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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking In The Rearview Mirror

by digby

... and seeing carnage in your wake.

Today the ACLU and many bloggers who are concerned with the fact that the United States tortured prisoners and apparently has no intention of holding anyone responsible for it are blogging about a little known fact about the issue: the US Government didn't just torture a bunch a prisoners, as bad as that was, and as horrible as it remains for those who survived it. The United States tortured many prisoners to death. This does not seem to be common knowledge, but the evidence is quite clear that this happened. Torture and death by torture was not isolated.

I know that in the fog of war and all that that killing becomes normal and people become uncivilized. But torturing prisoners to death is not considered legal warfare. It's a crime, even in war and even on the battlefield, and we have prosecuted people for it as a capital crime.

Here's Glenn Greenwald:

So often, the premise of media discussions of torture is that "torture" is something that was confined to a single tactic (waterboarding) and used only on three "high-value" detainees accused of being high-level Al Qaeda operatives. The reality is completely different.

The interrogation and detention regime implemented by the U.S. resulted in the deaths of over 100 detainees in U.S. custody -- at least. While some of those deaths were the result of "rogue" interrogators and agents, many were caused by the methods authorized at the highest levels of the Bush White House, including extreme stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation and others. Aside from the fact that they cause immense pain, that's one reason we've always considered those tactics to be "torture" when used by others -- because they inflict serious harm, and can even kill people. Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions -- that we Look to the Future, not the Past -- are thus literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder.

Once the White House capitulated on the remaining Iraq abuse photos, I pretty much knew that they would never release any kind of damning information and more or less assumed that the vaunted CIA Inspector Generals Report from 2004, which supposedly blows the lid off the torture regime, would never see the light of day in any detail. The same goes for the DOJ IG report. They'll release something, I assume, but it will not be the straight story. I expect I will be dead before the whole story is officially revealed and confirmed.

Tomorrow they are expected to release the CIA report, heavily redacted and almost certainly useless. (Marcy Wheeler will, of course, be poring over it with a fine tooth comb and you never know what she might find. But I don't think they're going to be quite a sloppy as they were the last time.) They surely hope that is the end of it. But it isn't. There are too many people involved and too much evidence to keep it covered up. By refusing to lance this boil they are allowing the poison to continue to infect everything until the whole body politic is putrid with it. It's a big mistake.

Here's hoping I'm wrong about that and they let the people see what has been done in their names. We deserve to know and the tortured dead deserve some justice. And if we want to just deal in pragmatic concerns, if anyone thinks that refusing to hold people accountable for what happened and showing the world that we can be trusted to civilized at least after the fact doesn't make us less safe, they are out of their minds. This is how countries become pariah states.

The United States went crazy after 9/11 and tortured many, many people, at least a hundred of them to death. It happened. How do we live with that?


by digby

Christy has the run down on what people are saying on the decision and I can hardly believe that this has become a meme:

Stuart Taylor attempts to advance the canard that the Court was unanimous in its decision -- no idea how 5-4 with a concurrence from Alito is "unanimous," but then, I'm not Stuart Taylor trying to do whatever it is that he does when he gets a burr in his shorts (or helping Wendy Long advance her whinery, whatever comes first). It's clearly the "new new" in right wing talking points, because Sen. Cornyn's been mouthing it, too.

I guess it depends on what the meaning of unanimous is...

The Other Woman

by digby

Word to the wise when having a train wreck of a mid-life crisis, fellas. If you want to preserve your career, marriage, relationship with your kids or any combination thereof, don't go to the press and talk about the great connection you have with your "soul mate" lover and make it very obvious that you are in the thrall of a grand passion. Indeed, try to resist the temptation to use the media to send messages to your lover that you really do want to keep the relationship going. It's undignified. And it's likely extremely hurtful and humiliating to your family, especially your wife, in an already hurtful and humiliating situation.

These details are embarrassing and unnecessary. He needs to STFU and tell the press that he has no more comment on any of the details. This is becoming sickening to watch.

The Al Franken Decade

by dday

It's taken almost a decade for this recount to resolve itself, but the Minnesota Supreme Court rendered their verdict in the Franken-Coleman Senate case, and it's a sweep for Franken, as expected.

In the Matter of the Contest of the General Election held on November 4, 2008, for the purpose of electing a United States Senator from the State of Minnesota, Cullen Sheehan and Norm Coleman, contestants, Appellants vs. Al Franken, contestee, Respondent.

1. Appellants did not establish that, by requiring proof that statutory absentee voting standards were satisfied before counting a rejected absentee ballot, the trial court's decision constituted a post-election change in standards that violates substantive due process.

2. Appellants did not prove that either the trial court or local election officials violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

3. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded additional evidence.

4. Inspection of ballots under Minn. Stat. § 209.06 (2008) is available only on a showing that the requesting party cannot properly be prepared for trial without an inspection. Because appellants made no such showing here, the trial court did not err in denying inspection.

5. The trial court did not err when it included in the final election tally the election day returns of a precinct in which some ballots were lost before the manual recount.

And here's the money quote:

For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. Stat. § 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota.

Tim Pawlenty has said all along that he would certify the winner of the election if the Minnesota Supreme Court told him to do so. They have now told him. But all along he gave himself an out, that he would certify it as long as another court didn't tell him to stop pending another appeal. Coleman could proceed to the federal courts at this point, and national Republicans have been happy to bankroll him on that fruitless quest and keep Al Franken out of the Senate as long as possible. It's a good investment for them. Also, Senate Republicans could actually filibuster Franken's entry into the Senate, even with a signed certificate.

I'm skeptical that this will conclude so smoothly from here.

More from Eric Kleefeld.

...Here's the head of a pin on which Pawlenty could dance:

The bottom line is that the Court says that Franken is entitled to an election certificate, but there is no direct order to the state's governor to sign one. We'll see what the governor does, if Coleman does not concede, as he well may at this point. If not, the opinion is not final until the period for rehearing ends (see the final footnote of the opinion). That's a ten day period, enough time to file an emergency stay application in the U.S. Supreme Court. It would go to Justice Alito, now circuit justice for the Eighth Circuit.

UPDATE: Wow, I didn't see that coming. Norm Coleman just said he would abide by the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling and congratulated Al Franken as the newest Senator from Minnesota. I guess seven months of obstruction was long enough. What a stand-up guy!


by digby

During the run up to the Iraq war, people used to ask me why Tony Blair would lend his more liberal cred to the misbegotten adventure and join himself at the hip with Bush on such an obvious blunder. I would simply say" "BP."

A BP-led group won a deal to develop Iraq's biggest oilfield but had to slash its fee as Baghdad's tough terms put off other investors in the country's first major energy auction since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Other companies, including firms from resource-hungry China and India that are eager to get a share of the world's third largest oil reserves, balked at the fees and Iraq failed to strike deals on most of the eight oil and gas fields on offer.

The controversial auction of Iraq's prized assets took place on the same day that the U.S. troops who toppled Saddam Hussein quit Iraq's cities and left security chiefly to the country's own forces. The sale aims to raise funds for reconstruction as Iraq also takes greater charge of its economy.

"Today we have seen that the Iraqi Oil Ministry and international oil companies are living on different planets," oil analyst Ruba Husari said.

The results of the auction were not a disappointment, said Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad.

"The participation of these well-known, major companies is a good sign and it reflects the desire of these firms to invest in the Iraqi oil sector," Jihad said.

A BP-led consortium including the Chinese National Petroleum Corp NPC, was the only foreign firm to strike a deal -- for the 17-billion barrel Rumaila oilfield, Iraq's biggest, in the Shi'ite south.

Does any of this strike you as remotely plausible? I didn't think so.

This was why the war was fought and the people who run the world didn't leave any of this to chance or to some functionaries in the Iraqi government. What is happening is what was always planned to happen.

