.

But in one red state, South Dakota, Rick Weiland ran progressive from wire to wire. He openly channeled Elizabeth Warren. He even said publicly that his campaign was a laboratory for experimentation with ways to deliver the Massachusetts progressive's message with a Midwestern twang.

Middle of the roaders, smarting from criticism their strategy was a colorless pablum that led to double digit defeats, have pointed out that Weiland also lost by double digits. Their claim-- it was just a mid- term election in the 6th year of an unpopular presidency, so all Democrats suffered regardless of their message.

But observers who know South Dakota would beg to differ. The reason is the independent candidacy of former South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler.

Yes, Weiland lost 50-30 to two term former Governor Mike Rounds. But did his progressive, anti-big money politics message really lose by 20%?


In fact it lost by just 2%, an astonishingly close result in a state where the Democratic candidates for Governor and House, on the same ballot as Weiland, lost by 45% and 33% respectively.

This conclusion is not wishful progressive thinking. It is based on a PPP tracking poll completed just two days before the election.

That astonishing survey showed Weiland trailed Rounds by just 2% in a race without Pressler, and was the second choice of the overwhelming majority of Pressler voters.

This was hardly surprising since the independent Pressler ran as a liberal reform candidate, loudly proclaiming he had voted for Obama twice, supported Obamacare, gay marriage, and had marched with Martin Luther King.

In a race without Pressler, Weiland and his message were 30-40% closer to victory than his ballot mate Democratic candidates for Governor and Congress.

Weiland's message was also closer to winning than were the candidacies of big name incumbents in states far friendlier to Democrats than South Dakota.

In Kentucky, for example, where national Democrats spent tens of millions of dollars on a race so timid the previously popular statewide officeholder was not even allowed to say whether or not she had voted for Obama, that unfortunate middle of the roader took her big bankroll, and her timid message, and turned a tight race into a 15% loss.

In South Dakota, by way of contrast, Weiland, an unknown, two time political loser, took an old car, and a new populist message on the road. With less than zero help from his national party he turned a 30% deficit into what would have been a very narrow loss, or conceivably even a win, had independent Pressler not grabbed 17% of his vote.

Rick Weiland and his Take it Back campaign against big money control of both national political parties struck real sparks in South Dakota. The sparks Weiland generated speaking Warrenese in a red state way may have been obscured by the effect of an aging ex- Senators back in the day windmill tilt, but close observers know what really happened in South Dakota in 2014.

If you don't believe it, just watch 2016 and see how many savvy seekers of public office copy Grimes, and how many copy Weiland.

Those numbers, like those from South Dakota in 2014, may surprise you.

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