Just Shut The %#€ Up, Pal

So Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, is accused of knowingly poisoning the primarily African-American residents of Flint with lead-tainted water delivered by city managers appointed by Snyder. The issue came up in the Democratix debate tonight. Snyder should have been so embarrassed that he said nothing, because there’s nothing he can say to frame the issue in any positive way. But Snyder, in typical GOP fashion, decided to go for it. Bad move.

 
It’s a crisis because you intentionally exposed people to water laced with massive quantities of lead, you idiot. Just shut up.

Van Hollen Statement On SOTU

Statement issued just as the speech ended:

Van Hollen Statement on State of the Union 

Washington, DC – Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen released the following statement following President Obama’s final State of the Union address
“Tonight, President Obama shared an optimistic view of America and its ability to lead the world through our collective challenges. I share this view of a strong America – one that can unite 195 nations around the goal of saving the planet from climate change, one that can help eradicate deadly diseases like Ebola, and one that aims to cultivate a new relationship with Cuba to better the lives of its people and our own. 
“We cannot be a force for progress and peace if our political discourse is defined by fear. I commend the President for maintaining a hopeful vision that has led to millions of new jobs, millions of Americans gaining health insurance coverage, easier access to an affordable college education for our young people, and a healthier future for our planet.
“Under President Obama’s leadership, our nation has made great progress recovering from the Great Recession. To sustain and accelerate our economic growth, every American needs the opportunity to succeed. That means building an economy that rewards hard work, not just those making money off of money. We must work together in the year to come to build an economy that works for all Americans.”

In Other News Today, The Supreme Court Is Likely To Destroy Public Employee Unions

Not to be missed in all of today’s news and general Snarkstericity here at the nerve center of an imaginary organization, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case in which the plaintiffs don’t want to have to pay public employee unions for the benefits they get from collective bargaining (because, y’know, free speech and all that shit) but they want to keep getting them nevertheless. This newfound right to have your cake, eat it, and get someone else to bake it and pay for it is brought to by the Koch brothers. Shocking, huh? Charles Pierce is his usually happy go lucky self about the whole thing:

The Supreme Court is hearing a case today called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If decided in favor of the plaintiff, the case likely will eviscerate the right of collective bargaining for public employees. (Having once briefly been a public employee, and being the son of a lifetime public employee, and the grandson of another, I have been watching this with some interest.) At issue is whether or not public-sector unions can collect dues from public employees who do not belong to the union. (The unions already are banned from using that money for any political activities.) In 1977, the Court allowed this practice to continue, but anyone who relies on stare decisis from this Court when it comes to anything having to do with labor unions is leaning on a pretty thin straw.

His gloomy assessment was then vindicated by the oral argument today. In a word: bad. Two words: very bad.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court left little doubt Monday where it stands on forcing teachers and government workers to contribute to public employee unions against their will: It’s ready to strike the requirement down.

The court’s more conservative justices sharply criticized the current system in which public employees in 23 states and the District of Columbia must pay for the cost of collective bargaining, even if they disagree with their unions’ demands. The problem, those justices said, is that virtually everything the unions do affects public policy and tax dollars.

“Everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, seen as the lone conservative who might side with the unions because of past statements.

When lawyers for California and its teachers union cited more mundane collective bargaining issues such as mileage rates and public safety, Chief Justice John Roberts objected. “It’s all money,” Roberts said. “The amount of money that’s going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that’s always a public policy issue.”

Their comments and others from justices who previously have criticized the practice of compelling union fees made it clear that the court is likely to strike down its nearly 40-year-old precedent allowing unions to impose such requirements on non-members. That would make it harder for unions representing teachers, police and firefighters, and other government workers to maintain their power by affecting their pocketbooks.

When we talk about blatantly political decisions, it’s not just the overtly political ones like Bush v. Gore or Citizens United. It’s the cases that favor corporations over other interests and, as here, those that weaken labor unions. Not to be lost here is that many of the political decisions like Citizens United were defended on the basis that labor unions are treated similarly to the big corporations and rich individuals that benefit from the decision. Of course, labor,mad strong as it can be politically, doesn’t come close to matching corporate America for big spending.

But now, suddenly, poof! No more money flowing to unions means less political influence for labor, and labor favors Democrats, and all of the five justices that will rule the way they made clear today are hard core political warriors for the interests of corporate America in general and the Republican Party specifically. What they are doing is nothing less than constitutionalizing a decisive tilt to the right in American politics. Nothing like it has been seen in our history (not even the Lochner-era gilded age cases were as balata the as what we’re seeing here.

