The secret Boehner memo on Bowe Bergdahl

From: John Boehner
To: Republican Members of the US House of Representatives

Dear Colleagues,

Our friends at NSA, who know everything, have informed me that some sort of deal may be in the works for the release of a US prisoner named Bowe Bergdahl.

A) If the deal goes through, our response will be: Who is this Bergdahl guy anyhow and how did he get captured? Does he speak any foreign languages? Are we sure he is really an American? How dare this administration make deals with the likes of the Taliban? Is Obama releasing terrorists to go back to their wicked ways? His attempts to shut down the detention facility at Guantánamo, like Benghazi and Obamacare (feel free to enlarge on those themes), show the bad faith of this administration.

B) If the deal doesn’t go through, here’s our line: How dare this administration leave this poor American boy in the clutches of the Taliban for 5 long years? Has Obama no concern for the feelings of the Bergdahl parents and the suffering people of Hailey, Idaho, who have never given up hope? Our prayers are with this loyal American whose continued captivity, like Benghazi and Obamacare (feel free to enlarge on those themes) shows the bad faith of this administration.

Please instruct your staffs to choose the relevant argument whenever any news comes through.

For your eyes only.


Posted in Peace and War, Satire, US Senate | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Are the Republicans really afraid of Wolf or just playing games?

This week I received two expensive-looking glossy 4-page mailers (two attached 8.5 X 11″ pages printed on both sides) urging me to vote against Tom Wolf in the May 20 Democratic primary election. You may have gotten those too?

I don’t know to whom the mailers are directed, but I am betting: to Democrats who vote regularly in primaries.

Both mailers are “paid for by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.” Why?

They could have winked at one of their super-rich friends (including corporations and PACs, now that those are human beings too) and gotten the job done by dark money. But they must have wanted the Republican name on the mailer.

They can’t be so naive as to think a regular Dem voter is going to vote for Tom Corbett this year. Even a lot of Republicans aren’t likely to do that. The plan could be to disrupt the Democratic primary. This is why, though I know many disagree, I favor the current PA system of closed primaries. If R’s and I’s could vote in this year’s 4-way Dem gubernatorial primary, they could throw the victory to the candidate perceived as the weakest, or the one least likely to garner real Dem support–if they can figure out who that is; the four still in the race are the ones with the most staying power of a good field of nine.

Of course, the Republican Party of PA knows Corbett is considered the most endangered governor in the country and could take down other R candidates with him, and presumably the strategists are trying to reduce the danger by whatever desperate means they can find.

One’s first line of thought is: as a businessman, Wolf has the money to spend and he can appeal to business owners in a way that Corbett (who can’t appeal to anyone but the oils and gas industry) can’t; and Wolf, unlike his rivals, can’t be described as having a lengthy political background (he was Secretary of Revenue for a year and a half, April 2007 until November 2008).

For several months Wolf has been, as it were, far at the head of the pack. But actually, all the Dems have consistently beaten Corbett in polling so far. It’s not clear to me which candidate the Republicans would prefer. Their two mailers don’t tell me whom they’d like me to vote for. Maybe that one will come soon.

Actually, the PA Republican party has also explicitly attacked Rob McCord. So would they rather their guy run against a woman (McGinty or Schwartz) than a man? I suggest they better be careful what they wish for.

The premises of the mailers are so stupid as to make one wonder if it’s all more subtle than first appears. One ad blames Wolf for raising taxes when he was Secretary of Revenue. By that reasoning, who is the mighty titan who currently determines budgets and taxes in Harrisburg? Dan Meuser that’s who.

But note that his department
, of course, is purely administrative:

The Department of Revenue’s mission is to fairly, efficiently and accurately administer the tax laws and other revenue programs of the commonwealth to fund necessary government services. In addition to tax collection, the department administers the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program, researches and develops revenue projections for the state budget and oversees the Pennsylvania Lottery, which generates funds for programs that benefit older Pennsylvanians.

