How To Creatively Stop Funding Pensions For Retirees, Or Just Another Story About Corporate Greed

If you haven’t seen Harlan County, USA, a documentary movie about coal miners, unionism, the power of pissed-off women, and a sad tale of corporate malfeasance, then you need to go to Netflix or some other source and watch this amazing piece of work—the film won an Academy Award in 1977.

Sure, watching the struggles of hard-working rural-ish folks in southeast Kentucky in the early 1970s may not sound like well-spent time, but, trust me, it is. It is an eye-opening account of both the white and black in the human spirit, of human resistance, both individual and collective, to corporate greed and indifference.

What I saw on “All In” with Chris Hayes last night reminded me of Harlan County, USA. If you are one of those who think some corporations are, besides sources of employment for millions of Americans, a force in society with a tendency to want to run the world their own way, then the following story is for you (by the way: I saw United Mine Worker President Cecil Roberts, the guy who opens the segment below, give a speech a few years ago in California and it brought tears to my eyes):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

As the All In blog points out, such corporate antics are not new:

Such a move would not be unprecedented. When American Airlines’s parent company AMR filed for bankruptcy in 2012, Transport Workers Union president James Little claimed that the company was in part attempting “to get out of bankruptcy what [they] couldn’t get at the table,” and use the process to extract further concessions from unions.

And if they can’t get concessions, they use other, more creative, means.

In any case, when someone says that corporations are trying to “extract further concessions from unions,” it helps to keep in mind that what is really meant is that corporations are trying to extract concessions from workers. It’s just too damn easy for some folks, when they see or hear the word “union,” to think of a fat “union boss” asleep in a chair, when the real damage is done to the worker, in the case of “bankrupt” Patriot Coal, the worker in the coal mine.

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Prophets of Socialist Doom In Joplin Look Kind Of, Well, Silly

Every now and then, I find it necessary to remind the locals how silly it was to get out the Magic Marker or the paint and create the following signs, then carry them to Tea Party rallies in Joplin in 2009, 2010, and 2011:

joplin tea party 2009

joplin tea party 2009 2

joplin tea party 2010

joplin tea party 2011

One of the reasons, among many, that creating and carrying these signs to rallies here in Joplin was a silly idea can be found on today’s front page of USA Today:

usa today stock market

Look at that big green box above. I repeat its contents:

$12.8 TRILLION

Amount of new STOCK WEALTH produced in the broad market since the March 9, 2009, low, or a 155% gain in the Wilshire 5000.

Now, as I have said many times before, if Barack Obama is a socialist, he has had, so far, a scandalous career, even though, as right-wing conspiracy theorists will tell ya, there is still time for him to turn us into Venezuela (at the moment, it looks like turning us into “Greece” was a bust, so Venezuela it is!).

In the mean time, the rich get richer and the rest of America gets, well, whatever’s left, as Republicans in Congress refuse to address the plight of the middle class and poor in these United States.

What Do You See?

I recently had quite an exchange with, among others, a regular contributor to this blog, Herb Van Fleet. It began with my praising President Obama’s speech at Moorehouse College and proceeded to a discussion about the Trayvon Martin case. I suggest anyone interested in human perception, in how one person sees the world as compared to another, follow that very interesting (and ongoing) exchange. Make your own judgment as to who is being led by a false perception of events surrounding the Martin-Zimmerman case, and who is not.

All of this, however, got me thinking, as I came across some seemingly unrelated articles this weekend.

Look at this photo:

An image from a surveillance camera captured Trayvon Martin before his encounter with George Zimmerman.

Now, look at this photo:

rgiii photo

Finally, take a look at this, much more famous, picture:

All of us, for one reason or another, look at these pictures a little differently. We may think they tell us something important, possibly something essential, about the person pictured.

Let’s start with Obama. What does that photo tell us about him? Well, for some folks, it tells us a lot:

Barack Obama Was High on Cocaine During “The Missing Hours” of the Benghazi Attack Last September

This “story” was promoted, as Charles Pierce points out, by The Washington Examiner, which Pierce describes as “a minor satellite in the wing-nut universe.” But even so, the story is advanced not because it is true, but because it conforms to the way some small, but significant, percentage of the population sees our president. It’s what they see when they see that photo above, or some other similar photo, or, for some smaller number of people, any photo of him at all.

Now, let’s go back to the top photo. That’s Trayvon Martin, purchasing some items at a convenience store on February 26, 2012, just before he was to encounter George Zimmerman, who shot him dead a little later that night in Sanford, Florida.

