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Monday, May 31, 2010


by digby

The Village press is always very creative about justifying their love of gossip and enabling of Right Wing Noise Machine propaganda. But this article, from Politico is awe-inspiring:

“I’m sure there’s substantial precedent for an administration to subtly suggest to a potential candidate, ‘Maybe you’d like to step aside.’ But [the fact that] this controversy involves a former president who just happens to be married to a member of his Cabinet just moves this to a whole different level,” Rozell said. “Clinton’s administration was involved in a number of ethics controversies and investigations just like this. ... This looks like a rookie administration type of mistake.”

A good part of Obama’s appeal to the Democratic electorate in 2008 was that he didn’t carry the baggage of scandal that rival Hillary Clinton and Bill did. Obama and his aides actively sought to stoke that perception by repeatedly insisting on full transparency from the Clinton camp and making pointed legislative proposals like mandating disclosure of all donations to presidential libraries and all lobbying for presidential pardons.

At the time, the Clintons maintained that the “whiff-of-scandal” standard was deeply unfair when there was no substance to many of the charges leveled during the Clinton years. They also grumbled that Obama was aligning himself with right-wingers who built an industry of accusing the Clintons of everything from real estate scams to murder.

Now, Obama aides find themselves complaining that their White House is being tarred by unsubstantiated allegations and erroneous legal conclusions...

So, you see, the Obama administration is asking for the unfair, unsubstantiated "whiff of scandal" standard to be applied to them because they pointed out that the press always used the unfair, unsubstantiated "whiff of scandal" standard against Bill and Hillary Clinton. And because the Clintons complained about it, they apparently still deserve it too, judging by the opening lines of the exact same story:

Bill Clinton’s picture is again a fixture on cable news.

Republicans are sternly demanding a special prosecutor.

And legal commentators are bickering over the finer points of federal criminal statutes on bribery and graft.

It feels like 1997 — but it’s 2010. And Barack Obama can’t be happy.

The use of Clinton as the conduit to offer Sestak an advisory board position is like catnip for cable television and for Republicans who have plenty of experience painting the former president as ethically challenged...

Notice the passive voice. No agency. The whole thing is just happening magically, reporters are merely reporting --- what other reporters are doing. The news is the news.

This Sestak scandal may very well never go anywhere. The truth is that most of them don't, if you define "going somewhere" as culminating in an official investigation, resignation or the like. If you look at the litany of scandals during the Clinton years you can see that there was a new one each week, some took off, some didn't. But that isn't the point. They will throw anything at the wall to see what sticks, some things will, some won't --- but the cumulative effect of these accusations and the press's willingness to help pursue them is a sense of unease, suspicion, finally fatigue and an eagerness to just have it over with. The administration, I mean. That was the main hurdle for Gore in 2000, and it contributed greatly to how close that race was. Bush's entire campaign really came down to "returning honor and integrity to the White House" which was, for a lot of people, a very simple decision. They were sick of all the scandals and even if they didn't think Clinton was guilty of anything substantial, they blamed him for making the right wing hate him so much and couldn't stomach the idea of another 8 years of keening hysteria from the noise machine. (It's not an accident that Democrats only had the presidency for 12 of the 40 years before Obama.)

The press contributes to this phenomenon by chasing every last story as if it were unique, requiring reporting and investigation regardless of what they know to be the underlying dynamics at play. And regardless of the outcome, the validation of the "questions" alone validates the overarching narrative the noise machine is creating.

And they can always find someone "impartial" to blame the victim, so they don't have to take responsibility for any of it:

[S]ome impartial observers said Obama’s promises to rise above typical Washington shenanigans are sure to give added life to even the slightest claim of impropriety.

“He has established an impossibly high standard for political Washington,” Rozell said. “Now he has to live with the consequences of being called out on it.”
It's a game of cat and mouse. Too bad about the country.

Update: It should be noted that there are people quoted in the story who say the Republicans are trying to go "back to the future" and resurrect the bogus scandal culture of the 90s. The problem with that analysis is that they don't seem to realize that it never went away. Just ask Al Gore or John Kerry. Obama managed to avoid it during the 2008 election because Clinton was in it for most of it and the right didn't know who to focus their fire on. They were confused through most of it. Although they tried mightily to tar him as a secret Muslim and terrorist sympathizer it only stuck for a majority of Republicans, not the nation as a whole. And also the Village press resisted the impulse to feed that one because the right forgot that these scandals must have juicy elements of both tabloid trivia and crude corruption in order to gain any traction among the beltway crowd. They love conspiracies, but it needs to be of the shallow political variety for the chatterers to really sink their teeth into it.

K Street Project Still In Business

by digby

They may have scaled back, but they're still working it. You can't make this stuff up:
A small Wall Street securities firm has teamed up with a lobbyist for the financial services industry to host an all-day event on June 15 -- right in the middle of the conference committee negotiations over the financial reform bill -- that will feature "the KEY House and Senate Conferees and majority and minority Committee staff, as well as leading financial lobbyists covering interchange, banks and major non-banks affected by so-called Wall Street Reform bill," according to an invitation obtained by TPM.

The firm, JNK Securities Corp., declined to comment about the event.

The other firm helping to organize the event, according to the email invitation, is Federal Advisory LLC. The registered agent for Federal Advisory LLC is Tim Rupli, according to Virginia corporation records. Rupli is a former aide to Tom DeLay and now a high-powered Republican lobbyist for the payday lending industry and the community banks trade association, among other clients.

The last I heard about Mr Rupli was this item about the right wing salons in McLean from a while back:
A notice in The Hill for last September's installment of GOP lobbyist Tim Rupli's annual Pig Pickin' party expected around 500 guests, including several senior Capitol Hill staffers, who could enjoy a honky-tonk band and the roasting of three hogs. Alcohol was provided gratis by the DC-based wine and beer wholesalers' associations.

When the reporter, Brian Beutler called him last week, he said the event may not happen and then hung up. Beutler did some digging and found that this is likely just for Republican lawmakers, which makes it a KStreet project style operation. They haven't given up their dream of an exclusive GOP/Corporate alliance. They're just biding their time.

Guaranteeing America's Freedom In More Ways Than One

by digby

Howie is featuring a series of Memorial Day posts written by progressive candidates who also happen to be veterans.

Here's West Point grad Justin Coussoule (with his wife, a fellow veteran) who's running against John Boehner:

Tod Theise, "the progressive New Jersey Democrat running against corporate shill Scott Garrett":

Doug Tudor is running for the open seat in Florida's 12th district:

All are stalwart progressives with outstanding (real!) military records, who share a commitment to the liberal values we believe in. Click on the links to read their posts.

And read this moving, sad, Memorial Day remembrance from military expert and father of a slain Iraq war soldier, Andrew Bacevich, who asks the right questions.

Accidentally Telling The Truth

by digby

President Horst Köhler of Germany resigned on Monday amid a barrage of criticism for remarks he made a week ago during a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

It is the first time that a German president has ever resigned.

