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A Light Fickers

Posted by Bob Kohm on September 20, 2013

This has been a week of hopeful words from unexpected sources, words that give succor to the soul but arouse unease in the intellect.

From Pope Francis I we hear words of hope, words that say that the Church has buried itself for far too long in doctrinal small sightedness which has made cynical the flock. A religion founded on the principles so well expounded in the tale of the Samaritan– tolerance for difference, kindness in the face of prejudice, the universality of the human condition and the amelioration of its woes– has submerged itself in fights over the denial of earthly rights and heavenly rewards to people over matters pertaining to their love and its physical expressions. From John Boehner we hear rumblings that the nihilistic campaign being waged by the Tea Party isn’t what is right for America, that being elected to govern does not equate with mothballing the government. From as unlikely a source as the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, we hear words of conciliation and mutual respect in a call to welcome Iran back into the community of nations as a full fledged partner, and end to, as he refers to it, an age of blood feuds.

Three disparate sources, one overarching theme– reconciliation. It is impossible for people of hope not to be at least momentarily inspired by words such as these coming in a time as divisive as the one we now populate. Our minds, those cynicized organs so conditioned by the events of the past quarter century to ignore hope in favor of a darker coalescence of possibilities, for a moment lighten as we glimpse that flickering ember and wonder if it can be kindled into a generator not necessarily of heat but still of  tactile reality. The possibility can’t be denied, if even out of sheer desire for it to be real.

The reasons to think it is not real are, sadly, easy to enumerate. Francis is at the helm of a vast doctrinal bureaucracy heavily invested in the teachings of the previous Pontiff, Benedict, whose march to undo the moderatel influence on the Church of John Paul II and John XXIII became the hallmark of his pontificate.

Like the legendary grey men of the permanent British Civil Service, those doctrinally orthodox Cardinals, Bishops and functionaries understand that they will outlast the temporary leadership of their nominative leader; Benedict’s labors to restock the Curia and its various functional apparatuses with younger men are rewarded in that way. They know that they must publicly toe the line drawn by their Pope, but will they rush to enact his decrees or let them linger under study, under “timely” implementations and half hearted directives to the pastoral network, playing the waiting game in hopes of a new, older direction from the next Pope?

Francis and “His” Curia

I discussed yesterday with an old friend, a man of faith, character and intellect, whether the Pope’s words were actually aimed at the doctrinal staff or rather lower, at the grassroots network of parish priests and the faithful. Upon reflection I believe my friend to be correct, that Francis is trying to do an end run around his governing structure and enact change from the bottom by seeing his message preached from the myriad pulpits, thus forcing the Bishops into acceptance and then the structure all the way back to those supposedly closest to the Pope’s direct control in Rome. It strikes me as a desperate play by Francis, although not a hopeless one– my main hope in it is that he acknowledges that the system is broken and that he cannot fix the damage by decree, but must invest his power in the organizationally powerless and ask them, through faith and numbers, to right what is wrong with the Church.

Mr. Boehner faces a problem similar in theme if different in mechanics. Boehner finds himself the nominal leader of a Republican caucus not only badly divided but acting in a manner that is nearly unprecedented in the leadership structure history of his party, While the Democrats have always been a somewhat fractious coalition, earlier of Northern liberals and Dixiecrat conservatives and later of Blue Dogs, liberals, moderates, fiscal conservative/social liberals and various and sundry other ideologues practicing vaious and sundry different ideologies, the GOP has been a much more rigid, lockstep caucus. In the years since the Eisenhower Administration, with the slight aberration of the Gingrich speakership, the GOP in Congress has existed under the tight control of their Speakers and Minority Leaders with strong and able whipping by the lower leadership. It has reliably supported their core themes (at least in the way they’ve been somewhat misleadingly packaged)– lower taxes, smaller government, fiscal responsibility measures, the curtailment of the social safety net, opposition to abortion and the extension of civil rights, sometimes with the abetment of the fractious Democrats and sometimes without. The “Hastert Rule”, which stated that no bill be brought to the floor unless it met with the approval of the majority of the Caucus, seemed absolute.

The brashness of that lockstep record emboldened the Boehner/Cantor leadership to overplay their hand at the close of the first decade of the new century, legitimizing and deploying the proverbial war elephant of the Tea Party Republicans as a force they hubristically thought they could control and whose dynamism they never fully understood. War elephants, as I’ve written in the past, are funny things from a historic perspective– massive, intimidating juggernauts that can scare the enemy off of the battlefield, yes, but more often than not they proved to be unreliable forces of nature as apt to trample their own lines into dust as they were to scatter an opposing army. The elephantine presence of the Tea Party electees of 2010 has done precisely that to Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor’s leadership in the House and to a slightly lesser extent Mr. McConnell’s leadership in the Senate.

That leads us to the horns of Mr. Boehner’s dilemma this week– a caucus so out of control as to be characterized by its own members as being on a legislative kamikaze mission to hole the hull of our government. Mr Boehner has made a very poor secret of his attempts to rein in the caucus and to get them to focus on governance rather than on the destruction of the same– his sometimes tiresomely bellicose verbiage has moderated to calls for governmental foresight and moderation. Even speaking as someone who shares very little governing philosophy with Mr. Boehner, I respect his desire for moderation and sanity displayed this past week despite the typhoon of immoderation his previous actions have unleashed. I hope that he can somehow restore the genie to the bottle by force of will and backroom deals among the more pragmatic members of his party, but that hope is again, as is the case with Pope Francis’ hope, limited by the empirical evidence before us to the contrary. It is hard to undo a system that is behaving in a manner so optimally that it has subsumed the governors placed to control it.

