Friday, March 14, 2014

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Facebook….NSA….it’s hard to know who to root for in this one. @MarkZuckerberg does not have clean hands when it comes to privacy, and at least the NSA can be investigated easily.

2) Some interesting developments in the Malaysia Airlines mystery.

3) Could HIV be mutating?

4) By the way, Happy Pi Day!

5) An encouraging sign that Mayor Deblasio is starting to feel comfortable in office.

6) I wonder what kind of benefits you get with those jobs?

7) You may want to start unfollowing some of your friends.

8) It’s official: we’re idiots.

9) As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could slide…

10) Finally, Happy Saint Urho Day on Sunday. I know I’ll be getting my wine on, and if it’s warm enough, chase grasshoppers.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Crying In His Beer

You may or may not have noticed last week, amidst the growing turmoil in Ukraine and Crimea, that Darrell Issa is still – still – pursuing the IRS investigation of politically-oriented 501(c)4 groups, both left and right.

Summary: A 501(c)4 group is a non-profit social group that engages primarily in activities and advocacy of a social nature. They are permitted to do some political work but if they do too much, they can have their tax-exempt status lifted and get hit with penalties and interest on the taxes they should have paid.

Nevermind there’s jail time involved as well. About three years ago, it came out that, indeed, the IRS was doing their jobs and investigating groups that filed for this status. Turns out, the only group that was actually caught and punished was a liberal group, but be that as it may, right wing Teabaggers cried “oppression,” “foul,” and any number of the usual phrases white folks whine when caught in a lie.

Flash forward to last week: Issa held a hearing…excuse me, another hearing…involving Lois Lerner, a former IRS official who was nominally involved in the investigation (since the investigation itself was routine, it’s hard to say anyone was at the center of it. Indeed, the official in charge of the IRS who had knowledge of the work, Douglas Shulman, is a Bush appointee, and it passed his muster.)

Lerner was questioned by only one member of the Issa’s committee: Issa himself.

Lerner, sensing a kangaroo court, refused to testify to Issa, citing her Fifth Amendment rights.

After that, Issa cut off the mics and shut the hearing down, and threatened Lerner with a contempt of Congress citation.

Um, oops!

Democratic committee staff sought the advice of Morton Rosenberg, a former constitutional law and process specialist with the Congressional Research Service and that of Stan Brand who served as general counsel for the House of Representatives in the early 1980s (Democrats were in the majority during those years), who concluded that Issa eliminated his option to move ahead with contempt when he concluded the hearing so abruptly.

Rosenberg writes in a letter to Cummings that Supreme Court precedent establishes a number of conditions which must be met to create a legal foundation for a contempt prosecution, including that the committee must disallow the constitutional privilege objection and clearly tell the witness an answer is demanded, and the witness must be presented with a clear-cut choice between compliance and non-compliance, knowing non-compliance risks prosecution. Rosenberg concludes these conditions were not met, and if a criminal contempt prosecution were attempted, it "will be dismissed."

Brand told CBS News that based on the precedent, any attempts to move ahead with a contempt charge would go nowhere. But, he doesn't take the committee seriously, "I think what they're after is political theater, and that's what they got." He explained that if the committee really wanted to hear from Lerner, they "could have granted her immunity and they'd already have her testimony by now."

I agree. Issa is clearly engaged in political theatre, but to what purpose? His seat is seemingly safe. He carried the seat with a 16% plurality, albeit the smallest of his career. He’s not making friends in Congress by harassing and endlessly opening investigations that end up seeing him embarrassed time and again in the national press. And his, let’s call it “personal history,” is such that any attempt to run for national office will see him humiliated and out of politics.

Not an unpleasant thought to me, and I can imagine he has yes-men all around him ignoring the elephant in the room, but he has to have it somewhere in his consciousness that it’s a “fall on the sword” moment if he were to announce for President or seek the VP nod.

Issa is like a third grader who gets away with a lie here and there, and is emboldened each day to lie a little more. People will miss his first lies, ignore the later ones, but eventually, he’ll get a spanking.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bill O'Reilly: Blue Nose

It’s odd that a man who claims among his favorite guests both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart would have a problem with President Obama’s appearance in a comic interview on the website Funny or Die. But he does:

All I can tell is you Abe Lincoln would not have done it. There comes a point when serious times call for serious action. We're a divided nation which Talking Points believes is in decline. Mr. Obama is quick, has a good sense of humor. Those are assets.

