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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

House of evil

by digby

Like a lot of my fellow political junkies I've been enjoying House of Cards' new season. (I'm not done watching yet ...) But one thing that's driven me nuts is the fact that Underwood is selling total Third Way bilge as the Democratic wish list. Not that there isn't some basis in fact there --- after all, elements of President Obama's Grand Bargain came right out of a Third Way wet dream.

Richard Eskow points out that one of the founders of Third Way is a consultant on HOC which probably explains how this happened:
[W]ho knew that the show itself – not the characters, but the show – had a hidden agenda? It’s already taken on teachers. Now comes the anti-“entitlement” tirade from Frank Underwood in Episode One of the new season. Frank, despite his evil ways and means, has an ambitious dream, which is introduced during a lengthy scene in which he lectures his staff, and the audience, on some highly misleading “facts.”

How did that happen? How did the “AmericaWorks” fictional plot point come to be built on real-world lies?

Here’s a clue: Episode One’s credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That’s a Wall Street-funded, so-called “centrist” Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.

Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.

Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests. They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Frank’s a Democrat, like all Third Way members, and his rant is filled with exactly the kind of misinformation and manipulation that we’ve come to expect from that corporatist crowd. “Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every entitlement program that is sucking us dry,” says Underwood in his rant, “I want it on the table.”

“Sucking us dry”? That’s economic gibberish.

“We obviously have to get back to some basics,” Underwood says in his rant, “remind ourselves of some of the facts that are before us …” (emphasis ours.)

Underwood continues: “This (the number $32,781, displayed on a flip chart) is what the average senior gets in one year from entitlements …This money is a job we could be giving to a single mother or a student just out of school. Now at the moment, 44 cents of every tax dollar goes to pay for these programs. By 2030, it’ll be over half, 62 cents.”

“Entitlements are bankrupting us,” he concludes.

Except that they’re not. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the federal budget, but it is forbidden by law from adding to the overall deficit. What’s more, its trust fund is currently holding $2.8 trillion dollars in reserves. The statement is meaningless.

Eskow details many other examples of Frank Underwood's Third Way cant in House of Cards.

But here's the thing. The man proposing all these Third Way solutions is a homicidal sociopath. I'm going to guess that Kessler didn't mean to associate his pet agenda with a character who will be remembered as the most malignant fictional politician in TV history but that's what he's done. And it's very believable.

The Fiction Culture War We are Losing 

by Spocko

Sunday Night on Virtually Speaking Digby and I talked about the Leonard Nimoy's passing and how fiction and fictional characters can shape people's attitudes.  (podcast link here.)

Today some friends who work in the world of politics were discussing House of Cards. Some loved it, some hated it.  I don't really move in those specific circles so before the discussion I wanted to know, "Is it realistic?"

A professional musician friend asked, 
Does anyone really expect a TV show about politics to be a more realistic representation of that life and that process than the Monkees represented a life of trying to make it as a young band in theirs?
This seems like such an obvious point I realized that I was NOT asking the question that the producers and writers of the show were asking themselves, which is, "Is it entertaining?"

Last night I watched a movie called "Harmontown" about the creator of Community, Dan Harmon. He talked about his deep desire to entertain people. He craved the satisfaction he got knowing his writing made people laugh, smile or feel better.

I watch a lot of fiction on tv. I also read a lot of fiction. I sometimes forget that my attitudes are shaped by people whose goal is to entertain.

If people think that it's a "message movie" it will often turn them off. "I don't want people to ram their message down my throat!" they say, even if they might agree with the message. When the question, "Is it entertaining?" is answered first, any message it might also have slides in more subtly and perhaps more effectively.

A message that writers of TV and movies have been sending for a long time is torture is effective. On tv and movies they show it is effective in getting non-false, new information in a short time.  They show the threat of torture is effective. It has become so ingrained in our thinking that when confronted with the reality of torture, reality is questioned, not the fiction.

The fiction that we see in our movies and TV shows are designed to be entertaining. Torture, and the threat of torture, serve the needs of the writers in these cases. It can make the story more dramatic, horrifying, gruesome, sexy and even funny. Its use serves a major goal of fiction, entertainment.

Torture's use can move the story forward, show character traits, tap into viewer or readers empathy or fear.

When the Senate report on torture came out showing that actionable intelligence was not obtained by torture, it seemed to go against what we knew from fiction or what we read and heard about from the "real" world and "the dark side" that Cheney talked about.

This "non-fiction" about torture is coming from a media that gets their info from an entire group of people in the CIA whose job it was to push the lie that torture got them intel.

Interestingly for some media, torture not working goes against their "common sense." A sense based on school yard experience and low tolerance for pain.

"I would totally spill the beans if I was tortured!" They might say. This assumes they knew about the beans in the first place.

"I would torture if we needed that bomb location." They would say on their TV show. This assumes the person they are torturing knows the bomb location, is just like us and not someone who would rather die than "spill the beans."

So the question is, if fiction better mirrored the reality of torture, would it still be entertaining? I don't mean fun or likable, but entertaining in its broadest sense.

I haven't seen American Sniper, but I understand that it is an entertaining movie. I think about another entertaining film from Clint Eastwood, one that had a killer as a lead character. A movie that helped change attitudes toward a fictional character we believed we knew.

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid. 

The fictional movies and TV shows that flip the idea of a "heroic torturer" and effectiveness of torture on its head might be out there, but they aren't coming through with the same power as other fictions.

If these ideas do start showing up in our fiction, I believe the writers can make them as useful to their stories as their previous ideas on torture, and just as entertaining.

The Crisis Chronicles

by digby

Steve Benen made a list of the GOP House's accomplishments:

[S]ince January 2011, Congress has excelled in one area: manufacturing avoidable crises. If there’s one thing a GOP majority has guaranteed, it’s that the nation’s legislative branch will careen, over and over again, from one self-imposed crisis to the next.

* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation’s debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* September 2013: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* October 2013: Republicans actually shut down the government.

* February 2014: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* December 2014: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* February 2015: Republicans threaten a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.

Boehner made a surprise move to bring the DHS funding bill to the floor today and it passed. With most Republicans voting against it. Still, they are undoubtedly relieved to have it passed so they can go back to bashing Democrats for being soft on national security and law enforcement.

Who know what any of this really adds up to for the GOP but in their view it's been worth a lot. Over the course of these last few years of rolling from one crisis to another they have increased their margin in the House dramatically and they won a majority in the Senate. So I wouldn't expect these games of chicken to stop any time soon.