Holiday In Iraq

by dday

Iraq has disappeared from the headlines lately, but yesterday, the United States fulfilled its first obligation in the status of forces agreement by pulling its troops out of major cities, and one day ahead of schedule, to boot.

U.S. troops pulled out of Baghdad on Monday, triggering jubilation among Iraqis hopeful that foreign military occupation is ending six years after the invasion to depose Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi soldiers paraded through the streets in their American-made vehicles draped with Iraqi flags and flowers, chanting, dancing and calling the pullout a "victory".

One drove a motorcycle with party streamers on it; another, a Humvee with a garland of plastic roses on the grill [...]

"The American forces' withdrawal is something awaited by every Iraqi: male, female, young and old. I consider June 30 to be like a wedding," said Ahmed Hameed, 38, near an ice cream bar in Baghdad's upmarket Karrada district.

"This is proof Iraqis are capable of controlling security inside Iraq," added the recent returnee from exile in Egypt.

The government has declared June 30 a national holiday, "National Sovereignty Day".

Iraq still faces extreme challenges, exemplified by the spate of bombings and attacks last week leading up to this pullout, which killed at least 200. And the opening of oil fields to international corporations could signal a decline for the Iraqi people and an increase in, basically, kleptocracy. But the presence or absence of US forces means little to these challenges. The Iraqis clearly yearn to return to self-determination, and an American pullback from the military can force the disparate factions to come to a political accommodation. Marc Lynch has a smart take:

It's true that there has been an increase in the number of high-profile, high-casualty attacks over the last few weeks. The thing about spoilers is that they try to spoil. The key questions are whether the attacks trigger sectarian mobilization and security dilemma dynamics, seriously undermine confidence in the state and its ability to provide security, or drive momentum towards wider conflict. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence of mounting popular anxiety, but very little evidence of those kinds of conflict dynamics kicking in. For what it's worth, both Iraqi and American officials seem confident -- and remember when the judgment of the commanders on the ground was supposed to be considered sacred writ?

I'm not particularly an optimist on these matters, any more than I was in the past -- but I also see a rapidly declining ability or need for the U.S. to manage these issues. I think that there are still very serious issues surrounding the integration of Sunnis into the emerging Iraqi state and political system -- not just the endlessly dragging integration of the Sons of Iraq into the security forces and civil administration, but the selective targeting of key Awakenings leaders and other ongoing complaints. I also think that some amount of the recent uptick in violence is driven by the disenchantment of some of these Awakenings men, either actively or passively. But it seems clear that Maliki has decided that he can get away with selective repression and co-optation of the various Sunni forces, and will only change his approach if he determines that the price is too high. Maybe he's wrong, maybe he's right -- but that's for Iraqis to determine, not Americans.

Iraqi politics are going to continue to face all kinds of problems, as every analyst under the moon has pointed out. The Arab-Kurd issue, the continuing problems with government capacity, budget problems, and a host of unresolved issues remain. I think that the refugee/IDP issue remains the largest unresolved and virtually untouched issue facing Iraq -- those millions of people uprooted from their homes by force or fear who have few prospects of returning to their original homes, are largely disenfranchised in the emerging Iraqi political system, and who are almost completely unserved by Iraqi state institutions. But slowing down the American drawdown would not materially improve any of these issues. The best thing the U.S. can do is to continue to demonstrate its clear, credible commitment to withdraw on the agreed-upon timeline, and do what it can to help Iraqis adjust to the new realities.

Clearly, just this symbolic gesture of pulling out from the cities has produced near-universal glee among Iraqis, and hopefully that can foster a national sense of identity which can lead to all sides working together on the future of their nation. It would certainly not happen while they remained under the thumb of occupation. Just by adhering to the agreement, Obama and the US military probably garnered some goodwill in the region. But they have to keep going. If there's one thing America cannot seem to do, it's getting out of war zones (See: Germany). Leaving Iraq must mean leaving Iraq, on schedule and without exception.

...Clever move by Fourthbranch Cheney, complaining about Obama following through on the pullout of Iraqi cities that was negotiated and signed by Bush-Cheney. This is simple blame-shifting, so Cheney can point his finger at someone else if anything goes wrong. Pathetic.

In Your Name

by digby

Bob Herbert wrote about a boy the US has imprisoned for years and is now insisting must be held indefinitely because he confessed. Under torture naturally:

On Dec. 25, 2003, Jawad tried to kill himself by repeatedly banging his head against a wall of his cell.

There is no credible evidence against Jawad, and his torture-induced confession has rightly been ruled inadmissible by a military judge. But the Obama administration does not feel that he has suffered enough. Not only have administration lawyers opposed defense efforts to secure Jawad’s freedom, but they are using, as the primary basis for their opposition, the fruits of the confession that was obtained through torture and has already been deemed inadmissible — without merit, of no value.

Even the hardbitten prosecutor assigned to his case couldn't take it and he's now working to free this kid.

It's not like there is consensus on these cases. There are many, many people besides the ACLU and the horrible hippie bloggers who are appalled at what's going on --- many of them are in the military and have been directly exposed to this torture regime. The administration choosing to perpetuate these horrors under these circumstances is all the more profoundly disturbing.

And by the way, the trial balloon over the week-end about Obama issuing an executive order on preventive detention looks more and more to me like some kind of crude head fake. I guess we silly civil libertarians are supposed to be all impressed and relieved when the administration actually does this:

[T]he Brookings Institution released a paper by Ben Wittes and Colleen A. Peppard giving the possible outlines of a preventive detention statute. Although I didn't post about it, I initially assumed that the administration's move would be along the lines of what Wittes is proposing.

That isn't the case. I interviewed Wittes at length this weekend for a feature I'm doing for the print edition, and I had a chance to look over the whole proposal. Wittes told me personally that he thought Obama re-asserting--as Bush did--the inherent authority to detain terrorists suspects indefinitely would be "a disaster."

The Wittes proposal is not likely to make any civil libertarians happy. But unlike the administration's move--if the Post story is accurate--it does propose some meaningful constraints on the indefinite detention power, which up till now we've seen being used arbitrarily except where the courts intervene. The Wittes proposal would set up a FISA-like system, where terrorist suspects could be detained for 14 days without court oversight, but their cases would be subject to judicial review every six months afterward to determine if the suspect should remain detained, according to a "three pronged test." The individual would have to be: "(1) an agent of a foreign power, if (2) that power is one against which Congress has authorized the use of force, and if (3) the actions of the covered individual in his capacity as an agent of the foreign power pose a danger both to any person and to the interests of the United States." The president would also have to submit a list of groups to Congress every few months that it wants covered by the AUMF, and whose members can be subject to preventive detention. The evidence threshold for detaining someone would be lower than that used in criminal trials. There's more to the proposal, but I won't try to explain it all in one blog post.

I think we are all supposed to think this is a pragmatic compromise, especially after the "close call" where Obama was just going to reassert the Bush policy. See, it's not that bad. Relax.

And the sad thing is that in a few years people like us will be fighting like hell to preserve this latest national security state impingement on the constitution when another president says it isn't enough to keep the babies safe, just as we did with that legislative abortion called FISA.

We're still just a bunch of frogs in slowly heating water.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Beyond The Public Option

by digby

Health wonk Jonathan Cohn warns that the focus on the public plan, while useful, is not the only issue:

I happen to be a strong public plan supporter myself, for reasons this magazine laid out in a staff editorial several weeks ago: It will guarantee the possibility of affordable, reliable coverage to everybody; it will promote cost control, by leading the way on reforms of how we pay for medical care; and it will promote a healthy competition with private insurers, keeping them in line and--hopefully--prodding them to perform better. (For a more detailed explanation, please read the actual editorial.)

