Category Archives: Politics

Immigration: how we got here

By Peter Eisner

Seems like a fine day to point out how I, along with millions, am an American by the choice and search of my ancestors for freedom. My paternal grandfather, Louis Eisner, came to this country one hundred eleven years ago, fleeing Jewish persecution in Russian-controlled Poland. He did not undergo extreme vetting — which might have determined that he had at one point attended a few Bolshevik organizational meetings.

Ten years later, in 1916, he became an American citizen and pledged loyalty to the United States, and renounced allegiance to the Russian leader of the moment, Czar Nicholas II. It was a year before the Russian revolution.

Here’s to American freedom and democracy!

louis-eisner-citizenship

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Questions about oil, OPEC and fracking

People tend to think about the price they spend per gallon on gas as a given far out of the control of mere mortals. Oil suppliers rule the day as does the futures market;  despite political rhetoric from all sides, government rarely if ever tackles the issue. The policy is ad hoc, and renewal sources (wind and solar) suffer when petroleum prices are low.1280px-West_Texas_Pumpjack

Here are some questions and answers [Aided by a primer written by the Economist in December.]. Oil price was $70 per barrel then, and may be forced down close to $10 per barrel.

Q: Why is the price of oil and gasoline plummeting?

OPEC is leading the way, especially Saudi Arabia. “…the Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price. They could curb production sharply, but the main benefits would go to countries they detest such as Iran and Russia.”

Q: Why would they do that?

In part, to reassert OPEC dominance in the oil market. Petroleum is power. “Saudi Arabia can tolerate lower oil prices quite easily. It has $900 billion in reserves. Its own oil costs very little (around $5-6 per barrel) to get out of the ground.” The United States and other oil consumers tend to tread lightly on negotiating oil price with Saudi Arabia and OPEC.

Q: Who loses?

Countries such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela and other troubled economies highly dependent on oil revenue. But the U.S. fracking industry also suffers, which can’t expand and grow when extraction prices dip below $60-$70 per barrel. Fracking involves pulverizing the earth with high pressure water to release the natural gas held in abundant oil shale supplies. It is a booming industry, the 21st century equivalent of a Gold Rush.

Q: What’s good about fracking?

Theoretically, it is a step toward U.S. energy independence. It produces major economic changes in the areas where oil shale supplies are plentiful.

Q: What’s bad about fracking. Environmental issues

Two interesting headlines from the news recently:

FROM TEXAS:
“After 11 quakes in the last two days – with one registering at a 3.6 – Irving, Texas’ sudden onset tremor problem might be the fracking industry’s nightmare.
There’s a monster lurking under Texas, beneath the sand and oil and cowboy bones, and it’s getting a little restless after a 15 million year nap.”

FROM OHIO:

“Not long after two mild earthquakes jolted the normally steady terrain outside Youngstown, Ohio, last March, geologists quickly decided that hydraulic fracturing operations at new oil-and-gas wells in the area had set off the tremors.” Now a detailed study has concluded that the earthquakes were not isolated events, but merely the largest of scores of quakes that rattled the area around the wells for more than a week.”

Q: Name the world’s largest oil producer.

The United States outstripped Saudi Arabia in 2014 as the world’s largest oil producer. The United States has been the world’s largest natural gas producer since 2010.

Q: What are the components of gasoline price:

About two thirds of the price is based on crude oil prices. As of November, according to government statistics:

in percentages:  (rounding slightly less than 100 percent)

crude oil:        62.4

taxes                  14.6

refining              5.5

retailing          17.4

 

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The Pope and The U.S. Cuban Breakthrough: Gracias pero….

It’s fine to thank Pope Francis, but let’s not overplay the idea that the Vatican took a significant role in the historic change of U.S.-Cuban relations after more than half a century.

Officials in Washington and Havana have been in contact all along, albeit at lower levels through their periodic and sometimes secret meetings in Havana and Washington.  They didn’t need an intermediary–they needed a political moment, and the timing is perfect.