From the always been wrong about everything files: Netanyahu edition

by digby

At what point does this become dangerous for his country? After all the moral of the "boy who cried wolf" fable is that the result of his hysterical fear-mongering was that people didn't believe him when it happened for real.
Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress again in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”

Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false.
There's an election in a couple of weeks. Maybe the Israeli people will take care of this problem.

The Man Called Petraeus gets a slap on the wrist

by digby

While others got years in jail. Socked, I tell you, shocked. Emptywheel has the best, most succinct, rundown of The Man Called Petraeus' plea deal:

Among the materials in the eight “Black Books” Petraeus shared with Broadwell were:

…classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.

The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information.

Petraeus kept those Black Books full of code word information including covert identities and conversations with the President “in a rucksack up there somewhere.”

Petreaus retained those Black Books after he signed his debriefing agreement upon leaving DOD, in which he attested “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody, or control at this time.” He kept those Black Books in an unlocked desk drawer.

For mishandling some of the most important secrets the nation has, Petraeus will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Petraeus, now an employee of a top private equity firm, will be fined $40,000 and serve two years of probation.

He will not, however, be asked to plead guilty at all for lying to FBI investigators. In an interview on October 26, 2012, he told the FBI,

(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer.

For lying to the FBI — a crime that others go to prison for for months and years — Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped away the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.

When John Kiriakou pled guilty on October 23, 2012 to crimes having to do with sharing a single covert officer’s identity just days before Petraeus would lie to the FBI about sharing, among other things, numerous covert officer’s identities with his mistress, Petraeus sent out a memo to the CIA stating,

Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

Those oaths obviously matter a little more for some than they do for others.

Cokie's Law renewed by acclamation

by digby

As we rush headlong into the first  of what are sure to be many "Clinton Records Scandals" (it's a perennial) I just thought I'd remind everyone of one thing: Cokie's Law, in which she proved that truth and facts are rarely the issue when it comes to arcane Clinton scandals:
"At this point,it doesn't much matter whether she said it or not because it's become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about."
Once people are talking about it, it's a legitimate news story. So they publish stories that imply something or other "doesn't pass the smell test", the news media get weirdly excited about it, convey that to the people and then we're off to the races.

Liberals are all aflutter this morning over this e-mail scandal. They have no idea if it's true or what specifically is wrong with it other than it allegedly "shows bad judgment" but they are very upset. Moreover, I have no idea why I'm supposed to be so shocked, appalled that it's time to run for the hills and beg Jim Webb to come to the rescue. But that's what I'm hearing. And it's as predictable as the sun. Maybe there's something truly nefarious going on. I'm open to believing it. But at this point what I see is that Villager hysterical impulse asserting itself once again.

There are excellent reasons to oppose Hillary Clinton. She has a long history of DLC centrism, mixed with a record of hawkishness both as a Senator and as Secretary of State. If people oppose her on the merits I cannot argue with them. But this scandal mongering has always been a facile and tawdry way for Villagers to express their belief in their own sense of moral superiority by complaining about the Clintons' characters. (In his case being "undisciplined" and in her case being a soulless "control freak.") It's always about some Shakespearean flaw rather than the policies, mostly because this is what the Village press corps really wants to talk about. Politics are boring. And I might actually believe some of it except for the fact that aside from a few furtive blowjobs in a hallway, none of the so-called evidence they presented to prove it ever panned out.

I don't think the country is in good enough shape right now to afford that shallow, faux muckraking. Perhaps Clinton really did sell America's national security to foreign leaders to feather her own nest. I hope the proof emerges quickly, if that's the case. But Villager handwringing over how it doesn't really matter if it's true or not because "it's out there" and it "exposes her character", is cheap and shallow journalistic masturbation. What these scandals inevitably reveal is the character of the American press corps more than anything else.

Update: Andrea Mitchell said this morning that  it turns out that Colin Powell did the same thing but it was different because this all feeds into a "narrative" that the Clintons are secretive.

Chris Cillizza agreed that it plays into the notion that the Clintons "operate under their own set of rules" and are "very political" and are surrounded by "enablers." Also too it was different for Powell because he wasn't a "defacto nominee".

Ruth Marcus agreed that this all feeds into the pre-existing narrative.

Update II: The new MSNBC straight news show with Thomas Roberts teases the story and announces that they are featuring the Artist who painted the "shadow of Monica Lewinsky's blue dress" in the official Bill Clinton portrait.

Shoot me now.

Update III: Michael Tomasky did some actual journalism:

It looks bad for Hillary Clinton—again. This New York Times story alleging that she might have violated federal rules by using a personal email account instead of an official government one for her communications seems to raise all the old questions about Clintonian corner-cutting and is sure to make Democrats flail their arms and cry, “Oh God, this again?”

But let’s hold on a second. A close reading of the Times piece reveals one potential big hole in the case. I’m not saying the Times is wrong here. It’s still a foggy situation. I am, however, saying this: You have to know how to read these things, and if you do know how to read them, there’s a big question here that could—potentially—exonerate Clinton to some or maybe even a considerable extent.

The article says that there were “new” regulations that Clinton was supposed to abide by. It notes that one past secretary of state, Colin Powell, who served from 2001 to 2005, sometimes used his personal email account “before the new regulations went into effect.”

So, a key question would seem to be this: When did the new regulations go into effect? If 2007 or 2008, then Clinton would appear to be in direct violation of them, depending on what precisely they said. If later, it gets a little murkier.

Oddly, the Times article doesn’t say. It doesn’t pin the new regs down to a specific date or even year.

Now, I know enough about reporting to know how this works. If you’ve got an airtight case, then you lay it all out there. You include the date. Indeed you emphasize the date, you put it high up in your story. The fact that it’s not in there is a little fishy.

Well, this might be the explanation: The new regs apparently weren’t fully implemented by State until a year and half after Clinton left State.

Here’s the timeline: Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013. Back in 2011, President Obama had signed a memorandum directing the update of federal records management. But the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) didn’t issue the relevant guidance, declaring that email records of senior government officials are permanent federal records, until August 2013. Then, in September 2013, NARA issued guidance on personal email use.

Not that it matters. "It's out there." And besides, it's "feeding the narrative". Waddaya gonna do?

As Tomasky adds:

[T]his seems like a good time to remember another pattern of behavior: namely, that of the Times. I remember clear as a bell reading that initial Jeff Gerth story on Whitewater back in March 1992. It seemed devastating. It took many millions of dollars and many years and many phony allegations before important parts of Gerth’s reporting were debunked. But they were. The Clintons did nothing wrong on Whitewater except to be naïve enough to let themselves by chiseled by Jim McDougal.

