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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

 
That Film About Money 

by tristero

A friend of mine, James Schamus, spent his summer vacation making two hilarious, brilliant, and deeply unsettling films about the bizarre subject of modern money. They are not to be missed:

That Film About Money, Episode 6 of We The Economy 


The Second Part of That Film About Money, Episode 7 of We The Economy 

Much about our very weird country is revealed in the process. Enjoy (if that's the word)!
 
Emperor Keith and his very odd trades

by digby

This certainly stinks to high heaven
At the same time that he was running the United States' biggest intelligence-gathering organization, former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander owned and sold shares in commodities linked to China and Russia, two countries that the NSA was spying on heavily.

At the time, Alexander was a three-star general whose financial portfolio otherwise consisted almost entirely of run-of-the-mill mutual funds and a handful of technology stocks. Why he was engaged in commodities trades, including trades in one market that experts describe as being run by an opaque "cartel" that can befuddle even experienced professionals, remains unclear. When contacted, Alexander had no comment about his financial transactions, which are documented in recently released financial disclosure forms that he was required to file while in government. The NSA also had no comment.


I don't know what went on, but this certainly looks odd:

On Jan. 7, 2008, Alexander sold previously purchased shares in the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, a Canadian firm that mines potash, a mineral typically used in fertilizer. The potash market is largely controlled by companies in Canada, as well as in Belarus and Russia. And China was, and is, one of the biggest consumers of the substance, using it to expand the country's agricultural sector and produce higher crop yields.

"It's a market that's really odd, involving collusion, where companies essentially coordinate on prices and output," said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor and commodities expert at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.
"Strange things happen in the potash market. It's a closed market. Whenever you have Russians and Chinese being big players, a lot of stuff goes on in the shadows."

"Strange things happen in the potash market. It's a closed market. Whenever you have Russians and Chinese being big players, a lot of stuff goes on in the shadows."

On the same day he sold the potash company shares, Alexander also sold shares in the Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd., a state-owned company headquartered in Beijing and currently the world's second-largest producer of aluminum. U.S. government investigators have indicated that the company, known as Chinalco, has received insider information about its American competitors from computer hackers working for the Chinese military. That hacker group has been under NSA surveillance for years, and the Justice Department in May indicted five of its members.

The government raised no red flags and he doesn't appear to have made a bunch of money. But read the whole article to see just how bizarre these trades were.

U.S. officials have long insisted that the information that intelligence agencies steal from foreign corporations and governments is only used to make political and strategic decisions and isn't shared with U.S. companies. But whether that spying could benefit individual U.S. officials who are privy to the secrets being collected, and what mechanisms are in place to ensure officials don't personally benefit from insider knowledge, haven't been widely discussed...

Alexander has a history of conflict of interest problems. He wants to patent an "invention" based upon knowledge gleaned from his time at the NSA. The taxpayers apparently aren't entitled to anything except the knowledge that people like Keith Alexander have had access to all their personal information. And then there's this one from just this week:

In an employment deal that prompted an internal investigation at the NSA and inquiries from Capitol Hill, Alexander arranged for the agency's chief technology officer, Patrick Dowd, to work part time for a new cybersecurity consulting firm that Alexander started this year after leaving the NSA and retiring from the Army with a fourth star. Experts said the public-private setup was highly unusual and possibly unprecedented.

Reuters revealed the arrangement last week, and on Tuesday, Oct. 21, with pressure building from lawmakers to investigate, Alexander said that he was severing the relationship with Dowd. "While we understand we did everything right, I think there's still enough issues out there that create problems for Dr. Dowd, for NSA, for my company," Alexander told Reuters when explaining why he scuttled the deal. Alexander's company, IronNet Cybersecurity, is based in Washington, and he has said he might charge clients as much as $1 million per month for his expertise and insights into cybersecurity.

A little reminder about Alexander:

“We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”

Now why do you suppose that was?

Remember, this was the guy who was running around accusing journalists of "selling secrets" because they were paid by the newspapers that printed the stories they wrote. Yes, he really said that. 


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Exceptionally hysterical

by digby

US vs Canada:


How embarrassing ....

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QOTD: Larry Klayman

by digby

This one really takes the cake:


Does anyone doubt that former Alabama Gov. George Wallace was a racist, after he banned blacks from attending the state’s university in the 1960s? So too can anyone refute that Obama’s not even temporarily banning West Africans from entering the United States is also as least de facto racism, as this high risk caper puts whites and others at risk at the expense of not even temporarily “inconveniencing” his fellow Africans. Wallace and Obama are both despicable and both to be condemned to the trash heap of history for their actions.

Just ... wow. I like how the alleged caper puts white and others at risk. What others do you suppose he's talking about? I guess that dumb old Obama didn't think about that did he?

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Can you have a democracy when the government spies on the press?

by digby

Steve Coll of the New Yorker (and dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of journalism) writes about the threat to the freedom of the press posed by government incursion on our privacy through technology. He's moved to do it by his viewing of Laura Poitras' "Citizen Four" about the Edward Snowden story, in which it's revealed just how thoroughly the government has infiltrated all of our communications systems:

In fashioning balanced practices for reporters, it is critical to ask how often and in what ways governments—ours and others—systematically target journalists’ communications in intelligence collection. For all his varied revelations about surveillance, this is an area where Snowden’s files have been less than definitive. It seems safe to assume the worst, but, as for the American government’s practices, there are large gaps in our understanding. White House executive orders, the Patriot Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act might all be grounds for targeting journalists for certain kinds of collection. Yet the government has never disclosed its policies, or the history of its actual practices following the September 11th attacks. (For a chilling sense of how vulnerable a journalist’s data would be if targeted by sophisticated surveillance, read “Dragnet Nation,” by Julia Angwin, an investigative reporter, formerly at the Wall Street Journal and now at ProPublica.)

In September, the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press and more than two dozen media organizations asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal body, to look into these questions and report their findings publicly. “National security surveillance programs must not be used to circumvent important substantive and procedural protections belonging to journalists and their source,” their letter said. “Sufficient details about these programs must be disclosed to the public so that journalists and sources are better informed about the collection and use of their communications.”

From a working journalist’s perspective, the Edward Snowdens of this world come around about as often as Halley’s Comet. It is not possible to report effectively and routinely while operating as though every communication must be segregated in a compartment within a compartment. The question of what constitutes best practices is a work in progress, as is the protection of personal privacy more broadly.
Thank you.

Maybe you don't think that it's important that journalists get these stories in which case you probably think it's just fine that the government is not only spying on them it is intimidating them with threats of legal action. (Indeed, this administration has taken these threats to unprecedented levels --- even as the Attorney General continues to say that they are not ...) But if you are a journalist and you defend this behavior it's very hard to see why you chose that career. This really doesn't strike me as that complicated of a question.

Coll sounds eminently reasonable to me. Why are so many other reporters so complacent about this?  Or worse, why are they actively hostile to people who are trying to tell these difficult stories simply because they are offended by their "tone" or their personalities? How can we possibly believe what they tell us?

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A platform for cranks

by digby

Yes, I'm talking about George Will and Fox News:

As of this writing, the number of patients diagnosed with Ebola in the United States can be counted on one hand, and the number who have died on one finger. The dozens of people who were in close contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who was the index case in this country, have had their quarantine lifted, not having contracted the illness despite breathing the same air as he had. There is no evidence that airborne Ebola exists anywhere outside of fear-mongering headlines. Yet despite this, Will was happy to insinuate otherwise on a network that gets upward of 2 millions viewers every day.

