Monthly Archives: January 2014

Aide Blows Christie Scandal Wide Open

A major bombshell has just dropped in the Bridgegate scandal. David Wildstein, Governor Chris Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has publicly claimed that Governor Christie knew about the improper and illegal lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

In a letter Wildstein not only relays that Governor Christie knew about the lane closures – which is in direct contradiction to what Christie said in his marathon press conference – but that Wildstein has evidence to back up the charge.

In a letter released by his lawyer, the official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.

If true, that fact would not only undermine Governor Christie’s political future but possibly subject Christie to impeachment proceedings if not criminal prosecution.

Wildstein, through his attorney, has already expressed interest in an immunity deal with various law enforcement agencies. He seems quite willing, perhaps even desperate, to talk to authorities under the condition he not be prosecuted for his involvement in Bridgegate. Wildstein has already been implicated by various officials in the scandal and emails he provided to a New Jersey Assembly Committee proved further involvement both by Wildstein and Governor Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, in the lane closures.

It could be a he-said, he-said deal at the end of the day.  Unless he does have hard evidence.

State of the Union 2014

I thought Obama's speech was wonderful.  It wasn't very ambitious, but the tone was amazing.  It was nationalistic and populistic, and very non-partisan.  The non-partisan nature of it was clearly disappointing to the Fox News people, who clearly were hoping to engage in post-speech whining and victimhood.  Obama simply said, "Here are the problems; here's what I can do as President; I hope Congress will join me."  

The thing was, Obama didn't need to bash Republicans to make them look bad.  All he had to do was say "Women deserve to be paid the same as men for the same work" and then have all the Republicans sit on their hands while everyone else stood and applauded.  They made themselves look bad, again and again.

The best commentary I've read so far comes from the New York Times contributing writer, Timothy Egan:

The least productive Congress in nearly half a century has rarely looked more out-of-sorts than during the speech that put its members on notice for their irrelevance. That, essentially, was the triumph of the rhetorical trick President Obama employed in his fifth State of the Union address.

The president’s wish list — a rise in the minimum wage, healthcare that doesn’t dump sick people, resolve to do something over the basic fact of climate change and the scourge of income inequality — is backed in poll after poll by a majority of Americans. What stands in the way of doing something about these issues are the people who sat on their hands Tuesday night in that chamber.

For some time now, the Republican House has made it clear that they have no intention of governing. They shut down the government for 16 days, in case you didn’t get the point. And on Tuesday, they seemed more interested in having their pictures taken with the “Duck Dynasty” guy than finding middle ground with the American majority. For freak value on the fringe, Representative Randy Weber, Republican of Texas, tweeted just before the speech: “Waiting for the Kommandant-in-Chef [sic]” and the “Socialist dictator who been feeding US a line.”

Need more proof? Two-thirds of Americans rated this Congress the worst in their lifetime, in a recent CNN poll. And 81 percent disapproved of them in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey.

What Obama did in his speech, in outlining a unilateral map for the sixth year of his presidency, was to finally join the majority of citizens in dismissing the lawmakers who will not do their bidding. On raising the minimum wage, Obama framed it as a simple measure to keep out of poverty the people “who cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes.”

In one of the speech highlights, he urged Republicans to “join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give Americans a raise.” That was the Democratic campaign slogan going into the midterms, birthed in the den of the opposition.

Having marginalized a branch of government that is already on the wrong side of popular sentiment, Obama now takes his bully pulpit on the road, to Nashville and Milwaukee and other stops. But if he really hopes to have a lasting impact — “I really want to make a difference,” he told The New Yorker — he has to do more than staged road stopovers. If he’s truly going to take his case to the people, he has to spend more time with the people. For starters, he could treat the West Coast, a big part of his base, as something more than a fundraising fount.

It’s certainly heartening to hear Obama, in full-throated defiance that is rare for him, proclaim, “America will not stand still — and neither will I.” But executive orders can only go so far. He needs the majority of the people back with him in order to govern around the say-no, do-nothing Congress. This speech was a muscular start — one of the better efforts by a man whose orator skills were missing for most of the last year.