Zimmerman, who lived in the gated community in which he first spotted Martin and who was apparently a neighborhood watch coordinator of some sort, didn’t know the 17-year-old kid. Thus, he didn’t know the kid was headed toward the home of his father’s fiancée, who also lived in the gated community.

In order to properly follow the upcoming trial involving George Zimmerman, it’s necessary to understand and not forget this essential fact: Zimmerman didn’t know a single thing about Trayvon Martin. Not a single thing. But what he did know is what he saw when he saw Trayvon Martin: “a suspicious guy” who “looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” That’s what he first told police on the night he shot Martin.

Evolution endowed us with the ability to quickly identify things that could hurt us, like spiders and snakes. But not all spiders and snakes are out to get us. Much of that fear is irrational and a waste of mental energy. But having the ability to quickly perceive such danger obviously helped us survive and become the misjudging creatures we often are.

We are also conditioned to interpret the things we see.  Sometimes nurturing or experience teaches us to see things that may or may not be there in any particular future case. Some people look at that picture of Trayvon Martin at a convenience store and they see a kid about to do something bad. Others look at him and say it’s just another kid in a hoodie buying some Skittles and iced tea.

Perception matters, as a dead Trayvon Martina and a live George Zimmerman, who is on trial for second-degree murder, demonstrates. And it should matter to all of us that the way we perceive things on first glance, the initial judgments we make, have a high probability of error. Further, it should matter to us that part of our perception is influenced by our culture, by the way we were raised in this culture and by the way we have been treated within it. Thus, it helps us to become better thinkers, better people, if we remember these facts about ourselves and, just as important, about others.

Let’s now move to the second photo above. The one where the guy is posing before some empty boxes. Provided you haven’t seen this photo before, what do you see? What is it the image conjures up in your mind? What conclusions could you, would you, draw from this shot? Is he just a kid acting silly? Some kind of street thug? What?

It turns out, of course, that the kid in the photo (which he Tweeted) was a military brat who was born in Okinawa, Japan. He graduated from High School a semester early and graduated from college in three years, with a bachelors degree in political science and a 3.67 GPA. And he did all that, and more, while playing football for the Baylor University Bears in Waco, Texas. Oh, yeah, he won a Heisman Trophy and now is the talk of the town in Washington, D.C., as the much-loved quarterback of the Washington Redskins. The team signed him to a $21.1 million dollar four-year deal.

But I’ll bet, unless you knew who Robert Lee Griffin III was, you couldn’t have looked at the photo above and guessed one single thing on his thus-far impressive résumé of life. RG3, as he is now called, tweeted that photo in order to, as ESPN put it, show “thanks” to the fans who, because they adore him, bought many items on his and his soon-to-be-wife’s wedding registry.

Go back and look at that photo of RG3 again. And remember that, even though Rush Limbaugh thinks he can spot an angry liberal by just looking, none of us is well-equipped to make serious judgments upon first glance, or on the basis of a brief acquaintance with the facts.

Sure, there are times when a quick analysis is all you have to go on. It’s often better to let fear rule when it comes to spiders and snakes than make a lethal mistake, for instance. Modern life, though, is much different from the lives our ancient ancestors lived. We have the time to step back and take a more objective look, as we can in the case of President Obama and RG3. We have the time to examine our perceptions, to see why we are seeing what we see when we see it.

If George Zimmerman had done that on February 26, 2012, if he had taken a little more time to think about what he was actually seeing, if he had let the police do their jobs, he wouldn’t be awaiting trial in a Florida courtroom, worrying about going to prison.

And Trayvon Martin, whatever his faults were or weren’t as a 17-year-old kid, would still be alive.

Hole-In-One Diplomacy A Success Abroad, A Failure At Home

Okay, here’s a headline from a couple of weeks ago:

Saxby Chambliss gets hole-in-one golfing with Obama

Now, for me, the interesting thing about that story was not the “hole-in-one” but the “golfing with Obama.” The President, who has been encouraged by Washington-insider types to spend more time eating, drinking, and golfing with Republicans in Congress, apparently believes that if he hits the links with right-wingers like Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss, they will succumb to his charms and, at the very least, stop accusing him of secretly bedding down with jihadists who want to destroy us.

Fast forward from a couple weeks ago to yesterday, after President Obama gave that amazing speech on drones and the war on terrorism and Guantanamo and the inappropriateness of prosecuting reporters for doing their jobs:

Chambliss: President’s speech will be viewed by terrorists as a victory

That headline actually came from Senator Chambliss’ own website. His press release began:

The President’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory. 