If they had done something wrong, with all the prosecutorial firepower thrown at them by a prosecutor (Ken Starr) who clearly hated them, don’t you think they’d have been indicted? Of course they would have been. But Starr couldn’t turn anything up on Whitewater and was about to close down his investigation empty-handed until he got wind of a gal named Monica.

So that’s a pattern too. The Times, for those with short memories, has never loved the Clintons. Remember Howell Raines and his ceaseless, thundering editorials against them. And today, it smells like the Times may have been rolled by the Republican staff of the Benghazi panel. And hey, great work by them and Chairman Trey Gowdy to use the nation’s leading liberal newspaper in this way.

Marty Kaplan: A Leonard Nimoy Story

by Gaius Publius

As loved as Leonard Nimoy and his signature character Mr. Spock are, I thought this would be appreciated. It's from Marty Kaplan, a longtime Hollywood and political insider, and also a writer (see his bio at the end of this piece).

This is from Nimoy's time directing the 1988 film A Good Mother, which starred Diane Keaton, ten years from Annie Hall, Jason Robards, and a young Liam Neeson. Kaplan and Nimoy developed a 30-year-long relationship, which apparently started with this shoot and this exchange.

In Kaplan's telling, it's vintage Nimoy and vintage Spock. Kaplan is the Disney studio executive on the set of the picture. His job is to relay instruction from the "suits" back home to the director, in this case, Nimoy. In this scene, Nimoy plays Nimoy.

Kaplan writes:
Spock's 'Good Mother'

"Oh, by the way, Leonard," I say into the phone, as breezily as I can feign, "what did you think about Diane's belt?"

Leonard Nimoy is on location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, preparing to direct The Good Mother for Disney, starring Diane Keaton. I'm the executive on the movie, on the lot, where a studio chieftain and I have just watched the makeup, hair and wardrobe tests Leonard had shot. (I won't identify the mogul, but it's unlikely you'd know his name.)

"What about Diane's belt?" Leonard replies, not remotely breezy, more like, do not go there.

"Didn't you think it was kind of wide? So wide it pulls your eyes from her face?" I am trying my best to translate the order the studio honcho had barked in the screening room -- "Tell him to lose that goddam belt!" -- into a casual afterthought.

Silence. Then: "Where did you say you went to college?"

He knows where, it's located in the city where he's shooting, but I answer.

"And after that? Your next degree -- where did you get that?"

I tell him. This call is not going to a good place.

"And then a Ph.D., if I'm not mistaken. Where's that from?"

I have now named three of the world's most storied universities.

After another excruciating silence: "Tell me. Is this what you thought you'd be doing with that education?"

"Excuse me?"

"Yes," he muses, "I can see how having to tell me what some imbecile suit doesn't have the balls to tell me himself -- that must be fairly difficult for someone as bright as yourself." The words are brutal, but the tone is Vulcan.

"I'll give him your regards," I lie.

It's a miracle that a near 30-year friendship could rise from ashes like that, but it did. I loved hanging out with him. At birthdays and seders, in the classroom and on the radio, talking politics or parenting, Leonard and his wife Susan generously opened their hearts and home to me. And after all those years, having been reamed by Leonard Nimoy remains pretty much the coolest thing about me.
There's a second Nimoy-cum-Spock story in Kaplan's piece. I encourage you to read it. Apparently Nimoy was born to play Spock, or rather, Spock was born to play Nimoy.

Here's Kaplan's academic history, by the way, from his Wikipedia page. Not shabby; and interesting that Nimoy knew this going into the conversation:
Marty Kaplan graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude in molecular biology and won the Le Baron Russell Briggs prize for delivering the English Oration at commencement. He was president of the Harvard Lampoon and of the Signet Society; at both, his tenure included a change in by-laws leading to the first admission of women members after 95 years (the Lampoon) and 100 years (the Signet). ... The recipient of a Marshall Scholarship from the British government, he received a Master's degree in English with First Class Honours from Cambridge University in England. As a Danforth Foundation Fellow, he received a Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University.
So, Harvard (cum laude), Cambridge, Stanford. Not shabby. Kaplan was also a speechwriter in the Carter administration and is currently a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, as well as the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society.

Still, as he says, "Having been reamed by Leonard Nimoy remains pretty much the coolest thing about me." I would be pleased to have been so honored. LLAP, Spock.




The Cent-ire Strikes Back?

by Tom Sullivan

This appeared yesterday in The Hill:

Centrist Democrats are gathering their forces to fight back against the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of their party, fearing a sharp turn to the left could prove disastrous in the 2016 elections.


The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

"I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she's a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side."

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, "it's going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition."

I had to pause reading to laugh out loud.

Gabe Horwitz of centrist Third Way told The Hill, “In the last election, Democrats, as a party, offered a message of fairness. Voters responded, and they responded really negatively ... Democrats offered fairness, and voters wanted prosperity and growth.”

The Hill notes that the NDC's policy proposal is aimed at pushing back against a progressive agenda announced last week by Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). The Facebook video of Warren discussing the plan and hammering the unfairness of the current economy for hard-working Americans has received just short of 2 million views.

Warren speaks to kitchen-table issues in plain English working people understand.

My wife spoke last month with a Fox News-watching brother of a friend. He's white, registered unaffiliated, disenchanted with both parties, and didn't bother to vote in the 2014 mid-terms. Neither party has done anything for the working man for 40 years, he told her. Yet he liked "that woman" who's taking on the big banks. He couldn't name her, but thought it a miracle that she's still alive.

He's a conservative from North Carolina, where Third Way's Kay Hagan — running an Obama-style field campaign, but selling herself as the "most moderate" senator — narrowly lost her U.S. Senate seat to "Typhoid Thom" Tillis.

Centrist Democrats, don't be too proud of that political battle station you're constructing.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The worst veto in US history

by digby

This should go on his gravestone:

Bush Announces Veto of Waterboarding Ban

By Dan Eggen

Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, March 8, 2008; 1:47 PM

President Bush vetoed Saturday legislation meant to ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, saying it "would take away one of the most valuable tools on the war on terror."

"This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Congress approved an intelligence authorization bill that contains the waterboarding provision on slim majorities, far short of the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto.
Bush's long-expected veto reignites the Washington debate over the proper limits of U.S. interrogation policies and whether the CIA has engaged in torture by subjecting prisoners to severe tactics, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning...

The practice as used by the CIA bears similarities to the methods of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and by the current dicatorship in Burma, according to congressional testimony and torture experts.

But as Bush emphasized in his remarks, the program also included other coercive tactics that are forbidden in the U.S. military and widely considered unlawful among human rights advocates.

