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Exhausted from pursuing an arduous schedule of raising millions of dollars to get elected again next year, the 113th Congress is about to go home from its first year of "work." Activity in Congress could well pick up over Christmas, as workmen will refurbish the Chamber, the first actual work done there in months. Look for reports from the broom closet on C-SPAN.

But the 113th was not a Do-Nothing Congress, no matter what you hear. They did do something. For example, they boldly renamed a building at the Nashua, N.H. airport the Patricia Clark Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, proving once again what poets Congressmen are. They manned up and renamed a Missouri bridge the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Those were two of the 50 or so bills — say it ain't so, Stan! — that actually managed to sneak past Republican obstructionism. Still, Congress couldn't quite find the gumption to pass an actual budget, or a road bill, or do anything to provide more jobs for Americans. In Congress's defense, the GOP's sequester will eventually cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of good government jobs with benefits, though those laid-off folks are now welcome to work at minimum wage and draw food stamps when they can't make ends meet. No, wait, this just in — Congress did also boldly cut food stamps, too, because hey, you want to have a job and to eat, too?

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I try to see it, but it sure is funny,
Though flesh be weak, and the spirit willin',
How more means less, when it comes to money:
One might pile and pile, yet be a villain.

Discuss
“The failure of leadership in Washington, D.C. has resulted in a federal shutdown, preventing the flow of federal money to Maine. Unfortunately, this means that a large number of our federally funded state employees may have to be laid off. The State of Maine simply cannot fill the financial gap created by the prolonged loss of federal dollars. It would be unlawful for the State to ask our federally funded employees to continue to work without having the authority to pay them.” — Gov. Paul LePage, yesterday, just before exercising the special Alexander Haig Clause in the Maine Constitution
And he's doing all this to be able to act to "ensure public health!" Too bad Gov. LePage himself vetoed the "flow of federal dollars" due Maine people through the Affordable Care Act to pay for actual private insurance policies! Because that particular veto could result in the kind of state of emergency where people actually die. Not that sickness and death and The Way Life Should Be have ever mattered to Maine's Gov anyway near much as money does. As Gov. LePage has said many times, "As I have said many times, we all need to die sometime, but not everyone can be trusted with money."

So now anyway, since we can't pay some of our bills, we are now somehow under martial law. People have asked me, "Mike, what do you know about this emergency situation? Can I still water my lawn? Am I still allowed to rent movies? Are you ever going to write anything helpful, or what?"

All rightie then. I can respond to a challenge as well as the next man, as long as the next man is dead, or at least sleeping. Here is what you must do now, or never can do again, if you live in Maine:

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Maine's Governor Paul LePage should be

3%2 votes
96%53 votes

| 55 votes | Vote | Results

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Congress moved last night to shut down the governments of France, Britain, Sweden, Norway and Germany, "until such time as those countries rescind universal health care for their people." According to reports coming out of the Joint Standing Committee on Sitting Around and Doing Nothing, Plus Lying, a timeframe has been set for compliance.

"The overreach of these governments," said House Speaker John Boehner, "demonstrates  an overweening hubris which almost matches President Obama's, here in our own great country. To take away the freedom of choice from millions of people like that…" Overcome with emotion, the Speaker couldn't continue with his statement. He is said to be resting comfortably at home.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a followup statement, which he claimed clarified Republican intentions. "It has come to our attention that there are other countries besides the United States. Some of these countries actually have the gall to offer universal health care. Imagine, not allowing their own people to die when they want to! It goes against all principles of the markets!"

McConnell continued, "The leaders in these capitals know who they are, I'm sure I don't. These ministers or caliphs or whoever they are should turn back from their unwise and manifestly illegal course now, today... or at least by tonight… actually we're giving them 48 hours, or they will be turned back by force of arms wielded by the greatest military on earth. Just sayin'."

President Barack Obama continued his days-long campaign of standing up for his party's core principles, telling reporters, "I don't think it's a very good idea and I wish Congress wouldn't do that. I have sent cables to the leaders of those countries to ascertain what they think of Congress's vote. I doubt they'll like it any more than I do."

The President for Just a Thousand or So Days More added, "However, they should remember that Congress is one of the three branches of government. I have reminded my counterparts in the affected countries that these are the people who can declare and make war, so careful consideration is advised. But if they disband their health care systems in the timeframe offered I'm pretty sure I can work out a compromise with Congress that will avoid a shutdown of sites such as Normandy Beach and Stonehenge. Well, at least Normandy Beach."

