Saturday, May 23, 2015

Marijuana begins slipping its way into the American mainstream


The dueling pot covers, courtesy of The Cannabist (click to enlarge)

"When American institutions as stolid as Time and National Geographic run cannabis on their covers, without the words 'crackdown' or 'out of control' or 'fear', the ground has truly shifted."
-- Bruce Barcott, author of Weed the People: The
Future of Legal Marijuana in America
, in an
e-mail to
The Cannabist staffer Ricardo Baca

by Ken

When I opened my mailbox today, there staring out at me was the new National Geographic with the cover you see above, and the giant cover line: "WEED: The New Science of Marijuana." For reasons that some of you may already have guessed, that got my attention.

Marijuana isn't a subject that's ever been of much interest in me. When I was of an age to dabble, and most of the people my age were doing a lot more than dabbling, I was apparently no good at it -- the couple of times I tried to smoke the stuff, all that happened was that I gagged on the smoke, and gagging isn't anything I've ever gone looking for ways to experience. So I've generally taken a pass on heated debates about legalization, suspecting that the fierce opponents are overestimating its downsides and its proponents underestimating them.

Medical marijuana is something else, though, but again it's not something that was an especially personal issue for me. Anecdotal as the evidence for its benefits might be, that evidence seemed to me more than sufficient to outweigh any of the downsides for the sufferers who might benefit from it. This was still pretty abstract, though, until I witnessed at close range -- or as close a range as you can get from 3000 miles away -- the intensity of Howie's sufferings before he finally sought out a trustworthy source and availed himself of it and the kind of relief he has gotten, which he wrote about in a post last week, "How Much Good Can Medical Marijuana Do Patients?"

So I know, first off, how cautiously, how skeptically, he approached it. As he himself has written here, pot once played an important role in his life, and the role it played was something he emphatically didn't want to revisit -- as he told me frequently, he really, really didn't want to get high. What's more, while he was undergoing chemotherapy, his doctor, whom he trusts highly, issued a strict "uh-uh" order. But when he finished those treatments, and was still suffering a host of debilitating side effects starting with really high degrees of neuropathic pain and near-inability to eat or sleep, and he had tried everything else that the medical establishment had to offer, he did find a source who could guide him through the incredibly fraught world of medical marijuana in California, where the overwhelming majority of customers aren't buying for medicinal use and the overwhelming majority of sellers are people you really, really shouldn't want to be doing business with, for any reason, ever, the results were, as again he has written here, both quick and pretty astonishing.

I learned from Howie too that most of what passes for "received opinion" in the medical community, and therefore also what we might call "controlling" medical opinion in the country at this time, comes from older doctors who don't seem to mind that, really, they don't know anything about the actual potential benefits and risks. Perhaps because that "controlling" opinion squares so neatly with the knee-jerk "it's a sin" opinion of our self-appointed guardians of morality, it has been sufficient to all but stifle the kind of research you would figure would normally go into forming some kind of informed opinion on the subject.

So we're in this situation where people who are almost proud to know nothing whatsoever about the subject exercise the power to make it next to impossible for us to learn any more than we know. I suspect that, as with such other matters as abortion and homosexuality which have been held captive by our society's self-appointed moral ignoramuses, a lot more flexibility has come into play when it comes to their own nearest and dearest, which certainly represents a step beyond the categorical "uh-uh, no way." However, from this point it's still generally an arduous process for authorities to connect the dots and begin to lift the curtain for other people.

I should say that I still haven't actually read the National Geographic piece. What I did do right away, though, was to go online and see if I could find a link that would enable you to read the piece. I did, as you'll see, but I found more than that. Above all, I found this piece on the website The Cannabist:
National Geographic, Time both have science-of-pot cover stories this week

By Ricardo Baca, The Cannabist Staff

Have a look at your local bookseller’s magazine rack this week. It might even be worth an Instagram — for history’s sake.

Two of America’s most fabled magazines’ current cover stories are exploring the known and unknown science of marijuana. On National Geographic’s cover: “Weed: The New Science of Marijuana.” On Time magazine’s cover: “The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded and Strangely Promising World of Pot Science.”

That the two magazines, with nearly 210 years of publication shared between them, are coincidentally running these stories simultaneously says something about the ever-shifting national conversation surrounding cannabis.

“Politicians and voters need to wake the fuck up and smell the weed,” wrote Redditor envyxd on a r/trees post about the dueling covers.

Bruce Barcott — author of the book Weed the People and co-author of Time’s piece this week — took notice of the two magazines’ timing in a recent email exchange.

“When American institutions as stolid as Time and National Geographic run cannabis on their covers, without the words ‘crackdown’ or ‘out of control’ or ‘fear’, the ground has truly shifted,” Barcott told me.

So here they are: Hampton Sides’ Science seeks to unlock marijuana’s secrets [you have to be registered for free access, but registration is free -- Ed.], from National Geographic. And [Bruce] Barcott and Michael Scherer’s The great pot experiment, from Time [only a preview is available free to nonsubscribers -- Ed.].

[Time notes: "Portions of (Bruce Barcott's and Michael Scherer's) article were adapted from Barcott’s new book Weed the People, the Future of Legal Marijuana in America, from TIME Books. -- Ed.]
The message I'm getting is that we've reached a milestone in that process of processing the subject of pot based on reality rather than blindly received moral gobbledygook.


The Washington Post's Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports, in "Senate panel backs allowing vets to ask about medical pot for PTSD,":
Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic pain issues may be able to ask their VA doctors for a new treatment soon: medical marijuana.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to back the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. Under the measure, Veterans Affairs (VA) would be allowed to recommend medical marijuana to patients for medicinal purposes for everything from back pain to depression to flashbacks.

Veterans who support the proposal say that it is safer and helps more than the addictive and debilitating painkillers that are often prescribed. They say using medical cannabis can help combat PTSD’s insomnia and panic attacks.

The legislation would overturn VA’s policy that forbids doctors from talking to patients about medical pot use.
And note the party of the senator who introduced the bill:
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who introduced the legislation, argued that forbidding VA doctors from talking about the option of medical marijuana is unconstitutional. He said that First Amendment rights include the right of patients to discuss whatever they want with their doctors.
Senator Daines goes on to say, "They can't discuss all the options available to them that they could discuss if they literally walked next door to a non-VA facility. I don't believe we should discriminate against veterans just because they are in the care of the VA."

The legal issue for the VA is that "the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, like heroin and LSD," which "means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." But if I've understood Howie correctly, doctors in California -- which like the District of Columbia allows medical marijuana -- don't seem to be allowed to raise the subject of medical marijuana either, or at least not the ones he's dealt with.

One interesting note in the WaPo piece : "Several studies have shown that states that allow medical marijuana for health purposes also found a decrease in the number of painkiller-related overdoses." Read more onsite.

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President Obama Gets Twitter Account: Racist Republican Base Goes Wild!