Later in the same segment, Will went on to say “We’re getting used to people declaring scientific debates closed over and settled. They rarely are.” But there is no “debate” in this case. There is no indication that Ebola is spreading through the air, and no controversy within the infectious-disease community about it doing so. Will’s reckless implications to the contrary, in order for there to be a scientific debate there has to be some kind of disagreement about the evidence at hand, not merely the idle speculation of a pundit using up his airtime.

This kind of irresponsible running of the mouth is precisely how medical conspiracies start. Someone with the air of authority is given a platform with which they undermine the integrity of people who have dedicated their lives to public health, and their idiotic or downright dangerous ideas take hold and spread.

It's always possible that Ebola could mutate into something it currently is not. But there's no evidence of that happening and Will's reckless bow-tied fearmongering just interferes with the epidemiologists' ability to contain the virus that does exist. They absolutely must be able to trace contacts and that requires delivering calm and deliberate information to the public.

He used to be sensible on the subject of science. (You'll recall that he's also a famous climate change denier.) Why he once even declared that evolution is "a fact." It's hard to know what's happened to Will lately but perhaps it's something in the water at Fox News. He's become much more of a crackpot since he joined them. And that's saying something.

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Willie Horton will never die

by digby

My Salon piece today is about the re-emergence of the GOP "law and order" campaign in this election cycle:
Every election season brings at least a few think pieces about the notorious Willie Horton ad and what it meant to American politics. This is a good thing to the extent that it reminds people of just how racist the whole “law and order” campaign that animated U.S. politics from the time of the civil rights movement on really is. In fact, take a look at it again just to remind yourself of the bad old days:



Infamous GOP strategist Lee Atwater saw that ad and declared he was going to make Willie Horton Michael Dukakis’ running mate. This was a perfect example of his contention that Republicans would need to make their pitch a lot more abstract than just running around screaming the N-word. The law and order campaigns did that by pointing at the “killer, killer, killer” — with a black face.
Read on...

If you haven't seen this year's version, here it is:



I discuss the history of various racist appeals over the years and how certain current politicians (Ted Cruz for instance) laud the leaders of the past who used them.

After I filed that piece I came across this, which may explain why the fear campaigns include these moldy old racist tropes. It's a survey of what people are afraid of. The list is fairly mundane, but this was interesting:

Turning to the crime section of the Chapman Survey on American Fears, the team discovered findings that not only surprised them, but also those who work in fields pertaining to crime.

"What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as, child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years," said Dr. Edward Day who led this portion of the research and analysis. "When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down."

Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans do not feel like the United States is becoming a safer place. The Chapman Survey on American Fears asked how they think prevalence of several crimes today compare with 20 years ago. In all cases, the clear majority of respondents were pessimistic; and in all cases Americans believe crime has at least remained steady. Crimes specifically asked about were: child abduction, gang violence, human trafficking, mass riots, pedophilia, school shootings, serial killing and sexual assault.
This irrationality distorts our politics in a way that favors the conservatives who are more than happy to pimp the "law and order" trope and tickle the racist lizard brains of their followers. As you can see, they're doing it in this race already. Combined with the terrorism fear fest they're aiming at women which I discussed yesterday the GOP strategy is pretty clear: same as it ever was --- "they're comin' tah git yah!"

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Taking a break to cash in their winnings

by digby

Bowl me over with a feather:
Sensing a GOP majority in the Senate is within reach, conservative groups have put down their bombs and are working together with establishment actors to make that happen — even backing formerly sworn enemies in some races.

In New Hampshire, Tea Party Patriots (TPP) has launched a ground effort to help elect Republican Scott Brown, who has drawn the ire of conservatives for backing stricter gun control in some cases. In North Carolina, TPP and others are actively supporting Republican Thom Tillis, who was far from being the conservative pick in his primary. He faces Sen. Kay Hagan (D).
The Tea Party Express (TPE) is now actively backing Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) — little liked among Tea Partyers — and former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R), for Senate.

At the very least, Tea Partyers are showing a willingness to “hold their nose and vote,” as FreedomWorks Executive Vice President Adam Brandon put it, because of the understanding that a Republican-controlled Senate with some impurities is better than nothing at all.

“Our members have told us that right now, having a Republican-controlled Senate and firing [Majority Leader] Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are their top priority,” Jenny Beth Martin, TPP president, told The Hill.

It’s a stunning reversal from early on in the cycle, when establishment actors were gearing up for what was expected to be a fierce fight with Tea Partyers in a number of primaries nationwide. But despite promising a fierce battle, an establishment bloodbath never materialized, and Tea Party groups failed to knock off a single incumbent senator this cycle.

While some establishment Republicans have privately declared victory over the Tea Party, some right wing activists say the willingness to work with these groups and candidates doesn’t suggest Tea Partyers have been cowed by those defeats. As TPE founder Sal Russo put it, Tea Partyers are simply waking up to the fact that electoral politics requires a willingness to accept impurities within the Republican Party.
Bless their hearts.

I cut the opening sentence in that piece because it was exactly backwards:
Tea Partyers have learned to play nice after a cycle of knockdown, drag-out fights with the Republican establishment that have gotten them nowhere.

So untrue. They have achieved more than they could have ever dreamed back in 2010 when they began their crusade. Now they want to consolidate power. Does the political establishment (as exemplified by The Hill) believe that this means the conservative movement has "learned its lesson" and now it will be willing to "work across the aisle" like Tipnronnie? I'm afraid they do. And that's just silly. If they take control of the Senate they are going to expect total obstruction. They haven't changed their goals.

I wish the Villagers could accept the fact that these people actually believe what say they believe. (As do liberals, by the way.) If they've temporarily tempered their tactics for strategic reasons it doesn't mean they are turning into moderates. They still want the same things. And they aren't going to be happy if they don't get it.Right now that's fairly easy to deliver: obstruction. But that's not going to be enough forever.

It's going to be interesting to see if this alleged pragmatism will continue to the presidential cycle. I'd be surprised if it does. More likely they will want a true believer like Ted Cruz but you never know. Maybe the long awaited Christie Comeback is in the cards after all ... Stay tuned.

Update: Oh, and by the way one has to wonder what their patrons the Koch Brothers are thinking about all this. I suspect they are good with it. Their goal was to take over the Republican Party to achieve their agenda. I think they're probably pretty happy with how that's going.


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“Constitutionally abhorrent”

by Tom Sullivan

“Super seals” are not the navy's newest secret weapon, but they are double super-secret:

For your “I can’t believe this stuff happens in America” files:

Calling their conduct “constitutionally abhorrent,” a federal judge recently chided government prosecutors for working in secret to keep millions of dollars in cash and assets seized from a Las Vegas gambler and his family in a decadelong bookmaking investigation.

In his 31-page opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach cast light on the little-known court process that allowed the government to file civil forfeiture actions against Glen Cobb, his 82-year-old parents and his stepdaughter under “super seal” with no notice to anyone — not even the family it targeted.

The documents remain sealed in the court's vault and not logged into any public database — secret from both the public and affected parties:

“This is unacceptable,” Ferenbach wrote in court papers only recently made public. “Relying on various sealed and super-sealed filings, the government asks the court to rule against private citizens, allow the deprivation of their property and deny them a process to redress possible violations of their constitutional rights through a secret government action that provides no notice or opportunity to be heard.

“Saying that this would offend the Constitution is an understatement. It is constitutionally abhorrent.”

Civil-asset forfeiture laws sanction "official thievery," as Digby put it, "yet another symptom of a justice system that is corrupt and unaccountable." I first ran across the practice on 60 Minutes in the early 1990s, and can't believe it still continues. (Maybe it's the secrecy?) Victims face a "Kafkaesque world" of litigation, attorneys fees, bankruptcy, and blacklisting. The icing on the cake? Hiding the seizures from the public via a "super seal."