The CIA has not specified all the tactics it wants to keep using but says it no longer uses waterboarding. Bush administration officials have not ruled out using waterboarding again.

There's no doubt it will be used again. But only because we're good and they're evil.


Dispatch from the campaign of the most overrated politician in America

by digby

I have been saying for months that Scott Walker is just another manifestation of the political class'bizarre obsession with finding a great Republican leader from the upper Mid-West and have characterized him as the most overrated politician in America.

Byron York seems to have noticed the problem:

[A] huge part of Walker's appeal right now: He seems to be the Republican candidate who has the best chance of connecting with the millions of middle-class voters who have drifted away from the GOP in recent elections. And for that reason, Walker looks like the man who can attract almost everyone in the Republican camp — social, economic, and national security conservatives — in addition to those disaffected voters. That's a huge plus for Walker and, along with his impressive record in Wisconsin, is the reason he has shot to the first tier of the Republican race in recent weeks.

At the same time, Walker could be headed for trouble with the establishment, Washington-based wing of his party. Look for GOP insiders to begin whispering, and then saying out loud, that Walker needs to raise his game if he is going to play on the national stage. On the one hand, they'll have a point — Walker needs to come up with clear, crisply-expressed positions on a variety of national and international issues. On the other hand, Walker's way-outside-the-Beltway method of expressing himself might resonate with voters in primary and caucus states more than Washington thinks.

For example, in our conversation Saturday, I asked Walker what Republicans in Washington should do in the standoff over funding the Department of Homeland Security. "Not just Republicans, I think the Congress as a whole needs to find a way to fund homeland security going forward," Walker answered. He explained that he recognized the concerns lawmakers have about giving up their ability "to push back on the president's questionable, if not illegal, actions." Walker noted that he was part of the states' lawsuit against Obama's action. "I think they're right that the president is wrong," Walker told me, "but I also think we've got to make sure that homeland security isn't compromised."

After a little more along those lines, I said I was still a little unclear on where Walker stood. Should Republicans stand firm on not funding Obama's unilateral action on immigration, or should they go ahead and fund the Department of Homeland Security without regard to what Obama has done? Here is what Walker said:

I think they have to figure out some way to have the bridge to continue to fund homeland security but in a way that doesn't remove their ability to come back sometime in the not too distant future if the court rules or if the administration changes how they do this action in a way that could be upheld in court. They need to have the power of the purse string to offer a counter to that.

What does that mean, exactly? It's not entirely clear. On one hand, it appeared Walker was adopting the time-honored stance of the governor who stands outside the squabbling of both parties in Washington — a tactic that last worked quite well for George W. Bush in 2000. He'll appeal to more voters by not getting stuck in the Washington mud.

On the other hand, maybe Walker just hadn't thought it through very carefully. Certainly some parts of his performance before the Club for Growth led observers to suspect that he has not really dived into a number of big issues — not just foreign policy, but domestic as well — that will serve as tests for presidential candidates in coming months.

He doesn't know what he's talking about that much is clear. He has a flair for the wingnut radio dogwhistle because that's what he knows. But at this point the Big Money Boyz have to be wondering whether or not it makes sense to put their money on this guy. This isn't 2000 --- they have a very uphill climb even with a very good candidate. This guy isn't it.

No one expects a governor to have dived deeply into international affairs this early in the race, but Walker is definitely a work in progress. In recent weeks, for example, he has cited his command of the Wisconsin National Guard as evidence of national security experience, and in Palm Beach on Saturday, he pointed to Ronald Reagan's 1981 firing of the air traffic controllers as "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" — a decision made, in case anyone missed the point, by "a president who was previously a governor."

Walker's comparison set off a lot of debate over whether the air traffic control firings, as consequential as they were, really supported the point Walker was trying to make. Whatever the case, Walker insisted that "Foreign policy is something that's not just about having a Ph.D or talking to Ph.Ds. It's about leadership." In our conversation, he said he has gathered together advisers — some of whom do have Ph.Ds — and is working on foreign policy questions.

Still, all that has led to some feelings of unease among policy experts and Republican insiders that Walker, for all his outward popularity, might be headed for difficulties over the substance of policy.

Yah think?

Seven out of ten of the world's richest people are American

by digby

1. Bill Gates

Net worth: $79.2 billion

Source of wealth: Technology company Microsoft Corp.

Nationality: American

2. Carlos Slim Helu

Net worth: $77.1 billion

Source of wealth: Telecommunications

Nationality: Mexican

3. Warren Buffett

Net worth: $72.7 billion

Source of wealth: Investment holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Nationality: American

4. Amancio Ortega

Net worth: $64.5 billion

Source of wealth: Retail chain Zara

Nationality: Spanish

5. Larry Ellison

Net worth: $54.3 billion

Source of wealth: Technology company Oracle Corp.

Nationality: American

6. Charles Koch (tie)

Net worth: $42.9 billion

Source of wealth: Conglomerate Koch Industries.

Nationality: American

6. David Koch (tie)

Net worth: $42.9 billion

Source of wealth: Conglomerate Koch Industries.

Nationality: American

8. Christy Walton

Net worth: $41.7 billion

Source of wealth: Retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Nationality: American

9. Jim Walton

Net worth: $40.6 billion

Source of wealth: Retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Nationality: American

10. Liliane Bettencourt

Net worth: $40.1 billion

Source of wealth: Cosmetics company L’Oreal

Nationality: French

I'm pretty sure they all need a cut in their capital gains tax rate.
The incoherent moderates

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon today that features a report about how political scientists have been misidentifying incoherent voters as moderates:
If there’s one article of faith in the political establishment it’s that being a political “moderate” is the only appropriate philosophy for people of good sense and mature disposition. No one possessed of even a modicum of rationality and logic could possibly hold a set of values or political positions that fall entirely on one side of the political divide or the other because that would mark him as a fanatic of some sort. And that would be very bad indeed. It might even be considered (shudder) partisan.

And if one is wise enough to be such a moderate, one naturally believes that negotiation and bipartisan agreement are achievable by people of good faith by simply sitting down and hammering out a reasonable compromise. After all, moderates have the kind of even temperament that naturally seeks comity and common ground. The problems in our politics are due entirely to the hot-headed partisans at both ends of the political spectrum who refuse to behave like adults.

Imagine how surprised the establishment wags must have been to see this Vox story by Ezra Klein reporting that political scientists have determined the vaunted moderate voter is actually an incoherent extremist who cannot possibly be appeased because her views are irrational. Seriously.
This is actually a huge problem that needs to be rectified by pollsters. First the idea of a moderate being a person of sober temperament and believes that governance works best by compromise and horse trading is correct. That would indeed be a real one. I know some of them and consider them good friends. I don't happen to think it's realistic to think that most people would be moderates or that the political system is better run by them. The system requires people of all political stripes, including the party hacks and the the activists and the fanatics. It's democracy. And I continue to resent the idea that anyone who isn't a moderate is somehow immature or unserious. It isn't true.

