Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Florida ginger rocker

Kim Logan went to Boston to learn her craft and now hangs out in the Southeast. This is "Black Magic Boy" from her eponymous debut album.

For the first time since Monday

I was able to drive my car to the grocery store. Between the 5 feet of snow and the travel bans, its been a while. Mind you, I am not a snow virgin, but after two consecutive snowboobs* I can identify with the remarks of Bills running back and Mississippi native Boobie Dixon.
"All the ice, the cold temperature. It’s been different. It’s been a learning experience. Next time I’ll definitely be more ready for it."

How so?

"When I hear lake effect, I’m going to run as far as I can,"
Don't look back, I might be gaining on you.

*What you call a haboob sandstorm made of snow.

Poor Mitch, The Things He Is Forced To Do

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

House Intelligence Committee finds no wrong in Benghazi

Something which many may find surprising considering the lack of intelligence in the Republican majority on the committee. One has to suppose this is merely the result of the end of a successful election.
The CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-controlled House committee has found. Its report asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.
Let us not forget there are two other committees that the Republicans can use against Hilary when the time comes. There is the House Dumb Committee headed by Congressfelon Darrell Issa and the House Select Dumber Committee under the leadership of that creepy guy Trey Gowdy. The Republicans never have just one arrow.

You know that war that was supposed to end?

The one in Shitholeistan?
Well, don't stop counting your coffins quite yet. It has come to pass that inorder to protect the 9,800 poor souls left behind, who were always going to remain in harms way, President Obama has signed an order allowing them to conduct combat missions to protect themselves.
Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.

The internal discussion took place against the backdrop of this year’s collapse of Iraqi security forces in the face of the advance of the Islamic State as well as the mistrust between the Pentagon and the White House that still lingers since Mr. Obama’s 2009 decision to “surge” 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Some of the president’s civilian advisers say that decision was made only because of excessive Pentagon pressure, and some military officials say it was half-baked and made with an eye to domestic politics.
It's nice of him to allow them to be proactive, but the idea that they will successfully complete their mission is a sure guarantee of perpetual deployment there. It was always too good to be true that we would leave that shithole.

Friday, November 21, 2014

When they weren't walking on sunshine

Katrina & The Waves could do a good job rocking a song, as they do with "Red Wine & Whiskey"

Elizabeth Warren speaks

And you would do well to listen, she is smart and she does care about you and me.

Obama hands off to the GOP

From the pen of David Horsey

You don't miss your water 'til your well runs dry

Nor do you put a real value on it until then. Now that California is gripped in a major drought, thieves have quickly found the real value of water and where to take it from.
They drive in the thick of night with a 1,000-gallon tank on the back of a pickup and go after the liquid gold wherever they can find it. Some have hit the same target twice in one night, filling up their tank, unloading it into storage and returning for a second fill-up.

Counties mostly in the more rural northern parts of California are reporting a surge in thefts and illegal diversions of water from wells and streams. The prime suspects are illegal marijuana farmers desperate for water before the fall harvest, which would explain the surge in water thievery over the summer.

“A lot of the wells have gone dry, and the marijuana growers have run out of water and have been illegally taking the water out of the creeks,” said Hank Weston, supervisor in Nevada County, an old mining center in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California’s northwest. (The county has been around longer than the state of Nevada next door.)

“They have broken into a school district holding tank and in the fire department’s holding tank,” Weston said. “Some of the water trucks are pulling up near rivers and dropping water hoses in and suctioning it out.”

All of which is illegal, of course, but does not usually amount to much more than fines and a misdemeanor — at least for now.
With only fnes and misdemeanor charges to stop them, water rustling will probably continue as long as the drought and probably make it worse in some areas.

Frontline soldiers lead from the rear

Thanks to the advent of Droney and his fellow warriors, American boots can stay on the ground, in America.
In America’s war against the Islamic State, many of those fighting sit in a dark, cold room and stare at computer screens for 12 hours at a stretch.

There are dozens of them, men and women, each wearing camouflage, looking for suspected Iraqi and Syrian jihadists scurrying across the screen. If something changes on the screen – a group of dark figures crossing a street, a string of vehicles racing down a road – they pass the information to another pilot, who might decide to open fire with a Hellfire missile or an electronically guided bomb.