Noticeably missing from the speech was any reference to NSA reform, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement — both of which are of tremendous concern to the left base.

Thinking Of Pete

A piece of Pete Seeger's congressional testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1955:

MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled "What's On" appears this advertisement: "Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don't believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn't answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn't answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of "What's On," an advertisement of a "May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy." The advertisement states: "Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally." Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, "Entertainment by Pete Seeger." At the bottom appears this: "Auspices Essex County Communist Party," and at the top, "Tonight, Newark, N.J." Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?

MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don't you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don't want to hear about it.

MR. SCHERER: I think that there must be a direction to answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer, sir.

MR. SCHERER: Let me understand. You are not relying on the Fifth Amendment, are you?

MR. SEEGER: No, sir, although I do not want to in any way discredit or depreciate or depredate the witnesses that have used the Fifth Amendment, and I simply feel it is improper for this committee to ask such questions.

MR. SCHERER: And then in answering the rest of the questions, or in refusing to answer the rest of the questions, I understand that you are not relying on the Fifth Amendment as a basis for your refusal to answer?

MR. SEEGER: No, I am not, sir.

Seeger was held in contempt for this testimony and sentenced to one year in jail. He finally won on appeal after years of legal wrangling.

RIP Pete Seeger

A name that has been appearing in my dead pool the past few years (although not in my "select" list this year).  He was 94.

I grew up with Pete Seeger.  He may have been the first singer I could identify.  A good old-fashioned "red", he was the father of folk music, inspiring everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Peter, Paul & Mary.  I had the fortune of knowing his half-sister, Peggy, a little bit, who wrote and recorded this tribute to her half-brother noly a few months ago:

 

The Guardian's tribute:

On the first Friday of the month, in fine weather and sometimes foul, you will find Pete Seeger, the folk-singing legend and pioneering environmentalist, in a small wooden clubhouse by the Hudson river, 70 miles north of Manhattan.

At 87, and only slightly stooped by age, he looks much as he did 40 years ago, when he was the voice of the left, and an inspiration to young folk singers like Bob Dylan. Here at his beloved Beacon Sloop Club, in jeans and with shirt sleeves rolled up, he is still the driving force for a weekly dinner that draws a few dozen similarly conscientious folk at the river's edge.

"The town gave us use of the building 45 years ago," recalls Seeger. "My wife suggested we call it a pot-luck dinner and we've been busy ever since."

Seeger has won many awards, including the National Medal for the Arts, but his main concern these days is teaching children about the natural life of the Hudson. Ecology is so much his passion that sometimes he likes to be called a river singer. Indeed, along with raising anti-war consciousness in the 1960s, he played a key role in the movement to clean up the Hudson, which forced General Electric to pay half a billion dollars for the removal of toxic substances.

"I still call myself a failed communist," says Seeger, preparing the club's stage for a late afternoon sing-song. And it's true that his most famous compositions, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (adapted from an old Russian song about Cossacks going off to war) and Turn, Turn, Turn (a big hit for the Byrds) don't sound as revolutionary as they did.

Seeger's banjo once sported the message: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" (an echo of the message on Woody Guthrie's guitar: "This machine kills fascists"). The anti-fascist, union anthems he sang with Guthrie and later with his own band, the Weavers, placed him at the forefront of the action. He was targeted as a communist sympathiser in the 1950s (he was called before the McCarthy hearings after being warned that If I Had a Hammer would go down badly with the authorities, found guilty of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison). During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he led a crowd, with Martin Luther King, in a rendition of We Shall Overcome.

Nowadays, Seeger doesn't play before large audiences, partly because he fears his voice is no longer strong enough. But he'll spend hours in the club, mischievously giving out bumper stickers reading "Gravity – it's just a theory" and encouraging people to send them to anyone in Kansas, heartland of the anti-Darwinism, creationist movement. He'll sing along at the club and tell stories for hours – but his best story is his own.

Born in 1919, and immersed in music by his teacher parents, Seeger got his big break in 1940. His parents were helping famous folk team John and Alan Lomax to transcribe songs recorded in the south. Woody Guthrie was persuaded to come to Washington to record them and Seeger accompanied him in the studio. The results were eventually published as a book: Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People. "I went out west with Woody," says Seeger. "He taught me how to sing in saloons, how to hitch-hike, how to ride freight trains. Then I went out on my own."