Oh, um, Bill? About Lincoln? Yea. He likely would have.

In response to a discussion about the pressure from abolitionists for the president to take action against slavery, Lincoln said:

Wa-al that reminds me of a party of Methodist parsons that was travelling in Illinois when I was a boy, and had a branch to cross that was pretty bad — ugly to cross, ye know, because the waters was up. And they got considerin’ and discussin’ how they should git across it, and they talked about it for two hours, and one on ’em thought they had ought to cross one way when they got there, and another another way, and they got quarrellin’ about it, till at last an old brother put in, and he says, says he, ‘Brethren, this here talk ain’t no use. I never cross a river until I come to it.’

It was a characteristic Lincoln moment. He deflected the question of what he would do about slavery; he used the story as a device to explain his policy; in a display of folksy wisdom, he got his listeners to laugh.

Lincoln understood what Obama understands and what even idiots like Frank Luntz get: if you want to get your point across, you have to hit your audience in their gut with something.

It can be humour. Often, it can be tragedy, or anger. Bush utilized our anger to talk us into two massively destructive wars that made little sense in toto. Yet, to this day – and it even echoes in your network’s offensive, treasonous coverage of our President – people talk about how “strong” Bush was, and how “weak” Obama looks.

On that side note, Obama understands what you morons seem to miss: Bush weakened the United States by crippling our economy and spending whatever diplomatic capital and moral authority we had on wars that were wars of opportunity and aggression.

It’s a little hard to rally people to cry independence at the point of your army’s weaponry.

Lincoln, along with John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, understood that you can support an argument without being aggressive or war-mongering.

For instance, Bill Clinton famously said about welfare, “Mend it, don’t end it,” and neatly summed up the popular (if incorrect) sentiment that the welfare system needed a little tweaking, is all. This appeals to the American sense of not only fair play (get rid of what cheating was going on) with the American sense that we’re all in this struggle together and that each of us has a contribution to the greater good (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” implies that the nation will take help take care of those who contribute.)

It’s sad that the right wing seems to have lost any sense of humour, save for sarcasm and what I like to call “anger humour,” mostly directed at the President but sadly, at even the less fortunate among us.

There but for the grace of God. It seems Christians forget that on the right. Bill should probably swap out the stick up his ass.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

….Trippingly off the tongue:

More than two dozen Democratic senators will take to the Senate floor on Monday for an all-night session of speeches on climate change.

The marathon session will get underway after the last vote on Monday night and could last until 9am on Tuesday, Senate staff said.

The high visibility all-nighter was organised by a new initiative, the Climate Action Task Force, which is trying to galvanise support for Barack Obama's climate change agenda.

The Senators said they would be tweeting throughout the night, using the hashtag #Up4Climate.

Well, at least someone is talking about it, even if it’s only talk and only overnight.

It’s easy to forget global warming in the face of one of the coldest, harshest winters in recent memory, one where we learned a new term: “polar vortex”.

But the planet did not. In fact, January, 2014 was the fourth warmest January in world history. This is not good news if you’re a fan of living.

In fact, it’s been 30 years since the planet as a whole had a month that was cooler than normal, and mind you, “normal” is a moving average, so we’re exceeding our already rising averages.

That Democrats are taking stage tonight to endlessly remind us that we are not America, the planet, but America, a country on Earth, is really pretty important.

Ineffectual, but important.

(A personal note: I suspect this summer is going to be brutal in the US. I don’t have any evidence to really base this upon, except that nature has a way of rebounding fiercely, and winter was pretty cold here.)

I wish I knew what it would take for climate change morons deniers to come around. Bill Maher said it best a few weeks ago: If we’re prepared to repel even a one percent success rate of terrorism, then certainly deniers can admit there’s a one percent chance that the 99.99% of reputable scientists who agree that global warming is real and manmade are right, and therefore, we should take some steps to secure our future and our children’s future.

But I doubt those morons think that deeply. Maybe when the water is over their heads, they’ll finally give it a thought.