I also think the public plan’s centrality has produced some obvious political benefits. The antipathy towards--and distrust of--the insurance industry has led many activists to shun past reform efforts that relied heavily on private coverage. And that’s been a major reason why those past efforts failed, since those same activists tend to be reform’s most passionate supporters--the ones who will make phone calls, go door-to-door, and show up at rallies like the one that made headlines last week. The public plan option has given these people reason not only to support this year’s reform push, but to support it enthusiastically.

And yet I confess to a certain ambivalence when I hear, as I frequently do, statements like the one Dean made at the rally. Yes, the public plan is a key element of reform. But it is not the only one.

Just consider what was going on inside Capitol Hill meeting rooms as Dean was speaking. Over the past week, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have been busy hacking away at their proposed legislation, in order to bring the total price tag in at under $1 trillion over ten years. To accomplish this, the committee leaders have proposed cutting the subsidies that reform will make available to people who have trouble paying for insurance on their own.

If those cuts end up in the final legislation, fewer people would get assistance and, quite possibly, those that still got assistance wouldn’t get as much. The result would be more uninsured and more underinsured.

And that's not the only major issue in play.

Read on for others. They are significant.

Here's the thing. When it comes to legislative sausage making, there's little we as grassroots activists can do about the actual ingredients. We can call out congresspeople and we can sign petitions and we can run some ads and write letters to the editor. All of that is useful. But when it comes to the minutia of the bill, it's highly unlikely that we can have a direct effect.

What we can do is rally around a specific concept like the public plan (or in a political world with better organization and foresight, single payer) and push with all of our might to get that one thing done. The beauty of doing that around the public plan is the rhetorical simplicity of it. And it actually uses the word public as if that's something good.

Clinton's health care plan was derailed largely because it was perceived as being cumbersome and complicated. They had to explain things like "managed competition" and "global budgets" and "premium caps." Those things don't exactly read well on a bumper sticker and the right was able to persuade people that the whole thing was a big mess that wasn't going to work.

Times have changed. People have learned a lot about health insurance in the past 16 years -- more than they ever wanted to know --- and they have come to realize that the system is already complicated and that it's not working for them a good part of the time. But using the public plan as a rallying cry keeps the pressure on the congress to at least see this through.

I recognize that there are people of good faith out there who believe that the public plan is a sham and that progressives are selling out their beliefs by backing it instead of insisting on single payer or nothing. I would just say that if there were any other path to getting reform in the next eight years, I'd agree. But I don't see that there is. The politicians are already making the sausage. We don't know yet what they are going to put together and for the sake of all those millions of people who have no insurance or are about to lose theirs, it seems to me that we at least try to get something passed. I wish it could be more perfect, but I have absolutely no idea how to make it better at this point. Standing in the way without a serious strategic alternative that could actually result in real reform seems short sighted to me.

The sausage may end up tasting like shit or it might not be too bad, but people need some relief and I'm not willing to say on the basis of what I know now that what they are going to get will make them sicker than they already are. And you never know, it might just make them a little bit better.

And remember, it was only a few years ago that George W. Bush was going around saying "they [liberals] think social security's some kind of government program!" So, if nothing else, getting the idea of "public" back into the political lexicon as a positive concept is worth something.

Coup Coup

by digby

I know I'm sounding very anti-intellectual today, but maybe that's because I keep hearing things that from smart people that make no sense. Evidently, there is actually some question among certain people as to whether or not the ousting of the president of Honduras by the Honduran military can be considered a coup. You see, they did it on behalf of the legislature, supposedly, so that makes it completely different.

I don't know about you but if it walks like a junta and talks like a junta...

Anyway, in their quest to turn this into a blow for freedom and democracy, some people on the right have found some interesting new ways to describe it.

Whose description is the most tortured, Orwellian, or otherwise insane?
  • Candidate 1: Interim dictator Roberto Micheletti describes how he found himself in this new role: "I did not reach this position because of a coup. I am here because of an absolutely legal transition process."
  • Candidate 2: The WSJ's Mary Anastacia O'Grady describes the military overthrow as all part of a country's democratic system of "checks and balances."
  • Candidate 3: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air invents an awesome new concept. This was "less of a coup and more of a military impeachment."
  • Candidate 4: At the Corner, Ray Walser praised the way "Congress, the courts, and the military joined forces" in a "deliberate, bipartisan manner."
  • Candidate 5: Rick Moran at the American Thinker doesn't care if it's a coup, only who it serves: "Does the fact that the coup is in the interests of the United States even matter to our president?"

Your turn starts...now!

Go here to vote for your favorite Orwellian Euphemism.

My favorite, by far, is Cap'n Ed's "Military Impeachment." It's so deliciously, wingnutty that I can seriously imagine it catching on in certain circles. It wouldn't be the first time.


The Great Huckleberry Hope

by dday

Chris Cillizza thinks he's found the answer to Republican prayers just by flipping on his teevee on Sunday morning:

Dispirited Republicans looking for national leaders amid a wash of scandals that have dominated national news over the last fortnight got a bit of good news on Sunday with an inspired performance on "Meet the Press" by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R).

Graham, who spent the 2008 election cycle as Sen. John McCain's loyal sidekick, appeared alongside former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner in advance of 2012, and managed to stand out.

Why? Because unlike other Republicans who seem to be so fixated on scoring political points on President Obama, Graham was willing to point out where his own party had strayed while also making a reasonable argument for GOP ideals.

Asked about Gov. Mark Sanford's extramarital affair, Graham, who is close to the governor, said that he was "disappointed" in his friend's behavior and praised Obama as "one of the better role models in the entire country for the idea of being a good parent, a good father."

Of the two major legislative victories for Democrats so far this Congress -- the economic stimulus bill and the climate change measure -- Graham offered a criticism that acknowledged the mistakes his own party had made while subtly hanging the politics as usual label on Obama and Democrats.

"The stimulus package was Karl Rove politics; pick a few Republicans off, call it bipartisan," said Graham. "The climate change bill was Tom DeLay banging heads and twisting arms to get one vote more than you needed. So there's really been no change in Washington."

Even on the most divisive of issues -- the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton -- Graham managed to deflect the partisan bows and arrows slung at him, pointing out that he was the only Republican to vote against the article involving Clinton lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and adding "part of life, is failing."

This is pretty unbelievable. Somehow, calling Obama a dissembler and a thug is tempered by saying that he appears to not be sleeping around. And it's notable for Graham to point out that he voted against one article of impeachment, despite being a HOUSE MANAGER for the impeachment trial and perhaps as visible as any politician in that entire episode. Graham has been questioning the patriotism and the judgment of any Democrat in his path for well over a decade. And using the words "Karl Rove politics" or "Tom DeLay politics" hardly changes the fact that Graham's record was more conservative than DeLay when he was in the House. Graham's words about "bipartisanship" are nonsense and never match his actions.

Here's the laughable wrap-up:

Does one solid performance on a Sunday show mean that Graham is the new "it" guy for the GOP? No. But the notoriously private Graham seemed to signal on Sunday that he is ready to take more of a leadership role.

I think Graham shows up on teevee more on Sunday morning than the CBS Eye and the NBC peacock combined. "Notoriously private?" The man showed up in the background of so many John McCain rallies last year you'd think he was either McCain's running mate or his personal nurse. He's not exactly some sparkling, new figure on the political scene. But sometimes, he makes soft cooing sounds before voting in a hard-right fashion, and so the traditional media swoons.

Oh, and by the way, there's a pretty good reason that Graham has never sought higher office.

David vs Goliath

by digby

Chris Hayes reports on a new progressive organization to lobby for financial system reform. It is something that is badly needed, obviously, although the picture he paints doesn't leave me feeling as optimistic as he is about it.

It's very hard to see how this can happen as long as the Masters of the Universe and the politicians are all members of the same club. But it's certainly worth trying.

Update: On the other hand, the combination of that with this effort could be significant --- if the right people are chosen for the commission:

Word is circulating in Washington that members for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission will be named this week.