Guthrie, he says, taught him how to busk. "He'd say put the banjo on your back, go into a bar and buy a nickel beer and sip it as slow as you can. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, can you play that thing?' Don't be too eager, just say, 'Maybe, a little.' Keep on sipping beer. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, I've got a quarter for you if you pick us a tune.' Then you play your best song." With that advice, Seeger supported himself on his travels.

Last year, Bruce Springsteen – a friend since the 1990s – released an album of songs Seeger had performed over the years. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions put Seeger back in the spotlight. "I wish he hadn't used my name," says Seeger. "I've managed to survive all these years by keeping a low profile. Now my cover's blown. If I had known, I'd have asked him to mention my name somewhere inside."

While he likes Springsteen's renditions ("They're not my songs, they're old songs, I just happened to sing 'em,"), he says the renewed attention has added to the admin work that falls to his wife of more than 60 years, Toshi. "Most men chain their wives to a sink. Mine is chained to a table covered with correspondence. 'Oh, Mr Seeger, won't you listen to my record? Read my book, come over here and accept this award …'" He refuses almost all such requests.

The business of the mighty river comes first nowadays. He's the enduring, seemingly ageless, folk-singing socialist-ecologist, and a fervent believer in thinking globally and acting locally. And down by the river, after the monthly pot-luck dinner, there's always time to take out the old five-string banjo and sing a song. "The real revolution will come when people realise the danger we're in," he offers in parting. "I'm not as optimistic as people think I am. I think we have a 50-50 chance of there being a human race in 100 years".

This is Pete Seeger singing an anti-Vietnam song on The Smothers Brothers Hour, which landed him and his hosts in hot water.  It was one of the first songs I ever learned to sing (not knowing at the time what it meant).

 

“I’m going to be very blunt: the Left tries to win the women’s vote by talking from the waist down”

Oy.

I think the record is pretty clear that the Left is responding to the GOP's obsession with a woman's uterus, from forced mammograms to banning abortions to not including contraception as something health insurance should cover.  Honestly, I think women would prefer not having their "below the waist" being politicized, but as long as the GOP wants to treat women like chattel, I'm afraid women (and progressives) are going to speak up.

Newsflash: Having A Problem With The 1 Percenters Makes You A Nazi

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared liberals' push to reduce inequality in the United States to Nazi Germany's war on Jews.

In a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal Perkins, a founding member of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, asks whether a "progressive Kristallnacht" is coming. Perkins's letter is in response to an editorial on speech codes at American colleges.

"Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich," Perkins wrote in the letter to the editor.

He continued that he perceives "a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them."

Perkins cites outrage over real-estate prices as an example of overblown liberal outrage.

"This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?" Perkins concluded in the letter.

Perkins is listed as a partner emeritus on the Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers website.

Here's the full letter to the editor:

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?

Tom Perkins

San Francisco

Mr. Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Yes, proposals to tax the richest one percent at a rate closer to what they were paying under Ronald Reagan or to charge giant tech companies a small fee for using city bus stops for their private shuttles…. that's JUST like the Nazis. Except they're not. Really, not even close.

The biggest historical difference of course, is that the Jews in pre-war Germany — even the most wealthy ones — did not have any political power whatsoever which would ensure that their riches were safe, or grew exponentially.  Can that be said of the 1 percenters?  I think not.

Nice try at victimhood though.  I'm sure we won't see the last of it.

Virginia Upheaval on Gay Marriage Issue

Virginia, like many southern and midwest states, had passed a ban on same-sex marriage.  As in most states that have passed such a ban, there are legal challenges.  As we know in Oklahoma, a challenge to the ban recently succeeded, and a judge ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstititional (of course, that decision is being appealed).

But something interesting happened in Virginia today.  The Attorney General of Virginia weighed in, and submitted a brief stating that Virginia's own law — the statute banning gay marriage — is unconstitutional:

 Following a seismic political shift in Virginia, the new attorney general has concluded that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, and on Thursday he joined a lawsuit challenging it.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring says in a brief filed in federal court in Norfolk that marriage is a fundamental right and the ban is discriminatory.