Last is the letter delivered to the American people and to the world by newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In a world set reeling by actions coming from the Middle East since the mid 1960s, what words could be more welcome than those calling for a legitimate peace from one of the nations that have so greatly fostered that reeling instability? Rather than suing for peace, President Rouhani asks for something even more intellectually appealing– and end to the “zero sum game” of lingering Cold War thinking, a new compact founded on a return to (or perhaps, truthfully, a novel) respect for the needs of other nations in the pursuit of the “win-win” scenarios that we all know are possible if the principals would moderate their definition of “wins” away from the absolutism of Berlin or the deck of the USS Missouri. An eminently rational appeal from a nation reputed in the West to be the home of irrationality, a land who sacrificed its children in the 1980s as human minesweepers and who has suckled nascent terrorist movements until they were ready to leave the house and wreak havoc internationally has a seductiveness of the mind almost too tantalizing to ignore.

Is this a deliverable promise–  or even premise– from an Iranian President, however? Is it a simple ruse to take advantage of American war weariness to further complicate our effort to deny Iran nuclear weaponry? Is it a truthful statement of Rouhani’s personal desires but ultimately a meaningless gesture as it is the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, in whom all power is really vested by his control of the theocratic infrastructure, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and, especially, the nuclear apparatus?

In Rouhani, again we see the problem of a putative ruler who may have no control over his supposed domain– a rump ruler, a ruler in name only. In the cases of Boehner and Francis I, the issue is those whom they supposedly represent and speak for; in the case of Iran, it is those whom exist on a plane above the public face of the ruler. Same problem, different ladders. Can the conciliatory words of Rouhani, even if they are delivered with sincerity in the man’s heart (an open question), really amount to anything when Khameini’s IRGC and its al-Quds terrorist network are openly waging war in Syria in support of the Assad regime? Is it possible that, like Francis, Rouhani is trying to inspire the Iranian people to see a better path and institute change from below, perchance by a reinstitution of the Green Revolution that we saw in 2009-2010, a revolution that the US didn’t materially support despite our clear interest in doing so? Could Rouhani be seeking US support for its resurgence? A possibility.

We live in a world where institutions are breaking down and a trend towards anarchy is emerging, a problem illustrated, I believe, by this week’s hopeful words. The superficially unifying theme behind them is reconciliation, yes, but perhaps another darker unification emerges upon consideration of them as an interlocked whole rather than as discrete conversations– the recognition by our leaders that their leadership is in jeopardy and with it so too are our societal institutions. Are the leaders calling on the led to, in effect, dispose of the middlemen– the power of the institutions that have gone rogue, the power of the Curia and its apparatus, the Tea Party, the Iranian Supreme Leadership– in an effort to save not only themselves but their societies as they are currently defined? If so, what are the ramifications of these grasps at newly ethereal power?

I’m tempted to see these as the penultimate gestures from leadership– a rational, constructive and coalition based approach to restoration of the societal norms we’ve become accustomed to over the past centuries. Should they fail, the tumult of the ultimate gestures to retain power– gestures we’ve seen throughout history’s darkest times– seem to be likely as the leaders of our institutions all retain executive powers that they will surely try to use to maintain their power.

Are our societies so flawed that we should allow them to go through a period of painful redefinition at the hands of middle men, or should we hope for an enlightened leadership emerging from those who were perhaps responsible for those middle men attaining so much power in the first place? We’ve seen “middle men” take power so many times in so many nations in the personage of the ambitious Colonels, but this is a different scenario; this time it’s not a jumped up military officer looking to take power but maintain the institution, it’s a fundamental dismantling of the institution by the “Colonels” that is sought, perhaps not unlike the tumult of the move from Feudalism to Limited Constitutional Monarchy or Imperialism to Mercantile Democracy.

The world contemplates change subconsciously this week in the guise of hopeful words that hide situations redolent of the loss of faith. A flickering light burns, but whether or not to nourish the ember to fire– and what we feed that fire with– is becoming the central question of our time.

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Posted in American Politics, Christianity, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Economy, Foreign Affairs, History, Iran, Middle East, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Killing the Assassination Story

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 14, 2009

Something isn’t right in Langley, on the Hill, or in the newsrooms. Amidst the sturm und drang of the latest CIA-Congressional blowup over no-oversight covert ops the story has started to emerge that the program in question was centered on hit teams finding and then taking out al Qaeda leaders in the Middle East and South Asia. That’s all very dramatic… but is it all that believable?

Hit teams and assassination programs are the stuff of spy novels and Tom Cruise movies, but drones are the stuff of this war and that’s the major problem I’m having with the “revelation” that the entire imbroglio is over an assassination plot. What would make Dick Cheney order the CIA to withhold information from what at the time the order was given was a galvanized, Republican Congress when the groundwork was already being laid for the not terribly covert Predator program, which was acknowledged to be operational in 2002 but which may have been in action even before that?

To my mind, nothing. Yes, Dick Cheney did some fairly stupid stuff with connection to the intelligence community– Valerie Plame, anyone?– and him ordering the CIA to withold information from the Congress isn’t that far a bridge to cross in terms of believability, of course. Still, to issue that order almost immediately after 9-11, when you could’ve gotten a Republican Congress (or a Democratic one, for that matter) to stay quiet about, oh, a massive program of snatching suspects from both friendly and hostile nations, spiriting them away to foreign nations to be tortured into giving up information and then dumping them in Cuba– that doesn’t add up, even with Dick Cheney’s penchant for bloody mindedness.

This strikes me as an attempted deception– someone picked a spy novel premise that seemed to them like something the public would suck up while being just appalled enough to say, “Oh that CIA, they’ve done it again!” It’s damage control 101– when you are going to get tagged with something you really don’t want to be tagged with, admit to something embarrassing– people stop looking because they themselves can’t stand to be publicly embarrassed and can’t understand that you would willingly embarrass yourself to dodge the greater bullet. People look away when they see something embarrassing, and that’s precisely what the CIA wants to have happen here– they want us to look away.

