Friday, July 01, 2016

And Counting

No live version measures up to the original, in my still crazy opinion.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The New Civil Right

Congress adjourned early for the Fourth of July weekend, but eventually it will return to Washington--and maybe a suddenly changed Washington.  I can't let too much more time go by without taking full note of what happened in the last days before its early break.

Without warning, a group of House Democrats staged an actual sit-in in the House of Representatives, demanding a vote on a gun control bill.  It was officially begun at the House podium by Rep. John Lewis, one of the last great heroes of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

"I wondered, what would bring this body to take action?” thundered Lewis, who as a young man marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “What is right, what is just for the people of this country? … They have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence. What has this body done? Nothing. Not one thing.”

Commented the LA Times: The scene, including chants of “No bill, no break!” was like nothing that has occurred in Congress in recent years, more reminiscent of the civil rights battles of the 1960s than today’s often predictably scripted debates.

The ranks of protesters grew until nearly every House Democrat (one who hadn't joined yet got a phone message from his mother telling him to get down, and he got) and even a few Republicans joined in.  Democrats from the Senate came over to offer support, not just in words but in the more spirited form of tasty junk food.

The protest went on into the night, and culminated in a surreal scene of protesting House members disrupting GOPer Speaker Paul Ryan's attempt to ignore them and conduct majority business.  He finally had to adjourn.  Amy Davidson provides a fuller narration.

The protest, according to the WAPost, was about more than gun control. "It was the culmination of rising Democratic anger about the increasingly conservative reign by the GOP House majority..." and in particular about Ryan's reign. "Even Democrats who admire Ryan said they were done treating him with grace and that more disruptions would come in the months ahead. “There will be no more business as usual,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who served four years as the top Budget Committee Democrat while Ryan chaired the panel."

The specific bill at issue had to do with denying guns to people on terrorist watch lists, which as Jelani Cobb noted in the New Yorker, has civil liberties problems due to the secrecy and lack of recourse involved in some of those lists.

 Cobb's main point is that such a bill really doesn't confront the daily crisis of gun violence.  But the sit-in itself recognized this, as members of Congress spoke in heartfelt terms of constituents killed and maimed by guns, or even family members, or even threatened by guns themselves.  (Not to mention Gabby Giffords, who sent her support for the sit-in in the House where she would still be a member if not for her gun wounds.)

Such a bill doesn't confront the gun tragedies that continue, such as the gun-proud mother in Houston who shot her two daughters repeatedly until they were dead.  Nor does it confront the power of the NRA or its financial backers, the gun industry (subject of a powerful New Yorker piece, "Making a Killing.")

  But that a bill intending only to keep likely terrorists from buying guns (even as the Supreme Court affirmed laws preventing anyone convicted of domestic abuse from ever buying a gun) would be politically impossible to even discuss, suggests how far the Congress is from dealing with this deadly problem.

It is precisely in such cases of intransigence that a sit-in becomes a necessary and an electrifying tool.  Cobb confirms my impression, that the sit-in and particularly the leadership of John Lewis elevates the gun debate into the realm of civil rights--the right to be protected from gun violence.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The ongoing drama of  Brexit consequences is so full of incident coming thick and fast that it's impossible to keep up, so this is the last attempt for awhile.

But those consequences--not just currency and stock market drops but several cuts in the UK's credit rating, which has longer term costs--prompted a flurry of speculation on do-overs.  The New York Times provided several ways that the UK could exit Brexit, and in the New Yorker, Brit-born John Cassidy wrote a column suggesting: "Four days after the British public voted, narrowly, to leave the European Union, there are reasons to doubt that the referendum result will ever be implemented."  Update: Joining in the speculation of how Brexit could be reversed was US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Though neither the Times nor Cassidy went so far to say a Brexit exit is likely, it was clear than many in the UK that voted to Leave--including some of the leaders of the Leave campaign--were having serious second thoughts.  One Leave promise after another was being shot down, and as it became clearer that leaders on both sides were playing politics (Cameron for calling the referendum in the first place, and Leave leaders jockeying for power), both the Conservatives and Labour were in such chaos that they are unable to provide leadership at this crucial moment.

