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Monday, November 24, 2014

Lyin' Ryan's at it again --- tax reform for dummies

by digby

I hear good old Paul Ryan is upset with the president. He thinks he's being awfully foolish to strike the hornets nest because now it won't be as easy for them to come together in bipartisan comity to solve the crisis of high taxes for corporations and rich people. Darn it all. Anyway, I wrote about it for Salon today:
Today everyone says the Grand Bargain is dead. It certainly does not appear at this point that President Obama is going to put Social Security back on the chopping block, although it’s always possible. But what about that last piece of the bargain, “tax reform”? Well, this is one zombie that hasn’t died even in this age of total obstruction. And guess who’s talking it up?
Rep. Paul Ryan, the incoming chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, laid out an expansive agenda Wednesday for 2015, including a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act and a fix for the looming shortfall in the federal disability insurance program.

An overhaul of the nation’s tax laws will also rank high on the agenda when Ryan (R-Wis.) takes the helm of the tax-writing panel in January.

Paul Ryan used to be considered a potential White House partner in the Grand Bargain. He had a reputation as a Very Serious policy guy who wasn’t an ideologue and could be persuaded to work with Democrats. This was despite his extremist Ayn Rand philosophy and his penchant for fudging numbers and misleading statistics. Over time it became clear that he was a flim-flam artist and his image took a hit. And then he signed on as Mitt Romney’s side-kick and that was the end of that. But Ryan’s new position as Chairman has put him back in play and it’s unknown if the White House has any interest in playing with him on tax reform. It is to be fervently hoped at this point that they are not.
Read on to find out what Lyin' Ryan is up to now ...
How the Republicans do oversight

by digby

No, they don't challenge any National Security initiatives backed by the CIA, NSA or Pentagon or question funding for every last toy the Police and Military Industrial Complex wants.  Those are sacrosanct. But when it comes to "wasting money" on science, they are on it:
Four times this past summer, in a spare room on the top floor of the headquarters of the National Science Foundation (NSF) outside of Washington, D.C., two congressional staffers spent hours poring over material relating to 20 research projects that NSF has funded over the past decade. Each folder contained confidential information that included the initial application, reviewer comments on its merit, correspondence between program officers and principal investigators, and any other information that had helped NSF decide to fund the project.

The visits from the staffers, who work for the U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees NSF, were an unprecedented—and some say bizarre—intrusion into the much admired process that NSF has used for more than 60 years to award research grants. Unlike the experts who have made that system work so well, however, the congressional staffers weren’t really there to judge the scientific merits of each proposal. But that wasn’t their intent.

The Republican aides were looking for anything that Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), their boss as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, could use to support his ongoing campaign to demonstrate how the $7 billion research agency is “wasting” taxpayer dollars on frivolous or low-priority projects, particularly in the social sciences. The Democratic staffers wanted to make sure that their boss, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), the panel’s senior Democrat, knew enough about each grant to rebut any criticism that Smith might levy against the research.

The peculiar exercise is part of a long-running and bitter battle that is pitting Smith and many of his panel’s Republican members against Johnson and the panel’s Democrats, NSF’s leadership, and the academic research community. There’s no end in sight: The visits are expected to continue into the fall, because NSF has acceded—after some resistance—to Smith’s request to make available information on an additional 30 awards. (Click here to see a spreadsheet of the requested grants.)

And the feud appears to be escalating. This week, Johnson wrote to Smith accusing him “of go[ing] after specific peer-reviewed grants simply because the Chairman personally does not believe them to be of high value.” (Click here to see a PDF of Johnson’s letter and related correspondence from Smith and NSF.)

Smith, however, argues he is simply taking seriously Congress’s oversight responsibility. And he promises to stay the course: “Our efforts will continue until NSF agrees to only award grants that are in the national interest,” he wrote in a 2 October e-mail to Science Insider.
I've written before about the fact that a lot of this was enabled by the "Fleecing of America" crapola that came out of the reform movement of the 70s and was taken up by the media for decades as a sexy topic for their news magazines. It's true that the procurement system in the Pentagon was/is a disgrace and there are always going to be some scandals. But it ended up being the catch-all excuse for the conservatives to demagogue anything they don't like about government --- which is pretty much everything but police and military. This is a perfect example.

All these people who like to say "I'm not a scientist" as a way of excusing their servile fealty to the energy plutocrats are always right up in women's privates with junk science about fetal heartbeats and whatnot --- and now they've got their interns doing "research" on what scientific studies are "valuable." Talk about fleecing America ...

Senator Inhofe waits for the bridegroom

by digby

More polling, this time on climate change and religion:

Poll results released by the Public Religion Research Institute on Friday showed that sixty-nine percent of Americans believe there is solid evidence that Earth’s temperatures are increasing. This is good news, as so far this year has been the hottest ever recorded, despite the recent chill covering the United States. But the pollsters also asked about the cause of recent natural disasters, and the responses from some religious people could impact how America responds to climate change.

While 62 percent of total respondents ascribed the cause of recent natural disasters to climate change, 49 percent also thought biblical “end times” were the cause. For white evangelical Protestants, these numbers basically reversed — 77 percent pointed to the apocalypse, and just 49 percent attributed extreme weather to climate change (the numbers add up to more than one-hundred because people could offer more than one cause).

This fatalistic view of the impacts caused in part by burning fossil fuels could influence the national policy responses to the problem. More than half of the total respondents (53 percent) thought that God would not intercede if humans were destroying the Earth, while 39 percent said that God would step in.

People can believe what they want to believe. Unfortunately, this belief is held by some very important people in the most powerful nation on earth. Like the new Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who said this:

“[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

I don't know about Inhofe, but it's important to remember that many Christian fundamentalists welcome this event joyfully. It's not scary to them at all. I'm once again reminded of this post I did a few years back when the Middle East was erupting for the umpteenth time and everyone was being well ... apocalyptic about it. This was how a group of fundamentalists greeted the news:

Is it time to get excited? I can't help the way I feel. For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lords appearing is upon us. I have never felt this way before, I have a joy that bubbles up every-time I think of him, for I know this is truly the time I have waited for so long. Am I alone in feeling guilty about the human suffering like my joy at his appearing some how fuels the evil I see everywhere. If it were not for the souls that hang in the balance and the horror that stalks man daily on this earth, my joy would be complete. For those of us who await his arrival know, somehow we just know it won't be long now, the Bridegroom cometh rather man is ready are not.


If He tarries, I will just have time to get my hair and nails done (you know let all I come into contact with know of my Bridegroom and what He has/will do). So i am all spiffied up for Him when He does arrive to take me home. No disappointment, just a few last minute details to take care of to be more pleasing to look at.


I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps, literally, when I watch what's going on in the M.E.!! And Watcherboy, you were so right when saying it was quite a day yesterday, in the world news, and I add in local news here in the Boston area!! Tunnel ceiling collapsed on a car and killed a woman of faith, and we had the most terrifying storms I have ever seen here!! But, yes, Ohappyday, like in your screen name , it is most indeed a time to be happy and excited, right there with ya!!