The greatest combat hazard they face is from the Red Bull and other sugary drinks they devour to stay awake; their unit has the worst rate of cavities in the Air Force.

“I would rather be deployed,” said Capt. Jennifer, a reservist and intelligence analyst whose full name the Air Force withheld for security reasons. “My daughter calls me because she is sick and I have to pick her up from school. When I am deployed forward I am deployed. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day.”

With the Obama administration’s strategy of “degrading and ultimately destroying” the Islamic State without putting American combat troops – “boots on the ground” – at risk, much of the war against the group depends on remotely piloted aircraft with names such as Predator and Reaper that are guided from rooms like this one, at a base three hours south of Washington. The way the administration now talks about war is changing the nature of war itself.

Drones that in previous conflicts had been used to provide support to troops on the ground now have become a vital form of fighting. But with no one on the ground to corroborate what pilots think they see from the drones, the certainty of what’s happening is limited. Air Force and U.S. Central Command officials concede that’s delayed the response to some Islamic State activity.

The airmen – the title applies to female pilots, too – can’t agree among themselves whether they’re at war. Some think they should qualify for a coveted combat patch – right now they don’t – while others say it’s harder to fight a war when one is not actually there. They say they must resist thinking they’re playing a video game.
Most military who have actually been shot at would resist giving any combat credit to those whose only experience has been playing "Duke Drone'em", no matter how many bad guys they may eliminate. And while the most cynical may say "Kill 'Em All & Let God Sort Them Out", it is the drone warriors who are putting that into practice.

Lewis Black On His Name Day

Black Friday, that is. Or is is Black Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

They do have jungle in Australia

So it is OK for Lanie Lane to sing "Jungle Man" from her album To The Horses.

History is a series of repetitions

From the pen of David Horsey

How about role model for the next POTUS?

Elizabeth Warren
has said many times that she is not planning a run for the White House and I believe her. She has the fire in her belly but she knows the handcuffs that the office puts on the winner and she will not be constrained. That being said, she is a great role model for whoever does win because she is the tip of the iceberg for the true feelings of a large majority of Americans.
Well then, a question buried in the new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll suggests that the electorate is absolutely primed for the populist messaging that she has rode to prominence.

Asked whether they agreed that "the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me," 56 percent of respondents in the NBC-WSJ poll agreed. That's a massive increase in the number of people who believe the deck-is-stacked-against-me idea; when NBC-WSJ asked the question in July 2002, just 34 percent of people agreed with the sentiment. In recent years, that number has moved steadily upward — 54 percent said the system was stacked against them in August 2012, and 55 percent said the same in April 2014 in NBC-WSJ polling.

Enter Warren, whose recent career — she helped form the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before running for the Senate in 2012 — has been built on the idea that the average American isn't getting a fair shake (or even the chance at a fair shake) in today's America. Warren has described herself as growing up on the "ragged edge of the middle class" and getting her first job at 9. (She was a babysitter.) And she draws on that background when she speaks, casting herself as a populist warrior for the middle class...

I've written before that Warren is the liberal liberals thought they were getting when they elected Obama. She is combative and unapologetic in her beliefs — particularly on inequality — in a way liberals believe Obama has never been. And, stylistically and policy-wise, Warren also represents a clear contrast with the more cautious, Wall Street-friendly campaign that most people expect Hillary Clinton to make in 2016. (Make sure you read Noam Scheiber's wonderful piece from November 2013 explaining why Warren is Clinton's biggest nightmare.)
Breathes there anyone, man or woman, who gives voters something more to actually vote FOR?? That's all we want. And anybody who hopes to overcome the well financed Clinton LLC steamroller would do well to get some of her fire in their belly.

In this time of lower gas prices

It is not all beer and skittles for everybody. No, there are people and whole countries who will suffer while you slurp up all the 'dinosaur wine' that you can at prices you might now be able to afford.
If prices remain low for a protracted period, which seems likely, it’ll send shock waves across the energy sector. For oil-producing countries, that could mean budget shortfalls. For energy companies, the lower profits may force mergers and consolidation that will cost thousands of jobs.

