Filibuster Reform Reminds Us that the Real Scandal Hurting the Country Right Now Isn’t in the Executive Branch

When I saw the Huffington Post banner headline “End of the Line” Thursday, linking to a story on how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering changing the chamber’s filibuster rules based on a majority vote, it occurred to me that this was an issue that is worthy of major coverage in the mainstream news media. And yet, I was quite sure it wouldn’t be enough to push the White House “scandals” off the front burner.

After all, if you flipped on a news or entertainment program for the last two weeks, you have likely been inundated with news and jokes about the three “scandals” affecting the Obama administration. The fact that this is the narrative shows how truly corrupted our political process has become, and how lazy the news media have become in utterly failing in their role as the fourth estate, holding elected officials accountable for their actions.

Yes, the coverage of the White House “scandals” is looking at what government officials did, but the issues are so unimportant compared to real malfeasance that is having a real effect on the country.

If the job of the press is to report on how the conduct of elected officials has an actual impact on how we live our day-to-day lives, and on behavior that is consciously and directly bad for the vast majority of the country and the day-to-day workings of the government, there should be a tsunami of coverage of how Republicans in power in Congress are trying to subvert American democracy and putting iron-clad ideological beliefs (that are far out of the mainstream) ahead of governing and doing what is best for the country. Specifically, Republicans in the Senate are abusing the filibuster to keep jobs — in both the executive and judicial branches — unfilled while sitting idly by and letting economic growth take a hit in the name of ideology.

I’ll get to specifics in a minute, but first, no, I am not writing this because “my team” is being targeted. Let’s quickly go over the three Obama administration “scandals” and why they are either non-stories or minor ones.

– Benghazi. Republicans are using the tragedy of the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, to score political points. They have lied about what was in State Department emails. And they have been lying about what went on in the first place. Think the fact that Hillary Clinton would be a formidable presidential candidate in 2016 has anything to do with the Republicans politicizing an American tragedy? Considering Karl Rove’s Super PAC ran ads smearing Clinton in conjunction with Benghazi, GOP motives are quite clear.

Benghazi is a scandal all right, but the scandal is the Republican abuse of power. Rep. Darrell Issa has abused his position as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate non-scandals for political gain. So it was a great moment when Attorney General Eric Holder went Joseph Welch on Issa during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, calling his conduct “unacceptable” and “shameful.”

– IRS. Clearly, if a government agency targets organizations based on their ideology, that conduct should be investigated and condemned. So what did the Justice Department do upon finding out about the potentially illegal conduct? It launched an investigation. And what did the president do when he found out about the alleged IRS conduct? He condemned it. There is no evidence the president knew about the alleged Tea Party targeting, let alone that he ordered it. And it’s not like there isn’t reason to investigate if Tea Party groups were misusing apolitical, tax-free organizations to do political work without disclosing their donors. (After all, when you think of Rove, the first thing you think of is charity work, right?)

So while there may have been some unethical and/or illegal activity at the IRS, the Obama administration (and the president himself) has appropriately responded. Where is the scandal?

– AP. The fact that Republicans are complaining about government breaches in investigating media to determine the source of leaks is a dictionary-worthy example of the pot calling the kettle black. The GOP is screaming bloody murder over behavior they have engaged in for years. More importantly, like with the IRS investigation, there is no evidence that the president was involved in the decision to pull the AP phone records.

None of these “scandals” reveal any corruption in the Obama administration (or the president himself), and any wrongdoing is being investigated. None of what has happened has an impact on the life of the average American. The news media, of course, should cover what has happened, but they have to do so in perspective. None of these stories involve larger scale problems with the integrity of the government. And the impact is far less to the economy, our government and our democracy than what is resulting from what the Republicans are doing in Congress. The GOP’s actions are unprecedented in modern history.

Which leads us back to the Republican abuse of the filibuster and other procedural devices that prevent Senate votes not only on legislation, but on confirming nominees for federal court judges and executive department positions. In fact, they are trying to incapacitate the National Labor Relations Board by not approving nominees for new members, so that when the chair’s term expires in August, there will be nobody left on the board. What the GOP is doing is nothing short of an assault on the federal government.

There are 79 judicial vacancies in federal courts right now, an unprecedented number. The lack of judges is affecting the ability of the federal judicial system to function. The reason is simple: Republicans in the Senate are refusing to allow a vote on the president’s nominees. And they’ve done so (I’m going to use the word again) in an unprecedented manner, with Obama having far fewer nominations confirmed than any recent president (42.8 percent compared to 86.8 percent for George W. Bush, 79.3 percent for George H.W. Bush and 93.1 percent for Ronald Reagan).