The commission is supposed to resemble the 1930s Pecora commission that dug into the culprits behind the Great Depression and laid the groundwork for major bank reform. But that will only be true if the commission is run by aggressive seekers of truth, independent of the financial industry, willing to use their subpoena power, knowledgeable enough to have warned us of impeding crisis in the first place despite market cheerleading from the political and media establishments.

The Misinformation Spread on Ricci

by dday

The Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Ricci case, reversing with a 5-4 count the lower court opinion that the city of New Haven can refuse to apply a promotions test for firefighters because no African-Americans passed it. The city feared a discrimination lawsuit over the test, but the Court basically waved that away.

The case was previously decided by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by a three-judge panel that included Sonia Sotomayor. And so now we'll hear all about that honky-hating judge reversed again (how does this affect her "reversal rate"?) and the manly men of the Supreme Court helping out those poor white firefighters who worked so hard to pass that test. As Eric Boehlert chronicles:

Not only was the reversal a foregone conclusion, but so too, was the narrative now being played out in the press. The press and Republicans (notice how they work in tandem) have been touting this reversal for weeks, hyping it as a potentially "embarrassing" reversal, which would (supposedly) raise all kind of doubts about Sotomayor's smarts and her ability as a judge.

And trust us, this meme is already being hammered and will likely continue throughout the week: Sotomayor was reversed--she got smacked down--by the Supreme Court! It's a huge deal.

Except, of course, it is not. Judges get reversed everyday. In fact, the system of American jurisprudence is built upon the idea of judges getting reversed. It happens all the time. And yes, the Supreme Court reverses judges all the time. But only now, in the case of Sotomayor, is the press pretending that that reversal is a singular rebuke; that it's a mark of shame for Sotomayor because she got the case wrong.

In addition, Courts of Appeals, in a general sense, follow prior precedent rather than make the sweeping changes that can be made at the SCOTUS level. Far from being a slave to "empathy," Sotomayor followed the law available to her in concurring with the majority decision on her Appeals Court. In fact, as Sam Alito wrote in his concurrence today, "But 'sympathy' is not what petitioners have a right to demand. What they have a right to demand is evenhanded enforcement of the law . . . And that is what, until today's decision, has been denied them." The Second Court had no precedent on which to rely to offer that enforcement, and if Sotomayor reversed the District Court ruling in Ricci, she would have been relying on sympathy. Which is what her critics say she always relies on.

Nevertheless, the leader of the Republican Party says that " "The court found that she was indeed a racist", by a 9-0 margin, somehow (that's the new meme). Judge Sotomayor's position on this mirrored the Justice she is prepared to replace on the Court, but never mind.

Those on the right wing will certainly spin this as proof positive of Sotomayor's incompetence, or her hatred of white people, etc. They've been preparing the ground for this ruling as a "seminal moment" that could derail the nomination, and they will come up with whatever distortions necessary to try to ensure that. But the charge rings pretty hollow and is based on a misunderstanding of the law, which is characteristic of many conservative arguments, actually.


Just Like Buying Groceries

by digby

Krugman sez:

Both George Will and Greg Mankiw basically argue that we don’t need a government role because we can trust the market to work — hey, we do it for groceries, right?

Um, economists have known for 45 years — ever since Kenneth Arrow’s seminal paper — that the standard competitive market model just doesn’t work for health care: adverse selection and moral hazard are so central to the enterprise that nobody, nobody expects free-market principles to be enough. To act all wide-eyed and innocent about these problems at this late date is either remarkably ignorant or simply disingenuous.

I haven't read Kenneth Arrow's seminal paper, but my common sense and intuition tell me that free market principles aren't enough. Even if individual economic decisions were entirely rational, which they're obviously not, when it comes to life and death, the only rational decision is to do whatever it takes to live. That's an unusual economic decision.

I realize that Krugman's talking about the insurance market not individual incentives, but I do think that when you drill down to the essence of what the free market conservatives are saying, it's that people who don't have the money to pay for good insurance deserve to die. It's really just an outgrowth of their belief in social Darwinism and Randian exceptionalism --- good people have money, bad people are parasites -- and those who can't afford to keep up are lacking in moral fiber and work ethic. It's how they see the world --- until they too are caught in the web, at which point they blame women and minorities.

Update: Here's a good comment from Adam in the comment section. There are others as well:

My suggestion is that you read that paper, or better yet, just read Akerlof's paper. It's pretty weak tea to just announce without support that your intuition and common sense lead you to believe that the market doesn't provide optimal healthcare. Why not? What common sense principals lead you to believe that the market fails here? What intuition guides you to this conclusion?

Because I think your ignorance (please know that I mean no harm in using that word, I love this blog) does damage to your case. You argue that conservatives feel that anyone without money (to simplify too much) deserves to be without care. I think it is much worse than that.

The two principals Krugman is referring to are adverse selection (what liberals are usually concerned about) and moral hazard (what conservatives are usually concerned about). Adverse selection is, very simply, the condition where because of asymmetric information, even perfectly functioning markets will fail to provide goods efficiently--Akerlof's paper shows an example with used cars. The example with healthcare is easy to visualize. You and I know much more about our health than any insurance company can possibly know (even if we filled out questionnaires truthfully and to the best of our ability). This means that we are more willing to get health insurance (which is basically synonymous with health care in this country) when we know we are sick than when we are healthy. And we are even willing to pay high premiums when we KNOW we will require care, because the cost of care is so large. So the pool of money from premiums doesn't cover the cost of care (those folks who spend years paying into health care while just getting primary care choose to opt out for the same reason), and insurance companies raise the premiums.

But, health insurance companies don't know if a customer willing to pay high premiums is just showing their risk preferences or that they are secretly very sick. So a customer willing to pay higher premiums may just be signaling that they will require more care.

In some sense, this is why we ALREADY have massive government intervention in health care. The benefit tax exemption (originally negotiated in WWII as an agreement between companies, the gov't and unions in exchange for wage freezes and what-not) is a massive subsidy to the health care industry and incents companies to package health care with employment (so the total compensation isn't taxed). This limits consumers' abilities to opt out of health care (say, if they are male, aged 18-25 and think that they are bullet-proof), but plenty still do (deliberately, while many who want health care are forced out due to employment restrictions and the inflated cost of offering health care outside of the workforce).

Once we understand the adverse selection point, this begins to look a LOT like the market for student loans. Same information problems, similar solution (government provides some loans and subsidizes others). SAME conservative response--when Obama pushed to replace subsidies w/ public loans (A good thing), conservatives fought back with the old "gov't is bad" refrain, despite the fact that the entire private student loan industry survives on government loan guarantees.

It isn't so much that they are social darwanists. It is that they have become fixated on a stream of income but are intellectually incapable of seeing it as subsidy. Deficit spending is fiscal expansion without the immediate pain (c.f. Reagen, Bush II). Military spending is closet Keynsianism (Barney Frank had a good comment about this). Hell, agitating for war overseas w/ someone elses' sons is war without the war.

Huey Lewis & The News Must Be On The Radio

by dday

When I think about the 1980s, I am reminded of Pac-Man, The Cosby Show and Central American military coups orchestrated by School of the Americas graduates.

President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was ousted by the army on Sunday, capping months of tensions over his efforts to lift presidential term limits.

In the first military coup in Central America since the end of the cold war, soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, early in the morning, disarming the presidential guard, waking Mr. Zelaya and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica.

Mr. Zelaya, a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, angrily denounced the coup as illegal. “I am the president of Honduras,” he insisted at the airport in San José, Costa Rica, still wearing his pajamas. (nice touch -ed)

Later Sunday the Honduran Congress voted him out of office, replacing him with the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti.

Romeo Vazquez, the head of the Honduran military, matriculated at the School of the Americas. I'm not completely up to speed on the ins and outs of Honduran politics, but you can figure out the players with that kind of scorecard. And here's another tell: the Wall Street Journal editorial page supports this overt military coup. Not just at cocktail parties, but in their own pages.

