John Cole, call your office

Josh Marshall was indispensable reading when George Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005, and I think he has it right this year as well. Republicans will not take a wrecking ball to Medicare and Obamacare without Democratic support. This has nothing to do with the filibuster or reconciliation. Mitch McConnell will ditch the filibuster five milliseconds after it gets in the way of something Republicans really want to do. But as much as Republicans really, really, REALLY want to garrot the New Deal and burn its corpse in a ditch they simply cannot message their way around the wreckage that would cause to their core voting constituencies. Even if you could find a majority in the House willing to sit in gasoline and light a match, plenty of Senators know the score. But Paul Ryan can’t do anything to taxes unless he accepts a huge deficit hike or cuts something meaningful, which means either defense (ha) or the safety net.

All of this makes wavering Democrats more valuable to the GOP than the last parachute on a burning plane. That is a lot more reassuring today than eleven years ago – districts represented by blue dogs have Republican leadership now. The liberal Senator with his finger on the zeitgeist is not Joe Lieberman but Bernie Sanders. It will be a hard sell for someone – especially Donald Trump – to lure today’s Democrats into betraying what you could fairly describe as the granite core foundation of the modern Democratic party.

Republicans are already feeling some heat over this. That means you have a chance to make a difference here. Pick up the phone and turn it up some more. They have all the majorities so they have no cover left for crazy political statements. Every vote will count. I guarantee that calls about this particular issue will get noted with an exclamation point.

You can count on most Democrats to defend the party’s core principles, but I would keep a special eye on any Democrat who shows the slightest sign of selling out. For me that list has to start with Joe Manchin. Look, WV went for Trump by thirty points. Manchin would be crazy not to give Republican ideas at least a very polite listen. Before the election he let it slip that he could well defect if the Senate came down to a 50-50 split. I would recommend that anyone living in West by god Virginia pick up the phone early and often until Senator Manchin releases a firm and unambiguous statement against molesting or privatizing our social safety net in any way whatsoever.

Find your Senators here.
Find your Representative here.

House/Senate switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Guide for first-timers here.



Comey’s Coup

I don’t mean to alarm you, fellow citizens, but this FBI business is starting to feel like a coup. Right-wing agents, either with the willing participation of Mr. Comey or emboldened and enabled by his inept leadership, are attempting to swing the election to Donald J. Trump. Consider the evidence that has emerged just in the last 10 days:

1. Comey’s extraordinary statement that reanimated the dead emails story

2. The dormant @FBIRecordsVault Twitter account that burped to life this week and spewed forth investigative reports on Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich

3. FBI leaks to The Hill about an investigation into an alleged straw donor scheme to benefit FL senate candidate Patrick Murphy

4. Leaks to the WSJ (link to TPM because paywall) by FBI agents who are furious that they weren’t given the green light to investigate the Clinton Foundation based on allegations contained in book published by a Breitbart editor

It’s almost as if our taxpayer-supported public servants were waiting to see if Russia’s interference in the U.S. election would bear fruit, and, in the absence of that, decided to hurl produce of their own into the gears of our democracy. This cannot — must not — stand.

Obviously, our first order of business is to win this election. Y’all know what to do on that score. You’re doing it, and I believe we will win. But after that, there must be a reckoning. I’m not sure how that can be accomplished, but this rot must be exposed and rooted out. It’s a bigger threat to our democracy than Donald Trump.



Smug versus condescending

Remember that fun couple of months when we were all saving the Affordable Care Act? Something jumped out at me then and I still think it is incredibly salient today. At the very beginning when we started phoning Representatives, their staffs reacted like it was a breath of air to a drowning person. This really puzzled me. This blog has a lot of readers, but not that many. At any given time I don’t think we had more than a couple hundred actively burning up the phone lines. At the beginning when I started hearing this stuff it could not have been more than a couple dozen people. These politicians represent the whole country. If you count just the Democrats at that time they represent a bit over half of it. That’s a bit under two hundred million people. Say around a hundred million old enough to pick up the phone. I know that not everyone does, but enough people still do that often enough that we never should have had the impact we did.

A piece fell into the puzzle when I listened to Keith and Rachel on MSNBC. I have to confess that I don’t enjoy loud partisan entertainment all that much, even when it’s on my side. I think I watched either of them for the first time a few months after the ACA. When Maddow went to credits, what I felt more than anything was kind of smug. I felt great about being on the right side of objective reality but I did not feel like doing much of anything.