It is great that the pope could provide a meeting room, write some letters to presidents Obama and Castro and express his concern on humanitarian grounds for Alan Gross and the other prisoners on both sides. But the Vatican involvement is probably little more than diplomatic cover. Cuba is a Catholic country, the pope is seen as a progressive peacemaker; perhaps the idea of his participation soothes the animus of a few Cuban exiles in Miami with the inference that President Obama listened to a higher power.pope and obama

Neither did the countries need to meet in Canada, other than for the sake of following through on diplomatic protocol.

Rarely have two countries known one another as well as do the United States and Cuba. The change in relations has its own moment. First, President Obama can do it now without expending much political capital. He need not face elections again and taking this step right after the midterm elections can cushion the eventual Democratic presidential candidate from what he has done. Meanwhile, the profile of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the key opponents to a modern rethinking of Cuban policy, is on the wane. He will move aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take over in January.

In addition, a persistent domestic political problem for Democrats is wasting away with time.  Florida International University’s most recent survey about Cuban-American views of the embargo is emblematic of change. This year for the first time the tri-yearly survey shows that a majority of Miami Cubans support an end to the Cuban embargo. Florida was once a more troublesome problem. Democrats thought they could not win Florida’s 29 electoral votes without taking a strident anti-Castro position. President Obama, however, took Florida both in 2008 and 2012 with the support of Cuban-Americans.

Times are changing. The pope is Latin American and his support cannot hurt. But the eventual resumption of Cuban-American relations has everything to do with two presidents of two countries, one term-limited out and the other dealing with actuarial tables.

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“Isn’t it Rich, Aren’t we a Pair?” The Koch Brothers and Pope Francis

What do we find in our Sunday newspaper this morning? An opinion piece that conflates the Koch brothers and Pope Francis as being on the same page.

The Washington Post

The Washington Post

It is clear, we are told, that the Koch Brothers and the pope (who by golly the writers have met) are fighting the same fight–the “preferential option for the poor.”

The authors are John and Carol Saeman, fawning friends and moneyed allies of the Koch brothers, the benevolent pair who oppose climate change legislation and Affordable Health Care, using their billions to support the Tea Party and other ultra right-wing causes, and to control American politics and election outcomes. This ‘umble opinion piece is topped off by photographs of the brothers, David and Charles, flanking Pope Francis.

Yea, as we walk through the valley of American fear, the Koch brothers are our saviors. Progressive social programs, welfare and anything else created since the New Deal are the enemy. No mention of Democrats, or the name of the president, just code–“centralization” and “bureaucrats…collude to protect politically favored companies and crowd out competitors.”

“This phenomenon isn’t found only in Third World Dictatorships. It’s increasingly evident in Washington….”

Not to worry, the Koch brothers are here. “We believe the Kochs are doing more to help the poor than the “social justice” campaigners who so often attack them.”

It is a strange argument and, at the least, difficult to believe.

More about the Koch Brothers?

Daily Show

Rolling Stone

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Presidential Fingerprints In Missouri

 

The President Speaks at Martha’s Vineyard. (White House Photo)

Faced with the tense situation that had developed in suburban St. Louis. President Obama performed decisively, even historically, on Thursday. His actions were so subtle that few people acknowledged or credited his role. The chain of events:

  • He scheduled a 12:15 p.m. statement about Iraq and the St. Louis story, and we then learned he was delayed.
  • In the interim, historical perspective was evident. Congressman John Lewis, the conscience of the Civil Rights era, appeared on MSNBC where he told Andrea Mitchell that he heard echoes of the 1960s.
  • President Obama finally came on the air from Martha’s Vineyard, announced and reaffirmed no boots on the ground needed in Iraq and then turned to Ferguson, Missouri, saying he had just spoken with Jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri.

 I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward.  He is going to be traveling to Ferguson.  He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done….

Despite calls for federalizing the National Guard, no boots were needed on the ground here either.

Within hours, the governor, described as taciturn and avoiding the situation (he had been en route to the Missouri State Fair), diverted to St. Louis and appointed an African-American State Police Captain, Ronald Johnson, to take over policing.