When the New York Times asked "Jeff Gully" about his handiwork, he wanted to know how much he would be paid to comment.

by Noah

Well, OK. I know. The republican base went wild a long time ago. They especially went wild when America elected a black man as its president. We all know where the vast majority of republicans stand on race. We've heard the "jokes" about whether the White House should still be called "the White House" and all that.

Whether it's Rancid Paul saying he would not vote for Civil Rights legislation, Mittens Romney's veiled use of the KKK's "Keep America American" slogan (he merely dropped the n), the name of Rick Perry's ranch (Niggerhead), or just the pictures of Obama carrying watermelons or dressed as a witch doctor or with a noose around his neck which republicans e-mail to each other, republicans have made it perfectly clear that being a racist is a cherished qualification for membership in their party. You don't have to point to the likes of media loudmouth Tucker Carlson or former republican politician and KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. This stuff goes to the very top of the party.

It ain't just their base. The top eggs the base on, using them as shock troops in their culture wars. The base eggs the candidates on, screaming for a return to the 1950s or, even better, the 1850s. It's a vile vicious circle. They have their radio talkers and other media. They feed on their conspiracy Internet sites. Hell, we all know they even have their own FOX News "Let me tell you about the negro" TV network, all stirring the hateful stew. I'll never forget seeing Mike Huckabee and Bill-O going on and on about how President Obama is not "a traditional American," over and over again, even pointing out that he never played Little League baseball but plays basketball -- and we know what that means. Oooh, basketball! Say no more. Throw in a few extra "Kenyans" and some birth certificate gibberish too!

With such a sick environment so successfully created, an environment where racists can feel so comfortable proclaiming their racism, it came as no surprise that when President Obama went live with his @POTUS Twitter account, it took no more than ten minutes for the republican base to start hurling the contents of their fetid little repug minds at him, and, really, at everyone who voted for him, but, mostly him. Sure, they showed us what they are, but we already knew that. These are the same crowd that boo soldiers and yell “Let him die” at their debates, and shout out “You lie” from the peanut gallery that is Congress. Would it surprise any rational person if we found that some of these hateful tweets actually came from certain people in Congress, or maybe some republican governor’s office?

Here's one of the very first tweets to @POTUS from Republican World:

And another:

To be fair, and I'm always fair, this is not to say that every single republican is a racist. Some of them who by their own words and actions obviously are may even think they aren't. They will tell you to your face that they aren't, and then they vote for candidates, such as the ones I mentioned, who clearly are, by word and deed, so…

The wingnut party membership doesn't just use the N-word, in their tweets to the president. Fag and faggot also make regular appearances in the great republican tweet catalog. I guess that's not surprising when you have their World Net Daily, a popular and often quoted republican "news" site, claiming that President Obama is secretly gay and is even secretly married to a man, etc.

Oh, and then there's the cuteness of the tweet at the top of this post, substituting "Rope" for "Hope," with that lovely picture. The tweeter, Jeff Gullickson, of Minneapolis, says this tweet got him a visit from the Secret Service. His mom must be so proud; if he hasn't killed her and stuffed her in the attic. When asked for comment by the New York Times, Gullickson e-mailed back asking how much they would pay.


In our society being a racist happens to get you in the door to Republican World faster. Call it the republican form of affirmative action. The reaction to @POTUS is a reflection of the essence of the republican party. You won't see a tidal wave of top-level republicans telling their voters to shut up or act more civilized. If you want to get anywhere in the republican party, you have to throw a few racist bones to the voters yourself or you will always be ignored when it comes to anything else you have to say -- and your poll numbers will tank too. You will not pass go, you will not be nominated.

Sorry, but once you've thrown that bone, you have contributed to the disease of racism and you are a racist. No excuses. You've joined up. Go ahead, lie to yourself all you want. We know what you are. "Supporting voter ID isn't racist," my ass!

Some republicans, such as Michele Bachmann, echoing slavery-era owners, have gone so far as to say that African-Americans were happy being slaves. Then, there's Rush Limbaugh's constant reference to the president of the United States as "the Half-rican-American."  Not a day goes by when some republican politician or media slime somewhere (start with Drudge or FOX) doesn't utter something blatantly racist. One could fill a 30-volume encyclopedia with their crap. It's who they are. In a way, it's a good thing that they have gotten so emboldened about expressing their true feelings for all to more easily note. If our country is lucky, the public will soon tire of them all.


Republicans will even claim that it is Obama who is always playing the race card. To republicans, Obama does not have to say a word to play the race card. All he has to do is walk in front of a TV camera and, well, see? Look, there he goes again! Just look at him!

Racism is what drives the engine of the republican party and they know it. They are masters of using the politics of white supremacy, fear, latent or overt hostility, and anxiety to motivate their base. They embrace and use it lovingly.

So the republican reaction to @POTUS was no surprise. The core of the republican party leapt at the chance to express their inner freakchild and continues to do so.

There is, however, a way to stop their vile tweets, and it plays beautifully into the twisted workings of the republican mind and that mind's love of seeing conspiracy where there is none. Here it is. All we have to do is spread the word among republicans that @POTUS is President Obama's dastardly plan to create a database of easily traceable anti-Obama people so that they can be more easily rounded up and placed in FEMA Concentration Camps.

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Why Isn't Corruption Illegal In American Politics? And Why Did Big Companies Spend $5.8 Billion To Influence Government?


Everyone in Washington knows that Chuck Schumer is one of the shadiest and most corrupt Members of the Senate, right up there with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip and member of both the Budget and Finance Committees John Cornyn. Cornyn is best known as a whore for Big Oil, which has given him $2,876,106 for services rendered since being elected to Congress. The financial sector (Wall Street) has given Cornyn far more-- $7,940,416 since he was first elected in 2002. They've been even more generous-- or strategic-- with McConnell, who's been buttered up with $11,444,704. McConnell took the biggest legalistic bribes from Wall Street of anyone Congress other than presidential candidates... and Chuck Schumer.

Since Schumer was elected to the House in 1980 and then to the Senate in 1998, Wall Street has bought hm off with the sweet sum of $21,052,681, the most to any Member of Congress other than presidential candidates. In return, he takes care of their interests-- big-time. When the crooked banksters started whining recently that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were making them look bad, they went to Schumer, who promised to balance Warren and Sanders with Wall Street-friendly Democratic Senate candidates like Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL) and Ted Strickland (OH) and to block progressive candidates like Alan Grayson (FL), P.G. Sittenfeld (OH) and Joe Sestak (PA). Schumer belongs in prison, not Congress. Schumer may be the worst, but he's hardly the only corrupt senator and far from an outlier.

If you didn't watch the video above from Represent.Us, now's the time to take a look. At the base of corruption is an ugly senatorial fact: the number of American voters for or against any idea has no impact on the likelihood that Congress will make it law. The Princeton University study they drew from says flatly, "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." In other words, corrupt powermongers like Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell don't care what you think, what you say or what you want. They work for Wall Street. Obviously.