Watch an hour of O’Reilly some time, and then check your feelings. Odds are pretty good you will be mad. If you are a liberal you will be mad at all the stupid and misleading things he said about you. If you are a conservative you will feel pretty steamed about the terrible liberals, laughing at you while they wreck everything. Either way you will want to do something. Maybe call FOX and complain about their accuracy, maybe bottle that rage up and save it for Sunday dinner when you can really stick it to that smug liberal nephew. You know what a metric shitload of conservatives do when FOX or some jackass on Clear Channel pisses them off? They call their Congressperson. I know this because Congressional phone volunteers receive what amounts to a nonstop stream of angry invective from FOX viewers and Glenn Beck fans and people who followed the very easy instructions on the all-caps mailer they just got from Tea Party Freedom Fighters Inc., a subsidiary of Koch Industries. It never ends. That is why I think the firebaggers accomplished nothing, despite outpunching this blog by a couple weight classes. A few more anti-ACA phone calls would barely register among a sea of frothy wingnuts, whereas your positive calls were literally the first supportive pro-ACA message some Reps received from the outside world. Their districts were full of liberals who really wanted to see Americans get health care, but none of them picked up the phone.

To me this disparity is one of the most crucial, underappreciated factors in Washington, DC sausagemaking. It helps explain the aggravating headwind that liberal policies always face, where progressive proposals that somehow make it to a bill inevitably get chipped down and lose support over time, whereas conservatives bills if anything pick up steam and constantly get peppered with amendments that make them worse. No matter what the polling says about how popular a policy is, elected Democrats often act like they are fighting a rear guard action against a hostile press and public because in their office it really feels that way. Every one of them gets a daily tally of where that day’s calls and (especially) letters fall on various issues.

So Kevin Drum just weighed in on the old question about whether liberals have a bigger problem with being smug being condescending. Personally, I say why not both. They’re two sides of the same thing anyway. Kevin more or less noodles at the end but that is the part that interests me.

[L]iberals and conservatives have different styles. No surprise there. The question is, do these styles work? Here, I think the answer is the same on both sides: they work on their own side, but not on the other. Outrage doesn’t persuade liberals and mockery doesn’t persuade conservatives. If you’re writing something for your own side, as I am here, most of the time, there’s no harm done. The problem is that mass media—and the internet in particular—makes it very hard to tailor our messages. Conservative outrage and liberal snark are heard by everyone, including the persuadable centrist types that we might actually want to persuade.

I certainly do not want to dismiss the persuadable moderate thing. A dumb person who is outraged at least radiates sincerity, whereas a smug smart person is practically begging for a wedgie, even when you suspect they are probably right. But at the same time the conservative outrage reflex has a much more basic kind of practical advantage. It gets you yelling at some volunteer phone intern, who dutifully makes yet another little check next to Agenda-21-golf-ban-against. Smug doesn’t really compel you to do anything. You are awesome already, even if the world does not appreciate it. I think we could all afford to meditate on that once in a while.



Balloon Juice Bunker Standoff Update: Won’t Someone Think of the Cows!

Earlier today efgoldman asked about what was happening with Cliven Bundy’s cows.

The short answer is that the BLM, coordinating with the Department of Justice, is trying to figure out what to do with them. They are still under a seizure order from a Federal court due to the unpaid grazing fees and the overdue fines on those fees.

However, BLM has several concerns:
1) There are still Bundys and their supporters at his Bunkerville Ranch and in the surrounding communities that could place BLM personnel at risk.

2) In relation to item 1, Cliven Bundy has sent violently threatening letters to many of the companies that BLM would contract with to do the removal, transport, and/or house the cattle. So none of the companies want to get involved. This is almost a textbook example of the state level crime known as terrorizing/making terroristic threats.

3) The cattle are a special breed of Brahman, imported from India, that can handle high heat, little water, and sparse vegetation. They are also known for having particularly unpleasant dispositions and have been compared to Cape Buffalo. So they are naturally smart and ornery and Bundy has essentially let them go feral. So this isn’t like rounding up the normal, dimwitted cows we often see on TV. Rather it is trying to round up large, nasty, smart, aggressive, feral animals. And trying to do so in harsh conditions with a potential threat of human directed violence against those doing the round up.

4) It is also important to remember that Bundy doesn’t brand his cattle – it is estimated that 3/4 of his herd (approximately 750 out of 1,000 total) are unbranded. Nor has he taken proper care of them. So in addition to being feral, and a specialty breed, because they’ve not had proper veterinary care there is no telling what they are carrying disease wise. This means that bringing them anywhere where they can come into contact with other ranchers’ cattle, or even people, is not a good idea. In order to do this right they would have to a) round them up, b) transport them in a controlled manner to a containment facility – at this point they become temporary property/in custody of the State of Nevada, c) have each cow evaluated by a veterinarian, d) go through a complete course of treatment for whatever they might have, e) be reevaluated to make sure they’re disease free, and then finally to f) be made available for auction with the proceeds going to pay off Cliven Bundy’s outstanding grazing fees and the fines and interest that has accrued on them. That last step of putting them up for auction only comes after Cliven Bundy is given a chance to pay his overdue fees and the fines and the court costs to reclaim his cattle. If he refuses to do so, or fails to do so, the BLM can apply to the State of Nevada Brand Inspector to sell the unbranded cattle. If the application is approved the cattle can then, finally be auctioned, but only the approximately 750 or so without brands. I do not know what happens to the remaining branded cattle.