Everything changed. Reporters, including Wesley Lowery, the Washington Post writer who had been arrested by police a day earlier, tweeted they had seen an immediate turnaround. This from the Washington Post:

As a result, the heavy riot armor, the SWAT trucks with sniper posts and the gas masks were gone from the streets of Ferguson Thursday night, and Johnson marched with the crowd, eliciting cheers from the protesters. Johnson vowed to not blockade the streets, to set up a media staging center, and to ensure that residents’ rights to assemble and protest were not infringed upon.

“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson declared to reporters.

Here’s what the New York Times reported:

Captain Johnson, who is African-American and grew up in the area, said: “We’re just starting today anew. We’re starting a new partnership today. We’re going to move forward today, to put yesterday and the day before behind us.”

A New York Times Editorial acknowledged the change, but only said “higher authorities” had wisely prevailed.

Higher authorities wisely stepped into the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday after a night that startled the nation with images of police overkill: flash grenades, rubber bullets and huge clouds of tear gas fired at demonstrators protesting the police shooting Saturday of an unarmed black teenager.

Gov. Jay Nixon — after keeping a low profile for too long — made an urgent tour of the town and replaced local police officers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He gave the Highway Patrol an order that should have been given over the weekend: Let protesters who are angry about the shooting protest peacefully, without aggressive demands to disperse, as is their constitutional right.

The change in temperature? Organized quietly, plain, simple and with surgical precision, by the President of the United States. Did anyone happen to notice?

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A remarkable indictment: The outrageous cost of childbearing in the U.S. (NY Times)

A stark report from the New York Times on the finances of childbirth shows that the United States stands alone from other developed countries, in cost and common sense. The average cost of delivery is nine times higher than in Argentina, and as the Times reports:

“From 2004 to 2010, the prices that insurers paid for childbirth — one of the most universal medical encounters — rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for Caesarean sections in the United States, with average out-of-pocket costs rising fourfold,according to a recent report by Truven that was commissioned by three health care groups. The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section, with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866, the report found.”

The data is shocking:

  • “In most other developed countries, comprehensive maternity care is free or cheap for all, considered vital to ensuring the health of future generations.”

  • “Ireland, for example, guarantees free maternity care at public hospitals, though women can opt for private deliveries for a fee.”

  • “The chasm in price is true even though new mothers in France and elsewhere often remain in the hospital for nearly a week to heal and learn to breast-feed, while American women tend to be discharged a day or two after birth, since insurers do not pay costs for anything that is not considered medically necessary.”

And the outcomes are an outrage:

  • “Despite its lavish spending, the United States has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations, although the fact that poor and uninsured women and those whose insurance does not cover childbirth have trouble getting or paying for prenatal care contributes to those figures.”

Read the whole story and see if you can figure out why Americans, spurred on by lies, object to universal health care.

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The Drag of Congressional Hearings

boehner-obamacareThe prospects of paralyzing hearings and pontificating for no reason, other than Republican hatred toward Obama.

The public gets what it wants every two years. Will there be prolonged hearings, will the Republican Congress pursue a witch hunt, or will it fear blow-back in 2014 elections?

From the New York Times (Jonathan Weisman):

G.O.P., Energized, Weighs How Far to Take Inquiries

WASHINGTON — The investigations ensnaring the White House have unified the Republican Party, energized a political base shattered by election losses and given common purpose to lawmakers divided over a legislative agenda.

The most pressing question for Congressional Republicans is no longer how to finesse changes to immigration law or gun control, but how far they can push their cases against President Obama without inciting a backlash of the sort that has left them staggering in the past.

Stay tuned.

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Coming Distractions: The IRS Saga–More Republican Nonsense in a Congress Near You

Gallup Poll Shows Congressional Approval at around 13 percent.

Gallup Poll Shows Congressional Approval at around 13 percent.

In the knee-jerk fraud that masquerades as a Republican alternative, the latest pseudo-drama inside the Beltway will be the sanctimonious months of Congressional hearings about a non-existent conspiracy at the Internal Revenue Service.  Faced with real issues — immigration, health care, gun reform, electoral reform, among them — the wing-nuts that control the House of Representatives have a new excuse to do worse than nothing.