Not just Wall Street, of course. Economic elites, business interests, people who can afford to hire lobbyists... crooks like Schumer and McConnell pay close attention to this demographic. "When they want something, the government is much more likely to do it... They get what they want and guess who winds up paying for it!" It gets worse: "Right now it's perfectly legal to buy political influence in America." The video explains how it's done-- and why good-for-nothing careerists like Schumer and McConnell rise to the top of the Beltway heap.

As for the second question in the title, about why the 200 most politically active companies in the U.S. gave $5.8 billion dollars to grubby politicians and lobbyists in the last 5 years, well... good return on investment. Those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support!

Yesterday Alan Grayson sent out a note to his supporters explaining how the Big Money interests and their lobbyists are working their magic in terms of Fast Track Authority and the TPP.
A week ago last Tuesday, the Senate voted against taking up the "Fast Track" trade giveaway bill. Hooray! Every Republican expressed support, but every Democrat except Sen. Carper (D-DE) voted against it.

But just two days later, 13 Democrats switched sides. They were against it, before they were for it.

What happened during those forty-eight hours? Well, an awful lot of corporate lobbyists billed an awful lot of hours. But the official explanation was that Mitch McConnell had agreed to a separate vote on a currency manipulation bill. Which may never pass the Senate. And may never come to a vote in the House. And may never pass the House. And may never be signed by the President. And if all those things somehow do come to pass, it can join the utterly ineffective existing laws against currency manipulation.

But that was the cover story for those 13 switched votes.

And yesterday, on another Senate vote, 13 Democrats wandered off the reservation. As a public service, I am providing their phone numbers, e-mail addresses and office addresses below.

Q. If we don't stick together, then how can we possibly win?

A. We can't.

There's one last Senate vote today. Tell them "NO" on Fast Track! Call or e-mail - right now. Below is a list of every Senate Democrat who voted to let Fast Track steamroll over us. Pick one, pick them all, and MAKE THEM LISTEN.

Michael Bennet (D-CO)
(202) 224-5852

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
(202) 224-3441

Tom Carper (D-DE)
(202) 224-2441

Chris Coons (D-DE)
(202) 224-5042

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
(202) 224-3841

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
(202) 224-2043

Tim Kaine (D-VA)
(202) 224-4024

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
(202) 224-6154

Patty Murray (D-WA)
(202) 224-2621

Bill Nelson (D-FL)
(202) 224-5274

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
(202) 224-2841

Mark Warner (D-VA)
(202) 224-2023

Ron Wyden (D-OR)
(202) 224-5244
Like to see Grayson in the Senate, working with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown keeping these guys honest? This is Blue America's Draft Alan Grayson page. There is no such thing as a contribution that's too small.

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Domestic Spying Controversy Comes To New Jersey


Thursday, Congressman Ted Lieu posed an interesting question on Twitter: "What happens if the Patriot Act expires?" He wasn't trying to panic anyone; he was trying to reassure everyone: "Americans start getting our Fourth Amendment rights back." 

Utah Tea Party radical Mike Lee is leading the fight in the Senate to reform that horribly flawed legislation so hated by Americans of all political flavors. The law expires on Memorial Day, which will force the NSA-- if they follow the law (a ridiculous assumption)-- to stop its unconstitutional bulk spying on American citizens, which both Lee and Lieu would like to see happen. 

Jerry Nadler, (D-NY), Congress' most knowledgable constitutional law expert, said he's happy to see the Patriot Act sunset this weekend, even though he's a cosponsor of the bill to replace it, the USA Freedom Act. "It’s fine with me. I’d rather they pass the USA Freedom Act, but I can live with sunsetting." Sunsetting is also the option libertarian Republicans are backing, especially Justin Amash (R-MI), who is the most active force in the House among Republicans against renewal.

National security state backers in both parties-- and that includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who walked away with a handsome $185,550 in legalistic bribes from the military-industrial complex last year alone-- are running around with their hair on fire shrieking about ISIS taking over South Carolina. The Senate doesn't like working on Fridays, let alone on weekends, but McConnell is forcing the chamber to stay in session today to vote on the USA Freedom Act, which already passed the House 338-88, and on a two-month extension to the Patriot Act. Most House progressives voted NO May 13, and they were joined by 47 Republicans who prefer to shut the whole domestic spying operation down. 

Among the progressives who voted against it were Alan Grayson (D-FL), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). Most of the incumbents Blue America is targeting for defeat in 2016 voted for the bill, including reactionary New Dem Patrick Murphy (FL), corrupt transactional machine candidate Donald Norcross (NJ), the heinous Steve Israel (NY) and reactionary Blue Dog Dan Lipinski (IL), 4 shameless pawns of the military-industrial complex lobbyists, as well as Republican warmongers like Dave Reichert (R-WA), Peter King (R-NY), DCCC-protected Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Paul Ryan (R-WI), Fred Upton (R-MI), John Kline (MN), and the 3 most vulnerable California Republicans, Steve Knight, Jeff Denham and David Valadao.

This week, a desperate Chris Christie, who is finding himself being taken less and less seriously by Republican primary voters, stepped right in the mess, blurting out, "You can't enjoy your civil liberties if you're in a coffin," infuriating Senator Lee, who went on CNN to say Christie "should be ashamed of himself" and to accuse him of "political pornography." Lee said, "That's absolutely ridiculous. It's absurd. And if Mr. Christie wants to play a part in the national discussion regarding privacy and security, he should choose his words more carefully.... I would ask Mr. Christie, how many lives has it saved? I would ask Mr. Christie, how many acts of terrorism have been thwarted simply because the NSA is collecting telephone data on what your grandmother calls-- on calls that she makes or calls that she receives?"
The spat between Utah’s junior senator and Christie, a 2016 presidential hopeful, is the latest example of Republican-on-Republican feuding over the future of the controversial law which was originally passed in the wake of 9/11.

On Wednesday another 2016 Republican contender, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), spent 10½ hours on the Senate floor voicing his opposition to bulk surveillance of American citizens’ so-called metadata.

Lee has not drawn a hard line against all data collection and instead has backed an alternative called the USA Freedom Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week with a large bipartisan majority. The USA Freedom Act aims to limit bulk collection of metadata about American citizens, as well as mandate more transparency about court decisions relating to surveillance.

Paul has said that he does not believe the USA Freedom Act goes far enough, while Lee has joined Democratic colleagues like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in supporting it.

“I’m not saying that we ought to let [the PATRIOT Act] expire,” Lee told CNN. “I’m saying that there’s a middle ground and the USA Freedom Act accomplishes that.”

“Instead of collecting everyone’s phone records simply because they exist, the NSA ought to be focused on collecting those phone records that are connected in some way with a phone number that’s involved in a terrorism ring.”
Barbara Lee, the only Member of Congress at the time to possess the foresight and moral courage to have voted against Bush's illegal attack on Afghanistan, sees it differently from Lee. She's aware that the USA Freedom Act is better than the Patriot Act but she voted against it: "The USA Freedom Act that passed last week takes some good steps toward reigning in domestic spying, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough in protecting Americans’ civil liberties. I’m committed to fighting for stronger protections. That's why I’m supporting the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which would do exactly what it says-- repeal the Patriot Act." 