Mr. Köhler, a former director of the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, shocked Germans earlier this month when he said that the country’s soldiers serving in Afghanistan or other peacekeeping missions were deployed to protect German economic interests.

Usually, German leaders justify their soldiers’ presence in the American-led coalition by saying they are needed to thwart would-be terrorists who might use Afghanistan as a base for attacks in Europe.

But, in his contentious remarks, Mr. Köhler said: “A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”

Skepticism Is The First Requirement

by digby

Karen Tumulty said something on Washington Week In Review which I think crystallizes the central problem with the first year of the Obama administration:

The reason the president is so exposed on this politically is that the accident happened three weeks after he announced a dramatic expansion of offshore drilling. He said this may open up hundreds of thousands of acres of offshore drilling and one of his arguments was that the technology is so advanced that drilling is a lot safer than it used to be. So I think the president is dismayed, I'm told, that the assurances that he relied upon to make that decision turned out not to be true.

This is the story of his early days, I'm afraid, from trusting Wall Street to the CIA to the Insurance lobby to big oil --- to the Republicans. It's nice to think that these people are all operating in good faith, but unfortunately, it's just not realistic. Skepticism of all the elite institutions, not trust, is what required for successful leadership in this era.

Update: Or, as Bob Herbert said:

These are not Little Lord Fauntleroys who can be trusted to abide by some fanciful honor system.

Tipping Point?

by digby

What in the hell is going on here?

Israeli naval commandos raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning, killing at least 10 people, according to the Israeli military and activists traveling with the flotilla. Some Israeli news reports put the death toll higher.
Oh, I see. The unarmed activists "politically provoked" the commandoes when they raided the ships and so they had to be killed:

Israel's defense minister has expressed regret for the deaths of pro-Palestinian activists in a clash with navy commandos. But he has blamed the violence on organizers of a flotilla carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Speaking at a Monday news conference in Tel Aviv, Ehud Barak called the aid flotilla a "political provocation" by anti-Israel forces. He said the sponsors of the flotilla are violent.

Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said soldiers were forced by violent activists to respond with live fire.

At least 10 activists were killed in Monday morning's clash in international waters of Israel's Mediterranean coast.

I'm just speechless. Everything I've read suggests that the Israeli government is doubling down and insisting that these peace activists, which included an 86 year old Holocaust survivor, were violent terrorist supporters, who were evidently asking to have their ship boarded in the dead of night and have their people killed. There is no justification for this but one would at least have expected the Israeli government to have come up with something better than this to explain it.

Greenwald reminds everyone of the background:
The six-ship flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid along with 600 people, all civilians, which included 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, 85. In December, 2008, Israel, citing rocket attacks from Hamas, launched a 22-day, barbaric attack on Gaza, bombarding a trapped population, killing hundreds of innocent civilians (1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed), and devastating Gazan society. A U.N. report released earlier this month documented that, as a result of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt (the two largest recipients of U.S. aid), "[m]ost of the property and infrastructure damaged . . . was still unrepaired 12 months later."

The flotilla attacked by Israel last night was carrying materials such as cement, water purifiers, and other building materials, much of which Israel refuses to let pass into Gaza. At the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that "insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory," and also "blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings."

It hardly seemed possible for Israel -- after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade -- to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel's goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it's hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

Don't tell it to CNN, which seems to be going out of its way to portray attacking a ship in international waters as a "sovereign right" which the Israelis merely mismanaged by shooting a bunch of people. (Funny, it seems like only yesterday that this sort of thing was called "piracy.")

This was unjustifiable for any reason.

The Best War Movies Ever

by tristero

(With Apologies to Dennis Hartley)

Over at HuffPo, John Farr rounds up the best war movies ever. There are some good movies on the list, I suppose, but I have a much shorter list.

I can think of only two great war movies. They are Johnny Got His Gun and Shame.

It would be a very good thing if both films were screened every Memorial Day. But by far, the best way for Americans to celebrate Memorial Day, and to honor our dead, is to publicly call for an end to the dreadful, pointless, wars Obama inherited from his twisted predecessor, George W. Bush - wars that, to his disgrace, Obama has embraced as his own.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cleavage And Crossed Legs

by digby

I heard about the ridiculous knock on Elena Kagan for failing to act like a "proper lady" and cross her legs and decided not to even comment it was so stupid. But I missed the second act of this absurd play for some reason and it's a doozy. Here's Amanda Marcotte:
Going in front of the cameras while in Washington, D.C., while having lady parts is seeming incredibly fraught these days. As has been thoroughly discussed here, whether a woman crosses her legs when she sits down seems to have become a major issue overnight. Now you have Matt Drudge and Glenn Beck getting the vapors because Michelle Obama had a modest amount of cleavage showing in an evening dress. If the trend continues in this direction, within a few years, there will be a national scandal when one of the first daughters dares to show a bit of ankle.

Beck said the dress was inappropriate, among other things, including this:
" Did you see the picture of his wife yesterday, all dolled up? 'Sex in the City' is what it said on the Drudge Report. She looks positively like she's trying to be some Greek statue. I don't think I've ever seen the first lady with her -- excuse the expression -- but with her breasts all smooshed up, sort of. I mean, what is that?"

If Michelle Obama's cleavage made Glenn feel all funny down there, wait until he gets a load of Dolley Madison:

And here's the slutty Mary Todd Lincoln:

While we're at it, how about the very inappropriate Virgin Queen:

The gasbags often get riled up about the bubbies. (Recall John Harwood insisting that the 60 year old Hillary Clinton was showing a quarter inch of cleavage in the middle of August in DC as part of her presidential campaign strategy.)

In case you missed the offending garment, here's what got Drudge and Beck all worked up:

I know. It's a shocking display of raw sexuality which has no place in our politics.

Amanda has written more about the underlying sexual politics here, if you are confused about why this stuff happens.

Update: Speaking of cleavage controversies, here's a truly bizarre story about Amy Klobuchar being told to "pull up her shirt" while she was presiding over the Senate. WTH? Are these people 12?

Smell Test

By digby

Here's the best example I've seen of how the noise machine is framing this Sestak non-scandal:

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Liz Cheney offered her thoughts on why the White House tapped former president Bill Clinton to try and persuade Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. After saying Clinton doesn't have "an impeccable record of integrity," Cheney argued: "You know, there's a lot here that just smells funny. If the White House in fact thought that what they were doing was above board, why did they go to Bill Clinton? Why did they need a cut out for whatever they were doing?"

It's all there, even down to the "it just smells funny" routine. Earlier this week on the Mclaughlin Report, the increasingly agitated Monica Crowley accused the administration of a cover-up and they were all shrieking for an "independent counsel." (That's right, they're talking about bringing it back. I take that as a strong indication that they know they can't win the presidency in 2012, so they simply hope to wreak destruction upon this one.)

