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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Sunday, June 30, 2013

 
Mr Integrity

by digby

South Carolina stands with Rand:
Standing in front of more than 100 South Carolina GOP activists in West Columbia Friday night, the Kentucky senator largely steered clear of the week's two dominant, divisive issues that are tying his party in knots: Gay rights and immigration reform.

Instead, he diverted from his early presidential-primary-state speech script and went for the jugular on a topic that, while not necessarily timely, would surely please a military-friendly crowd: A full-throated defense of profiling.

“After 9-11 we had a special program for student visas . . . Why?" Paul asked. "Because 16 of the 19 hijackers were overstaying their students visas. Was it targeting? Was it profiling? Yes. Because only certain people are attacking us. Why don’t we use some brain sense to go after the people who are attacking us?" 
The guests ate it up, rewarding Paul with sustained thunderclaps. It was one of his biggest applause lines of the night. But it was also a curious statement from a likely 2016 White House contender who built his brand on a libertarian approach to government. This, from the same guy who stood on the Senate floor for 14 hours to protest the potential use of drones to target Americans?
[...]
So gone were Paul’s barbs about the IRS, his musings about diversifying the party and his lengthy critique of the immigration bill that’s dominated Congress for the first half of the year. Even his standard line of attack against Hillary Clinton was subdued. Instead, in addition to endorsing targeted screening at airports, he earned audible accolades for his call to sever foreign aid to hostile countries and a forceful defense of Israel’s right to exist.

The address was almost exclusively devoted to foreign affairs and tactics employed in the country’s struggle against terrorism -- a marked change from his previous early state primary speeches and a subtle acknowledgment that he must prove he’s no softy when it comes to national security.
[...]
Hogan Gidley, a former state party official who advised Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid, said it was evident Rand’s mission was to wipe away any perception that he was weak on defense.

“His father, rightly or wrongly, was saddled with being anti-military. I think he wanted to say, ‘I’m a little tougher’ from the foreign policy standpoint. South Carolinians love that stance. He wanted to get out front of being outflanked on the right on military issues,” Gidley said.

Rep. Joe Wilson, one of two members of the congressional delegation who attended the event, said the speech allayed fears he had about Paul’s posture on the military.

“He really did address the concern I had, which was his position relative to national defense. I had a misperception that he did not recognize national defense as a paramount function of government. But he really made it clear tonight he does,” Wilson said in an interview. “He reiterated something very important to me and to the people of South Carolina,, that he is a stalwart of a strong national defense. I was very pleased by his positive comments.”

There are striking parallels between Paul’s effort to win over more hawkish members of the party in South Carolina and his play last month in Iowa to assure social conservatives he shares their values if not all of their exact issue positions.

It’s a thin line to walk for a candidate-in-the-making whose libertarian streak helped define his identity, but could ultimately limit his ambitions. He is astute enough to address his vulnerabilities with large sections of the party. But with every speech or position that’s calibrated to win converts and broaden his appeal, there’s the risk that he could end up losing part of the fervent base built for him by his father.
Yeah well, who needs 'em? If he can get the social conservatives and the rabid hawks and gull a few silly Tea Partiers with some pablum about bail-outs, he's in like Flynn. Of course, he's just be a standard issue right winger at that point, but I'm going to guess that's not much of a stretch.

This story about one of Rand's close advisers, shows how he could cultivate that extra bit of revolutionary zeal to seal the deal:
The theocratic intentions of Christian Right leaders sometimes surface in unexpected ways. Most recently David Lane, a top Christian Right political operative and longtime behind-the-scenes "power broker" called for violent dominionist revolution in an essay published (and then taken down) by World Net Daily.

Lane has, among other things, been the national finance director for The Response, the 2011 prayer rally that served as the de facto launch of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's ill-fated run for president, as well as the organizer of the Texas Restoration Project, which had boosted Perry's political career. He has worked with and for such GOP pols as Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Michelle Bachmann, and most recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Lane currently leads the American Renewal Project of Don Wildmon's American Family Association which is targeting twelve states for political development towards the 2014 elections.

Such nuts and bolts electoral work not withstanding, Lane called in his essay for Christians to "Wage war to restore a Christian America."
[...]
Lane expresses frustration with what he regards as the superficial politics of press releases of "inside the Beltway" Christian Rightists. He calls for "champions of Christ to save the nation from the pagan onslaught imposing homosexual marriage, homosexual scouts, 60 million babies done to death by abortion and red ink as far as the eye can see." The champions for Christ of his vision will "wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture."

"America's survival is at stake," he declares, "and this is not tall talk or exaggeration."

"If the American experiment with freedom is to end after 237 years," he suggests, "let each of us commit to brawl all the way to the end because," he explains, quoting a famous radio address by Winston Churchill during the darkest days of the war with Nazi Germany: "Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization."

"You ask," Lane continued, "What is our goal?" To wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage with all of our might and strength that God will give us. You ask, "What is our aim?" One word only: victory, in spite of all intimidation and terror."
The tie between the Pauls and Christian Reconstructionism is well documented and very creepy. It fits quite well with their mutual States' Rights philosophy:
It might seem that Paul’s libertarianism is the very opposite of theocracy, but that’s true only if you want to impose theocracy at the federal level. In general, Christian Reconstructionists favor a radically decentralized society, with communities ruled by male religious patriarchs. Freed from the power of the Supreme Court and the federal government, they believe that local governments could adopt official religions and enforce biblical law.

“One of the things we forget is that when the Constitution was passed, even though the Bill of Rights said there was going to be no federal religions, every state in the union had basically a state religion and the Constitution was not designed to overturn that,” says Nolder. Among Reconstructionists, he says, “there’s a desire for a theocracy, but it has to be one from the bottom up, not from the top down.”

Reconstructionists take biblical morality far beyond traditional social issues. They believe that the Bible contains specific instructions on every aspect of life, including monetary policy, something they place great emphasis on. Many argue that there’s a biblical mandate for a gold standard. “The constant concern of The Old Testament law with the honesty of weights and measures was equally applicable to honest money,” writes North in his book An Introduction to Christian Economics. He claims that “legal tender laws are immoral; currency debasement is immoral; printed unbacked paper money is immoral.”

If Reconstructionism remains marginal, Deace believes that the broader movement of covenant theology is growing. “The younger generation of American Christians, a lot of them are turning away from premillennial dispensationalism” he says. “The emerging generation does not trust the traditional religious right. They think we’ve largely sold out and have compromised our faith. They’re attracted to the fact that Paul hates all the people they don’t trust and don’t like.”
With forays to Iowa and South Carolina, you can begin to see how Rand Paul might be clearing his path to to the White House:
[Ron]Paul has been able to create one of the strangest coalitions in American political history, bringing together libertarian hipsters with those who want to subject the sexually impure to Taliban-style public stonings. (Stoning is Reconstructionists’ preferred method of execution because it is both biblical and fiscally responsible, rocks being, in North’s words, “cheap, plentiful, and convenient.”) “I described it recently as people who are mixing the philosophies espoused in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion,” says Deace. We’re about to learn whether that can be a recipe for victory.
It's a tall order, but if he can make that coalition work, there's no reason he couldn't add in some good old fashioned South Carolina militarism and turn it into a Big Tent full of weirdos.


.
 
Your privacy is protected --- unless they think they've found evidence of a crime.

by digby

It appears that most people have decided that the PRISM program is no big deal, just a necessary type of intelligence work that doesn't focus on American citizens (the standard for collection is based upon the analyst's 51% certainty that the person isn't American) and if it happens to catch one in the dragnet, it throws him back. The "minimization" process is supposed to safeguard the information being used for anything except its designated purpose.

So, here's the Washington Post's summary of the PRISM program. It's very clear and concise and pretty much explains that the NSA has outsourced its direct dealings with the Telcoms to the FBI, which I guess is supposed to make it all ok. The FBI gathers the data and ships it to the NSA.

But aside from the larger constitutional and philosophical issue with all that, here's the practical concern that makes me wonder:

If a target turns out to be an American or a person located in the United States, the NSA calls the collection “inadvertent” and usually destroys the results. If the target is foreign but the search results include U.S. communications, the NSA calls this “incidental” collection and generally keeps the U.S. content for five years. There are “minimization” rules to limit the use and distribution of the communications of identifiable U.S. citizens or residents. The NSA discloses the identities to other agencies if it believes there is evidence of a crime or that the identities are essential to understanding an intelligence report.

It's that last that strikes me as peculiar. What is to stop the NSA from "inadvertantly" or "incidentally" doing fishing expeditions on American citizens in search of evidence for crimes that have no relationship to terrorism? I can't see what could stop it.

You don't know what sort of crimes they might be interested in, but there is a whole lot of overlap these days between the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism. And what one person considers a potential "crime" could be easily seen as civil disobedience by someone else. The risk of political spying is pretty high.

It's true that if the FBI wants to monitor you, it can probably find some judge somewhere to agree to a warrant and they can likely get this information legitimately. So maybe it's silly to worry about such a thing. But I can't help but remember that someone did this back in 2009:

The New York Times reports today that members of Congress are increasingly concerned about the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, particularly the overcollection of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans. An anonymous former intelligence analyst tells reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau that during much of the Bush years, the NSA “tolerated significant collection and examination of domestic e-mail messages without warrants.” Reportedly, one of the accessed domestic e-mail accounts belonged to former President Bill Clinton.

That was probably just some dude being nosy. But the ability to "accidentally" sweep someone up in a search, "find" a possible crime and then alert domestic authorities is very disquieting. One could easily see someone in authority doing such a thing under the belief that they are "protecting America" --- the mantra of the surveillance state.

This case always struck me as something that could easily have come about because someone with inside information pointed authorities in the right direction. In his case, Spitzer's primary enemy was Wall Street and the banking system so that's probably all it took. But you can certainly see the possibilities if members of the government find a good excuse to wade through all that personal information they're holding.


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Dispatch from Gilead: DeMint the smarmy patriarch

by digby

My God. He really does believe that women don't know what pregnancy is and are happy to have the state educate them on the subject:

“The more the ultrasounds have become part of the law, where a woman gets the opportunity to see that there’s a real child, it’s beginning to change minds, and I think that’s a good thing,” DeMint said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s time that the 3,000 babies we lose every day have some people speaking up for them.”

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pointed out that women weren’t given the opportunity to have an ultrasound, they were forced to have a medically unnecessary ultrasound by the state. She added that in many cases women were subjected to trans-vaginal ultrasounds.

“So it’s an invasive vaginal forced procedure that a woman cannot say no to by order of the state government,” Maddow continued. “And that is all right with you. I understand that. You feel that you’ve got an interest strong enough to override a woman’s desire to not have that happen to her that you can insist that it does as a legislator. But most American women I think are going to balk at that.”

DeMint, however, insisted that some women wanted the state to force them to have an ultrasound.

“She’s forgetting about the thousands of women who want an informed choice, who want the opportunity to get a free ultrasound, which they can get not from Planned Parenthood but from a lot of these pregnancy centers.”

This is the most infuriating kind of anti-abortion paternalism --- some creep like Jim DeMint thinking that women are too dumb to understand what pregnancy is --- or, alternatively, just wanting to punish them with an invasive test and a guilt trip for deciding they aren't ready to give birth. This is the argument that gives away the underlying sexism.

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The Minuteman Dream

by digby

David Neiwert has an important piece in Salon on the recent history of the "border security" movement.  It's a fascinating look at how it's been growing in good times and bad, large influxes of migrants and zero immigration.  In fact,  the decades-long build-up toward a fully militarized border with Mexico remains the same no matter what the external circumstances are.  And much of it is a dark legacy of a criminal vigilante movement:

[A] national fetish about “border security” – which seems to entail building a massive fence that has “gigantic construction boondoggle” written over it, and a functional militarization of the border with one of our closest trading partners – will do nothing to address the real issues driving the immigration debate, and in fact will only put that secondary cart before the horse. The people who want “border security” will find it an endless mirage until they fix their messed-up immigration system. 
They’re still living out the nativist legacy of the Minutemen. And so it ought to be worthwhile for Americans to remember, or at least be made aware of, just what exactly became of those noble citizen vigilantes. 
The Minuteman movement, in fact, crumpled into a heap after 2009, when a leading Minuteman figure named Shawna Forde committed a horrifying home-invasion robbery at the residence of a small-time pot smuggler in Arivaca, Ariz., and shot and killed the man and his 9-year-old daughter and wounded the man’s wife. Forde and her Minuteman cohort are now on Death Row in Arizona, and her former close associates in the movement all denied any association with her – a line largely swallowed by media reporting on the case. 
But as I lay bare in my book And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border, not only was Forde closely associated with leading Minuteman figures right up to the day of her arrest, she was amply reflective of the kind of people the movement attracted and who rose to leadership positions within it. (This was borne out again by co-founder Chris Simcox’s arrest last week for three counts of molesting children under 10.) Yes, she was psychopathic, but then, this was a movement whose appeals were virtually tailored to attract dysfunctional and disturbed personalities (which it did in large numbers): profoundly unempathetic, predicated around scapegoating an easily identifiable Other, and inclined to anger and paranoia and ultimately violence. 
That is the path down which the Minutemen wanted to lead the country, the well-worn path of nativism, which has a long legacy of misery, suffering and death in this country. When we make a fetish out of “border security” at the expense of rationally fixing our immigration mess, that’s the road down which we’re headed. At some point, we need to get off.

Neiwert's book is a fascinating and extremely disturbing read. The Minuteman story is ground zero of the border security "movement" that seems to have become a bipartisan fetish even as it's tempered by the desire among some (not all) to legalize current immigrants. In fact, I wonder if we aren't looking at this backwards: the conventional wisdom is that the increase in border security is the price we must pay to get a path the citizenship. I think that for many people it's the other way around: the path to citizenship is the price they will pay to get the lucrative outside contracts and fully militarized border they've always desired. There's an awful lot of money in it --- and plenty of support from people who believe that shutting out "the other" will keep America pure.  Folks like those All American girls and boys of The Minutemen.

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A true statesman

by digby

Because "putting their finger in our eye" will not stand:

"They should pay a price, either diplomatic, economic, geopolitical, for doing what they did. They're always putting their finger in our eye," said Schumer on “Fox News Sunday,” arguing for repercussions against Russia.

C'mon Chuck. Get serious. We have a nuclear arsenal, why not use it?

I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed. Twenty, thirty million tops ...


 
At least the CEOs are getting raises

by David Atkins

I get tired of saying the system is broken. For some, it's working exactly as intended:

Wh we made our annual foray into the executive pay gold mine in April, chief executives’ earnings for 2012 showed what appeared to be muted growth on the year. The $14 million in median overall compensation received by the top 100 C.E.O.’s was just a 2.8 percent increase over 2011, the figures showed.

Well, what a difference a few months and a larger pool of C.E.O.’s make. According to an updated analysis, the top 200 chief executives at public companies with at least $1 billion in revenue actually got a big raise last year, over all. The research, conducted for Sunday Business by Equilar Inc., the executive compensation analysis firm, found that the median 2012 pay package came in at $15.1 million — a leap of 16 percent from 2011.

So much for the idea that shareholders were finally getting through to corporate boards on the topic of reining in pay.

At least the stock market returns generated by these companies last year exceeded the pay increases awarded to their chiefs. Still, at 19 percent in 2012, that median return was only three percentage points higher than the pay raise.

In other words, it’s still good to be king.

But no need to worry. It'll start trickling down. Any day now.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Of platforms and portraiture


By Dennis Hartley


Blame it on the boogie: The Secret Disco Revolution

















Remember the disco era? I try not to. Yeah, I was one of those long-haired rocker dudes walking around brandishing a "Disco Sucks" T-shirt and turning his nose up at anything that smelled of Bee Gee or polyester back in the day. What can I say? I was going through my tribal phase (I think it’s commonly referred to as "being in your early 20s"). Now, that being said, I sure loved me some hard funk back in the mid 70s. A bit of the Isley Brothers, War, Mandrill, Funkadelic, etc. oeuvre managed to infiltrate my record collection at the time (in betwixt the King Crimson, Bowie, Who and Budgie). But I had to draw the battle lines somewhere around the release (and non-stop radio airplay) of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (ironically, I love the film itself). In retrospect, I think what offended my (oh so rarified) sense of music aesthetic was that while "disco" plundered R&B, funk, soul (and even elements of rock'n'roll) it somehow managed to expunge everything that was righteous and organic about those genres; codifying them into a robotically repetitive and formulaic wash. But hey, the kids could dance to it, right?

Now, I am extrapolating here about disco music itself, as one would reference "blues" or "jazz"; not "disco" as a cultural phenomenon or political movement. What did he say? "Political movement”?! Actually, I didn't say. Director Jamie Kastner is the person who puts forth this proposition in his sketchy yet mildly engaging documentary (mockumentary?) The Secret Disco Revolution. I think he's being serious when he posits that the disco phenomenon was not (as the conventional wisdom holds) simply an excuse for the Me Generation to dance, snort and fuck themselves silly thru the latter half of the 70s, but a significant political milestone for women's lib, gay lib and African American culture. He carries the revisionism a step further, suggesting that the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" riot (ignited by Chicago shock jock Steve Dahl's 1979 publicity stunt, in which a crate of disco LPs was blown up at Comiskey Park in front of 50,000 cheering fans) was nothing less than a raging mob of racists, homophobes and misogynists. Hmm.

Kastner uses the aforementioned 1979 incident as the bookend to disco's golden era (kind of like how writers and filmmakers have used Altamont as a metaphor for the death of 1960s hippie idealism). For the other end of his historic timeline, he (correctly) traces disco's roots back to early 1970s gay club culture. How disco morphed from a relatively ghettoized urban hipster scene to arrhythmic middle-American suburbanites striking their best Travolta pose is actually the most fascinating aspect of the documentary; although I wish he'd gone a little more in depth on the history rather than digging so furiously for a socio-political subtext in a place where one barely ever existed.  Kastner mixes archival footage with present day ruminations from some of the key artists, producers and club owners who flourished during the era. The "mockumentary" aspect I mentioned earlier is in the form of three actors (suspiciously resembling the Mod Squad) who represent shadowy puppet masters who may have orchestrated this "revolution" (it's clearly designed to be  humorous but it's a distracting device that quickly wears out its welcome).

So was disco a political statement? When Kastner poses the question to genre superstars like Thelma Houston, Gloria Gaynor and Evelyn King, they look at him like he just took a shit in the punchbowl. Hell, he can't even get any of the guys from the Village People to acknowledge that their wild success represented a subversive incursion of gay culture into the mainstream (they're likely toying with him because he's belaboring the obvious..."The Village People were camp?! Stop the presses!"). Well, here's how I look at it. Dion singing "Abraham, Martin and John"? That's a political statement. James Brown singing "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud"? That's a political statement. Helen Reddy singing "I Am Woman"? That's a political statement. KC and the Sunshine Band singing "Get Down Tonight"? Not so much. And as for Kastner's assertion that anyone who wore a "Disco Sucks" T-shirt back in the day (ahem) was obviously racist, homophobic and misogynistic, I would say this: I have never particularly cared for country music, either...so what does that make me in your estimation, Mr. Smarty Pants?

A brush with destiny: The Painting



















Do you remember that classic Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoon, “Duck Amuck”? It’s the one where an increasingly discombobulated Daffy Duck punches through the Fourth Wall, alternately berating, bargaining and pleading with his omniscient animator, who keeps altering Daffy’s “reality” with pencils, erasers, pens, ink, brushes and watercolors. It’s a delightfully surreal piece of Looney Tunes existentialism  A new feature-length animated film from France called The Painting (aka Le Tableau) takes a similar tact, albeit with less comic flair. Rather, writer-director Jean-Francois Laguionie and co-writer Anik Leray strive to deliver a gentle parable about racial tolerance meets “Art History 101”; easy to digest for kids 8 and up and adults from mildly buzzed to 420.

The story takes place in an unnamed kingdom that exists within an unfinished painting (don’t worry, not a spoiler) that is divided into a three-tiered caste system, ruled by the fully fleshed-out and (literally) colorful Alldunns. They look down on the Halfies, characters that The Painter hasn’t quite “filled in” all the way (Does God use an easel? Discuss.). Everybody looks down on the poor Sketchies, ephemeral charcoal line figures exiled to skulk about within the confines of a “forbidden” forest (you can already see where this is going, can’t you?). A Halfie named Claire falls in love with a Montague, oops, I mean, an Alldunn named Ramo. Roundly chastised for her forbidden passion, the despairing Claire runs away and disappears into the forest. Ramo and Claire’s best friend Lola set off in search. Not long after the three are reunited, they inadvertently stumble out of the frame into the artist’s studio, where they find a bevy of unfinished paintings. Surreal adventures ensue, as the trio explores the worlds that exist within each of the paintings, ultimately leading them to seek the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything by setting off on a quest to “meet their maker” so they can ask him “WTF?”

While the prevalent use of muted pastels lends the visuals a slightly warmer feel than most computer animation (of which I have never been a huge fan, mostly due to that “uncanny valley” vibe that frankly creeps me out) and several lovely sequences that make for pleasant eye candy, there was still something about the characters that left me a little cold. Another problem is that despite an intriguing premise, many elements of the narrative feel like an uninspired rehash of similar (and far more imaginative) “who made who?” fantasies like Truman Show, Pleasantville and The Purple Rose of Cairo. And the “message” is about as subtle as that episode of the original Star Trek series about the perpetual civil war between the two factions of “halfie” black & white striped aliens who were mirror images of each other. Still, the younger viewers may be more forgiving.

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Word salad o' the day: the champion

by digby

In response to a question whether she'd consider leaving the Republican Party for something called the "Freedom party":

“I love the name of that party — the ‘Freedom Party.' And if the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are going to start saying, ‘You know, what’s wrong with being independent,’ kind of with that libertarian streak that much of us have. In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying ‘GOP, if you abandon us, we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a one or the other private majority parties that rule in our nation, either a Democrat or a Republican.’ Remember these are private parties, and you know, no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.”

The funny thing is that I hear a more coherent version of this from liberals fairly frequently lately. And one might think that means we could possibly find some common ground with these folks for a third party.

Unfortunately, while we could possibly work on a few discrete issues, I guarantee you that Sarah Palin's definition of freedom and rights and my definition of freedom and rights are very different, starting with whether or not I own my own body.

I do have to wonder how old Roger Ailes feels about that. Who knows, maybe he's for it. After all, as long as the Palin wing controls the GOP, a lot of normal people are going to recoil from being part of it. They won't join the "freedom party" though. They'll just sign on with the Democrats. Hell, maybe Ailes will join up too eventually. The way its going, he'll feel right at home.


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Vindication for William Binney

by digby

I don't know how closely people are following the ongoing NSA revelations at this point but it seems, not very. We seem to have devolved into a meta discussion of what constitutes journalism (a necessary discussion) and armchair psychoanalysis of the players in the story.

But the fact is that the Guardian is releasing new information every day, much of it really fascinating. This one, discussed over at Business Insider, must be especially satisfying for an earlier "crazy" whistleblower named William Binney:
William Binney — one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in National Security Agency (NSA) history — worked for America's premier covert intelligence gathering organization for 32 years before resigning in late 2001 because he "could not stay after the NSA began purposefully violating the Constitution."

Binney claims that the NSA took one of the programs he built, known as ThinThread, and started using the program and members of his team to spy on virtually every U.S. citizen under the code-name Stellar Wind.

Thanks to NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden, documents detailing the top-secret surveillance program have now been published for the first time.

And they corroborate what Binney has said for years.

From Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian:
The collection of email metadata on Americans began in late 2001, under a top-secret NSA program started shortly after 9/11, according to the documents. Known as Stellar Wind, the program initially did not rely on the authority of any court – and initially restricted the NSA from analyzing records of emails between communicants wholly inside the US.
However, the NSA subsequently gained authority to "analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States," according to a secret Justice Department memo from 2007 that was obtained by the Guardian.
Apparently nobody in the here and now cares much about all that.  But I would guess that Binney does. He's been shouting into the void for over a decade and everyone dismissed him as delusional.

And having it on the record will at least allow for historians of the future to be able to piece together where our great experiment in self-governance and liberty went wrong. It won't help us much but maybe some society in the future will be able to avoid the pitfalls of blindly trusting the powerful to guard their rights for them.

Update: More slides revealed today in the Washington Post.

Unfortunately, nothing new on Glenn Greenwald's student loan history so nobody cares.

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Your Daily Grayson

by digby

You deserve a gladiator:


Contribute Now to Blue America '14

2014 Is going to be a tough year for Democrats to win back the House, especially with Steve Israel once again running the DCCC. But that doesn't mean we can't elect more progressives in both primaries and in the general election. That's our goal.
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Bigwig leakers

by digby

It's interesting that we've had a leak about an investigation into a General's alleged leaking. I guess we're all supposed to breathe a sigh of relief that the government is not just targeting the lower level whistleblowers and journalists but is going after people high up the food chain as well. But that's a little bit silly in an era in which journalists report high level leaks from all over the government every single day and nobody blinks an eye because it's government propaganda.

Still, this one is interesting, but mostly because of the fact that someone had earlier dropped a dime on the General over an alleged sex scandal that didn't turn out to be a sex scandal. (If you want to know the details of it, you can read it at the link. I'm uninterested in that.) But I am interested in this, from 2011:

General Cartwright is emerging as a likely front-runner to replace Adm. Mike Mullen when he retires as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct...General Cartwright, a Marine Corps fighter pilot who is among the Pentagon’s experts on computer-network warfare and missile defense, was described by the journalist Bob Woodward in his book, “Obama’s Wars,” as the president’s favorite general.

But during the contentious review process that led to a new White House strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, senior officers — including Admiral Mullen and Gen. David H. Petraeus — were reported to have felt that General Cartwright went behind their backs to align himself too closely with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and others in the White House against the consensus advice of the military and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Let's just say that in the Village, whenever a bigwig gets targeted, look for the stab wounds in his back from the other bigwigs. It's fascinating that this would be the one high level person who's being investigated for leaks.

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Equal protection from literacy tests

by digby

Via Slate's history blog called The Vault, we have an example of a Louisiana voting literacy test:

This week’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder overturned Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which mandated federal oversight of changes in voting procedure in jurisdictions that have a history of using a “test or device” to impede enfranchisement. Here is one example of such a test, used in Louisiana in 1964.

After the end of the Civil War, would-be black voters in the South faced an array of disproportionate barriers to enfranchisement. The literacy test—supposedly applicable to both white and black prospective voters who couldn’t prove a certain level of education but in actuality disproportionately administered to black voters—was a classic example of one of these barriers.


By the way, one wrong answer resulted in failure and the test had to be finished in 10 minutes.

I would imagine that if Louisiana were to implement this test today, the difference would be that it would have to be given to all voters and not just the African Americans. Even in deep south, I don't think they can get away with singling out people purely on the basis of their skin anymore. And in that case, the entire state of Louisiana would likely be disenfranchised. It's not exactly a democratic outcome but at least it would be fair.

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Free at last

by David Atkins

The arc bends:

Same-sex marriages in California resumed Friday when a federal appeals court lifted a hold on a 2010 injunction, sparking jubilation among gays and accusations of lawlessness from the supporters of Proposition 8.

In a surprise action, a federal appeals court cleared the way, bypassing a normal waiting period and lifting a hold on a trial judge's order that declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

The news came in a single, legalistic sentence Friday afternoon from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The stay in the above matter is dissolved immediately," a three-judge panel wrote.

Gov. Jerry Brown told county clerks they could begin marrying same-sex couples immediately, launching plans for ceremonies up and down the state. The two same-sex couples who filed the federal lawsuit against Proposition 8 headed to the city halls in Los Angeles and San Francisco to tie the knot, ending their long fight to become legal spouses.

The first wedding, in San Francisco, began at 4:45 p.m. At 4:10 p.m., a cheer went up in the San Francisco City Hall rotunda. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, made their way from the city clerk's office, where they got their marriage license, to the marble steps of City Hall, stopping for photographs.
This fight isn't over yet. But let no one say that we don't tend to make progress as a species, slowly but surely. And let no one say that it doesn't matter which political party holds power. Because it definitely does.


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Friday, June 28, 2013

 
Don't mess with Krgthulu™

by digby

Oh, this was obviously a very bad move:

In response to Erick Erickson's latest us-versus-them screed against the Acela-corridor...
The rest of America is nervous about where their next meal and paycheck are coming from, how they are going to afford to bail their kids out of crumbling schools, and the price of a gallon of milk and loaf of bread that keep going up though Ben Bernanke tells them there is no inflation. 
Paul Krugman drops some Bureau of Labor Statistics data to show that the price of milk and bread haven't actually gone up at all. And asks: 
So, how does Erickson know that the prices of bread and milk are soaring? Has he been carefully keeping track? Or is it just fake populism, an attempt to sound like Everyman while actually just whining? 
UPDATE (9:43 a.m.): Erickson emails POLITICO:
Paul uses a chart to try to disprove the reality that Americans with small kids actually experience at the grocery store. His problem is he thinks I'm attacking the Democrats and wants to defend them, when the criticism is broader and bipartisan. And if he hung around moms and dads with kids more often he'd hear a lot more real world complaining about bread, milk, and other grocery item prices going up while paychecks are staying the same. Not everything is academic or chartable and sometimes the accuracy of the chart isn't as real to people as the perception they have that their grocery store bills are getting more expensive though their shopping habits haven't changed. 
And later adds... 
Seriously, Paul's point is correct, but it is an issue of perception of people versus the reality of his chart.  He can certainly go tell people milk prices haven't gone up, but good luck getting them to believe him. 
UPDATE (12:59 p.m.): Krugman responds on his blog: "Ok, this is awesome":... 
Erickson’s response is, hey, it isn’t true, but people feel that it’s true... Notice, by the way, the implication that I don’t appreciate the problems real people (who don’t eat quiche or ride the Acela) are facing; actually, I do, but those problems are lack of jobs and stagnant wages, not rising prices. And if you want to solve problems, getting the nature of those problems right matters. 
 But then, only elitists want to solve problems; true men of the people just vent, and what matters is perception, not truth.

I needed that. It's been a long week...


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Uh oh, here come 26 more Insider Threats 

by digby

Yes, they are all traitors who fail to understand just how important it is that we be protected from the boogeyman by any means necessary:
A bipartisan group of 26 US senators has written to intelligence chiefs to complain that the administration is relying on a “secret body of law” to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens.

The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.

In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian.

“We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law,” they say.

“This and misleading statements by intelligence officials have prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly.”
[...]
In a press statement, the group of senators added: “The recent public disclosures of secret government surveillance programs have exposed how secret interpretations of the USA Patriot Act have allowed for the bulk collection of massive amounts of data on the communications of ordinary Americans with no connection to wrongdoing.”

“Reliance on secret law to conduct domestic surveillance activities raises serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate,” they added.
[...]
The senators also expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the Patriot Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata.

“The Patriot Act’s ‘business records’ authority can be used to give the government access to private financial, medical, consumer and firearm sales records, among others,” said a press statement.

In addition to raising concerns about the law’s scope, the senators noted that keeping the official interpretation of the law secret and the instances of misleading public statements from executive branch officials prevented the American people from having an informed public debate about national security and domestic surveillance.

Here's the letter:

The Honorable James R. Clapper
Director of National Intelligence
Washington, D.C. 2051 1

Dear Director Clapper:

Earlier this month, the executive branch acknowledged for the first time that the "business
records" provision of the USA PATRIOT Act has been secretly reinterpreted to allow the
government to collect the private records of large numbers of ordinary Americans. We agree that it is regrettable that this fact was first revealed through an unauthorized disclosure rather than an official acknowledgment by the administration, but we appreciate the comments that the President has made welcoming debate on this topic.

In our view, the bulk collection and aggregation of Americans' phone records has a significant impact on Americans' privacy that exceeds the issues considered by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Maryland. That decision was based on the technology of the rotary--dial era and did not address the type of ongoing, broad surveillance of phone records that the government is now conducting. These records can reveal personal relationships, family medical issues, political and religious affiliations, and a variety of other private personal information. This is particularly true if these records are collected in a manner that includes cell phone locational data, effectively turning Americans' cell phones into tracking devices. We are concerned that officials have told the press that the collection of this location data is currently authorized.

Furthermore, we are troubled by the possibility of this bulk collection authority being applied to other categories of records. The PATRIOT Act's business records authority is very broad in its scope. It can be used to collect information on credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects. And the bulk collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun owner databases, or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records, and records of book and movie purchases. These other types of bulk collection could clearly have a significant impact on Americans' privacy and liberties as well.

Senior officials have noted that there are rules in place governing which government personnel are allowed to review the bulk phone records data and when. Rules of this sort, if they are effectively enforced, can mitigate the privacy impact of this large-scale data collection, but they do not erase it entirely. Furthermore, over its history the intelligence community has sometimes failed to keep sensitive information secure from those who would misuse it, and even if these rules are well-intentioned they will not eliminate all opportunities for abuse.

It has been suggested that the privacy impact of particular methods of domestic surveillance should be weighed against the degree to which the surveillance enhances our national security. With this in mind, we are interested in hearing more details about why you believe that the bulk phone records collection program provides any unique value. We have now heard about a few cases in which these bulk phone records provided some information that was relevant to investigators, but we would like a full explanation of whether or not the records that were actually useful could have been obtained directly from the appropriate phone companies in an equally expeditious manner using either a regular court order or an emergency authorization.

Finally, we are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law. Statements from senior officials that the PATRIOT Act authority is "analogous to a grand jury subpoena" and that the NSA "[doesn't] hold data on US citizens" had the effect of misleading the public about how the law was being interpreted and implemented. This prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly. The debate that the President has now welcomed is an important first step toward restoring that trust.

To ensure that an informed discussion on PATRIOT Act authorities can take place, we ask that you direct the Intelligence Community to provide unclassified answers to the following questions:

- How long has the NSA used PATRIOT Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of
Americans' records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in
2006?

- Has the NSA used USA PATRIOT Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other
types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records'?

- Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans' cell--site location data in bulk'?

- Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of
the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.

- Please identify any specific examples of instances in which intelligence gained by
reviewing phone records obtained through Section 215 bulk collection proved useful in
thwarting a particular terrorist plot.

- Please provide specific examples of instances in which useful intelligence was gained by
reviewing phone records that could not have been obtained without the bulk collection
authority, if such examples exist.

- Please describe the employment status of all persons with conceivable access to this data, including IT professionals, and detail whether they are federal employees, civilian or
military, or contractors.

Thank you your attention to this important matter. We look forward to further discussion in
the weeks ahead.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden (D-Or), Mark Udall (D-Co), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Mark Kirk (R-Il), Dick Durbin (D-Il), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mt), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dean Heller (R- Nev),Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Patty Murray (D-Wash), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Max Baucus (D-Mont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

That's quite a group of Senators from all over the country and every ideology within the Democratic Party. It includes 4 Republicans, (none of whom answer to the name Rand Paul, you'll notice.) It would seem they're getting tired of being lied to.

Perhaps you don't like the way these issues came to light. But they would not have come to light any other way. Wyden and Udall have been trying to get this out for years but were hampered by all this classified nonsense. And all the sneaky Catch 22s the government set up to prevent anyone from being able to talk about it meant that it took a whistleblower going to the press to get it out there.

You can think Snowden is a narcissist and Greenwald and Gellman are jackasses or communists or anything else but it doesn't alter the fact that none of this would be the subject of the "open debate" everyone claims they are dying to have if it hadn't been for these leaks --- leaks which 26 US Senators now believe have raised serious questions about the government's surveillance programs.

I'm sorry that makes people uncomfortable.  But when the government is intent upon governing in secret even when it doesn't have to, what choice do we have?

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Obamacare will reduce abortions. Not that conservatives care.

by David Atkins

Once again with feeling: if you want to reduce the number of abortions, the best way is through education and expanded healthcare:

A new study focusing on low-income women in St. Louis, MO concludes that expanding access to free contraception — just as the health care reform law does through its provision to provide birth control without a co-pay — leads to significantly lower rates of unintended teen pregnancy and abortion. Researchers found that when women weren’t prohibited by cost, they chose more effective, long-lasting forms of birth control and experienced many fewer unintended pregnancies as a result.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis worked in partnership with the local Planned Parenthood affiliate to track over 9,200 low-income women in the St. Louis area, some of whom lacked insurance coverage, during a four-year Contraceptive CHOICE study. The CHOICE project simulated Obamacare’s birth control provision by allowing teens and women to select from the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive options and receive their preferred method at no cost. They found that birth rates among the teens who received free birth control in the CHOICE project were less than a fifth of the national teen birth rate — just 6.3 births per 1,000 teens, compared to 34.3 per 1,000 teens nationwide in 2010 — and abortion rates were less than half of both the regional and national rates.
But for conservatives, the goal has never been actually reducing the number of abortions. It has always been about controlling women's sexual freedom. Expanded sex education and health coverage gives women greater sexual freedom while reducing abortions, so on balance conservatives hate that. Given the choice between more abortions and more freedom for women, conservatives will pick more abortions every time.

And that tells you everything you need to know.


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"Insider Threats -- combating the ENEMY within your organization"

by digby

I know that people pretty much don't care about this Internal Threat Program (certainly the media doesn't) but perhaps you might find it a teensy bit interesting when you see the brochure they're using at the defense department.  Via Michael Moore:


This is a public document by the way. And yes it seriously says, "it is better to have reported overzealously than never to have reported at all."

Here's the FBI's version. Found it through a simple google search:




I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  These are so over-the-top paranoid that I can't help but wonder if it's some kind of a joke. But clearly, it isn't.  And if you read the original McClatchy story, you'll see that each federal department --- even the Peace Corps, has implemented this program.

Also note that this isn't just about national security. It's aimed at contractors as well as government employees and its designed to protect against "intellectual copyright" and proprietary information. And the personal factors in the FBI's list encompass the whole of the human condition as suspicious behavior: financial need, anger, problems at work with lack of recognition, disagreements with co-workers, dissatisfaction with the job, ideology ("a desire to help the 'underdog' or a particular cause")divided loyalty -- allegiance to another person or company, adventure/thrillseeker,vulnerability to blackmail. Indeed the only person who would not from time to time come under suspicion is a robot or a person so paranoid about being suspected that they act like a robot and totally avoid any real relationships among the people they work with.

Keep in mind that the Defense Department brochure even makes a point of saying that many "spies" have no access to classified material.  This means everyone in the government is under suspicion. That's absurd.

I don't know whether most people remember the last time we went on witch hunts within the government but it really wasn't that long ago.  A great playwright, Arthur Miller, talks about his play The Crucible and why he wrote it here:
I was suffocating, as most other people were, looking for some way of replying to all this because the nature of paranoia, which is what we were really experiencing, is circular, that is that anybody who strives to counteract it is suspicious.  That is, the act of opening your mouth against it casts you into the camp of those who are accused.  And there was no breaking out of this circle.  
It seemed to me that in the experience this country had in 1692, perhaps I could throw some light, not on the politics of the occasion, but on the mood.  
You can get people excited enough, for example, that a persons right to paint or write whatever he chooses is managed without much defense.  People get hot enough that they'll trample all over anything.  
What my play is really about and what I think Salem means or should mean is that here are some people who refused to compromise with the government and tell lies in order to save their lives.  
We can be led or misled by appeals to a certain kind of purity of belief.  And a politician who has no qualms about lies --- it happens all the time of course --- it can very quickly generate a following among certain people by telling them that if they follow him they leave sin behind.  
If you read carefully the record of the trial you have to be struck by the number of people who are telling the court that they were being tempted by Mr So and So in an obviously sexual way. So it was through these testimonies that they could speak of things that were normally repressed.  It was the return of the repressed as Freud would say it, things that were out in the open which would be prohibited otherwise were under the cloak now of a campaign to clean up the town.   
I don't think this ever ends, I don't believe it ever ends. Every human being and every society has a panic button and anybody who's unscrupulous enough to mash it will create a condition which, if it's unopposed successfully, can end up killing a lot of people. Somebody's gonna yell fire and there is no fire, there's going to be a stampede and somebody's gonna get it. And I don't foresee a time in any society that's going to guarantee against that.
There's obviously no guarantee. But it can be successfully opposed. McCarthyism ruined a lot of lives. But it was eventually ended by the decision to throw sunlight on the hearings and by courageous journalists who revealed it for what it was.

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The second half of the equation: "just give it up for adoption"

by digby

Earlier David commented eloquently on Natasha Chart's great piece about the fatuousness of telling women "just have the baby." I wanted to talk about the second half of that equation --- "and give it up for adoption."

That piece of advice is undoubtedly unimaginable to a new mother like Natasha, madly in love with her little baby and worried sick about his health as they've gone through these crises. But imagine if Natasha were a single mom with no money, no job, no insurance and no partner to help her through this. Imagine further that she is 16 years old and is facing motherhood at a time when she is almost a baby herself. Or imagine she is a 43 year old single mom with four kids already.

These are women who not only have to face the health implications of childbirth but the emotional implications of having a child at the wrong time and feeling they cannot care for it. "Just have the baby and give it up for adoption" sounds like it should be easy in that situation, but imagine actually doing it. Regardless of the circumstances, that woman is likely going to feel a deep attachment to this child she cannot care for. She is going to be giving up a child that will be her future or present childrens' sibling. Is that easy? Really? Just a quick 9 months of gestation, push it out and go on with your life? Of course it isn't.

Now, many women make that choice every day and they live with it, knowing in their hearts they have done the right thing despite the personal pain. Others are haunted by it and wish they would have made a different decision. And, obviously, there are also countless adoptive parents who are grateful that they did what they did. But for many, many women the decision to have an abortion is, by far, the right decision for them. They know they cannot take care of a child or that doing so would alter their lives so substantially that they will never be able to live to their full potential if they do it. And going through pregnancy, childbirth and adoption is something they know would be devastating both physically and emotionally.

Either way, this is not easy. Not by a long shot. And people who blithely throw out this advice to "just have the baby" no matter what the circumstances are people who have no empathy for those who find themselves in such a complicated situation.

Biology makes pregnancy very easy for most women. Nature very strongly wants us to procreate and it has no care for the circumstances under which we do it. Women get pregnant in times of war and famine and regardless of their ability to raise the child. Left up to nature women die frequently in this process and many, many babies die in infancy. If we use the appeal of nature, that's what we are really talking about.

But in this modern civilization in which women have agency, free will and lives that are not dictated by these "natural" events, that is pretty damned barbaric. Because of their role in human procreation, choices women make about reproduction are fundamental if they are to be able to function freely as equal citizens with the ability to fulfill their potential --- and do the right thing by their families present and future.

New moms like Natasha, in good circumstances although tired and hurting, thrilled with her new baby are what we want for every family. And yet some women will give birth into bad circumstances and make the best of it. Others will endure the physical and emotional pain and give their child up for adoption. And many others will decide that doing either of those things is wrong for them and they will have an abortion. Also too, most of those women will have other children and have happy and fulfilling lives as mothers.

Having some stranger take the decision for all of that out of the hands of women is wrong. They are the only ones who can know the exact circumstances that make the pain of childbirth, giving it up for adoption or raising it to adulthood the right decision for them. Anyone throwing out advice saying "just have the baby and give it up for adoption" is essentially saying that women are all cut from exactly the same cloth and have no individual needs or wants or beliefs. It's treating them as if they are not fully human.


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Immigration reform by the numbers

by digby

... or rather, why it's likely going to fail again:

Today, the Senate voted for immigration reform by a seemingly overwhelming margin: 68-32. That might seem like a “B.F.D.” It's not. We’ve been here before: In 2006, the Senate voted for immigration reform by a 62-32 margin. The House killed it.

Today’s vote appears more impressive than the 2006 Senate vote. But back then, there were only 39 Democratic “yes” votes, compared to 52 today (independents excluded). As that implies, there was less Republican support for today’s bill than there was in 2006: Only 30 percent of Senate Republicans voted for today’s immigration bill, compared to 42 percent in 2006. Much of that decline is due to the loss of blue state Senate Republicans who were defeated in 2006 and 2008. But over the last seven years, just two Senate Republicans—Lamar Alexander and Orin Hatch—switched from “no” to “yes.”


Today’s vote shows congressional support for immigration reform breaking along roughly the same lines as 2006, when it failed to attract a majority of Republicans in the House—despite the backing of a Republican president. And unlike the Senate, the House hasn’t become more Democratic since 2006. In fact, it’s gotten more conservative.

So if the Senate bill can only attract 30 percent of Senate Republicans, it has no chance of earning 50 percent of the more conservative House GOP caucus—the threshold for overcoming the so-called “Hastert Rule.” In reality, the Senate bill would be lucky to even approach 30 percent of the House GOP caucus. In the fiscal cliff deal, for instance, only 30 percent of House Republicans supported the Senate compromise, even though 89 percent of Republican Senators were on board. Perhaps Boehner can craft a bipartisan immigration bill that attracts an even greater share of House Republicans. Probably not.

This is where the gerrymandering really becomes a problem. These wingnuts are in safe districts as long as they don't do anything that might upset their most radical voters because the only challenge they are likely to face is from their right.

The only thing that can change this in the near term is for the right wing noise machine to start some deprogramming. And that's not going to be easy. The ultra-conservative creature they've created is no longer under their control. It may easily take them just as long to wind it down as it did to wind it up.

On the other hand, they may be very happy as the opposition party for a decade or more. They have the court protecting corporations and carrying out much of their agenda and can successfully obstruct any progress by a Democratic majority. That's called winning. For them. For the rest of us it's an encroaching dystopian hellscape from which we can't escape.

It won't last forever, but they can do a whole lot of damage before they're done. And on some issues, like climate change, it could be irreversible.

I don't know what to do. I'm beginning to think that the biggest mistake the Democrats ever made was John Roberts. He's very, very good:

The more meaningful way to look at the court is as a movie, one starring Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as a canny strategist with a tough side, and his eyes on the horizon. He is just 58 and is likely to lead the court for another two decades or more.

Chief Justice Roberts has proved adept at persuading the court’s more liberal justices to join compromise opinions, allowing him to cite their concessions years later as the basis for closely divided and deeply polarizing conservative victories.

His patient and methodical approach has allowed him to establish a robustly conservative record while ranking second only to Justice Anthony Kennedy as the justice most frequently in the majority.

“This court takes the long view,” said Kannon K. Shanmugam, a lawyer with Williams & Connolly in Washington. “It proceeds in incremental steps.”

On Tuesday, when the court struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Roberts harvested seeds he had planted four years before. In his 2009 opinion, writing for eight justices, he allowed the Voting Rights Act to stand. But the price he exacted from the court’s liberal wing was language quoted in Tuesday’s decision that seems likely to ensure the demise of the law’s centerpiece, Section 5, which requires federal oversight of states with a history of discrimination.

The chief justice helped plant new seeds on Monday, when seven justices, including two liberals, agreed to sign an opinion that over time could restrict race-conscious admissions plans at colleges and universities. Only the senior member of the court’s liberal wing, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filed a dissent.

Last year, in the second-biggest surprise of his decision upholding President Obama’s health care law, Chief Justice Roberts persuaded two liberal justices to join the part of his opinion allowing states to opt out of the law’s expansion of Medicaid. That ruling has added significant complications to the rollout of the law.

Only the justices know their motives and arrangements, but there is a pattern here. The price of victory today for liberals in the Roberts court can be pain tomorrow.


If that sounds familiar to Democratic activists, it should. This has been the GOP strategy for decades. Pull right, pull right, pull right. Let's hope that the liberal wing of the Supreme Court wises up faster than the Democratic Party has done.


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