Virginia, widely considered a battleground state in the nationwide fight to grant same-sex couples the right to wed, is siding with the plaintiffs who are seeking to have the ban struck down, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring said in an email to The Associated Press.

"After a thorough legal review of the matter, Attorney General Herring has concluded that Virginia's current ban is in violation of the U.S. constitution and he will not defend it," spokesman Michael Kelly wrote.

Herring is a Democrat who campaigned in part on marriage equality. The state's shift comes on the heels of court rulings in which federal judges struck down gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

Yes, Virginia — elections have consxequences.

Obscene Income Inequality is Obscene

Just 1 percent of the world's population controls nearly half of the planet's wealth, according to anew study published by Oxfam ahead of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

The study says this tiny slice of humanity controls $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion people.

Other key findings in the report:

— The world's 85 richest people own as much as the poorest 50 percent of humanity.

— 70 percent of the world's people live in a country where income inequality has increased in the past three decades.

— In the U.S., where the gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate than any other developed country, the top 1 percent captured 95 percent of post-recession growth (since 2009), while 90 percent of Americans became poorer.

Then And Now

53 years ago today, an outgoing President Eisenhower said:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

He went on:

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

That was the famous military-industrial complex speech, and how it posed a potential threat to democracy.

Below the fold is Obama's speech today, about how national security measures pose a threat to democracy, and some of the changes needed to ensure privacy.

Bridgegate

I was willing to give Governor Christie the benefit of the doubt that it was a rogue staffer who was responsible for the closing of lanes on the GW bridge on 9/11/13, and that he (and the rest of his staff) knew nothing about it.

But a photo published earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal along with new revelations found by analyzing documents disclosed by the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee invalidate some of Governor Chris Christie’s central assertions that he made in his marathon two hour press conference on improper and possibly illegal lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Those assertions being that his remaining staff was unaware of the event until after it happened and the claim that Christie did not know David Wildstein that well and could “count on one hand” the amount of time they saw each other.

Photos published by the Wall Street Journal show Chris Christie and David Wildstein (in red tie) together on 9/11 when the lane closures were occurring as well as an earlier event in June. Both photos show Governor Christie and Wildstein speaking with one another.  Here's one:

BN-BC112_0114br_G_20140114110203

Emails that were released by the New Jersey Assembly Committee investigating the GW bridge scandal prove members of Christie’s staff, including members of his senior staff, were receiving emails during the lane closures which contradicts Christie’s claim that his staff were ignorant until after the closures had ended.

Bridgeate-genovesesoko-2

I'm still willing to give Christie the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe more of his staffers knew about it, and Christie didn't know.  Maybe it is just a coincidence that he happened  to be with David Wildstein that day, even though Christie says he rarely sees him.

But it isn't looking good for the Governor.

Normally, this is just another scandal involving power-mongering, but I believe this has national implcations.  Christiie, in my view, was the only one who had a chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections.  Now… who knows?  Unless this blows over quickly, or the public has a short memory, or Christie catches a baby falling from a burning building, I would say that the White House is Hillary's in 2016.  Because of Bridgegate.

Calling It Quits

Jimmy LaSalvia co-founded political action group GOProud to prove to America that the Republican Party is a safe home for gay conservatives. But he no longer believes his own arguments. On Monday, he announced on his blog that he could no longer take his own party’s refusal to stand up to bigotry: he was leaving the Republican Party and had registered as an Independent. “I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer,” he wrote.

His condemnation of the GOP was even stronger when he explained his decision to TIME on Wednesday. The Republican brand, he says, is so tarnished that he no longer believes it is salvageable. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to pull the plug on the patient. It’s been brain-dead for a long, long time.”