... an interesting assessment of the situation from Charles Lemos.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

They Never Quit

by digby

I don't want to get into another generational spat today, but there seems to be a building meme that the people to blame for the economic problems are the undisciplined baby boomers, which is simplistic at best and truly devastating if it catches on. This is because it plays into the hands of the fiscal scolds who want desperately to drive a wedge between the generations so they can use this crisis to finally destroy social security.

Here's CNN yesterday:

ROMANS: Let's talk a bit about how the boomers could slow down a recovery. Could that be a factor?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think it's going to be a very real factor. We know that households in general have lost an enormous amount of wealth in this recession. Their housing value, their stock market portfolios got hit hard and they started with a lot of debt. We would expect everyone to save more to rebuild that wealth going forward but the boomers are closer to retirement and they're a big chunk of the population so we'd expect them to save more and have a bigger influence. They say that is less spending and I expect consumer spending will be sluggish going forward.

ROMANS: The two sort of factors here, we talk about blaming the boomers for this whole thing and there is the fact they rejected the frugality of their parents and really perfected the art of spending someone else's money then there is also just the big size of the cohorts that they say demographics, just this huge size and they start to slow down to retire, when they start to take their money out to live on. That has a huge impact for the rest of the country.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: It's a huge impact for the country. It's a huge impact for the world quite frankly. The United States has been the last retail market for a decade now. China, India, Europe, Japan you name it, they counted on selling goods into the United States. As we come out of this recession the whole world has to find a different way to do business. We are going to need export more to other countries and we are going to need to have spending by businesses instead of just households.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the baby boomers' health care and Social Security needs. This is big, too. The youngest boomers start turning I think they start turning 45 this year so you're talking about 15 or 20-year period where there will be more pressure on health care and Social Security?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: We've seen this coming for a long time. It is really vivid in the federal budget, past 2011 you see the Medicare lines ramp up, you see the Social Security spending ramp up. And to be quite frankly we are not in a position to pay those bills. There needs to be serious work on Medicare and that's part of the health care reform debate this year. It's obvious that we need to fix Social Security and we probably should do it quickly.

So, what we have is the idea that the boomers were a bunch of spendthrifts who gambled all their money thus causing the recession, but now they are going into retirement and are not going to be spending as much money so they are prolonging the recession. You can't win. And the youngest boomers who are turning 45 will be spending into the fund for the next 23 years or so are chopped liver whose contributions into the system count for nothing --- as do those who paid all that extra money in over the past 25 years so the government could put it in a "lockbox" for our retirement, which they promptly spent on wars and tax cuts for rich people.

Look, it's not that some of this isn't true. They have been a hugely affluent generation and lived it up, often to excess. (A lot of us are going to pay for that in our old age in more ways than one.) Their contribution so far to the political leadership in middle age has been fraught with stale battles that long ago lost their salience, no doubt about that.

But it should be remembered that the affluence in which they grew up was heavily subsidized by the government which used to tax those who benefited but somewhere along the line decided that it would be better to borrow the money instead. The Greatest Generation wasn't frugal like their parents, who were traumatized by the depression and kept their money under the mattress. The Greatest Generation had the best public subsidies and private pensions in American history and they raised their standard of living accordingly. Their progeny assumed they would have that too, but America being the "exceptional" place we all know it is, they also apparently believed Ronnie and Newtie when they said they could have it without paying taxes.

This is a big topic and probably beyond my ken. But I do know that the young are actually beneficiaries of this recession, at least so far. Dean Baker wrote a great piece about this a couple of months ago:

Finally, the recent collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting stock market plunge have reduced the wealth of older workers and retirees by close to $15 trillion. This is a transfer to the young, since they will be able to buy the housing stock and the corporate capital stock for a far lower price than they would have expected to pay just two years ago.

Remarkably, the granny basher crew has somehow failed to notice this enormous transfer of wealth from the old to the young. They just continue their crusade to cut Social Security and Medicare as though nothing has happened.

It should be evident that the granny bashers don't care at all about generational equity. They care about dismantling Social Security and Medicare, the country's most important social programs. It is important that the public recognize the granny bashers' real agenda so that they can give them the respect they deserve.

Indeed, CNN itself featured evidence for that in their previous segment today:

WILLIS: I want to talk to you about a study out from Harvard University, the Joint Center for Housing studies, there, they say the silver lining here, the people that are going to save the market are Gen-Y. these are the folks that are going to come in and buy these homes boomers want to unload. And yet, I mean, you just said it, they've got college debt, they've got credit card debt, this is a tough time for them because of the recession. What would you advise people who are in that age category really want to buy?

MCBRIDE: Well, here's the thing. Three or four years ago a lot of those same people thought they'd never buy a house. Right? Because prices were so high. But, prices have come down, 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent in some markets, mortgage rates are low. So, they have a lot of tail winds.

You know, buying a house is like getting married, don't do it if you're not ready, you got to be in for the long haul and you have to be prepared for the financial commitment. So, if you have those two things, low mortgage rates are another boost to you...

Of course, you need a job and a down payment, and not all that many people do, but eventually people will buy houses and they will be buying them at lower prices. And the older folks who are selling them are often selling them at a loss, certainly of expectations if nothing else. Every transaction has two parties, right?

There is blame to go around on this and the boomers certainly bear their fair share. But I would hope that younger people don't fall for the Fiscal Scold propaganda that says we have to dismantle the safety net because the baby boomers ruined the economy. Keep in mind that if these cranks actually succeed in destroying the safety net, you youngsters are going to need that big house you thought you could never afford because your aging parents are going to be living in the basement. And you'll be changing their bedpans because medicare won't be worth a damn either. It's in every American's long and short term self-interest to make sure the safety net is strong.

Being A Villager

by digby

...means never having to say you're sorry.

Following up on dday's post below about the return of one of the original spite girls, Ceci Connolly, I thought it might be useful to remind everyone of the indefatigable Bob Somerby's coverage of her journalistic blitzkrieg against Al Gore during election 2000. It's all here and it's all ugly.

Here's just one tiny little example of Ceci Connolly's journalistic malpractice:

Yesterday, Gore told a middle school class about his Vietnam service:

CONNOLLY (paragraph 2): Even though he and his parents opposed the war, Gore said he volunteered for the Army because he "thought it was the right thing to do."

(3): Co-teaching Sandy Simpson's history class, Gore described his months as a military journalist but said he could not remember his lottery number. (It was 30, a number that would have guaranteed being drafted had Gore not volunteered.)

We'll let you decide why those last pointless facts are in this morning's paper.

What Connolly absent-mindedly forgot to mention: Gore signed up for the army on August 8, 1969. The lottery came in December. When he volunteered, Gore had no way of knowing what his number would be. It's not all that clear what it means to say that he even had a lottery number. Careful readers, though, can read the inferences in Connolly's latest creation.

(We can't prove it came from there, of course, but this is the kind of "fact" that would have come right out of the GOP oppo research department that all the kewl kidz were uncritically gobbling up with the same gusto they slurped down those Dove bars on Bush's campaign plane.)

Ceci Connolly is still writing snotty, fictional scripts about people she doesn't like. Dana Milbank is making junior high school drama class videos. Froomkin's out on the street.

The worst thing about the right wingers calling the Washington Post the "liberal media" isn't that it's factually inaccurate -- it's that they are making liberals look so bad by lumping us in with these people.

Update: Speaking of Milbank, Julia reminded me of this:

MILBANK: You know what it is, Howie, I think that Gore is sanctimonious and that’s sort of the worst thing you can be in the eyes of the press. And he has been disliked all along and it was because he gives a sense that he’s better than us—he’s better than everybody, for that matter, but the sense that he’s better than us as reporters. Whereas President Bush probably is sure that he's better than us—he’s probably right—but he does not convey that sense. He does not seem to be dripping with contempt when he looks at us, and I think that has something to do with the coverage.