Can you imagine being a hate filled person that "preaches" tolerance but really really hates Christians when the rapture does happen. It must be sad to live like that. I feel sorry for them and feel we should pray for them. Their tolerance doesn't include anyone but themselves, and all they preach is hate.

These folks are a small minority in the country. And as I said, they have a perfect right to believe what they want to believe. But how do they differ from the incoming chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee?

Poll 'o the Day: stupid voters speak

by digby

This should be good news. Unfortunately, nobody really cares what the people think about anything so I'm not sure it's relevant. Still:
Voters respond favorably by an overwhelming 39-point margin to executive action by President Obama that would focus immigration enforcement efforts on threats to national security and public safety while allowing some illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States (67% favorable, 28% unfavorable). Support is broad, incorporating a majority of voters in every region of the country, among both men and women, and in states won by both Barack Obama (67% favorable) and Mitt Romney (65% favorable). Younger voters under age 35 express particularly strong support (72%), but more than 60% feel favorable in every age cohort.

Executive action receives support from 91% of Democrats and 67% of political independents. While a narrow 51% majority of Republicans oppose executive action (41% favor), this is driven mainly by a 34-point margin of opposition among Tea Party Republicans (30% favor, 64% oppose). Among non-Tea Party Republicans opinion is more divided, with 47% in favor and 45% opposed.

o Description of executive action: The action would direct immigration enforcement officials to focus on threats to national security and public safety, and not on deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants. Immigrants who are parents of children who are legal US residents could qualify to stay and work temporarily in the United States, without being deported, if they have lived in the United States for at least five years, pay taxes, and pass a criminal background check.

Ø Many individual elements of the executive action are very popular with voters:

o Allow undocumented immigrants who are parents of children or young adults living legally in the United States to stay in the United States without being deported (66% favorable, 28% unfavorable);
o Expand the DACA program that provides temporary legal status and work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children (63% favorable, 27% unfavorable);
o Provide temporary work permits to qualifying immigrants (76% favorable, 21% unfavorable);
o Shift more security resources to the Mexican border (79% favorable, 16% unfavorable).

Ø Republican leaders are challenging President Obama’s legal authority to take this executive action aggressively. The survey results show that Democrats have the better of this debate, with voters agreeing by a 10-point margin (51% to 41%) that the president does have legal authority to act. Independents agree that the president is acting lawfully by an 18-point margin (54% to 36%).

Sadly, the Tea Party --- also known as hardcore conservatives --- run the GOP. The leadership encouraged them, created them. And now they have tremendous power.

On the other hand, the Republicans are all about stoking controversy and ginning up scandals. Political theater is what they substitute for governing. Their tactics often work. So, it's a mistake to believe they cannot benefit from their position here, especially in the short run. Still, important to note that the public wasn't scandalized by the President's allegedly tyrannical move when they first heard about it.

I'm going to guess the conservatives are simply blaming the voters for being stupid.

Confront the bullies and look what happens

by digby

Look what happens when you defy the Republicans. Why, it turns out it leaves them reeling so much that they don't know if they're coming or going:

All of those gathered had reason to be angry: Here was the president pretending, absurdly, that he hadn’t just had his butt whipped in the midterms, and defying the biggest GOP House majority-to-come in more than 80 years. Almost exactly a year before, some in the room had been among the most vocal Republicans pushing for a government shutdown as a legislative strategy against Obama.

But now came a stern message from Boehner: The GOP shouldn’t take the bait this time. And as discussion moved around the table, there was little desire for another shutdown, even from the conservatives, over the president’s executive action on immigration. No one wanted to let Democrats off the mat and hand them a political win — especially not now, barely two weeks after the GOP’s historic midterm victory. “There was definitely a sense that they didn’t want to do that [the 2013 shutdown] again,” said an aide to one of the participants.

Outwardly, Republican rhetoric toward the president hasn’t softened much, especially since Obama’s speech Thursday night. The consistent meme is that he is behaving like an unconstitutional monarch.

“The president has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a ‘king’ or an ‘emperor’ — not an American president,” Boehner said in a statement the morning after the speech. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And, as I told the president yesterday, he’s damaging the presidency itself.”

What has changed is the underlying balance of power in the party and, perhaps, the terms of debate within the GOP over how to deal with the Democratic Party and its surprisingly aggressive leader. Obama might be behaving like a usurping monarch without a mandate, in the eyes of the newly powerful GOP, but no one is seriously threatening to impeach him — as Republicans have repeatedly done in past years. Nor, despite the angry rhetoric, does there seem to be a serious possibility of government shutdown.

Now it's true that the immigration issue is unique in that the Democrats believe it will benefit them politically and hurt the Republicans politically in the long run. Of course if you believe in your policies and are halfway decent at politics that should always be the case, no? But you rarely see this situation because the Democratic Part rarely directly confronts the GOP quite this openly.The Republicans don't know what to do. Perhaps the Democrats should take advantage of it.

There's a lesson in this somewhere.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of the Party taming it's loonies, and putting the grown-ups back in charge, there's this:

Iowa Rep. Steve King, one of the GOP’s most divisive figures on immigration, is approaching a moment of maximum impact. And Republicans looking to improve the party’s standing with Latinos are nervous about what that could mean.

Throughout next year, Republican hopefuls will face a litmus test: seek approval from King, who represents a wide swath of caucus-goers, and risk being tethered to his views on immigration; or ignore him and risk King using his bully pulpit against them.

So far, some major names among the potential GOP 2016 contenders are seeking King’s approval, a worrisome development to party leaders eager to broaden the GOP’s appeal with immigrants and Spanish-speaking voters. King has already spoken privately with about 10 potential presidential candidates, he told POLITICO in an interview last week, pressing them to detail their views on immigration.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held an October fundraiser for King and pledged he’d be a supporter of the congressman “for as long as he continues to be in public life.” And most of the potential Republican presidential field has been invited to King’s first “Iowa Freedom Summit” in January, co-hosted by Citizens United; so far, three prospective candidates — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — have accepted.

You don't get any loonier than Steve King. And they're calling him a Kingmaker ... I think that says it all.



Never say inevitable

by Tom Sullivan

Hillary Clinton's New York troops are figetting, waiting for a formal declaration, yet still organizing. Meanwhile, writes Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, their "candidate" remains silent. On the Keystone pipeline. On NSA reform.

But, despite the clear remarks about Ferguson and immigration, Clinton’s views on many crucial issues remain opaque. She seems to be repeating the same mistake that she made in 2008, when the inevitability of her candidacy overwhelmed its justification.

At the Ready for Hillary festival, Mitch Stewart, one of Obama’s top organizers in the 2008 contest, suggested that Clinton needed to be careful to develop a message and stick to it. He noted that she had failed to do that in the 2008 primaries. “Every six weeks, there seemed to be a new slogan, and there was nothing people could wrap their arms around,” Stewart said.

Mainstream Democratic candidates have a thing for repeating mistakes. Like the many that ran away from their president and their own brand a few weeks ago and lost big. Like Al Gore did in 2000. Eight years we endured George W. Bush.