In the end I have no idea what this program was, if Congress or even the President know what it is at this point, if it involved assassination or something else, or if Cheney even ordered it covered up. It could be a huge issue borne of post- 9/11 excess or it could be a tempest in a teapot conjured up in the Speaker’s office to draw attention away from some of Nancy’s recent foibles. I am confident, however, that this wasn’t all about some silly plot to set up hit teams to pursue al Qaeda leaders and hide them from the Congress. Hit teams to go after Saudi Royals funding al Qaeda?

Now that would be a story worthy of hiding from Congress.

Posted in Afghanistan, American Politics, CongressCritters, Intelligence (and lack thereof) | Leave a Comment »

Mermaids and Centaurs and Minotaurs, Oh My!

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 14, 2009

Sam Brownback (R-KS) is, has been, and always will be one of my favorite Senators. Aside from a name evocative of a juvenile underwear joke, Brownback is so conservative and moreover so consistently goofy about his conservatism that he makes even serious DC conservatives cringe in amused horror. To understand how Brownback is seen by intelligent people in DC, you have to view him as the Republican Yogi Berra– you sit there just waiting for him to open his mouth because as soon as his lips start moving you’re going to hear something unbelievable. Today, though, we have a Brownbackian gem of staggering proportions.

Senator Brownback’s conservative Christianity has moved him to enter a bill which specifically defends us from the horror– horror– of mermaids.

Senator Brownback has never seen a crusade against science and technology that he couldn’t get behind, from space exploration to genetic manipulation of seeds to, and this is key to today’s mirth, stem cell research. While many principled conservatives have issues with embryonic stem cell research based on their opposition to anything even remotely tinged by abortion or even in vitro fertilization, Senator Brownback has picked a doozy here– he’s going on the record opposing stem cell research because it might be used to create human-animal hybrids… like mermaids.

Of course, his trail on this particular bit of inanity (insanity…?) was blazed by another guy who is getting a reputation for being a bit, uhm, outside the box, Bobby Jindal. Jindal jammed a similar anti-Mermaid bill through the Louisiana legislature earlier this year, making sure that the Bayous of Louisiana would never give rise to the dreaded manigator.

The scariest thing about this kind of legislation isn’t the time wasting aspect of it– I mean, really, Senators, nothing better to do while the economy is in a shambles?– it’s the fact that it will be viewed as a logical and needed step by many of Brownback’s, shall we say, less worldly constituents. That the good people of Kansas (and Lousiana…) see anti-Mermaid legislation as a cornerstone of keeping America a god fearing and holy land is a sad point amongst the undeniable humour of Brownback’s latest crusade.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena | 1 Comment »

Rushing to the Forefront

Posted by Bob Kohm on March 2, 2009

Speaker of the GOP Rush Limbaugh

Speaker of the GOP Rush Limbaugh

All hail Rush Limbaugh, the intellectual leader of the New Right.

Did you just feel that vibration coming up from the earth, through the seat of your pants? It was Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and the rest of the 2012 GOP hopefuls quaking.

Yesterday morning Rahm Emmanuel provided a glimpse into the political strategy of the White House on Face the Nation when he acknowledged Limbaugh as being the face of and controlling influence behind the national conservative community. Limbaugh himself must be delighted with the Presidential imprimatur that comes with that acknowledgment as are many in the rank and file of Limbaugh’s listeners– the way to Limbaugh’s heart is clearly through his ego, as even a casual observer must note. Not so happy are the thinking members of the Republican Party and certainly the leadership of the Party; being labelled the intellectual acolyte of Limbaugh is not only gauling to them, it is also politically dangerous.

As the self proclaimed high priest of the “I Pray Obama Fails” clique, Limbaugh has set himself at a goal that is counter to what should always be the first cause of all Americans no matter their philosophy or political bent– the prosperity and well being of our nation and our people. That is the glue that holds our nation together as a cohesive unit, that desire for what is best for our country; it is, literally, the unifying concept that defines us as a nation. To come out and say in so public a manner as Limbaugh has that you hope our President fails and thus our nation’s situation and peril grow worse– that’s an unfortunate tack to be sailing. Today our nation faces its greatest financial challenge since the Depression, as we’ve all had ingrained into ourselves by the constant drumbeat of financial failure and fraud; Americans are losing their jobs at a horrifying pace, they’re losing their homes, they’re losing their children’s educational future. Our economy contracted almost seven percent in a quarter and our personal debt loads ever increase as lenders jack our credit card rates to stratospheric levels even while we are denied credit for cars, homes and emergency repairs– imagine for a second what it would be like for you, personally, if you suddenly needed to buy a new heating and cooling system tomorrow, or if you needed to do a major sewer repair costing thousands of dollars.

For political gain, Rush Limbaugh effectively is hoping that the situation grows even worse, that your pain increases, that the money now being spent is wasted to no effect.  What better time for President Obama to acknowledge his intellectual leadership of the Republican Party?

The GOP has fed the talk radio beast since the early 1990s and has enjoyed some extraordinary benefits from its advent and growth; it fueled the “Contract With America” programs of the Gingrich Congress, it promoted the culture wars ethos of the Religious Right, it weighed in, some might say decisively, on the 2000 vote recounts and battles that saw its favored son, George W. Bush, installed in the Presidency against the will of the majority of voters and then re-elected to a second term largely on the wings of a smear campaign against his opponent’s Vietnam War record. As a tactical weapon, Republican Talk Radio has been extraordinarily useful, and no organ of Republican Talk Radio has played louder or more consistently that Limbaugh, who now professes a desire for our President to fail in ending a crisis and for our national and personal peril to deepen.