There you go.

Washington To Constituents: STFU

by dday

Ceci Connolly decided to jump on the opportunity to forward a "Democrats in disarray" narrative, arguing that grassroots groups inviting Americans to participate in their government is just too messy and risks hurting the feelings of those "friends" in the Democratic Party who resist real health care reform.

When asking me about the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's TV ads (which begin airing Monday in DC) holding Senate Dems accountable for taking millions from insurance interests and being on the verge of opposing a public option supported by 76% of Americans, Connolly would ask me ridiculous questions like, "Why are you attacking your friends? Wouldn't you agree that these Democrats are better for you on most health care issues than Republicans?"

I had to patiently explain to her that the public option is the defining issue of the health care debate -- if Senators like Baucus and Nelson aren't with us on that, they are not our friends.

Connolly listened, and then chose to dismiss silly activists who are fighting for what 76% of Americans want:

Activists say they are simply pressing for quick delivery of "true health reform," but the intraparty rift runs the risk of alienating centrist Democrats who will be needed to pass a bill.

Even though this story obviously sympathizes with those who want the hippies to STFU and enjoy whatever scraps they can get, I'm OK with having it out there. Because if the Village has to recognize the efforts in the grassroots, they've become too big to ignore. Also illuminating is the fact that not one named source would go on the record saying that such grassroots pressure on wavering Dems is harmful.

Essentially, being told that this pressure isn't working by folks inside the Beltway is a sure sign that it IS. So watch out, Kay Hagan, who apparently is holding up the inclusion of a public option in the Senate HELP Committee's draft. And the same goes for Blanche Lincoln, who has been squishy on the issue in her public statements. Blue America will have a lot to announce on that front in the coming weeks. So support the Campaign for Health Care Choice as we "run the risk of alienating centrist Democrats" once again.

...what's funny about this is the lack of understanding of who controls the process in the health care bill. It's completely obvious that Republicans will not support any kind of reform. Therefore, anyone who wants to impact the legislation must work on the Democratic side. That's simply a rational calculation of where to place pressure.


by digby

Coincidence, I'm sure:

As financial markets tumbled and the government worked to stave off panic by pumping billions of dollars into banks last fall, several members of Congress who oversee the banking industry were grabbing up or dumping bank stocks.

Anticipating bargains or profits or just trying to unload before the bottom fell out, these members of the House Financial Services Committee or brokers on their behalf were buying and selling stocks including Bank of America and Citigroup -- some of the very corporations their committee would later rap for greed, a Plain Dealer examination of congressional stock market transactions shows.

Financial disclosure records show that some of these Financial Services Committee members, including Ohio Rep. Charlie Wilson, made bank stock trades on the same day the banks were getting a government bailout from a program Congress approved. The transactions may not have been illegal or against congressional rules, but securities attorneys and congressional watchdog groups say they raise flags about the appearance of conflicts of interest.

"I don't think that any of these people should be owning these types of financial instruments," said Brian Biggins, a Cleveland securities lawyer and former stock brokerage manager. "I'm not saying they shouldn't be in the stock market. But if they're on the banking committee and trading in these kinds of stocks, I don't think that's right."

Wilson wasn't the only one. The article cites several other members of the committee, of both parties, who "coincidentally" traded around the time that they were privy to information that others didn't have and were being personally lobbied by people who were trying to get something from them. It stinks to high heaven.

Some of these stock sales enabled committee members or their families to cut losses before the market continued its slide. Other trades proved to be particularly ill-timed. Citigroup stock, for example, closed at $22.50 per share the day Brown-Waite bought it. Now it's hovering around $3.

Many details about the massive financial bailout last fall were widely known outside Capitol Hill. Yet members of the Financial Services Committee were privy to closed-door discussions, staff briefings and political horse-trading decisions between political parties, Congress and the White House. Banks lobbied Congress and the administration heavily.

Banks that received bailout money spent $77 million on lobbying and $37 million on federal campaign contributions last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center found that the banks spending the heaviest got the biggest rescue packages.

There has been no direct evidence that this allowed members to engage in insider trading. But when lawmakers overseeing banks also buy and sell bank stocks, it can create "the appearance of a problem," said Anthony J. Hartman, a Cleveland securities attorney.

"I do a lot of different types of litigation, and I just don't think anybody ought to be putting themselves in a situation where as an elected official, I can be suspect of what they are doing," Hartman said.

I do not know why members of congress who oversee certain industries should ever be allowed to invest in those industries. It's ridiculous on its face. And it's even more ridiculous that they did it knowing full well that it would be disclosed.

I don't want to hear another word about how much these people hate fund raising and having to beg for money for their campaigns all the time. Apparently, they are very well compensated for their trouble.

h/t to bb
Pitney vs Milbank

by digby

Just to put this into perspective, think about this: Nico Pitney has spent the last two weeks tirelessly developing sources from inside Iran, aggregating every relevant story available on the internet through every available form of the new communication technology and synthesizing one of the most most difficult and important foreign policy stories of the decade. Dana Milbank has spent the same period bitching about the "low press" getting to ask questions at a press conference and filming snotty little gossip items for his little insider video embarrassment called "Mouthpiece Theatre."

You tell me which one's the "real" journalist.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Night At The Movies

Lighten up, Francis

By Dennis Hartley

Director and star: So God and Jesus walk into a bar…

It’s official now. With his latest film, Tetro, a mad fever dream of a family angst drama that plays out like a telenovela on acid, Francis Ford Coppola has become Colonel Kurtz.

"Well, you see Willard... Every man has got a
breaking point. You and I have. Walter Kurtz has reached his.
And very obviously, he has gone insane."

"Yes sir, very much so sir. Obviously insane."

-from Apocalypse Now

OK, perhaps I exaggerate a tad. I don’t really mean to insinuate that the venerable 70-year old director has literally gone completely around the bend in his new film; but as an artist, it signals that he has come full circle-in a sort of insane fashion. Back in 1963, under the auspices of the famously “no-budget” producer Roger Corman, a then 24-year old Coppola wrote and directed a B & W horror cheapie called Dementia 13. The story revolved around a twisted family with dark secrets. It’s been a while since I’ve screened it, but I seem to remember one of the family members creeping about the estate wielding an axe. While it’s not ostensibly “horror”, one could thumbnail Tetro as a B & W film revolving around a twisted family with dark secrets; and, oddly enough, there is a climactic scene where one of the family members creeps about an estate-wielding an axe.

For the setup of this (possibly) very personal story, Coppola utilizes some of his own emotional leftovers to cook up a Tennessee Williams meets Douglas Sirk-worthy family stew (with just a hint of balletic Powell and Pressburger opera tossed in for flavoring). Tetro (Vincent Gallo) is an ex-pat living in Buenos Aires with his dancer girlfriend Miranda (Mirabel Verdu), who is an Argentine native. Tetro is a troubled soul; a highly gifted but unpublished writer-poet with a history of mental breakdowns who has willfully estranged himself from his family (for complex reasons that are unraveled in very deliberate, sudsy fashion). He is quite chagrined when an unwelcomed boulder comes smashing through this wall of self-imposed exile in the form of his younger brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), who shows up on his doorstep one day, out of the blue. Bennie, a cruise ship worker whose boat “happens” to be in port, has not seen his big brother since he was knee high to a grasshopper, and is quite eager to reestablish contact.

