Friday, February 15, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) A meteorite cracked and landed about a thousand miles east of Moscow this morning, injuring 400, mostly from breaking glass due to the noise. No word yet whether Sarah Palin could see it from her house.
2) In fairness to Carnival, you could probably write the same headline about every cruise that's ever sailed. But just to add insult to injury...
3) This could be the saddest story of the week: Pistorius fought so hard to be allowed to compete in the Olympics with his prosthetic legs, and it turns out his compulsions had a far darker side.
4) Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass the closest of any known asteroid  of this size (500,000,000 pounds) this afternoon around 2PM EST. At about 17,000 miles from the surface, it will be closer to the ground that most of the near-earth satellites humans have launched. Between this and the Russian meteorite, is there some sort of message God is sending us?
5) Frank Lautenberg has announced he will not seek re-election in 2014, paving the way for Newark Mayor Corey Booker to run without much opposition for the seat. Lautenberg is the last World War II veteran to serve in Congress, and if Ted Kennedy was the last liberal lion, then Lautenberg was the last liberal panther: he was stealthy, staying below the radar for the most part, but working hard for progressive causes.
6) One Billion Rising seems to have been a huge success, particularly in the nations where it was desperately needed.
7) Note to men (and women): Always wrap that sucker.
8) Our prescription drug habit not only makes us a country of addled-pated morons, it makes our fish stupid, too.
10) Beef. The other white meat. Wait. What?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hagel! Holla back!

I have a modest proposal for President Obama in which he can screw around with Republican opposition to the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. I'll get to that in a minute. Let's take a look at what's going on:

On Wednesday Senate Republicans forced the Senate to a 60-vote threshold on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel. In order to move forward to a vote Democrats will have to find 60 senators to vote yes on cloture. If they do, the Democrats with a 55-45 majority are expected to confirm Hagel on a near party-line vote.

Wednesday was also a big day for Republican opponents of Hagel in two ways.

First, moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who some news organizations had reported would vote for Hagel, came out to say she would oppose his confirmation, although not block a “final” vote. (It’s unclear whether she would nevertheless support a temporary delay so her GOP colleagues Sens. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham can garner information they requested from the White House on Benghazi.)

Second, McCain and others remained up in the air, maintaining the very real possibility that Friday’s vote might not lead to a quick Hagel confirmation. Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced that he would support a filibuster if need be. (“If they’re not going to give us the information, the only way to get the information is to threaten to hold them to a higher standard of 60 votes.”)

Keep in mind, this piece was written by Jennifer "Billy" Rubin of the WaPo, which makes it about as factual as unicorn-riding talking pigs.

I mean, seriously, you can almost hear her gloating over a small procedural victory in the right wing attempts to smear an honorable and qualified candidate for the post in order to go on a witch hunt over details on a matter that's pretty much been put to bed, at least factually.

Distilling the facts out of her "writing," we find that a) the Republicans scored a cheap political victory that endangers our national security, b) a moderate Susan Collins might not agree with this pathetic stunt anyway, and c) even Senator McCain, who stands to benefit from the delay, opposes the idea of filibustering a Presidential appointee to such an important post!

Boy, I tell you what: Chuck Hagel must have made some serious enemies in the Republican camp for them to twist their panties in a knot this tight. Or maybe not. Let me explain.

The Democrats will have enough votes for cloture, to be sure, and if I'm Harry Reid, once that's taken care of, I don't even give the Teabaggers an ounce of recognition. I'd call for majority vote indicating unanimous consent, then throw it in the faces of every one of those niggling bastards running in 2014 and 2016.

The appointment of Chuck Hagel means just one thing, in my opinion: he has the credibility to line-item every single program in the military and either greenlight it or get rid of it. The establishment Republicans AND the Teabaggers concerned about district and statewide pork know this.

He brings street cred to the vital budget slashing that has to take place if we're truly serious about deficit reduction and not using it as a band-aid for slashing important social programs which are even more vital to the national interest than doubly redundant bombers and warships.