Whether it has the desired effect is another question. The demographics of the US are changing so fast it’s creating an electoral map (on the presidential level, at least) that tilts just as decidedly the other way. The big questions are whether the demographics change quickly enough, and whether the Democratic Party has the gumption to stand and fight after a 20 year period of too often looking like GOP lite.

This next 15-20 years is increasingly shaping up as a fight for the soul of this country. It’s either going to be a lot better place when the fight is over, or a lot worse. But I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to look very similar to the way things are now. Something has to give.

I know where I stand. I hope you do too.

You Can’t Make This Shit Up, Folks

Some bizarre stories out there today, my friends. Right wingers are weird.
First up, the ongoing laugh riot that is #Y’AllQaeda. I’ve generally been staying away from the coverage of the Oregon hootenanny (save for invoking their battle flag, of course) but this is just too good to pass up. Drinking up the donations! Hahahahahaha.

Joe Oshaugnessy, an Arizona militiaman, has been actively seeking volunteers through social media to join the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

But his friends tearfully announced that Oshaugnessy, who is known as “Capt. O,” had left the refuge Wednesday and was instead staying at a motel nearby — as some others associated with the militants have apparently been doing, according to sources.

Some of the militants have reportedly been spotted eating at area restaurants during the standoff, as well.
A Y’all Qaeda spokesperson said he drank away the donations:

Peltier said Ritzheimer had confirmed that Oshaugnessy had kept the money he had raised through social media for himself and had spent at least some of it on a drinking binge.

On a more national level, Ben Carson continued his free fall into irrelevance by shaming a kid at a Cedar Rapids school. Why am I not surprised?

There is at least one fifth-grader who will not soon forget Ben Carson’s visit Thursday to Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The one whom Carson helped single out as his class’s “worst student” before a crowd of hundreds.

It happened when the Republican presidential candidate was trying to make a self-deprecating joke about his own academic ineptitude in grade school.

“As a fifth-grade student, I was a horrible student,” Carson said, according to video captured by CBS News. “Anybody here in fifth grade? Who’s the worst student?”

More than a half dozen students turned and pointed at one particular classmate, according to the Des Moines Register, and the room erupted in laughter.

Carson tried to recover: “If you had asked that question in my classroom, there would have been no doubt about who it was.”
But the candidate took heat on Twitter for the unforced error.

 Following the rally, Carson met with the student and told him that he hopes the child will become a neurosurgeon, the Register reported.

Your right wing noise machine at work, boys and girls. God bless them. And somebody needs to explain to Karen Tumulty that she’s supposed to laugh at these stupid morons, not act as their stenographer.

Van Hollen To Hogan: Close The Gun Loophole

Press release tonight from the busy beavers at the Van Hollen press office:

Van Hollen Urges Hogan to Take Action to Close Terrorist Gun Loophole  

 Washington, DC – Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen sent a letter to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan urging him to explore executive action to protect Marylanders from gun violence and close the loophole that allows individuals on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist from purchasing deadly weapons.

 “Despite repeated efforts in Congress to prevent people on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist from buying guns, Republican leaders prevented us from even having a vote,” Congressman Van Hollen wrote. “While Tea Party obstructionism and the NRA keep Congress from moving forward to protect Americans from gun violence and terrorism, I call on you to explore every possible State action to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns in Maryland.”

 He continued, “As Governor, your leadership can protect Maryland communities and our many high-profile assets like national security installations by prohibiting the transfer or sale of a firearm to anyone on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist.”

 Congressman Van Hollen has long supported efforts to prevent those on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns, fighting liability exemptions for gun dealers back in 2005 and consistently supporting legislation to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. He also supports legislation to restore the ban on assault weapons.

 According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, since 2004, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist have successfully purchased weapons in the United States. More than 90 percent of all suspected terrorists who attempted to purchase guns in the last 11 years walked away with the weapon they wanted, with just 190 rejected despite their ominous histories.   

And the letter itself:

Dear Governor Hogan,

 Gun violence and mass shootings plague our nation every day, and the horrific attacks in San Bernardino and Paris have renewed concerns about terrorism here and abroad. We should be doing everything possible to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those who seek to kill innocent Americans.

 Despite repeated efforts in Congress to prevent people on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist from buying guns, Republican leaders prevented us from even having a vote. While Tea Party obstructionism and the NRA keep Congress from moving forward to protect Americans from gun violence and terrorism, I call on you to explore every possible State action to prevent dangerous individuals from purchasing guns in Maryland.