Welcome to the land of the free, y'all. Star chambers and stripes forever.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

 
Just leak it already

by digby

I'm hearing lots of pathetic spinning about Laura Poitras' documentary an James Risens' new book as people try to dance on the head of a pin to exonerate the Obama administration's full capitulation to the security state. But this puts the lie to that spin if nothing else does:
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is personally negotiating how much of the Senate's so-called torture report, a probe into the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, will be redacted, according to sources involved in the negotiations.

McDonough's leading role in the redaction discussion has raised eyebrows in the Senate, given that his position comes with a broad array of urgent responsibilities and that the Obama White House has a team of qualified national security advisers.

Despite the White House’s public reluctance to get involved in the widely aired spat between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the report, McDonough’s role suggests that the Oval Office sees the feud as a high-stakes one.

The White House confirmed McDonough’s involvement in the negotiations, but would not discuss the extent of it.

“We’re not going to get into the details of our discussions, but White House officials, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, are in regular touch with [Intelligence Committee] leadership on a variety of matters, including to discuss the committee’s review of the Bush Administration’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, in an effort to help ensure the executive summary is completed and declassified consistent with national security interests,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

Sources involved in the discussions also said McDonough's involvement has gone beyond negotiating redactions. During the last weeks of July, the intelligence community was bracing itself for the release of the Senate investigation's executive summary, which is expected to be damning in its findings against the CIA. The report was due to be returned to the Senate panel after undergoing an extensive declassification review, and its public release seemed imminent.

Over the span of just a few days, McDonough, who makes infrequent trips down Pennsylvania Avenue, was a regular fixture, according to people with knowledge of his visits. Sources said he pleaded with key Senate figures not to go after CIA Director John Brennan in the expected furor that would follow the release of the report’s 500-page executive summary.

The White House said the purpose of the trips was to negotiate the terms of the report's release, not specifically to defend the CIA head. "The Chief of Staff's agenda was about how we could work together to meet the President’s desire to ensure the executive summary is completed and declassified consistent with national security interests, so that we can shed light on this program and make sure it is never repeated. These were not discussions about Director Brennan," Meehan said.

McDonough's personal involvement in the decisions around which parts of the torture report to redact illustrates how in the national security realm, differences between the two parties often dissolve when one takes control of the executive branch. The report itself, meanwhile, sidesteps the role of Bush administration officials in ordering or approving torture, focusing instead only on the agency, McClatchy Newspapers has reported.

This is torture we're talking about. It's not "sources and methods" or a program that the administration even alleges we need to keep going to keep the boogeyman at bay. This is about something done in the past which the administration says is wrong and should never be done in the future. (That is, of course, not exactly the case, but for the sake of argument we'll just accept that they don't think torture is ok.) An yet they have the White House Chief of Staff negotiating with the Senate over what to be released in a Senate report.

Obviously someone will have to leak this report. At this point I guess it's the only way we'll ever really know what the Senate says happened. (And that's probably a long way from knowing everything...) Back in the day the House refused to release the Pike Committee report and someone leaked it to Daniel Schorr who leaked it to the Village Voice.

There's too much secrecy in this government.  And all those who are wringing their hands over Big Mean Risen and that kooky Poitras are aiding and abetting this. Enough.

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Now here's a good answer from a politician #Merkley

by digby

It's not that hard to explain why you are a progressive guys. Senator Merkley shows how it's done:



 
Can David Brooks see what's wrong with this picture?

by digby

How do you suppose the "conservative intellectuals" rationalize this to themselves?


Basically, this means that the liberal equivalent of Breitbart and Limbaugh is Slate and the New Yorker. And Fox News is the conservative equivalent of the New York Times.

Also note the sad fact that the numbers who read Daily Kos, Think Progress and Mother Jones are too small to measure . Not so with nutcases like the Glenn Beck show and Breitbart.

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Everyone calm down. If Nigeria can contain Ebola the US can too.


by digby

This observation from Vox seems to me to be important:
Amid the panic and fear about Ebola sweeping the US, let's be clear about one fact: as far as we know, two nurses who cared for Duncan got the virus — but no one else. Not the passengers who sat next to Duncan on his flights or touched the same surfaces as him in airports. Not the school kids and friends he met in Dallas. Not the Texas Presbyterian hospital staff who met him on his first visit, when he was misdiagnosed and sent home. Not the ambulance drivers who brought him to the hospital on his second visit, when he was vomiting with a high fever.

Most importantly, his fiance, Louise Troh, didn't catch the virus either. She shared a cramped apartment with him and several other family members while he was already contagious, and then stayed in the same contaminated space, cooped up for days in a quarantine, after Duncan was admitted to hospital.

So far, all these people have been declared virus free. And the dozens of suspected cases of Ebola across the US have turned out to be negative, except for three — Duncan and his two nurses, Amber Vinson and Nina Pham. The fact that they got sick while caring for Duncan should also remind us of the science of this virus: that fits what we know of the science of the virus, which is that people are most contagious late in the infection.


This is really important: part of what makes people so afraid of Ebola is that people infected with the disease can mistake it, in its early stages, for a normal flu, and, say, board a plane. But at that point, the disease just isn't very contagious yet.

Ok, all the data aren't in and maybe somewhere somebody was infected in that chain from Duncan. Time will tell.

But this should give everyone pause --- and comfort:
Ebola-free Nigeria hailed as 'success story' in battling outbreak

It was an epidemiologist’s worst nightmare: one of the world’s deadliest contagious diseases loose in one of the world’s most densely populated and sometimes chaotic megacities — Lagos, Nigeria.

With its teeming slums, bogus pastors selling miracle cures, six-hour traffic jams and street vendors hawking goods at car windows, some feared an apocalyptic urban outbreak and the spread of Ebola into Nigeria’s highly mobile population of 170 million, which could entrench the disease in West Africa for years.

But in an extraordinary success story, Nigeria contained the Ebola outbreak and was declared free of the virus by the World Health Organization on Monday, after 42 days without a new case (double the incubation period for Ebola). Nigeria confirmed 19 cases, according to the WHO, seven of them fatal. That survival rate of 63% is more than double the 30% average in other West African countries

The top-down effort took political determination, the redeployment of doctors and facilities from Nigeria’s polio-eradication campaign, a vast contact-tracing operation involving members of the State Security Service, tens of thousands of text messages sent out to educate people on prevention, and some hefty donations from wealthy Nigerians.
They had 19 cases. We've had 3. They believe they've managed to track down all the cases in this particular outbreak which is key. And I'd venture to say that our education on the virus has been equal to Nigeria's even if our media has been running around like a bunch of hysterics scaring the hell out of people. If they can do it it seems likely the US can too. Duh.


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The weight and counter-weights at the far end of both parties

by digby

I've always seen partisan politics in America as a tug of war where the weight of the truest believers, the activists, the hard core ideological members of the two main parties weight the ends of the political rope. When they are not equally engaged and pulling equally hard, one side has a built in advantage.

Anyway, Pew has another poll about polarization that I'll delve into in more detail over the next few days. But this is interesting for starters:



Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.

Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.

Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.

Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.

Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.

Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.

Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.

And yet the news media persists in presenting conservatism as "mainstream" and liberalism as "fringe." You can make a case that both are fringe but I don't think you can make a case that conservatism if mainstream when they rely on openly partisan, often crackpot media for their information and only talk to each other.

Now it's true that liberals tend to "unfriend" people on Facebook, and are somewhat intolerant of conservative views. I think that's human on both sides. But the information flow really seems to be different between the two and I think that requires those who talk about trends and factions to be specific.