Media Matters has the full explanation of the non-scandal here, if you haven't ben following it. But none of that really matters. This has taken on a life of its own. Whether they can make anything of this specific charge is unknown. But what it signals is a return to the Clinton Rules and the scandal politics of the past. Regardless of whether or not any particular scandal takes hold, the way this works is by the cut of a thousand deaths.

For instance, perhaps people have forgotten that Bob Barr introduced impeachment proceedings based upon a non-scandal that had nothing to do with the non-scandals of Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Buddhist templegate, or Monica Lewinsky:

It was Barr who first introduced a resolution directing the House Judiciary Committee to inquire into impeachment proceedings — months before the Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light. Foremost among the concerns Barr cited at the time was apparent obstruction of Justice Department investigations into Clinton campaign fundraising from foreign sources, chiefly the People's Republic of China

I'd almost forgotten about that one myself. But it shows that this isn't about anything specific --- it's just a political assault from all angles designed to weaken the enemy over time until they can go in for the kill.

The idea is to create an atmosphere of corruption and illegality (and not incidentally keep the press overstimulated and frenzied at all times) by constantly insinuating that there is something illegal or unethical about completely normal political behaviors --- and then accuse the target of "covering up" when they attempt to contain the political damage. They do it by an almost comical overreaction to an accumulation of charges that don't "pass the smell test" thus creating a "where there's smoke there's fire" impression over time.

If the tea party holds dominance over the Christian right in the GOP, this assault will have to be based upon their Muslim/socialist critique which isn't as potent as "traditional values" when it comes to scandal mongering. But frankly, I haven't expected the social conservatives to keep their heads down much longer anyway. This could be their path back to relevance.

I can't help but wonder whether or not the likes of Liz Cheney would so arrogantly shoot her mouth off if the Democrats hadn't decided that there was no need to look in the rearview mirror at the mayhem created by her father's bloodthirsty, corrupt regime. It might make these people think twice if they were held to the same standard they hold others. And until that happens, I'm afraid we are going to continue to see this dynamic play itself out in our politics.

BTW: You can see the ambition rolling off of Cheney in waves. She's going to run at some point, I have no doubt. And she makes Palin look like a frisky little kitten by comparison. She is the most dangerous woman in America.

What Could You Do With An Extra Trillion?

by digby

The congress slithered out of town last week after kicking the unemployed to the curb while preening and braying about "fiscal responsibility." Meanwhile, today we celebrate an ignominious milestone: we have passed the trillion dollar mark for the cost of the misbegotten Afghan and Iraq wars. (And that's undoubtedly a very low estimate.)

Rethink Afghanistan is observing the day with a fun game we can all play: How would YOU spend one trillion dollars?

On May 30, we'll pass the $1 trillion mark for the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

That's a trillion dollars we could have used to create jobs, keep people in their homes, or make sure sick kids can see a doctor. Politicians and pundits throw the word "trillion" around like it's chump change, and that means most people don't have any idea how much $1 trillion actually is.

To get you thinking about the true cost of the wars, we've created a game that asks: "How would YOU spend $1 trillion?" http://apps.facebook.com/onetrillion/

Show us how you'd spend $1 trillion. Then share it with everyone you know so people understand and start talking about spending $1 trillion in ways that help others, instead of wasting it on two bloody, costly wars that haven't made us safer.

Oh, and needless to say, last week while they were denying any more COBRA subsidies to the long term unemployed in the name of deficit reduction, they passed another emergency war supplemental.

This is how empires destroy themselves.

"An ideological battle for the soul of the Democratic Party"

by digby

LA Times

Winograd makes Harman take notice

Liberal Marcy Winograd is again challenging the more conservative Jane Harman in the 36th Congressional District. An analyst calls it 'an ideological battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.'

The candidate, trailed by a volunteer, is knocking on doors in Mar Vista — down Beethoven Street, across Lucille Avenue, along Greenwood Avenue and on. The June 8 election is just weeks away. There is much ground to cover.

"I'm Marcy Winograd, and I'm running for Congress," she says, over and over again. Her blue jacket is spotted with rain. "I'm a grass-roots Democrat who believes in jobs and bringing our troops home."

Winograd is challenging Rep. Jane Harman, a wealthy eight-term incumbent, in the Democratic primary for the 36th Congressional District. Her Marina del Rey campaign headquarters buzzes with activity. Volunteers man phones. Tables are stacked with slick mailers exhorting voters to "imagine sending a teacher, anti-war leader, and healthcare champion to Washington to be your voice in Congress."

Imagine that.

Blue America endorsed Winograd months ago because we are all about waging an ideological battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. (It's a war that never ends, by the way.)And Winograd in congress would be a true leader in that cause.

If you'd like to help Marcy you can donate here or volunteer for her grassroots campaign.

Delay And Divert

by tristero

"Delay and divert"... hmmm... remind you of anything? Like the rightwing pushback against repealing DADT - you know, as in, "now's not the time, during a war, to engage in social experiments." There's some delay for you. As for divert, hey look! Over there! It's a flying Sestak-gate, big as life, the faux-scandal du jour!

It's an all-purpose strategy, and a successful one. It's also old as the hills, but even when we're aware of it, it can still work like a charm. Case in point: a front page article this lovely, steaming Manhattan morning about the efforts by Big Food to protect their right to keep overdosing us with salt. And why would they want to do that? So that their top executives can afford the good stuff - great meats, seafood, veggies, fruits, all lovingly prepared by their private chefs. Which means they never have to eat the self-admitted crummy products they sell, shit that's disgustingly over-salted in order to disguise the taste. Never mind mind that it's grossly unhealthy to eat so much salt, unhealthy to the point of maiming or even killing us. Profits are profits -too bad for your blood pressure. The People That Matter have to have the bucks and are prepared to kill you and your children to get them.

Before we see how the Times reporter for this article fell into Big Food's well-salted trap and got himself bamboozled, let's make the real issue here as clear as we can:

Salt is essential. You need it to live. Salt also enlivens the taste of foods and helps preserve it, among other things. Too much salt will increase the potential for, and exacerbate. hypertension, which is a very dangerous condition. Americans eat too much salt. Way too much salt. The vast majority of that way-too-much salt comes from prepared foods. As the food companies well know, a preference for more heavily salted foods approaches the level of an addiction, which they exploit to boost profits at the expense of your health. The solution is very simple. Either companies must cut back on their abuse of salt in pursuit of profit, or the government must force them to. The End.

Remember: the issue here is abuse of salt. The only issue is consumption of salt in quantities that are clearly unsafe. The issue is not the reasonable application of salt to food. Remember this when you encounter the inevitable industry-sponsored food trolls in comments. It's the abuse, people.

The Times article focuses entirely on Big Food's strategy. In a nutshell:
Since processed foods account for most of the salt in the American diet, national health officials, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Michelle Obama are urging food companies to greatly reduce their use of salt. Last month, the Institute of Medicine went further, urging the government to force companies to do so.