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Which foreign government would you like to see Congress shutdown first?

0%0 votes
0%0 votes
6%2 votes
93%27 votes

| 29 votes | Vote | Results

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What are the Republicans getting at, with their refusal to even pretend they are sane these days?

While the world burns, the GOP keeps setting fires all over Washington. The fiscal cliff, the sequester — these aren't real crises, and never were. Neither is Obamacare, or funding the stupid government. But Republicans, who fervently wished for a distraction in Syria, because they really just don't give a crap, continue with their arsonist ways. Why? Really, why?

It's politics as a game. It's a refusal to face reality. It's a refusal to let anyone else face reality. Really, we shouldn't even have to pay attention to this crap. But the GOP likes to scream fire in an empty theater and then watch as everyone runs over there to put it out for them.

Here's the strategy. That international super-commission on climate change issued its report recently. Scientists (real scientists, we mean; actual practicing climatologosts, not industry shills) are now 95% sure that climate change is anthropocentric. And, no matter what you've heard, there's no question that it's "real" — the matter hasn't been in significant doubt for twenty years now. The message: do something, dammit!

Meanwhile, every brushfire the Republicans start captures the attention of the Democrats, Washington and the so-called media, which then gets to report on what both "sides" say. These manufactured crises — they will continue, with the debt ceiling up next — just keep anyone from even having to discuss or  — gasp! — actually act on reports like the ICC's. Or they keep them from doing something, finally, about jobs. Or fixing the financial sector with a new Glass-Stegall or a Tobin tax on transactions, or something. Actually addressing these problems would take massive amounts of gumption and a reallocation of government funds and a rethinking of ideologies — and Congress has no gumption, no understanding of an idea not already held, and no taste for anything but the status quo. After all, the economy's going great, haven't you heard?

And the Democrats? They go along. They're relieved, actually. Obama says he wants to do something about climate change in particular, and his executive orders have helped, but it's too little, too late. Climate change demands a massive and immediate response — a decade ago. We need a war on climate change, which is a real problem, and not an expensive and ultimately counterprodictive war on terror, and not a war on the middle class, and not, dear God, a war on drugs. We won't get the right war. Maybe we never will, we'll just go up in smoke while pretending everything's fine. We're not just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, we're reduced to using the damned things as lifeboats.

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Airheads Come Up With a Plan

Dissatisfied with threatening to shut down only the government, House Majority Leader John Boehner hinted last week that his delegation was considering shutting down the supply of air in the United States. This plan remains "on the table," he said, unless Republican demands are met to completely defund all social programs "forever," or at least until "just before the 2014 elections."

"Hopefully, everyone without their own supply of air would be dead by that date, anyway," Congressman James Freemarket said. "That means that those still breathing would be able to see quite clearly on which side their bread was moldy." He whined, "I just want my country back. Clearly, there are too many people taking up my valuable resources."

Cong. Bill Spittoon added, "A lot of people who think they have a right to breathe but obviously do not have that 'right.' Where is the right to breathe in the Constitution? The Lord should smite them. But since He is not doing the job, Congress must."

Given equal time to respond, Congressional Democrats said they didn't think the Republican plan was "a particularly good idea," but, they added, "we can't come up with anything better." Senator Harry Reid said,  "So we have decided to poll the American people to see if we should turn off the air completely, or if maybe they would accept a partial shutdown."

President Obama on the Canadian Threat

President Barack Obama said yesterday that the U.S. will not invade Canada this week, though he wants to "leave our options open."

The crisis developed when the President watched a program on PBS about the Canadian health care system. In a strongly-worded statement, for him, the President said that Ottawa's practice of providing free health care for its own people "shall not stand."

"Such a practice is barbaric and clearly against the tenets of the Geneva Convention," Obama said. "Insurance companies must be involved as intermediaries, so that private enterprise can suck as many profits from sick and dying people as possible. Costs must be allowed to rise beyond what anyone can afford, according to the markets." He added, "The first concern of all great democracies must be the health of the  economy, not the health of the people. Canada, do not force us to send in a missile or two, or perhaps a small fleet of killer dolphins. Today, I am drawing a line in the snow."

(Later the President downgraded his threat. Any incursion would involve only small arms fire, he hinted yesterday, and then maybe only around border towns, possibly only involving poachers and in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It is rumored that Russia may intercede on Ottawa's behalf.)