Paging George Santayana. Or at least a campaign adviser who knows who the hell he is.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The hysterical ninny protocol

by digby

So I'm sure you recall Chris Christie's hysterical reaction to the ebola threat a few weeks back. He ordered Nurse Kaci Hickox into isolation and lectured her to stop whining about being inconvenienced. Eventually she went to Maine where she lived and that was that.

But Josh Marshall at TPMs wondered what happened to Christie's plan to isolate anyone who had been in the affected countries and found out that it doesn't exist. In fact, the state public health official are monitoring over 70 people for symptoms and they are all at home doing their normal thing and just taking their temperature twice a day. You know, the scientific protocol as opposed to the hysterical ninny protocol.

But get a load of this:

The state paid more than 500 hours of overtime during a three-week period to Human Services police officers who were stationed around the clock at a former psychiatric hospital in Hunterdon County after it was identified as a location to quarantine West African travelers who had contact with Ebola patients, NJ Advance Media has learned.

So far, Gov. Chris Christie's administration has not needed to use the former Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital in Lebanon Township as a quarantine area. Only Doctors Without Borders Nurse Kaci Hickox has been quarantined in New Jersey after arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport, and she was held at an isolated tent at University Hospital in Newark from Oct. 24-27.

But once the state Department of Human Services decided to use Hagedorn to temporarily house “asymptomatic” travelers, department officials decided to deploy police to the location, Human Services spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie said.

“As we were surveying the building for appropriateness, there was media and community interest/trespassing so we did have two officers on rotating shifts to provide perimeter and building security,” Brossoie said in a email.

The number of officers who were assigned — and how many were paid at the overtime rate — is in dispute.

Brossoie said the payroll office logged 1,080 hours at Hagedorn, with 557 of them paid at the time-and-a-half overtime rate. The 23-day assignment ended Wednesday. She said she did not have an accounting of the labor costs.

PBA Local 113 Attorney Stuart Alterman said two officers and a supervisor were assigned to Hagedorn, and they were all paid at the overtime rate.

Human Services police officers on average earn in the high-$70,000 range and sergeants in the $80,000 range, according to state payroll records.

Alterman called the Hagedorn assignment “an impulsive way to deal with an acute situation that was neither planned very well or executed very well.” He said officers in the 94-member police force were concerned and frustrated they were provided no training to respond in the event a quarantined person become ill.

Yes, it was impulsive allright. And a good test of leadership for the macho Christie as he runs for president. If you want a panic artist at a time of crisis, he's your man.

Oh, and just to make sure you understand the totality of the fuck-up-edness, Christie was going to lock up people who were not sick in an old psychiatric hospital. Talk about optics ...

Meanwhile, at least his priorities are straight:

he security detail at Hagedorn coincided with the Nov. 15 disbanding of a 23-member unit within the 92-member Human Services police department whose officers accompanied child welfare workers to dangerous neighborhoods and to search for missing children. The unit was disbanded to cut down on runaway overtime expenses.

Now this is scary looking

by digby

[A]lthough the black seadevil seems menacing as its swims towards the camera, it is only about 3.5 inches long.

Little is known about the fish. Male black seadevils have a much shorter life span than females and are much tinier in comparison. Their sole purpose is to attach themself to a female, living as a parasite.

Pretty sure I've known a few human male sea-devils. They're not that rare on land.

QOTD: It's Giuliani time

by digby


"It is the reason for the heavy police presence in the black community," he said. "White police officers won't be there if you weren't killing each other 70 percent of the time."

Yes, that's what he said. The "black on black" crime is a very big thing on the right but this is the first time I've heard a big shot Republican say that all these white cops wouldn't be having these little "mishaps" if African Americans weren't "killing each other 70 percent of the time." Even the unarmed ones, apparently.

And those of you who've been around a while know by the title of this post that old Rudy should be careful about this sort of thing. He has a history.


Who are the liberals who trust Fox News?

by digby

That's my question after looking over these charts:

Not at the bottom that the liberal group has been growing over the past 20 years while the conservative group is ... not. Unfortunately, I'll guess that at least some those "liberals" who think Fox is on the up and up are voting for Republicans. And a good portion of the others will vote for an incumbent conservadem over a liberal challenger because of name recognition etc.

Still, it's an interesting look at how these people all get their news. It appears that the entire media landscape except for Fox, Beck, Drudge and a couple of others are sell-out commies which the Real Americans tune out so they don't get brainwashed.

Sunday Funnies

by digby

Tom Tomorrow Via Kos:

Brian McFadden Via NYT:

Huckleberry to the rescue

by digby

It was kind of a surprise that the House Benghazi! ™ inquisition failed to turn up anything scandalous  You could tell they were a little bit embarrassed by it since they dropped on late on a Friday before Thanksgiving. It's kind of a no-no to ever let a Clinton scandal go ---

But leave it to Huckleberry Graham to keep the flame alive:
“I think the report is full of crap,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The House Intelligence Committee released a report on Friday evening, which took two years to compile, that found there was no outright intelligence failure during the attack, there was no delay in the rescue of U.S. personnel and there was no political cover-up by Obama administration officials.

After Graham was asked whether the report exonerates the administration, he initially ignored the question, and then eventually said “no.”

The House Intelligence panel, Graham said, is “doing a lousy job policing their own.”

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning ...


Cesspits of bad behavior

by Tom Sullivan

In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, "I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money."

In a piece that might be titled, "The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley," Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be "--holes". (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber's Travis Kalanick. He's had a particularly bad week. Still,

"Sometimes," one acquaintance said of Kalanick, "--holes create great businesses."

What's remarkable is how acceptable this has become, even expected. Shontell quotes Atlantic's Tom McNichol:

The ease with which people can possess astonishingly contradictory qualities is one of the mysteries of human nature; indeed, it's one of the things that separates humans from, say, an Apple computer. Every one of the components that makes up an iPad is essential to the work it produces. Remove one part and the machine no longer performs its job, and not even the Genius Bar can fix it. But humans are full of qualities that are in no way integral to their functioning in the world. Some aspects of personality have little or no bearing on whether a person performs well, and not a few people succeed in spite of their darker qualities.

Andre Spicer at the Washington Post observes the same on Wall Street:

There is something in the culture of banking that lends itself toward making otherwise fairly good people do bad things. That’s the finding of a new study published in the journal, Nature. And it may simply confirm the suspicions of many following endless news of bankers being outed for bad behaviour.

Economists at the University of Zurich, Michel Maréchal, Alain Cohn and Ernst Fehr found that bankers are more likely to lie and cheat when primed to think of themselves as bankers than as "everyday people". Members of other professions did not exhibit the same bad behavior. There's something wrapped up in the banker identity that makes them "such cesspits of bad behavior."

Cheating was also not simply the result of people thinking that everyone else was doing it and so it was OK. What seemed to prompt bankers to cheat on this test was when they thought of themselves as bankers.

What is more, it is not just that people who identify as bankers tend to lie and cheat more than the general population. In fact, the study showed that this behavior was expected of them by others. This can be seen when participants were asked how often they thought bankers would cheat on this test (when compared to other interest groups). Respondents tended to think that bankers would cheat more than prison inmates on the test. This says something for what expect of the people we trust with our money.