He adds:

I spent my career working to create an atmosphere in the conservative movement where gay conservatives can be open and honest and live their lives and work within the conservative movement. I wanted it to be a place where straight conservatives could publicly support gay Americans and even eventually come to support civil marriage for gay couples.  I feel like I have accomplished that. I had hoped that would be enough to melt the anti-gay bigotry that runs through the ranks of some in the Republican Party. I’ve come to realize that it is not, and that the leadership of the party tolerates bigotry, not just antigay bigotry, but anti-Muslim, any people who are not like us it seems like, because they are afraid of losing that sliver of their base who are anti-gay. And the truth is they are turning off millions more Americans by kowtowing to a group that frankly is losing and who most Americans think are wrong.

I could have told him it wouldn’t make a difference.

Didn’t See This Coming?

West Virginia'ss image as caring more about corporations than people is really being bolstered this week.

West Virginia emergency planners never put together any strategy for dealing with spills of a toxic chemical from the Freedom Industries’ tank farm, despite the facility’s location just 1.5 miles upstream from a drinking water intake serving 300,000 people, officials acknowledged this morning.

Local emergency official likewise didn’t act to prepare for such an incident, even though they had been warned for years about storage of toxic chemicals so close to the West Virginia American Water plant serving the Kanawha Valley and surrounding region.

“That’s just something that’s kind of fallen by the wayside,” said Larry Zuspan, administrator of the Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee.

They had other priorities than health and safety I guess.

Freedom Industries’ tanks don’t fall under an inspection program, and the chemicals stored at the facility weren’t considered hazardous enough to require environmental permitting.

Ugh.

1060

Bad Day For West Virginians

Although… the West Virginian who I'm thinking of is named Pat McGeehan.  Pat McGeehan is a 34 year old "constitutional conservative" running for U.S. Senate in 2014.  From his campaign website:

Pat McGeehan is a strong proponent for constitutional government. Since returning to West Virginia from active duty military service, he has traveled across the state in order to spread the message of America’s Founding Fathers. Pat demonstrated his principles after being elected in 2008 to represent the heavily Democratic House District 1, as a constitutional conservative Republican. During his time in the House of Delegates, Pat introduced legislation to reduce government such as the Firearms Freedom Act, the Repeal of the Food Tax, the Repeal of the Personal Income Tax, as well as his efforts to urge West Virginia government to reassert state rights as defined in the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.

Yup, he's one of those.

And what is one of the main planks of McGeehan's run for office?

As your US Senator, I will continue to oppose any anti-coal legislation, and fight to eliminate the EPA. Not only is this the real solution to defending ourselves against this horrendous war on our coal industry, it is the right thing to do. Under the Constitution, the federal government is not granted these powers to begin with. Returning environmental regulatory powers back to the States is mandated by the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. We know what is best for us in West Virginia, not bureaucrats in Washington D.C.

Sure.  Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.  After all,what do they do but protect the environment?

So poor Pat woke up to this news:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators who had just started their session canceled the day's business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the extent of the danger remained unclear.

The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. In requesting the federal declaration, which makes federal resources available to the state, state officials said about 300,000 people were affected.

Federal authorities are also launching an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the spill and what caused it, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a news release Friday.

Shortly after the Thursday spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby treatment plant, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order to customers of West Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.

The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. Freedom, a manufacturer of chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries, said in a news release Friday that the company is working to contain the leak to prevent further contamination. President Gary Southern also said the company still does not know how much of the chemical spilled from its operation into the river.

Well done, coal industry.  Now think for a moment if Pat McGreehan had been elected and got his wish of no EPA, no enviormental regulations.  Not only would this thing happen a lot more, but even as it happens, nothing can be done about it.

As for the culprit, Freedom Industries — well, you can tell what they're about, too.  Their website is all American flags and bald eagles.  Here's their statement, within the past hour:

“Since the discovery of the leak, safety for residents in Kanawha and surrounding counties has been Freedom Industries’ first priority. We have been working with local and federal regulatory, safety and environmental entities, including the DEP, Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers and Homeland Security, and are following all necessary steps to fix the issue.  Our team has been working around the clock since the discovery to contain the leak to prevent further contamination.  At this point, Freedom Industries is still working to determine the amount of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or Crude MCHM, a chemical used in processing coal, that has been released, as the first priority was safety, containment and cleanup. 

Freedom Industries is in the process of setting up an Incident Command Center on site. As more factual information is made available, we will keep you updated.”