The terrorists win! The terrorists win! Damn that Obama!

So much for whacking golf balls with the commander-in-chief.

Keep in mind that not only has President Obama sent Osama bin Laden deep-sea diving without a suit, but under his command we have pretty much decimated all of al Qaeda’s leadership and made would-be leaders of that group, to the extent one can all it a unified group, hide in fear that they will get the next drone-delivered enema or, to stay on topic, become a human hole-in-one.

Chambliss is all worried that closing a weird prison that we, who call ourselves the hope of the civilized world, operate in Cuba will give terrorists in Yemen and elsewhere a “victory.” That’s some victory. The United States actually trying to live up to its values is not what anyone, in Yemen or in Yonkers, should consider a victory for al Qaeda terrorists who are afraid to peek out their doors, lest they die.

In the mean time, I am sure that more golf outings and meals with Republicans are on the agenda for the President. But nothing, absolutely nothing, will change.

[Reuters/Reuters]

In Case You Didn’t Know, A “Lawless” President Obama Doesn’t Want To Kill You With Drones

More than a year ago I wrote about President Obama’s use of drones in the war against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world. I essentially endorsed, with some discomfort, the way the President was handling his job as commander-in-chief relative to his use of drones in general and the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki in particular.

Mr. Obama’s incredibly thoughtful speech on Thursday, at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., confirmed by endorsement and took away much of the discomfort.

I don’t know how any fair-minded person, which excludes most of the conservatives you meet on the street, or on cable TV, these days, could have heard the President’s speech and not have come away with a great deal of comfort that he, and not John McCain or Mitt Romney, is our commander-in-chief.

I won’t analyze the entire speech, but I do want to point out a part that addresses what so many liberals and lefties—as well as the usual gaggle of libertarianish Republicans—have been harping on, with some increasing intensity, for quite a while:

For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone or with a shotgun — without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.

That’s who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S.-bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack, and his last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil.

I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as president, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.

I suggest a careful reading of the entire speech for anyone interested in how our modern military power should be applied these days. It is essentially the President “thinking out loud” about some of these topics, while being resolute on others. (He also handled a Code Pink protester fabulously, granting her the dignity of her position and weaving her into his speech at the end.)

Particularly interesting was his comments on the Authorized Use of Military Force, which was passed on September 14, 2001:

Now, all these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact, in sometimes unintended ways, the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al-Qaida is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaida will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.

Contrast this discussion with what the now-ridiculous columnist George Will wrote in yet another ridiculous column about President Obama’s “lawlessness.”

Will was discussing Obama’s controversial recess appointments (the Supreme Court will ultimately determine their constitutionality) of three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and comparing that action, unbelievably, to the infamous racist act by George Wallace 50 years ago, “when he stood in the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to prevent two young blacks from registering as students.”

If that comparison weren’t embarrassing enough, Will wasn’t finished:

Courts defeated Wallace’s lawlessness. Presumably the Supreme Court will defeat Obama’s by telling the NLRB that the D.C. court was right about recess appointments. By such judicial vigilance against the excesses of elected officials, democracy is disciplined and progressivism’s agenda — unchecked executive power — is understood to be unconstitutional.

I, being a progressive, wasn’t aware that progressivism’s agenda was “unchecked executive power.”  Geeze. I thought it was unchecked executive power that gave progressives and liberals the heebie jeebies. In any case, President Obama’s amazingly engrossing and thoughtful speech on Thursday, in which he wants Congress to take pack the “unbound powers” it has granted to the executive branch, makes a fool not only out of George Will, but all those who think this president is power mad.

In Defense Of Lois Lerner

You’d think she killed somebody.

Lois Lerner, who on Wednesday invoked her right against self-incrimination, is being attacked, by nearly everyone in the country who knows who she is, for her role in the IRS v. Tea Party “scandal,” which, of course, isn’t quite a scandal yet, but Republicans keep trying. Some of the most vicious attacks are coming from Constitution-loving right-wingers, who can’t believe Lerner would actually use something other than the Second Amendment to protect herself.I Have Not Done Anything Wrong: IRS Official Lois Lerner Invokes 5th Amendment Right

MSNBC’s conservative gabber, S.E. Cupp, who provides a damn good reason not to watch that network’s afternoon show “The Cycle,” took to tweetin’ yesterday to say,

So, Lois Lerner is either a coward or a criminal, right? Tell me where I’m wrong.