In the end, says Spicer, changing the perception of what it means to be a banker might be required:

... Things like “Greed is good” and associations with winning at any cost might be downplayed. Other characteristics, such as being trustworthy and having integrity could be played up. Over time this would hopefully lead to bankers thinking about their collective identity in a different way. And the result would, hopefully, be that when they are faced with a situation where no one is looking, they do the right thing — like the rest of the population usually does.

Pie in the sky. Hopefully, right (twice). When the financial incentives are so high — in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, and in corporate boardrooms elsewhere — enforcement lax to nonexistent, and punishments limited to slap-on-the-wrist fines for the company and not individuals, who is going to play up trustworthiness and integrity?

When the country can be suckered into chasing phantom felons at the ballot box (a high risk, low reward crime) while firms and CEOs who took the world to the brink of collapse defraud homeowners, investors, and courts get bailouts and walk, and with Congress controlled by "a weird amalgam of straight up feudalists and insane libertarians," don't hold your breath for a cultural Road to Damascus experience anytime soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Let's get lost again: Low Down and Mike Nichols

By Dennis Hartley

I will admit being unfamiliar with jazz pianist Joe Albany prior to watching Jeff Preiss' fact-based drama Low Down, yet the late musician's career trajectory seems depressingly familiar. Credited as a be-bop pioneer, he made his bones in the 1940s, accompanying the likes of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Unfortunately, he suffered an early "lost period" due to a heroin addiction, and spent most of the 50s and 60s chasing the dragon and collecting ex-wives. He came out of seclusion in the 70s, recording a number of albums through the decade (still battling smack). He died alone, in 1988. Oddly enough, that was the same year trumpeter Chet Baker died. Baker, whose career was beset by similar woes, was profiled in Bruce Weber's outstanding 1988 documentary Let's Get Lost. One of its most compelling elements was the moody, noirish cinematography...by a Mr. Jeff Preiss.

Preiss' film (which marks his feature-length directing debut) covers a 3-year period of Albany's life in the mid-70s, when he was living in a seedy Hollywood flophouse with his teenage daughter Amy (Elle Fanning). Albany (John Hawkes) is struggling to stay focused on the work, jamming with his trumpet-playing buddy Hobbs (Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, giving us a taste of his first instrument). Amy is cheerleading for her Dad, doing her best to keep him on track. Speaking of tracks, a surprise visit from his parole officer reveals Dad isn't quite holding things together, and he's whisked off to stir. Amy goes to stay with her grandmother (Glenn Close) until Joe is released. Dad still has issues. Amy tries to keep sunny, but it's tough to be Pollyanna when your social circle is surging with hookers, junkies, drug dealers and, er, porno star dwarves (Peter Dinklage!).

The screenplay (by Amy Albany and Topper Lilien) is based on Albany's memoir recounting life with her father. Albany's recollections about the extended family of eccentrics she encountered during this period inject the film with a Tales Of The City vibe at times. The naturalistic performances and Preiss' cinema verite approach also recalls Jerry Schatzberg's 1971 drama, Panic in Needle Park, a gritty, episodic character study about a community of junkies. Some may find the deliberate pacing stupefying, waiting for something to "happen", but as John Lennon once sang, "life is just what happens to you, while you're busy making other plans." Taken as a slice of life, Low Down just lets it happen...improvising on grace notes while keeping it all in perfect time.

...and one more thing

Mike Nichols 1931-2014 

Mike Nichols passed away earlier this week. Perhaps more than any other film director I can think of, his catalog (stretching from 1966 to 2007) encapsulates the crucial paradigm shifts in America's social mores (and to some extent, changes in the political landscape) over the past 50 years. I would also consider him one of the progenitors of the modern film "dramedy", which stemmed from his background in improvisational comedy (he was one of the key players in an early 60s troupe that would later morph into Second City) and in later years, his experience as a theater director. He was, in all senses of the term, an "actor's director", clearly evident from the iconic performances that he coaxed from the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. I don’t think he ever made what I would consider a “bad” film, which makes it difficult to narrow down favorites…but I’ll highlight my top three:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  - If words were needles, university history professor George (Richard Burton) and his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) would look like a pair of porcupines, because after years of shrill, shrieking matrimony, these two have become maestros of the barbed insult, and the poster children for the old axiom, “you only hurt the one you love”. Nichols’ 1966 directing debut (adapted by scripter Ernest Lehman from Edward Albee’s Tony-winning stage play) gives us a peek into one night in the life of this battle-scarred middle-aged couple (which is more than enough, thank you very much). After a faculty party, George and Martha invite a young newlywed couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over for a nightcap. It turns out to be quite an eye-opener for the young ‘uns; as the ever-flowing alcohol kicks in, the evening becomes a veritable primer in bad human behavior. It’s basically a four-person play, but these are all fine actors, and the writing is the real star of this piece. Everyone in the cast is fabulous, but Taylor is the particular standout; this was a breakthrough performance for her in the sense that she proved beyond a doubt that she was more than just a pretty face. It’s easy to forget that the actress behind this blowsy, 50-ish character was only 34 (and, of course, a genuine stunner). When “Martha” says “Look, sweetheart. I can drink you under any goddam table you want…so don’t worry about me,” you don’t doubt that she really can.

The Graduate  - "Aw gee, Mrs. Robinson." It could be argued that those were the four words in this 1967 Nichols classic that made Dustin Hoffman a star. With hindsight being 20/20, it's impossible to imagine any other actor in the role of hapless college grad Benjamin Braddock...even if Hoffman (30 at the time) was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a 21 year-old character. Poor Benjamin just wants to take a nice summer breather before facing adult responsibilities, but his pushy parents would rather he focus on career advancement immediately, if not sooner. Little do his parents realize that in their enthusiasm, they've inadvertently pushed their son right into the sack with randy Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), wife of his Dad's business partner (and the original cougar!). Things get more complicated after Benjamin meets his lover's daughter (Katharine Ross). This is one of those "perfect storm" artistic collaborations: Nichols' skilled direction, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry's droll screenplay, fantastic performances from the entire cast, and one of the best soundtracks ever (by Simon and Garfunkel). Some of the 60s trappings haven't dated well, but the incisive social satire has retained its sharp teeth.

Silkwood- The tagline for this 1983 film was intriguing: “On November 13th, 1974, Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear facility, left to meet with a reporter from the New York Times. She never got there.” One might expect a riveting conspiracy thriller to ensue; however what director Nichols and screenwriters Nora Ephron and Alice Arden do deliver is an absorbing character study of an ordinary working-class woman who performed an act of extraordinary courage which may (or may not) have led to her untimely demise. Meryl Streep gives a typically immersive portrayal of Silkwood, who worked as a chemical tech at an Oklahoma facility that manufactured plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. On behalf of her union (and based on her own observations) Silkwood testified before the AEC in 1974 about ongoing health and safety concerns at her plant. Shortly afterwards, she tested positive for an unusually high level of plutonium contamination. Silkwood alleged malicious payback from her employers, while they countered that she had engineered the scenario herself. Later that year, on the last night of her life, she was in fact on her way to meeting with a Times reporter, armed with documentation to back her claims, when she was killed after her car ran off the road. Nichols stays neutral on the conspiratorial whisperings; but still delivers the goods here, thanks in no small part to his exemplary cast, including Kurt Russell (as Silkwood’s husband), and Cher (who garnered critical raves and a Golden Globe) as their housemate.