But this study reveals that the country has far, far fewer of these "shades of gray" folks (not that kind ... necessarily) that we have been led to believe because the pollsters are coding them as moderate when what they are is incoherent. An that is very interesting. What in the hell are the "Fix the Debt" people going to do?

Read the whole thing for a deeper exploration and then click the links to see the original report. It's interesting. Ezra had an interesting response to the news:
"When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want," Broockman says. "Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that's what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want."

That's the problem with using a term that doesn't describe either an identifiable group of voters or a clearly defined ideology to describe policies. "Moderate" is simultaneously one of the most powerful and least meaningful descriptions in politics — and it's become little more than a tool the establishment uses to set limits on the range of acceptable debate. It's time to get rid of it.

Pearl clutch 'o the week

by digby

So, the Fox people are very upset about this SNL parody commercial:

The problem is that I'm not entirely sure whether they're upset by the fact that it's making a mockery of the ISIS threat or because it's making a mockery of a commercial they love:
"Wow," Fox co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck said after playing a clip. "'Saturday Night Live' attempted to be funny mocking one of the best Super Bowl commercials, that I think many people felt warmed everyone's heart, with an attempt of comedy."

The chat-show trio read tweets from Fox viewers who considered the parody offensive and disrespectful.

"Unfortunately, there's been too many Americans, fathers and mothers who dropped off children at the airport only to have them return in a casket," guest host Peter Johnson added.

By the end of the segment, Hasselbeck's voice was trembling.

"We've seen too many people headed over to join forces whose intent is to kill those leaving to fight for freedom in the entire world," she said.

"Is this funny?" Johnson eventually asked.

"I don't think there's anything funny about ISIS," Hasselbeck answered.

"How insensitive can you get?" she added. "Right now? Mmm."

It's a toss-up I think. That commercial really moved them and they are really upset to see anyone make fun of it. Also too ISIS.

And by the way, we've seen a tiny handful of people "head over to join forces with ISIS". And a lot of people see this notion that we're "fighting for freedom in the entire world" a little bit differently than that. These people live in a comic book.

This time I'll take historical revisionism for a thousand, Alex

by digby

Here's another of those reminders that the conventional wisdom which says America has always held Israel to be beyond reproach until the Kenyan usurper came along and ruined everything isn't exactly correct. Here's a line from the memoir of a former president:

"I told him I was calling P.M. Begin immediately. And I did -- I was angry -- I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately & said the symbol of war was becoming a picture of a 7-month-old baby with its arms blown off."

That was Saint Ronald Reagan in 1982.

Just pointing it out so that people realize that this idea US presidents and Israeli Prime Ministers have always been the bestest of friends is bunk. This is not an emergency.

h/t to RP
Piketty: "Some billionaires consume academics"

by Gaius Publius

The above quote is part of a quip by Thomas Piketty (him) at a gathering of economists that included a number of right-wing ideologues like Greg Mankiw. The writer Masaccio tells the tale:
Piketty Gets A Laugh At Mankiw’s Expense

... One of those panels, packed with right-wing economists, was set up by Mankiw, who used it as a stage to attack Piketty. He and his fellow ideologues decided unanimously that the best thing to do is to impose a consumption tax, presumably as part of a package to lower taxes on the top earners and to keep capital gains taxes low and corporate taxes at their lowest level in decades.
Masaccio then mentions a joke Mankiw made publicly at Picketty's expense (I'll send you there to read that). The result:
Then someone asked Piketty what he thought about the consumption tax idea. Collins reports his reply:
“We know something about billionaire consumption,” Piketty observed, “but it is hard to measure some of it. Some billionaires are consuming politicians, others consume reporters, and some consume academics.”
Ideologue (my characterization above) or operative (Piketty's)? Feel free to decide for yourself. Masaccio's response: "Sweet."




That they should believe a lie

by Tom Sullivan

In the car last night, my wife mused on why many struggling to remain in the middle class speak so harshly of the worse off who accept public assistance, you know, for food. Given last-place aversion (see Saturday's post), isn't it a small price to ensure there are people below you on the social ladder to look down on?

I shouted, "You want me on that dole! You need me on that dole!"

In a bit of serendipity later, up popped Heather Cox Richardson's piece in Salon featuring a photo of Jack Nicholson from "A Few Good Men," about how Movement Conservatives can't handle the truth.

Beginning in the 1950s, she writes, William F. Buckley formulated a strategy for pushing back against the popular New Deal. It was "an attack on the Enlightenment principles that gave rise to Western civilization." Truth no longer served. Instead, "a compelling lie could convince voters so long as it fit a larger narrative of good and evil." The Cold War provided the growth medium.

By the George W. Bush administration, Richardson concludes,

Buckley’s intellectual stand had won. Facts and argument had given way to an ideology premised on Christianity and the idea of economic individualism. As Movement Conservatives took over the Republican Party, that ideology worked its way deep into our political system. It has given us, for example, a senator claiming words he spoke on the Senate floor were “not intended to be a factual statement.” It has given us “dynamic scoring,” a rule changing the way the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the economic impact of tax cuts, to reinforce the idea that cuts fuel economic growth despite the visibly disastrous effects of recent tax cuts on states such as Kansas. And it has given us attempts in Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado to discard the A.P. U.S. History framework and dictate that students learn instead the Movement Conservatives’ skewed version of the nation’s history. Politicians have always spun information to advance their own policies. The practice infuriates partisans but it reflects the Enlightenment idea of progress through reasoned argument. Movement Conservatives’ insistence on their own version of reality, in defiance of facts, is something different altogether.

Examples are legion. And when confronted publicly? Double down on the lie.

Last year I wrote about the popularity of "pass-it-on" email, a phenomenon of the right all but absent on the left:

Some of us are old enough to have seen Superman on black-and-white TV defending truth, justice, and the American Way. That was then. The saddest part of pass-it-on propaganda and AFP disinformation is that the people who raised us at the height of the Cold War warned us that commies would use propaganda and disinformation to destroy America from within. Now, many of those same Real Americans™ consider trafficking in propaganda and disinformation good, clean fun for the whole family. They know it's wrong and they don't care.