Republican reaction to the President's position was quick and typically vitriolic. "'President' Obama has once again proven his cosmic inability to govern," Senator Ted Cruz said. "And, yes, you can hear the air quotes as I speak them out loud. Anyway, the man is a threat to the country and to world peace… I… Hey, wait a minute! That's a Republican position! I, um, well…"

Senator's Brain Explodes

In a scene straight out of Mars Attacks, Senator Ted Cruz's brain exploded during a press conference yesterday. He is now resting comfortably at home. A spokesperson said, "We expect the Senator to be back in his seat tomorrow. As a typical hard-working, dedicated member of the U.S. Congress he wasn't using his brain anyway."

Discuss

Yahoo! that bastion of freedom, the Fox News of the Internet, that glorifier of consumption and the Democracy of the Dollar, hopes that you never learn the truth. Probably not about anything, I imagine, but most assuredly not about climate change.

As they say, you can learn a lot of things surfing the Net, much of it wrong and most of it useless, but that's your fault. Usually. But say you want to find out the latest on 350.org, the major United States champion of at least going through the motions of trying to save the planet. Well, you had better "google it." Only actual yahoos (guilty) "Yahoo! it," apparently.

Imagining that lots of relatively sane people in the past couple of years might have wanted to find out something about the Bill McKibben-led organization — because we aren't all Stepford People, at least not yet — I typed, very simply (I am good at simple) 350 into my Yahoo! browser.

It gave these ten top search responses, allegedly, for 350: 350z, 350 chevy engine, 350 crate motor, 3500, 350z forum (gee, a forum, that must be important!), 350 turbo transmission, 350 crate engine (for those who don't know what a motor is), 350 chevy firing order (probably something to do with further corporate layoffs), 350 small block and, finally, in case your block is so small you haven't yet gotten the drift of Yahoo!'s amazing allegiance to single-minded helpfulness, 350 chevy motor!

(More surfing lessons below the doohickey)

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THE WEAK IN REVIEW:
Politics
Do Me, Beat Me, Impeach Me, oh God!

It's high time we impeached the President, unless we already did that and I missed it. Impeachment is crowding out every other subject on the home front during the Congressional recess, including even the issues of building a fifty-foot wall around the entire United States, or what to do with Syria, or remembering to ask an aide which one is Syria, or even building a fifty-foot wall around Syria, if it turns out to be one of our states after all.

Yes, impeachment of the President is the hot subject during town hall meetings that legislators are holding in various places that still have town halls all across this great land of ours where the flag waves proudly over the purple grain and majestic fruit, and where all that people ask of their Congresspersons is a fifty-foot wall to provide adequate cover for the coming End Times, behind which (the walls, not the End Times) the militiamen will gather with their muzzle-loading muskets and pitchforks to hold off the government agents who have been electronically monitoring their toasters for years.

In Michigan, Congressthing Kenny Berntivolio recently related to constituents the heartwarming story of how impeaching the President would be — and I quote him here with a catch in my own throat — "my dream come true." Bernitivolio said he couldn't think of any charges yet, but he was working on a few good leads. He said that maybe "someone more qualified," such as a Congressional page or perhaps Glenn Beck's hairpiece, could come up with something better, as he feels a little discumbobulated lately due to the fact that his toaster is no longer speaking to him.

It isn't just our House members who have been thinking really hard about this pressing issue. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn told a town meeting in Muskogee, Oklahoma, as well as all the Okies gathered there to sing country songs in congratulatory self-deprecation, that he did not have "the legal background" to know whether President Barack Obama had actually committed high crimes and misdemeanors. However, Senator Coburn apparently did scrape up the legal wherewithal to note that the President is "getting perilously close." Taking comfort in the knowledge that the Senator is almost on firm legal ground, we can all sleep safe in our beds or safe under our cardboard boxes, or wherever it is we are safely sleeping in these tremendous times in this great country where everything would be perfect if not for our Constitution-hating Chief Executive and his unconstitutional, faking-left-and-going-right regulations.

Clearly, Republicans who have placed impeachment Number One on their summer wish lists haven't thought this thing through, since forty years ago this supposedly Socialist President would have been a Republican. Not that our Congresskids couldn't come up with some really nifty charges if they all frowned really hard together at the same time in the same room while their mommies were all gone for the afternoon, because no one doubts that they have it in them. No, the problem is what they would do if they actually came up with something they could convince themselves was an impeachable offense — and then actually impeached the man.

Because then Joe Biden would be President. Joe Biden! I imagine that would be a little like Alexander Haig assuming command of the Nixon White House, only with more preemptive nuclear strikes against political enemies, and definitely way more preemptive nuclear strikes against political allies.