Oil prices have tumbled in recent months from their peak at about $105 a barrel in June to their current lows, below $75 on Wednesday. The Energy Information Administration projected last week that gasoline prices would stay under $3 a gallon throughout next year. A gallon of regular unleaded averages $2.86, the motor club AAA said Wednesday, about 25 cents lower than a month ago.

For American consumers, who used 135.4 billion gallons of gasoline last year, that’s a big savings – nearly $34 billion on an annualized basis.

But for companies and countries that depend on oil prices for their income, it’s a trend that makes them nervous.

Already, the oilfield services giant Halliburton, anticipating lower prices, has announced it will buy rival Baker Hughes in a cash and stock deal worth $34.6 billion.

Venezuela, heavily dependent on oil revenue, is looking for a buyer for its U.S. refining operations that run under the Citgo brand. Global giant BP, whose stock has yet to recover after the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, is widely viewed as in play. In fact, veteran energy analyst Fadel Gheit thinks that every private oil company except Exxon Mobil Corp., which is twice as large as its competitors, is now potentially a merger target.

“If oil prices remain sub-$80 for a long period of time, we’re going to see a lot of mergers and acquisitions,” said Gheit, who works for the investment bank Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. When Exxon Corp. and Mobil Corp. merged in 1999, the combined company was able to eliminate 50,000 jobs. “Companies are drawing short lists of targets: plan A, plan B and plan C.”

In the past, when oil was too abundant, producers simply left it in the ground. The curtailed production tightened supplies and drove up prices. That’s going to be tougher to do now, analysts say, which explains why oil ministers from nations that belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been deep in consultation before OPEC next meets on Nov. 27.
You hear that! Mergers! That means CEO's will be required to lay off thousands of workers because they need to overpay for their deals and still cook up profits for Wall St. And there is as yet no word on which OPEC countries will be forced to merge as a result of these abnormal price drops.

R.I.P. Mike Nichols

The American stage and screen has lost a great director. And funny, too. I hope your family has an easier time with your funeral.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nowadays we forget that once Leonard Cohen could sing

And here he duets on 'Hey,That's No Way To Say Goodbye' with a California folk singer Julie Felix who went to Britain to make it.

The answer for everything, sort of.

Jesus and Mo figure out religious conflict

Go ahead and complain about payday lenders

But because of the breadth and depth of the problem, don't expect much relief because of it. The Consumer Financial Protection Board has become the best remedy you can find but it is also severely constrained in what it achieves.
Barely 1 in 10 customers who have complained about being ripped off or badly treated by a payday lender has seen any form of relief, according to an analysis by Al Jazeera of data kept by the regulatory authority tasked with protecting against loan sharks.

Figures from the Consumer Financial Protection Board’s (CFPB) database show that the regulator followed up on 1,579 complaints since payday loan customers were first allowed to file grievances with the board last November.

Of the 1,490 complaints that have been successfully closed, just 11 percent resulted in relief for the complainant. About 5 percent resulted in financial recompense, and 6 percent concluded with the consumer receiving some kind of nonmonetary relief, such as changes to the person’s credit report.

Consumer action groups praised the CFPB for finally providing a portal to lodge complaints about predatory tactics by payday lenders but said that the number of victims being handed back cash was “too small.”

The vast majority of complaints to the CFPB — about 86 percent — were “closed with explanation,” meaning the lender offered a response tailored to the individual complaint but provided no substantive relief. A small number of complaints were closed without any explanation or relief from the lender...

“The CFPB, as far as I can tell, has set up by far the best complaint process of any federal government agency,” she said. “However, there’s still work to be done in the complaint resolution area, and while they certainly cannot help resolve every complaint that comes across their desk, we would like to see more attention to resolution. Their numbers are too small, and it would be too easy to assume that if a complaint is closed, it is resolved or in some way settled.”

The CFPB looks for patterns in consumer complaints, so if a particular lender or company receives an unusual volume of complaints or fails to resolve them satisfactorily, the agency may take further action. The CFPB has been known to sue companies believed to be engaging in predatory practices. In September the agency filed suit against the Hydra Group, an online payday lender accused of illegally depositing loans in and withdrawing fees from the bank accounts of unsuspecting consumers. But constraints on the agency’s resources means that it needs to choose targets selectively, as Cordray has acknowledged.