Apparently, S.E. Cupp studied the Constitution at the Rush Limbaugh School of Law, which ought to be enough right there to tell her where she’s wrong.

And speaking of Professor Limbaugh, he said about Ms. Lerner:

Okay, let me tell you what happened today at the IRS hearings. Lois Lerner, who ran the whole kit and caboodle and was… By the way, this was the first time I had a close-up look at her. This is an angry woman. You have to be very careful in making judgments about people based on physical appearance, although I’ve gotten really good at it. I can spot people out there and I can tell you who the libs are pretty much by just what I see. But, in this case, I already know that she is.

I already know that she’s a liberal, I know that she is in the same mode as Barack Obama, and now I know this is a woman who’s angry…This is a woman obsessed with the Christian right, Lois Lerner. This is a woman obsessed with religious people.

Okay. So, from two popular conservative commentators (there are a thousand more to choose from) we know that Lerner, by refusing to testify, is an angry, Jesus-hating woman who is either a criminal or a coward. All because she dared to avail herself of a constitutional right. Hmm.

The honcho of the Republican National Committee, the insufferable Reince Priebus, himself issued a Tweet regarding his discussion with Sean Hannity about this mess:

…it’s lawlessness and guerrilla warfare and Obama is in the middle of it.

Yikes! Obama is a gorilla, uh, guerrilla!

In any case, Priebus, appearing on Morning Joe today, commented on Lois Lerner’s right-invoking committee appearance:

You don’t need to plead the Fifth if you have done nothing wrong…

Obviously, Priebus also attended Rush Limbaugh’s law school. Even though he was aggressively challenged by Morning Joe regular John Heilemann, Priebus didn’t back down. In Priebus’ strange and disordered mind, pleading the Fifth is tantamount to an admission of guilt, don’t you know. Damn those Founders!

But right-wingers aren’t the only ones saying such stupid things. This morning on Morning Joe, which prejudicially carried a graphic characterizing Lerner’s brief statement as “defiant,” I heard Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune magazine, for God’s sake, say this:

What an unsympathetic position. We just saw her pleading the Fifth. This is something that mafia chieftains do in front of Congress, not public officials, not someone from the IRS. Obviously everyone just wants to know the real story, we want her to come clean. How bad could it be? I’m sorry, “You need to tell what’s going on here,”  and, you know, to just do otherwise is just ridiculous, and the IRS is just going to continue to be a piñata. And obviously is not’s just right-wing groups who are upset with this, but every American citizen should be upset with this.

Mafia chieftain? Wow. So much for presumed innocence. I remind you that the man who said that is a, gulp, journalist.

Well, I may be the only one in the world who has sympathy for this woman, but I can’t help it. I still happen to believe in the noble and once-American concept of innocent-until-proven-guilty. And I really do believe in the Constitution, which also includes the Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent should someone try to compel any person “to be a witness against himself.”

Republican legislators, who, like all Tea Party-drunk conservatives, claim to love, cherish, and lustily sleep with the Constitution, were upset on Wednesday when Ms. Lerner invokedLois Lerner her Fifth Amendment right just after she made a plea of innocence and after Darrell Issa, headhunting chairman of the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee, talked her into authenticating a document.

I watched as Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who now represents right-wing folks in South Carolina’s 4th congressional district, forgot that he was not in a federal courtroom but at a congressional hearing and insisted that Lerner “ought to stand here and answer our questions.” Uh, she was actually sitting at the time, but then, hey, maybe being a former prosecutor and current zealot entitles one to demand that witnesses stand during the inquisition. Heck, why not go the whole way and roll out the rack? Bones cracking would make good TV.

But that’s beside the point. Gowdy said of Lerner,

You don’t get to tell your side of the story and not be subject to cross-examination.

Whoa, cowboy. Settle down there. (Some folks in the gallery were applauding at Gowdy’s prosecutorial grandstanding, and Issa did nothing to stop them, by the way.) Lerner didn’t actually tell her side of the story. There’s a lot of story to tell, if she ever tells it, and she didn’t even come close with these words:

I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee. And while I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing. 

After very careful consideration, I’ve decided to follow my counsel’s advice and not testify or answer any of the questions today. Because I’m asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I’m invoking today.

After initially and correctly telling everyone that they should respect Lerner’s Fifth Amendment right without prejudging her, Issa later put on his big-boy Tea Party pants and now agrees with Gowdy and others who believe she lost her constitutional right not to incriminate herself. He’s going to call her back to appear again. Whoopee! More good cable TV to come!  Maybe next time they really will crack her bones!