Emphasis mine.  In other words, they don't know yet how badly they fucked up nine counties in West Virginia.

What do you think now, Mr. McGeehan and like-minded West Virginians?  Environmental protections — good or bad?

Bridgegate

Investigators of every stripe dream about getting smoking gun documents like the ones multiple media outlets obtained today. They not only show aides and appointees of Chris Christie conspiring to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., a Democrat who did not endorse Christie’s reelection bid in 2013, but they capture a tone and mentality that, well, you might find in the works of David Chase or David Simon. Jonathan Chait calls it an “almost comical venality bordering on outright sociopathy.”

“It will be a tough November for this little Serbian,” wrote David Wildstein, one of Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority, apparently referring to Mayor Mark Sokolich. Wildstein is at the center of the scandal and has been called to testify at a state legislative hearing on the matter Thursday.

Christie has repeatedly denied he played any role in the decision to shut the lanes, and nothing in the emails directly implicates him.  Directly.

But Jonathan Chait thinks this means the end of Christie’s 2016 presidential bid:

Several things come together to make this scandal especially devastating to Christie. One is that it’s very easy for voters to understand: He punished a town because its mayor endorsed his rival. There are no complex financial transfers or legal maneuverings to parse. Second, it fits into a broader pattern of behavior, documented by the New York Times, of taking retribution against politicians who cross him in any way. There is, in all likelihood, much more. Mark Halperin and my colleague John Heilemann reported in their book about the 2012 campaign that Mitt Romney wanted to put Christie on his ticket, but his staff was “stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record”:

There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official — and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.

The investigations also “raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.”

I’m not convinced. Yet.

Be Wary Of Obamacare “Losers” You See On TV

From HealthInsurance.org:

For months, health reform’s opponents have been feasting on tales of Obamacare’s innocent victims – Americans who lost their insurance because it doesn’t comply with the ACA’s regulations, and now have to shell out more than they can afford – or go without coverage.

Trouble is, many of those stories just aren’t true.

Yesterday I posted about a Fort Worth Star Telegram article that leads with the tale of Whitney Johnson, a 26-year-old new mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Her insurer just cancelled her policy, and according to Johnson, new insurance would cost her over $1,000 a month.

That claim stopped me in my tracks. Under the ACA, no 26-year-old could be charged $1,000 monthly – even if she has MS.

Obamacare prohibits insurers from charging more because a customer suffers from a pre-existing condition. This rule applies to all new policies, whether they are sold inside or outside the exchanges.

At that point, I knew that something was wrong.

When I checked the exchange – plugging in Johnson’s county and her age – I soon found a Blue Choice Gold PPO plan priced at $332 monthly (just $7 more than she had been paying for the plan that was cancelled). Co-pays to see a primary care doctor would run just $10 ($50 to visit a specialist) and she would not have to pay down the $1,500 deductible before the insurance kicked in.

My radar went up. Recently, I have been reading more and more reports regarding “fake Obamacare victims.”

Now I couldn’t help but wonder: Who are these folks in the Star-Telegram story? The paper profiled four people who supposedly had been hurt by Obamacare. When I Googled their names, I soon discovered that three (including Johnson) were Tea Party members.

The paper describes them as among Obamacare’s “losers,” but the truth is that they didn’t want to be winners. Two hadn’t even attempted to check prices in the exchanges.

Meanwhile, it appeared that no one at the Star-Telegram even attempted to run a background check on the sources, or fact check their stories. I couldn’t help but wonder: “Why?”

The answer will surprise you.

You should read the whole story.  Meanwhile, the Johnson lady makes the rounds…

 

If There’s Global Warming, Then Why Is It So Cold?

Forecasts in the midwest call for temperatures to drop to 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills have been predicted to fall to negative 60 degrees — a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records.

All of which begs the question — if climate change is real, then how did it get so cold?

The question is based on common misconceptions of how cold weather moves across the planet, said Greg Laden, a bioanthroplogist who writes for National Geographic’s Scienceblog. According to Laden, the recent record-cold temperatures indicate to many that the Arctic’s cold air is expanding, engulfing other countries. If true, this would be a perfect argument for a “global cooling” theory. The Arctic’s coldness is growing. Laden asks, “How can such a thing happen with global warming?”