“Complaints are not only opportunities for us to help specific people. They also make a difference by informing our work and helping us identify and prioritize problems,” he said in a speech earlier this month. “We know that if we hear about a particular problem from 50 consumers, it likely looms larger than if we hear about it from two. We know that if we begin to see a disturbing trend, we should consider allocating some of our limited resources to combat that particular problem.”
And if Elizabeth Warren had not worked so diligently to shield the funding for CFPB from politics, they would not even have what they do now. And though they may try to keep a low profile, we can expect any number of Republican/Teabaggers attacks to prevent the CFPB from doing even this minimum of relief. Their good friends in the payday lending business expect nothing less.

Bad NSA surveillance bill blocked in Senate

A last effort to pass a Democrat sponsored bill to put a happy face on NSA spying on US citizens phone calls has been filibustered by Mitch McConnell.
Legislation to keep most Americans' phone records out of government hands was defeated in the Senate on Tuesday, dooming at least for now prospects of national security reforms that supporters said would protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

A motion failed to get the necessary 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., with most Republicans voting against. The final vote was 58 in favor to 42 against.

One of its most outspoken foes was incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said stopping the National Security Agency from collecting telephone dialing records "would end one of our nation's critical capabilities to gather significant intelligence on terrorist threats."

Citing the recent beheadings of U.S. citizens in Syria, McConnell said, "This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs."

Born of whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations that the NSA was secretly archiving data from virtually every telephone call made in the United States, the Leahy bill, dubbed the USA Freedom Act, would have required the NSA to request such records from telephone companies rather than collect and store the information itself.

Except in emergencies, U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI would have had to seek approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to access and use the data, and only in cases involving suspected terrorism or espionage. A similar procedure is used now to access the NSA database, but critics say that current system is open to abuse.

"The bill contains key reforms to safeguard Americans' privacy by prohibiting the indiscriminate collection of their data," Leahy argued. "It also provides for greater accountability and transparency of the government's surveillance programs."

At issue are telephone company records of customers and the phone numbers they have dialed, including date, time and duration of calls, but not the conversations themselves.

Privacy advocates vowed to keep fighting to limit government access to telephone records. Some key provisions of the USA Patriot Act - the post 9-11 law that authorized collection of the phone records - expire in June, when the congressional fight over privacy is likely to resume.

After Republicans take control of the Senate in January, it will be difficult to make changes as broad as those proposed by Leahy. But House Republicans have been more favorable to privacy concerns, and advocates hope they will continue to push.

Republican opposition came from both sides of the debate. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, voted against the bill because he said it did not do enough to protect individuals' privacy.

But former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who both served under President George W. Bush, wrote in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal that Leahy's bill was "exquisitely crafted to hobble the gathering of electronic intelligence."
Mitch plans to keep out all those "hobbles" while legitimizing further intrusions for the future Republican president, he hopes.

The Real Religious Right

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One that you may have missed

Deena Webster a British folk singer from the 60's. Here she sings "Hurry, Tuesday Child"

Redefining the word

From the pen of Jim Morin

I Guess They Expect Us To Do It

Defend Europe that is. And why shouldn't they, almost 70 years after the end of World War II we still haven't left so we might as well do something useful. And since we are so eager to spend money on the military, we might as well pay for it.
A column of Russian tanks and artillery weapons rolled toward Donetsk in Ukraine recently, the latest move in a proxy war that’s seen Crimea and much of the country’s Donbas region pass from government control.

At the same time, fighting was raging in Kobani, Syria, between an assortment of Kurdish fighters and the radicals of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Donetsk is smack in the middle of Eastern Europe. Kobani is just beyond Europe’s southeastern edge, and thousands of radical fighters there come from Europe. The two hot spots span what military experts call the full spectrum of modern warfare, from the traditional Russian force to the far-too-common asymmetric threat of the terrorist Islamic State. Both represent very real and serious threats to European security.

Yet European militaries aren’t prepared to deal with either one, much less both. European security remains dependent on the might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and NATO increasingly is dependent on the might of the United States. The European nations NATO was set up to defend contribute less and less to the organization.

“If we think about the threats from this year, there was no real possibility that Russia would push beyond Ukraine, because the Russians knew invading a NATO country would mean facing the might of the American military,” said Patrick Keller, an international security expert at the prestigious center-right Adenauer Stiftung research center in Berlin. “They most certainly would not have had similar concerns about facing the Bundeswehr,” the German army.