In fact, Bennie idolizes Tetro; it is that unique mixture of envy and romanticized esteem that younger family members hold for the older siblings who are first in line to declare independence from parental restraints and strike out into the coveted world of adult “freedom” (we all know how soon that illusion gets shattered…heh). Tetro, however, is not eager to reciprocate. Not only does he make it clear that Bennie is not welcome to stay any longer than absolutely necessary, but he refuses to refer to him as a relative when introducing him to some of the locals. Undaunted, Bennie remains hell-bent to reconnect, and soon fate and circumstance serve to prolong his visit to Buenos Aires, setting off a chain of events that eventually forces both brothers to come to terms with their shared “Daddy issues” (Klaus Maria Brandauer chews major scenery as their narcissistic father, who is a world-famous symphony conductor… and world-class prick).

Coppola’s films have generally vacillated between the Big Theme (The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, Gardens of Stone) and the intimate character study (The Rain People, One From The Heart, Rumble Fish, Peggy Sue Got Married). I have to admit to being more partial to his Big Theme films. As I conjectured earlier, this is “possibly” an extremely personal film; I’m no psychiatrist, but Coppola’s dad, Carmine, is a composer/conductor (since I don’t know the man, I can’t attest to whether or not he is a prick…but I’m just saying). At any rate, this definitely qualifies as a “personal” work on some level; it virtually screams at you from the passionate, high drama of the piece. It goes without saying that “family” is a recurring theme in his work as well; so in that respect, you could say that Tetro is a return to form. So is that a good thing in this case?

Well, I was with Coppola for the first half or so of the movie. Gallo delivers an explosive performance; I think it’s his finest work to date. The charismatic Verdu is very effective inhabiting a character who is at once earthy, sensuous and saintly (OK, you Freudians-I know what you’re thinking. Settle down-it’s only a movie). Newcomer Ehrenreich holds his own quite admirably with his more seasoned co-stars. The problem I have is with the film’s over-the-top third act. Even accounting for Coppola’s (literally) operatic construct that leads up to the jaw-dropping finale, it’s all a bit too…too (if you know what I’m saying). Maybe it’s me; if you enjoy that sort of thing, perhaps you’ll be more forgiving.

One cannot deny the visual artistry on display. Even when he lost me with the story, Coppola’s mastery of the medium kept my eyes riveted to the screen. So he did his job, after all. He’s been doing it for 50 years-so I’ll let him off the hook…for old time’s sake.

Previous posts with related themes:

Writer’s Block
The Savages

Getting Clear

by digby

This series on Scientology is a revelation. I don't care what people believe. Indeed, I find a lot of religious belief, particularly the supernatural stuff, really hard to take seriously. But these people have a system of intimidation that's got few parallels. Not that religion isn't often coercive --- the Inquisition wasn't exactly pretty --- but this is quite modern and systematic in a way that I don't think we've seen before. Using the establishment clause as a legal cudgel against free speech is quite creative.

Anyway, if you're looking for a riveting read this lazy week-end, this is a good one.


by digby

Sometimes it's the little things that make your day:

The discovery of 10 lynx kittens this spring marks the first newborns documented in Colorado since 2006, heartening biologists overseeing restoration of the mountain feline.

The tuft-eared cats with big, padded feet were native to Colorado, but were wiped out by the early 1970s by logging, trapping, poisoning and development. They are listed as threatened on the endangered species list.

Biologists found no kittens the past two years, possibly partly because of a drop in the number of snowshoe hares, the cats' main food source.

This year, seven male and three female kittens were found in five dens.

Chicken Fried Lattes

by digby

He's just a down home good old boy and she's just a down to earth country girl:

Mrs. Sanford, 46, was the second of five children born to an prominent, Irish Catholic family in Winnetka, Ill., a lush suburb of Chicago with private drives and palatial homes. She was, as one friend from Winnetka puts it, part of Chicago’s gentry — with a grandfather who helped found the company that made and sold the first portable electric saw, another grandfather and uncle who were leaders at the Winston and Strawn law firm, and even a family tie to Rushton Skakel Sr., the brother of Ethel Kennedy.

Despite the wealth and prestige Mrs. Sanford brought to her marriage, friends say she was not one to put on airs. Friends in South Carolina described her as a “down-to-earth” mother who insisted that her four sons set the dining room table even once they were living inside the governor’s mansion and had a staff.


Mrs. Sanford attended a private, Catholic all-girls school in Lake Forest, Ill. At Georgetown University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1984 with a finance degree, she was viewed as whip smart and a hard worker...

It was during her time working at Lazard Freres & Company, the investment bank, that she met Mr. Sanford at a beach party in the Hamptons.

I just love these salt-o' the-earth, family values, Real Murkins, don't you? Good thing South Carolina doesn't truck with those big city elites runnin' everything.

Fixin' It

by digby

Ezra Klein says that a lot of people think we need to relax and have faith that health care will be fixed in conference:

[H]ere's a question that few have asked, and that virtually no one knows the answer to: How important is conference committee to the way the White House is looking at health care? I've heard it's pretty important. Heard the same thing about Harry Reid, actually. If that's true, then this is what the Democratic leadership is thinking: The overriding imperative right now is to keep health reform alive. That's all that matters. Get it out of the Finance Committee. Get it off the Senate floor. If it's cut down to half a loaf, fine. You don't fix it now. You fix it in conference. Or you let Henry Waxman do it for you.

That, incidentally, is not an unprecedented strategy. It's what the Bush administration did with Medicare Part D. The expansion the Senate wrote was genuinely bipartisan: Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle both voted for the legislation. But the version that came out of conference committee was significantly more conservative. Kennedy and Daschle abandoned the bill. Democrats began organizing against legislation they had previously supported. It passed anyway.

It passed because it's hard to filibuster bills emerging from conference. You can't change them, for one thing. No amendments are allowed. Nor is there time for debate. You vote for the bill, you vote against the bill, or you filibuster the bill. Those are your options. Democrats are likely to walk out of conference committee with 60 senators in their party. Ben Nelson will not be able to ask to change this bit he doesn't like, and Evan Bayh will not be allowed to offer an amendment weakening that piece. They stand with the White House or against it. And it is, in the estimation of most observers I've talked to, hard to imagine them literally filibustering the final vote on health reform. The White House would torture them until they lost reelection. And if no Democrats are willing to filibuster, then the White House could lose as many as 10 of them and still pass the bill.

Sounds like an awesome plan. Except for one thing. Is there any reason on earth to believe that the Democrats in the conference committee will actually come out with a better plan than the one that went in?

I'd like to believe it's possible that everybody's just playing 53 dimensional chess in all this, but I am skeptical. I suspect that what you see is what you get. Democrats are as hostile to or afraid of a major change in the status quo as the Republicans are. They want to take credit for "fixing" problems and doing "what works" but I haven't seen any evidence as yet that they are very willing to take risks to make that happen. Maybe they are all still in thrall to the free market magical thinking that guided most economic decisions of the past quarter century or maybe they just don't trust their own instincts, but I'm not sanguine in the least that the Democratic leadership will go in a back room and "knock heads" to get real reform. If it isn't done in the open, after a rousing public debate where public opinion is strongly behind those who are taking the leap, I think it's highly doubtful they'll come up with anything better behind closed doors.

The Republicans had absolute faith that what they were doing was right and pushed their agenda through, regardless of what anyone said. And their goals and policies have failed. The Democrats have learned the wrong lesson from that. They have no faith that what they are doing is right and so are afraid to push anything through that doesn't have total bipartisan consensus. And yet, their goals and policies, if bold enough, would likely succeed. They're not only fighting the last war, they're fighting somebody else's.

Transparent Obscurity

by digby

last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a nice little rundown on all the cases where the Obama administration's promises of "transparency" and adherence to constitutional norms have turned out to be shall we say, a bit opaque.

There were those who saw the writing on the wall on these issues through the haze of hopenchange. Virtually all presidents want as much power as they can get. Relying on any politician to deny himself the ability to exercise it freely is to fail to understand the power of power.

