Not So Fast, Not So Furious.
For months the radicals in the House of Representatives have been hammering away at Attorney General Eric Holder, the DoJ, the ATF and the Obama administration in general over a failed program to track guns being trafficked to Mexico to arm the drug cartels engaged in what amounts to a virtual civil war with the government of that country. The DoJ and the ATF lost control of a lot of guns that finally ended up in Mexico and one of those guns was used to kill a federal agent. The program with the duffous, macho code name of “Fast and Furious” was started in the Bush administration and continued by the present administration.
When it went wrong several years ago it quickly morphed from a botched government attempt (in the eyes of most observers) to stem the flood of arms that is destabilizing a neighbor with a 1,000 mile shared border, into a sinister plan to impose gun control throughout the United States as part of an even more sinister plan to turn the United States into a communist/socialist/atheist/Nazi (pause for breath), Muslim/vegetarian/global warming hoax loving/secular humanist/New World Order/flag burning/cheese eating surrender monkey… well you get the idea.
The loons on the right started the outcry, and as is now the norm in conservative politics, people who should have known better were sucked into the vortex of a conspiracy theory in which the Obama administration’s complete disinterest in gun control of any kind was all part of a secret plan to lull the “real” Americans into a state of complacency so that he could, I suppose, deploy a massive UN army bent on seizing everyone’s guns. That this somewhat counter intuitive “theory” was popular in the right wing press, FOX News and talk radio goes without saying, but the umbilicus that connects the radical conservative media and right wing lawmakers is now very strong and very short and such viruses that once remained on the fringe now flow unhindered through them into the mainstream media and onto the floor of Congress, where today the House votes on charges against AG Holder amid accusations of a massive cover up intended to hide the “gun walking” scandal and the larger “pry the guns from their cold, dead hands” scandal.
As is so often the case, as soon as real journalists started looking into the matter the whole thing blew up in the faces of the accusers and now Speaker Boehner seems to be looking for a quiet way to drop this vote in the eddy and swirl of the Supremes’ Obamacare ruling. But this story will remain out there, and you will hear about it from your FOX News watching grandpa at the 4th of July cookout or over Thanksgiving dinner.
Below is some information about Fast and Furious and how the radical right got nearly all of it backwards or wrong or both. Feel free to share it with your friends and relatives between hot dogs or sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows on top.
By the way, the real scandal is that states like Arizona (and APV’s home state of Virginia) have next to no gun laws that prohibit straw man purchases, and local prosecutors show little to no interest in pursuing these cases while across the border 50,000 people have died mostly at the hands of criminals using American bought weapons.
The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal by Katherine Eban, Fortune Magazine.
“Some call it the “parade of ants”; others the “river of iron.” The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking, so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF’s congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.”
We Won’t Go Back!
Tomorrow, June 15th is a big day. Tomorrow people will be gathering from across the state at an anonymous building in an unprepossessing suburban office-park to try to make a group of bureaucrats and political appointees understand how important it is to not wipe away 40 years of progress on women’s reproductive health as the result of a sneaky bit of legislative legerdemain back in 2011.
Tomorrow the Virginia Board of Health will rule on final adoption of the so-called TRAP regulations (Targeted Regulations against Abortion Providers). The new regulations are designed specifically to make it nearly impossible for women to get an abortion in Virginia while not actually making it illegal. See, they can’t overturn Roe v. Wade (yet), so at the state level they’ve taken to making it so hard to run a women’s health clinic that provides abortions that no one can do it. And it’s working! Around the country states are installing more and more outlandish and ludicrous hoops for clinic operators to jump through, and more and more clinics are closing. A generation of violent intimidation, indiscriminate bombings, arson and assassination haven’t worked, but a room full of bureaucrats might finally manage the job for these zealots. Tomorrow APV will stand with many other organizations, groups and individuals in opposing these medically useless, politically motivated regulations. We urge you to join us in our efforts to keep abortion safe, legal and AVAILABLE in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Attend the hearing, write and call everyone you know, get angry and stay angry and win or lose, start working the next day to make the people who push these awful rules pay at the ballot box. Below are APV’s comments on the TRAP rules before the Board of Health tomorrow. For more information about tomorrow’s hearing go to APVonline.org
The Alliance for Progressive Values strongly opposes the regulations before you governing licensure of abortion facilities. In approving these regulations you will be placing extremely cost prohibitive constraints on abortion clinics when abortion access in the Commonwealth is already limited.
Specifically, the draft regulations require women’s clinics to adhere to standards found in the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. In particular the Guidelines for Outpatient Surgical Facilities, otherwise called ambulatory surgical facilities. It is important to note that these guidelines were not intended for existing structures but meant to govern the construction of new facilities, especially hospitals. By arbitrarily linking women’s clinics and doctors’ out-patient surgical services that provide abortions with regulations designed for large hospital settings, the Department, with the backing of the Governor and Attorney General, is launching a concerted, targeted attack on women’s reproductive choice in Virginia under the guise of innocuous structural mandates. This is not only dishonest, but it is also potentially dangerous. These regulations will significantly limit women’s access to safe and legal abortions in much of Virginia and could lead to women being forced into difficult and dangerous medical situations such as carrying a life threatening pregnancy to term.