It doesn’t take much political savvy to know that the General Assembly, not cabinet officials, makes laws and set budgets and tax rates. That’s what it means to have separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

The other mailer attacks Wolf for making a profit in selling his company. That’s odd: isn’t that what businessmen do? Why is the party of big business attacking a businessman for making money from business? Very perplexing.

For more considerations, see Jake Sternberger, “PA Republicans: We Accidentally Lost $87M Dollars. But Here Are Some Lies about Tom Wolf,” Keystone Politics, May 13, 2014.

Wolf could now get a bounce from saying: “The other side is really afraid of me, so vote for me.” Often, in politics, nasty flashy stupid ads generate a backlash. And note that the second ad has a powerful and rather attractive image of a wolf (three times, actually). I like the looks of that wolf better than a bulldog I saw the other day. Wolves have a lot of appeal now among conservationists, as a symbol of the way nature used to be, the balance of powers in the natural world.

Back in February, a neighbor told me: “I really like those ads by that Paul Fox guy.” Foxes, today, are fairly well received animals too (except by chicken farmers). We’ve had foxes (and a coyote) in my neighborhood in the borough of West Chester; they help keep down the four-footed pest population.

Now there’s a potential campaign icon: voters sending Wolf (or fox, terrier, whatever) in to clean up the Harrisburg hen coop. I can see the ads now, the feathers flying, Corbett and the R operatives flapping out the door.

On consideration, I think the Republican Party of PA really handed one to Fox, I mean Wolf.

Perhaps the Republican strategists don’t really care who the Dem candidate is and have given up on Corbett? Perhaps they are just trying to confuse Dems ideologically in order to hold on to the R majority in the PA House and Senate? Perhaps they are really more afraid of McCord, McGinty, and Schwartz and actually want to generate sympathy for Wolf? Do they have something on Wolf they aren’t talking about yet?

Such subtleties, like the apparent preference for Corbett to face a woman, could backfire.

Whatever the case, one can certainly conclude that the Republican party has more money than it knows what to do with. And they are running scared, very scared.

Wolf or no Wolf, Dems should get out to the polls on Tuesday and show that, whoever they vote for, they aren’t intimidated.

Posted in PA Governor | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Hear America Shooting

I wrote this “faux” poem about 15 years ago. Some of the references are to events in the second Clinton administration. Sad to say, I could have written it today.

I Hear America Shooting

“I hear America singing…”
— Walt Whitman

I hear America shooting, the varied volleys I hear,
The blue-suited policeman firing at the mugger on the run who fires back over his shoulder with his semi-automatic pistol,
The hardy day-laborer and his neighbor shooting in the morning at each other’s dogs and in the evening at each other,
The postal worker cutting down his unsympathetic boss and co-workers,
The attorney grown unaccountably tired of public life putting the pearl-handled Colt to his head and on the broad shores of Potomac pulling the trigger,
The ninth-grade teacher shooting five or six colleagues at the last faculty meeting of the semester before Christmas vacation,
The ex-marine in the crowded airport taking target practice with his efficient machine gun,
And the sweet song of the armor-piercing bullet I hear as it hums toward the bullet-proof vest,
The rattle and whir of the Uzi feasting on ordinary people talking on street corners and waiting at bus stops,
The single crash and lingering echo of the shotgun drilling the head of the small girl through the open living room window of her family’s row house,
The drive-by shooting in the city and in the forest the firing of rifles at the frightened does and hunters fleeing among the tall trees,
The men and the women, the sons and the daughters, the weapons of small and large caliber, I hear them all,
In the work day, the school day, and late into the moonlit night at parties and gatherings, indoors and out, making the handsome crackle of gunfire,
I hear America shooting.

Posted in firearms | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Poem for the day or century

Countee Cullen, from Color (Harper, 1925):


Locked arm in arm they cross the way
The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day
The sable pride of night.

From lowered blinds the dark folk stare
And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.