And she's far from alone in those sentiments. Blue America has endorsed Alex Law for the South Jersey seat occupied by pro-war ConservaDem Donald Norcross. This morning, Law told us that he's not buying into the hype either.
"As progressives we must oppose this extension. I am a millennial, and my generation has grown up in a post-911 world where it seems almost commonplace that the government has the authority to monitor us. We have grown to have less expectations of privacy, and, by extension, liberty. All of this has been sold to us as the cost of security, but that narrative is flawed and manipulative. There has to be a way for the strongest, wealthiest, most creative nation in the world to secure ourselves without sacrificing the liberties that make America so great.

It is no surprise to me that my primary opponent, Donald Norcross, one of the more conservative Dems in the House, voted for the extension of NSA power. However, other members of the New Jersey delegation that I am fighting to join like Frank Pallone and Bonnie Watson Coleman voted against the Freedom Act. They are two people I admire and respect as examples of true progressive leaders. Our founders envisioned the debate we are currently having as a threat to our future. Benjamin Franklin commented on it saying, "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." In this new age of technology, we would be wise to heed that advice.
Blue America candidates like Alex Law favor peace over war. If you'd like to help elect them to Congress... there's an ActBlue page just for that. There is no contribution too small.

UPDATE: House Domestic Spying Extension Fails In Senate

Just after midnight-- and on a Friday; the Senate almost never votes on Fridays, like maybe once a year-- the Senate refused to shut down the deficit filibuster on a motion to proceed to debate the USA Freedom Act, which would have allowed for some of the unconstitutional activities that make up the NSA's domestic spying regime. The motion needed 60 votes (3/5) and it wound up at 57-42. A dozen Republicans, including extremists likeTed Cruz (TX), Jim Lankford (OK), Cory Gardner (CO), Mike Lee (UT), and Dan Sullivan (AK) voted with the Democrats. It had passed the House 338-88 with a very different political dynamic.

Military Industrial Complex shill Dianne Feinstein was a top shill for the bill: "I've taken a good look at this. For those who want reform and want to prevent the government from holding the data, the Freedom Act is the only way to do it. The House has passed it, the president wants it. All of the intelligence personnel have agreed to it, and I think not to pass that bill is really to throw the whole program, that whole section 215 as well as the whole business records, the lone wolf, the roving wiretaps into serious legal jeopardy." Enough senators saw through her bullshit to allow the USA Freedom Act to die. "This is a debate," explained Rand Paul, "about whether or not a warrant with a single name of a single company can be used to collect all the records, all of the phone records of all of the people in our country with a single warrant. Our forefathers would be aghast." The PATRIOT Act expires June 1. McConnell says the Senate will return from it's Memorial Day break a day early to try to pass a bill to allow the NSA to continue its unconstitutional domestic spying agenda. He tried some scare tactics: "This is a high threat period and we know what's going on overseas. We know what's been tried here at home. My colleagues-- do we really want this law to expire? We got a week to discuss it. We'll have one day to do it."

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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Senate shoe drops on Fast Track (and TPP)

> caption: President Barack Obama wins a victory in the Senate on re-writing the rules of international trade.

by Ken

If you've been following Gaius Publius' coverage of the administration's all-out effort to ram through Congress so-called Fast Track authority, as a prelude to getting the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (and who knows what all else, for up to six years, whoever is president) passed on an up-or-down vote, won't be surprised by tonight's "breaking news." The Senate has passed the bill and pushed back on the assorted amendments that would have undermined Fast Track.

Next up: the House.
Obama wins trade victory in the Senate caption: "This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It's important to President Obama," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said.

By Paul Kane
Washington Post
May 22 at 9:09 PM

President Obama won a big victory for his trade agenda Friday with the Senate’s approval of fast-track legislation that could make it easier for him to complete a wide-ranging trade deal that would include 11 Pacific Rim nations.

A coalition of nearly 50 Senate Republicans and more than 10 Democrats voted for Trade Promotion Authority late Friday, sending the legislation to the House for a difficult fight as Obama faces more entrenched opposition from Democrats.

The Senate coalition fought off several attempts by opponents to undermine the legislation, defeating amendments that were politically popular but potentially poisonous to Obama’s bid to secure the trade deal.

“This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It’s important to President Obama,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said at the close of debate.

TPA’s fast-track provisions would allow Congress, under strict timelines, to consider trade deals with a simple up-or-down vote without any amendments or requirements of a Senate super-majority to end debate. That would help Obama complete the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with the other 11 nations, a bloc that represents about 40 percent of the global economy.

“This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It’s important to President Obama,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said. (Susan Walsh/AP)
If TPA clears Congress, Obama’s negotiators will push to conclude the Pacific trade pact and then send it to Congress for final approval, possibly later this year or early next year. The legislative package also includes new funding for labor training for workers that are certified for having lost their jobs because of foreign competition.

Obama’s aggressive push for the trade agenda has upended his relationship with his long-standing allies in the labor movement, as well as anti-corporate liberal activists who strongly supported his 2008 and 2012 elections. It sparked sharp exchanges, played out in the national media, with the leading liberal icon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), leading to one of Obama’s normally closest allies, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to question whether he was being sexist for singling her out for criticism.

Unions and progressive activists have mobilized their forces against TPA for more than a year now, believing that defeating the fast-track authority would likely also kill negotiations on the Pacific trade deal.

On Friday, union leaders narrowly lost their bid for passage of an amendment designed to create strict regulation of global currency markets, offered by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), whose states have been ravaged by losses of manufacturing jobs to foreign competition.

“This amendment is simply a modest enforcement measure that would direct the administration to conduct negotiations in a manner that will push them closer to getting trade done right. We urge you to support it and oppose any language to weaken it,” William Samuel, a top lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, wrote to senators in a “legislative alert” Friday.

Portman, a former trade representative facing a difficult 2016 reelection campaign, locked arms with Democrats in a bid that was designed as a get-tough gesture toward China, which some have long accused of manipulating its currency to make its exports cheaper. “I want you to be able to tell your workers you not only disagree with currency ma­nipu­la­tion, you want to be able to do something about it,” he said during debate.

However, Treasury Department officials warned that the Portman proposal would prompt a presidential veto, because the other nations would potentially abandon the TPP talks. In the hours leading up to Portman’s vote, Obama worked the phones with wavering senators to defeat the measure, relying heavily on his usual foes — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his top lieutenants — to round up 51 votes to narrowly defeat the measure.

“President Obama will veto any TPA bill that contains this amendment. A vote for Portman-Stabenow is also a vote to kill TPP,” Hatch said just before the vote on the amendment.

In the end, 41 Republicans and 10 Democrats defeated the amendment, which was considered the last major hurdle to securing Senate passage of the legislation.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that the TPA bill will come up at some point in June, after his chamber returns from a 10-day break that began Thursday.

In perhaps the most unusual alliance in the trade debate, Obama’s trade agenda will soon rest largely in the hands of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee.