It has often been said that an untrained person with a handgun is a greater danger to himself than he is to his assailant as the most likely outcome of a confrontation is that his gun will be taken and used against him. Rush Limbaugh is now that gun, and Rahm Emmanuel has grabbed it and pointed it very steadily at the GOP.

By making Limbaugh the public’s perception of the thinking of the GOP  Emmanuel has taken a group and philosophy that represents a large if shrinking portion of America’s voters and turned it into the preserve of fringe lunatics, praying for the failure of our nation and the increased power of our enemies and rivals. My brother, an Assistant District Attorney and trial lawyer, once taught me an important lesson about public perception– the one thing that nobody wants to be thought of as is “silly”. When in front of a jury, the one thing you want to impart is that in order to find for the defendant you must accept something that is “silly” and thus become silly yourself. That lesson is tailored to this situation; Emmanuel has pointed out how silly Limbaugh’s stance is while at the same time making it representative of the GOP; in order to support the GOP you too must be silly. It’s a deceptively powerful tactic.

The GOP has even further imperiled itself in this by its actions of a few weeks ago, when Georgia Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey was forced to apologize to Rush Limbaugh for daring to opine that it was easier for Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to talk about opposing the president than it was for a Congressman to actually do it. The pageant of shame that Gingrey was forced to play his very public role in was astounding– an elected Congressman being forced to publicly kiss the ring of a popular entertainer was horrifying to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but they also saw the necessity of doing it for Gingrey. In that vision, they saw their control of the GOP slip away and Rush Limbaugh’s role pass from cheerleader to Quarterback. That Obama and Emmanuel saw it as well and would eventually emphasize it was fait accompli.

As Rush Limbaugh, the Speaker of the GOP, calls for lockstep, unwavering opposition to a very popular President and what has rapidly become a surprisingly popular Congress and then takes it a step beyond in publicly calling for the failure of our nation’s policies and the deepening of our national pain there is no force in the RNC or GOP at large who can seemingly oppose him. The dog has taken control of the master as talk radio, with all its fuming opprobrium, displaces the hand on the dial that created and for so long controlled it.

The tactical move by Obama & Emmanuel is underlain by a strategic understanding of the situation in general that the GOP never did achieve; does anyone else recall the claims by many in the Conservative Media during 2007 and 2008 that the Kossacks and NetRoots would undermine the Democrats and the “weak” Obama in particular and draw them so far to the left that they would become unpalatable to mainstream America? Clearly the blogosphere and the New Media as embodied by HuffPo and TPM are the belated but extremely modern response to Republican Talk Radio, and surely the Daily Kos crowd has tried to stake a claim to running the ship it is supposed to be crewing. A funny thing happened on the way to that mutiny, however; Obama was elected on a moderate platform and appointed a bipartisan Cabinet that emphasized effectiveness and intellect over philosophical purity, much to the chagrin of the NetRoots. That disappointment should terrify the RNC as a repeat of their mistakes is not evidently coming for their rivals.

At this point no matter whom the GOP nominates in 2012 Mr. Obama will be running against Rush Limbaugh, not Mike Huckabee, Mark Sanford, Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin.  Of course, that might not make much of a difference as the eventual nominee will need the pre-approval of the GOP’s new maximum leader, Rush Limbaugh. All hail.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Obama Positions | 3 Comments »

Alomar, Tejada and the Straw

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

We’re talkin’ baseball, but we aren’t talkin’ Willie, Mickey & the Duke. No, it’s time for the newest preseason ritual, not Pitchers & Catchers, the Caribbean Series or claims of fat and disappointing players claiming to be in the best shape of their lives– no instead it’s Preseason Scandal time!

We have a full crop this year, and it’s about to get fuller. ARod we all know about, Tejada has been indicted for lying to Congress (that’s a crime?), and Alomar either has erectile dysfunction, a history of anal rape and full blown AIDS or one very pissed off ex-girlfriend. Next up- Darryl Strawberry, no stranger to scandal he, is cashing in on his preseason controversies with a new book from Harper Collins, Straw: Finding My Way. Ironic title, given how many times the straw found its way up Straw’s nose in the ’80s.

But hey, at least he’s on the right side of his scandals– he’s making money off of them while the others are losing money. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, boys! Just follow the Strawberry Express.

The Alomar thing just has multiple book deals written all over it. Deal one to the girlfriend, who claims she had unprotected sex for three years with Alomar despite thinking that he might have HIV– he became ill and she constantly pressured him to have an HIV test, according to the suit she filed, but she kept having unprotected sex with him because he claimed he couldn’t have AIDS or HIV. For kicks, she included in the filing her uncorroborated claim that Alomar was anally raped by two Mexicans (you have to appreciate how she managed to toss in the ethnicity, to boot) when he was 17 and that Alomar suffers from erectile dysfunction… I’m sure that in her first interview she’ll also claim that Alomar has a two inch penis and that he enjoys wearing high heels and things. Whether or not her suit has merit is for the judge and jury to decide, but this one sounds like it may have, oh, a hole or six in it.

Book deal two is Alomar’s and its thrust could follow many paths. Will it be a book about how his ex-girlfriend tried to shake him down? A tearful recounting of his life with HIV? A Wilt Chamberlain “I screwed 13,000 women and none have any diseases” romp? How about the big kahuna, the Times #1 bestseller in the batch– for years Alomar was rumored to be gay and the infamous spitting incident has been alleged to be about umpire John Hirschbeck calling him “a little fag”… could we have our first potential Hall of Famer coming out in the pages of an “Out of the Locker: My Tortured Life Denying My Sexuality in MLB”, Oprah Book Club shoo-in? Editors are already camping out in front of his house in hopes of that one.