 Across the country, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist were permitted to buy guns over the past 11 years. At the same time, gun violence continues to terrorize our communities on a daily basis, as those who seek firearms to carry out crime find them all too easy to obtain. As Governor, your leadership can protect Maryland communities and our many high-profile assets like national security installations by prohibiting the transfer or sale of a firearm to anyone on the FBI Terrorist Watchlist. In Connecticut, Governor Dan Malloy is pursuing executive action. In New Jersey, which has a permit-to-purchase program that is similar to Maryland’s, Governor Chris Christie signed a state law to prohibit persons on the FBI Terror Watchlist from receiving a gun permit. I urge you to work with your Administration and the State Legislature to enact similar protections for Maryland residents. 

 I will continue fighting in Congress for common sense gun safety measures that will protect every Marylander, including law-abiding gun owners, and I look forward to working with you in that effort. 

 Sincerely,

 Chris Van Hollen

 Member of Congress

A Week Of Squirrels And Nuts Continues . . .

I’ve stayed away from the whole “Donald Trump wants to ban Muslims” thing, but this story is just too good to pass up. Anything that causes human cyborg Dick Cheney to have a human reaction is a rare and wondrous thing indeed.

Former vice president Dick Cheney was one of many who condemned Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.

“I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in,” Cheney told Hugh Hewitt on Hewitt’s conservative radio show Monday. “I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from. A lot of people, my ancestors got here, because they were Puritans.” He added: “There wasn’t anybody here then when they came,” leaving him open to criticism for dismissing the existence of Native Americans.

Way to ruin it there at the end, Mr. Cylon. But for a brief moment you really did have me believing you were an actual human.

And then in the very next paragraph, the warm Dick Cheney moment was blown to smithereens. Literally.

Cheney then made the case for re-invading parts of the Middle East to destroy the Islamic State, which he referred to by the acronym “ISIS.”

“What’s going on in the Middle East is the result of a U.S. vacuum,” Cheney said. “It’s the result of the rise of ISIS, civil war in Syria. I’ve heard proposals that I think make sense that we ought to establish safety zones, if you will, in the northern part of Syria where you’ve got them secured, you’ve got sufficient forces, hopefully of locals that would be there to protect, the area, but that’s where people who are fleeing the terrible tragedy that’s going on inside the caliphate, a place where they could reside.”
Pointing out that the Islamic State is “far bigger than al Qaeda ever was by itself,” he added: “I think you have to go back, ultimately, and if you’re going to be successful in ultimately defeating ISIS, and destroy ISIS, which I think has to be your objective, you’re going to have to shut down the caliphate.”

It was a nice moment while it lasted, but now it’s just a memory. Sigh.

You Know You’re In Trouble When . . .

Fred Hiatt criticizes your position on climate change. But Mitch McConnell and the GOP have managed this feat. Blind squirrels and nuts and all that.

A genuine conservative, as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state George P. Shultz has written, would acknowledge uncertainties in climate science but look for rational, market-based policies to lessen the risk without slowing economic growth. A revenue-neutral carbon tax, as in a bill Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has introduced, fits the description precisely.

What then explains the know-nothingism of today’s Republicans? Some of them see scientists as part of a left-wing cabal; many of them doubt government’s ability to do anything, let alone something as big as redirecting the economy’s energy use. Almost all of them, along with quite a few Democrats, would rather not tell voters that energy prices need to rise for the sake of the environment.

Hiatt manages in the same breath to both shout out our own Chris Van Hollen and to engage in the journalistic sham of Both Sides Do It. Quite a feat. But give the devil his due – at least Hiatt seems to actually believe in the urgent need for action on climate change.

Some People Are Idiots

If you agree with this, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.

But! If Hillary lost because progressives abstained from voting, it’s possible that Republican incompetence would be laid bare, and that they’d run the country into the ground over the next four years. If that’s what it takes to show the people that a leftist political revolution is the only viable way forward, it will have been worth watching Hillary bite the political dust. Come 2020, we could be looking at a landscape where progressive politics can finally gather enough momentum to sweep the country, and usher in a new era of FDR-esque reforms.

And unicorns and puppies! And flowers! And candy! Somebody please help me stop banging my head against this brick wall, please? My head really hurts.

Several things. First, this is morally offensive. Losing is never good. But the only thing worse than losing is doing it on purpose and being morally superior about it. Which ignores the real imoacts to real people that a Republican presidency will necessarily entail. Explaining to poor people, to women, to children, how you did it for the long term good of all is obscene.

Second, politics is not static. A GOP win – on a laydown, no less – would embolden conservatives and move the goal posts even further to the right. In many respects, we’re nearing a tipping point, where many people are close to giving up on the entire process of voting because of discouragement and roadblocks from new laws designed to impede voting. What kind of example does it set for progressive leaders to proclaim that it’s actuslly strategically good not to vote? That way lies disaster.