The real agenda is to attack their Democratic opponents, especially the president, and increasingly the leading presidential candidate for 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Succinctly stated, all of this, in a New York Times editorial:

Inevitably, the stumble by the I.R.S. will now be used by the Republicans as a point of attack. They are gleefully promising months of hearings, and the National Republican Congressional Committee is already trying to tarnish Democratic lawmakers with what it calls “the Obama administration’s use of the I.R.S. as a political tool.”

This will serve as the perfect distraction from issues, like the budget, gun control or immigration reform. And it will probably prevent any real progress on campaign finance reform, which, in turn, will make it vastly more difficult for the I.R.S. to prevent abuse of the tax code.

The I.R.S. stumble, if it is one, comes as a result of a highly partisan flawed and democracy-damaging decision by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. The I.R.S. began to investigate whether right-wing nonprofits claiming tax exemption were really political fronts for the Republicans who placed the Supreme Court majority on the bench so it could make the damaging decision. “Oh no,” meanwhile, cries the Tea Party, “we’re nonpartisan.”

All of this works very well as long as straight-thinking citizens pay little heed, not even the 22 minutes needed to watch The Daily Show, to check out the sad humor of it all.

I don’t know about you — but it becomes increasingly difficult to even read or watch the news from Washington — so predictable as it is. A moderate majority of citizens appears to have given up. We are left with a Senate tilted to low-population states, a House built by a Republican minority that stacked the deck state by state.

Two of the prime deck-stackers, the Koch Brothers, by the way, are now trying to purchase the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the Chicago Tribune’s assets. Then, they’ll even be able to control the message better than they already have.

Failing broader outrage from a gerrymandered public, laughter and mockery is probably the best way to go.

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Fear and Stupidity: Wrong lesson in government

Contrast the  fear-mongering of elected Republicans  with the abiding words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
fear itself

Lindsey Graham:

If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

John McCain in a joint statement with Graham:

“The public safety exception is a domestic criminal law doctrine that allows questioning of a criminal suspect without Miranda warnings for a limited time and purpose.

Prejudgment, no facts, no faith in laws guaranteeing the constitutional rights of an American citizen.

Both are elected by a populace that should think things through. McCain, save us, could have been President of the United States.

The lesson to be taken from Boston is that police know their jobs, and the system does work. If anything, the danger is succumbing to fear. There is this wise analysis by author and journalist, James Bamford, echoing Roosevelt three-quarters of a century ago.

If the idea of terrorism is to terrorize, then the hyper-hysterical media coverage of the Boston bombing was made to order and almost guarantees that others, seeking similar attention, will follow. This was not 9/11, far from it. And shutting down an entire city, telling everyone to lock themselves inside, is not a sign of strength. It is also a terrible precedent to set. London and other major cities have seen much, much worse and managed to follow the principle, Keep Calm and Carry On.

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A Vision Test on Iraq and the Media. Choose A or B

Here are two competing visions of the media handling of the war in Iraq

This is the way it works at the eye doctor. He holds letters in front of your eyes and asks you to choose. The answer gets better and better, hopefully vision more and more clear.

Choose A….

This is a piece by Greg Mitchell, substantially published by The Nation, after being spiked by the Washington Post

For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry.  The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll.  Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.

But wait.  Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”?  Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other–and blowing up our soldiers?  And where were those WMDs, bio-chem labs, and nuclear materials?  Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas–it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”

or B

A story by Paul Fahri published on the Opinion Pages

There’s no doubt that many news organizations, including this one, missed important stories, underplayed others that were skeptical of the administration’s case and acted too deferentially to those in power. A few instances — such as the New York Times’ September 2002 report hyping Iraq’s aluminum tubes as evidence of a reconstituted nuclear program — have become infamous. The Times and The Washington Post have publicly examinedand admitted their shortcomings.

But “failure” grossly oversimplifies what the media did and didn’t do before the war, and it ignores important reasons the reporting turned out the way it did. As new threats loom, from Iran to North Korea, better understanding these circumstances can help us assess what happened and whether we’re better positioned today.

Can they both be right? I don’t think so. Somebody will need new glasses.

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