Now, not to distract from the salacious details of a lurid lawsuit filed against a player that people love to hate, but we do have one guy in this stew who may be in danger of a trip to Federal Prison. Miguel Tejada is your general baseball bad actor– an inveterate juicer, an all around schmuck, and now an indicted liar. The Al Capone irony of this one is rich– instead of going down for his own steroid & HGH use or even for lying about his own use, Tejada is screwed over his lying about the steroid usage of ex-prospect, current nobody Adam Piatt. In an interview with Congressional staffers, Tejada denied talking to Piatt about obtaining HGH and steroids, for which he is now being charged with lying to the Congress. Now I know a lot of Congressional staffers and it is true that making them look bad has negative implications for your life if they cacth you at it and can prove you did wrong, but this? Really? Is anybody sending a CEO to prison this month for lying to Congress? How about the entire previous Presidential Administration? How about every Director of Central Intelligence since Wild Bill Donovan? I’m no Tejada fan, but he’s getting reamed out of frustration by a bunch of Congress Critters and a US Attorney who can’t find any other way to cash in on steroid mania. This is just stupid. Maybe he’ll at least get a book deal out of it though, right? I imagine it’ll be published, or at least hyped, in February of, oh, 2011.

That brings us to the book being hyped now for release around Opening Day, Darryl Strawberry’s combination of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Bronx Zoo. According to publicity releases on this one, Straw talks at length about ballplayers in the ’80s using coke and speed, drinking beer to take the edge off of the illegal stimulants, and getting head in the clubhouse during games. New ground there, eh? Just in case that doesn’t hook you, there’s also the promise of details on the nightly three and four ways the Mets engaged in after a night in the bars and clubs… or you could just go out on the net and see the real thing at any porn site. I’m sure this one will fly off the shelves at Barnes & Noble outlets all over Queens and sell, well, less robustly everywhere else.

Maybe it’ll spawn a new book from some of the Strawberry-Alomar overlap women who can write that they gave Straw head in the clubhouse while having unprotected sex with Alomar and don’t have HIV. Coming soon from (extremely)Random House, I suppose.

Posted in Baseball, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Jerks, Publishing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ecomonic Warfare or Fiscal Porn?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do. –Barack Obama

Yesterday, Barack Obama finally got back to doing what he does best– taking his case to the people of our nation and rallying them behind policy positions that previous administrations of both stripes have considered to be “above” them, too complex to understand and thus not worth attempting to explain. Suffice it to say that you never would’ve seen George Bush (pick your iteration…) in front of a large crowd of politically unscreened citizens handed microphones to ask questions after being given a straight assessment of the problems facing our economy and the extraordinary tasks that need to be undertaken to quell them. Yesterday in Indiana and today in Florida, however, that is exactly what we have and will see Barack Obama do. Lest you think that these were randomly chosen locales, recall that Indiana and Florida were two of the toughest Red states that flipped to blue in the election, a clear reminder to the Senate and House of who they’re dealing with, politically.

Some of the questions he received yesterday were extremely critical of him and his administration– one was delivered by a woman who identified herself as “…one of those who think you should have a beer with Sean Hannity”– but they were handled with aplomb and humour as the cost of doing business for a President who knows that he will have to deal with detractors head on to gain the trust of a nation. Like him or not, that’s a refreshing…wait for it… change.

Last night Obama went before reporters for a live prime time presser and again handled everything thrown at him, acquitting himself well and making yet another strong case for his particular vision of a stimulus package and the steps needed to fix the economy.

Obama and his aides are not fools– they understand that despite the losses of the Republican Party and the seeming rejection of its philosophies by the voting public, there is still an aftertaste of the conservative fiscal policies that the Bush Admin and the House Republicans, in particular, have  told America that they were practicing for the better part of the last decade. There is a seductiveness to talking about tax cuts and limiting government while ignoring the larger issues that drive the economy and the nation; it’s fiscal porn. Why talk about having to free the liquidity of the credit markets when you can talk about the bliss of a paycheck less encumbered by taxes or the pleasures of getting government “off of your back”? The GOP has engaged in this quite literal application of bread and circuses and has done so well– give the people some extra bread in their weekly take-home while keeping them diverted with asinine wedge issues like gay marriage and putting the Ten Commandments on public property and they conveniently forget to take a look at what Fannie & Freddie are doing. It’s undeniable– and undeniably sad– that this formula has worked politically so well for so long.

What Barack Obama has been giving us, literally, is the opposite of fiscal porn– it is depressingly honest at times, featuring quotes like the above and a constant reminder that “the party is over” or “this is the worst financial crisis we’ve seen since the Great Depression”. Obama is treating us as adults and partners, not only in the problem but in its solution. Not only is this the right thing to do– our grandparents handled the Germans and the Japanese, I think we can handle Goldman Sachs and sovereign wealth funds– it is also the politically smart thing to do. As noted by David Gergen last night on CNN, last week saw the Admin focus entirely on policy and working the hallways at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. They were effective in doing so, getting a fixable stimulus package through the House and then saving a better bill in the Senate, but they also allowed public support for the bill to erode. They gave people like Jim DeMint, Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell the media floor to rally against what they saw (often mistakenly, sometimes correctly) as excesses in the bill passed by the House and attempted to make the bill a referendum whose choices were Nancy Pelosi’s “San Francisco Power Bitchery” or the Debbie Does Taxes myth of Republican fiscal responsibility featuring their promise about going down on taxes and the double penetration of cutting spending while shifting focus to social issues.

