Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, November 5, 2015 9:36 pm

RIP J. Howard Coble — by Sam Rayburn’s standards, the last honest congresscritter

“Son, if you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and then vote against ’em, you don’t deserve to be here.” — attributed to U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, c. 1950.

Howard Coble, who represented North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District for 30 years, died late Tuesday evening — Election Night here in Greensboro, as it happened — and a tsunami of respect and even love has flooded the Internet as a consequence.

The News & Record’s news story called Coble a Republican icon who also was “beloved by area Democrats.” The News & Record’s editorial page said that Coble, popular though he was, “wasn’t appreciated enough.” My Facebook feed was filled with tributes from local folks from both parties and no party at all.

Like almost anyone who has lived in the district any length of time, I have my own Howard Coble story to tell, one that goes beyond our interactions as politician and journalist. He was extremely helpful to me when I was job hunting after I took the News & Record buyout in 2009 even though he had no particular reason to be. He got in touch on my behalf with people whose names you see regularly in the paper and on TV. I don’t owe my current jobs to him, but it certainly wasn’t because he wasn’t working for me.

And, yes, even by the standards of Congress, where good constituent service is considered the bare performance minimum for a congresscritter to have a hope of re-election, Coble’s constituent service — or, more precisely, that of the staff he hired and oversaw — was legendary.

But there was a big and important contradiction at the heart of Coble’s politics that all this outpouring overlooked. My friend Lynn Holt-Campbell, who runs an insurance agency in High Point with her husband, wrote something on Facebook that sums it up: ” I met Howard a few times (and yes, he told me to call him “Howard”) … though we were just about polar opposites on a lot of political issues, he was a very, very nice man who deeply loved his state.”

In a nutshell, Coble cultivated a tone of bipartisanship — arguably a necessity for a Republican politician who came of age when Democrats were still in control and who won his second term by only 79 votes — but from 1989 on he voted a very conservative line in Congress; if you look at his record, you’ll see that he was pretty much straight Gingrichite/Tea Party without the idiotic rhetoric. The result was that while he professed to love the people of his district, he voted for many things that hurt most of them.

He supported trade policies that ultimately decimated the 6th District’s predominant industries of furniture and textiles. A former N.C. state revenue secretary, he professed an emphasis on a balanced budget but voted consistently for budget-busting GOP tax cuts that benefited the very wealthy to the detriment of an overwhelming majority of his constituents. He once told me on the record that Congress ought to use its constitutional power of interstate-commerce regulation to ban the use of tax-paid economic incentives to lure employers across state lines, but in all his time in the House he never lifted a finger to do anything about it. And American intellectual-property law, with its gifts to behemoth content creators, became, on his watch as the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing it, the place where creativity goes to die.

Moreover, a former federal prosecutor, he voted for Bill Clinton’s impeachment even when he knew (or should have known) that not all the elements for a perjury charge were present, but he utterly ignored the far more thoroughly documented war crimes (including torture) and crimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration after 9/11. He cast himself as favoring small government, but there was no big-government overreach he didn’t back, from the PATRIOT Act to warrantless domestic wiretapping. He never took sometimes declined to take a public position on gay marriage — ostensibly because, as a lifelong bachelor, he felt himself unqualified to do so. In point of fact, during his tenure Congress never had to vote on the issue he voted for a number of anti-gay marriage measures, including the Defense of Marriage Act..

But you have heard little of that these past couple of days. The Howard Coble who voted to screw the middle class and working class, who pushed the interests of big business over small business, who signed on to some of the government’s worst post-9/11 excesses, who consistently pushed tax and economic policies detrimental to the interests of the overwhelming majority of the 6th District’s residents, and who kept his mouth shut while supporting some of the most wild-eyed initiatives of the Gingrich crew and the Tea Party, didn’t make an appearance. The most the News & Record could bestir itself to say was that Coble was “a reliable conservative” who “voted for tax cuts and championed restrictive intellectual property bills beloved by large corporations.” That was it.

The contrast between Coble and the current crop of Republican presidential candidates is striking. They’re all talk, and they’re going nowhere. Coble talked rationally, even in nonpartisan fashion at times, but his votes did and are continuing to do enormous damage to his district and the people of North Carolina on behalf of a few wealthy backers, damage that will long outlive his 30-year tenure in Congress.

In short, I don’t know about drinking our whiskey and screwing our women, but he took our money and voted against us over and over and over again. And that, in the post-Citizens United era, is what being an honest politician has come to mean, and how low the bar has sunk.

Monday, March 30, 2015 7:23 pm

Odds and ends for March 30

The Klown Kar might have to be a stretch Hummer: Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina puts her own chances of running for president at 90%. Fiorina famously crashed HP into the ground (stock price cut 50%, 30,000 workers laid off in five years), then ran an epically inept campaign for governor of California (who among us will ever forget the demon sheep?). She says Hillary Clinton has a “character problem.” Pot, kettle.

#FFS. All the crap that Indiana is getting over its so-called “religious freedom” bill in both the real and the virtual worlds notwithstanding, North Carolina now has its own version, HB 348. When the chairman of the world’s largest corporation tells you that that kind of law is bad for business, perhaps you shouldn’t take him at his word, but you at least should give his word due consideration. Heck, even Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says it isn’t needed, although I hasten to note that that’s not the same as vowing to veto it.