Also recommended: Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, The Day of the Dolphin, Working Girl, Primary Colors, Angels in America, Charlie Wilson’s War (my original review).

Previous posts with related themes:

Angel-headed hipsters on celluloid: Top 5 Jazz Movies

Saturday Night at the Movies review archives
Feeling safer?

by digby

It seems to me that this sort of thing should be far more terrifying than the prospect of immigrants coming over the border and making us all eat beans and tortillas against out will:
The admiral fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.

Although Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina's removal as deputy head of U.S. Strategic Command was announced last year, evidence of his possible role in manufacturing the counterfeit chips has not previously been revealed. Investigators said they found his DNA on the underside of an adhesive sticker used to alter genuine $1 poker chips to make them look like $500 chips.

Nor had the Navy disclosed how extensively he gambled.

The second in command of America's nuclear arsenal was a gambling addict. What could go wrong?

The case is among numerous embarrassing setbacks for the nuclear force. Disciplinary problems, security flaws, weak morale and leadership lapses documented by The Associated Press over the past two years prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Nov. 14 to announce top-to-bottom changes in how the nuclear force is managed that will cost up to $10 billion.

It's just nukes. Nothing to worry about. Let's freak out about Obamacare instead.

Where at least we know we're free

by digby

This review of Laura Poitras' Citizen Four  by David Bromwich in the New York Review of Books is well worth reading. In fact, it's essential if you care to understand Poitras' work and the meaning of it. He discusses this film in detail but also puts it in the context of her earlier work which is something I haven't seen anyone else do.

The whole thing is very thought provoking but I think this is a very keen observation:

The president handed the work to an inside legal team and eventually a commission or two and did not sack the heads of intelligence who took us far on a questionable path and lied about it. Meanwhile, the attorney general indicted Snowden on a charge of treason. In their self-protective understanding of the duties of high office in the national security state—in their refusal to face up to and reform the ungoverned exercise of power that Snowden revealed—Obama and Holder acted in a way that showed them to be profoundly unfree. So, too, did the generals, Keith Alexander and James Clapper, when they spoke under oath to Congress with so little regard for the importance of truth in a system that depends on informed consent.

The strangest revelation of Citizenfour may therefore be this: Snowden, in his hotel room with his journalistic confidants Greenwald and Poitras and MacAskill, affords a picture of a free man. It shows in his posture, and in a sense of humor touched by self-irony. He is not haunted by any fretful concern with what comes next. He is sure he has done something he chose, and sure that someone had to do it. He acted in obedience to a principle; and it was right that the actor should disappear in the action. Citizenfour, by simply using the real-life actor as a way to consider the nature of freedom, honors the premise that moved Snowden to take his unique and drastic step. “The final value of action,” wrote Emerson, “is, that it is a resource.” It is up to other Americans now, the uncertain end of Citizenfour says, to rouse ourselves and find the value of Snowden’s action as a resource.

This tracks with what I see as the fundamental problem of the National Security State and America's military empire: it has a life of its own and operates on its own logic. It goes all the way back to the immediate post-WWII period and has built itself up over time to the point at which it lives beyond our ostensibly democratic system. Politicians, bureaucrats and Generals are doing its bidding as much as the other way around. And it's no more obviously illustrated than in this cynical piece by Michael Hirsch in the Politico. Basically he jadedly declares that nobody cares so whatever. But it isn't that people don't care. They care profoundly. But they quite logically understand that they are powerless --- unfree --- to do anything about it. Like this comment from back in 2008 which I referenced in my Salon piece about rethinking our approach to reforming the surveillance state.
“The FISA bill is obviously imperfect, but I do not believe that a serious Presidential candidate can afford to vote ‘no’ on legislation that is intended to help prevent terrorist attacks. If Obama were to oppose the bill as a whole, he would be handing McCain — who didn’t even bother to show up and vote today — a huge opening to scare voters and paint Obama as weak on terrorism.”
Waddaya gonna do? People hear the fearmongering, they see the cynicism among the elites, they watch their world grow ever less private and they feel impotent. You can't really blame them. So they just ... accept it. Then they can be proud to be Americans where at least they know they're free.


The passion of St Reagan

by digby

I guess he wanted to destroy the American way of life too:

"The low information voter syndrome"

by digby

Fox News continues to be shocked, shocked I tell you, that someone would characterize voters as stupid. Why it's an assault on the American people and democracy itself! And yet:

O'Reilly: "Low Information Voters" "Don't Know Anything."

On the October 24, 2013 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly said, "The President was not elected on performance. He was elected on personality and apathy. Low information voters don't -- who don't know anything and really couldn't care less about their country broke heavily for the President." [Fox News Channel,The O'Reilly Factor, 10/24/13, via Nexis]

O'Reilly: "Low Information Voters" Are "Not Interested In The Outside World," Unable "To Make Intelligent Decisions In Life."

On the August 15, 2013, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly described "an American citizen" who "is not interested in the outside world that person will not be able to make intelligent decisions in life. Those are the so-called low information voters." [Fox News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 8/15/13, via Nexis]

Hannity: People With "Low Information Voter Syndrome" "May Cancel Out Your Well-Informed Vote." 

On October 29, 2013, Hannity complained about "low information voter syndrome" among people who didn't know that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same.

HANNITY: Oh, boy, low information voter syndrome. Our very own Ainsley Earhardt hit the streets of New York to see if people understand that the Affordable Care Act and "Obamacare" are actually one and the same. And as you just heard, the answers by people are downright scary. And by the way, they may cancel out your well-informed vote -- as we continue tonight here on "Hannity." [Fox News Channel, Hannity, 10/29/13, via Nexis]

Hannity: "Low Information Voters" Believe "Lying Campaign[s]." On the April 24, 2013, edition of Hannity, Hannity argued that "lying campaigns" that "demonize conservatives" work because of "low information" voters. From Hannity:

TUCKER CARLSON: The idea that any cuts to government will strand people with illnesses without a cure and if we pass this or that bill we will cure Parkinson's or AIDS. It is an insult to people with Parkinson's and AIDS because the truth is, it is not that simple.

You don't flip a switch and these really complex diseases are cured. This is ludicrous and you have to wonder who sat down and wrote this and what the majority leader thought when he read it off the card. Does really he believe this? Is there a single person that buys this?

HANNITY: You know what, Tucker? I think this lying campaign they use it because they think it works. They demonize conservatives all the time.

CARLSON: Anybody who takes what he says value and is moved to vote on that basis should not be voting.

HANNITY: But they are in big numbers.

CARLSON: You are too dumb to vote if you buy that.