There's an end-times passage in the New Testament about this:

2 Thess 2 (KJV)
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Historical revisionism for 400 Alex

by digby

All day long I've been hearing how unprecedented it is for anyone to be critical of Israel and how there's always been bipartisan support for Israel no matter what. For people born yesterday, that might sound reasonable. For the rest of us, not so much:


Published: May 23, 1991

WASHINGTON— In an unusually blunt criticism of the Israeli Government, Secretary of State James A. Baker 3d said today that nothing has more complicated his efforts to convene Middle East peace talks than Israel's continuing settlement building in the occupied territories.

Mr. Baker's declaration marked something of a shift in stated American policy on this issue by singling out Israeli settlement building. It was prompted, the Secretary said, by his four trips to the region in the last two months, during which the Israeli Government initiated or expanded Jewish settlements on each trip, antagonizing Arab leaders and making it more difficult for them to show flexibility.

"Nothing has made my job of trying to find Arab and Palestinian partners for Israel more difficult than being greeted by a new settlement every time I arrive," Mr. Baker said during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on foreign operations. "I don't think that there is any bigger obstacle to peace than the settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an enhanced pace."

His remarks came at the end of two hours of testimony in which he explained to the legislators that his inability to organize an Arab-Israeli peace conference, despite 36 days of shuttling around the region, was primarily due to Syria and Israel not being able to agree on what role the United Nations should play at a conference and how often it would reconvene. Blames Israel and Syria

Throughout his testimony Mr. Baker seemed to lay the blame evenly on Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, and suggested that if they could overcome these procedural issues, all other elements of the peace conference would fall into place.

He detailed several areas where agreement has already been reached between Arabs and Israelis: that the conference will aim to achieve a comprehensive settlement through direct talks between Israel and Arab countries, and between Israel and the Palestinians; that negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians would first address an interim self-government solution and then the permanent status of the occupied territories, and that "Palestinians would be represented in the process by leaders from the occupied territories who accept the phased approach and who commit to living in peace with Israel."

Administration officials said President Bush has still not decided whether to send Mr. Baker back for yet another push to close the remaining gaps, or to invite the parties involved to Washington for a high-pressure sales pitch or to quietly drop the issue at least for a while.

At the close of today's session, the subcommittee chairman, Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, held up a copy of a recent dispatch from Israel in The Washington Post, detailing a large-scale expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the end of the gulf war, and demanded to know Mr. Baker's assessment of the situation on the ground and its implication for the peace process. Congressman Is Incensed

Mr. Obey said a report from the State Department last year indicated that there are now more than 200,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, with an increase of 9,000 to 10,000 in the last year.

"Frankly, it gets under my skin," Mr. Obey continued, "because my understanding is that this activity is in violation of U.S. policy. What bothers me is the Israeli Government says that they desperately need funds for other purposes, including bringing Soviet Jews to Israel for resettlement. But then they appear to be spending money like this, which I don't think they ought to be spending."

Responding to Mr. Obey's remarks, Mr. Baker said: "Every time I have gone to Israel in connection with the peace process on each of my four trips, I have been met with the announcement of new settlement activity. This does violate United States policy. It's the first thing that Arab governments, the first thing the Palestinians in the territories -- whose situation is really quite desperate -- raise with us when we talk to them."

The Secretary added: "The Arabs and the Palestinians, of course, argue that this proves that the Israeli Government is not interested in negotiating outcomes, but it's really interested in creating facts on the ground. And it substantially weakens our hand in trying to bring about a peace process, and creates quite a predicament." Extra Efforts, Baker Says

Mr. Baker said he had raised this point any number of times with the Israeli leadership but "to no avail."

The Secretary said he even tried to arrange a deal between Israel and her Arab neighbors, whereby the Arabs would suspend either their boycott of Israel or their state of belligerency in return for Israel's suspending settlements. He was rebuffed by both the Israelis and the Arabs, he said.

"I have about decided that we're not going to get any movement on settlement activity before we have an active peace process going, and it's going to be just that much more difficult to get a peace process going if we can't get any action on settlement activity," Mr. Baker said.

Just saying ...

Those poor kids

by digby

Mother Jones talked to the millennial conservatives at CPAC. It's just ...

[T]he candidate who aroused the most intense enthusiasm was Ben Carson. Evan, a 17-year old proudly wearing a "Run Ben Run" sticker on his lapel, was effusive in his praise. "He's not run by lobbyists," he said. "His policies are going to be what he believes in…he has integrity." A group of college students relaxing on couches in the expo hall agreed that if the GOP wants to win in 2016, Carson needs to be a factor. "I love Ben," said Blake, a college student from Illinois. Carson is, he said, "the Ben Franklin of our time." Others in the circle agreed: "Ben Carson is almost too smart" for the American voters to truly understand him, another student said. An idea began to form: what about Carson as VP, and Walker as president? The group howled in approval: "Yaaaass!"
"This is my first time here," said a 20-year-old College Republican. "But I heard it's easier to get laid at CPAC than on spring break."

Those poor, poor kids ...


It's amazing how much he has lied about

by digby

It's pretty much everything at this point:

One evening in March more than 30 years ago, Gaeton Fonzi received a call from a man whose voice and name are now instantly recognizable.

"Hi Gaeton," the caller said. "Bill O'Reilly."

The year was 1977. O'Reilly, a young television reporter in Dallas, was chasing a story about a figure in the investigation of the JFK assassination who had killed himself in Florida.
He was calling Fonzi, a congressional investigator, to confirm the suicide.

"You hear anything about it?" O'Reilly asked, according to phone recordings provided to CNN by Gaeton's widow, Marie Fonzi.

The phone recordings indicate that O'Reilly learned of the suicide second-hand and was in a different location at the time.

Years later, however, O'Reilly would repeatedly claim to have been at the scene.

In his 2012 book "Killing Kennedy," O'Reilly wrote that he knocked on the door of a South Florida home when suddenly he "heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide" of George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian immigrant who knew Lee Harvey Oswald.

While promoting the book, O'Reilly said on Fox News that he "was about to knock on the door" when de Mohrenschildt "blew his brains out with a shotgun."

The discrepancies were first reported by JFK researcher Jefferson Morley in 2013. His fact-checking didn't get much attention at the time, and the low-quality recordings he posted on his website made it difficult to understand what O'Reilly and Fonzi were saying.

Earlier this week, amid scrutiny about how O'Reilly has recounted some of his journalistic exploits, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America drew new attention to Morley's fact-checking.

CNN then obtained higher-quality recordings from Fonzi's widow.

In the conversations with Fonzi that night in 1977, O'Reilly never once indicated he was anywhere near the scene of the suicide -- much less that he heard the fatal gunshot.