Oblivious to look and word
They pass, and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
Should blaze the path of thunder.

Posted in Race | Tagged | Leave a comment

Russia between democracy and Putin

As a chess player, I read with extra interest the article “What is Garry Kasparov’s Next Move? The great chess champion brings his knowledge to the games of Sochi, global politics and computer intelligence” by Ron Rosenbaum, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2014.

Kasparov, as you may recall, was world chess champion from 1985 to 2000, became active in Russian politics, and ran (till he was eliminated on a technicality) against Vladimir Putin in 2007.

The Smithsonian article summarize–probably reflecting Kasparov’s view–the transition from communism to democracy to oligarchy as follows:

After a coterie of Harvard-based economic advisers helped engineer the privatizing of Russian state assets in the 1990s to the profit of corrupt oligarchs, the consequent immiseration of the Russian people led to Putin’s rise to power. And that led to Putin’s ongoing attempt to recoup what had been lost—seeking to recapture the states that had separated themselves from the Soviet empire, and to crush democracy within Russia.

The dates are easy to remember: after the Soviet Union collapsed, Boris Yeltsin became the Russian leader in 1990 and Putin in 2000.

Yeltsin’s guiding principle was to turn a communist country into a capitalist one as fast as possible. As is usually the case with sudden social change imposed from above and outside (that’s for Yeltsin’s Western advisers), disaster ensued. As described in the Wikipedia article on Boris Yeltsin:

In early 1992, prices skyrocketed throughout Russia, and a deep credit crunch shut down many industries and brought about a protracted depression. The reforms devastated the living standards of much of the population, especially the groups dependent on Soviet-era state subsidies and welfare entitlement programs. Through the 1990s, Russia’s GDP fell by 50 percent, vast sectors of the economy were wiped out, inequality and unemployment grew dramatically, while incomes fell. Hyperinflation, caused by the Central Bank of Russia’s loose monetary policy, wiped out a lot of personal savings, and tens of millions of Russians were plunged into poverty.

Might there be some lessons there for the rest of us, concerning “austerity,” the abolition of social programs, and the privatization of public resources (think: gas drilling in public parks, charterization and voucherization of public schools, and outsourcing of government functions–as in the Obamacare websites)?

What happened in Russia? See Wikipedia, “Privatization in Russia.” In summary, from the “Privatization and the rise of ‘the oligarchs'” section of the Wikipedia article on Boris Yeltsin:

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin promoted privatization as a way of spreading ownership of shares in former state enterprises as widely as possible to create political support for his economic reforms. In the West, privatization was viewed as the key to the transition from Communism in Eastern Europe, ensuring a quick dismantling of the Soviet-era command economy to make way for ‘free market reforms.’ In the early 1990s, Anatoly Chubais, Yeltsin’s deputy for economic policy, emerged as a leading advocate of privatization in Russia.

In late 1992, Yeltsin launched a program of free vouchers as a way to give mass privatization a jump-start. Under the program, all Russian citizens were issued vouchers, each with a nominal value of around 10,000 rubles, for purchase of shares of select state enterprises. Although each citizen initially received a voucher of equal face value, within months most of them converged in the hands of intermediaries who were ready to buy them for cash right away.

In 1995, as Yeltsin struggled to finance Russia’s growing foreign debt and gain support from the Russian business elite for his bid in the early-1996 presidential elections, the Russian president prepared for a new wave of privatization offering stock shares in some of Russia’s most valuable state enterprises in exchange for bank loans. The program was promoted as a way of simultaneously speeding up privatization and ensuring the government a much-needed infusion of cash for its operating needs.

However, the deals were effectively giveaways of valuable state assets to a small group of tycoons in finance, industry, energy, telecommunications, and the media who came to be known as “oligarchs” in the mid-1990s. This was due to the fact that ordinary people sold their vouchers for cash. The vouchers were bought out by a small group of investors. By mid-1996, substantial ownership shares over major firms were acquired at very low prices by a handful of people.