The proposed regulations have no basis in medical best practices and serve only to make it harder for women to gain access to this legal and safe procedure. In fact, your own advisory panel of medical experts found these regulations to be medically unnecessary; sadly their recommendations have been ignored.
It cannot be stressed enough that today first trimester abortions which make up 90% of all abortions are routine, safe and legal in Virginia. Currently abortion providers are covered under the same regulations as physician practices that perform certain other, and in some cases statistically more dangerous invasive procedures, including dental, ocular and plastic surgery (none of which are covered by the new regulations). There is no evidence that there is any need for a change. Worse still, if anti-choice advocates have their way in the future, the prescribing of emergency contraceptives would be treated as a form of abortion and doctors who proscribed the legal and safe prophylactic in their offices would also fall under these new restrictions.
It should also not be lost in the highly emotional debate over abortion, that many of the clinics that will be forced to close as a result of the new TRAP regulations also provide other much-needed services to women around the state including breast exams, PAP smears, STI testing, HPV inoculation and other routine but necessary treatments, often at low cost.
The Alliance for Progressive Values strongly opposes the new Department of Health regulations and urges they be rejected or at the least be seriously reevaluated and studied further so that the consequences of their implementation to women’s health in Virginia can be better understood. As presently constituted, these regulations set women’s health in Virginia back decades and add unnecessary risks and costs for no medically sustainable reason. These regulations have nothing to do with protecting women’s health and everything to do with proscribing women’s reproductive choices.
Don’t Mourn. Organize.
Bad news out of Wisconsin last night. Tom Barrett lost to a man who shouldn’t have been elected dog catcher, much less Governor. Scott Walker is also currently the target of a FBI investigation, so he may not sit in that office much longer, but there is no doubt, a lot of people were disappointed last night. I was one of them.
I’m not from Wisconsin, but I know a little of their history. I thought I might share that history to put this defeat into perspective. The first thing you should know is that Wisconsin was the heart of progressive movement in the last century. The second thing you should know –hold onto your hats – those progressives from Wisconsin were originally Republicans. Unlike the pro-business kleptomaniacs of today, the Progressive Republicans, as they liked to call themselves, believed that the business of government was to serve the people. They sought to restrict the power of corporations when it interfered with the needs of individual citizens. In their crusade for reform on a state and national level, Progressive Republicans were led by Robert La Follette, Wisconsin’s governor from 1901 to 1906, and U.S. Senator from 1906 to 1925.
La Follette developed what came to be known as the Wisconsin Idea. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, he argued that “efficient government required control of institutions by the voters rather than special interests.” He thought that the “involvement of specialists in law, economics, and social and natural sciences would produce the most effective government.” To aid in this endeavor, faculty from the University of Wisconsin played a significant part in Progressive reform efforts, helping legislators draft laws and serving as experts on governmental commissions. While advocating for more scientific and efficient government, many of these specialists were equally persistent in their efforts to expand educational opportunities. Much of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation was drafted by Wisconsin citizens, such as Edwin Witte (author of the 1935 Social Security act), who had been trained by Progressive Wisconsin economics professor John R. Commons. In fact, the momentum of La Follette and his allies rippled down through the decades into John Kennedy’s “New Frontier” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs.
In many ways, Progressive Republicans of Wisconsin were the exact inverse of today’s Republican party which has abandoned any pretense of intellectual vigor or scientific objectivity. Not a single contemporary Republican candidate could admit to the Theory of Evolution during the primaries, much less support the notion that climate change is a problem caused by man—despite near perfect scientific unanimity on the question. In deference to the ideological zealots on the religious right, they have actively sought to restrict contraceptive options for women across the country and the world–despite its negative impact on women’s health. In deference to ideological free market zealots, they have signed pledges which now make it impossible to balance the budget without slashing social safety nets for millions of America’s most needy, while billionaires have their capital gains shielded from taxes and corporations pay little or no taxes at all. None of this is rational governance. Progressive Republicans would have been horrified to see what the party is doing in their name.
And last night, two billionaires and their surrogates safe guarded Scott Walker, a relentlessly incompetent executive from a recall effort by out spending his opponent about 20 to 1. As Andy Borowitz put it, “Wisconsin: The people have spoken, and they’re both named Koch.”
I think anyone who watched this carefully is disappointed, but Joe Hill—a great progressive and union organizer said it best under much more dire circumstances than these—on his execution day, in fact. He had been accused of murdering a doctor and his son on very scant evidence, but he knew that rational ‘evidence’ isn’t what determined outcomes in cases that involved labor organizers (much less Wobblies!) in deeply conservative Utah. Just prior to his execution, Hill had written to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, saying, “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize… Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” His last words to the firing squad that day were beautifully brazen as well. He shouted, “Fire”! .