An, by the way, there are a lot of reasons why the hard core conservatives are more successful in party politics than the hard core liberals (even though, according to Pew's definition there are actually more of the latter) but one of the reasons has to be this:


They vote in primaries more often than we do. Liberals could bring a lot more weight to bear in this whole thing if they just bothered to do that.


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Testing the attacks for 2016

by digby

I'm fairly sure that in addition to the obvious current scare stories, a lot of the GOP strategists are keeping an eye on this for use in the next presidential campaign:
More than in any election in the past decade, Republicans are counting on terrorism fears to win votes -- especially in races against female Democrats.

At least 60 terrorism- or national security-related ads have aired in congressional contests in such states as Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina. They’re running with the most intensity since President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, when the airwaves were full of ads depicting Democrat John Kerry as weak on national security, data provided by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group show.

Of the top five Democratic targets, four are women.

“There is a phenomenon that I haven’t seen in my lifetime, and that is this fear factor, whether it’s Ebola or the wars,” said Ed Rollins, a Republican who directed Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential re-election campaign.

“If there wasn’t the overarching fear out there, you couldn’t run this without being painted as anti-woman,” Rollins said. “It’s a subtle or not-so-subtle way of saying: These candidates are not as strong as they should be.”

One ad attacking Democrat Michelle Nunn, who is running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, says she has admitted that a foundation she ran for six years gave money to groups linked to terrorists -- a claim deemed “pants on fire” false by Politifact Georgia.

Here's a question: How do we think that a Democratic woman presidential candidate will react to such a campaign?

Yeah.


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Warren on message

by Tom Sullivan

Not unlike ghosts in The Sixth Sense, The Village hears just what it wants to. Itself, mostly, and the jangle of coins. The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson hears in Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts something different, something many Democratic politicians lack: a clear message.

Stumping for Democrats across the country, Warren has a powerful message that ordinary persons can hear if the Village cannot. Like South Dakotan Rick Weiland's prairie populism, Warren (born in Oklahoma) gets traction from a populist narrative:

There once was consensus on the need for government investment in areas such as education and infrastructure that produced long-term dividends, she said. “Here’s the amazing thing: It worked. It absolutely, positively worked.”

But starting in the 1980s, she said, Republicans took the country in a different direction, beginning with the decision to “fire the cops on Wall Street.”

“They called it deregulation,” Warren said, “but what it really meant was: Have at ’em, boys."

Americans who have been had by the boom-and-bust economy that resulted (and which Democrats abetted) are tired of being lectured about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps by a Wall Street elite wearing golden parachutes. Warren says plainly what the faltering middle class knows in its gut, “The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it.” Warren is ready to fight when it seems many Democrats -- including the incumbent president -- just want to go along to get along.

Robinson writes:

So far this year, Warren has published a memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” that tells of her working-class roots, her family’s economic struggles, her rise to become a Harvard Law School professor and a U.S. senator, and, yes, her distant Native American ancestry. She has emerged as her party’s go-to speaker for connecting with young voters. She has honed a stump speech with a clear and focused message, a host of applause lines and a stirring call to action.

A Democratic candidate with a stirring message derailed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid eight years ago, Robinson concludes. It might just happen again.

The Village parachute riggers are on notice.


Monday, October 20, 2014

 
Hey, remember that ban on embryonic stem cell research?

by digby


Yep::

ACTION ALERT! Developing Ebola vaccines use aborted fetal cell lines - moral options exist

(Largo, FL) Children of God for Life announced today that several Ebola vaccines in development for use worldwide are made using aborted fetal cell lines despite the fact that moral alternatives are reported as equally effective.

Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) and NIAID are jointly developed their ChAd3 vector for delivering the Ebola virus gene using HEK-293 (human embryonic kidney) cells. Likewise, NewLink Genetics of Iowa used HEK-293 cells for their VSV-EBOV Ebola vaccine in Canada, while Johnson and Johnson/Crucell developed theirs using PER C6 cells, derived from retinal tissue of an 18 week gestation aborted baby.

"There is absolutely no reason to use aborted fetal cell lines," stated Debi Vinnedge, Director of Children of God for Life. "At least two other Ebola vaccines in development by the University of Texas and GeoVax are using either Vero cells or chicken eggs. Likewise, therapeutic products such as ZMapp(LeafBio) and TKM-Ebola (Tekmira) are using plant or Vero cells"

Vinnedge wrote to the Department of HHS, the NIH, the FDA and NIAID pointing out that even the US Department of Health listed other options such as yeast, insect, plant, bacteria, CHO, BHK, heLa and OS cells, in their own patent, stating, "The attenuated [ebola]virus can replicate well in a cell line that lacks interferon functions, such as Vero cells."

"It is completely irresponsible of this Administration to put these problem vaccines on fast-track for approval and ignore the fact that a massive number of people may very well refuse them. Why not fast track a product that everyone can use in good conscience?" asked Vinnedge.
Children of God for Life is urging the public to contact US government agencies and their members of Congress requesting that they expedite the morally acceptable alternatives.

You It's tempting to say that if people refuse an Ebola vaccine simply because it was developed from embryonic stem cells they are free to take their chances. Unfortunately, vaccines depend on the herd effect and everyone would need to do it.

I suspect there would be very few to refuse. But who knows? Then what?


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Republican doctors are dangerous

by digby

It must be Rand Paul day...



And yes, it's fine for Paul to eat as many donuts as he likes.  But for a doctor to be a smart assed jerk about Michelle Obama's very mild healthy eating and exercise campaign to get kids to eat their vegetables and go outside to play is just idiotic.















Note Kentucky:















But sure, let's make fun of anyone who is concerned about this public health crisis. (And be sure to stoke panic about Ebola while you're at it.)

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Is the US Government going to reaffirm the torturer's right to immunity?

by digby


I don't know how I missed this. Marcy Wheeler reports:

Yesterday, the New York Times reported (though the newspaper buried the story on page A21) that Obama Administration lawyers are debating whether the US has to comply with the Convention Against Torture’s prohibition on degrading treatment overseas.

It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

[snip]

The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.

But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

In other words, in the next month or so, the Obama Administration will decide how serious it really is about Obama’s 5-year old promise to end torture.

Marcy's analysis follows. It's not clear what's going to happen. Which is bad news because it should be.


 
No white hood? No rebel flag? Then you aren't discriminating on the basis of race. Carry on.

by digby

My piece in Salon today is about an upcoming Supreme Court decision about the Fair Housing Act. I recount some of the history of how it came to be:
In his epic history of the 1960s, “Nixonland,” Rick Perlstein observed something that few people remember: The price was very, very high for politicians who backed these civil rights laws and that’s because there was a furious white backlash. It’s common knowledge that some of that backlash was formed by the urban riots of the period. But there was something else, which he explored in greater depth in this article:

[Whites were in] terror at the prospect of the 1966 civil rights bill passing, which, by imposing an ironclad federal ban on racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing—known as”open housing”—would be the first legislation to impact the entire nation equally, not just the South.

He recounts the confrontations that took place in Chicago, then the most segregated city in America, in “Nixonland”:

You could draw a map of the boundary within which the city’s seven hundred thousand Negroes were allowed to live by marking an X wherever a white mob attacked a Negro. Move beyond it, and a family had to face down a mob of one thousand, five thousand, or even (in the Englewood riot of 1949, when the presence of blacks at a union meeting sparked a rumor the house was to be”sold to niggers”) ten thousand bloody-minded whites. In the late 1940s, when the postwar housing shortage was at its peak, you could find ten black families living in a basement, sharing a single stove but not a single flush toilet, in”apartments” subdivided by cardboard. One racial bombing or arson happened every three weeks…. In neighborhoods where they were allowed to”buy” houses, they couldn’t actually buy them at all: banks would not write them mortgages, so unscrupulous businessmen sold them contracts that gave them no equity or title to the property, from which they could be evicted the first time they were late with a payment.