No, Republicans would do well to cool the impeachment campaign. I mean just talking about it is a lot of fun, sure, and wishing really, really hard for our dreams to come true is very American and all that, but even Democrats don't want Joe Biden to be President. Congress should probably just quit while they're ahead. Yeah, that's it, Congress should just quit. Though it's unlikely that anyone could tell the difference between this particular Congress when it was seated and the one that is still back at town meeting, dreaming its wonderful dreams of freedom, and liberty, and a fat Koch Brothers scholarship for yet another term.

(Doohickey alert)

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There are social costs to carbon usage. Even the fossil fuels industry has grudgingly admitted this. So our democracy has deemed it fair and wise to roll out carbon taxes and cap-and-trades and formulate social damage guesstimates for carbon usage. Followed by a whole lot of obstruction and denial.

One method of determining carbon's cost/benefit shortfall is the federal government's Social Cost of Carbon index. The Obama Administration recently raised the SCC to $43 a ton, up 58% from the previous calculation.

Naturally, the carbon industry questions the math, the method, the motive and the suppositions underlying the new figure.

A Reuters story posted by Valerie Volcovici this afternoon dealt with industry reaction.

"This has all the characteristics of a stealth approach toward making a greenhouse gas rule more justifiable by exaggerating the social benefits," said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.
Yes, just how valuable to people is continued life on earth, anyway? Or perhaps the coal industry is about to issue its own counterstudy proving you can take it with you? Who the hell knows what their excuse is anymore?

Volcovici also reports:

Oil refiner Tesoro Corp. and coal company Peabody are among fossil-fuel based firms that have lobbied lawmakers and administration officials on the issue, according to second-quarter filings to the government... Stephen Brown, head of government affairs for Tesoro, said in an interview that companies and some industry groups may seek petitions to change the calculation, file direct legal challenges to the SCC or file an indirect legal challenge by suing the EPA for rules using 'unvetted' SCC figures.
Yes, let's sue. Love to see some judge rule that the SCC should be set ten times higher. Private enterprise would start churning out windmills before the ink dried on the ruling.

Here we have underlined once again the folly of assigning economic value to things of inestimable value. A sunset means more to you than to me, let's say, but you can't buy one off me, no matter how much you offer. Or maybe I'm wild about hummingbirds and you prefer stock options. Or I want to enjoy my grandchildren in my old age, while you want to count your money.

Can't we all just get along?

It is folly to even attempt to levy such "social cost" taxes, though it's slightly better than doing nothing. However, such a strategy produces the dangerous illusion that we are doing something effective. Such formulae are always going to be hopelessly inadequate — especially when we are talking about the End of the World, as we are here with climate change. You're not going to come close to setting a "correct" figure, people! The earth is priceless. I mean, call me crazy, but I don't think you can actually tax people enough to make up for the loss of a whole planet. And our civilization, screwed up as it is, must be worth something. Climate change roars onward; methane waits to be released from the Arctic un-permafrost. The seas are dying. And all because of fossil fuels and carbon loading; and you think you can put a price on the further destruction of the Earth? Really?

But Congress fiddles and the carbon industry denies. And the government pretends that it is doing something. So God is still in His Heaven. But I'll bet He's got His a/c set on High.

Here is exactly what is wrong with our system of total national commitment to seriously-under-regulated free market economics; we agree, going in, that a free transaction's value to willing buyers and sellers should be the ultimate test of freedom and of all that is holy — and if the world happens to come to an end because of all those accumulated transactions, well, that's just too bad. We'll call it an unintentional side effect and the survivors can start all over. I can just hear the blowback now: You damn bleeding hearts! It's only civilization!

If we have to place a dollar value on every ton of carbon produced for burning, what with the atmospheric CO2 level now screeching past 400ppm — when we know (repeat: we KNOW) even 350 ppm will cook the planet eventually — then I would say a figure between one million and forty-seven sesquillion dollars per ton of carbon would be about right, wouldn't you? I mean, I would lean toward toward the high end there, but then again I may be overvaluing breathing, and sunsets, and maple trees, and salmon, and coral reefs, and the oceans, and the atmosphere, and low humidity once in awhile and reading and Daily KOS, and a few million other rather pleasant reasons to remain alive and stay a thinking member of a still-functioning free society, even one powered by socialistic solar and wind farms.