The GOP has become so detached from reality that when the president nominated three judges for vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week, Sen. Charles Grassley charged Obama with trying to pack the court. Think about that. The Republicans in the Senate have become so ideological they have turned a basic job of the president, to appoint judges, into something nefarious.

Which is why Reid is, as Huffington Post reported as its top story Thursday, considering changing the Senate rules on a majority vote (the so-called “nuclear option”) to make it harder for Republicans to repeatedly and strategically obstruct by not allowing votes on the president’s nominees. And if you think Reid is off the rails, consider that the impetus for the Huffington Post article was that Norm Ornstein of the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute now supports changing the Senate rules. Ornstein’s description of Grassley points to how far the Republicans in Congress have wandered from not only the mainstream, but from the responsibility to govern and, really, reality:

“I laughed for several reasons. One was wondering whether a senior
senator and longtime member of the Judiciary Committee really had no
idea what court packing is, or was he reaching for new heights of
disingenuousness: How could a move by a president simply to fill
long-standing existing vacancies on federal courts be termed court

Now, I’m sure some people are saying, “Well, the Republicans are playing games with a few judicial nominations. So what?” But the problem is, the obstruction on the judges is part of a bigger trend. The GOP has gone filibuster crazy, blocking the chance for any legislation to pass. The Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster far more often than any Senate minority party ever has. The GOP senators have forced 360 filibuster votes since the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007. By way of comparison, the Democrats only required 164 filibuster votes in the six years the Republicans controlled the Senate during the Bush presidency.

And for what? Why is the GOP filibustering everything? Because they have devolved into a party that is out of touch with reality, wedded to a far-right ideology (including a commitment to austerity and the destruction of government that is based on trumped up data and advanced without evidence or logic) and unwilling to compromise in an effort to govern and move the country forward. Bob Dole, nobody’s version of a liberal, spoke out last week on how the modern Republican party has gone so far astray, he, Nixon and even Ronald Reagan would have no place in the party today.
That is why the Tea Party senators, including Rand Paul, are not even letting the budget passed by the Senate go to conference with the House without imposing debt ceiling-related requirements. In response, Republican senators John McCain and Susan Collins condemned Paul’s obstruction on the floor of the Senate.

That is why the GOP in Congress are happy to sit idly by and watch the sequester drag down economic growth and job creation.

That is why, with unemployment still high, the Republican-controlled House instead is obsessed with abortion restrictions and 37 votes to repeal Obamacare. (As an aside about the lazy media, earlier in the week there was much reporting of how a CNN poll found that only 43 percent supported Obamacare, while 51 percent opposed it. But few outlets reported that only 35 percent opposed Obamacare because it was too liberal, while 16 percent opposed the law because it was too conservative. So the poll found that 59 percent of respondents wanted some kind of health care reform that was at least as comprehensive as the Affordable Care Act, while only 35 percent supported the pre-reform status quo. But few reported it that way.)

So while the news media and late night comedy show hosts are obsessed with three so-called scandals involving the executive branch, our democracy is under attack by Republicans in Congress more interested in ideological purity than governing in the best interests of most Americans. And they are backing up their anti-government mission with unprecedented obstructionism intended to damage the country for strategic purposes.

Rather than be outraged by IRS audits and phone lists, the focus should be on how the Republicans have turned into a party that no longer has any interest in compromise or governing, and certainly doesn’t have the best interests of most Americans in mind when they act. That is the real scandal going on right now, even if you wouldn’t know it from turning on the television.

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The times they are a changin’, Black President, Gay Marriage, Crazy Weather, Fiscal Cliffs, Right Wingnuts and now….The Starbucks of Marijuana!!!!

Former Microsoft executive to launch ‘marijuana chain’

Vincente Fox and Jamen ShivelyVicente Fox (left) joined Jamen Shively at a press conference in Seattle

A former Microsoft executive has announced plans to make marijuana a brand in the US.

Jamen Shively says he plans to launch an American chain which is the leader in both recreational and medical cannabis, much like Starbucks is the dominant name in coffee, he said.

“We are planning to build a national and international network of cannabis businesses,” he said.

He says he is looking to target both social and medical users of the drug.

“The projected size of the United States market, once full legalization with regulation exists across the country, our estimates somewhere in $200 billion (£131bn) for the United States market and the total worldwide market would be somewhere north of half a trillion dollars.”