On the call, O'Reilly initially tried to confirm the suicide.

"What's the story?" O'Reilly asked.

"They don't know," Fonzi said.

"Nobody knows," O'Reilly replied.

O'Reilly can also be heard detailing his travel plans. Although he never said where he was calling from, O'Reilly made it clear where he was not.

"I'm coming down there tomorrow," he said. "I'm coming to Florida."

Moments later, he elaborated on his itinerary.

"Now, okay, I'm gonna try to get a night flight out of here, if I can," O'Reilly told Fonzi. "But I might have to go tomorrow morning. Let me see."

Fox News declined to comment on the contradiction in O'Reilly's accounts. The channel referred questions to a spokesperson for Henry Holt, the publisher of O'Reilly's book.

Earlier this week the publisher said "we fully stand behind Bill O'Reilly."

"This one passage is immaterial to the story being told by this terrific book and we have no plans to look into this matter," Henry Holt added.

At what point is it clear that he is not just a bombastic pundit but a pathological liar?

And at what point does Fox have to deal with this? Ever?  Isn't it time for people to start asking the allegedly straight reporters Brett Baier, Ed Henry and Chris Wallace what they think about this?
Will the Supremes put another nail in their coffin?

by digby

Just in case you weren't aware of it, here's the background on this typo case coming before the Supreme Court this week to dismantle the subsidies in the federal ACA exchange:

Shortly after the A.C.A. passed, in 2010, a group of conservative lawyers met at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, and scoured the nine-hundred-page text of the law, looking for grist for possible lawsuits. Michael Greve, a board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian outfit funded by, among others, the Koch brothers, said, of the law, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.” In time, lawyers hired by the C.E.I. discovered four words buried in Section 36B, which refers to the exchanges—now known as marketplaces—where people can buy health-insurance policies. The A.C.A. created federal tax subsidies for those earning less than a certain income to help pay for their premiums and other expenses, and, in describing who is eligible, Section 36B refers to exchanges “established by the State.” However, thirty-four states, most of them under Republican control, refused to create exchanges; for residents of such states, the law had established a federal exchange. But, according to the conjurings of the C.E.I. attorneys, the subsidies should be granted only to people who bought policies on the state exchanges, because of those four words in Section 36B. The lawyers recruited plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit; their goal is to revoke the subsidies provided to the roughly seven and a half million people who were left no choice by the states where they live but to buy on the federal exchange.

Also too: these same lawyers heavily lobbied the Republican states not to build exchanges.

This case will rank up there with Bush vs Gore which means most people assume the court will not do it. But everyone assumed that they would never rule the way they did on Bush vs Gore.


Sunday Funnies

by digby

I love that "guess who almost has WMDs now!"

It reminds me of that famous (perhaps apocryphal) quote from an unnamed neocon Bush official: "Anyone can go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran."


QOTD[ecades]: John Kerry

by digby

Kerry on ISIS 2015:
it is on a “rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.”
Kerry on US 1971:
"They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."


See PAC run scared

by Tom Sullivan

It's important to be a victim these days and, boy howdy, they do it right at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, MD.

Raw Story's Tony Ortega reports on a panel titled, "Religious Freedom in America: Would the Pilgrims Still Be Welcome Here?" Conservative columnist Cal Thomas, Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins seemed to agree with talk radio host Dana Loesch that it's "a badge of honor to be persecuted" and that Christians in this country should be a protected class:

“And since we have the victim competition in the United States,” Loesch added, “I think we win.”

And thus a religious super majority in America transubstantiates itself into a persecuted minority. Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect, as Tom Lehrer sings.

But it's men, really, who are most persecuted. Why, "feminist ideologues and gay marriage supporters" want to make men irrelevant:

It’s going to be hard to argue that “fathers are essential” if gay-marriage laws say “they are optional,” said Jennifer A. Marshall, vice president for the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation.

At “The Future of Marriage” panel, the Washington Times reports, Marshall called gay marriage the “final nail in the coffin” in the fight against fatherless homes. (Presumably, two-father homes violate code.) And just yesterday, I thought "being picked last in gym class" was their biggest motivating fear.

The Guardian's Jeb Lund offers a more satirical take on the marriage panel, observing that political movements can seem "nonsensical to outsiders because groupthink elides the needs for certain connective thoughts to be voiced aloud." We know who the good guys are and that the bad guys are bad. It goes without saying (and does) that effects have causes. There's no point wasting time demonstrating what they are.

Yet, even thorny conservative social issues ultimately come down to money. It was just a matter of time. Lund writes:

... Wade Horn, former assistant secretary for children and families, weighed in with the observation that marriages save money and diversify productivity because “marriages allow for economies of scale and specialization” within the household. (For those scoring economies of scale at home, presumably because specialization has made one of you an actuary: economies of scale good when you are married to someone; bad when buying prescription drugs for nations.) When your bridesmaids give you bewildered looks at the altar, point at your groom and cross their eyes while miming throwing up, just hold your hands apart to show how much he scales your economy.

To a cynic, that might read like a heartless thought. But do you know what’s really heartless? Government. “Children need their mothers and fathers. There is no government program that can possibly substitute for the love and guidance and sense of place in the world that parents provide,” MacDonald explained. “What we’re seeing now in the inner city is catastrophic. Marriage has all but disappeared. When young boys are growing up, they grow up without any expectation that they will marry the mothers of their children.” And she’s right; people who think government will love you or your abandoned children are idiots. The Department of Love has been a failure since 1967, and large faceless institutions will never care for human beings no matter how well they claim to mean. Those “inner city” people shouldn’t have been trying to hug America. They should have hugged something more practical like each other and that smiley face from Wal-Mart.

If only those people were less urban. So it goes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies

The beginning of wisdom: What I learned from Mr. Spock

By Dennis Hartley

In my review of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise, I wrote:

Gene Roddenberry’s universally beloved creation has become so ingrained into our pop culture and the collective subconscious of Boomers […] that the producers of the latest installment didn’t have to entitle it with a qualifier. It’s not Star Trek: Origins, or Star Trek: 2009. It’s just Star Trek. They could have just as well called it Free Beer, judging from the $80,000,000 it has rung up at the box office already.

This likely explains the prodigious outpouring of sentiment regarding Leonard Nimoy’s passing. And this is not emanating solely from the geekier sectors of the blogosphere, but from such bastions of traditional journalism as The New York Times, which duly noted:

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper”.