But the industry is working overtly and behind the scenes to fend off these attacks, using a shifting set of tactics that have defeated similar efforts for 30 years, records and interviews show. Industry insiders call the strategy “delay and divert” and say companies have a powerful incentive to fight back: they crave salt as a low-cost way to create tastes and textures. Doing without it risks losing customers, and replacing it with more expensive ingredients risks losing profits.
Now, if we had a healthy mainstream media, or, at the very least, reporters trained in the use of that portion of the human anatomy quaintly referred to as the "noggin," the rest of the article would carefully look at the industry's strategies and offer a critique to balance them. But we don't and so, we get this, a truly astounding example of the diversionary tactics deployed by Big Food. I mean, it's not even subtle:
As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.

“I really get the bitter on that,” the company’s spokeswoman, J. Adaire Putnam, said with a wince as she watched Mr. Kepplinger struggle to swallow.

They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.

“Salt really changes the way that your tongue will taste the product,” Mr. Kepplinger said. “You make one little change and something that was a complementary flavor now starts to stand out and become objectionable.”

Salt started out more than 5,000 years ago as a simple preservative. But salt and dozens of compounds containing sodium — the element in salt linked to hypertension — have become omnipresent in processed foods from one end of the grocery store to the other.

For example, salt makes 10 appearances on the label for the Hungry-Man roasted turkey dinner, made by the Pinnacle Foods Group, with nine additional references to sodium compounds. The label for Roasted Chicken Monterey, a ConAgra Healthy Choice product, has five references to salt. It makes its most surprising cameo in the accompanying peach dessert, which is flavored with whiskey mixed with salt.

“Without adding the salt, we would be required to carry a liquor license,” explained a ConAgra spokeswoman, Teresa Paulsen.
And the reporter leaves it at that.

Get it? The demonstration is besides the point and utterly worthless. It's a classic straw man. It's a diversion from the real issue. Remember: No one's demanding the removal of "most" of the salt, or "all" of the salt from these products. They are talking about reducing salt to rational levels so that Americans aren't being poisoned by them. Again, the issue is salt abuse. But the reporter spends paragraph after paragraph on a diversion, describing a completely irrelevant series of demonstrations set up by the food industry with not even a single critique of the demo - not one! - elicited from a critic.

There are more problems with the examples. "Light Buttery Crackers" that don't have any butter would present a clear case for false advertising in a rational America, but we just walk on by. Another thing: The article is accurate when it says that heavy salting is being used by the industry to disguise the fact they're using shitty ingredients - in fact, they admit exactly that. In other words, had all those snacks been made with decent-quality stuff instead of garbage, they could easily use less salt in their products.

Later in the article, the industry admits that they could, if they wanted to, reduce their use of salt on the average by 10%. And so they immediately should. Then, a year from now, reduce by another 10%. And the year after that, another 10%, and so on. Remember, the idea is not to eliminate all salt, but to bring the amount of salt down to non-poisonous levels.

Salt is amazing stuff, great stuff, awesome stuff. Read Mark Kurlansky's book if have any doubts about its central place in human history and culture. When I first started taking food seriously, I took several beginning classes. Every chef said exactly the same thing: learning how to properly salt food is one of the trickiest things a cook will learn to do. Once you learn how to focus on its effects, tt is simply astonishing how different levels of salt change the taste of a dish in different ways. Using salt is one of the great, everyday pleasures of cooking, I've learned. When I get it exactly right - very rare - it transforms the good, even the very good, even the very very good, into something truly memorable.

No one, least of all me, is against the generous use of salt in food. There is one helluva difference between that and wholesale abuse. One of these days, the Times will send a reporter to cover the food industry who understands that. This time, they didn't, and - much to the amusement of Big Food, I'm sure - the reporter fell for the very tactic, diversion, he was aware they were using.

PS: Alton Brown's role as a shill for Cargill salt products is one more successful diversion the reporter fell for. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue. Again, that issue is salt abuse by companies manufacturing prepared foods, not salt use in home cooking. The Salt 101 website is only about home cooking (and a 6th grade level intro to the chemistry of salt).

Once again, amateur cooks adding salt is not the problem - in fact, most American home cooks usually under-salt, say all the chefs I've taken classes from. The problem lies with prepared foods, where we get, according to the article, 80% of our daily intake of salt - and that daily intake is typically far above the recommended amount. To the people that manufacture this crap, "smarter salting" doesn't mean someone experimenting with adding salt as a topping for chocolate-covered cookies. It simply means heavier salting, to the point of seriously sickening us. Big profits for Big Food depend upon the sacrifice of your health.

Brown's touting of a particular brand of kosher and sea salt has nothing to do with this problem. However, it certainly behooves Brown not to duck the issue: Salt abuse by the prepared food industry is helping to kill people. He, and all other food celebs worth their...well, you know.... understand exactly what the problem is, even if the Times doesn't. And they need to speak out.

Clerical Sex Abuse Frowned Upon By God

by digby

Oh, now they tell us:

The Vatican prosecutor of clerical sex abuse told perpetrators Saturday that they will suffer damnation in hell that will be worse than the death penalty.

Quoting from a long passage from Gregory the Great, an early pope, the Rev. Charles Scicluna said that for a pedophile priest "it would be really better that his evil deeds cause him death in his lifetime" than suffer "more terrible damnation" in hell.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Night At The Movies

SIFFting through cinema, Pt. 2

By Dennis Hartley

Perrier’s Bounty
: “Quentin fookin’ WHO?”

The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so over the next several weeks I will be bringing you highlights. Navigating a film festival is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. SIFF is presenting 405 films over 24 days. That’s great for independently wealthy types, but for those of us who work for a living (*cough*), it’s tough to find the time and energy that it would take to catch 16.8 films a day (yes-I did the math). I do take consolation from my observation that the ratio of less-than-stellar (too many) to quality offerings (too few) at a film festival differs little from any Friday night crapshoot at the multiplex. The trick lies in developing a sixth sense for films most likely to be up your alley (in my case, embracing my OCD and channeling it like a cinematic divining rod.) Hopefully, some of these will be coming soon to a theater near you. So-let’s go SIFFting!

No bees, no Van Gogh: Queen of the Sun

I never thought that a documentary about honeybees would make me both laugh and cry-but northwest filmmaker Taggart Siegel’s Queen of the Sun is one such film. Appearing at first glance to be a distressing, hand-wringing examination of Colony Collapse Syndrome, a phenomenon that has puzzled and dismayed beekeepers and scientists alike with its accelerated frequency of occurrences over the past decade, the film becomes a sometimes joyous, sometimes humbling meditation on how essential these seemingly insignificant yet complex social creatures are to the planet’s life cycle. We bipeds might harbor a pretty high opinion of our own place on the evolutionary ladder, but Siegel lays out a convincing case which proves that these “lowly” insects are, in fact, the boss of us.