When given the choice between someone with a plan, an actual way to move forward on a problem, and someone who tells you that the best thing to do is either nothing or, worse, admits the problem and then tries to hand you another that has the illusion of being easier to solve, the choice is clear. Obama has a proactive plan of attack that he’s willing to talk about and allow scrutiny of; he’s been honest enough to say that his plan will sometimes lead into blind alleys or need to be adjusted along the way, and that pain will be felt by all as we move forward. What he describes and the way he describes it is very much akin to a war; the comparisons to FDR have already been made ad nauseum, but it is impossible to not note here the latter-day Fireside Chat ethos of Obama’s town hall events this week and his general willingness to tell us we’re in for a bad ride for the next few years– but also that there is an end to the ride in sight in the distance. The war that Obama describes isn’t a war in the sense that Mr. Bush forced us to grow accustomed to; the war that Mr. Obama lays out has clearly defined goals, a frank assessment of risks and challenges, and a strategy to overcome them. It is also explained as war without fait accompli as a component– in this war, the enemy will fight back and will even win battles. We start this war much as we did World War Two– under attack, shocked and dazed, with an enemy in the field that will be initially superior to our efforts to fight it. We are also uniquely suited to grow in strength throughout the fight and overwhelm the problems facing us as long as we do so in a progressive (little “p” progressive, note) fashion that has us methodically building a foundation and then laying successes atop it until the overall fight is won. We started World War Two with crappy and far too few airplanes, a Navy that needed to be built from the keel up, and tanks that were ten years out of date but with a strong base from which to fix those problems. We start this war similarly challenged, with a fiscal sector in chaos, with corporations running out of date models, with too few and patently lousy tools to manage Wall Street, but with the ability to fix those problems with some discipline and some reassessment and realignment of our priorities.

Obama is our Roosevelt; Geithner & Summers our Marshall & Eisenhower. The fight will be long, but it is on. If that doesn’t sound like fun, though, Ann Coulter is going down on your tax bill over at FoxNews LateNight. Your choice.

Posted in American History, American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Breaking Nancy

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 5, 2009

pelosiNancy Pelosi’s autocratic streak is, to be modest, several miles wide. The Speaker is very proud of the coalition she has built that catapulted her to power and she is not afraid to drive legislation down that broad avenue at breakneck speeds. Unfortunately for the Speaker, her speeding Congressional Cadillac seems to have struck a Blue Dog in the road.

Regular Order is the lifeblood of most legislative bodies; it is the full process by which a bill makes its way through the subcommittee-committee-floor process, with amendments and rewrites attached by the Members. Through Regular Order a bill is, in the best cases, refined and improved through numerous changes and the introduction of differing viewpoints into its fabric. In the worst cases, it turns a good and concise bill into a bloated disaster of contradiction and fat. Running bills through Regular Order is the most inclusive, fair way of moving legislation– it takes some power out of the hands of leadership and allows the rank and file to have input on a bill. It also adds time to the progression of a bill and causes leadership aides to age prematurely and drink copiously.

Regular Order is also something that was dispensed with out of hand by the former Republican Majority and also something which Ms.Pelosi had promised time and again to redress and reinstate as a part of a return to bipartisanship in the House. There’s a little glitch, though– running outside of Regular Order is really fun for Leadership– no annoying amendments offered by Members whom they don’t totally control, program bills fly through mark up and reach the floor when the Speaker wants them to, the Speaker’s vision being not only the only one that reaches the floor but also is the only one that even is allowed to exist within the limestone walls.

Now, someone has called the Speaker’s bluff and demanded a return to Regular Order. Worse from Ms. Pelosi’s point of view, they have found a champion, and that champion is possibly the only person in the entire city that she fears, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The Blue Dog Coalition, the group of conservative Democrats who are a consistent pain in the ass of the far left of the Democratic Caucus, were, well, mildly disturbed by the process in which the stimulus package was shoved down their canine gullets. The package was shot through the process with very little opportunity for input from the rank and file (read: no chance of input) to the point that most legislators were forced to vote without so much as a chance to have staff read the thing in any meaningful way. Pelosi insisted that this was done at the behest of the President and the nation– the stim package was needed and needed quickly with no time for legislative detours. This may or may not be true according to your personal beliefs, but Pelosi had the protective cover and she was damned well going to use it.

The Blue Dogs saw it somewhat differently, as just another broken promise from Leadership that resulted in a flawed bill full of the Speaker’s fondest wishes and lacking the gravitas of a bill to deal with an emergency situation. The lack of input from those in the building feeling the crisis most acutely– the individual CongressCritters whose office phones were ringing off the hook and who were watching interns spontaneously combust after reading through their seven thousandth email on the topic– is a death blow in the opinion of the Blue Dogs, who always bring a sense of having been disrespected to everything they do.

Having endured one indignity too many on the one bill too important to screw up, the Blue Dogs penned a letter demanding a return to Regular Order as being integral to the Congress being able to correctly do the people’s business. Moreover, they backhanded Pelosi across the chops with a reminder that if she failed to do this, she’d be no better than the Republican Congress that caused so much of the mess we’re in to begin with due to their fiscal irresponsibility as fostered by the Speaker’s ramming bills through the House with no input from the Minority or dissenters within the Majority. That, as they say, is going to leave a mark.

Nancy Pelosi might be the most powerful Speaker we’ve seen in decades in terms of her ability to rule by fiat and the fear she’s instilled in much of her Caucus. Nobody has been willing to take her on directly in a meaningful way; for the most part the best we’ve seen are pinprcks from people like Kirsten Gillibrand and the like trying to buck seniority in committee placements and against Leadership wishes. The Blue Dogs circulating this letter, which as of tonight is starting to get a lot of support from other groups within the Majority, is the first crack in Nancy’s dam.

Yet the letter isn’t addressed to her as Speaker. And that is where this gets very, very interesting from a tactical point of view.