He published some of the constituent letters he found hidden in the archives of a congressman who lost his seat in 1966 over civil rights, protesting those “Open Housing” provisions in the bill before the Congress. Here’s just one example:

I am white and am praying that you vote against open housing in the consideration of Equal Rights. Just because the negro refuses to live among his own race–that alone should give you the answer. I was forced to sell my home in Chicago (‘Lawndale’) at a big loss because of the negroes taking over Lawndale–their morals are the lowest (and supported financially by Mayor Daley as you well know)–and the White Race by law. Please don’t take away our bit of peace and freedom to choose our neighbors. What did Luther King mean when he faced the nation on TV New Year’s day–announcing he will not be satisfied until the wealth of America is more evenly divided? Sounds like Communism to Americans. ‘Freedom for all’–including the white race, Please!

Martin Luther King and his fellow marchers were met with vicious anger, hostility and violence from whites in Chicago that summer culminating in MLK making his famous quip, “I think the people of Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” It was very, very ugly.

The case coming before the Supremes has to do with the "disparate impact rule.” That rule holds that you don’t have to be a an outright racist to discriminate. Recent rulings indicate that the conservative majority is convinced that unless you're wearing a white hood and burning crosses you cannot be accused of discrimination. So, this is likely to go down the same drain in which they flushed the Voting Rights Act.


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Crackpots 'O the Day

by digby

And no, they aren't Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachman. One is a highly respected conservative columnist and one is a serious presidential candidate:
In the weeks since news broke of the first Ebola case in the United States, government officials have stressed that the disease cannot spread through the air, by water, or in food. George Will, however, doesn’t think that’s true.

On Fox News Sunday, the conservative columnist came head to head with his fellow panelists — and even host Chris Wallace — in his attempt to spew misinformation about Ebola.

“The original problem was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “Now there are doctors saying we’re not so sure that it can’t in some instances be transmitted airborne.”

Will later added: “Well, when you get on an airport perhaps you should clean the armrest and the tray. There are some doctors saying in a sneeze or cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, appeared on the show alongside Will and immediately challenged his claims. “Where are you getting the doctors who are saying it’s not airborne?” she asked, pointing out that medical experts have repeatedly said that the virus can only be transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids.

Indeed, Will made his comments minutes after Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, assured Wallace that the likelihood of an Ebola epidemic in the United States remains slim, despite the infection of two health care workers who treated patient zero Thomas Eric Duncan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees. According to the federal agency’s website, humans come into direct contact with Ebola through the blood and bodily fluids of the infected and medical equipment that has been used. Experts say that means that the virus essentially poses the highest risk to health care workers caring for Ebola patients and family members of the infected.
This is a man who doesn't believe in climate change so this makes some sense.

And then there's this crackpot who makes Will sound like Albert Einstein:
In 2010, before winning his Senate seat, [Rand] Paul sat for an interview with Luke Rudkowski, a libertarian YouTube personality who specializes in quizzing political leaders about the plot to establish a "one-world socialist government." Rudkowski asked what Paul knew of the Bilderberg Group, a collection of government and business leaders whose annual conference is a favorite target of conspiracy-mongers. Paul replied, "Only what I've learned from Alex Jones." That's right: Alex Jones, the radio host who claims that Bilderberg is a key part of a global plot to create a "scientific dictatorship" that will exterminate the "useless eaters," a.k.a. 80 percent of the human population.

Paul described the group to Rudkowski in unequivocally Jonesian terms, as "very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage. They want to make it out like world government will be good for humanity. But guess what? World government is good for their pocketbook." The previous year, Paul had appeared on Jones' radio show, noting that he had watched his host's videos and expressing support for the effort to "expose people who are promoting this globalist agenda." (In turn, Jones urged his listeners to send money to Paul's Senate campaign.)
[...]
Paul also has embraced one of the conspiracy theories promoted by his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul: that leaders from the United States, Canada, and Mexico are seeking to merge their countries into a socialist megastate that would issue the "Amero" currency to replace US and Canadian dollars and the Mexican peso. (Anti-feminist campaigner Phyllis Schlafly and Jerome Corsi, who led the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, are among the key proponents of this idea.)

At an appearance for his father's 2008 presidential campaign in Bozeman, Montana, Rand Paul was asked what steps his dad would take to thwart the scheme to impose a North American superstate. The first thing to do, he said, was "publicizing that it's going on" and pushing Congress to "stop it." He insisted the Amero push was "a real thing" but cautioned, "If you talk about it like it's a conspiracy, they'll paint you as a nut. It's not a conspiracy, they're out in the open about it. I guarantee it's one of their long-term goals—to have one sort of borderless mass continent." He did not specify who "they" were.
And that's not all. There's more at the link.

He's running away from all this looney stuff now, but this wasn't that long ago. It's not like his father's racist newsletters from the 1980s.


How about this:
Contrast the fate of Duncan’s family, which was locked in a small apartment saturated with Duncan’s bodily fluids, with what Senator Rand Paul told Bloomberg News while campaigning for Scott Brown in New Hampshire last week.
I think from the very beginning they haven’t been completely forthright with us. They’ve so wanted to downplay this that they really I don’t think have been very accurate in their description of the disease. For example, they say, “Don’t worry, it’s only mixture of bodily fluids through direct contact.” So what are you thinking? I’m thinking like AIDS, you don’t get AIDS at a cocktail party, so my level of alarm goes down. And if I am treating somebody or looking at them around, I’m thinking, oh no it’s like AIDS, I am not going to get it. But it really isn’t like AIDS. And then they’ll say in a little lower voice, “Oh, but direct contact can be three feet from somebody.” But if you ask any American on the street, “Do you think direct contact is standing three feet from somebody?” Because they so much wanted to downplay that “We were in charge, we know everything about this,” I think they made mistakes in not really being accurate about talking about the disease.
He said something similar to a group of college students, to whom he described Ebola as "incredibly contagious." This is a strange statement in many ways, because the AIDS comparison is a straw man, and Paul basically admits it’s a straw man. He never quite puts the words in the mouths of government officials, and instead sets up his own false interpretation of their statements in order to knock it down.

Time Magazine calls him the most interesting man in politics referring to him as “a visionary determined to reinvent the conservative Republican story line.”

I'll say.

Update: Oh, I forgot Bill Maher who rent his garments and practically ran screaming from the stage on Friday over Ebola. Between that and the 1.6 billion Muslims who want to kill us all in our beds, I'm afraid poor Maher is going to have a full blown nervous breakdown on national television. He was completely uninformed, of course, repeatedly screeching incomprehensibly about "shit piled to the ceiling", which was based upon an anonymous report from a Dallas nurse and refused to listen to the one person who had experience dealing with the disease (as usual) instead insisting that the sky is falling.