It turns out that there have been voices in the wilderness over the years (aside from the constant and reassuring hum of our busy little trans-global pollinators) trying to get that message across; although they have been largely ignored (until now, of course-when it’s too late). Albert Einstein once said: “If bees die, man will only have four years of life left.” As early as 1923, Austrian philosopher-scientist-social thinker and biodynamic agriculturalist icon Rudolph Steiner warned that within 100 years, without careful cultivation and continued awareness of the delicate symbiotic relationship we share with them, the honeybees would simply begin to dissipate (silly Rudy). In his film, Siegel documents how, in the 80-odd year interim between Steiner’s dire prediction and the mounting evidence that it is becoming a sad fact, we have plowed ahead in our typically clueless fashion, taking and taking and not giving enough back (I know…familiar story). Siegel rounds up the usual suspects, like mite infestations, pesticides, and the use of domesticated colonies in mechanized industrial pollination (especially in regards to mono-cropping, for which the bees are sometimes fortified with corn syrup, of all things).

While there are a lot of revelations here that are likely to piss you off (and once again make you curse the ubiquitous corporate bottom line) it’s not all gloom and doom, however. Siegel offers up some hope, as well. In countries where toxic pesticides are currently banned, Colony Collapse Syndrome has been virtually non-existent (surprise surprise). There are some delightful interludes with, well, “unique” individuals who have an upbeat, purely philosophical/spiritual perspective on the human-bee connection. And perhaps most importantly, we meet people who are proactively working on solutions; biodynamic beekeepers, organic farmers, and some urban beekeepers in the heart of the Bronx who are risking actual imprisonment for maintaining their rooftop hives (obviously, there are some ridiculous laws that are screaming to be stricken from the books). The film is beautifully photographed, well-paced and features a lovely score by Jami Sieber. I’ll tell you one thing-you’ll never take that jar of honey for granted again.

The Topp Twins
: Not directed by Christopher Guest, oddly

Sometimes, it’s kind of fun to just throw a dart at the SIFF schedule and see where it lands. I had no clue as to what to expect when the lights went down for the screening of Leanne Pooley’s documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls. All I knew was that it was a film about yodeling lesbian twins. Aside from that, I knew squat. I didn’t even know if it was for real; it sounded like perfect fodder for a mockumentary, to be honest. To my surprise, by the time the lights came up, my faith in humanity had almost returned.

Because you see, it’s hard to be depressed after spending 90 minutes with the film’s subjects. Jools and Linda Topp have to be two of the most charming, down-to-earth, warm-hearted and preternaturally gifted entertainers you’d ever want to meet in a screen profile. As if that weren’t enough, they tell THE funniest goddam lesbian joke I have ever heard in my life…I couldn’t breathe (and I used to work in stand-up comedy). Hugely popular in their native New Zealand, the 52-year old Topps have been bringing audiences their unique blend of music and comedy (oh…and yodeling) since the 1980s.

What most impressed me, however, was their dedication to political activism (in the film, admirer Billy Bragg describes them as “an anarchist variety act”). Over the years, they have campaigned for gay and lesbian rights, participated in protests in support of civil rights for New Zealand’s indigenous Maoris, and worked in support of the anti-nuke movement (to name a few). What’s refreshing about their political work is that there is no grandstanding; you don’t doubt their sincerity for a second (“what you see is what you get” says one of their fans). These are two of the nicest “anarchists” I’ve ever seen. Pooley’s film itself is as upbeat and straightforward as her subjects; and like the Topps, it imparts a pure joy of creating something that manages to both entertain and inspire.

And here’s another one to be on the lookout for. This film has found a U.S. distributor, so as credentialed press I am “embargoed” from sharing copious details at this time…

Perrier’s Bounty-Despite an acute case of Pulp Fiction envy and Guy Ritchie déjà vu, this quirky Irish gangster flick (directed by Ian Fitzgibbon) sucked me in with its outstanding cast, saucy dialog (written by Mark O’Rowe) and dark humor (reminiscent of In Bruges, which I reviewed here). Cillian Murphy stars as a ne’er do well who owes money to a brutal mobster (Brendan Gleeson). After Murphy’s downstairs neighbor (Jodie Whittaker) accidentally kills one of the mob’s bill collectors, the two are forced to go on the run. Along the way, the fugitives are joined by Murphy’s father (Jim Broadbent), who demonstrates that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. It’s a hoot to watch two brilliant character actors like Gleeson and Broadbent going head-to-head, and I found myself laughing out loud, despite the predictability of the narrative.

And one more thing…a mea culpa:

In my review of the excellent film Son of Babylon in last week’s post, I was apparently so enamored with quoting my favorite lines of dialog that I overlooked mentioning the person who gave the actors those wonderful words to speak-screenwriter Jenny Norridge.

"It Will Never End"

by digby

Michael Tomasky is worried about the Sestak non-scandal for the right reason:

The real import of this story is this: If the Reps capture the House of Representatives this fall, they will have basically limitless power to keep these things churning forever, turning political horse-trading into potential crimes. They'll hold hearings, issue subpoenas, you name it. Remember the Clinton days. It will never end.

And they're even crazier now then they were then, now that they've convinced themselves we got us a Mooslum preznit.

This is what's at stake this fall. Forget policy. It's this: endless hearings and investigations until they find something that gets the public worked up, or until the public just cries uncle and says oh okay we're sick of hearing you crazy people, if it'll shut you up, just impeach the bastard already.

Those who extol the virtues of divided government take heed. There won't just be legislative gridlock. There will be chaos.

The sad thing is that I see no sign among most of the political establishment that they have even the slightest awareness of how the dynamics that feed this beast work, even now, after all these years. The machine that used to depend upon Rush, Drudge and a few Tory malcontents has grown to a vast corporate empire. You can't underestimate how far they'll go.

h/t to bill

by digby

CNN is actually running a story on BPs damage control public relations campaign with this chyron running below it:

BP's other worry: Repairing a damaged eco-friendly image

I think we all know that's actually been at the top of their list from the beginning. But I'm not sure why anyone other than the company executives think it's either desirable or possible for that to happen. This company's PR troubles are the least of the problem:

BP engineers failed again to plug the gushing oil well on Saturday, a technician working on the project said, representing yet another setback in a series of unsuccessful procedures the company has tried a mile under the sea to stem the flow spreading into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP made a third attempt at what is termed the “junk shot” Friday night, a procedure that involves pumping odds and ends like plastic cubes, knotted rope, and golf balls into the blowout preventer, the five-story safety device atop the well. The maneuver is complementary to the heavily scrutinized effort known as a “top kill,”which began four days ago and involves pumping heavy mud into the well to counteract the push of the escaping oil. If the well is sealed, the company plans to then fill it with cement.

The technician working on the project said Saturday pumping has again been halted and a review of the data so far is under way. “Right now, I would not be optimistic,” the technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the effort. But he added, that if another attempt at the junk shot were to succeed, “that would turn things around.”

God that's depressing. At this point I do hope they are putting at least as much effort into digging that relief well ahead of schedule as they are in this effort. And I think they should probably put that "other worry" about their eco-friendly image completely on the back burner. They have far more important things to do.