Glenn writes about the trial balloon being floated that Obama is considering issuing an executive order for preventive detention. He points out that the main difference between this administration and the last is that this administration is pretending to care about what the congress wants (and the constitution requires) but goes ahead and does what they intend to do anyway if the congress fails to act as they wish it to. I often wondered whether we were doing a bit of a disservice to Bush and Cheney for constantly criticizing them for implementing the unitary executive theory so openly. For such a secretive regime, they were surprisingly honest about what they were doing. They said they believed the constitution meant for the president to be all powerful and above the other two branches and they acted on that premise. And the debate over that, once engaged, was pretty robust and very public.

This was in contrast to previous presidencies which pretended, as Obama is doing now, that they believed in the balance of power between the the branches even as they subverted it as often as they deemed necessary. It's not a partisan thing. Presidents of both parties have done this. Bush and Cheney were actually quite unique in their rare "principled" approach to the American security state dictatorship. Most presidents adhere to the Rush Limbaugh creed, which he articulated yesterday in terms of Mark Sanford, but which can be just as easily applied to the American executive's common approach to the civil liberties portion of your constitutional program: "Hypocrisy shows that there are moral values in a culture."

The irony, of course, is that the man who ran on transparency is actually turning out to be less transparent than the president he excoriated on the campaign trail for his secrecy. Bush and Cheney were pretty upfront about the fact that they believed they had the constitutional right to act in any way they saw fit, regardless of the accepted understanding of the constitution or congressional and judicial prerogatives. Bush declared "I'm the decider" and he meant it. This administration obviously believes it has that right as well --- it just pretends otherwise.

I suspect they understand that keeping the folks from losing that freedom loving, patriotic illusion of American exceptionalism is an important part of exercising American political power. And they're probably right. Bush and Cheney's biggest mistakes were in being honest about something nobody wants to know.


Friday, June 26, 2009


by digby

If Obama doesn't pass serious, systemic health care reform that insures everyone in this country from cradle to grave, this will be what he's remembered for.

Congress Sides With The Military-Industrial Complex

by dday


Lawmakers defy veto threat on F-22 fighter

Congress on Thursday moved forward with plans to build more Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter jets, disregarding a veto threat from the Obama administration.

Lawmakers also moved to authorize the funding for an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter F-35.

Congress is setting the stage for a showdown over the 2010 defense authorization bill with the administration and in particular Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement outlining the veto threat Wednesday over both issues.

Gates proposed the cuts earlier this year as part of an effort that he said would better spend taxpayer dollars on military priorities. He has said he’s confident the Air Force will have enough F-22s.

Lawmakers pushing to save the programs say the F-22 and second engine for the F-35 are vital to national security.

They also argue eliminating the F-22 program would kill off jobs during a brutal recession.

I hope even the lawmakers saying that first line aren't dumb enough to believe it.

As for the "weaponized Keynesianism" of the second, keep in mind that these are the same people who constantly bite their nails about the budget deficit, who claim that government never created a job, or that a spending bill is not a stimulus bill. Not to mention the fact - a fact I don't even like - that the total military budget will expand this year, as funding for the F-22 and the needless new engine for the F-35 will shift into other military priorities, ones that also create jobs. My preference would be to shift all this military spending into something creative instead of destructive, but without being able to close out these projects when they outlive their usefulness, we just create a monster. This country spends nearly as much on our military than the rest of the world combined, and far too much of that leaks into the pockets of contractors who build things that go unused, or gets put toward projects which quadruple in cost from projection to completion. The money is wildly inefficient, comparatively speaking, and this entire notion of military spending as sacrosanct makes it impossible to fund the rest of government without the fiscal scolds carping about deficits.

To segue into a separate point, there will be a conference committee on this, and so the White House certainly has the ability to use that tool, which the Republican majority used time and again, to take this funding which the Pentagon did not seek out of the bill. Practically every bill that passed through Congress from 1994-2006 got scrubbed of anything remotely progressive and sent back to each chamber with a nice big "take it or leave it" Post-It Note on the front. Many think that this is the way a decent health care reform bill can be pushed through the Congress, and that this is all part of the 31-dimensional chess the White House is playing. While they've already offered the veto threat on the military spending, and that might come about, it's important to look at the past experience with conference committees and this Administration. The short answer is: they don't like to use them and are more concerned about their personal schedule. The credit card reform bill can be instructive here.

In the Senate vote for that legislation, Tom Coburn added a supposed poison pill amendment allowing concealed weapons in public parks. The Senate passed the bill, and the House had already passed a version without that amendment. But rather than go to a conference committee, the House just up and passed the Senate's bill, with the guns in parks amendment, Obama signed it, and now we all can take our snub-noses to Yosemite. The official reason given was that the President wanted a bill on his desk by Memorial Day.

And they did exactly the same thing with the war supplemental. Many people had problems with provisions like the IMF loans or cash for clunkers, which certainly could have been fixed if anyone cared to do so. But the White House wanted it to move quickly, and so the Senate passed the House's bill.

I should note that at the end of Ezra's post today comes this:

(The President) wants to sign a bill in October.

I'm happy to believe that the White House has a secret strategy to fix the health care bill in conference, but recent history shows that they are far more interested in scheduling than these fixes. Maybe if they really, really care about a certain provision, it will get excised or included. But none of us actually know what those concerns truly are.

Sin Tax

by digby

I don't care much about the Sanford story except to the extent that I can't help but feel some shaudenfreude at the downfall of all sanctimonious right wing hypocrites. It's just such a prosaic, predictable tale that I don't even want to have to think about it. He sounds to me like the kind of guy who really needs to leave politic and have his embarrassing mid life crisis privately on a boat in the Caribbean somewhere.

But this is a problem:

When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford added a stop in Argentina to his trade mission to Brazil last June, the side trip should've raised eyebrows because he was undertaking a trade mission that the U.S. government was unwilling to make.

I don't know enough about the Argentine situation to have an opinion about whether US policy was correct. (I suspect not.) But considering what we know about Sanford, it's a little bit hard to believe that he wasn't in accord with Bush.

But that's not the problem. It's the fact that he added the "stop" on to a taxpayer financed trip to Brazil. He's agreed to pay the Argentine leg back, but that's not actually good enough. The press probably needs to look into the whole trip because it's a little bit too convenient that Sanford was going to South America at all when he just happened to have a mistress there.

This is the kind of stuff that actually is flat out corrupt. The government should not be paying for people to visit their mistresses and when they are caught, simply paying back the money isn't sufficient. It's called stealing and it's against the law.

As far as I'm concerned Sanford's romantic antics are pathetic and none of my business. But the idea that taxpayers are paying for them is outrageous. If a public servant can't pay for his own trysts and needs government business trips to cover them up, then he needs to make other plans. When he's a also person who waxes on about self-reliance and not depending on the government --- even to the extent of refusing to take federal money to help the unemployed keep food on the table --- then he has disqualified himself from public office. Sexual hypocrisy is venial sin. Stiffing poor people while stealing from government coffers is a crime. He should resign.


by digby

It appears that our Chief Justice was a dried up old stick even when he was young.

From Charlie Savage in the NY Times today, here's John Roberts when he worked in the White House counsel's office in 1984:

I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter. Sometimes people need to be reminded of the obvious: whatever its status as a cultural phenomenon, the Jackson concert tour is a massive commercial undertaking. The tour will do quite well financially by coming to Washington, and there is no need for the President to applaud such enlightened self-interest. Frankly, I find the obsequious attitude of some members of the White House staff toward Mr. Jackson’s attendants, and the fawning posture they would have the President of the United States adopt, more than a little embarrassing.

It is also important to consider the precedent that would be set by such a letter. In today’s Post there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr. Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name “Prince,” and is apparently planning a Washington concert. Will he receive a Presidential letter? How will we decide which performers do and which do not?

Auntie Roberts was 29 when he wrote that. He was a real man of his time. The 1890s.

And the idea of someone criticizing fawning over show business figures in the Reagan White House is just funny.