I have only met Speaker John Boehner in a favorite restaurant near the Capitol. Brief encounters over cigarettes. Seemed like a personable fellow, easy to meet and easy to smile. He also did not have the deep mean streak that seems to dominate the approach of the deeply conservative members of the Republican Caucus. He was constantly forced into the corner by the most vocal and vitriolic.
Boehner is a Catholic and it is impossible not to see an influence from the visit of the Pope in the timing of his announcement to resign from the Speakership and the Congress. Boehner wept openly during the Pope’s address on Thursday. He apparently quoted the Pope’s prayer during his resignation announcement.
While almost every political position Boehner took is inimical to my own, I do not find his resignation a good thing. It can only make the mess in D.C. worse. It probably means that there will be no immediate government shutdown. A bigger longshot is the speculation that Boehner could bring forth a vote on immigration reform –but the Pope was pretty clear and it is an emotional moment.
Global Traffic Jam
Something like 150 heads of state rolling around the U.S. snarling traffic and taxing the security resources of a dozen cities. They include a Pope, a Chinese President, the Indian Prime Minister, and Russian President Putin. The Pope easily cornered the charisma market, not that a guy like Putin has any chance at charisma anyway. But the Pope was really cool and pretty much took over D.C. this week.
Francis Hugs Sophie
After meeting with the President the Pope took a brief tour in the Pope-mobile and greeted the crowds around the nearby Ellipse. Little Sophie Cruz, the five-year-old daughter of undocumented immigrants, slipped through the street barriers and was grabbed by the security detail. The Pope called for her to come to him and the guards lifted her up for an embrace. She gave him a t-shirt and a note with a drawing celebrating the diversity of color among her friends. The message on the shirt, “Papa Rescate DAPA,” asks the Pope to save the deferred prosecution policy of the Administration that could keep her parents from deportation.
If you missed this magical little moment you can google up any number of news stories to see how a loving Francis gives an abrazo to a brave little girl.
Is the Pope Catholic?
Thursday morning the Pope addressed the U.S. Congress to the chagrin of many who see him as at best mistaken or at worst an evil force in the world. The Pope spoke about immigration and climate change in spite of the outpouring of scorn from the right. Rush Limbaugh calls him a Marxist. Right wing radio host Alex Jones claims that Francis is a socialist tool. Columnist George Will panned the Pope’s position on climate change as “reactionary.”
It goes on and on – Communist, hostile to free enterprise, under the influence of global warming extremists. Those who fail to understand that global warming and how we treat our immigrant neighbors are moral issues have not established credentials to preach.
In one of those tiny little ironies that we so enjoy, we note that, when the Pope spoke about how the Golden Rule should lead us to respect human life at all of its stages, the anti-abortion gang rose and cheered, expecting an affirmation of their ideology. When this immediately turned into a plea for the abolition of the death penalty, they all sat down.
It is becoming apparent that we need a new pill designed to prevent unwanted government shutdowns. After showing initial promise, the abstinence approach seems to have completely broken down and, without an effective form of pharmaceutical intervention, the leadership might have to resort to “troubling” surgical procedures in order to prevent this issue from coming to term.
Neither Speaker Boehner nor Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want another shutdown, but they can’t seem to prevent the adolescents from messing around. No matter what the parents want, the kids are reacting to their primal instincts. The anti-choice contingent wants the government to be shut down rather than to permit any funds going to Planned Parenthood.
Here’s a little problem for the anti-choice, first stone throwers – Planned Parenthood has not used federal money for abortions for decades due to a little something known as the Hyde Amendment. So the shutdown crowd actually is after the counseling, pre-natal care and contraception programs provided by the organization, not abortion.
On a procedural vote, the Senate stopped efforts to pass Planned Parenthood de-funding language in a Continuing Resolution intended to give the short term funding needed to avoid a shutdown. It looks as though Majority Leader McDonnell might be able to get through some bill that keeps the government running for a while and Boehner’s surprise announcement probably means something like it will pass the House.
The debate over the big shutdown should be over in a week or so and then they will start in on efforts to change the tax code to the advantage of the big multinational corporations. Their excuse for taking this up is the need to do something about the Highway Trust Fund. Back in August they passed a temporary fix that keeps the Trust going until October 29. It was the 34th extension of this fund dating back to the 2008 recession. None of these fixes really did anything to leap forward and begin modernizing the rail system, no real growth and expansion like they are doing in Europe or China.
Infrastructure planning by chaos. Now the need for money just to keep the Fund afloat for a while is being used as blackmail in order to “reform” the international tax code in order to let the corporations further reduce their tax obligations.
Lots of media fascination with Donald Trump, but the really big story that has lasting implications is the success of Bernie Sanders.
Sanders represents a long standing strain in American political history – Populism. This political voice often has emerged in times of economic tension, but it has never won a national election. If Sanders wins the nomination it presages a fascinating and critical national debate about our direction as a democracy. No matter who his opponent, the debate will be about the influence of wealth in a democracy.