Perpetually Indebted

by digby

... otherwise known as slavery:

Jewel Goodman eases back into his porch chair and breaks the filter off a peach-flavored Clipper cigar. He rolls it absentmindedly in his fingers and closes his eyes to smell the breeze tattle on an incoming storm. In his 57 years, he's seen enough hard days to know not to rush an easy one.

For most of his life he has toiled long days in hot fields picking cabbage, potatoes and tobacco. Eight of those years were spent on a farm in Hastings, south of St. Augustine. In 2007, Ronald Evans was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison after holding Goodman and other farm workers "perpetually indebted" in what the U.S. Department of Justice called "a form of servitude morally and legally reprehensible."

Goodman is one of more than 1,000 slaves who have gained freedom in Florida since 1997.

Goodman lights his cigar, takes a slow draw, leans back and remembers.

"I had to scrap with the devil for my living. And by the devil, I mean contractors," he says. "All the camps I been in, some of them was good and some of them wasn't, but Evans . . . that was slavery time. No playing around."

It started one day in the early '90s, when a white van stopped him in front of the Fruit Stand grocery store in Hastings and asked if he needed work. He did. But as soon as he met Evans he knew he had found trouble. Evans was mean in a way that made Goodman feel suddenly aware of how far out of town they were. There was no phone. Chain link and barbed wired surrounded the property. The crew leaders looked hardened, "like they just come out of prison." The field workers called them henchmen.

One of them gave him a pair of bloodstained work boots.

"He said 'These belong to the last guy who ran. If I catch you trying to get down that road, you're going to answer to me too.' "

He eventually got away. The man who enslaved him is serving a 30 year sentence. Imagine what happens to undocumented workers who can't go to the police.

I wonder if Rand Paul thinks the government should have enforced the oral "contract" this man made with his boss rather than intervening on the side of the "perpetually indebted." I'm guessing he would think the dispute should have been adjudicated in civil court at the very least.

Right wing libertarians do speak out against indentured servitude, however. It's just that they define it as the Federal reserve forcing them to pay taxes. Never say they don't have principles:

Socialist politicians in our government, for almost 100 years, for the purposes of remaining in power by exploiting the weakness in individuals who were looking for a free handout, worked in conjunction with the Federal Reserve to expand the money supply (debt) to pay for the handouts. Not only was the public treasury pillaged for purely political reasons (that should be treason), but the American taxpayer also picked up the tab for the interest paid to the Federal Reserve and other countries for the loans and the hidden cost of inflation because of diluting the number of dollars in circulation. This evil is still going on today, but the numbers are escalating exponentially...

[A]s long as there are corrupt politicians who will exploit the weakness in humans for their votes and conspire with special interest groups, giant, international corporations and the Federal Reserve to create money out of thin air to pay for unconstitutional welfare and environmental protection programs, America’s airplane is on fire and is in a crash dive to the deadly sea of national bankruptcy, while Americans are headed for perpetual indentured servitude.

h/t to bb
Speaking of Primarying Blue Dogs

by digby

Dday writes about the Winograd-Harman race from the belly of the beast:

I live in the 36th District here in California, where we have a primary election for Congress between Rep. Jane Harman and progressive challenger Marcy Winograd. I’m squarely in Winograd country – there’s a yard sign every other house – but that’s not necessarily representative of the district at large. So I’ve been wondering just what the prospects were for a Winograd upset. Well, I didn’t know just how scared Blue Dog Harman was of losing her job until I saw the negative ad she’s running against Winograd.

The ad, of course, is silly. No one member of Congress can “kill the defense budget” or cause Israel to “cease to exist”; it’s not even worth responding to that nonsense. The presence of one member of Congress who dissents from the perpetual war machine conventional wisdom would be refreshing, however, and that’s who Winograd represents.

But let’s get some perspective here. Harman is outspending Winograd by a healthy margin. We’ve gotten several Harman mailers and none for Winograd. Harman’s been on cable TV more (including with this ad, though Winograd has a couple ads up on cable as well. But clearly, Harman must be reading some data that shows Winograd with a shot. We’ve seen no-name candidates all over the country grabbing 35-40% of the vote without spending a dime. Winograd has raised close to $300,000, and she has residual name ID from a 2006 run where she took 38% of the vote.

This is a tough year for any incumbent, and without much action in the statewide primaries on June 8 on the Democratic side, only motivated voters are going to turn out. Winograd’s supporters are probably more motivated, enough for Harman to go negative. It’s extremely surprising to see an incumbent do this against an underfunded opponent.

Here's Harmon's ad. It appears she hired PeeWee Herman to direct:

Blue America Chat with Ann McLane Kuster

by digby

Blue America is happy to endorse Ann McLane Kuster for congress in NH 02. Here's Howie:

Blue America prefers not to endorse in primaries unless there is a clear case of one excellent progressive Democrat running against a conservative corporate shill. That's how we came to endorse Marcy Winograd against Jane Harman, Doug Tudor over Lori Edwards and Regina Thomas over John Barrow. But in the New Hampshire House race to replace Paul Hodes, who's running for the Senate, had a wrinkle. There was definitely an excellent progressive-- Ann McLane Kuster-- and there was certainly a conservative corporate shill-- Katrina Swett-- but there was another grassroots-type candidate running as well. He's now dropped out and we couldn't wait to invite Ann to come over to Blue America for a live chat. She'll be joining us today in the comments section below.

Annie is an example of a grassroots activist working with her neighbors on real world problems and then taking it up a notch by running for Congress. She's the polar opposite of the spoiled and entitled insider who's running against her, the daughter of one congressman, wife of another and, to top it off, the former campaign chair of the Joe Lieberman For President campaign. As the Concord Monitor pointed out, Annie's money is all coming in small donations from New Hampshire; Swett's comes in big chunks from the corporate interests salivating to get another corrupt special interests shill into the House Democratic caucus who will do their bidding for nickels on the dollar.
Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett, the Democratic candidates for the 2nd District seat in Congress, have far fuller campaign accounts than their Republican counterparts. Their accounts have been filled from near and far. Respectively.

Sixty-one percent of Kuster's reported fundraising through March came from donors in New Hampshire, with her highest-netting ZIP codes including Concord, Contoocook, Portsmouth and Hanover, according to an analysis of federal campaign filings by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. Swett, by contrast, had raised 11 percent of her money this election from in-state donors. The ZIP codes giving her the most money included Greenwich, Conn.; New York City; and the suburbs of northern New Jersey.

New Hampshire's most respected blog, Blue Hampshire, was in the same predicament we were in-- one candidate too many for an endorsement. That ended last week when they got behind Annie in no uncertain terms (and unanimously):
Nearly four years ago Blue Hampshire was born following a groundswell of political blogging that had sprung up in a successful effort to support Paul Hodes' election to New Hampshire's second congressional district.

Today, we believe the best person to continue the work in Congress begun by Representative Hodes is attorney and advocate Ann McLane Kuster.