Now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan is leading the push to secure as many votes as possible from the Republican side of the aisle for Obama’s fast-track authorities on trade deals. He has been working with Boehner’s leadership team convening meetings with Republicans to educate the dozens of junior lawmakers who have never considered a trade deal like the potential Pacific Rim pact.

Just 55 members of the House were in office during the 1993 debate for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and nearly 140 lawmakers — a third of the entire House — have never voted on any trade deal before. The last trade deals, with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, were approved in October 2011.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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In Oregon, score a victory for gun sanity


The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence pays tribute to the people who made this victory for gun sanity possible.

"Make no mistake: what we accomplished in Oregon is monumental. We delivered a crushing blow to the corporate gun lobby, and we’re picking up steam and building momentum the likes of which this issue has not seen in decades!."
-- Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign
to Prevent Gun Violence

by Ken

We see all around us such widespread examples of the power of gun in-sanity that it's nice to be able to celebrate a victory for sanity on the subject, and the Brady Center folks want to make sure people know about it. And while I'm not much of a believer in afterlives, except in the sense of what lives on of us after we're gone, if Jim and Sarah Brady are anywhere now where they can look upon this, I'm sure they're smiling.

Certainly in my sense of an afterlife -- what lives on of us after we're gone -- Jim and Sarah can count this a victory. They didn't experience a lot of them in their later years, facing off against the punishing power of the NRA and the streak of violence and insanity now apparently accepted as part of the American character. So score one for those of us who like to think that the "right" to kill and maim isn't any part of who we are.

Here's what Brady Center President Dan Gross had to say in his e-mail yesterday:
Yesterday, I was on the ground in Oregon celebrating the latest victory in our campaign to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales.

Because of your actions—calls, texts, emails, and meetings with legislators—SB 941 is now law—making Oregon the sixth state to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales since the Sandy Hook shooting.

Across the country, 18 states now have expanded Brady background checks. But we’re not going to stop until we’ve expanded life-saving background checks to all gun sales! Can I count on your financial support to help bring our winning formula to even more states across the country?

Make no mistake: what we accomplished in Oregon is monumental. We delivered a crushing blow to the corporate gun lobby, and we’re picking up steam and building momentum the likes of which this issue has not seen in decades! Next stop on our cross-country march is Nevada, where a ballot initiative to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales has already qualified for the November 2016 ballot.

Join us in carrying our momentum forward to success in Nevada and across the country by making a contribution today!

So, like you said, Dan, on to Nevada!

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Democratic Senators Who Need to Be Lobbyists in 2017


Each of these Democrats need to be turned into lobbyists at the earliest opportunity. For three of them, that's January 2017 (click to enlarge and share).

The Senate held its final cloture vote on Fast Track, and after a lot of wheeling and dealing over amendments — whose will get a vote and whose won't — the Democrats above voted to help grease the next NAFTA treaty's passage into law.

Pro-TPP writer Alex Rogers, in the National Journal (Ex-Im means "Export-Import"; my emphasis throughout):
Ex-Im Bank Deal Gets Trade Bill Moving

Last-minute floor trading on reauthorizing the bank secured the votes to proceed on fast-track measure.

The Senate advanced a major trade bill Thursday, after a last-minute deal on a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank prompted Sen. Maria Cantwell and others to break away from a powwow on the chamber floor to say, "Aye." ...

The vote, 62 to 38, came over the objections of [anti-TPP] senators, who claimed that the Senate GOP leadership—President Obama's strange bedfellows on free trade—had throttled debate, allowing only two votes so far despite around 200 amendments filed.

"The last time we did fast-track legislation on the Senate floor it was three weeks of debate," said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. "This is about three days."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had set up the procedural vote Thursday despite other time-sensitive deadlines determining the National Security Agency's bulk-collection authority and highway funding. But he seemed aware of the possibility of failing on Wednesday afternoon. "Well we're going to grind on and finish TPA," he said, "if those who say they're for it end up voting for it."

Those members included Washington state Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who formed a tight circle with McConnell on the floor to hash out an agreement for a future vote on authorizing the Export Import bank, whose charter expires at the end of next month.
What's the Export-Import bank? A slush fund for companies like Boeing and the CEOs who draw their pay from them:
The bank, which helps finances U.S. businesses' exports, is synonymous with "crony capitalism" by conservatives and many House Republicans who wish to kill it. But the bank is also popular with many Senate Republicans, including Graham, who—like the Washington state senators—represents a state with a significant stake in the success of Boeing.
Fast Track is as good as done in the Senate. On to the House.

The Democrats' Trade — Your Rich People for Mine

So here's the trade Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and the other pro-TPP Democrats made. They will vote to give money to rich people who will benefit from TPP. In exchange other senators will vote to give money to rich people who run companies like Boeing. There were a bunch of trades like this in the Yes-on-TPP camp. Who said there's gridlock in DC?

What did we get? If Fast Track passes the House, we get TPP, the next NAFTA, and the one after that, TPIP, the same bad deal on the Atlantic side. These senators, of course, will do quite well in any case.

A Tale of the Rich and the Rest

The TPP story isn't about the U.S. and the world. It's about the rich and the rest, also known as "capital and labor," as this excellent piece by Harold Meyerson explains:
A trade deal at what cost?

So what gives with the American people? Don’t they realize, as my colleague Charles Krauthammer argued last week, “that free trade is advantageous to both sides”?

The sides to which Krauthammer referred, of course, are nations. But perhaps those who’ve experienced such free-trade consequences as factory closings and lower-paying jobs are thinking about two entirely different sides — capital and labor. ...

When advocates make the case for Congress expanding free trade with Pacific Rim nations by passing the “fast-track bill” currently before it, they cite the U.S. industries that the deal will benefit. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial, for instance, acknowledges that, while U.S. exports to South Korea have hardly increased since we signed a trade accord with that nation in 2011, our service-sector growth there has been substantial. Our international law firms can now practice there, the Journal proclaims, and “American investors can now own telecom operations in that country.”

A great deal for international lawyers and investors — two groups of embattled U.S. proletarians who clearly needed our government’s help.

For other American workers, not so great. The treaty was promoted as benefiting the U.S. auto industry, but since its enactment Korean auto imports to the United States have boomed while sales of U.S.-made cars to South Korea remain all but nonexistent.

Is it any wonder, then, that virtually the entire base of the Democratic Party opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the fast-track bill that would ease its enactment? From coast to coast, Democrats are doing their damnedest to raise the very wages that globalized capital has depressed.
But what about restraining the power of China? Meyerson delivers the knockout blow:
Of all the developments that led to the increase in China’s power and the diminution of ours, the one that definitively did both was Congress’s enactment of permanent normal trade relations with China in 2000. That led to a flood of U.S. companies shuttering their domestic plants and shifting production to China. When Beijing insisted that the price of doing business there was the transfer of proprietary high-technology techniques to China, many of those companies complied.