Because, climate deniers, it is now a fact that the game is up and we are headed for Climate Armageddon. The climate cycle feedback loop is now officially too hot to touch. Barring more or less instant dramatic action by the leading world offender — that would be us — in a very few years there will BE no civilization to fuel. This climate change issue trumps all others. We have to stop burning fossil fuels, yesterday!

But still the fossil fuel industry delays and denies reality, because such a reality disagrees with the economic theory. These are the kind of people who can't see why Baltimore orioles and buttercups and five-year-olds and backyard gardens should stand in the way of gouging the earth to smitherteens for fun and profit.

We need to stop burning fossil fuels. We need alternative energy solutions. When do we need these solutions? YESTERDAY! YESTERDAY, I said!

$%@#^&%^%$! ^&%#$#@%&*&^% ^&&^%%#$##!

Discuss
In all of the five Congresses examined, the voting records of Senators were consistently aligned with the opinions of their wealthiest constituents. The opinions of lower-class constituents, however, never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior.
A report in Political Research Quarterly, due out soon, suggests that we live in an oligarchy — in case there's an American living under a piece of the Marcellus Shale who hasn't figured that out yet.

But the neoliberal economists would have it that there can be no true oligarchy, because business is so overregulated by government. They say we live in a quasi-free market economy that is hamstrung by socialistic government's policies and rules. The Free Market Is God crowd truly believe that the problem with Wall Street, for example, is not that it has been too completely deregulated these past few years, but that it still isn't deregulated enough! Theirs is the dominant philosophy in Washington these days too; Republicans and nearly all Democrats are free market capitalists, many of them even more purists than their guru, the late Milton Friedman, who admitted government had to set some rules, and then enforce them. But no matter the rationale, capital gets whatever it wants, and gets to write the legislation "regulating" itself, and wages war on anything and anyone that isn't free market capitalism, such as the safety net, participatory democracy, the bottom four-fifths of the 99%, et al and et cetera.

And so the problem with the US Senate, according to money power, is not that it has been bought — but that somehow it still hasn't been bought enough.

Economist Milton Friedman was one of the founders of the so-called Chicago School, whose followers and acolytes have carried forward the principles of free market capitalism into all phases of American life, many of those phases situated a good distance off from economics, to my way of thinking. But who am I to complain, Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976 and I believe I wasn't even nominated. So Reaganomics and its subsequent bastard offspring owe much to Friedman's thinking, and his bestselling Free to Choose laid down the philosophical principles beloved by all true lovers of freedom. Allegedly.

His masterwork, Capitalism and Freedom, was written in 1962, well before Friedman's way of thinking was the dominant mode. That's why I like to mine the book for the terribly ironic statements contained therein, most amusing and/or maddening to read now that the Friedman Fiction Factory runs the world. Here's Friedman on political freedom; note the crie de couer over oligarchy and its brother threats, such as "a momentary majority":

...Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances...
Despite my carping above, even I will admit that much of what Friedman and others of his school have to say about economics and the markets is useful and wise, but the problem is they insist theirs is the only correct way to view and run the whole world — see the Pan Pacific Treaty, NAFTA, Wall Street, the World Bank, on and on and on and on and on. And you can't just be a believer, you must be a true believer; free markets must be pure. But it has become more and more apparent that while their advice may be useful, it is often very much unwise. We descend ever faster into political fascism the more the economic sphere completely seizes control of the political and social spheres. Should a Venn diagram of the optimal distribution of social, political and economic power in a democracy really be represented by three concentric circles? If so, my America wouldn't feature economics as the dominant, outside ring. But if I really had a choice, I would choose a true Venn diagram, where all three share some power and rights and responsibilities, and then are allowed considerable freedom within their own spheres of operation.

If the Friedmanites just stuck to economics, and let that part of life be acted upon by social and political forces, sure, an "impure" society would result — it might look a lot like 1958, I'm thinking — but those two other non-coercive outside forces would function as the "system of checks and balances" that Friedman desires. But by insisting that all freedom flows from a barrel of oil, the economists demand that every transaction be dealt with in economic terms. They're saying a freely-chosen transaction is the only freedom the Founding Fathers would have guaranteed us, and from that freedom all other freedoms are derived. I don't read history that way, but what do I know? — I'm poor.

Anyway, one clear sign that economic freedom is the only freedom that gets to speak lies to power is that our representatives (sic) listen almost unanimously to the plutocrats and oligarchs.

Just as we always suspected, now that it isn't even safe anymore to live under the Marcellus Shale.

The biggest loser is democracy. As usual.

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