Calling for a change to the way bills are moved is a serious business, no matter how you cut it. Doing so by very publicly appealing to a power outside of the Speaker’s office– particularly this Speaker’s office– seems shocking to me. The Blue Dogs, bless their cyanotic little hearts, are involved in something that they’re hoping is going to be much bigger– they addressed the letter to the Speaker’s number one frien-emy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Worse, Hoyer publicly supported the letter. Very publicly.

Hoyer came out strong in talking to reporters about the letter, being careful not to criticize Czar Nancy but also leaving no doubt at all that she was in the wrong and he was championing the cause against her, implicitly signing on to the “you’re no better than Coach Denny” snark of the letter. The only question at this point is if he’s being opportunistic or if he drafted the thing in the first place. The Blue Dogs, for their part, aren’t making any bones about why they chose to send the letter to Hoyer– “… because this group has no better friend in this fight”, said a widely quoted yet markedly anonymous aide to a Blue Dog.

There’s no love lost between Hoyer, who wanted to be Speaker, and Pelosi, who acceded to the job in 2006. Steny has been a good soldier for these past few years, doing as Pelosi required, but there’s been a palpable sense that he’s doing it out of duty, not belief. Pelosi is the manager-as-king type– hell, she’s freezing her own people out of the process, much less the Republicans– whereas Hoyer is a “Member’s Leader” in much the same way you’ll hear a baseball manager referred to as a “Player’s Manager”. As anger coalesces around Pelosi’s freezing out of even senior Democrats, the Blue Dogs and Hoyer may have just broken the reign of terror that Nancy has used to keep her people in line and quiet despite her excesses. Many of her Democratic Members were appalled — outraged may be an even better word– at how the Speaker, at the helm of a wildly unpopular institution with Members who were going to have to run in a mid-term, publicly kicked the crap out of a Patrick Fitzgerald-gagged Rahm Emmanuel and by extension then President-Elect Obama a couple of months back. Telling Emmanuel that his opinions were not needed in selecting members of the House leadership and that if Obama himself wanted to talk to a Democratic Congressman he was to call her first for permission and then call her afterwards for a debrief were not wise and were not well received by a Membership that wants to grab as much of the Obama glow as they can for their own re-election purposes. It showed the Speaker at her very worst, deluded into thinking that she is the only powerbroker in DC with any claim to leadership of the Democratic Party and thus the nation. You know and I know that doing that to Obama, and especially doing it to Obama through the baddest bad ass in all the land, Mr. Emmanuel, would not go unnoticed and unpunished.

As I wrote last month, that punishment started with the snub of Pelosi-pal Diane Feinstein when the Intelligence leadership was named without consulting her as the incoming Chair of Senate Select Intelligence despite conferring with her rank and file committeemen. As I see it, that was the opening shot. This Blue Dog maneuver needed a boost from somewhere in its defiance of Nancy, especially now that we’re seeing so many others signing on to it– they must, absolutely must, have been assured cover from someone who they believed could cover them. That someone has a funny shaped office just down Pennsylvania Avenue and employs the dissed Mr. Emmanuel.

Tonight Pelosi is coquettishly running up the white flag– she’s making all the right noises about returning to Regular Order and is trying to save face by claiming that’s what she intended all along, just as she’s been saying for the last two years… but not acting on. She’s between a rock and a hard place, which could make her very dangerous or could make her a squishy paste of CongressCritter roadkill in a few months time.

No matter how you cut it, the power dynamic within the House has changed dramatically within the last 48 hours, most likely for the benefit of the nation at a time when we truly need to step past rhetoric and work together, a lesson which the current Speaker is unwilling to take to heart.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Playing Chicken With The Train

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 28, 2009

“I’m big and black, clickety clack, and I make the train jump the track like that”–Cowboy Troy…because, hey, how often do you get to open a political post with a Hick-Hop quote, right?

One has to question whether or not John Boehner is clinically stupid. I’m sorry, I know that’s a fairly harsh lede, but really, Mr. Boehner, have you lost not only your mind but your will to lead the House GOP back into a position of at least some authority after the 2010 midterms?

Yesterday saw President Obama’s barreling freight train take a short ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with the House GOP on their own turf, in the Capitol itself. Mr. Obama, who has built a national popular groundswell on the concept of a post-partisan Presidency has also done something a bit more realistic amongst the political cognoscenti– he’s made them understand that as far as the media is concerned that groundswell is at least founded on a sincere effort to work across the aisle.

How– no, why– then would Mr. Boehner try to marshall a lockstep partyline vote ont he Stimulus Package and show his hand before Obama convened the meeting with the House GOP? Is there a worse move that Mr. Boehner could have executed than to put a nation hungry for cooperation and terrified of where the economy is going than to show that he will not even pretend to cooperate and will let the economy burn while he plays politics with our lives?

I understand that there are philosophical differences between President Obama’s vision of how to fix the economy and, say, Jeb Hensarling’s or Jim DeMint’s in the Senate. They are part of a legitimate policy debate and absolutely need to be explored– which is what the President was doing on the Hill yesterday. It’s easy to spout a cynical view of the meeting and say that Obama went to simply break the GOP to his view, but it would also be an incorrect view; if Obama wanted a simple show he would’ve summoned Boehner, Eric Cantor, and a few other GOP Leadership/fiscal conservatives to the Oval for a photo op. He didn’t– in his first week he actually went to the Capitol rather than bringing people to the White House and met with the full GOP Conference. If you aren’t a DC type, what you need to understand is that a President leaving his turf to go to the Hill for something like this is a sign of one of two things– a defeated President or a hell of a lot of respect. Clearly, Obama is no defeated President.