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The NSA isn't the only one

by digby

This is a very creepy story about an app called Whisper which promises anonymity to its users so they'll share their secrets. Guess what?
A team headed by Whisper’s editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, is closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy, delving into the history of their activity on the app and tracking their movements through the mapping tool. Among the many users currently being targeted are military personnel and individuals claiming to work at Yahoo, Disney and on Capitol Hill…

Separately, Whisper has been following a user claiming to be a sex-obsessed lobbyist in Washington DC. The company’s tracking tools allow staff to monitor which areas of the capital the lobbyist visits. “He’s a guy that we’ll track for the rest of his life and he’ll have no idea we’ll be watching him,” the same Whisper executive said.
Oddly, it seems some journalists are upset that the Guardian reported the story since they came upon the information in an on the record business meeting between the two companies. I get that reporters need to protect their sources. But this was a business meeting in which the Whisper executives were bragging about spying on people, not a whistle blower in a dark garage trying to get a story out to the public. Jesus. As CJR noted:

The questions focus on whether The Guardian somehow tricked Whisper into giving it the information or whether it violated an understood compact of business secrecy. This is absurd. What The Guardian did was entirely ethical. Whisper told its reporters highly newsworthy facts about its own service. The information was all on the record. The Guardian reported it. It would have been a journalistic lapse for the paper not to have told readers what it had learned.
Sometimes I think the biggest problem with the journalism profession is that they cannot see the forest for the trees. Their job is to serve the public interest. I suspect that if you keep that in the forefront of your mind the rest is a lot less complicated than they think. Certainly, the idea that if you find out that if a company your newspaper is in business with does something tremendously unethical means you can't report it (an "understood compact of business secrecy"!) is so twisted that it worries me that journalists were confused about it. Actually, if you stop and think about this a little bit, it may just explain a few things ...

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Still not getting it

by digby


Robert Kuttner has written a good piece in Huffington Post today about the European rebellion against Angela Merkel's austerity program. But as he points out, it isn't just them. We suffer from the same malady, even if it's less intense:
Last fall, there was an interesting debate about whether the economies of the U.S. and Europe were in a period of what economists call "secular stagnation." The term means that the economy gets stuck in an equilibrium well below its potential. Economists such as Larry Summers and Paul Krugman considered whether the post-collapse stagnation revealed perhaps that the economy had become dependent on consumer borrowing and bubbles, or whether technology and changing demographics might be implicated.

Similar worries were voiced in economists in the late 1930s, when the Great Crash was already a decade old yet the economy seemed stubbornly unable to reach its potential and unemployment remained very high. Then World War II intervened.

The government borrowed money at levels previously unthinkable. Government spending recapitalized U.S. industry, and put people back to work. "Secular stagnation" vanished overnight. Oh, and the government also leashed the private money market for the duration of the war and several years beyond -- the Federal Reserve simply bought bonds in the quantity necessary to keep interest rates (and war finance costs) extremely low.

Ever since the great experiment of the Good War as an accidental recovery program, economists should understand that "secular stagnation" is never something that must be lived with. It is optional. Public investment and the leasing of private speculative finance are always available as a road not taken. But World War II as a public investment led recovery program is typically treated as an anomaly, not as an alternative path.

Neither in Europe nor in the U.S. are the political stars in alignment for the recovery led by social investment -- that our economies on both sides of the Atlantic need. Barring a much more robust political revolt, stagnation and human suffering are likely to continue -- and continue to be political gifts to the far right.

This is the tyranny of orthodox thinking and of governments still in thrall to the financial industry -- fully six years after the collapse should have discredited such thinking. It is encouraging that there are some stirrings of dissent, but they need to imagine on a much grander scale.

It never fails to amaze me just how short sighted we are about this. There is a huge challenge ahead of us with climate change and our country's physical infrastructure is falling apart. And yet we just can't get it together to spend big on these projects and truly work our way out of this slump. It will probably take horrible, destructive war to do it. And that's just sad.


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Guns and voter fraud vigilantes

by Tom Sullivan

As early voting gets started here this week, more thoughts about new voting restrictions.

Call a gun rights advocate's AR-15 an assault rifle and he'll think you're a dumbass liberal who a) doesn't know the first thing about weapons, and b) has no business anywhere near laws affecting his right to bear arms. What should voting rights advocates think of voter fraud vigilantes who call any and every form of election irregularity voter fraud?

Imposing new gun laws is counterproductive, many Republicans believe, because most criminals get guns illegally. More regulation just infringes upon honest Americans’ rights. But more regulations passed to prevent voting illegally? A nonissue.

The University of Texas-Austin's Daily Texan weighed in on that last week:

The fact that over half a million Texans do not have the proper form of ID in order to comply with the law and will thus be disenfranchised this November is apparently a nonissue. That these Texans belong to groups that historically vote Democratic is also a coincidence.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker this month:

"I was at a town hall meeting yesterday in Appleton, and took questions from the crowd, and one person asked me how many cases of fraud there have been in the state. I said, does not matter if it was one or a hundred or a thousand. I ask amongst us, who would be that one person who would want to have our vote canceled out by a vote cast illegally?"
How many married couples who "cancel out" each others' votes each election advocate laws preventing spouses from "stealing" their votes? Who amongst the tens of millions of real Americans without photo IDs would want to be kept from voting because of vigilantes' "downright goofy, if not paranoid" fears about what they insist might be a "widespread problem"?

Mark Fiore takes on the Voter Fraud Vigilantes here.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

 
Sorry ladies, your nice little war is a loser

by digby

The furious pushback on The War on Women among Republicans on This Week from virtually everyone says two things: the GOP doesn't want this on the table in 2016, which makes sense since there will likely be a woman on the ticket. Unfortunately, it probably also signals what the establishment is going to hold responsible for the loss of the Senate should that happen.

Check it out:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So is the Democrats' "war on women" charge falling flat this year? Add it all up, Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight team gives Republicans a 62 percent of taking the Senate, up 4 points since last week.

So a little more movement in the Republican direction this week. I want to bring that last question to Stephanie Schriock, and this idea that the "war on women" just isn't taking hold this year.

SCHRIOCK: Well, that's not what we're seeing at all. And we're seeing continued large gender gaps in places like North Carolina and New Hampshire, you know, even in Wisconsin recently in the governor's race, where not only is Scott -- or excuse me; Scott Walker, you know, he's starting to run away from his record because he knows that the policies that he has supported and the policies that the Republicans have supported are so bad that they're trying to blur that they took these votes or they signed these bills.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- the gender gap is much smaller than it's been in past elections.

SCHRIOCK: Only in a few. And the truth is, you know, we still see Democrats definitely winning women across the country --

MATALIN: No, they're not. They're winning single women and they were -- by they're winning women as a cohort is because of the disproportionate minority support.

You have a horrible gender gap, men don't like you. You've got a double digit men against Obama and the female vote, if you're married, if you have kids, all of that, they'll -- those women are opposed to Obama, who is on the ticket. And the gap that we typically saw -- I don't know what numbers you're looking at. The ABC poll has that three -- most three in the margin of error of women that are --

(CROSSTALK)

SCHRIOCK: -- individual races, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia, New Hampshire, Michigan -- Gary Peters against Terri Lynn Land, we are seeing gender gaps. Women are going to decide these races. They're going to decide it on issues of economic stability and they're looking for --

MATALIN: Why do you only ever talk about abortion on demand and contraception if you think that women are more than a homogeneous herd --

(CROSSTALK)

SCHRIOCK: -- health care is part of an economic future. We talk about equal pay and minimum wage and you bet we talk about access to health care --

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- bring this to you. You've seen Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, Iowa, still all pretty close. But Republicans maintaining an edge now in all of those critical key states right now.

So is this the Republicans' race to lose at this point?

And what worries you about how they could lose it?

KRISTOL: I think Republicans could win the Senate. I think they'll win it pretty comfortably. They'll do it mostly by doing no harm at this point. President Obama's dragging the Democrats down.

I do think Democrats have made a mistake. The upscale consultants in Washington have said war on women worked in 2012. It'll work again this year.

But it -- the thing -- (INAUDIBLE) Republican consultant said to me the other night, thank God they're running war on women and it's not war on working class ads. If they ran a more economic populace message, they would do better than this kind of upscale single 27-year-old women are going to be deprived of contraception by Republicans, which is just silly and implausible.