As with so many things in this litigious world of ours, there are at least two sides of this Fifth Amendment “controversy.” There are those lawyers who think she did not waive her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by offering a brief statement of her innocence. Of course, those lawyers did not attend the Rush Limbaugh School of Law, so what do they know?

And, of course, as Reince Priebus indicated, this all comes back to President Obama. Conservative Republican Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC this morning,

Why is the president allowing this to go on? This IRS story is another great example of just sheer incompetence at the White House to get their story out in a clean, effective way…

Yes, the Prez should simply strip Ms. Lerner of her constitutional rights, force her to tell Darrell Issa what he wants to hear, and then impeach himself after it’s all done. That, and only that, will satisfy the mob.

Finally, the truth in all this just may be found in a little article on The Daily Beast published today. The story quotes a man who used to hold the same position Lois Lerner now holds:

“It was inevitable something was going to happen,” said Marcus Owens, who served as director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division from 1990 until he retired in 2000. That was the same year that the 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act was implemented, ushering in, he said, a culture of disorganization and miscommunication.

“Virtually all IRS executive positions were re-aligned and re-evaluated and a lot of field offices positions were eliminated. The channels of communication between field offices and the Washington headquarters were muddied,” Owens said. “Instead of having clear, hierarchical oversight, Cincinnati was given the responsibility to handle things that would normally be handled by the better-equipped Washington office.”

He went on to say,

“This is a case of funding problems and management problems. Everyone is thinking that the IRS was hunting down conservative organizations with bloodhounds or something when what they were really doing was opening the morning’s mail… The IRS is really a collection agency for the government. Tax returns that generate revenue must be accurate, but those that don’t generate revenue receive less attention,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

I doubt very much if we hear a lot from Marcus Owens or hear a lot about the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. But we should. (By the way, only two U.S. Senators voted against that bill, including that great progressive, the late Paul Wellstone, so that ought to tell us something.) The likelihood that we won’t hear much about Owens or that 1998 law tells us something very important about the state of journalism these days, perhaps something more important than a prominent journalist going on TV and comparing a Fifth Amendment-invoking IRS employee to a “mafia chieftain.”

_____________________________

[photo credit: Getty Images (top) and AP (bottom)]

Oklahoma Senator On Hurricane Sandy Relief: “That Was Totally Different”

Already this morning, I have heard Oklahoma’s Republican governor Mary Fallin express the need for and her appreciation of federal help related to the killer tornadoes that struck parts of her state the past two days. I heard the mayor of devastated Moore, Oklahoma, say this morning that he could see FEMA trucks already rolling into his town.

But that’s no thanks to Oklahoma’s two senators, both of whom are not just conservative Republicans, but the sort of conservative Republicans who are part of a contingent of right-wingers who seek to undermine faith in the federal government to do anything positive in our lives—except kill terrorists—and who seek to starve the federal government of needed funds to do things like help out during and after disasters.

Here’s how HuffPo put it today:

Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.

Yet despite the efforts of Inhofe and Coburn, the FEMA trucks will show up in Oklahoma throughout today and beyond. Those trucks are representatives of the American people, most of whom live far, far away from Moore or any other city affected by what is now four days worth of storm damage.

Inhofe did manage to ask for help of Another kind:

inhofe and moore tornado

Yeah, now that the storm has done its damage, Inhofe seeks prayer. Seems to me, the prayer should have come before the storm not after. Others had different, less polite, responses on Twitter:

@jiminhofe Prayers work, no need for FEMA!

@jiminhofe what is your view on FEMA and federal disaster relief, or is prayer enough?

@jiminhofe My prayers 4 the ppl, the sadness that u represent them. U voted against Sandy, voted to slash FEMA, what will u and Coburn do?

Hey @jiminhofe. Maybe we would have to do less praying if you’d be a human being when it comes to disaster aid. You’re disgraceful.

@jiminhofe you’re an idiot, and the people of Sandy don’t forget how you voted to NOT help them.

@jiminhofe Maybe you can tell your constituency to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. You know, because YOU voted AGAINST Sandy relief.

Inhofe was interviewed by Chris Jansing of MSNBC this morning about that Sandy relief vote:

JANSING: You know there were a number of people along the East Coast shore who weren’t happy about your vote on Hurricane Sandy. In fact you said the request for funding was a “slush fund.” With all due respect, is there money to help the people here in your home state rebuild?