History isn’t kind to nations that neglect their own defense, a point military experts agree is on the minds of European leaders in light of the twin threats. But NATO’s over-reliance on the United States was built into the organization from the beginning, military analysts said. It was fundamental to the American role in a two-superpower world. Europe was never expected to contribute much, said Stephen Long, an international security expert at the University of Richmond, in Virginia.

“The European contribution is not so much the military force, but the rights/privileges/logistical support for the U.S. presence in Europe,” he wrote in an email.
Just one thing, we might be a little short of boots on the ground, can you spare a few divisions?

A good question

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Soderberg Sisters Unplugged

First Aid Kit performing "Master Pretender" from their Stay Gold album back home in Stockholm.

It just sort of grows by itself

Tom Tomorrow
looks at sexual harassment and how it just swells up from small, very small beginnings.

GOP prepare their death panel

From the pen of Tom Toles

It must be good for their business

Because the Affordable Care Act has made the health insurers into allies of President Obama and the Republican/Teabaggers into enemies of business and the free marketplace.
Those same insurers have long viewed government as an unreliable business partner that imposed taxes, fees and countless regulations and had the power to cut payment rates and cap profit margins.

But since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the relationship between the Obama administration and insurers has evolved into a powerful, mutually beneficial partnership that has been a boon to the nation’s largest private health plans and led to a profitable surge in their Medicaid enrollment.

The insurers in turn have provided crucial support to Mr. Obama in court battles over the health care law, including a case now before the Supreme Court challenging the federal subsidies paid to insurance companies on behalf of low- and moderate-income consumers. Last fall, a unit of one of the nation’s largest insurers, UnitedHealth Group, helped the administration repair the website after it crashed in the opening days of enrollment.

“Insurers and the government have developed a symbiotic relationship, nurtured by tens of billions of dollars that flow from the federal Treasury to insurers each year,” said Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

The relationship is expected only to deepen as the two sides grow more intertwined.

“These companies all look at government programs as growth markets,” said Michael J. Tuffin, former executive vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main lobby for the industry. “There will be nearly $2 trillion of subsidized coverage through insurance exchanges and Medicaid over the next 10 years. These are pragmatic companies. They will follow the customer.”
And in the meantime, the Republican/Teabaggers are left holding their teeny, weeny peenies and opposing free enterprise.

Our National Shame

Maintained at great expense because of a Republican law preventing its closure, Guantanamo Concentration Camp enters its 14th year.
It’s the first Tuesday in November, just another day as Guantánamo grinds on toward the detention center’s 14th year as the most expensive prison on earth with no end in sight. President Barack Obama ordered it emptied in 2009, on his second day in office, and people here are dubious that it will be done before his last.

It will close “a year from now, six months from now, 10 years from now — I don’t know,” says Zak, a Pentagon employee who has served as the prison’s Muslim cultural adviser since 2005.

“My focus is to ensure that I have operationally effective and safe facilities for a mission with an indeterminate end date,” says Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, the 14th commander of the prison operation.

One captive was let out this month, the seventh detainee to leave this year, to a rehabilitation center in his native Kuwait after nearly 13 years in U.S. custody. Six more men await the outcome of Uruguayan elections to see if President Jose Mujica’s successor will make good on a February offer to resettle them. Another six to eight are in the pipeline for transfers to Afghanistan and Europe, according to administration officials, with security assurances.

In all 779 foreign men have been held at Guantánamo since the prison opened Jan. 11, 2002. Nine have died here. Those who got out were repatriated or resettled by farflung American allies such as Palau in the South Pacific and Slovakia in central Europe.

Meantime, Guantánamo grinds on, churning through temporary forces doing mostly nine-month tours managing a largely “compliant” prisoner population — as well as the so-called 10 per centers, who constantly give the guards problems and pass their days mostly in lockdown.

The admiral has a four-year plan to build new barracks for the troops and a new kitchen to feed both guards and guarded. Also, if Congress funds it, a $69 million new lockup will be built for Guantánamo’s most prized detainees — the 15 former CIA captives, seven awaiting trial, and none approved for transfer, even with security assurances.