Look at the Republicans who are under -- look at the Republicans who are underperforming, incidentally: Georgia, right? Where Republicans are at some risk, nominated a very wealthy business man.

What is the -- what are the attacks on him that are working? They're not war on women --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: -- outsourcing. It's the Romney type attacks that are working.

So I'm happy that the Democrats are going down this war on women road and not focusing on the economic populace issue.

SMILEY: That's a good point. And I think that issue would probably play better. And a lot of the reasons it might not be the top of the agenda is that Democrats, respectfully, know that they haven't even done everything they could have done on this issue.

The slogan that it could have been worse is not a winning slogan. And I think the economy is certainly better now that we expected it would have been a couple years ago. I think the president gets some credit for helping put what policies that have turned this economy around slowly.

Having said that, there's been no real fight even by Democrats for increasing the minimum wage to a living wage in this country. That measure can only go so far if you don't have the record to back that up.

There's a front-page story, George, as you know, in "The New York Times" today. They talk about the --

(CROSSTALK)

SMILEY: -- exactly, that the black vote is what the Democratic Party is relying upon now to save the Senate. News flash: if you're relying on the black vote, in a midterm election -- and I'm not suggesting that black voters don't care about this -- but if you're relying on that vote, then I think it's uninspired because we have double- and triple-digit unemployment in the African American community.

And again, if the message is something other than employment and what we're going to do for you, then what's the reason to go vote?

SCHRIOCK: Now this is not the message in North Carolina, in Georgia, in Kentucky, in Louisiana. We've got candidates -- we keep saying the war on women is only about contraception. The war on women is a construct about equal pay, minimum wage and access to health care and jobs. And what we're seeing in Georgia, by the way, where you've got David Perdue (ph), who has a terrible business record, Michelle Nunn, who's a common sense leader, who's going to work across party lines, we see a race that's incredibly close. The momentum is on Michelle's side. The African American community is excited. And EMILY's List folks have decided we're going to double down and actually --

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: -- Colorado where "The Denver Post," no conservative publication called the incumbent, Mark Uterus (ph), for being such a single issue abortion on demand, sex selection abortions. So yet and going to your point, when you have this identity politics, you're also losing Hispanics on the same grounds, it being -- a cohort being treated so passively and the presumption, like there's a presumption about what women prioritize, the presumption that Hispanics prioritize. (INAUDIBLE).

It's economic --

SMILEY: But if you're black or brown, let's be frank about this. If you're black or brown, other than helping to save the Democrats' hide, give me three good reasons and you turn out the vote this time.

Now I'll catch hell for saying that --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- watching Bill Kristol nod his head --

(CROSSTALK)

SMILEY: No, I am not suggesting -- I'm not suggesting that people ought to stay home and sit on their hands. What I'm suggesting is that neither party has focused clearly enough on the issues of black and brown voters to inspire them and motivate them to turn out in 2014. And we may see the same thing in 2016.

Mary Matalin remains one of the most malignant creatures in American politics, her spin so ugly and so obvious that I can feel my gorge rising automatically once she starts to speak. But you have to love the idea that she can parse the electorate in such as way so as to say blandly that Democrats are "winning women as a cohort is because of the disproportionate minority support" as if that means something and nobody challenges it.

Hey, we're winning all the white women ("the right women") by a big margin. And we're winning white men like crazy. In fact, you wouldn't win a thing if you had to depend on getting the votes of Real America ...

And then she oozes sanctimony about "the Hispanic vote" as if the Republicans aren't working themselves into such a frenzy over immigration that they've forced the issue off the political map. What a loathesome pundit.

This looks to me to be the set up for the big fall guy (gal) over this election loss. (A loss which was probably inevitable seeing as it's in the 6th year of a Democratic presidency and the swing seats in play are close margin seats.) It's important to realize this because many Democrats are anxious to spin this election as a repudiation of progressive messaging so they can get on to the 2016 Clinton campaign where she will be running as a woman who is above all those other silly women's issues that everybody knows don't really matter.

Meanwhile, the lunacy on the right continues apace:

KRISTOL: One -- I think one underreported aspect of this year's race is do the Republicans have high-quality, interesting younger candidates? Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa --

Oh dear God ...


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The decision making process is different for girls and boys

by digby

I hate to say it, but well ... duh:
Neuroscientists have uncovered evidence suggesting that, when the pressure is on, women bring unique strengths to decision making...

Across a variety of gambles, the findings were the same: Men took more risks when they were stressed. They became more focused on big wins, even when they were costly and less likely.

Levels of the stress hormone cortisol appear to be a major factor, according to Ruud van den Bos, a neurobiologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. He and his colleagues have found that the tendency to take more risks when under pressure is stronger in men who experience a larger spike in cortisol. But in women he found that a slight increase in cortisol seemed actually to improve decision-making performance.

Are we all aware when our decision making skews under stress? Unfortunately not. In a 2007 study, Stephanie D. Preston, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, and her colleagues told people that after 20 minutes, they would have to give a talk and would be judged on their speaking abilities. But first, they had to play a gambling game. Anxious, both men and women initially had a harder time making good decisions in the game.

But the closer the women got to the stressful event, the better their decision making became. Stressed women tended to make more advantageous decisions, looking for smaller, surer successes. Not so for the stressed men. The closer the timer got to zero, the more questionable the men’s decision making became, risking a lot for the slim chance of a big achievement.

The men were also less aware that they had used a risky strategy. In the last few minutes of the game, Dr. Preston interrupted each person immediately after he or she had just lost money. She asked people to rate how risky each of their possible choices had been, including the unsuccessful one they had just made. Women were more likely to rate their losing strategy as a poor one.

Consult folk wisdom on this and you'll see that people have noticed this since ... forever. (Of course our patriarchal society chose to characterize these different approaches as signs of men's "strength" and women's "weakness" but that's a different story. And really, far more important ...)

To borrow a macho sports metaphor, there's a time for a bold Hail Mary and there's a time for grinding it out a few yards at a time.  It would be good for the human race if there was a better balance of temperament in the halls of power. We need all the help we can get.

*And yes, all of these observations are tremendously broad and individuals of either sex cannot be easily defined by them.  Still, it's interesting to see neuroscience back up some of the differences in the way men and women often tend to go about organizing their thoughts and greeting challenges that people have "known" for ages.


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Can't we all just get along?

by digby

This article by Reza Aslan and Chris Stedman points out just how much in common Muslims and atheists have:

Lost in the venomous arguments that have recently been flying back and forth between Muslims and atheists – on HBO and on op-ed pages, in the United States and beyond – is just how much these two marginalized, underrepresented groups have in common.

According to a Pew poll conducted this year, Muslims and atheists are the two least favorably viewed religious or ethical groups in the US. Both communities are severely underrepresented in the general population – roughly 2% of Americans identify as atheists, compared to 1% for Muslims. Both face rising levels of animosity from the general public. And both tend to be defined by the loudest voices within their communities.

The media may be saturated with images of Islamic terrorists and suicide bombers, but a 2011 Gallup survey concluded that Muslims are actually more likely than any other religious or ethical group in America to reject violence against civilians. At the same time, the vocally “anti-theist” atheists who dominate the airwaves and the bestseller lists may get all the press, but a 2013 study from the University of Tennessee indicated that less than 15% of atheists fall into the “anti-theist” category.

So why hasn’t there been more dialogue and solidarity between Muslims and atheists? Can’t we all just get along?