HANNITY: Rush calls them low information voters. There are a lot of them. [Fox News Channel, Hannity, 4/24/13, via Nexis]

Now it must be acknowledged that the Foxmen are really dogwhistling their elderly white male audience here. Let's just say that in their minds the "low information voter" is generally thought to be black, brown or somewhat slutty.  And we know how they feel about those folks having the right to vote ...


The other dispossessed

by Tom Sullivan

This week the president presented his new immigration plan for undocumented immigrants. The right will hate it as much as the left will insist it is the decent and humane thing to do.

But Democrats might consider that, unless they widen their focus, doing the right thing for undocumented immigrants and other left-leaning voting groups will further alienate a neglected bloc of voters they very much need to pay more attention to: the white working class. Democrats lost them in 2014 by 30 points.

At PoliticsNC, Thomas Mills explains:

For workers, wages have been stagnant for more than a decade and for most of the past 30 years. For a while, easy credit gave a sense of improving lifestyles, but that illusion came crashing down in the recession. Working class families got hit the hardest and have yet to recover. They’ve also not seen much offered in assistance.

However, their neighbors, some who don’t work and some who are in the country illegally, keep getting help. They want something for themselves. Instead, they see affirmative action programs give minority families and businesses a hand up, or as they see it, an unfair advantage. They see the president offering residency and the benefits of this country to undocumented workers, while they’ve been hard-working, law-abiding citizens who aren’t sure they can offer their own children a better quality of life.

Republicans understand these reactions and have exploited them. Democrats, in contrast, make the case for why the policies are the right thing to do. In short, Republicans appeal to emotions while Democrats appeal to morality and reason. In politics, emotion wins almost every time.

Democrats are losing working-class whites faster than demographics and a younger base of voters can shift the balance in their favor, writes Mills. Plus, they hate welfare, as Kevin Drum says. So while the left's focus on helping disadvantaged classes feels like (and is) a good and moral thing to do, the struggling white, middle-class worker — feeling pretty dispossessed himself — looks on and feels ignored. The GOP will at least give him a lip-service tax cut and somebody to blame: the undeserving poor and their benefactors, the Democrats.

Kevin Drum writes:

It's pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. But it's there. And although it's bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn't vote for Democrats either.

Complaining that polls show progressive policies are widely popular doesn't win elections. Especially when a frustrated populace complains that there's no difference between parties and Democrats in leadership go out of their way to reinforce it. The buzzword solution seems to be populism, but it's one thing to say and another to communicate effectively when it's virtually a dead language, and Democrats' leading 2016 contender doesn't speak it.

An old anecdote about George H.W. Bush comes to mind:

“Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes,” Ajemian wrote. “This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.”

Promising a laundry list of policies, however popular, will not impress a dispossessed white, working class failed by a rigged system unless they fit into a vision of a fairer economy and a more secure quality of life.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Power and process

by digby

Rand Paul doesn't want the president to have too much power.

I care that too much power gets in one place. Why? Because there are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious," Paul said. "Think of what happened in World War II where they made the decision. The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people 'we're going to put you in a camp. We're going to take away all your rights and liberties and we're going to intern you in a camp.'"

He was, of course, comparing that to President Obama's immigration order. The fact that he chose that case as an example can't be a coincidence. It involves a minority group and a controversial executive order about their status, after all. Of course, it couldn't be more different. Roosevelt's order to intern Japanese Americans was a terrible, discriminatory decision which nobody (but Michelle Malkin) can defend. Who do you suppose are the minority being oppressed by Obama's tyrannical power grab are? Tea partiers? Why not?

I'm sure he didn't bring that issue up out of the blue but he was actually making a different point about the process and power. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle opportunistically approve of presidential power depending on who the president is and what he's trying to do. Shocker. But there are people who believe on principle that the president should defer to congress because they are closer to the people who elected them. Paul, however, doesn't believe that government should do much of anything so he's also being opportunistic. He prefers congress to be the decider mostly because they are very slow to do anything and right now are completely gridlocked. Win-win for him.

I confess that I used to care about these principles more than I do now. I thought it was terribly important that the congress take the lead because it is a deliberative body answerable to the people, the constitution blah,blah, blah. But the truth is that congress is bullshit. It's a fine idea but in practice they pretty much always rubber stamp the worst things a president wants to do in foreign policy and the only domestic initiatives they ever wholeheartedly support are tax cuts, jails and money for cops. They don't even do pork barrel spending anymore which used to at least benefit a few people in their individual states. Everything else is just working around the edges. Not that those things don't matter.Every decent policy can make a difference. It's just that I no longer fetishize the legislative process because it's mostly just kabuki anyway. At this point, I'll take decent outcomes wherever I can get them and be thankful for it since they happen so rarely.

Again, for Paul gridlock is a feature not a bug. And frankly, for all his caterwauling about presidential misdeeds on the foreign policy and national security front, most of the time he's just arguing for process for process sake --- for instance, he wants a vote on the ISIS operation but fully admits that it will pass and that he will vote for it. So, that will be a nice pageant for us all to watch, but it won't make a bit of difference.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. We could elect a congress that takes its prerogatives seriously, challenges the massive national security apparatus and agrees to work on behalf of the people instead of their big money benefactors. That would help. Let's do that, shall we?

In the meantime Rand Paul can keep his lugubrious paeans to the primacy of the legislative process over executive power. He simply wants the government to do nothing at all and there's no faster or clearer route to that end than throwing an initiative into the black hole known as the US Congress.

125 million women in the world today have been mutilated

by digby

So Egypt just let a doctor who performs female genital mutilation off scott free without explanation. It has been "illegal" for a while and it was hoped that this first prosecution would send a message to doctors and others that they could no longer mutilate women. It is not to be. Read the whole story. You'll especially like the way he refers to women as dogs.

In case you are not fully aware of the details, here is a fact sheet from the World Health Organization about this atrocity:

Key facts

Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.

Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated (1).

FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.

FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend towards medicalization is increasing.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.

Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).

Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
No health benefits, only harm

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Needless to say, the whole point of removing the clitoris and labia is to ensure that women do not feel sexual pleasure. In fact, many of them feel nothing but pain from sex their whole lives. (And yes, in the villages it's midwives who do this procedure and other women who help. Mother to daughter to granddaughter.)

I'm sure you know how to search to see what this look like. It's a horrifying disfigurement.

It's not a Muslim requirement but rather a pre-modern custom in the part of the world where Islam is revalent. There are Christians and others who also follow the practice. Societies which place a high value on female chastity are most likely to do it. Of course.

It's just his home that's all

by digby

Here's a sickening conversation between Bill O'Reilly and Journalist (and DREAMer) Jose Antonio Vargas to end your week with a bang:

“I don't know if people know this, but more than half of undocumented people in this country have been here for 10 years or longer,” Vargas responded. “This has been our home, this is where we go to school, this is where we work, this is where we go to church, this is what we call to be our own communities.”

Vargas lamented that the President's immigration actions were so politicized before O'Reilly cut in to tell him the real "deal."

“It is a compassionate move, but it may not be a just move because you and the other people here illegally don’t deserve to be here," O'Reilly said. "That’s harsh. It’s harsh, okay, but you don’t have an entitlement to be here.”