So a trade deal benefiting U.S. investors at the expense of U.S. workers created the rise in Chinese power, and now, we’re told, a trade deal benefiting U.S. investors at the expense of U.S. workers will help us keep Chinese power in check.
"A trade deal benefiting U.S. investors at the expense of U.S. workers" — an apt description in both cases. A tale of the rich and the rest (meaning us).

If Democrats Want to Lobby for Rich People, They Should Register

And you can help by moving them out of their current job and putting them on the labor market. These TPP Democrats are up for reelection in 2016:

▪ Patty Murray202-224-2621 — Now deep in Senate "leadership" and apparently hungry for more of that Schumer-Murray magic.
▪ Michael Bennet202-224-5852 — Mr. Bipartisan. As chair of the DSCC, he oversaw the 2012 election losses, then afterward said he worried that Republicans would be mad at him.
Ron Wyden202-224-5244 — The worst. As Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, he was lead perp in the Senate, patient zero for the fatal infection. He deserves an expensive lobbyist office filled with very uncomfortable chairs — soon.

Their phone numbers are above. Do you vote in Washington, Colorado or Oregon ? Are you a donor to senatorial campaigns? Feel free to pick up the phone and speak your mind. They've certainly spoken theirs, or the minds of their "investors," to borrow Meyerson's phrase.

But What About the Senate?

But what about "the Senate," you ask? First, is this a Senate worth fighting for? Second, with votes like these, do you think candidates like these are more likely or less likely to continue the party debranding that led to the 2014 results?

U.S. trade deficit since 1960. That "steep NAFTA slide" starts in 1994, one of Bill Clinton's signature accomplishments.

Frankly, if you really want a better Senate (I do), abandon all twelve names on the graphic above — let their "investors" take care of them — and elect Blue America candidates like Alan Grayson, Donna Edwards, Russ Feingold and P.G. Sittenfeld. You can help by contributing here.


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Stealing From Medicare To Pay For TPP-- Unhealthy For Republicans... Deadly For Democrats


The vote of TPP is looming in the House and Obama has Jim Clyburn (D-SC) making all kind of handsome offers to Members of the Congressional Black Caucus to guarantee a big vote score from that circle. You won't find caucus members with integrity, like Barbara Lee and Donna Edwards, playing footsie with Clyburn on this, of course.
Would the Republicans suddenly agree to fund summer jobs over trade? Lord knows the President is great at bargaining in a lopsided fashion (2010 Obama: I’ll give up $4 trillion in tax revenue for one year of unemployment benefits).
Several pro-labor Black Caucus members have already said they will vote NO on the deal. Will the gifts change their mind? A whip count at last votes yielded lots of firm NOs even with the gifts. Stay tuned.
Donna Edwards' reaction was a petition against Fast Track Authority. "Fast Track and TPP just got a whole lot worse," she wrote. "Republicans have added $700 million in cuts to Medicare to pay for the trade adjustment assistance... The more the public learns about the wheeling and dealing done to get Fast Track and the TPP passed the worse it looks. And that doesn’t even include the the awful corporate and special interest giveaways inside the actual trade deal!

And while Donna, the progressive candidate for Maryland's open Senate seat, against a wishy-washy Establishment Democrat who stands for nothing beyond his own careerism, was launching her petition, CREDO was launching a Facebook ad campaign against trade reactionaries Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ron Kind (New Dem-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Ami Bera (D-CA). That ad eviscerates the TPP gang for allowing the Medicare cuts. I'm sure Ron Johnson couldn't care less, but that message is likely to freak out Blumenauer and probably Wyden.

Democrats had insisted on financial aid and training for workers displaced by the job-killing TPP, but Republicans have countered that they would only go along if the money was taken out of Medicare. All the Blue America-endorsed candidates are adamantly opposed to Fast Track, to TPP and to pillaging Medicare. 

Mike Noland is an experienced progressive state legislator from Illinois running for the seat being left open by Tammy Duckworth's Senate campaign. He understands the sleight of hand the Republicans are trying to pull with TPP. "Having served in the Illinois General Assembly for the past eight years now," he just told us, "I know that budget sweeps are among the most undisciplined and unprincipled actions a legislator can take."
Funds earmarked for designated programs must be protected. Medicare is a sacred program that provides millions of seniors with the health care services they need. Demanding that funds for job training come from Medicare is just another example of Tea Party Republicans' attempt to dismantle any form of a social safety net. 
Mike's marijuana legislation passed the Illinois legislature yesterday-- 62-53 in the House and 37-19 in the Senate-- and went to the Governor's desk. Under the bill, possession of small amounts of cannabis-- 15 grams or less-- would be punishable by fines of no more than $125. He said, "There has been much talk this year about criminal justice reform and being smarter on crime,” said Noland.
With this measure the Senate and House take an important step in the right direction. The benefits we will see from this plan are innumerable. Today, we become smarter on enforcement of the law while saving judicial resources... 

Illinois has allowed the use of medical marijuana and we need to become prepared for what happens when people actually abuse that law and start driving under the influence. Now is the perfect time.
Noland's bill establishes a limit for driving while under the influence of cannabis. This limit can be tested through blood or through saliva, making Illinois one of the first states for oral fluid testing of THC.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brooklyn Waterfront Watch: Stacking coffee as high as an elephant's eye -- on the eve of Prohibition


"Coffee in Brooklyn," c1920 (click to enlarge). On the flip
side of the photo there's a link to Prohibition! Read on.

by Ken

Of course you know all about "Postcard Thursday" from the Inside the Apple team of Michelle and James Nevius, right? Well, they're not the only ones regularly sending out great archival pictures. The Brooklyn Historical Society dips into its overflowing archives for a "Photo of the Week," and for some reason I can't stop looking at this week's, titled "Coffee in Brooklyn." I don't know, maybe it's the coffee-hoisting getup of the gent on the right, from boots to hat, or maybe it's the totality of the fashion statement made by him and his partner in hoisting. Or maybe it's trying to figure out what exactly our power lifters are going to do with that coffee bag or whatever it is they've got in high-hoist mode.

The photo is presented by BHS digitization associate Tess Colwell:
Artisanal coffee roasters have been popping up everywhere in Brooklyn in recent years, but it might come as a surprise that Brooklyn has a long history of coffee roasting that spans long before it was considered hip. The photo of the week was taken around 1920 in a warehouse at Bush Terminal (now Industry City) and features two men lifting a large bag of coffee. To me, the most interesting part of this photograph is actually the verso (i.e. the text written on the back of the photograph). It speaks to the sentiment towards prohibition at the time and the opportunity for growth in the coffee industry. It reads,

“MORE COFFEE DRINKING WHEN NATIONAL PROHIBITION COMES — A STORY OF PRODUCTION. Stacking coffee in a big warehouse at the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, N.Y. Coffee from Central America. Scientists say that every adult takes some kind of a stimulant, and coffee is the most widely used of all the stimulants. When all traffic in intoxicants is stopped, millions of people will drink more coffee. The consumption of coffee will increase greatly through the lunch room trade. Hundreds of thousands of people will go into lunch rooms and eat pastry and drink strong coffee instead of going to saloons for drinks, when prohibition puts an end to all saloons in this country.”