In the absence of strong supervision and controls, that’s the tendency of capitalism: concentration of resources. We’ve seen it before in this country in the late-19th-century Robber Barons, and we’re seeing it again in their early-21st-century descendants.

And the next step? No, it doesn’t seem to be, despite Karl Marx, increasing class consciousness, international solidarity, the revolution of the people, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and an eventual workers’ utopia.

Let Putin and the Russian oligarchs be a warning to us! When whole groups of people are left out, social unrest ensues. See “Yeltsin’s economic legacy” by Alexander Koliandre, BBC News, Moscow, 24 April 2007:

Those who were unable to adapt quickly suffered. In particular, those employed by the state – including teachers, doctors, professors and policemen – learned to hate the “new Russians” who were flocking to the newly-opened restaurants, night clubs and casinos.

And how about that “coterie of Harvard-based economic advisers” whose advice brought about the collapse of the Russian economy and the consequent rise of Putin? You guessed it, that would be the work of Lawrence Summers, when he worked at the US Treasury Department (he didn’t become Secretary of the Treasury until 1999). Per Wikipedia:

Summers set up a project through which the Harvard Institute for International Development provided advice to the Russian government between 1992 and 1997. Later there was a scandal when it emerged that some of the Harvard project members had invested in Russia, and were therefore not impartial advisors. Summers encouraged then-Russian leader Boris Yeltsin to use the same “three-‘ations'” of policy he advocated in the Clinton Administration– “privatization, stabilization, and liberalization.”

Well, at least we can be thankful that Summers did not get another chance to implement his philosophy in our country, since he had to give up his bid to become Federal Reserve chairman in 2013.

Posted in International | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Age of Reason over, Bush proclaimed

Six years ago, I wrote the following little political satire. I have often thought back to it and decided to repost it in support of Sue Tiernan’s comment on “Global climate disruption: the latest.” If Al Gore had not been so reasonable (as later reflected in his book The Assault on Reason), he might have won enough votes in 2000 to be out of the Supreme Court’s sights. I have to say, nothing in today’s national discourse leads me to believe I was being pessimistic as regards the overall direction of our culture. Still, we do need to keep honoring and supporting the public figures who speak up for science and the exercise of reason to solve contemporary problems. As Winston Churchill said: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”

Washington, December 22, 2007 — In his first known foray into intellectual history, President George W. Bush today issued a proclamation that the Age of Reason ended in late 2000.

“Laura has told me about this former politician’s book called The Assault on Reason,” the President said. “I completely agree with any assault. Who needs reason any more when we have TV, marketing, polling, prayer, focus groups, and Vice President Cheney?”

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, drawing on her experience as a former professor of political science at Stanford University, endorsed the President’s decree, saying: “Five hundred years for the Roman Empire, 1,000 for the Middle Ages, then 500 for the Age of Reason, that’s enough.”

“The year 2000 was a symbolic year in American and human history; now we’re in the Age of Post-Reason, or PR for short,” Rice continued. I’d expect this new age to last until about the year 2500, unless as our good friends in the fundamentalist movement say, Armageddon intervenes.”

“Absolutely right!” exclaimed former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, reached at his secret retreat in Texas. “Reason is quaint and old-fashioned. One of those early presidents — someone whose last name begins with J, I think — had it totally backwards when he said: ‘Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.’ Now there’s a guy who obviously never heard of public relations and press releases.”

Bush ally and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, reached at his secret office somewhere between Cairo and Kabul, also applauded the President’s announcement, saying: “I’m sure this news will be well received here in the Middle East. The Bush Post-Reason Doctrine will help bring all those warring parties together in a common world view.”

In a related story, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 295 points on news that the Universal Astrology Association has predicted a good year for stocks in 2008 based on a favorable conjunction of Venus and Mars.