So, in said hungry country, a wildly popular and brand new President humbles himself by going to the Hill as a sign of how willing he is to work with a loyal opposition. What is the media treated to by his hosts? A pre-meeting flurry of press avails featuring GOP leadership and ranking members saying that they are voting against the plan before even hearing what President Obama has to say. Politically, this is madness.

What Minority Leader Boehner is trying to do is clear– he’s trying to carve out a position for the GOP for 2010 by opposing government spending. Forgetting how laughable that is after the last eight years of GOP largess, it is understandable– he’s in a failing and falling minority and his only “traditional” lifeline is to stake out a position diametrically opposed to the Democrats and appeal to his base. By doing this, however, Rep. Boehner ignores a few things. First, America is scared and looking for someone to do something to get the long process of fixing our economy under way and, rightly or wrongly, they are blaming the traditional GOP positions and personalities for creating the crisis. The way for the GOP to start picking up seats is, clearly, not retreating to those positions. Second, Mr. Boehner is courting the tag of being an obstructionist, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Either way, it is the absolute wrong tenor for him to be taking– people want an amalgam of Democratic & Republican positions to make up this bill but they’ll settle for a purely Democratic one. Boehner, if he wants to forestall another dramatic loss in 2010 (and another serious internal challenge to his leadership this Spring), needs to get some of his positions into bills like this by cooperating and showing that the GOP is capable of governing at all.

Right now, that capability is seriously in question.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy, Obama Positions | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Special Calculus of Special Elections

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 26, 2009

feingold1Russ Feingold, so often the darling of the Goo-Go set, is either feeling very cynical this week or he’s just not thinking in terms of reality.

Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, is making noises about proposing a Constitutional Amendment to take away a Governor’s ability to make an appointment to fill out a vacated Senate seat and instead mandate that a special election be held. While that sounds like a very good, very “small-d” democratic solution to the problem of filling a vacant elected office, it is not; in fact it’s a boon to every political machine in the country.

Special elections hugely benefit the political machines and corrupt infrastructure that funds them. If money is the lifeblood of elected politics, then it is the actual corporeal structure of a special. By definition a special involves raising the maximum amount of cash in the minimum amount of time and nearly always favors a political incumbent with pre-made name recognition– people don’t come out of nowhere and win specials. Whoever wins the special is totally beholden to the machine that backed him, pretty much guaranteeing that you aren’t going to have some independent-minded free agent in the slot. This isn’t a secret to anyone who has ever spent a year or two in political life.

If a Governor makes an appointment, you get a similar political insider-type who is beholden to the Governor’s political interests. He or she may face stupid, onerous electoral conditions like New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand does, having to run twice in the next four years for a seat that normally runs on a six year electoral cycle; as a result she will be cutting deals like mad to finance those elections and to fend off what may be a developing coordinated challenge to herself and David Patterson from an unholy Bloomberg-Cuomo alliance. They also face a press that may be inherently hostile due to the unelected nature of the office.

So, if there are significant and equal downsides to each system that lead to very similar people gaining the office, then why would I be so shocked to see Russ Feingold, the alleged defender of good government and loud proponent of saving the public’s money from government folly, going to the absurd length of ammending the Constitution over a basically meaningless procedural change? Very simply because special elections are hugely expensive to the people of the state forced to hold them. A local special, to fill out a County or City office, places a huge financial burden on the municipality; a statewide election, as Feingold would mandate, is a financial kick in the shorts to the entire state for no practical gain over the current flawed system, which at least has the virtue of not causing a huge outpouring of taxpayer money to achieve the same result.

Appointment or Special Election; either way you wind up with a political insider who gets to run for re-election using the expensive (to you and me) tools of incumbency. Why would Russ Feingold decide to ding his political integrity over what is, in essence, a cheap press hit for him on the heels of the Caroline/Burris silliness? The simple answer is the cynicism of politics– he knows that people are outraged over the recent Senatorial follies but that they don’t actually know what they should be outraged against. He’s throwing them some red meat to the lions; he just isn’t telling them that the meat was cut from their own bodies.

From Feingold, that’s a shame.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Jerks | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hunting Big Game With Senator Sanders

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 14, 2009

As the Bush Administration comes to its closing days, some in our nation look back with anger, some look back with nostalgia for the days before 9-11, some look back with regret that the Conservative Era seems to be coming to a close.

Some look back, however, only long enough to line up a massive kick to the balls.

Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, just put on his size 14 Timberlands and delivered such a blow to the groin of Mr. Bush. Upon getting word that the National Portrait Gallery was preparing to hang the official portrait of the outgoing President, Sanders became interested in just how the documentary caption would read. Suffice it to say he was dismayed with the part that included the phrase, “…the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . .”.

Senator Sanders, as Senator Sanders is known to do, schitzed out.

Putting aside the work piled on his Senatorial Plate by a couple of wars, a crushing financial crisis, huge unemployment in Vermont– where even iconic businesses like Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Cheese are laying off workers– Senator Sanders took pen in hand and set out to rewrite “history”.

In a scathing letter to the Director of the National Gallery, Sanders made it clear that he held a differing opinion and from what I’m told (h/t to a friend on the Hill for this one!) made it equally clear in conversation that if his edits weren’t reflected in the caption then the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, would have an awfully hard time getting what it needed out of the Federal Budget in years to come.

So, thanks to Academician Sanders, we now have perfect clarity of thought in the Bush portrait caption, which is sure to be pored over by what, seven or eight people over the coming 50 years? The caption will now read, “Bush found his two terms in office instead marked by a series of cataclysmic events: the attacks on September 11, 2001; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina; and a financial crisis during his last months in office.”. I admit that it is more accurate… but was it worth it?

Congratulations, Senator– you can now mount President Bush’s nuts over your fireplace. Seems like a small prize to have used your big guns on.

Posted in American Politics, Bush, CongressCritters, History, Jerks | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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