INHOFE: Well, let’s look at that. That was totally different. They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands, they were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C.  Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.

I’ll leave you, my friends, to mull over that response, to let the phrase, “that was totally different,” sink in.

Meanwhile, Tom Coburn also expressed himself on Twitter:

coburn on moore tornado

Some of the responses to Coburn were also a bit impolite:

@TomCoburn & @jiminhofe voted NO to #SandyRelief http://bit.ly/10K1SOu  , will they offer more, now, than prayers to Okla ? #GopThugs

@AJK124 he’s calling for any funds for relief to be found in ‘cuts’ to other services first.

.@TomCoburn how dare you make them hunt and peck through the budget for disaster relief. They are STILL taking COVER you asshole

@TomCoburn You should not accept a paycheck issued by our govt until offsets in cuts are found, you worthless, anti American piece of shit

Those responses, as angry and harsh as some of them are, represent how a lot of folks feel during times like these. As another response related, it’s “@jiminhofe Karma.”  The truth is that some people get frustrated with right-wing Republicans bashing the federal government, then welcoming FEMA trucks and federal money into the state to help clean up the mess.

Some of us felt that way here in Joplin, when, almost two years ago to the day, a tornado not only killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, but it temporarily blew away the locals’ dislike for “big government,” as many took advantage of the generosity of the American people, as expressed through FEMA and other federal and state agencies.

Senator Inhofe, one of the chief GOP obstructionists in the Senate, has been particularly damaging, in terms of how people in his state (who have elected him with 57% of the vote the last three cycles) view not only the federal government, but President Obama—who received a mere 33% of the vote in 2012 from Oklahomans. Just two months ago, Inhoffe said about our President:

I was one of those who never believed he could be reelected. Sure he’s charming enough to elected the first time, but once people know that charm cannot overrule his performance in destroying this country, but yeah I guess it’s still working.

Yeah. A charming Obama is destroying the country. He’s not a citizen. He’s a tyrant using the IRS to get his enemies. He should be impeached over Benghazi. The federal government is perpetuating a global warming hoax so Obama can turn us into socialists. And he’s helping Muslims implement sharia law across the land. The Sandy Hook shootings were either a hoax or planned by authorities in order to take away gun rights. The government is either incompetent or out to get us or both. In short, the federal government is the problem, not the solution, as another famous Republican said so long ago.

These and other right-wing fantasies get to us sometimes. They get to those of us who care about the well-being of America, of Americans, and the government’s role in insuring and maintaining that well-being. And it gets to us when we find out that because of the Republican obsession with debt and deficits, the National Weather Service, which was able to warn people well in advance of the storms in Moore and Joplin and elsewhere—and thus saved countless lives—is facing sequestration budget cuts of over 8%

The American Institute of Physics said of those weather-related budget cuts:

…the government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.

That’s why so many of us get frustrated and angry and say nasty things about Republicans. We know we shouldn’t. We know we should be civil, especially at a time when the death and destruction in Moore, Oklahoma, is still being contemplated. But we’re only human. We can only take so much of this stuff.

Fortunately, our President, who has managed to remain calm and steady through all the attacks on his character and his presidency, is much better than some of us when it comes to these things. He said this morning:

If there is hope to hold on to, not just in Oklahoma but around the country, it’s the knowledge that the good people there in Oklahoma are better prepared for this type of storm than most. And what they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts, to those in need because we are a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes. We’ve seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa. We saw that spirit in Boston, in Breezy Point. And that’s what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now.

That’s what a president of all the people, even of people who gave him only 33% of the vote, even people who loathe him and think he is destroying the country, that’s what a President of the United States should say at times like these.

And the rest of us, those of us who just get tired of the constant obstruction and obfuscation and obloquy related to President Obama and the federal government, we should bite our tongues for a while and fight our fights on a sunnier, less sorrowful day.

I Was Gonna Write About The Quasi-Scandals In Washington, Then Something More Important Came Up

Morehouse College in Atlanta is an all-male, historically black college that can trace its founding back to 1867, a time when America was trying to put itself back together after racists and racism had torn it apart.

You may have missed it, since most journalists these days are focused on other things, but President Obama actually gave an important, and highly personal, speech on Sunday, a speech addressed to the 500 or so black men who graduated from Morehouse this year, the same college that sent Martin Luther King, Jr., into the world as an educated man with a mission to improve that world.

About Dr. King, the President said,

his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America.  It was here that he was introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience.  It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be.  And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote, where “I realized that nobody…was afraid.”