While it’s not entirely true that prohibition led to increased coffee consumption, it’s true that the popularity of coffee was on the rise. In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was roasting more coffee than any other place in America. John Arbuckle (1839-1912) is credited as pioneering the way we purchase coffee today—roasting and grinding beans onsite, packaging coffee in one pound bags, and marketing it to different consumers around the country. By 1909, Arbuckle was roasting about 25 million pounds of coffee a month. Arbuckle Brothers continued to roast and store coffee at the Brooklyn waterfront factory until 1930, when it was sold to General Foods.
BHS has teamed up with Brooklyn Bridge Park to produce a Brooklyn Waterfront History website, which promises "much more about the history of coffee in Brooklyn, as well as other interesting historical facts about the waterfront." You can begin exploring BHS's online photo gallery here. Finally, to receive BHS's "Photo of the Week" along with news about the society's rich assortment of public programs (the BHS building itself, on Pierrepont Street in Downtown Brooklyn, is a landmark and well worth a visit in its own right), you can sign up here.


Today's isn't. A postcard, I mean. It's a stamp.

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. To honor that achievement, the U.S. Postal Service issued the above airmail (or "air mail") stamp on June 11, just three weeks after the historic landing. That was the same day Lindbergh received the Distinguished Flying Cross, but five days before he collected his $25,000 prize from Raymond Orteig for making the flight.

[More about the flight, and a pic of Lucky Lindy, onsite.]

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If the Supreme Court cripples Obamacare, which way will fingers point?


This photo appears to have been taken moments after a secret agent (right) has injected an enemy agent (left) with a deadly toxin that even now is coursing through his veins, causing . . . oh wait, it's just President Obama glad-handing Chief Justice "Smirkin' John" Roberts.

"Playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works."
-- The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, in "Obama's
Game of Chicken with the Supreme Court

by Ken

As DWT readers surely know by now, Obamacare is on trial for its life (as I wrote in early March, "Our clown Supreme Court takes on the bogus challenge to Obamacare -- and makes believe it's legitimate!"), over four carelessly chosen words in the Affordable Care Act which have been twisted by right-wing psychopaths and dishonest scumbags to mean that people who register for health care on the federal insurance exchange rather than on state exchanges (in the 16 states -- plus the District of Columbia -- that have established them) aren't entitled to federal subsidies as set out in the act.

Now the lying dirtbag plaintiffs in King v. Burwell know perfectly well that their "case" is idiotic on its face -- even in terms of the contested four words, which simply can't mean what they're pretending, at least not to anyone who's at all acquainted with the English language. And of course there's not a word of support anywhere else for their preposterous claim -- not in the entire rest of the ACA, not in the entire legislative history of the ACA, not even in the millions of invective-laden denunciations hurled at the ACA before this tiny phraseological glitch was glommed on. Nothing. And the lawyers have always known this. Their only interest, they have made abundantly clear, is finding whatever means they can to achieve their goal of undoing the act. Nevertheless, betting that there aren't five lying imbecile scumbags on the Roberts Court prepared to go along with the scam seems like an awfully poor bet.

In a new blogpost, New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin takes a new look at what happens if this bet loses, and it's "likely" that most of the 13 million people now receiving subsidies for insurance purchased on the federal exchange "will no longer be able to afford their insurance." Jeffrey presents the question of what happens next as a drama in its own right, which we might think of as being in three acts.

Act I: Democrats are all atremble

"Until recently," Jeffrey writes, "the perception has also been that the Democrats had the largest political stake in the case. After all, the A.C.A. is the signature achievement of the Democratic President."

Act II: Pity the poor GOP!

"Suddenly, though, and paradoxically," Jeffrey writes, "it has come to seem that Obamacare's Republican opponents are most at risk if the decision goes their way. They have the most to lose by winning."
As Jonathan Chait wrote recently, “The chaos their lawsuit would unleash might blow back in a way few Republicans had considered until recently, and now, on the eve of a possible triumph, they find themselves scrambling to contain the damage.” In this view, the peril is especially great for Republicans, because, as Jonathan Cohn recently pointed out, the G.O.P. has failed to propose any kind of plan to address the loss of insurance for so many millions of people.
(I suppose it would be inappropriate for me to suggest that one eminently solvable problem we have here is altogether too many Jonathans involved in the case. Perhaps some of the surplus Jonathans could investigate other names, of which there are many. Julius, for example, or Nathaniel, or Ewan. Maybe Rafael, or Spike? There are a zillion more, more than enough to go around.)
So that’s the theory: millions will suddenly be uninsured, and will blame Republicans. As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”

Act III: Hold on there, Harry!

Not so fast, Jonathans (or Rafael, or Spike), says Jeffrey T. "If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party."
To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.
It won't matter, Jeffrey says, how "esoteric" the legal point at issue is. "The central assertion by the plaintiffs is that the Obama Administration violated the law itself," and "the subtlety of the issue at the heart of the case will sure be lost in its aftermath."
The headlines will read, correctly, “Court rules against Obamacare,” and this will be all that matters. The Republicans will argue that the Supreme Court showed that the law was flawed from the start, that the Obama Administration is lawless, that a full repeal of the law is the only appropriate response to the Court’s decision—and that the millions who lose their subsides should blame the sponsor of the law. Watch for references to a “failed Presidency.” There’ll be plenty of them.


No one, after all, knows better than people in the adminsitration "the scale of the problems that would be created by a loss in the Supreme Court." And as "a litigation strategy," there's something to be said for trying to impress on the Court the chaos that will result if the justices turn thumbs-down on the defense. He notes that HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell (the defendant "Burwell" of King v. Burwell) has said "in testimony before Congress and elsewhere . . . that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling."

Which brings us to that line I put atop this post.
But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.
And it won't matter, Jeffrey insists, even if the Court is wrong -- even if, to put it in my terms, there really five or more lying-imbecile-scumbag justices.
For many people, the President of the United States is the government of the United States. It’s why he gets the credit and blame for so many things, like the economy, where his influence can be hard to discern. This is particularly true for a subject in which the President has invested so much of his personal and political capital. If the Supreme Court rules against him, the President can blame the Justices or the Republicans or anyone he likes, and he may even be correct. But the buck will stop with him.
I don't consider myself a great predictor of the responses of the American public. So while I'm not sure that Jeffrey is completely right about this, neither am I sure that he's completely wrong. And when it comes to cranking up the volume of noise, and at maximum volume hurling thunderbolts of blame at parties that may or not be to blame, which side has the better resources and track record?

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The Constant Cost of Carbon — Another California Oil Spill


Oil spill off Santa Barbara coast (Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

by Gaius Publius

Thoreau once wrote, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us." The full quote is:
We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man…. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon.
It's likewise said that we don't grow corn; corn grows us, then uses us to spread its genetic material around the country and the world at our expense. At that task, corn is successful beyond its dreams.