Posted in Politics, President & candidates | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Global climate disruption: the latest

On February 27, I attended an interesting discussion memorably entitled “What a Winter! Forum on Climate Change Policy to Protect and Preserve PA” at West Chester University, sponsored by the West Chester University Sustainability Advisory Council, Borough Leaders United for Emissions Reductions (BLUER), and Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP). With an audience of about 100, speakers were:

Ashlie Delshad, Assistant Professor of Political Science, West Chester University, Energy and Environmental Policy Expert, Sustainability Advisory Council and Climate Action Plan Committee Member

John Hanger, former secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection. Served on the Public Utilities Commission and was instrumental in securing electricity provider choice as we know it today in PA

David Mazzocco, Chair, Borough Leaders United for Emissions Reductions (BLUER), West Chester Borough

Paul Morgan, Professor of Secondary and Professional Education, West Chester University, Sustainability Coordinator, Climate Action Plan Committee Chair

John Quigley, former Secretary of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (2009-11), and since then consultant to nongovernmental organizations, state governments, and foundations on conservation and sustainability

Moderator: Mark W. Davis, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration, West Chester University, Environmental Policy Expert, Sustainability Advisory Council

The discussion oscillated between examples of good works and gloom at the continuing piling-on of CO2 and methane into our one and only atmosphere.

Among other tidbits, I learned or was reminded that:

Less than half (44%) of Americans believe that human activity contributes to human activity (Delshad).

Scientists need to talk like the public if they are to education the rest of us (Delshad).

Big houses, big cars and big money (i.e., overconsumption) are our problem (Morgan).

West Chester’s 11% drop in global warming gases, however laudable, is a one-time drop due to conversion to natural gas (Mazzocco).

“Global climate disruption” is an effective term that incorporates more than just the warming side of what is happening to our climate (Quigley).

The Obama administration has done more for climate and energy than all earlier administrations (Quigley).

Our own state, all by itself, releases 1% of the planet’s global warming gases and unfortunately the climate change policy developed under the Rendell administration was shelved the day the current governor took office (Quigley).

90% of US energy comes from coal, gas, oil, and nuclear; 10% from renewables; and efficiency is always to the good (Hanger).

On the positive side, in 2011 PA emissions were the lowest in 35 years, due to decreasing reliance on coal (Hanger).

The current paralysis brought on by Republican leaders’ adamant opposition to action can be broken in two ways: a huge electoral change similar to the 1932 wipe-out of all but 16 Republican senators, or by a disaster on the order of the flooding of Miami (Hanger).

The audience was asked to submit written questions. Mine didn’t get answered, and really, I can see why it wasn’t chosen: “Why are Americans so averse to paying attention to science?” Here are a few more points in answer to others’ questions:

We can get to totally renewable energy only by massive change, which only the government can drive (Quigley).

Change will have to occur when supply and demand are disrupted (Dershad).

Natural gas is 50% more efficient but the current high releases of methane in production and transmission remain to be regulated (Quigley).

It takes money to save money (Morgan).

West Chester is to use 100% energy for Borough government consumption (Mazzocco).

We have the technology to reduce methane leaks from gas wells and transmission; we just have to use it. Meanwhile, global coal use is increasing by 2% a year, which won’t be cut till China and India use more renewables (Quigley, Hanger).

“Single issue bias” causes us to relax too soon, after accomplishing one step (Morgan).

Western governments need to help developing countries to “leap frog” from no electricity to clean energy (Dershad).

The globe can’t get to 80% renewables till 2050; when there are 2 billion people without electricity today, progress will be slow (Quigley).

The US used to be built on innovation…. (Mazzocco)

PA can cut carbon output double efficiency, increase wind power X 4 and solar X 10. PA needs to pull the 52-point climate change plan from 4 years ago out of the drawer. We have to cross partisan lines. But that means both parties will have to do it (Hanger).

If discussions of this caliber took place across the country, and if people listened and reflected, we might move faster to solve one of the principal problems of our time — and one that we can, indeed, solve.

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments