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Monday, July 28, 2014

Center right? Hardly. Just take a look at the polls...

by David Atkins

Joshua Sager has one of the better poll compilations lately proving that Americans really do prefer more progressive policies. It's pretty stunning when assembled in one place. Here's just a bit of the economics front:

According to Gallup polling, 59 percent of Americans think that U.S. wealth “should be more evenly distributed” among a larger percentage of the people while only 33 percent thought that the current “distribution is fair.” While this is down from the 2008 modern high point, where 68 percent of Americans supported more redistribution, the public opinion of redistribution has held a stable majority, if not super-majority, for decades.

The fact that such a large number of Americans believes that the distribution of wealth is currently too skewed toward the wealthy is made far more relevant by the fact that they don’t actually know just how skewed the wealth distribution has become. As explained by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, Americans think that the current distribution of wealth is far more equal (middle bar graph) than it actually is (top bar graph) — in short, they recognize the problem, but lack an understanding as to just how bad it has become.

According to Pew Research, 69 percent of Americans oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, even in order to cut the deficit, while only 23 percent support such cuts. Additionally, 59 percent oppose cuts on programs assisting the poor in order to address the deficit, while only 33 percent support such austerity.

A multitude of polls have indicated that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy, depending upon how the question is worded and the polling venue — this indicates that a majority of Americans support increasing taxes on top-earners in order to reduce the deficit.

According to Quinnipiac Polling, 71 percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour, while only 27 percent oppose increasing the minimum wage.

According to Gallup Polling, 54 percent of Americans support labor unions, while only 39 percent disapprove of unions.

According to Gallup Polling, 37 percent of Americans think that we spend too much on defense, while only 28 percent think that we spend too little.

During the fight over letting jobless benefits expire, Quinnipiac Polling found that 58 percent of Americans supported extending benefits by at least three months, while only 37 percent of Americans supported letting benefits expire.
The key challenge, of course, is that a lot of that broad support evaporates when Republicans start turning people's prejudices against their own self-interest. It's the oldest story in American politics.

But that's why current demographic shifts are so important. That game is getting harder and harder for Republicans to play and still remain a viable national party.

ICYMI: Palin serves up the red meat

by digby

You really have to see the video to believe it, but this write up gives a fair overview:

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin ripped President Obama on Saturday, saying in order to "save the Republic" Americans must "have the guts to talk about impeachment."

Palin bashed Obama on a variety of topics, including immigration and veterans services during a speech before the 2014 Western Conservative Summit in downtown Denver.

"These days you hear all of these politicians, they denounce Barack Obama, saying he's a lawless imperial and ignores court orders and changes laws by fiat and refuses to enforce laws he just doesn't like," she said.

"That's true. But the question is, "Hey politicians, what are you going to do about it?' " Palin said, as the crowd in the Hyatt Regency ballroom roared.

The former governor of Alaska, Palin rose to prominence in 2008 when Sen. John McCain of Arizona tapped her as his running mate on the GOP ticket. When talk-radio host Dan Caplis introduced Palin, he billed her as the most influential woman in the history of the Republican Party.

Line after line about Obama fired up the crowd.

"If Obama won't do his job and enforce the borders, then it's not immigration, it's invasion," she said.

"We're not going to dethrone God and substitute him with someone who wants to play God," she also said.
I think Dave Neiwert said it best:
Did Sarah Palin get into Aunty Peggy Noonan's jar of Magic Dolphin Pills before her speech in Denver this week?

It does have that slightly slurry quality that so defines Noonan which is a change for Palin who has been rather crisply incoherent in the past if nothing else. But the crowd loved it. As much as we don't want to admit it, she really does speak for a large number of people in this country.

Also too, Sarah now has her own online pay-TV network. What is they say about suckers born every minute?


Contra Sam Harris 

by tristero

PZ Myers says it. Condemning Israel for its outrageous actions in no way translates into an endorsement of obscene atrocities committed by Hamas. There is no one standing on moral high ground in this and Harris is very, very wrong.
Don't count your populist chickens

by digby

Yes, these are the kind of people we can count on to join us in a populist revolution:
Fox News' morning program questioned a Texas official about providing emergency services to undocumented migrants, asking whether 911 calls from immigrants must be answered "even though for the most part, when you get there, you realize they're not even American citizens."

On July 23, Fox & Friends centered a discussion on how undocumented immigrants in Brooks County, Texas are "bombarding" the police department with 911 calls. Host Brian Kilmeade set up an interview with the Texas county's chief deputy by claiming that "illegal immigrants are learning the hard way there's a deadly cost to crossing the border." Kilmeade suggested Brooks County emergency response services might be strained because, "not only are they understaffed and lacking resources, now they've got to deal with illegal immigrants who have no business being here."

As an example, the program aired two emergency calls from Spanish speakers each identified on-screen as "Immigrant." In the first, a distressed male requests emergency assistance for his cousin, whom the man described as "turning blue." Another call featured a man and woman explaining to the 911 operator that they have not had access to water in three days.

Kilmeade asked the deputy, "So those calls, you have to respond to, even though for the most part, when you get there you realize, they're not even American citizens?"
I think we've determined that most of the right wing believes that only Americans deserve to live, just as a general principle. And even then, if they don't have adequate insurance or are part of the 47% of parasites who fail to pay enough taxes to derive any benefits (unless you happen to be a white, conservative Real American 47percenter who deserves her benefits) then you probably don't deserve to live either.

There is simply no way that people with these beliefs will ever join left wing populists. No matter how much they may hate the big banks and bailouts, they hate the "other" more. And that "other" includes liberals like you and me.

The sky has been falling since 1990

by digby

So today the projections of the financial health of the Medicare system are slated to be released.  And you can expect the usual shrill reaction to the "news" that it's going to go broke and we're all going to die, die,die!

When that happens, consider this, courtesy Mike the Mad Biologist:

What a long strange trip it's been

by digby

The New York Times, 10 years ago today:
With a rallying cry from one of its bright young hopes, a roar from its old liberal lion and a loving endorsement from the candidate's own outspoken wife, the Democratic Party offered up John Kerry on Tuesday night as a worthy heir to the patriots of the past, ready and able to unite a nation bitterly divided by the policies and politics of the Bush administration.

''There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America,'' said Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for the Senate from Illinois, the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan and the party's choice to deliver the keynote address.

For all the talk of a red and blue America divided by party, Mr. Obama said, ''We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.''
I was as thrilled by that speech as anyone. It sounded so good during those years of conservative intimidation to think that the country wasn't totally dominated by Bush voters. And it wasn't. But a whole lot of people heard Obama declare that the country was really one country with shared values and political beliefs --- and that just isn't true. It never has been.

Rick Perlstein pointed out the error in that formulation a long time ago citing the Great Communicator as the example of how this sort of appeal can be done to advance your agenda while appealing to people across the aisle. (By the way, it includes making some of your enemies furious ...)
Reagan didn't praise FDR. He stole from him. As in, "This generation has a rendez vous with destiny." We should steal from Reagan too. As in: "There is no left and right. Only up or down." He would then use that intro to frame some outrageously right-wing notion as "common sense." We should do the same for left-wing ideas.

Also, use Reagan to mess with righties' heads. As in: I agree we need a Reaganite foreign policy. When Reagan realized we were caught in the crossfire of a religious civil war in Lebanon, he got the hell out. He would have done the same thing in Iraq. The rule isn't "never say anything nice about Reagan." It's "use Reagan for progressive ends."

That's quite different from the Red state/Blue state formulation Obama used. His formulation might have illustrated the nice progressive value of diversity, but it failed to advance progressive politics beyond that. And he carried that concept all the way through 2008 and beyond. As Perlstein pointed out in this article after the 2010 debacle:
Ronald Reagan scored a comfortable victory in 1980, promising a new day in Washington and the nation. Then Reaganomics ran into brick wall. Unemployment—7.4 percent at the beginning of his term—was heading toward 10 percent by the summer of 1982. The gross domestic product declined 1.8 percent. On Election Day, voters punished him by taking 27 House seats from his Republican Party, including most of the ones gained in 1980. That gave the Democrats a 269–166 seat advantage—far greater than the 51-seat advantage Republicans enjoy today.

The day after that woeful election, Reagan’s aides sent him into a press conference with defensive talking points. He tore them up. “We’re very pleased with the results,” he said, claiming that the GOP had “beat the odds” for off-year elections (he went back to 1928 to make the claim). “Wasn’t he in worse shape for 1984?” he was asked. “I don’t think so at all,” he replied. Hadn’t it been a historically uncivil campaign? He agreed—because of all the opposition did to “frighten voters.”

Barack Obama gave a press conference the day after his “shellacking” too. The contrast to Reagan couldn’t have been more stark. Ignoring the fact that the electorate had pretty much been switching their party preference every two years since 1992, he conceded the loss as an epochal sea change. “I did some talking,” he said of his meeting with Republican leaders the night before, “but mostly I did a lot of listening.” When asked about jobs, he talked about the deficit. He then boasted that when it came to what was essential to recovery, he really didn’t have essential principles at all: the answers were not to be “found in any one particular philosophy or ideology.”
Reality does bite and Reagan wouldn't have been able to sustain that position if the economy hadn't been improving, but he understood that the only way forward politically was to assert the rightness of his policies and philosophy. It was a gamble, but then it was a gamble either way.

Both Obama and Reagan won their re-elections, likely due to the improving economy as much as anything else. But Reagan had instilled a bedrock belief in a very large number of people that the conservative philosophy was the key to success. I don't think President Obama can say the same thing.

*And yes, the economic fundamentals argue something very different. This is a matter of politics in which leaders develop a sense of trust in their ideological approach with the public. It doesn't last forever, of course. As I said, reality bites. But the momentum can carry you quite a long way and a whole lot can be accomplished in its wake.

Centrist reactions to inequality are potentially even worse than the ones on the far right

by David Atkins

Yesterday at the Washington Monthly I wrote about the four main American reactions to record income inequality, and how they play off one another.

After talking about the standard progressive response, I highlighted the centrists and the far right:

Those in the neoliberal/center-left camp do believe that modern inequality is a problem, but that this too shall pass and we can trudge along as usual after a recovery. They expect that middle-class incomes will surely pick up again in due time and everything will be mostly back to normal after the “black swan” event on Wall Street as long as asset prices continue to rise. This is delusional thinking, but extremely commonplace—particularly among wealthier liberals.

The biggest reason for the bitter and sharp divides within the left is that progressives are exasperated with the center-left folks who are desperate to keep status quo going. They’re trying to put more juice in the asset-inflation machine, praying that if we just send enough kids to college in STEM fields and keep the Dow Jones and housing markets frothy enough, we can keep the jobs engine humming. It’s not going to happen.

Then you have the center-right. They take rational market theory as an article of faith, believing with religious fervor that if the labor and capital markets are allowed to act unimpeded, then both labor and capital will find a comfortable, fair and balanced price. No amount of evidence can convince them that both human life and dignity are priced incredibly cheap on the open market, or that that late 19th century was not, in fact, the model of a moral or economically functional society.

Both the center-left and the center-right share the belief that at some level the edges of the system should be polished and softened to cushion the most unfortunate. But neither is comfortable with larger alterations to the balance between corporate and government power.

Finally, there is the far right. These are the True Believers: the ones who not only buy into the center-right line, but also the raw Objectivism of Ayn Rand and Fox News that says that the only economic injustice in society is the one being perpetrated by the government itself, taking money from the “deserving” and giving it to the “undeserving.” In this view, the only inequality that matters to them is redistributive taxation to “others” in society. But the far right, being mostly made up of poorer and middle-class voters, does have the saving grace of at least grasping that something is fundamentally broken in the economy, and they’re willing to take drastic measures to fix it.

This is the problem: on the center left and center right are mostly well-to-do people who have no personal incentive to alter the status quo. Whether out of genuine belief or raw self-interest, they don’t think that much needs to change, and they believe that things will be back to normal soon. After all, things tend to be going pretty smoothly for them, and there don’t seem to be any pitchforks on the horizon—yet.

Then you have the great apathetic mass of Americans, growing larger every day, who have given up believing that any change in government policy will have any effect.

Finally, you have the politically engaged on either side who understand that the status quo really isn’t working. The far right ignorantly thinks it’s all government’s fault. The progressive left gets the scope the problem and the nature of the necessary solutions, but has almost no voice at the moment.
The centrists are almost a bigger problem than the far right, which at least understands that something is seriously wrong that time alone won't fix. Ironically, on this issue the far right isn't actually the biggest impediment to real action.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Feeling the darkness

by digby

Oh my God:
The deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history is happening right now. And now the Liberian government has confirmed that a senior doctor working to fight the disease, Samuel Brisbane, has died, the Associated Press reports. That makes him the first Liberian doctor to die of Ebola in the current outbreak.

In addition, an American doctor has been infected. Keith Brantly, a 33-year-old working for American aid organization Samaritan's Purse, has been treated and is in stable condition, according to USA Today.

This news comes just days after an announcement that the top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone, Sheik Umar Khan, had been infected.

Brisbane's death is an unfortunate blow in a long battle that doesn't look like it's slowing down.
Sigh. This is where I am at this moment:

The VSP Paul Ryan slaps a new brand on a stale old trope

by digby

So I guess nobody's supposed to notice that the Very Serious Paul Ryan's "new" plan is simply regurgitated stale right wing talking points going back 50 years?
Ryan appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" to discuss his newly released poverty proposal, which involves consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs -- including food stamps and housing vouchers -- into one program coordinated on a state-by-state basis.

Host David Gregory asked the representative to speak to comments he made in January of 2013, in which Ryan said the country struggles with "more and more able-bodied people" becoming "dependent on the government." Gregory said Ryan didn't sound like he had much "sympathy" for impoverished Americans.

"We don't want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty," Ryan said, pitching his poverty proposal that he says will allow for a customized approach to each individual's needs.

"The federal government's approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work," Ryan said. "Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential."

Thanks Paul. That's quite a unique observation. I wonder why nobody's thought of it before now. (And kudos to David Gregory for calling him on this moldy old line of argument. Oh wait. He didn't.)

Seriously, I cannot fathom why anyone would think this represents a break in hardcore wingnut thinking. It's literally been their standard argument for decades ever since Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous report about African American culture:
In his report, officially titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” Moynihan claimed that African-American family values produced too many fatherless households and nurtured what he called a “tangle of pathology,” a self-perpetuating, self-defeating cultural flaw responsible for persistently high rates of poverty and violent crime. Conservative columnists and politicians seized on the report, promulgated by a liberal in Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, as official evidence that African-American culture was dangerously pathological. Civil rights leaders saw it as an attempt to blame the black community for systemic problems of racial discrimination. A wide spectrum of academic researchers criticized the report, finding errors and mistaken statistical logic; it was a hasty analysis wrapped in provocative rhetoric. Over the next decade, more evidence was brought forth that challenged Moynihan’s data and assumptions (and Lewis’). By the late 1970s, the premise that poor people have a distinctive culture that causes them to fail seemed to have been rejected.

Reagan’s election in 1980, however, rehabilitated the culture of poverty concept by invoking images of welfare queens and the supposed dangers of a dependent underclass. In 1984, Charles Murray, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a popular book called “Losing Ground,” which claimed harmful social programs and bad behavior by the poor were the main causes of the growing poverty of the era. Liberal academics countered that unemployment in deindustrialized urban areas was the main cause of poverty, though some of their cohort also conceded Moynihan’s original premise, arguing that economic failure partly resulted from ineffective parenting within the underclass. Once again, cause and effect were up for grabs, and conservatives (then, as now) opted for the appealing explanation that poor people cause their own problems.

In his interview with Bennett, Ryan cited Murray approvingly, a reference that intensified the charges of racism levied against him. Murray is a co-author of “The Bell Curve,” published in 1994, which controversially posited a genetic link between race and IQ. His 2008 book, “Coming Apart,” argued that the white lower classes were largely abandoning marriage and family fidelity, that they too have been infected with the tangle of pathology.
Ryan wants to "help" the poor the same way conservative have always wanted to help them --- by giving them the "tough love" of making their lives even worse than they already are. If they want "help" they can go to a church and pray to their God and maybe they'll get a sandwich.

What is this attorney client privilege you speak of?

by digby

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

An incarcerated former Pennsylvania state senator got into further trouble in 2011 when prosecutors seized his prison emails. In Georgia, officials built a contempt case against a man already in federal prison in part by using emails between him and his lawyers obtained in 2011. And in Austin, Tex., defense lawyers have accused members of law enforcement of recording attorney-client calls from jails, then using that information to tighten their cases.
Isn't that special? And guess what their excuse is? You won't believe it:
[Judge] Dora L. Irizarry, ruled against the government last month, barring it “from looking at any of the attorney-client emails, period.”

She seemed to take particular offense at an argument by a prosecutor, F. Turner Buford, who suggested that prosecutors merely wanted to avoid the expense and hassle of having to separate attorney-client emails from other emails sent via Trulincs. The government was not otherwise interested in the contents of those messages, he said.
It's too expensive. They're just trying to save the taxpayer's money, dontcha know:
Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient...

Dr. Ahmed’s case includes 50,000 pages of documents so far, including “Medicare claim data and patient information that we need Dr. Ahmed’s assistance to understand,” Mr. Fodeman wrote. Especially since he is acting as a public defender in this case — meaning the government pays him at $125 per hour — Mr. Fodeman argued that having to arrange an in-person visit or unmonitored phone call for every small question on the case was a waste of money and time.
There seems to be a real shift in people's perceptions of our legal system. There used to be a common understanding that everyone deserved a fair trial and that defense lawyers were a necessary part of the system. We're now seeing attorneys being denied confirmation to government posts on the basis of who they have represented and those who are running for office are being attacked for the same reason. Some have even done time for what would have been considered minor infractions in the past because they are representing a convicted terrorist. Now we see that prosecutors are commonly reading privileged communications between accused criminals and their lawyers. And according to the article, despite the reaction of the judge in the excerpt above, plenty of other judges are a-ok with that.

I guess we just don't have enough people in prison so we need to rig the system even more:

Stretch's gotcha

by digby

Greg Mitchell does the honors:
Transcript of predictably weak "Meet the Press" David Gregory interview with Netanyahu today. The Israeli leader lies flat out about maybe Hamas rockets wrecking that UN school (see below). He claims Israel not targeted "a single civilian" and anyway there are "plenty of places" they can flee to.

This is standard stuff. But Gregory then commits one of the worst journalistic ethical lapses of recent weeks. After letting Netanyahu claim, again, that Israel may be blameless in the school massacre, he brings on UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness--and blindsides him by showing a tape just released within the hour by Israel allegedly showing a Hamas rocket being fired from the grounds of a UN school. Yet Gregory says NBC has not "verified" that it's accurate--and admits that Gunness cannot view and has never seen seen it. Yet asks Gunness to respond! Gunness naturally protests the unfairness--and then the segment quickly ends.
And the video he's showing is completely vague and unverifiable to anyone just looking at it anyway --- some black and white blurred images of something that looks like a projectile coming out of what what appears to be some kind of checkerboard pattern. (And yet I'm pretty sure I saw some aluminum tubes and some yellow cake stashed down in the lefthand corner...)

The UN guy was justifiably upset. He had just gone through a lengthy explanation of how the UN is operating in Gaza and what they are trying to accomplish and Gregory basically says "whatever ... that's nice ... now EXPLAIN THIS!!!"

I tweeted this after he said it:

Graph 'o the Day

by digby

That's a lot of sluts who should have kept their legs closed. Literally millions of them.

Take That, F. Scott Fitzgerald! 

by tristero

Fitzgerald once said, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."

Not so fast.  Some new, fascinating research suggests that actually, genetically, rich and poor aren't so different after all.
According to a study released this week by geneticists at Cornell University, substantial evidence indicates that rich people and poor people—disparate populations long thought to be entirely unrelated—may have once shared a single common ancestor. “After conducting careful DNA analysis, our research team was taken aback to discover that the wealthy and the working class actually have a considerable number of genetic similarities,” said study co-author Kenneth Chang, adding that despite the disparity between the modern-day affluent and low earners in terms of behavior, appearance, and lifestyle, numerous genetic markers revealed that their predecessors may have once lived beside one another without any noticeable differences. 
I know, it does sound incredible, almost like a fake news story, but it is hard to argue with a news source as credible as The Onion.

However, if poor and rich once actually did live side by side with few noticeable differences - it is clear from the article that Dr. Chang is merely speculating and has no empirical data - that was a very long time ago. Today, when rich and poor share an apartment building, we deem it not only socially acceptable but essential for there to be separate entrances.

Conservatives should be able to get behind a universal basic income, too

by David Atkins

Yesterday at the Washington Monthly I riffed on my own Hullabaloo bit from Friday on universal basic income, but more importantly on Max Ehrenfreund's at the Washington Post to explore the potential bipartisan appeal of UBI:

This is one of the beautiful things about universal basic income: it has legitimate cross-partisan appeal, even if it seems wacky at first glance to centrists (who are often the very last people to recognize a good policy idea when they see one.)

To a conservative, a direct money grant is an opportunity to shed cumbersome government bureaucracy, consolidating a number of overlapping needs-based targeted grants with a single, universal, simplified program that costs far less to administer.

To those of a more futurist and progressive slant like myself, the basic universal income is an answer to the problems of globalization, mechanization, deskilling and flattening of the labor force. While there have certainly been myriad political decisions made to further the interests of the very wealthy over those of the middle class, there has also been a “natural” workforce shift in which a large number of jobs that used to be done by humans are either done by machine, or have simply become redundant with the advent on online business models, or have been replaced with much cheaper labor abroad.

Part of this is natural technological churn that has been with us since the industrial revolution. But the advent of both the Internet and smart machines combined with the rapid pace of globalization make the current mechanization phenomenon different from those that have come before. A huge number of manufacturing jobs are already gone as we already know. Service jobs are following on their heels both due to online business models and mechanized replacement: self-driving cars will put cabbies, truck drivers and the entire auto sales industry out of business; chain restaurants are already taking orders using tablets; etc.

Soon enough the white collar jobs will follow as big data analysis sees everyone from stock analysts to diagnosticians replaced with programs that can do their jobs better than any human.

There just aren’t going to be enough jobs to go around. That doesn’t mean there isn’t enough productive work to be done, whether it be in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, implementing an Apollo program for green energy and conservation, or just giving people the freedom to be creative, build businesses, and follow their dreams without fear of ruin. But the old model of capital ownership grudgingly needing human labor at a decent price in order to take surplus value and profit off of that labor isn’t going to work anymore for the majority of people.
We're going to get there, or we hit some sort of history-changing technological singularity, or society breaks down. Or some combination of the above.

It would be nice if we could move the process along a bit faster and stop spending so much time defending the systemically unsustainable and morally untenable status quo.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

[Dennis is off this week and we decided to re-run this post from last year as the Syria crisis was in the news in consideration of current events. plus ça change ... digby]

Child's guide to war: a film troika

By Dennis Hartley

Have you heard the reasons why?
(Yeah, we've heard it all before)
But have you seen the nation cry?
(Yeah, we've seen it all before)

-From "War Weary World" by The Call

(*sigh*) So the boys are rattling their sabers yet again, and America girds its collective loins for possible involvement in Syraqistan or wherever (different day, same old shit). Most disturbing to me about this whole affair is how that endlessly-looped footage of gassed children is being used as a war mongering tool by our own government and an ever-compliant MSM. Yes, it's horrible beyond words and a reprehensible act by any standards, but I seem to recall a brief and shining moment in this country when such imagery was processed as deterrence to conflict and a call for diplomacy, rather than a base and puerile incitement for vengeance (are American bombs any more discriminate?).

But perhaps I'm the one being childish, what with my naive pacifist wishes and hippy-dippy poster dreams. It's a complicated world, and I'm just a simple farmer. A person of the land. The common clay of the American West. You know...a moron. That's why I'm just the movie guy around these parts. That being said, I believe there's something that the following movies, or more specifically their young protagonists can teach us about such matters. And so I'm spotlighting three essential films that offer an immediate ground-level view of the effects of war, filtered through the eyes of innocents, uncluttered by any political machinations or jingoist agendas. Hey, feel free to invite your favorite war hawk over for dinner and a movie. Just make sure that they are taking notes:
Grave of the Fireflies- For many years, the term 'anime' conjured up visions of saucer-eyed cartoon characters in colorful, action-packed fantasy-adventures (generally targeting younger audiences). However, sometime around the mid-80s, the paradigm shifted when Japanese production houses like Studio Ghibli began to find international success with more eclectic, character-driven fare. One particularly transcendent example is writer-director Isao Takahata's 1988 drama, Grave of the Fireflies. While it is animated, and its protagonists are children, it is not necessarily a children's film; its unflinching approach and anti-war subtext puts it in a league with Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero and Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood. The story (based on Akiyuki Nosaka's novel) takes place in Kobe in 1945, and concerns the travails of a teenage boy named Seita (voiced by Tsutomo Tatsumi) and his little sister Setsuko (voiced by Ayano Shiraishi), who are orphaned when their mother perishes during an Allied firebombing raid. After brief lodgings with a less-than-hospitable aunt, the siblings have to fend for themselves. Do not expect a Hollywood ending (I wouldn't recommend showing this to children under 12). One commonality between Grave of the Fireflies and the aforementioned Rossellini film that begs reflection is the fact that Japan and Germany were primary aggressor nations in WW2. An obvious commonality, but precisely my point: The pain and suffering of innocents caught in the crossfire doesn't know from borders or ideology.

Son of Babylon- This heartbreaking Iraqi drama is set in 2003, just weeks after the fall of Saddam. It follows the arduous journey of a Kurdish boy named Ahmed (Yasser Talib) and his grandmother (Shazda Hussein) as they head for the last known location of Ahmed’s father, who disappeared during the first Gulf War. As they traverse the bleak, post-apocalyptic landscapes of Iraq’s bomb-cratered desert, a portrait emerges of a people struggling to keep mind and soul together, and to make sense of the horror and suffering precipitated by two wars and a harsh dictatorship. Director Mohamed Al Daradji  and co-screenwriter Jennifer Norridge deliver something conspicuously absent in the Iraq War(s) movies from Western directors in recent years-an honest and humanistic evaluation of the everyday people who inevitably get caught in the middle of such armed conflicts-not just in Iraq, but in any war, anywhere. While the film alludes to the regional and international politics involved, the narrative is constructed in such a way that at the end of day, whether Ahmed’s father was killed by American bomb sorties or Saddam gassing his own people is moot. That message is distilled in a small, compassionate gesture and a single line of dialogue. An Arabic-speaking woman, also searching for a missing loved one at a mass gravesite sets her own suffering aside to lay a comforting hand on the lamenting grandmother’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Kurdish," she says, "...but I can feel this woman’s pain and sadness.” One thing I can say (aside that this emotionally shattering film should be required viewing for heads of state, commanders-in-chief, generals, or anyone else wielding the power to wage war)…I don’t speak Kurdish, either.

Testament - Originally a PBS American Playhouse presentation, this film was released to theatres and garnered a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Jane Alexander (she lost to Shirley MacLaine). Director Lynne Littman takes a low key, deliberately paced approach, but pulls no punches. Alexander, her husband (William DeVane) and three kids live in sleepy Hamlin, California, where the afternoon cartoons are interrupted by a news flash that a number of nuclear explosions have occurred in New York. Then there is a flash of a whole different kind when nearby San Francisco (where DeVane has gone on a business trip) receives a direct strike. There is no exposition on the political climate that precipitates the attacks; a wise decision by the filmmakers because it helps us zero in on the essential humanistic message of the film. All of the post-nuke horrors ensue, but they are presented sans the histrionics and melodrama that informs many entries in the genre. The fact that the nightmarish scenario unfolds so deliberately, and amidst such everyday suburban banality, is what makes it all so frighteningly believable and difficult to shake off. As the children (and adults) of Hamlin succumb to the inevitable scourge of radiation sickness and steadily “disappear”, like the children of the ‘fairy tale’ Hamlin, you are left haunted by the final line of the school production of “The Pied Piper” glimpsed earlier in the film…“Your children are not dead. They will return when the world deserves them.”

Accomplices to the extreme

by digby

Norm Ornstein had a nice historical piece this week on the history of extreme elements becoming mainstream in political parties. His particular focus unsurprisingly, was on the current GOP and how it came to be so nutty. Those of us who have been covering this evolution in real time won't be surprised by his thesis but if it seems as if this just pops up overnight this is a good overview.

I would take issue with one thing however. He doesn't discuss the crucible of a partisan impeachment against the will of the people, much of it driven by the political and media establishment.  Neither does he point to the subsequent shock of the subsequent Supreme Court decision in election 2000 in which the press and the beltway institutions also enabled the right wing to get away with unprecedented undemocratic behavior. These are important moments that signaled a fundamental shift in norms.

He's right that the New Left in the 1960s and the party upheaval in the 1970s created much turmoil within the Democratic Party.  But it was hardly aided and abetted by the establishment, particularly the media, unless you want to say that someone like Walter Cronkite coming out against the war was a sign of extremism.  In fact, the morphing of right wing extremism into mainstream politics has been largely made possible by a media which decided very early on in the 60s revolution to identify with the "Silent Majority" and then allowed itself to be cowed by the relentless right wing propaganda campaign to vacuously portray them as liberal --- which they weren't. It culminated in the shameful performance of the 1990s and the nearly delirious approbation offered to George W. Bush, resulting in an insane war we'll be paying for for a long time.

None of this is to let Democrats off the hook for their irrational fear of hippies, which remains to this day. Neither does it absolve the Republicans for their extremism, which has building unabated for the last 50 years. But you cannot understand all this without looking at the behavior of the bipartisan political establishment and the press. They are accomplices.

Your disconcerting thought for the day

by digby

We got lucky:
Back in 2012, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar storm that just missed the Earth but was big enough to “knock modern civilization back to the 18th century,” NASA said.

The extreme space weather that tore through Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, was the most powerful in 150 years, according to a statement posted on the US space agency website Wednesday.

However, few Earthlings had any idea what was going on.

“If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire,” said Daniel Baker, professor of atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado.

Instead the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft, a solar observatory that is “almost ideally equipped to measure the parameters of such an event,” NASA said.

Scientists have analyzed the treasure trove of data it collected and concluded that it would have been comparable to the largest known space storm in 1859, known as the Carrington event.

It also would have been twice as bad as the 1989 solar storm that knocked out power across Quebec, scientists said.

“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” said Baker.

What middle class decline?

by digby

I'm not surprised by the fact that the middle class net worth has declined, but I confess that the scope of that decline is startling:

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 94 percent of the population had less wealth and 4 percent had more.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households.

For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets. But much of the gain for many typical households came from the rising value of their homes. Exclude that housing wealth and the picture is worse: Median net worth began to decline even earlier.

“The housing bubble basically hid a trend of declining financial wealth at the median that began in 2001,” said Fabian T. Pfeffer, the University of Michigan professor who is lead author of the Russell Sage Foundation study.

It's not housing. It's not the fallout from the financial crisis. So what is it?


Meanwhile, if there's one thing the keepers of the staus quo have going for them it's this:

Researchers at the University of Hannover in Germany propose a simpler reason: Voters don’t demand more redistribution because they don’t grasp how deep inequality is.

Using data from the International Social Survey Programme, in which respondents were asked to locate their relative income status on a scale of 1 to 10, Carina Engelhardt and Andreas Wagener built a measure of perceived inequality, defined as the gap between the median income, smack in the middle of the distribution, and the average income of the population.

Evidently, nobody has a clue: In every one of the 26 nations, most of them in the developed world, for which they collected data, people believe that the income gap is smaller than it really is. And using perceived rather than actual inequality, the median voter theory works much better: Where people believe inequality is worse, governments tend to redistribute more.

“If citizen-voters see an issue, politics has to respond – even if there is no issue,” they concluded. “Conversely, if a real problem is not salient with voters, it will probably not be pursued forcefully.”

This could go some distance toward explaining the American experience. People in the United States not only tolerate one of the widest income gaps in the developed world, but its government also ranks among the stingiest in terms of efforts at redressing the imbalance.

Unsurprisingly, Americans suffer from a pretty big perception gap. They think an American in the middle of the income distribution makes only 4 percent less than the national average, according to Ms. Engelhardt and Mr. Wagener’s research. In truth, the American in the middle makes 16 percent less.

Shhhhh. Don't tell anyone.

The good news is that there's almost no chance anyone in politics will seek to inform them of the truth so that they can vote their own self-interest. That would undoubtedly upset the "markets" and then all hell would break loose...

Oxford Union for dummies

by digby


Four men stood before a packed crowd at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., on Thursday night, and for nearly two hours hashed out the relative merits of libertarian and conservative political philosophy. More than 400 people turned up to hear them; the Institute’s auditorium was filled to capacity, and latecomers even stood to watch the debate screened into small rooms around the building. Nearly 500 more people watched online.

The men were not experts or politicians, but college students—summer interns at the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation. They’d gone through several rounds of tryouts to win the privilege of representing their summer employers in Cato’s fourth annual intern debate—or, as one of the fresh-faced debaters called it, “a referendum on freedom."

The freedom-referendum was moderated Matt Lewis, of the Daily Caller, who applauded the event's very existence. “The Left isn’t having this public debate,” he said. “They’re toeing the line, staying quiet about their differences. The side most willing to publicly hash out their differences will win in the free market of ideas.”

That's so true. If the left is known for anything it's known for its discipline.

But be that as it may, if this is the future of right, I'm afraid it's going to lose by virtue of its snooze-inducing predictability:

Team Conservative featured Mark DiPlacido, a rising senior at Yale who argued that “unabashed sexual license” is the “number one cause of pain and suffering in this country,” and Louis Cona, a senior at Georgetown who was distraught over the “crisis of broken families and single mothers” and convinced that moral relativism is destroying Western society. Team Libertarian was represented by Georgetown Law student Jack Bussell, who believes "good cannot be defined and imposed from above," and rising Brown senior Philip Trammell, who argued that "anyone who believes in private property cannot deny we have the right to take drugs."

Both sides delivered stock answers on drug legalization, immigration policy, and Edward Snowden. The debate ended in a draw, I guess.

Smell the excitement ...

The torture cover-up continues

by digby

This article in today's New York Times is enough to put me in a bad mood already. Apparently, George Tenent's protege, John Brennen, is going out of his way to protect his former bosses reputation (and his own) with this outrageous attempts a cover up of the torture report:
Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history.

The spies, past and present, faced each other around the long wooden conference table on the seventh floor of the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Northern Virginia: J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks; the undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Over the speakerphone came the distinctive, Queens-accented voice of George J. Tenet.

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.

Gosh I wonder why some people are skeptical of secret government.  It's not as if they ever do anything wrong. Sure, they may have "gone a little far"  in their zeal to protect us from the evil ones, but they'll never do it again I'm sure. And sure, the fact that it was not only immoral but also completely ineffective should not in any way require an accounting:

The April meeting at C.I.A. headquarters highlighted how much of the agency is still seeded with officers who participated in the detention and interrogation program, which Mr. Obama officially ended during his first week in office in 2009.

At one point during the meeting, the current head of the counterterrorism center, an officer with the first name Mike, told Mr. Brennan that roughly 200 people under his leadership had at some point participated in the interrogation program. They wanted to know, he said, how Mr. Brennan planned to defend them in public against accusations that the C.I.A. engaged in systematic torture and lied about its efficacy.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Wagging a finger at the correspondent, Scott Pelley, Mr. Tenet said over and over, “We don’t torture people.”

“No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” he went on. “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of that fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report is expected to directly challenge this contention. Several people who have read the report said that it concludes that the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods broke up no terrorist plots and that agency officials repeatedly inflated the value of the program.

No kidding. It makes you wonder if what they're really covering up the fact that they tortured for the fun of it. We know they're covering up the fact that they lied repeatedly to the "overseers" --- which, once again, makes a mockery of the idea that "oversights" alone is enough to keep the government from running amock. (Of course, if you think torturing prisoners is a good idea then you'll think this is all a-ok.)

This is getting intense:
A senior Senate Democrat is firing a warning shot at the White House against stalling the release of a report about the past use of torture by the U.S. intelligence community.

Sen. Ron Wyden is talking with his colleagues about the possibility of using a seldom-invoked procedure to declassify an Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture in the event the White House does not move ahead quickly.

Speaking with reporters on a variety of subjects Thursday, the Oregon Democrat referred to the Senate’s “Resolution 400″ — the Abraham A. Ribicoff-sponsored resolution that established the Intelligence Committee back in 1976.

Wyden said he was discussing invoking the resolution “in order to move this along if we have to, through the committee process, to get it declassified.”

Matt Bai of Yahoo! News reported earlier Thursday that Wyden mentioned the same procedure to him. And it was not the first time he’s discussed the possibility. Wyden previously explained the provision in October 2013, KATU reported.

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted on April 3 to provide for declassification of the report into the use of harsh interrogation practices by the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush. That action set the gears in motion for declassification review. The report is now in the hands of the White House.

Asked Thursday about a senator discussing the prospects of using legislative action to release the report, the National Security Council press office sent along a lengthy statement that did not outline a timeline for release.

This is a very interesting dynamic. You have a Democratic White House covering up for the CIA and a former Republican White House and the Republican minority in the Senate staying quiet to protect the reputation of the CIA and their former Republican White House. And you have the Democratic majority in the Senate in the unpleasant position of having to defy a Democratic White House to reveal the cover-up. Who knows if they will actually do it? For all the "hair on fire" hand signals and hints in Pig Latin from the Democrats who have allegedly been appalled by the government's secret, unethical behavior in the GWOT, there has yet to be any real confrontation between the branches. Senators have power too --- and yet even they know that to exercise it will bring the government hammer down hard on them and they will be vilified by much of the public who will undoubtedly consider them traitors. This is what we rely on for "oversight."

On the other hand, if you can't take a principled stand against torture then maybe being a political leader isn't really your calling. This one isn't a tough decision. The US cannot ever be considered a decent nation if it doesn't grapple with this honestly and openly. Even if nobody is ever held accountable --- which would be yet another barrier to any claim to morality --- the truth absolutely must be told and the government must admit to what it did. These institutions should not be allowed to protect their reputations (not that the individuals who conceived it, legalized it and ordered it shouldn't be punished as well...)

I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this is even controversial. Torture.


Two charts of the day courtesy of Vox

by David Atkins

America is a great place to live. If you're a corporation, that is:

But they'll keep complaining about being "overtaxed," even though we pay extremely low taxes:

Part of the problem in American politics is that most voters just don't understand the scale of the theft being perpetrated on them by the corporate world. Or that an alternative model is even possible.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Walking, chewing gum and frothing at the mouth

by digby


Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he would get behind House Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit against President Barack Obama, which will focus on the administration's unilateral changes to the health care law's employer mandate.

“I will vote for it,” Ryan said.

Ryan said concern about "the lawlessness of the administration" is the driving force behind the lawsuit, which he said isn't getting in the way of other House GOP efforts.

"We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can juggle a lot of bills," Ryan said. "We're working on border security, foreign policy and many things at one time, so it's not as if this displaces action on other items."

Just in case you were wondering if Ryan's attempt to reclaim the bogus mantle sane and sober legislator was legit, this should prove otherwise. Same as it ever was.

Don't miss Krugman's latest take on Ryan, here.

Republicans overreaching again

by David Atkins

If anything may save Democrats in 2014, it could be Republicans. The president's approval ratings may not be terribly high, but the public doesn't like the GOP approach to the situation:

according to the poll, only 35% want Obama impeached, with nearly two-thirds saying the President should not be removed from office.

There's an obvious partisan divide, with 57% of Republicans but only 35% of independents and 13% of Democrats backing a move to impeach Obama.

"Anti-impeachment sentiment is roughly where it was for past presidents - 67% opposed Bill Clinton's impeachment in September 1998, and 69% opposed impeaching George W. Bush when a few Democrats began talking about it in 2006," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"One reason may be that Americans take impeachment very seriously. Only about one in five say that impeachment is a valid response if Congress is dissatisfied with a president's policies or the way he is handling his job. Nearly eight in 10 say impeachment should be reserved for high crimes and misdemeanors," Holland adds.


Boehner and House Republicans plan to sue Obama over his health care law. They claim he violated the Constitution by circumventing Congress and changing the law's employer mandate on his own.

By a 57%-41% margin, Americans say House Republicans shouldn't file the suit. As with the question on impeachment, there's a wide partisan divide over the lawsuit.

When it comes to expanding the power of the presidency, has Obama gone too far? Forty-five percent say yes, with three in 10 saying the President's actions have been about right, and 22% saying he hasn't gone far enough.
If today's Republicans were a normal political party they would be in a position to take advantage of some of the President's weaknesses and expected low Democratic turnout.

The Republicans are not a normal political party, and they'll like pay a price for that.

QOTD: Rafael Cruz

by digby

Ted's activist daddy:

I think if the left had their way, they would do away with the whole Bill of Rights.”

No. We just want to tweak it a little. Mostly, I want to outlaw religion and ban all speech I personally don't like. But I'm open to other stuff too.


The One Percenters of the future

by digby

So apparently, some protesters are following Zephyr Teachout the candidate in New York who's challenging Andrew Cuomo for Governor. They seem nice:
Inside the subway, three of the protesters got on a train to go downtown. On board, two of the protesters discussed how "creepy" they thought Teachout's supporters were. The third protester, a young man in a bright blue shirt took out his wallet and began fiddling with an identification badge from the real estate firm SL Green that had his face on it.

According to Project Vote Smart, SL Green is one of Cuomo's top ten corporate campaign donors. A spokesperson for SL Green declined to comment on this story.

While on the train, we attempted to get a picture of the protesters. As we departed at the Bleecker Street station, another passenger pointed us out to them and told them we tried to take their picture. The young man in the blue shirt cursed at us and the group left the station.

Outside, we saw the young man again and walked some distance behind him. Two blocks from the station, he turned and entered an NYU Law School residence. He approached us in the courtyard in front of the building and began to shout.

"You're going to take out your phone and you're going to take my picture, I should break your f**king phone right here!" he said.

After explaining who we were and showing press credentials, we asked him whom he represented and why he was protesting Teachout's campaign.

"I'm a college student!" he exclaimed.

The young man turned around to leave before returning to inform us he wasn't refusing to answer for "political" reasons.

"This is not a political thing where I'm walking away from your questions," he explained.

He went on to say he merely objected to us personally before turning around and going inside.

"F**k you! You are the worst member of society," the young man said. "I don't need to speak to you. … Have a nice f**king life."

I'm sure this young man will go far.

It's probably not fair to blame Cuomo for this. It's likely that his megabuck donor is doing this on his behalf and who knows if he even knows about it. But it's so telling that some One Percenter would feel the need to recruit people to do this regardless of direction from the candidate. This silly behavior is indicative of the general thin-skinned nature of this crowd --- which, I'm sure includes Cuomo himself. There's nothing a liberal sell-out hates more than being accused of being a liberal sell-out.


Tasers are part of the problem not the solution

by digby

My piece in Salon today discusses those two choke hold incidents this week and the Police Commissioner's promise to look into more taser use. Those who have been following this blog and my writing on tasers will be unsurprised that I am not in favor.
The viral video incidents this week in New York, the first of which resulted in death and the second a beating in the face as well as the illegal choke holds were about suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes in the first case and jumping a subway turnstile in the second. These were not people who were suspected of a violent crime requiring that the police spare no energy in protecting the public. Indeed, it appears that the violent acts against these two suspects were entirely based upon the “crime” of failing to instantly obey a police officer. Have we decided that this crime is worthy of beating, torture and possibly death? Because that’s what’s happening all over the country. It’s happening to children, it’s happening to the mentally ill, it’s happening to the elderly and the sick, it’s happening to average citizens who merely assert their rights and it can happen to you too. (It even happens to NFL players.)

Police officers have a tough job. And they deserve the perks they get such as early retirement and generous pensions. That’s the deal we, as a society, make with them because they put themselves at risk and have to deal with very unsavory people and sometimes that requires brute force and violence. I don’t think anyone disputes that. But over the years we’ve also recognized that they do not have the right to physically hurt citizens with impunity or endanger their lives without a very good reason and a whole body of law was developed to prevent police brutality. Somewhere along the line in the last few years, however, perhaps as more police agencies have militarized and come to see themselves as fighting a war with the American public rather than “protecting and serving” the idea that they have ultimate authority on the streets of our cities and towns and that this authority grants them the right to expect instant compliance from every citizen lest they risk being shot through with electricity, choked or beaten.

Read on. The thrust of this piece is the fact that too many police officers are losing their common sense. A good cop will know when to exert her authority and will understand that it's not necessary in every interaction. It's not the only thing they have to work with --- psychology, patience and compassion are also necessary tools in their arsenal. The militarization of police departments --- this us against them attitude --- is turning them from public servants into occupying soldiers. It's a problem.

Max Speak!, You Listen

by digby

Back in the early days of blogging there were only a few lefties online and very few as smart and honest as economist Max Sawicky. His blog was a must read every day for me for years and I learned a great deal from him.

Well, he quit blogging.  I missed him.  And now he's back.  There's lots to like on his page right now, but I thought I'd just excerpt this in case anyone might believe that Paul Ryan's "devolution" plan is anything but yet another way to drown us all in the bathtub:
The story goes back to the days of Richard Nixon. I told it here. I was not the first to figure out the deal. The short version is that a program or programs converted to a block grant is being set up to wither away. Block grants are designed through formulas to grow slowly or not at all, despite the likelihood that whatever the included programs were aimed at typically costs more to deal with every year. There are also two malignant political dynamics at work. One is that Congress doesn’t like to spend money without a say in what happens to the money. Block grants transfer control to state governments. They have the fun of spending the money, Congress has the fun of raising the taxes to pay for it. The other is that the more vague — “flexible” — the purposes of the grant, the less focused is its political support.

State officials are always happy to play this game because the money is front-loaded. In the initial years the grant is close to what they were getting before, and by the time the grant shrinks, they will be out of office anyway.

The transfer of program responsibility from the Federal government to the states is known as devolution. It is the standard way of attacking domestic spending for social purposes, going back to Richard Nixon’s dismantling of the original, more interesting War on Poverty launched by Lyndon Johnson.

Why the basic income movement will be mainstream soon

by David Atkins

If you believe as I and many others do that our current economic crisis is dictated not only by intentional plutocratic rigging but also by globalization, mechanization and deskilling, then you're likely to believe that the economic models of the 20th century aren't going to work in the 21st.

Those who think this way tend to sound almost crazy to a lot of activists. We talk about things like ending the Westphalian system, about altering corporate law to require at least partial worker ownership. But more than anything else, a lot of conversation revolves around a basic universal income to decouple human dignity and base-level financial freedom from the idea of "having a job." Not because we're crazy liberals who don't believe in work or capitalism, but because there simply aren't going to be enough jobs to go around, and the ones that will exist simply won't pay enough. The disparity between labor and capital is going to keep growing to a point where you can't soften the edges of the system anymore.

The basic income question made its way to Vox yesterday with approval:

So here's my takeaway: a negative income tax or basic income of sufficient size would, by definition, eliminate poverty. We still don't know if there'd be much of a cost in terms of people working and earning less. If there is, the effect is almost certainly small enough that a negative income tax can offset the lost earnings and remain affordable. The worst case scenario is that we eliminate poverty but see a modest decline in employment. The best case scenario is we eliminate poverty at even lower cost and don't see much of an effect on employment. That's a gamble I'm willing to take.
The usual suspects who don't cry "moral hazard" at every turn are worried about a potential decrease in productivity. That's not necessarily going to happen, because most people who are suddenly freed from the drudgery of a soul-crushing job aren't going to become couch potatoes overnight. They can start businesses without worrying about failure putting them on the street. They can write books, create art, teach, and do all those productive things everyone dreams of doing but has neither the time nor the energy for.

But even if it did decrease productivity, so what? Productivity has been skyrocketing for the last 40 years without redounding to the benefit of actual workers, whose wages have stagnated. So if all this increased productivity is simply helping make the rich richer while working the poor and middle class harder and longer, then we can afford as a society to relieve the stress of the workers who actually build the economy, while dumping a little less money into the pockets of the fat cats to buy their second yachts.

It seems a little crazy now to most people, but it's going to be a mainstream proposition before too much longer. And it'll happen right around the time when mechanization and deskilling start taking all the white collar and STEM jobs that the upper-middle class and lower-upper classes think are protected from the technology and globalization onslaught. When the white collar workers start getting thrown en masse into the same vicious economic blender that has been shredding blue and pink collar jobs, watch the political winds start to shift.

It's just a matter of time.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Compassionate conservatism

by digby

No, I'm not talking about Paul Ryan's latest phony stab at redemption.  I'm talking about this horrible thing:
State Rep. David Simpson (R-TX) gave a presentation on his recent tour of the Texas-Mexico border, explaining that officials believe tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are fleeing abuse and sexual slavery in Central America.

"We need to love the immigrant, love people, and remember that these children are being fodder in this situation," Simpson said at one point.

Once the floor opened up to questions, one constituent, who the Longview News-Journal identified as Longview resident Terri Hall, took the microphone to suggest that migrants were crossing the border in such large numbers because of a "well-planned, well-thought-out" government operation.

"I understand the humanitarian and the compassion. But you are to represent us," she said. "We have children, and we have elderly people who have immunodeficiency disorders. These are people that are coming in with diseases -- leprosy, tuberculosis, polio. You need to represent us."

Hall's comment was met with loud applause.
Of course it was.

Unfortunately, this is as American as apple pie. The following is an excerpt from Rick Perlstein's forthcoming book called "The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan." It's about how we welcomed the Vietnamese refugees who were forced to leave their country after having allied themselves with the US during the war:

Because we're so good ...

Freedom of religion but not freedom from religion

by digby

Via TPM:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and two other groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the mayor of Warren, Mich., who banned an atheist group from setting up a station alongside one run by a prayer group in the city hall atrium.

Mayor Jim Fouts (R) said that the group's "reason station" would be opposed to prayer and compared atheists to Nazis and members of the Klu Klux Klan.

"The city has certain values that I don't believe are in general agreement with having an atheist station, nor in general agreement with having a Nazi station or Klu Klux Klan station," Fouts told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here."

Fouts has let a prayer group run a station where they hand out fliers and offer prayers to passersby since 2009. Yet the mayor rejected Douglas Marshall's request to run a "reason station" where he would offer to have philosophical discussions with people who walk by in the city hall atrium.

"They don't walk up to people," Fouts told the AP, explaining how the prayer group operates its city hall station. "They are just there if someone wishes to seek solace or guidance from them. The atheist station does not serve that purpose. It will not contribute to community values or helping an individual out."

Right. Because no atheist could possibly want to seek solace an guidance from a like-minded person. Because we are evil servants of Satan.

Opportunity for all (if you have the bucks)

by digby

You know what this country needs more of? It needs more participation in the political process by the 1%:
Two top veterans of President Obama’s campaigns are asking political campaigners to pay $5,000 per person for the chance to learn their secrets and then work for five weeks in an unpaid campaign job somewhere in America.
Democratic operatives and progressive activists are questioning this training program launched by Obama campaign architects Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird. The $5,000 program promises access to the wizardry of Obama’s presidential bids — and a five-week, unpaid gig on an “important Democratic campaign.”

Run by Bird and Stewart’s consulting company, 270 Strategies, the new program’s emphasis on placing paying customers in essentially volunteer roles on Democratic campaigns is atypical in the campaign training industry, and some Democrats say it sets a dangerous precedent. The firm’s first-ever “270/360 Training Intensive” program is scheduled to begin in September.

The program’s website describes a six-week program, consisting of five days of “intensive” campaign training at 270’s Chicago HQ featuring Stewart and Bird and other “architects of the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns,” followed by five weeks of volunteer work on an “an important Democratic campaign in the United States.”

The cost for the five-day training with Bird and Stewart is $3,500. It costs $1,500 more if a student wants the five weeks of work experience. Critics say those costs are way above the market rate for campaign trainings.

“It’s deeply concerning that leaders in our party are launching a ‘pay to play’ system for would-be campaign staff,” said a Democratic campaign veteran. “As Democrats, we should be working together to eliminate workforce barriers — such as unpaid internships — rather starting programs that further discourage participation in electoral work.”
To Mikey Franklin, a former progressive field staffer who’s now trying to end the D.C. practice of unpaid internships, asking people to pay to to volunteer goes against progressive values.

“It’s a basic principle that people should work for pay; they shouldn’t pay to work,” Franklin said. “It’s shameful that 270 Strategies are throwing their progressive values out of the window by charging $5,000 for a 5-day training and an unpaid internship. How will we win for the 99% if we only recruit from the 1%?”
I'm going to guess that "progressive values" aren't really the point. The point is parlaying the Obama system, developed on the backs of millions of small donors, into big bucks. As our Democratic elites keep telling us, the problem isn't "income inequality" it's lack of "opportunity" to become rich. This just happens to be a rare opportunity. God bless America.

By the way, these are the same guys behind the centrist Ro Kanna's attempt to take out liberal Mike Honda in California, further proving that "progressive values" really aren't in play here.


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