The answer, he writes, is that the Arctic air that usually sits on top of our planet is “taking an excursion” south for a couple of days, leaving the North Pole “relatively warm” and our temperate region not-so-temperate. “Go Home Arctic, You’re Drunk,” he titled the explanation.

“The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does,” Laden writes. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.”

In fact, some scientists have theorized that the influx of extreme cold is actually fueled by effects of climate change. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, told ClimateProgress on Monday that it’s not the Arctic who is drunk. It’s the jet stream.

“The drunk part is that the jet stream is in this wavy pattern, like a drunk walking along,” Francis, who primarily studies Arctic links to global weather patterns, said. “In other places, you could see the tropics are drunk.”

Arctic warming, she said, is causing less drastic changes in temperatures between northern and southern climates, leading to weakened west-to-east winds, and ultimately, a wavier jet stream. The stream’s recent “waviness” has been taking coldness down to the temperate United States and leaving Alaska and the Arctic relatively warm, Francis said. The same thing has been happening in other countries as well. Winter storms have been pounding the U.K., she noted, while Scandinavia is having a very warm winter.

“This kind of pattern is going to be more likely, and has been more likely,” she said. “Extremes on both ends are a symptom. Wild, unusual temperatures of both sides, both warmer and colder.

Prediction

There are many many many things wrong with our healthcare system, including things that drive up costs.  None of this is the fault of Obamacare.  But you can be sure that these problems will come to light, and it will be blamed on Obamacare, even if those problems have been around for decades.

To Arms!

Once again, a gun nut has been censored for speaking out on the subject of guns.  You would think that the Tea Party patriots would be going ballistic, crying "HOW DARE THEY STIFLE HIS FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS JUST BECAUSE HE GAVE HIS OPINION ABOUT GUNS?!?!?!"

But that's not happening.  Why not?  Because this guy spoke in favor of reasonable gun legislation.  The New York Times:

BARRY, Ill. — The byline of Dick Metcalf, one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists, has gone missing. It has been removed from Guns & Ammo magazine, where his widely-read column once ran on the back page. He no longer stars on a popular television show about firearms. Gun companies have stopped flying him around the world and sending him the latest weapons to review.

In late October, Mr. Metcalf wrote a column that the magazine titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” which debated gun laws. “The fact is,” wrote Mr. Metcalf, who has taught history at Cornell and Yale, “all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”

The backlash was swift, and fierce. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Death threats poured in by email. His television program was pulled from the air.

Just days after the column appeared, Mr. Metcalf said, his editor called to tell him that two major gun manufacturers had said “in no uncertain terms” that they could no longer do business with InterMedia Outdoors, the company that publishes Guns & Ammo and co-produces his TV show, if he continued to work there. He was let go immediately.

“I’ve been vanished, disappeared,” Mr. Metcalf, 67, said in an interview last month on his gun range here, about 100 miles north of St. Louis, surrounded by snow-blanketed fields and towering grain elevators. “Now you see him. Now you don’t.”

He is unsure of his next move, but fears he has become a pariah in the gun industry, to which, he said, he has devoted nearly his entire adult life.

His experience sheds light on the close-knit world of gun journalism, where editors and reporters say there is little room for nuance in the debate over gun laws. Moderate voices that might broaden the discussion from within are silenced. When writers stray from the party line promoting an absolutist view of an unfettered right to bear arms, their publications — often under pressure from advertisers — excommunicate them.

“We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment,” said Richard Venola, a former editor of Guns & Ammo. “The time for ceding some rational points is gone.”

Let's let that last line sink in a little. The time for ceding some rational points is gone.

Sadly, Metcalf isn't the only gun enthusiast who has been censored for being reasonable.

In 2012, Jerry Tsai, the editor of Recoil magazine, wrote that the Heckler & Koch MP7A1 gun, designed for law enforcement, was “unavailable to civilians and for good reason.” He was pressured to step down, and despite apologizing, has not written since. In 2007, Jim Zumbo, by then the author of 23 hunting books, wrote a blog post for Outdoor Life’s website suggesting that military-style rifles were “terrorist” weapons, best avoided by hunters. His writing, television and endorsement deals were quickly put on hiatus.