Marijuana leaf

The use, possession and sale of marijuana is still banned under federal law in America.

However, 18 states have legalised use of the drug for certain medical conditions and two states, Washington and Colorado, voted to allow the recreational use of marijuana in 2012.

He’s since bought cannabis dispensaries in the two states.

Jamen Shively, who spent six years at Microsoft, says he is looking for $10m (£6.5m) of investment for his company, Diego Pellicer Inc.

He says he is aware that his plans are currently illegal but would start his Seattle-based business by buying medical cannabis dispensaries in three US states that complied with local and state rules.

“If they want to come talk to me, I’ll be delighted to meet with them,” he said about the possibility of being visited by federal officials.

“I’ll tell them everything that we’re doing and show them all our books.”

Speaking alongside Jamen Shively at a press conference in Seattle was former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

He said they hoped to legally import the drug from Mexico.

Plans for Jamen Shively’s company also include a study into the use of concentrated cannabis oil in treating cancer and other illnesses.

He originally announced plans for his marijuana chain in December.

Follow @BBCNewsbeat on Twitter


I struggle with good reasons why this meeting with the press about “how” the DOJ will be dealing with the press moving forward… will be “off the record”…but I’m sure there’s a good reason, right?

20130531-102553.jpgMedia Outlets Split On Whether Or Not To Attend Holder Meetings (UPDATED)

A growing divide emerged on Thursday between news organizations who are willing to attend a series of off-the-record meetings with Attorney General Eric Holder and those who have refused.

Holder was set to meet with the Washington bureau chiefs from several top news outlets on Thursday and Friday to discuss his plans for reforming the DOJ’s policies regulating the investigation of journalists. But many have objected to the off-the-record nature of the gathering, which prevents the people who attended from sharing what was discussed.

CNN and McClatchy said Thursday morning that they had joined the New York Times, Associated Press and The Huffington Post in declining Holder’s invitation to the meeting.

“CNN will decline the invitation for an off-the-record meeting,” a post on the network’s website read. “A CNN spokesperson says if the meeting with the attorney general is on the record, CNN would plan to participate.”

Speaking to Poynter, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief James Asher said he saw no good reason to attend:

“They don’t help us inform the public,” Asher said of off-the-record meetings in a phone interview with Poynter. “This one seems designed mostly to make a public relations point and not a substantive one. If the government wants to justify its pursuit of journalists, they ought to do it in public.”
Meanwhile, CBS told HuffPost’s Michael Calderone it did not plan to attend.

Fox News—which, along with the AP, was directly targeted by the Justice Department—said it would not attend if the meeting was off-the-record. In a piece about the meeting, Reuters added its name to the list.

Others, however, have gone the opposite way.

Politico and the Washington Post both said on Wednesday that they would attend the meeting.

“Journalists routinely participate in off-the-record sessions, whether they prefer those conditions or not, and then continue to report on events,” Post editor Martin Baron told the paper’s Erik Wemple.

An ABC spokesperson said on Thursday that the network would send someone and “press” for the meeting to be on the record. The Wall Street Journal, the bureau chief for the Tribune papers, Bloomberg and USA Today were also set to turn up.

UPDATE: Journalists from five news outlets—the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Politico, the New York Daily News and the Wall Street Journal—attended Thursday’s meeting with Holder.


If The Shoe Was On The Other Foot………………..





Photo: CNN online


Senator McCain’s public relations firm/staff said it would be “regrettable” if in fact he had been photographed meeting with suspected terrorists. “REGRETTABLE”, they say. I wonder how loud the “liberal media”, network TV, big cable, the New York Times and right-wing web sites would be screaming today if, instead of Senator McCain being in the photograph, it was a senator from the Democrat side of the aisle. Just sayin……..



In today’s news Japan cancelled orders of wheat from the U.S. when GMO’s were discovered. All cards on the table I am opposed to GMO’s in our food. I am not confident that companies have the best long term interest at heart with their gene splicing efforts. They will make or have made a mistake to grievous effect, of this I am completely convinced. Still I take pause and appreciate the following article and its advice-BK:

Bad Enough

Things are bad enough in the food world that we don’t need to resort to hyperbole to be worried or even alarmed.

It’s one thing to decry the lack of fairness and consumer protection when businesses and the government decide what gets produced, marketed, labeled, regulated and sold[1] , and how. It also makes sense to be outraged by the health, environmental and economic damage caused by our food “system”[2] and the diet it encourages.