As Laura Clawson pointed out on Daily Kos, Ann McLane Kuster "supports the public option, the Employee Free Choice Act, non-punitive immigration reform, and environmental regulation. Not only does she want to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, she wants to repeal DOMA, and she worked to help bring marriage equality to New Hampshire."

In addition, Kuster has been a vigorous advocate for health care access and affordability, especially and unwaveringly so for women's reproductive health. From Ann's website: "Ann believes a woman and her medical care provider should be making decisions about her health care, not the politicians in Washington. She is committed to ensuring that the anti-choice movement doesn't use abortion to derail health care reform, and also that they don't use health care reform to restrict a woman's right to choose."

Please consider joining the netroots supporters who have rallied to Annie's campaign. She's our newest endorsee on the Blue America ActBlue page.

Huckleberry Hedge

by digby

If you thought the oil spill might change the calculation on climate change legislation, think again:

Sen. Lindsey Graham warns that President Barack Obama will kill the last hopes for comprehensive energy and climate change legislation if he cracks down on offshore oil drilling.

In a sit-down interview with The Hill, the Republican senator from South Carolina said he is at a “crossroads” in deciding how to proceed on energy and climate change.

He doesn’t think the signs look good given the fallout from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Why would a person who really believes in drilling put a bill on the floor right now to expand drilling and revenue sharing, knowing it can’t get 50 votes?” Graham said. “The resistance to drilling has hardened on the Democratic side, so we [Republicans have] got more votes to make up.”

Graham predicts that 10 to 12 Democrats will oppose the drilling provision he originally negotiated in the energy bill, undermining the reason he joined talks in the first place: to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

He refused to join Kerry and Lieberman when they rolled out the 1,000-page bill earlier this month, in protest of a decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to also move comprehensive immigration reform this summer.

Ok. So first Graham had a temper tantrum over immigration and couldn't back the climate change bill. Now we have a catastrophic oil spill of epic proportions unfolding before our very eyes, and Graham blithely asserts that there's no point in pressing forward because the Democrats have hardened their opposition to drilling. (The bastards!) There's no word on what it would take for the Republicans to soften their support for it, but the worst spill in history doesn't seem to be enough for them to even consider keeping it off the table and pushing through the other measures.

Graham holds BP responsible for the political problems --- not sure how feels about the environmental problems made manifest by this disaster. He doesn't really say. It certainly seems as though he has no intention of changing course, but merely hopes this icky distraction passes quickly so they can go back to his original plan. Indeed, he sees this disaster as the probable death knell for climate change legislation instead of an impetus to get it passed because the Democrats won't support offshore drilling now.

And he does it with his patented cornpone "more in sorrow than in anger" act as if he has no agency in this and the Republicans have no choice but to vote against the bill if anyone so much as breathes that "drill baby drill" might not fly at the moment. Oh heck, too bad about that.

He does say that he'll reassess the political situation in a month or so so that's good. Perhaps by then everyone will have forgotten about this gusher in the gulf and we can put drilling back on the agenda so a couple of Republicans might find it in themselves to allow America to take a tiny baby step toward environmental sanity. I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Political Blogger Sex Scandal

by digby

I never thought I'd write that headline.

For those of you who haven't been following the ins and outs of the latest tawdry South Carolina sex scandal, Ed Kilgore has a full rundown here. I hadn't realized that it now featured a member of the best political team on television.


by tristero

So I heard on NPR today that They - Trustworthy Serious People who have access to the media - say that if you're worried about the safety of Gulf seafood - that is, if you were so foolish as to think that the miles and miles and miles and miles of toxic petroloeum, dispersants, garbage, effluvia, and unmentionable detritus has poisoned your fish dinner-to-be, really, you shouldn't be. It's quite safe.

So what if the sludge in the Gulf looks like God had a bad case of the Runs? Once you wash it off, it'll be fine. Did you know petroleum has preservative qualities! Why, it'll taste even fresher than norma!

Besides, Americans happily eat meat cleaned in ammonia. No biggie.


by digby

So Jamie Dimon came down from Mt Olympus this week to personally lobby members of congress:

Lawmakers crafting the final language for U.S. financial regulatory reform are being lobbied by their colleagues, consumer groups and industry leaders including JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon.

Dimon placed telephone calls to House members’ offices yesterday. He also sent an e-mail outlining his concerns with the House legislation passed in December and Senate bill passed on May 20, according to two House aides who saw the e-mail and were briefed on the calls.

Interested parties have a little more than a week to press their specific changes before a committee of lawmakers from the House and Senate begin reconciling the bills passed by the two chambers.

“What we’ll see over the course of the next couple weeks will be a tremendous amount of jockeying,” said Kevin Petrasic, a Washington-based lawyer at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP and former counsel at the Office of Thrift Supervision. “Everyone realizes that the next agreement could be the law.”

Dimon, who maintains regular contact with lawmakers, raised concerns over a rule that would restrict banks’ proprietary trading -- the so-called Volcker rule named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, according to the aides. He also raised concerns about the “swipe” fees charged to retailers on debit-card transactions and a derivatives provision that would bar commercial banks from having swaps-trading desks.

Dimon insists that he supports the bill, saying that Too Big Too Fail is a bad idea and should be dealt with. Too bad that didn't make it into the senate bill, darn it all to heck.

For some reason, this brings to mind an interesting post by a pseudonymous investment banker that Jonathan Schwarz sent to me recently:

Watching Barney Frank and the House Financial Services Committee attempt to grill the heads of the eight largest bank recipients of TARP funding in front of the cameras recently, I was reminded of a conversation I had with the Chairman of a very large and prestigious private equity firm several years ago.

It transpired at a small dinner party, held at the Chairman's summer home in the Hamptons. Wives, children, and sundry other non-combatants were present, so the occasion was strictly social. Nevertheless, amidst the introductory chit-chat, Your Humble Correspondent revealed the slightly tawdry fact that yes, he was indeed employed at a certain not-to-be-named investment bank and therefore responsible for all sorts of reprehensible behavior. The Chairman chuckled indulgently at that—being, by virtue of his own profession, no stranger to unarmed robbery—and turned the discussion toward those individuals at NTBN Bank whom we might know in common.

Naturally, being a relatively lowly worm in the vast and ever-expanding bowels of NTBN at the time, I could not profess close acquaintance with many of the senior grandees the Chairman was familiar with—people he knew from their frequent trips to his Midtown offices to lick his shoes—but I offered a diplomatic comment or two on a couple of them. I ventured that one particularly poisonous specimen was indeed extremely bright, successful, and ambitious, and we both agreed that he was blessed with quite a remarkable quantity of self confidence.

Apropos of nothing, the Chairman turned contemplative for a moment. Then, looking straight at me, he remarked that, in all his many years in the business, he had never met anyone who had risen to head an investment banking operation who possessed the least measure of humility. I think, in retrospect, this was his kind way of warning me away from ambitions above my station, given my deplorable failure in our conversation to claim sole credit, as a junior investment banker, for more than 50% of NTBN's annual earnings.