As is common this early in the season, the polls are jumping around. Some see Hillary in the resurgence. Some put Sanders ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some speculate about the influence of a Biden candidacy as bad for Bernie. But none of them count Sanders out and his ability to raise small donor money suggests that he is in to the end.
A couple of Sanders’ vulnerabilities. First, sometimes Sanders is a Socialist. He seems to being finessing this issue by pointing to Democratic Socialism like the practice in Scandinavia rather than the Soviet Union. Sanders has to develop a rapport with people of color communities. God knows he is trying, but he screwed up at the beginning by framing the whole question in economic terms – everyone gets a job and all is cool.
Black Lives Matter has chased him around making the point that there is a fundamental race issue that needs to be confronted or the economic stuff is irrelevant. People of color seem to resonate with Hillary better than Bernie.
Assuming that Sanders can figure out the Black Lives Matter matter, he will next face another challenge on the foreign policy front. Do you have any idea where Sanders stands on the matter of the balance of power in Eastern Europe, China’s aggression in the South China Sea, the Muddle East? Americans like to think that they are running the place and any sign from the leftish Sanders that we lack total control will be challenged as cowardice, effeminacy, and appeasement.
The wild and crazy guys on the Republican side are suddenly trying to figure out what to do with the wild and crazy gal. The pundits suggest that Carly Fiorina, won the last R Debate. Trump is down Fiorina up.
Carson is backtracking a bit on his contention that a Muslim presidency would be unconstitutional. “If someone has a Muslim background and they’re willing to reject those tenets and to accept the way of life that we have and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion, then, of course. They will be considered infidels and heretics, but at least I would then be quite willing to support them,” Carson told Fox News. There are some who wonder how this might play with the evangelical set – heretics who place the Constitution above their religion may not meet the highest evangelical standards.
Bush looks like a detective who has been asked to solve a locked room mystery in which the victim is inside and all the exits are securely sealed. Jeb is hanging in there though and the bloggers suggest that he continues to build an organizational base in primary states.
Governor Scott Walker, after watching his poll numbers drop down to Lincoln Chaffee’s levels, decided to give it up. He offered what apparently is a Republican Party plan to do in Donald Trump – get all the candidates who are not doing very well to clear out and let the less unsuccessful challenge Trump. Apparently this idea is designed for the consideration of candidates like Graham, Pataki, Jindal, Gilmore, and Santorum who are barely making a mark on the polls.
If you want to judge how the various candidates are doing based on stuff like money raised, endorsements and polling, the New York Times has prepared a handy guide to power rankings. By this guide Clinton and Bush lead their respective races. Bush is followed by Rubio, Trump, Fiorina and Carson. On the D side, the Biden-the-Undecided is second followed by Sanders, O’Malley and what’s his name from Virginia.
The First Amendment
We have to look out for the wolves in shepherd’s clothing. There is a little something known as the First Amendment Defense Act and is filed as H. R. 2802. The bill purports to be a defense of religious liberty – preventing pastors from having to perform same sex marriages – something that plainly needs no defense. But its language is so broadly drawn that it would permit discrimination against women who have children out of wedlock and permit religious schools to discriminate against gays and still get federal money. Is this the sort of stuff you want your Congress to be passing?
It is sponsored by Representative Raul Labrador from R-Idaho and has 148 co-sponsors. The only D on the list is Representative Daniel Lipinski from Illinois.
We always knew that this was a possibility, but Volkswagen now has given us a reason to expand the klepto sector to include corporations other than the financial institutions that have led the way in this category. The Volkswagen CEO resigned this week because of the revelation that his company had used a software designed to trick automobile inspections in the U.S. into believing that their diesel engines were meeting emission standards when in fact they were not. Reports in Europe this week suggest that BMW might be caught up in this problem as well.
Is this guy using?
If you needed any proof that the pharmaceutical policies of the country are crazazzie you now have it. One drug company bought another drug company and acquired the product Daraprim that is used to fight parasitic infections in AIDS and cancer patients. It has been around for decades selling for the hefty price of $13.50 a pill. A fellow called Martin Shkreli, the CEO of the new owner company, announced that they were going to raise the price a mere 4,000 percent plus to $750 a pill. Wow. They can do that? Yep, they can do it and be protected by patent law and prohibitions on the government’s ability to negotiate drug prices. When questioned about why they were doing this, Shkreli called the asking reporter a “moron.”
The outrage among doctors, patients, press and public was so strong that Shkreli eventuallyannounced that his company would lower the price to a “more affordable” level. We don’t want to appear moronic, so we quietly ask the question: “What does he regard as more affordable?” Indeed does this fellow have any idea what ”affordable” might mean?
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Yogi Berra died. But if there ever was a pop culture immortal he is it. Everyone seems to know him for his quirky sayings, but he was a hell of a catcher. He once went through a record 148 games without an error. As a kid I watched on TV as he called pitches in Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game.