It is important to keep in mind that Bundy owes over a million dollars in fees, fines, and court costs, but his 1,000 head herd is only valued at around $800,000 and only the unbranded 3/4 (750) can be auctioned or sold to recoup the fees and fines. So that reduces the estimated value of a sale to about $600,000. The estimates of a round up are right around the same price as the estimated value of all of Bundy’s cattle. So no matter what happens he’s going to cost the taxpayers more money than can be recouped in settling the matter. I’ve not seen anyone provide an estimate on damage his cattle has cost, or even how that money could be recouped, but it probably raises the financial stakes here a lot as well.

Since all of the above is a real pain in the tookhas, right now no one is doing anything but monitoring the situation. Some of it is that I’m not really sure anyone really knows the best way to go about all of the above so that Cliven Bundy and his cattle don’t cost the taxpayer any more money than they already have. You’re only other option is to basically slaughter the entire herd where they currently are, which I’m pretty sure is not legal at all.



Balloon Juice Survival Bunker Standoff Watch: Day 1 (Updated at 12:45 AM)

I know Anne Laurie is working up a new post from checking the dashboard, but since we’ve got two aging posts and breaking news, this’ll do for both an open thread and a discussion of ongoing events until she finishes and hits publish.

Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, another unnamed Bundy brother, Ryan Payne, and a number of other militia folks have now occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters buildings. The Bundys have stated that they are prepared to stay there for years and that they are prepared to use violence if any attempt is made to remove them. So we now have breaking and entering into a Federal facility, criminal trespass, and terroristic threats. (h/t Paul W and Kelly in comments).

Here’s the link to Oregon Live’s update. They’ve just updated at 9:15 PM local time with the following statement from the local sheriff:

Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: ‘After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.'”

Here’s the link to what the Feds had to say about what the Hammonds were actually accused, tried, and convicted of.

Here’s John Ritzheimer’s Youtube video (h/t LGF commenter Backwoods Sleuth):



If The Phone Don’t Ring…

Hey everyone!

I’ve got a message for you:

Pick up the damn phone.

The backstory:  I heard last night from a valued reader with connections to the Hill reminded me that there is more this crowd can do than point, sigh, and mock the GOP pants-wetters (abetted by an increasing number of feckless Dems) who so fear the widows and orphans from the latest spasm of our long decade of war in the Middle East.*

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_052

What to do about the attempt to make fear the ground state of American policy?  What to do about the spreading political meme that the proper exercise of US state power is to bar the door to Syrian refugees? How should we stand with President Obama when he says of the fear mongers “that’s not who we are”?

Pick up the damn telephone.

Call your Congressional representatives in the House and the Senate.

You know the drill:  Speak your mind, politely, respectfully, but firmly to whoever you get on the phone.

My reader emphasized, and my own distant memory of an internship on the Hill concurs, that these calls really matter.  House and Senate staffs keep notes and logs.  There are regular reports of how many calls came in, on what side, and with what passion or urgency.  \

Paradoxically, because of the ubiquity of social media, an actual human voice that has taken the trouble to pick up a phone carries a great deal of weight.  So call.

The numbers:

The Senate.

The House.

If you’re feeling extra virtuous — your governor and state legislature representatives would also be worth a call.

We can water the tree of liberty not with blood, but words.

Pick up the damn phone.

*Yes, I do know that the conflict there — and “Great” Power strategerizing through its misery — extends well before 2003.  But the Syrian Civil War of the last few years is (at least to me) both a conflict with deep roots and a proximate consequence of Bush the Lesser’s attempt to remake the Middle East into an model US client region.

Image: attr. to Rembrandt van Rijn, The Flight Into Egypt 1627

 



Long Read: “Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters”

I gafiated (drifted away) from sf fandom in the early 1990s, and even when that was my primary social community I don’t think I ever voted for the Hugos associated with the handful of Worldcons I attended. But from that perspective, here’s as much about this year’s “Puppygate” as anyone not part of that fandom probably cares to know. Amy Wallace, for Wired:

Though voted upon by fans, this year’s Hugo Awards were no mere popularity contest. After the Puppies released their slates in February, recommending finalists in 15 of the Hugos’ 16 categories (plus the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer), the balloting had become a referendum on the future of the genre. Would sci-fi focus, as it has for much of its history, largely on brave white male engineers with ray guns fighting either a) hideous aliens or b) hideous governments who don’t want them to mine asteroids in space? Or would it continue its embrace of a broader sci-fi: stories about non-traditionally gendered explorers and post-singularity, post-ethnic characters who are sometimes not men and often even have feelings?

With so much at stake, more people than ever forked over membership dues (at least $40) in time to be allowed to vote for the 2015 Hugos. Before voting closed on June 31, 5,950 people cast ballots (a whopping 65 percent more than had ever voted before).

But were the new voters Puppies? Or were they, in the words of George RR Martin—the author of the bestselling epic fantasy novels that HBO adapted into Game of Thrones—“gathering to defend the integrity of the Hugos”? On his blog, Martin predicted: “This will be the most dramatic Hugo night in Worldcon history.” He wasn’t wrong. Read more