And the warden, who arrived this summer, doesn’t see the last detainee leaving before this commander in chief leaves office. “I think that’s an unrealistic hope,” said Army Col. David Heath. “I'll run it the best I can until either I'm told to close it or I leave.” His tour ends in the summer of 2016.
So the tour of duty there is only 9 months. Is that to keep from brutalizing the guards?

The Only Good KKK

From Anonymous

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Her fame came from singing other writers songs.

And Judy Collins did a fantastic job with works like "(Just Like) Tom Thumb's Blues" by Bob Dylan.

Where has he been?

From the pen of Brian McFadden

Can the Old Turtle keep his word?

Not that anybody really attaches any value to his promises anymore, but Mitch "The Old Turtle" McConnell did promise no more shutdowns. The trouble is his caucus now includes a significant number of stark raving loonies who will do anything to get their way, modern day Bolsheviks you might say.
“Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt,” McConnell said in a valedictory news conference in Louisville.

Less than two weeks later, that pledge is facing its first big test. A series of deadlines will force the incoming Senate majority leader to either find a way to keep his word or else get dragged into the same cycle of showdowns that has yielded few conservative victories and a lot of public anger.

Rather than starting the new year with a clean slate, McConnell is increasingly likely to begin by dealing with a pile of leftover government funding bills. McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) hoped that those spending bills could be finished by mid-December and provide funding for the rest of 2015, enabling the newly emboldened Republican majorities on both sides of the Capitol to challenge Obama on a host of issues.

But McConnell could be tripped up by the same conservative forces that have undercut Boehner since he became speaker in 2011.

The issue this time is Obama’s expected executive action to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Obama is likely to allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of deportation — a move opponents refer to as “executive amnesty” — along with other changes.

Staunch conservatives, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the incoming chairman of the Budget Committee, have urged McConnell and Boehner to fight back by allowing only a short-term budget bill that would keep government agencies open until early next year.

These conservatives believe that once Republicans hold both chambers of Congress next year, they can force Obama to accept a budget bill that would prohibit him from implementing his executive order on immigration. Some Republicans, like Sessions, have said every option should be on the table, including a shutdown of the government over the issue.

The path McConnell takes between confronting Obama on immigration while keeping the federal government open could go a long way toward determining how he will serve as majority leader.

If McConnell can find a way forward, he could establish a foundation from which House and Senate Republicans can unite around conservative ideas without further damaging their party’s image.

If he blunders, however, the days of brinkmanship could return with a vengeance, and the government could once again be shut down. That could provide a devastating blow to Republicans, hurting their chance to win back the White House and hold on to their relatively slim Senate majority in 2016.
Can Mitch keep control of his Bolshie crew now that they no longer see a need for restraint? Time will tell.

Dodging a bullet

Just under a year ago there was a train derailment in Casselton, N.D. The resulting fire led to the temporary evacuation of half the town. On Thursday there was another derailment in Casselton, a mile from the first on and right next door to the local ethanol plant.
Unlike the Dec. 30 derailment, Thursday’s mishap didn’t ignite a huge fireball or lead to the evacuation of half the town. This time, the oil train was empty.

“Fortunately, this one here turned out better than last year’s,” said Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean, who’s testified before Congress this year, at a news conference Thursday.

Still, the derailment of two trains about a mile from December’s accident site angered local officials and drew the attention of federal regulators who have spent more than a year working with the rail industry to improve the safety of crude oil shipments.

“We deserve some answers and I don’t think any of us want to hear anymore that this is a coincidence,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said Thursday night.

No one was injured in Thursday’s incident, when a freight train derailed into the path of the empty crude oil train on an adjacent track near an ethanol plant.

“We got lucky this time, the fact that these cars were empty. They derailed right next to the ethanol plant,” Laney said. “What if they had been full?”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement Friday that luck wasn’t good enough.

“We saw what happened in Casselton almost a year ago and yesterday’s incident is disappointing,” she said.

BNSF Railway said Friday in a statement that a broken rail appears to have caused the latest derailment. The track is inspected regularly according to federal standards, the railroad said, and a visual inspection of the track on Wednesday revealed no defects.
Good fortune, grace of god, call it what you will, Casselton caught a lucky break this week.

Sunday Sermonette for a Secular Nation

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