So let’s learn what we can from this moment, but don’t mourn. Organize.
The Trust Factor
This Tuesday may be the most important election of the new century. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with the backing of extraction billionaires David and Charles Koch is matched against Tom Barrett who has been raising funds locally and whom the DNC has refused to financially support. In some ways it’s an obvious David and Goliath struggle. The DNC should be funding this to at least approach parity with what the Republicans and surrogates are spending on Walker. But they are not. They are not spending a dime even though Wisconsin was the home of the progressive movement in the 19th Century. In fact, without Wisconsin, our nation’s 20th century would have looked radically different-probably closer to China’s, with no viable unions, no decent labor laws or protections and consequently no worker rights. I don’t think I’m overstating the matter by saying a victory by Scott Walker in Wisconsin will put that all in play once again. Why isn’t the DNC leading on this? Where is Barrack Obama? Can money obviate everything for the Democrats, even the very heart of their own base? This is not a trivial question.
In Tom Barrett’s last debate performance he called Walker a liar (he is one) and said point-blank that the man is about dismantling labor unions as viable entities across the state (which he is doing). He argued that Walker was treating the state as “an experimental dish for the far right.” All true. More importantly, whether the luminaries in the DNC realize it or not, Wisconsin is a bell weather for the rest of the nation, as Charles Pierce has pointed out it in Esquire Magazine: “In 2010, in addition to handing the House of Representatives over to a pack of nihilistic vandals, the Koch Brothers and the rest of the sugar daddies of the Right poured millions into various state campaigns. This produced a crop of governors and state legislators wholly owned and operated by those corporate interests and utterly unmoored from the constituencies they were elected to serve [Note: Virginia is no stranger to this process—witness ALEC and the ignominious machinations of Governor McDonnell on contraceptive rights]. In turn, these folks enacted various policies, and produced various laws, guaranteed to do nothing except reinforce the power of the people who put them in office. This is the first real test of democracy against the money power. Its true national import is that it is the first loud and noisy attempt to roll back the amok time that Republican governors and their pet legislatures have unleashed in the states at the behest of the corporate interests who finance their careers. It is the first serious pushback not only against Scott Walker, but against Dick Snyder’s assault on democracy in Michigan, and Mitch Daniels’s assault on unions in Indiana, and Rick Scott’s assault on voting rights in Florida. None of this was in any way coincidental. It was a national strategy played out in a series of statewide episodes, aimed at establishing the habits of oligarchy on a local basis.”
This is not toast and tea. We’re talking about real lives and real stakes. When Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein makes it perfectly clear that sophisticated investors don’t or at least shouldn’t rely on his word, it’s a cautionary note that we should apply to politicians as well—especially when they take money from those who would destroy the middle class. It’s painful to note that Blankfein was probably more honest in that brief moment than all the speeches by Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama combined. Don’t believe me, he said, and if you do, you’re a sucker. As Joseph Stiglitz writes, Blankfein makes plain that “those who bought the products his bank sold were consenting adults who should have known better. They should have known that Goldman Sachs had the means, and the incentive, to design products that would fail; that they had the means and the incentive to create asymmetries of information—where they knew more about the products than the buyers did—and the means and the incentive to take advantage of those asymmetries.”
Lesson learned. Politicians have the means and the incentives to create “asymmetries of information.” When politicians are purchased on such a large national scale…well, we get what we pay for, don’t we? When a chameleon candidate like Mitt Romney– who even most Republicans don’t like — can achieve a primary victory based almost entirely on access to cash, the system is out of whack. As Wisconsin shows some of the wealthiest individuals and organizations in this country have used their capital to buy liars and sycophants in public places. They are not disinterested in what their money is buying, either. Far from it. Scott Walker, frankly, was probably a bad buy: a little too showy, a little too much the front man. These folks like to remain a bit more discreet. What they really want to purchase is congressional gridlock on reform and regulation. And subsidies and tax cuts, of course. Everyday companies like Exxon seed doubt about global warming swamping the discourse with paid off pseudo scientists and front groups. At the state level, ALEC produces legislation that knee caps environmental regulation and offers a perverse polluter protection ‘model’ legislation that requires the results of environmental audits to be kept secret. While ALEC and Exxon, infuse massive amounts of money into the legislative process, creating “asymmetries of information.” FOX happily ignores or attacks anyone who would suggest there are real public concerns that need to be addressed. FOX News is the propaganda product of billionaire Rupert Murdoch. ALEC has over 5.7 million dollars in ‘corporate sponsorship’. The Koch brothers have more money than the entire state of Wisconsin. Exxon is the largest and most profitable corporation on Earth. It’s not class warfare to suggest money is tilting the scales in a way that makes it impossible for us to honestly govern ourselves. It’s the truth. And, Democrats — take note– only when we tell the truth as Tom Barrett has done in Wisconsin — can we begin to build a country that we can trust.
APV thanks Jack Johnson once again for a great post. We also extend our whole-hearted support and best wishes to gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett in Wisconsin’s recall election this Tuesday.