Third, you may not be, but I’m old enough to remember 2000. I still won’t watch the movie about the recount – I lived it, in agony and horror, watching Democratic politicos and lawyers make mistake after mistake in the process. The argument was that it doesn’t make a difference. It was proved horribly and fatally wrong then – what makes today any different? In fact, today it’s even more stupid to claim “there’s no difference” between Democrats and Republicans. The GOP has moved enormously and distinctly to the right, while Democrats have moved decisively in the opposite direction. For the first time, we’ve moved on health care. Democrats. We acted to stave off a depression. Democrats. We’ve acted to regulate the worst of the financial sector’s abuses. Democrats. We’re at least talking about racial discrimination, police abuse, economic inequality. Real things. All of that will be off the table with a GOP win. How does that help?

You can say it wasn’t enough or we need more and better. Fine. So your solution is to walk off the field? How would you feel if your sports team did that? “Hey, we’ll be back next year and with better players and then you’ll see how good we are.” You’d be horrified, and there is no human or moral component to that decision.

Fourth, the author looks at conservatives with envy. How does he think hard core conservatives got power? It only happened when they began to take over the GOP from the inside, little by little, over many years. We don’t do that. Progressives want results now, they don’t want to wait, and they look for magic bullets. Here’s one: hard, sustained work to move the politics of the Democratic Party where we want them to be.  

People who espouse this kind of screwed up thinking are pie in the sky purists. They don’t want to get their hands dirty with compromise, with reality, with having to settle for half or a quarter or even a tiny piece of a loaf. News flash: politics is a constant struggle to move the ball forward (it’s Sunday during football season, sue me) an inch at a time, little by little, bit by bit. And its protecting your accomplishments from being rolled back, even as you try to move forward. It’s agonizing and painful and draining work sometimes, and it can be a decade or a generation before you look up and realize just how much you’ve accomplished. It’s not going to happen overnight, and heightening the contradictions or throwing bombs is not going to change the reality of the process.

A confession: I’ve never (really, never) voted for a presidential primary winner in my entire life. Here’s my tale of woe: Fritz Hollings (don’t ask, I can’t or won’t remember), Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas (he won the Maryland primary in ’92), Bill Bradley, a pre-shithead John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton. That’s a long time that I’ve been sucking it up and supporting a candidate who at least initially wasn’t mine. It’s not that hard. Do the right thing. Work your ass off. You won’t become infected with any disease other than the one that most people reading this hopefully already have: a burning, itching compulsion to make the world a better place. Moral superiority has no place in the treatment of this condition.

I’ve never considered taking the actions this article espouses. Never. Support your party, snd if you don’t like the candidate, work harder next time to get a better one. But if you walk out in 2016, as far as I’m concerned, don’t bother coming back. And if you intend to run for office someday, you might as well slit your political throat and save yourself the trouble. Loyalty matters – not to me, or some other individual person, but to the ideals and the people we claim to stand for, those who need our help and need someone to fight for them.

Rant over. Almost time for football.

More Legislative Atrocities

It wasn’t just Syrian refugees that got pummeled by Congress last week. Car purchasers of color got mugged, and robbed, and stripped of protections that the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) had adopted in 2013.

Here’s the deal. You walk into a car dealership, look at a car, take it for a test drive, decide you can’t live without it and must buy it. You sit down with the salesman, haggle meaninglessly for a little while, decide on a price, and then it comes time for a loan. The dealership takes your information, runs a credit report, and gets information from a bank or banks interested in lending to you, with a minimum rate they’ll accept. The dealer, in many cases, will take that rate and “mark it up,” and if successful, will get to pocket some of the extra money. Lawsuit after lawsuit over more then 20 years has shown that these kind of markups fall disproportionately on minority purchasers, i.e., dealers don’t mark up white purchasers as often.

In 2013, the CFPB passed a regulation stating that if banks want to continue this practice of allowing car dealers to mark up offered interest rates, they have to take steps to make sure that such markups aren’t being done in discriminatory fashion. Two lending institutions, Honda’s own financing entity and Ally Bank, were forced by the CFPB to pay back over $100 million to customers as a result of discrimination.

This didn’t sit well with Republicans. So they proposed a bill to void the CFPB regulation and basically say that racial discrimination in auto lending was perfectly fine with them. OK, fine, they suck. But last week the bill came up for a vote and 88 House Democrats voted to gut the CFPB authority to regulate racial discrimination in auto lending. Including everyone’s least favorite DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

And which Maryland Democrat voted for this steaming pile of horse poop?

Do I need to draw you a picture?

The one who wants to run for governor in 2018, of course. John Delaney.

Because nothing says “Democratic stalwart” like “caving in to the car dealers and the banks, while simultaneously screwing over consumers who want to buy cars and not be discriminated against because of their skin color.” Amirite?