"Sir, I don't feel entitled to be here," Vargas responded. "I don't ask for any sort of entitlement. All I know is this is where I grew up, this is my home, my family is here."

Vargas was only 12 years old when he came here. It was not his choice. And even if it was, he's been here for most of his life. Like most undocumented people he's a contributing member of this society. He works. He pays taxes. He is part of the social fabric of the nation. And he's certainly "entitled" to be treated like a human being rather than seen as some kind of a virus that's destroying this great country's culture of strip malls and fast food joints.

By the way, the "entitlement" O'Reilly likes to claim is a bit of a stretch too. Unless he is a native American he came from immigrants himself and up until the 1920s we didn't consider immigrants to be illegal or legal. They just came. So, it's a little bit much to claim this "entitlement" for yourself just because some old European great grandparent crawled on a boat and landed in the US back when almost all Americans were refugees, criminals, losers and dreamers. To hear these people talk you'd think they were all descended from British Royalty.

The pastor with the Mean Girl sense of humor

by digby

That would be Mike Huckabee:

It is interesting that Obama cites Scripture as the justification for him taking unilateral action on illegal immigrants.

Funny how, for the first six years of his Administration, even the two years when he had unstoppable majorities in both houses, Scripture did not compel immediate action. But two weeks after the final election he'll have to deal with, suddenly, Scripture requires us to do this.

It's similar to the way that his Biblical beliefs led him to oppose same-sex marriage as a candidate for election. Then when he needed big campaign donations from gay liberals for his reelection, the Bible suddenly got rewritten.

I always thought that Scripture was eternal and unchanging, but apparently, now that Obama is President, Scripture gets rewritten more often than Bill Cosby's Wikipedia entry.
Oh snap!

Eternal and unchanging? How about this:

Exodus 22:21
"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

Exodus 23:9
"Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 24:17
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.

Deuteronomy 24:18
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

Deuteronomy 27:19
"Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

Oh, and I'm sure Pastor Huckabee will be giving up all his worldly goods and devoting himself to the poor very shortly. That's in the Scripture too.


Fighting over torture

by digby

This just boggles my mind:

Before White House chief of staff Denis McDonough came to brief Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had a little pep talk with his flock. Every Tuesday, during the weekly caucus lunches, he said, you all gripe and moan about the White House. But then when the White House comes by, there's never a peep.

The talk may not have been necessary. The White House's briefing to Democrats on immigration Thursday erupted instead into a confrontation over the Senate's classified torture report, Senate sources told The Huffington Post.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, waited for the immigration discussion to end and then pulled out a prepared speech that she read for five or six minutes, making the case for the release of the damning portrayal of America's post-9/11 torture program.

"It was a vigorous, vigorous and open debate -- one of the best and most thorough discussions I've been a part of while here," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who served as intelligence committee chair before Feinstein, was furious after the meeting, and accused the administration of deliberately stalling the report.

“It’s being slow-walked to death. They’re doing everything they can not to release it," Rockefeller told HuffPost.

"It makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad, which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future," he continued. "The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it."

As negotiations continue, Rockefeller said Democrats were thinking creatively about how to resolve the dispute. "We have ideas," he said, adding that reading the report's executive summary into the record on the Senate floor would probably meet with only limited success. "The question would be how much you could read before they grabbed you and hauled you off."

Besides Rockefeller, Sens. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) all spoke up in defense of Feinstein, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

What a goddamned sideshow. How in the world can anyone talk about America's great moral leadership after this?

Here's your quote 'o the day from the likely incoming head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, North Carolina’s Richard Burr. His legislative ACLU score on civil liberties is zero, and the zealously pro-CIA-and-NSA Burr once famously declared: “If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing."

Why bother even having a Senate Intelligence Committee?



Compassionate at birth

by Tom Sullivan

Genesis 4
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?

One of the takeaways from the Genesis account of Cain's murder of his brother is, yes, you are. And we are wired that way, suggest experiments involving young children. Cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies told Inquiring Minds last week that a basic sense of morality likely developed via Darwinian evolution:

"I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses," says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast.

The question is how much of our moral sensibility is innate and how much is acculturation? By studying babies before they receive instruction and language, Bloom and other researchers hope to get at that answer. Using simple puppet plays [video here at Mother Jones], researchers find that babies and toddlers exhibit a sense of fairness, and a preference for "helping" characters. They avoid "hindering" ones.

Interestingly, as the toddlers get a little older, this sense of fairness seems to morph into pure egalitarianism—at least when it comes to distributing other people's stuff. "There's a lot of research suggesting that when it comes to divvying up resources that strangers possess, they are socialists—they like to share things equally," says Bloom.

When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.

"But this compassion and this helping, it all pertains to the baby's own group," says Bloom. They are less naturally generous with out-group members.

By our natures, we strongly value those around us over strangers. And to the extent that you and I don't, to the extent that you and I might recognize that somebody suffering, I don't know, from the Ebola virus in Africa, is a life just as valuable as those of our closest friends and family, that's an extraordinary cultural accomplishment. And it's something that's not in the genes. It's not what we're born with.

What strikes me is how this research echoes something paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said about Turkana Boy in speculating about the development of compassion in early Man:

Bipedalism carried an enormous price, where compassion was what you paid your ticket with. You simply can't abandon somebody who's incapacitated because the rest will abandon you next time it comes to be your turn.

There but for the grace of God. Compassion has an evolutionary advantage, Leakey suggests. Perhaps it is what helped us rise above the law of the jungle.

The irony is that a libertarian-leaning conservative posted the Mother Jones article on Bloom — "Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist" — to a Facebook forum as a tweak to lefties (socialist babies, I suppose). In fact, it would seem that a movement that sneers at being your brother's keeper in organizing human society is hardly an accomplishment, cultural, political, or evolutionary.

Let it snow!

by digby

Somebody's having too much fun:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Megyn Kelly accidentally tells the truth

by digby


"Amnesty is citizenship and that's not what [Obama] is talking about. That's a hot-button term that the right uses to sort of get people upset."

Of course every person on Fox has used the term including Kelly. Still, it's nice to see her admit what her job really is --- to get people upset. And she does it well.

What does "poisoning the well" really mean?

by David Atkins

The pushback against the noxious idea that Obama's move on immigration reform has somehow "poisoned the well" with Republicans has been delightful to see. American Bridge, Daily Kos and Huffington Post have all been on the case, showing how often the Republicans have cried out about the President "poisoning the well."

Two things stand out about it. The first is that a simple google search shows that the phrase was almost never used to describe George W. Bush's presidency. Somehow, no matter how outrageous and vindictive the Bush Administration became, nothing they did ever seemed to eliminate the possibility of some sort of cooperation between the Administration and Democrats. Democrats were always eager to cooperate to pass bills if there was something on which common ground could be found.

The second is that it's a thinly veiled indication that Republicans cannot control their own caucus at all.

What does it mean that a Democratic president is constantly guilty of poisoning the bipartisan well (besides being a meaningless rightwing talking point, of course)?