It's nice to know there are some rational voices out there in the gun community.  It's too bad they've been silenced by the real gun nuts.

Downton Abbey new theme music? Sounds like Downton Abbey: Coven. #diwntonabbey

Good Advice

Charlie Piece has a little piece of advice for the GOP handwringers struggling to "rebrand" their party as something other that certifiably looney tunes:

Who was it that nailed the Laffer Curve to the doors of the cathedral? It was Ronald Reagan — and, elsewhere, Maggie Thatcher — and I don't recall any great howls of Papist outrage from Sullivan back then, when everything the pope condemns today was just winding into its political strength.

The primary problem for any Republican who genuinely wants to reform his party is to disenthrall it from the mythology that has metastasized within the conservative movement that has been the only real energy in the party since its primary power centers moved south and west. One of the founding myths is the notion of what the pope called out, by name, as "trickle-down economics." It does not work but, most important of all, it never has worked. It didn't work for Reagan any better than it worked for younger Bush, whose eventual unthinking rise to power the Reaganauts made inevitable every time they covered for the dim old cowboy in charge and the fairy tales he used to get elected. Sooner or later, if we followed their path, we were going to get a know-nothing president who also was a political maladroit. Abandon Reagan, all of him, and save your party. Cling to the myth, and we're going to see impotent appeals for party reform every three or four years for the three or four decades.

Good advice.  Doubt anyone in the GOP will take it.  And this bodes well for progressives.  So well, in fact, that EJ Dionne is popping the champagne.  He sees 2014 as the year of the resurrgent progressive.

The reemergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014. Moderates, don’t be alarmed. The return of a viable, vocal left will actually be good news for the political center.

For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too.

Consider what this means in practice. Obamacare is not a left-wing program, no matter how often conservatives might say it is. Its structure is based on conservative ideas. The individual mandate was the conservatives’ alternative to a mandate on employers. The health-care exchanges are an alternative to government-provided medicine on the Medicare model.

Obamacare is complex because the government is trying to create a marketplace in which people shop for private insurance and receive government subsidies if they need them. It goes to a lot of trouble to preserve the private insurance market. The system does not even include a government plan as one option among many.

But once conservatives succeeded in pulling the health-care debate to where they had always wanted it, they abandoned the concepts they pioneered and denounced Obamacare as a socialist scheme. It’s a classic case of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose politics: Move toward me, and I’ll just keep moving farther away from you.

The right’s strong hand also prevented more aggressive action to ease joblessness. After the crash of 2008, the country desperately needed government to step in to bolster mass purchasing power, the point of stimulus efforts. With interest rates near zero, there was no better time to borrow in order to rebuild a decrepit national infrastructure and make other long-term public investments.

Instead, relentless pressure from the right made the initial stimulus smaller than it should have been — and then prevented any further expansion of government spending. In the blink of an eye, the public discussion was engulfed by an obsession with the deficit as millions languished without a job. Even Republicans are frustrated over how ideological fears about government’s size have stalled transportation bills that were once the stuff of bipartisan concord.

This pattern was repeated over and over on other issues, and the new militancy on the Democratic left is a consequence of a slowly building backlash against the skewed nature of our politics.

***

The resurgent progressives are battling a double standard. They are asking why it is that “populism” is a good thing when it’s invoked by the tea party against “liberal elites” but suddenly a bad thing when it describes efforts to raise the minimum wage and take other steps toward a fairer system of economic rewards.

And here’s why moderates should be cheering them on: When politicians can ignore the questions posed by the left and are pushed to focus almost exclusively on the right’s concerns about “big government” and its unquestioning faith in deregulated markets, the result is immoderate and ultimately impractical policy. To create a real center, you need a real left.

I don't know.  Maybe.  We're off to a good start with the new NYC mayor, an unapologetic progressive.  Lots of eyes on him.

RT @jaketapper: Have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, REALLY LOOKED at your hand?

— New Colorado state motto