But it’s another to call those things evil. Evidence, for instance, that an excess of something like sugar may well be bad for your health does not mean that the substance itself is “bad.” (In fact, we need sugar to function.)

So, while it’s a point of pride and an overall good thing that we can say pretty much whatever we want in the United States, and that these opinions can now be heard or read almost anywhere, to whom should we be listening? Who speaks with authority?

When it comes to big issues, the answer is “actual experts,” and it’s almost always “not ourselves.” This point is made convincingly in “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” the 2011 book by the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman[3] .

In it, Kahneman demonstrates that our reasoning “System One” — our “blink,” or fast-reacting system — may instantly judge and conclude based on information that is either inadequate or ill-considered, and frequently both. There is a second system of thought and judgment, says Kahneman, that’s more rational, but we’re usually too lazy to use it unless something forces us to. Difficult as it may be to accept (for sure, I have trouble), our opinions on almost everything are little more than snap judgments, not to be taken too seriously.

Our intuition — the “fast” thinking of Kahneman’s book’s title — is especially untrustworthy in areas outside our expertise, which is to say most areas. Developing expertise usually takes many years of work.

In matters where you’ve become a true expert, you should trust your intuition. Otherwise, it pays to literally stop and think. When I read a news story like this one, which claims that G.M.O.s are linked to leukemia, I might be scared out of my wits — Americans can’t avoid genetically modified food without a huge effort, and even then there are no guarantees. So are we doomed to years of chemo? Perhaps not: If I sit down and do my homework all I can really say with intelligence is that it’s premature to conclude that ingesting food with genetically engineered ingredients is safe.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, barely a day goes by that someone doesn’t say to me, “There’s nothing I can safely eat.” Many of us are afraid of our food and of the way it’s produced, and to some extent that fear is well founded.

But exaggerating doesn’t make our case stronger, as I was reminded while sitting in Bill Maher’s “Real Time” studio last Friday night being “interviewed,” or — to be more precise — serving as straight man in a generally hilarious comedy routine. (His best line, I thought, was when he said that Gov. Chris Christie’s lap-band surgery was “like quitting cocaine by Krazy-Gluing your nostrils shut.”)

In something like seven minutes, Maher expressed fear or hypercriticism of sugar (“really the enemy”), pasta, wheat, yeast (“yeast is bad”) and dairy (“not chemically appropriate”). After the show, he called Monsanto “evil” (hard to argue with that one, as long as you equate it with “immoral” as opposed to a supernatural negative force), and though he didn’t say “frankenfood” in this instance, he does use the word frequently.

It’s easy enough to get caught up in this, but in a way it might make sense to stick to the facts. Since gun control was on the evening’s agenda, for example, I would have liked to make the point that our hyperconsumption of added sugars may lead to more deaths each year than gun killings and will soon lead to more than lung cancer, or that Monsanto’s much-touted Roundup has led to the development of what are generally called “superweeds,” which in turn has led to Monsanto’s developing new weed-resistant seeds[4] . (In a major setback for the dominant seed producer, the Department of Agriculture has said that it wants to look further at the environmental impact of these before approving their planting.) None of this is the same as equating either sugar or Monsanto with the forces of evil.

Maher is as quick a thinker as you’re likely to see, especially compared to his talk-show-host-world competition. But quick thinking, as Kahneman writes, is not really what we need when making a compelling argument, one that others may actually heed. [5]

When Maher, or anyone else, claims that corporations put profits over people’s health, this makes sense. Monsanto, for instance, has shown a callous attitude toward farmers, consumers, agriculture, the environment and, in some respects,human life. And sugar is a substance that’s relentlessly rammed down our throats and cunningly included in foods where it doesn’t belong, a fact that threatens nearly everyone in the United States. Nothing “evil” or supernatural about that — but, if you ask me, it’s still bad enough.

2.  “Barely controlled anarchy” describes food production, marketing and sales better than “system.” It’s not as if there’s any planning to benefit anyone but producers and marketers.

3. Kahneman’s authority doesn’t derive from his Nobel Prize in Economics but from his half-century of thinking carefully about behavioral economics and exposing his ideas to the scrutiny and testing of others.

4. Now! Even More Weed-Resistant!

5. Although one of Kahneman’s arguments, demonstrated daily in all of our lives, is that we’re most likely to believe evidence that supports our existing beliefs, whether it’s good evidence or bad. Thus the audience cheers at Maher’s most outrageous statements.


Submitted by BK Thomas