It means that the Republican Party intends to obstruct absolutely everything and wants to blame the President for it when they do. But it also means the leadership of the GOP that needs it to looks slightly less than totally insane will be unable to control their rowdies.

In essence, the GOP leadership is telling the President that if he does anything at all to help people, the crazies that make up the majority of the GOP caucus will get out of line and do crazy things, and that would be bad.

What I don't understand is why the President would help out GOP leadership on this front? What possible incentive does he have to do that, since GOP leadership hasn't been the least bit cooperative with him in the past?

Live by the crazy, die by the crazy. That well is already long since poisoned
Obama+Immigrants= Haters in full effect

by digby

Right Wing Watch caught up with everyone's favorite "self-deporter", Kansas Secretary of State and all around xenophobe, Kris Kobach. He is very frightened.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leader in the anti-immigrant movement, said during his Sunday radio program that it’s possible that a Hispanic majority in the U.S. could conduct an “ethnic cleansing.”

Kobach made his remarks in response to a caller who asked, “What happens, if you know your history, when one culture or one race or one religion overwhelms another culture or race?”

Claiming that immigrant rights groups are “calling for the return of the Spanish territory, which could be almost half of the United States,” the caller warned, “When one race or culture overwhelms another culture, they run them out or they kill them. And it’s a bigger issue than just being Democrats. And they know in numbers, once the numbers are so bad, they can pretty much do whatever they want to do.”

He's got a point. That is,after all, what the Europeans, our white American forefathers, did to the natives here in the Americas. When they weren't committing all-out genocide anyway. But that was a long time ago. More recently, you may recall that Kobach is the guy who came up with Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" plan which bears more than a passing resemblance to ethnic cleansing. Adam Serwer described it this way:

"Self-deportation" might sound like something you don't want your parents to catch you doing, it's actually an old euphemism for an immigration strategy of "attrition through enforcement." What "self-deportation"—the favored approach to immigration of the GOP's right-wing—actually means is making life so miserable for unauthorized immigrants that they "voluntarily" leave. Here's Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (the anti-immigrant think tank that tried to mainstream the "terror baby" conspiracy theory) explaining the concept in 2005:

Among the other measures that would facilitate enforcement: hiring more U.S. Attorneys and judges in border areas, to allow for more prosecutions; passage of the CLEAR Act, which would enhance cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local police; and seizing the assets, however modest, of apprehended illegal aliens.

These and other enforcement measures would enable the government to detain more illegal aliens; additional measures would be needed to promote self-deportation. Unlike at the visa office or the border crossing, once aliens are inside the United States, there's no physical site to exercise control, no choke point at which to examine whether someone should be admitted. The solution is to create "virtual choke points"—events that are necessary for life in a modern society but are infrequent enough not to bog down everyone's daily business. Another analogy for this concept to firewalls in computer systems, that people could pass through only if their legal status is verified. The objective is not mainly to identify illegal aliens for arrest (though that will always be a possibility) but rather to make it as difficult as possible for illegal aliens to live a normal life here.

This is the right-wing's answer to the question of how you deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants: You don't. You force them to "deport themselves." Although immigration reform advocates would prefer a solution that involves a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here, Romney and his top immigration advisers believe they can remove millions of people through heavy-handed enforcement that makes life for unauthorized immigrants intolerable. This approach is notable for its complete lack of discretion and flexibility. Unauthorized immigrant parents with citizen children who need to go to school? Americans who are married to an undocumented immigrant who needs medical treatment? "Self-deportation" hits them all with the same mailed fist.

I can think of somebody else who had that idea and implemented it for a few years until he decided that more drastic steps were needed.

It's interesting that someone who came up with such a plan would project it back on to the very people he sought to "cleanse" the nation of. There's some heavy duty psychological baggage operating there.

This paranoia is getting completely out of hand on the right, however. They truly seem to believe that a vast horde of latinos are going to go on a rampage and kill them. I'm not kidding. This is the leap they have made. Just listen to Laura Ingraham or watch Fox. They are working the right wingers into total hysteria.

Here are just a few of the stories Right Wing Watch has captured:

Anti-Immigrant Activists: Obama Inciting Civil War By Making Immigration Announcement On Mexico's Revolution Day

Arrest Obama for his Immigration Action

Fighting Obama's immigration action is like fighting ISIS

The immigration announcement could lead to civil war

Allen West predicts demand for impeachment over immigration

Rep. Kelly says Obama dragging America into a civil war

Heritage: Obama will use government goodies to replace Americans with Latinos

Viguerie: Both Republicans and Democrats want to impeach Obama over immigration

And on and on and on. They are having a hissy fit of epic proportions. Whether they can work up a Tea Party level lather over it is still unknown. But they're trying.


There's always impeachment

by digby

The Republicans are looking at every way possible to stop the horror of Emperor Obama doing what Ronald Reagan did:

It would be “impossible" to defund President Obama’s executive actions on immigration through a government spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday.

In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers's (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama's scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama's actions is funded entirely by user fees.

Oh heck. Congressman Steve King is having none of it.He says he doesn't believe that and that people just want to go home and have Thanksgiving instead of defunding the INS. Because they are communists. (No, I just made that last part up. But I'm sure he was thinking it.)

Unfortunately, he appear to be right, at least about the part about defunding. And Senator Jeff sessions agrees. But it's pretty complicated and will probably fail:

Budget expert Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP, said Sessions is correct that something can be done.

“Congress can, if it wishes, use an appropriations bill to include authorization language,” he said. “There’s no constitutional prohibition against that.”

But while Collender warned to take Rogers’ words with a “grain of salt,” he said defunding the order would face major hurdles.

Even if a bill defunding Obama's actions made it to the Senate floor, there would likely be a point of order that would require 60 votes to waive, Collender said.

On top of that, President Obama would almost certainly veto the bill, and Congress likely wouldn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to override it.

Don't worry though. They have many other ideas up their sleeves to thwart the Emperor Obama and keep him from doing what all other presidents have done:

Another idea Rogers had advanced for dealing with Obama's order was for Congress to pass a funding bill for the entire government this year, and then look to rescind funds related to the executive order in January, when Republicans will have control of both the House and the Senate.

Asked if a rescission bill would be irrelevant now, Hing said, “right,” but then added that this could change based on the executive order’s provisions.

“Later on, if we find out down the road that ... other agencies have some piece of it, then we can go back and specifically look at those agencies,” she said.

Congress could also pass an authorization bill to shift the funding authority for CIS to lawmakers.

But Rogers argued that couldn’t be part of an appropriations bill.

“To alter or change the fee matter, it would take a change of law — an authorization — to change an immigration act. It would take an act of Congress,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.

That sounds exciting. Maybe congress could just pass a law that removes all discretion from the Executive branch unless the president is a Republican. That would solve the issue too.

On the other hand, there's always this:
The Appropriations panel, meanwhile, is moving forward with a 12-bill omnibus spending package.

“We’re making good progress on negotiations and we expect to have the bill on the floor the week of December 8,” Hing said.

Congress must pass a new spending bill by Dec. 12 or the government will shut down.

So what's the problem?


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