North Carolina’s senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, voted yes on same-sex marriage benefits for Social Security recipients and veterans, which sounds great until you learn that the measure was nonbinding.

At least two great Republicans think SB 36, state Sen. Trudy Wade’s hostile takeover of the Greensboro City Council, is bad for Greensboro: I and retired U.S. Rep. Howard Coble.

We have so little money that some of Guilford County’s worst-off students may get screwed. But God forbid we stand in the way of yet another $1 billion tax cut for the state’s wealthy and corporations. Jesus might love you, legislators, but I’m pretty sure he despises what you’re doing.

I have very little use for the band fun. (yes, the “f” is lower-case, and, yes, there’s a period after the name) — when their songs come on the radio, the word “lugubrious” comes to mind. But member Jack Antonoff’s solo project, Bleachers, is a lot more fun (ahem) to listen to even as the songs tackle some hard subjects.

Here’s “Rollercoaster” …

… and here’s “I Wanna Get Better” …

Monday, April 14, 2014 12:09 am

Is we is or is we ain’t a nation under the rule of law?

I think we ain’t, but it looks like we’ll know soon enough, because the leak even I could see coming is here:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

So, in plain English:

  • The CIA tortured people — some of whom died of it, remember — in violation not only of international and U.S. law but also in violation of the flimsy, themselves-illegal guidelines set up by the Justice Department.
  • The CIA lied to the White House and Congress, obstructing their oversight, which is duly required by Constitution and statute.
  • The CIA lied to its own inspector general.

So CIA personnel ordered and committed hanging offenses and lied to everybody about it. That’s the bottom line, folks. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Let’s be very clear about what needs to happen here:

  • The people who actually carried out the crimes must be charged and tried, but so must the people who ordered them and the people who lied about them.
  • If anyone carried out or ordered torture that resulted in death, that individual is subject to the death penalty. As a tough-on-crime conservative, I can sleep soundly knowing that.
  • If anyone used the classification process to try to hide evidence of a crime, he should be criminally prosecuted for that offense.
  • If anyone then or now in a Senate-confirmable position carried out or ordered a crime, he should be impeached and convicted, thereby to revoke his pension and any other benefits of having served in the federal government.

If these things do not happen, then we are not a nation under the rule of law, plain and simple. I wish I could say that we are, but experience suggests that nothing will happen.

So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s put paid, once and for all, to this notion of American exceptionalism. We are not special. We are not a shining city on a hill. We are not a Christian nation in any way that Christ Himself would recognize. We are not even, to judge by both legal standards and OECD measures for quality of life, a particularly good example.

It is tempting to say that we are governed by a parliament of whores, but to do so would insult whores, who generally are not nearly as hypocritical about what they do as our leaders are. We are a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an outlaw nation, and the only differences between our genocide and that of the Nazis is that ours was less recent and less efficient. Indeed, it was ironic for me to read tonight on Facebook about my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman honoring the congressional service of my friend Howard Coble, when Coble, a former federal prosecutor, did nothing to stop precisely the kind of behavior on the part of Americans that got Nazis hanged at Nuremberg.

I’d love to be proved wrong on this. I really, really would. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna. And Americans need to understand that and to plan their futures accordingly.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 8:13 pm

Linin’ ’em up

A couple of weeks ago I said that auditing the Federal Reserve was a great idea even if it was Ron Paul who introduced the bill that would make it happen. I am delighted to note that that bill, HR 1207, has, as of today, 282 co-sponsors, more than enough to pass if the bill makes it to the floor. I’m less delighted that only one of Greensboro’s three reps, Howard Coble, is among the co-sponsors, although I don’t know whether that means Brad Miller and Mel Watt oppose the bill or just figured that with a majority assured they would turn their attention to other things.

The companion Senate bill, S 604 from Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has 23 co-sponsors, ranging in political ideology from Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to Sam Brownback, R-Kansas. (That’s quite a range, actually.) Among them is North Carolina’s Richard Burr but not our other senator, Kay Hagan. I do not know why that is.

But here’s what I suspect.

I suspect that the Fed has been doing things with our tax dollars, largely for the benefit of a few very large financial institutions, that will infuriate people once word becomes public. I further suspect that the wave of outrage that will follow will be something any incumbent and quite a few challengers would want to surf, rather than be swamped by. That wave is coming, and the time to get your board lined up and get up on your feet is drawing to a close.

There’s additional good news on this front: The Bloomberg news organization sued the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year under the Freedom of Information Act for records on how tax money was spent. On Monday, a federal judge granted Bloomberg’s motion for summary judgment, meaning that both the facts and the law are so clearly on Bloomberg’s side that there’s no need for a trial. The bank has five business days to provide certain records and until Sept. 14 to let the court know how it intends to provide others. Should bank allies manage to kill or stall the Paul or Sanders bills, people could just file more FOIA lawsuits. So one way or another, this stuff’s coming out.

Congresscritters and would-be congresscritters of all stripes, take note.

UPDATE: Arguably another excellent reason to support auditing the Fed: Tim Geithner thinks it would be a bad idea.

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