Seeing all this, PM Cameron went a step further and said he would not initiate Brexit by officially calling for the EU's Article 50 to be invoked--that it would be up to his successor, who would not be in place until late September at the soonest. And probably longer than that.

However, the mood within the EU hierarchies was swinging back and forth.  Calls for patience and calls for quick resolution came simultaneously.  Cameron had to attend an EU meeting, where he was met with pity and anger, and one of Brexits most extreme leaders, Nigel Farage, gave a Europe-hating speech at the EU parliament, and was greeted with boos and other members turning their backs on him.

Back in England, as young Remain supporters were preparing for street demonstrations, it was suggested that many of them neglected to vote in the referendum.  Hate crimes and abuse against people from immigrant populations increased so much that PM Cameron took to the floor in Parliament to condemn them.

The targets of abuse included Polish immigrants--something that hasn't happened in the US for awhile, but perhaps Trump can revive it.  Or is that the real reason he fired Corey Lewandowski?

Start It Up

This week Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren campaigned together for the first time and electrified an Ohio audience.  Clinton complimented Warren for so skillfully and regularly getting under Trump's "thin skin."  Sure enough, Trump quickly went after Warren again with his usual innuendo and racist remarks--and with the offensive in so many ways "Pocahontas."  (New York mag is among those providing the background on his Trumped-up charges of a Native American heritage claim.)

Hillary, by the way, actually has a laugh line in her economic analysis of Trump:  "He's written many books on business, but they all seem to end at chapter eleven."

Hillary's good polling news continued with a lengthier lead from NBC, and just as Trump's attempts to turn the Orlando tragedy into a terrorism scare didn't improve his poll standings, Greg Sargeant at WAPost suggested that Brexit was more likely to ultimately help Hillary than Trump.

With the GOPer convention the next political event on the calendar, Trump was acting like a mob boss in his with me or against me attitude towards speakers, as with the support of the RNC he concentrated on getting loyalists into key positions to quell any idea of revolt.

But so many Republican officeholders--as well as all living GOP former Prezs and presidential candidates--not planning to attend the convention, it's not clear how Trump is going to fill the time.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the event shortened by a couple of days.

Once again I was almost shocked to see the byline on a trenchant column dissecting the disastrous details of the WAPost/ABC poll for Trump, and arguing that Trump is very unlikely to come back from his catastrophic standing with voters--it was Jennifer Rubin, author of the Post blog called The Right Turn.

Who You Gonna Call?

West Virginia is most prominently known this year for anti-regulation and anti-government politics, and--enslaved to predatory coal companies--for climate crisis denying.

But experiencing an unprecedented onslaught of rain and flash flooding--the kind of extreme weather global heating science predicts--West Virginia is in need, and suddenly dependent on...government.  Specifically the federal government, via President Obama's declaration of a major disaster:

"This federal support will provide much needed assistance to severely-impacted regions," West Virginia's governor Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement. "As emergency response efforts continue, with members of the National Guard and local emergency responders hard at work helping our neighbors, we will continue pursuing additional assistance for all affected areas."

This comes after FEMA officials toured some of the most impacted areas on foot and by air on Saturday.

It's easy enough to fulminate against easy targets of bureaucratic screwups, or of ego-bloated, doubletalking politicians.  And very appealing to say to people that they should keep their money because government is the problem, so starve it of taxes.

But then something big happens, and people depend on government to bring the resources, the expertise, the humanpower, quickly and effectively.  Just as they depend on government to ensure their food isn't poisonous, or their drinking water.  Or that there is a public health system with the resources and expertise to deal with big problems, maybe several at a time, and even be ahead of the curve.

But thanks to the anti-government fulminators, all of these are now political.  Even the funding to confront the dangerous Zika virus is mired in politics--Congress can't just vote the funds necessary, Republicans must blackmail the President with the nation's health to get partisan legislation that can't get otherwise.

But when you've got catastrophe and you need help, who you gonna call?  It ain't Ghostbusters.  And it sure ain't Republicans in Congress.