That special college, the President said, is where,

young Martin learned to be unafraid.  And he, in turn, taught others to be unafraid.  And over time, he taught a nation to be unafraid.  And over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear and their cynicism and their despair, barriers have come tumbling down, and new doors of opportunity have swung open, and laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as President of these United States of America.

While all that is true enough and powerful enough, it is the example of Dr. King’s willingness “to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be” that has been the theme running through these types of speeches the President has given, when he is obviously speaking to black audiences. “There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves,” Mr. Obama insisted.

Among those things are taking care of “those still left behind.” Quoting social activist and scholar and minister—and former president of Morehouse College—Dr. Benjamin Mays, President Obama said,

Live up to President Mays’s challenge.  Be “sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society.”  And be “willing to accept responsibility for correcting [those] ills.”

The President told these graduates that planning a future that involves making money is okay, that “no one expects you to take a vow of poverty.” But, he added,

it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.

That line, that sentiment, that call to contribute to the well-being of America, is, of course, not just something that only black men graduating from a prestigious liberal arts college in Atlanta need to hear. All of us need to hear it. However, we must not kid ourselves. These particular black men, hearing such a call from President Obama, hear something a little different from what the rest of us might hear.

These men know the poverty around them in black communities. They know the crime that infects places where young men, men not as fortunate as Morehouse graduates, actually live and die. And they have heard the criticism from white conservatives and the alibis from white liberals, the condemnations and the rationalizations from both sides, as they try to explain what is wrong with those communities and how to fix it.

Not often, though, have they heard words like the following, coming as they did from the most powerful man in the world, a man with the credentials, both genetic and experiential, that no other president has ever had:

We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.  And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself.  Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.  I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing.  But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.   

I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”  Well, we’ve got no time for excuses.  Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not.  Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there.  It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected  hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil — many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did — all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned. 

Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was.  Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.  And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them.  And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.

It just wouldn’t do, given our history, for a white man to lecture black men, black men who had just earned college degrees, in such a way. It wouldn’t do. Nor would it do for a white man, even the President of the United States, to related to black men in this way:

Every one of you have a grandma or an uncle or a parent who’s told you that at some point in life, as an African American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. 

And that’s the point here, isn’t it? Why should it be, here in 21st century America, that such a sentiment is still alive among black folks? Why should black men, or women, still be told to “work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by”? Because, as sad as it is to admit, it still rings true. And as sad as it is to say it, part of the reason is related to the the disorganization and dysfunction of black families in America:

I was raised by a heroic single mom, wonderful grandparents — made incredible sacrifices for me.  And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you.  But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved.  Didn’t know my dad.  And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me.  I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home — (applause) — where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter.  I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.

It’s hard work that demands your constant attention and frequent sacrifice.  And I promise you, Michelle will tell you I’m not perfect.  She’s got a long list of my imperfections.  Even now, I’m still practicing, I’m still learning, still getting corrected in terms of how to be a fine husband and a good father.  But I will tell you this:  Everything else is unfulfilled if we fail at family, if we fail at that responsibility.  

I know that when I am on my deathbed someday, I will not be thinking about any particular legislation I passed; I will not be thinking about a policy I promoted; I will not be thinking about the speech I gave, I will not be thinking the Nobel Prize I received.  I will be thinking about that walk I took with my daughters.  I’ll be thinking about a lazy afternoon with my wife. I’ll be thinking about sitting around the dinner table and seeing them happy and healthy and knowing that they were loved.  And I’ll be thinking about whether I did right by all of them.

So be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up.  If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along — those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have — they need to hear from you.  You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court, at church, spend time and energy and presence to give people opportunities and a chance.  Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams.  Don’t put them down. 

We’ve got to teach them just like what we have to learn, what it means to be a man…

He insisted that, “as you do these things, do them not just for yourself,” or for only “the African American community,” because,

I want you to set your sights higher.  At the turn of the last century, W.E.B. DuBois spoke about the “talented tenth” — a class of highly educated, socially conscious leaders in the black community.  But it’s not just the African American community that needs you.  The country needs you.  The world needs you. 

The world needs them, the President declared, because,

many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination.  And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share.  Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back.  Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share.  Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith.  Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need.  If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy — the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you’re not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple.  It should give you the ability to connect.  It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers. 

And I will tell you, Class of 2013, whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy — the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I — I might have been in their shoes.  I might have been in prison.  I might have been unemployed.  I might not have been able to support a family.  And that motivates me.  

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern — to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody.  Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world.  To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table; that everybody, no matter what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is — it doesn’t matter, everybody gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough. 

Yes, I know there was criticism of President Obama’s remarks. And I’m sure there will be more. But if he can’t say these things to newly-educated black men, if he can’t challenge an elite group of black graduates to do more for their communities and country than just “get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car — and never look back,” or if he can’t tell them to “be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up,” then who can?

Barack Bulworth

Last night I finally saw in graph form what the CBO came up with for its projected budget deficit for this year:

deficit 2013

As St. Rachel pointed out, this isn’t a good thing in an economy struggling to keep the recovery momentum, such as it is, going. This isn’t a good thing with so many unemployed folks out there. Nor is it a good thing with government jobs, jobs held by, say, teachers, disappearing as I write this.

But it is what Republicans, especially Tea Party phonies, have been squawking about since George Bush went on a spending spree Barack Obama became president.

And apparently no matter how far the damn deficit falls, they won’t stop squawking about it. Because, as we all know, their squawking has very little to do with government spending, but has to do with the Scary Negro, who they claim is spending it, and who they claim he is spending it on.

Remember the 2012 election charge, a charge that came from everywhere on the right, that O was trying to “buy” the election by spending a ton of money on the poor, minorities, and other natural Democratic constituencies? If so, he did a terrible job of spreading the cash around.

Maybe, just maybe, he won the election for other reasons.

And maybe, just maybe, O needs to take this chart and shove it down the throat of the next Republican who opens his or her mouth about “out of control” government spending. And then maybe he needs to rat out the Republicans—instead of eating and playing golf with them—to the American people about how phony their deficit hysteria was and still is, and explain that it is the Republican Party in Congress that is responsible for nothing, absolutely nothing, getting done to fix the country’s problems.

Finally, maybe O needs to go to many of the red states in the country and explain to the people there that the reason teachers and cops and firefighters are out of jobs, and the reason that unemployment is so high, is that their Republican governors and Republican legislators are starving the beast of their state governments, too.

And he should tell all the people everywhere that it is only the people who can put a stop to this madness.

Because no one thinks that anything positive, especially in terms of  the economic recovery, will get done while Republicans essentially control Congress. So, President Obama may as well go back to traveling around the country and, as The New York Times reported, possibly go “Bulworth.” What else can he do? How many dinners does he need to have, how many rounds of golf does he need to play with reactionaries, before he realizes that they will never allow him to actually govern the country?

For a fantasized version of what a Barack Bulworth would say, Ezra Klein wrote a great piece. Here is part of what President Bulworth had to say to a reporter who ask him yet another dumb question about whether the American people can “actually trust their government”:

BARACK BULWORTH: Look, the reason the American people can’t trust their government is here in Washington. Right now sequestration is cutting unemployment checks by 10 or 11 percent. Do you hear anyone talking about that? Or doing anything about it? No. You hear Republicans aides telling Politico, anonymously, that the speaker is quote “obsessed” with Benghazi. You know, I don’t think most of the Republicans screaming about Benghazi could find Libya on a map. I don’t think 10 of them knew our ambassador’s name. And, let me be clear, Speaker Boehner certainly wasn’t obsessed with giving us the money we asked for to keep the embassy’s safe.

But now he’s obsessed with Benghazi. And not even Benghazi. The Benghazi talking points. Are you kidding me? He’s not obsessed with global warming or unemployment or rebuilding our infrastructure.  And now that there’s conflict, all of you are obsessed with Benghazi talking points too, and meanwhile, we’re cutting the National Institutes of Health and we’re cutting too deep into the military and we’re making life harder for the unemployed and we’re doing nothing to keep this planet in good shape for our kids.

Look, this is why the American people can’t trust their government. Because this town is obsessed with conflict and political advantage and not with real problems. We worry about the wrong things so much that we don’t even have time to talk to the American people or each other about the right things. And that’s not the I.R.S.’s fault.

Who wouldn’t want to see that guy do a presser? It would scare the tan off John Boehner’s face, but, much more important, it would educate the people as to what the Republican Party is doing to the country.

The Associated Press “Scandal” In Ten Minutes

If you, like me, were a little hazy on the details surrounding the Justice Department’s peeking into the telephone records of Associated Press reporters, the good news is that after you see the segment below from St. Rachel’s show on Thursday night, you will be up to speed.

Just keep in mind that, especially in these days of high-tech communications, there will always be a tension between the government’s absolute mandate to keep the people safe from foreign enemies and the absolute necessity of a free press:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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