This is not surprising. Aside from the fact that they are both despised by everyone else, they are, more importantly, all humans. I guess I should have said this before now since everyone seems to require that extremism is called out by those who share a common identity: the anti-theists don't speak for me. I am of the school that says we need a secular civic life so that everyone has freedom to believe what they choose, including those of us who are atheists or members of minority religions. But I have no interest in battling believers of any religion on a theological basis. In fact, it strikes me as absurd.

People believe many things that I find offensive and I take issue with those specific beliefs, even those which are religious in nature. But I have found over the years that painting any religion with a broad brush is so imprecise as to be useless as a form of argument. I take on the beliefs of social conservatives and extremists of all religions without compunction. But religion itself? A specific religion itself? It's pointless since the beliefs are as varied as the people who subscribe to it. Once you ignore that part of it it transforms very easily into bigotry.


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Sunday funnies

by digby

Speaking of the surgeon general:


And this too:


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Conservative priorities

by digby

Here's a good example of what they really care about:
Crowley asked how the sequester hurt funding for the Centers for Disease Control and how the National Rifle Association's opposition to President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, also hurt the American response.

"We haven’t had a Surgeon General — who is the nation’s leading public health official, at least the voice of it — for a year. Some Democrats and some Republicans had opposed the particular surgeon general the president had nominated. Do you think it would have helped A. If NIH and CDC had had a little more money and B. Had there been a surgeon general to kind of calm what has been the fear of Ebola?" Crowley asked on CNN's "State of the Union."

"Of course we should have a surgeon general in place," Cruz responded. "And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist."

"And a doctor," Crowley jumped in.

Cruz conceded that Murthy is a doctor, but he then called him a "crusader against second amendment rights."

He isn't a "crusader" against second amendment rights. He's a public health official who believes in science. And that means he believes that the epidemic of gun deaths in this country is a public health issue.

And frankly, right now, it's a bigger public health issue than Ebola which has killed exactly on person inside the US so far.

Meanwhile:


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The terrorists have super-powers

by digby

... or, at least, they have extremely sophisticated technology:

Cheney says that he and his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, turned off the device’s wireless function in case a terrorist tried to send his heart a fatal shock. Years later, Cheney watched an episode of the Showtime series “Homeland” in which such a scenario was part of the plot.

This isn't surprising. Cheney and his crew routinely thought that the fictional series "24" was a realistic depiction and he was well-known to have been so overwhelmed by Ken Burns' "Civil War" documentary back in the 90s that he sent it around to his generals in the first Gulf War so they could learn something about tactics and strategy.

Dick Cheney is a little bit nuts. Not that we didn't know that ...


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God has wonderful plan: $#!+ happens

by Tom Sullivan

Psychologists at the Yale Mind and Development Lab explore the human tendency to believe that "everything happens for a reason." Not just religious believers think this, either. They found many atheists believe it as well:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

That maybe puts too fine a point on it. People don't just do this in relation to others and to events. Growing up, I heard the quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Man is a tool-making animal.” Man is also a pattern-seeking animal. We see faces in ink blots, madonnas in toast and in stains on buildings. We find animal shapes in the clouds and in the stars. We read messages in palms and tea leaves. And after a tragedy, we ask reflexively, "Why did this happen?" As if there is a why.

However, the human impulse to impose meaning on a chaotic world is both a blessing and a curse, the researchers find. It is comforting to believe there really are no accidents. But?

It tilts us toward the view that the world is a fundamentally fair place, where goodness is rewarded and badness punished. It can lead us to blame those who suffer from disease and who are victims of crimes, and it can motivate a reflexive bias in favor of the status quo — seeing poverty, inequality and oppression as reflecting the workings of a deep and meaningful plan.

Shit never just happens in this view. God has a wonderful plan for your life and financially blesses His elect, per the prosperity gospel. If you're poor? You didn't believe hard enough. Decades ago in Harpers, Peter Marin criticized the 1970s human potential movement for teaching that misfortune is a failure of consciousness:

... I listen for two hours in a graduate seminar to two women therapists explaining to me how we are all entirely responsible for our destinies, and how the Jews must have wanted to be burned by the Germans, and that those who starve in the Sahel must want it to happen, and when I ask them whether there is anything we owe to others, say, to a child starving in the desert, one of them snaps at me angrily: "What can I do if a child is determined to starve?"

Randians would feel right at home. The Yale researchers conclude:

If there is such a thing as divine justice or karmic retribution, the world we live in is not the place to find it. Instead, the events of human life unfold in a fair and just manner only when individuals and society work hard to make this happen.

Because sometimes the plan is, shit happens. End of sermon.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Songs in the key of grief: Rudderless

By Dennis Hartley












Sad fact #3,476: Mass shootings have become as American as apple pie; so much so that they have spurred their own unique (and identifiably post-Columbine) film subgenre (Bang Bang You're Dead, Zero Day,Elephant, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Beautiful Boy, etc.). Not that its progenitor, the Grieving Parent Drama, hasn't been a Hollywood staple over previous decades; films like Don't Look Now, Ordinary People, The Sweet Hereafter, and The Accidental Tourist deal with the soul-crushing survivor's guilt that results from the loss of a child. The child's demise in those dramas was usually attributed to an accident, or a terminal illness. But it's a different world now. And so it is that we can addWilliam H. Macy's Rudderless to the former list, with a shrug and a sigh.

There is only brief exposition in the film's opening scene that alludes to the tragedy which lies at the heart of the story. A college student named Josh (Miles Heizer) sits alone in his dorm room with guitar in hand, playing and singing with fiery intensity as he records a demo of an original song into his laptop. He is visibly perturbed when he is interrupted; first by a fellow student who ducks his head in the door to say hey, then by a phone call from his father, an ad exec named Sam (Billy Crudup), who tries to talk his son into ducking his next class so he can join him to help celebrate the fact that he's just landed a big account (or something of that nature). When we next see Sam, he's alone at the bar, glancing at his watch...indicating Josh was a no-show. As he prepares to leave, something catches his eye on the bar's TV. There's been a mass shooting at Josh's college.

Josh, we hardly knew ye. But we will get to know him...through his songs, which Sam discovers after his ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) drops off a car load of their late son's musical equipment and cassette demos. It's now two years after the incident, and a decidedly more Jimmy Buffetized Sam is living on his docked boat, working odd jobs and wasting away every night in Margaritaville. He eventually steels himself to sift though Josh's demos, and discovers that his son not only had a gift for writing soulful lyrics, but for coming up with good hooks. He learns to play and sing Josh's tunes. At first, he does it as personal grief therapy, then one night he features one of the songs in an open-mic performance. A young musician (Anton Yelchin) is so taken that he hounds Sam until he forms a band with him (or are they really "forming" a father and son bond?)

 Perhaps not surprisingly, Macy's directorial debut is very much an "actor's movie", beautifully played by the entire cast (which also includes Laurence Fishburne, Selena Gomez, Ben Kweller, and Macy as a club manager). Crudup is a particular standout; this is his most nuanced turn since his breakout performance in the 1999 character study Jesus' Son. The script (co-written by the director along with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison) could have used a little tightening (by the time the Big Reveal arrives in the third act, it lacks the intended dramatic import due to the overabundance of telegraphing that precedes it). Certain elements of the narrative reminded me of Bobcat Goldthwait's dark 2009 sleeper, World's Greatest Dad (recommended, especially for Robin Williams fans). Still, despite some hiccups and predictable plot points, Macy has fashioned an absorbing, moving drama, with a great soundtrack (composed by Eef Barzelay, Charlton Pettus, and Simon Steadman). The songs performed by the band are catchy...in a mid-1990s, Chapel Hill alt-rock kinda way. Macy's film is a sad song, but you can dance to it.

Previous posts with related themes:

Torn/ The Broken Circle Breakdown

Saturday Night at the Movies review archives

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