Of course, my “logical” half is well aware that this “unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan” was a fictional creation, in reality a nice Jewish boy from Boston (“Lenny” to his friends) who was only playing a half-human, half-alien science officer on a silly sci-fi TV show. By all accounts, Nimoy was an engaging and generous human being, who devoted off-screen time to political and social causes. Fellow Star Trek alumnus George Takei made an appearance on MSNBC’s All In on Friday with some touching insights on this aspect.

But back to the pointy-eared gentleman, an early and critical role model for me as a child. Keep in mind, at the time of the TV show’s initial run (1966), I was all of 10 years old. Also, note that I was kind of a weird 10 year-old. I wasn’t that keen on hanging out with kids my age; I always had an easier time relating to elders (my best friend at the time was 13). To me, children were silly, immature creatures; I generally found their behavior to be quite “illogical” (believe me…it took years to de-evolve into the silly man-child I am today; to quote Bob Dylan, “Ah, but I was much older then, I’m younger than that now”).

While many of my little friends thought he was the shit, cocky Captain Kirk never did it for me (I’ve always had an issue with authority figures, not to mention that whole alpha male thing). But I could relate to Mr. Spock. I think he appealed to my own sense of “otherness”. Also, like Mr. Spock, I’m a “halfsie” (my parents might as well have been from different planets-a Jewish girl from Brooklyn and a Protestant farm boy from Ohio).

But that’s my personal take. I think Spock’s mass appeal stems from a universal recognition of the inherent duality within us all. When it comes to love and war, the constant vacillation between our logical and emotional selves is the very definition of human nature, nest’-ce pas? This is best demonstrated by the very human Mr. Nimoy himself, who once decried “I am not Spock” in his eponymous 1975 autobiography, only to recant that, oh, wait… “I am Spock” with his follow-up memoir 20 years on. Perhaps he’d had time to ponder something his own character once said: “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” And, as it does to us all, this one particular epiphany came tagging along with age, finally presenting itself in the fullness of time: We are all Spock.

They're standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona

by digby

So a journalist writes a letter to the FBI asking if there are any terror investigations in Arizona. The FBI responds with this:
"As a member of the United States intelligence community, the FBI in conjunction with representatives of the Joint Terrorism Task Force is actively engaged in protecting the nation from acts of terrorism."
The journalist writes this story:
In an email to 12 News, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Phoenix confirmed there are active investigations in Arizona focused on ISIS supporters and associated home-grown violent extremists.
And then proceeds to write a paranoid scare story that implied Arizona is a hotbed of terrorist activity and that Arizonans are particularly vulnerable:

Arizona has seen its share of attacks on people from this state from the fall 2014 beheading of journalist and former Phoenix school teacher James Foley to the 2015 killing of Prescott international aid worker Kayla Mueller while held captive by ISIS. Both killings occurred in Syria.

Arizona has a history of incubating Middle Eastern terrorists. In July 2001, FBI Agent Ken Williams sent a memo warning that there were an unusual number of Muslim extremists learning to fly in Arizona. But the memo was cast aside.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, it was later determined hijackers received flight training at schools in Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma.

FBI Special Agent Perryn Collier sent the email to 12 News as a response to an inquiry following FBI Director James Comey's comments on Wednesday that the FBI has investigations in all 50 states.

Collier would not elaborate on the number and nature of the current investigations within the state of Arizona. He said doing so would adversely jeopardize ongoing efforts to detect, deter and prevent terrorist acts.

Which means, of course, that an attack on Arizona is imminent and everyone should run for their lives. (Well, the report doesn't say that specifically but you'd be foolish not to read between the lines.)

And by the way, Comey is helping to gin up the paranoia. These local and state officials get very excited everytime he makes one of these speeches.

Liars and thugs. With badges.

by digby

One man against the mob and the members of the mob are cops:
One of the worst days of Douglas Dendinger’s life began with him handing an envelope to a police officer.

In order to help out his family and earn a quick $50, Dendinger agreed to act as a process server, giving a brutality lawsuit filed by his nephew to Chad Cassard as the former Bogalusa police officer exited the Washington Parish Courthouse.

The handoff went smoothly, but Dendinger said the reaction from Cassard, and a group of officers and attorneys clustered around him, turned his life upside down.

“It was like sticking a stick in a bee’s nest.” Dendinger, 47, recalled. “They started cursing me. They threw the summons at me. Right at my face, but it fell short. Vulgarities. I just didn’t know what to think. I was a little shocked.”

Not knowing what to make of the blow-up, a puzzled Dendinger drove home. That’s where things went from bad to worse.

“Within about 20 minutes, there were these bright lights shining through my windows. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I mean I knew immediately, a police car.”

“And that’s when the nightmare started,” he said. “I was arrested.”

He was not only arrested, he was also charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor. A prior drug charge on his record meant he was potentially looking at decades in prison. Seven witnesses backed up the police account that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard.

But Dendinger had asked his wife and nephew to record him serving the papers. It was a last minute decision, but one that may have saved him his freedom.

From what can be seen on the clips, Dendinger never touches Cassard, who calmly takes the envelope and walks back into the courthouse, handing [prosecutor Leigh Anne] Wall the envelope.

“He’d still be in a world of trouble if he didn’t have that film,” said David Cressy, a friend of Dendinger who once served as a prosecutor under [former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter] Reed. “It was him against all of them. They took advantage of that and said all sorts of fictitious things happened. And it didn’t happen. It would still be going like that had they not had the film.”

Dendinger spent nearly a year waiting for trial, racking up attorney’s fees. As a disabled Army veteran on a fixed income, Dendinger said the case stretched him financially, but in his eyes, he was fighting for his life.

After nearly a year passed, his attorneys forced Reed to recuse his office. The case was referred to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, which promptly dropped the charges.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission and himself a former prosecutor, studied the videos. He did not hesitate in his assessment.

“I didn’t see a battery, certainly a battery committed that would warrant criminal charges,” Goyeneche said. “And more importantly, the attorney general’s office didn’t see a battery.”
None of the liars are facing charges.

And then there's this horrific story from Attica prison that will make your hair stand on end. In that case it took a nurse who felt incompetent to treat a prisoner's nearly mortal wounds at the hands of guards sending that prisoner to a real hospital for the story to see the light of day.

This is why we people need to maintain skepticism about the government use of police power. Sure, most people who do that tough job are decent and honest. But there are enough who are either psychos or subject to peer pressure that allowing free rein is an invitation to abuse. These system perpetuate themselves and it's very difficult for any individual to fight for their rights against it.

I keep hearing police commentators say that you have to do whatever a police officer tells you and if they violated your rights you can contest that later. I find that a very chilling --- and unfortunately common --- point of view. It's nearly always an accident of fate that anyone can effectively contest the government when it catches you in its maw.


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