And I can definitely see Hagel trotting out, say, a naval air station in Oklahoma, and reminding people the damned state is landlocked and ought to be more than covered by Vance, Tinker, and Altus Air Force bases. That would smack the hell out of Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, as well as five Republican Representatives.
The deliciousness of this political ballet is really rather hypnotic.
So if you're scratching your head, wondering why Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator and one of the most respected party members, is suddenly being scraped off the bottom of shoes, there it is.
So here's my nuclear option for Obama, should Hagel's nomination be discarded. I would immediately turn around and nominate Senator John McCain to the post.
Want to see heads explode? Obama would still get his budget cuts (he'd short-shrift any attempts by his Cabinet Secretary to override him), McCain would have to go on the defensive again about his war record and his Senate voting record, and this time, he'd be hammered by his own party AND some Democrats piling on.
It would be good times. Good times.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Watery State

Thus goeth Marco Rubio's Presidential aspirations. Apparently, Rubio can't stand the heat.
But, as to the President's State of the Union address, all seems to be in order. It was populist, and took much more liberal stances on issues that Obama had in his first term, as it followed closely on the heels of his stemwinder of an inaugural address.
He outlined a vision of a middle class that is healthy and growing that is in distinct contrast with the patrician and elitist views of the Republicans in Congress. His "ladders of opportunity" and support for increasing the minimum wage (a modest increase of less than 30%, to be sure) mirror my liberal libertarian views on government.
Government ought to be levelling the playing field.
Let me take a moment to brief new readers on what I mean: I view society as a three-legged stool. There's the people, the government and the business sector.
When these are in balance, the country is stable. It can grow and everybody benefits to some degree.
When one of these comes up short, the country is unstable and when two come up short, the country is set to topple over.
Balance in society is so damned hard to maintain because as people become complacent, business becomes aggressive. We rely on government to step in and keep business in check. Likewise, when business becomes dormant, people become angry and frustrated in poverty. And if government is small enough to drown in a tub, you've lost all hope of a stable society.
What we in America are in danger from is that two legs are not only longer than the people's leg, but they've nearly merged. This is a completely unsustainable construct.
But I digress...
You can read the full text here. I do want to highlight a few other points President Obama raised last night:
1) Austerity alone will not work, particularly cutting entitlements alone. Look, the DoD has more money than it knows what to do with. Let's cut there first, and see if austerity helps the economy and deficit.
2) Growing the economy is the best way to fix this mess, and the best way to grow the economy is middle class tax relief and asking the rich to put up their fair share (altho he didn't come out and say this last bit). 95% of small businesses in the nation are owned by people who make less than $50,000 from them. 90% of jobs in the country are created by small business. You do the math. He's right.
3) He left some Medicare reforms on the table. I know he's talked about a modest hike in the eligibilty age and certainly means-testing ought to be on the table. It's ridiculous that someone who earns $100,000 in his retirement has full access to the same Medicare a home healthcare worker does. Worse, the higher earner will likely outlive the poorer working stiff. This needs to be addressed.
4) He slapped Boehner's hands on the American Job Act, for not bringing it to the floor for a vote. Four years, not one jobs bill worth a damn in the House.
5) Science funding. I have to love a man who agrees that research is a critical component of government spending. I just wish he had gone further and said he'd start charging businesses who file patents on the backs of that work.
6) Gun control. I like that he challenged Congress to make a vote on the modest reforms he's asking for. I want these assholes on record because you just know there's someone out there thinking he can outdo Adam Lanza. Let's make these jerks put it on the record they support that effort.
7) Finally, he came out full-throated for fighting climate change. It's about time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict To Step Down

While this is not a big deal for liberals in America, it's an enormous deal for Catholics around the world, all one billion or so of them, so I'm going to take a column and look at this.

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he will resign Feb. 28, ending eight years as head of the world's Catholics because the 85-year-old pontiff is too infirm to carry on. He is the first pope to resign in 600 years.

The pope made the announcement in Latin during a meeting of cardinals in Rome.

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he told the cardinals. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering."

This is a rather curious instance, to be sure, if the "600 years since it last happened" wasn't enough to arouse your suspicions. The Office of the Pontiff is the highest one that a Catholic can aspire to. This is even bigger than resigning as President of the United States, because the PoTUS can go into private industry and exploit his Rolodex.

Pope John XVIII, for instance, became a monk. The last Pope to resign, Gregory XII, did so as a political move. There were three claimants to the office, so in order to end the "Western Schism," Gregory offered up his mitre, ironically as an inducement to Benedict XIII, the so-called Antipope of Avignon.

So are there any political issues at stake here? Well, there is the small matter of sexual abuse within the church itself. As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict was in charge of investigating and prosecuting cases, but his record is not without its inconsistencies. It is conceivable that there's is pretty damning evidence of complicity, as a best case scenario, in cases of child abuse, but it remains speculation.

In fairness to Benedict, however, we should note that prior to his election as Pope, he had submitted his resignation for health reasons, but stayed on when his predecessor, John Paul II, asked him to stay on. Benedict has suffered from some cardiovascular issues, notably a stroke and a heart condition.

It may be as simple as seeing the writing on the wall and deciding to give his church the chance to prepare for an orderly succession.'s pretty damned curious.