In the same way, we don't burn carbon — oil and gas. By burning the earth, it burns us, and in the process uses us to burn itself, to desequester its long earth-buried atoms and reenter the atmosphere as a gas. Through most of the history of life on earth, CO2 has been far more prevalent in the atmosphere than it has been during the age of humans.

The blue line near the middle shows CO2 concentration during the age of humans, which started about 200,000 years ago. The horizontal dotted line shows 400 ppm, where we are today. The tall red line on the right is where we're headed by 2100 under "business as usual." Notice how neatly that matches most of the past (source).

While carbon is burning us, creating this world, it's also poisoning us, creating this world, a world of ever-increasing spills and explosions, of groundwater arsenic and unlivable shorelines. About those shorelines ...

Oil Spill Off Santa Barbara Coast (Again)

As reported by the LA Times and the Santa Barbara Independent, there's a pretty serious oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast in an area called Refugio State Beach. The source of the spill is a shoreline pipeline whose leak detection mechanism apparently failed to work. The leak poured what was first reported as 21,000 gallons of oil into the ocean ...
During the several-hours-long leak, about 21,000 gallons of oil escaped the pipeline, Coast Guard officials estimated. Coast Guard crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m., said Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.
... but those estimates were apparently provided by the pipeline company itself, Plains All American Pipeline, to the Coast Guard (my emphasis throughout):
The accident has been classified by federal responders as a “medium-sized” spill and was traced to an underground pipeline a few hundred yards inland above Highway 101. The 24-inch pipe is owned and operated by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which stopped the leak at approximately 3 p.m. It’s unclear how long the pipe was leaking, what caused it to break, or exactly how much crude escaped. Plains initially reported that 21,000 gallons of oil made its way into the ocean, but that number is expected to rise after county, Coast Guard, and state Fish and Wildlife personnel tally the true damage.
Nice of the Coast Guard to take the company's word and make it their own. An update at the Independent offered this correction:
Lt. Jonathan McCormick with the U.S. Coast Guard said an estimated 21,000 gallons of oil spilled into the ocean. That estimate comes from Plains All American Pipeline. An independent assessment has not yet been completed, he said, and it's unknown how many gallons of crude remain on land and along the shoreline.
The latest news from the AP puts the number of gallons much higher:
BREAKING: Pipeline company: Up to 105,000 gallons of oil might have spilled from California line.
I'm willing to bet that's not the last word, especially since the source is, again, the pipeline company, with an economic interest in underplaying the problem.

About That Pipeline Company ...

The version of the story at the Independent has some background on Plains All American Pipeline:
Founded in 1998, Plains All American Pipeline is in the business of transporting and storing crude oil and natural gas all over the continent. According to the SEC, the company’s net revenue last year was $1.39 billion. Tuesday’s spill was the latest in a number of similar accidents in recent years. The EPA has recorded at least 10 serious incidents in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas; between June 2004 and September 2007, more than 273,000 gallons of crude was leaked, and in a 2010 settlement with EPA, the company agreed to spend $41 million to upgrade 10,400 miles of pipeline and pay $3.2 million in civil penalties. In 2011, Plains’ Canadian division was responsible for three major accidents in Alberta.

Last May, a 130-mile Plains pipeline that runs through Los Angeles County ruptured and sent 19,000 gallons of crude through the streets of Atwater Village. The leak lasted around 45 minutes, covered a half-mile area in oil, and caused the evacuation of nearby buildings. According to news reports, Plains was not aware of the spill until residents called the city fire department, which then had to notify the company.
Not a small company. And it apparently swings enough pipe of its own to get special oversight dispensations:
The broken Plains pipeline funnels 45,000-50,000 barrels of produced oil a day between ExxonMobil's Las Flores Canyon Processing Facility near Refugio to the Plains-owned Gaviota pumping station. From there, it travels to refineries in Kern County. The 10-mile pipeline was installed in the early 1990s. Notably, it’s the only piece of energy infrastructure on Santa Barbara County land that’s not under the county’s watch. When pipe was put in, Plains successfully sued to place it under the supervision of the State Fire Marshal's Office, arguing state management pre-empted local oversight.
I'd be remiss in not telling you that Plains is "sorry" and "deeply regrets" the incident. So do their stockholders, but I'm guessing on that. The stockholders have yet to speak.

The Political Angle — the California Congressional Delegation

California's District 24 is represented by Lois Capps, who was quoted in the Independent as saying:
“I am deeply saddened by the images coming from the scene at Refugio,” Rep. Lois Capps said Wednesday morning. “This incident is yet another stark reminder of the serious risks to our environment and economy that come from drilling for oil.”
While Capps may be a friend of the coastline (by backing sure-to-fail bills in the U.S. House), she's also a corporate-friend member of the New Dem Coalition and refused to take a position on county Measure P, which would have banned fracking in Santa Barbara County and the Channel Islands.

Measure P lost:
Most Santa Barbara County residents didn’t vote on Tuesday, but those who did made one thing clear: They didn’t support Measure P. Shot down by a whopping 62.65 percent of voters, the contentious initiative — which would have banned all new fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection wells in the county’s unincorporated regions — pitted environmentalists sounding the alarm on climate change against the oil industry calling for fair regulations. And the oil industry — with help from operators in Santa Barbara County and beyond — dug into its deep pockets, shelling out approximately $6.6 million to defeat the measure, while Measure P supporters raised just more than $400,000.
You can buy a lot of votes and lay down a lot of fog with $6.6 million ... in a county election no less.

Lois Capps is retiring after this term and Blue America is looking for a replacement who is more in keeping with what the district needs. In the meantime, in a neighboring district, CA-44, Blue America has endorsed progressive candidate Nanette Barragán.

About that race, Howie writes via email:
CA-44 is an open congressional seat because Janice Hahn is running for Supervisor. One of the most corrupt Sacramento politicians, Isadore Hall, is the Establishment fave. He's the second biggest recipient of money from Big Oil in the legislature and he's the lobbyists' favorite lawmaker. His opponent, Nanette Barragán, got into politics fighting Big Oil-- and beating them.
You can contribute to the Barragán campaign, along with other Blue America candidates, here (adjust the split in any way you like, including 100% for Barragán).

We End Where We Began

We began this piece with the idea that the trains ride us, the corn gene breeds us and feeds us for its own propagation ... and our oil burns us so it can return to the skies.

I'm not sure we can stop the trains — the march of technology — but we can stop the march of carbon into the atmosphere. All we have to do is adopt an Easter Island solution and depose its human agents:
You're a villager on Easter Island. People are cutting down trees right and left, and many are getting worried. At some point, the number of worried villagers reaches critical mass, and they go as a group to the island chief and say, "Look, we have to stop cutting trees, like now." The chief, who's also CEO of a wood products company, checks his bottom line and orders the cutting to continue.

Do the villagers walk away? Or do they depose the chief?

There's always a choice ... 
And now is the time to make it. We can end the rule of carbon, and those who suck money from it, the minute we really want to.


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