* * *

Since that evening, Dear Readers, I have become older, wiser, and more traveled in my industry, and I have seen nothing or no-one that disproves my old friend's comment.

In fact, I will go further and say that I have yet to encounter a senior executive manager at a large investment bank who does not demonstrate a very substantial number of the commonly accepted markers for psychopathy.

read on ...

Smoking The Homegrown

by digby

Good news. The government has decided to focus on homegrown terrorism. Well sort of. Allison Kilkenny reports

John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism and homeland security, has announced a new national security strategy that will focus on the threat posed by homegrown extremists. Except, the target of this strategy doesn’t seem to be all domestic terrorism, but rather domestic terrorism with foreign roots.

There has been a surge in right-wing extremism in the U.S., copiously documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, but which was also predicted by Homeland Security. In fact, the report warned that right-wing extremists, who are “angry at the economy and the election of a black president” might recruit GWOT veterans.

I have been writing about how white domestic terrorism has slipped from the media’s radar, but sadly, it seems like the government is also uninterested by the surge in right wing extremism — possibly because such violence doesn’t fit the helpful war narrative of the “dangerous other” being brown, and from a desert landscape.

There have been a couple recent domestic terrorist attack that have been largely ignored by the media and government:

Robert Joos Jr.

A firearms and explosives expert suspected of involvement with two white supremacist brothers in the sending of a bomb to the office of a municipal diversity officer was sentenced to 6½ years in prison in Missouri on Tuesday.

And then there is the unknown man who bombed a mosque in Florida.

Unlike in the case of Faisal Shahzad, these bombs actually detonated. In a rational world, these stories would probably receive considerably more coverage than the Shahzad incident, but again, Shahzad, a Muslim Pakistani-American, fits the narrative of a “dangerous domestic threat with foreign roots.” Joos and the unknown man don’t fit that character description.

We seem to have an very high tolerance for domestic rightwing violence. Indeed, a good many of us celebrate it. But some African Muslim teenager lights his pants on fire and we run shrieking to hide under the bed and demand that daddy tear up the constitution because we're so scared.

Do people believe that Al Qaeda is going to take over the United States? Really?


by digby

We have our class war. And the Blue Dogs are on the side of the uppers. Dday reports:
The House of Representatives passed a jobs bill shorn of multiple stimulative efforts today, barely getting enough votes from Blue Dogs more concerned about short-term deficits and political considerations than public health. In order to ensure passage, House Democrats took out an extension of the 65% COBRA study and funding for the states for Medicaid. Progressive Democrats tried to object to the rule bringing the bill to the floor, but their protest fell just short, with 36 Democrats opposing.


The Senate plans to take up these two bills, now, after the one-week Memorial Day recess. Jobless Americans who wanted to keep their old health insurance with their 65% COBRA subsidy, or poor Americans who hoped that their states would get a boost for Medicaid so they could qualify, won’t be so lucky. Surely the Blue Dogs will sleep well anyway.
Let's hope not. This is simple cruelty at this point.

It's also sickening considering that the prsident announced this week that he will spend 500 million on unnecessary "border security" to try to appease a bunch of nativist asses who are unappeasable.

I am honestly gobsmacked that this government has decided that pretending to care about the deficit on the backs of the unemployed is good politics or good policy at a time of 10% unemployment. It's mind boggling. I guess they figure the other 90% are employed so to hell with those losers.

Empathy is now officially no longer considered a virtue. Good to know.

Blame The Victim, Giggle Like Schoolgirls

by digby

As far as this Sestak matter going away, I think MSNBC and the Politico is probably are probably good gauge of Village sentiment. Here's Eamon Javers on Andrea Mitchell's show:

Mitchell: They've dumped this out on a quiet Friday in Washington, which is not unusual, the president alluded to it yesterday ...

Javers: (laughter)Friday night news dump...

Mitchell:And the president didn't want to go into details yesterday, but interestingly, the president was with former president Bill Clinton at the White House yesterday, they had lunch, they had an event with the world soccer team, so they certainly had a chance to discuss what was going to be announced. [Uh oh -- were they "getting their stories straight?"]

First of all, the Bob Bauer memo, it says that the White House did not discuss these options for an unpaid job [read portion of the memo]

Therefore, they're talking about an unpaid position, not secretary of the Navy as has been alleged, they have concluded that the allegations of something improper or illegal are just not true. Is this going to put it to rest? Not as far as Republicans are concerned.

Javers: Yeah, I think Republicans are going to be pretty skeptical here. But it looks like the White House has settled on the politics as usual defense, I mean Bob Bauer in the this memo says that president throughout history have offered to toss bones like to politicians to redirect their ambitions in a politically convenient way for the White House and is nothing new.

Now the problem politically for President Barack Obama is that he promised to be the president who wouldn't do politics as usual in Washington and now here they are copping to that in the Bob Bauer memo.

The other sort of tricky thing here for the White House, is if this is all it is, something as innocuous as Bill Clinton reaching out over the summer to Joe Sestak, why haven't they been willing to say this ...

Mitchell: Exactly!

Javers: ... since Sestak first made these allegations in February? They've been very, very squirrely about this and they haven't wanted to provide any official readout or timeline at all on who said what to whom here. Now we're getting a sort of condensed version of all that a day after Obama and Clinton had a chance to meet, as you said, personally. So there's some question here about why, if there's just this, why didn't we hear about this much,much sooner than today, the Friday before a holiday week-end.

Mitchell: And a day after the White House reached out to Richard Sestak, who was the campaign manager for his younger brother Joe Sestak.

Javers: right

Mitchell: Uh, they do point out correctly that the nomination for secretary of the Navy had been made and confirmed a month before Arlen Specter even switched parties, so it seems to me really ham-handed that they didn't come out right away and say "that offer was never made." The only possible reason is that they couldn't be sure what the former president might have said. I mean they're talking about a conversation between former president Bill Clinton and Joe Sestak. they don't have great relations with Joe Sestak and they may not have been sure of everything that was said.

Javers: That's right, except that it looks like Rahm Emmanuel, from this chain of events, was the one who asked Bill Clinton to reach out to Joe Sestak. It's not like Rahm Emmanuel had no idea this was happening and it came out of the blue. The Obama white house was clearly involved in setting this up. If they were involved in setting it up, they presumably could have been involved in figuring out what was said during that phone call. It wouldn't have taken all that much investigating for them to call Bill Clinton and ask him. he does take their phone calls. So there's a lot of mystery here in the timeline on all this, but it looks like the White House is arguing now that there was nothing legally improper, that this was just typical politics as usual and they don't have to worry about any special prosecutor going forward.

Mitchell: Yeah the last thing Bill Clinton wants to hear is the word "special prosecutor."

Javers: Yoooou better believe it.

Mitchell: You could not come up with a worse perfect storm than that.

Javers: hahaha

Mitchell: You can't make this up. This may be politics as usual, but this is politics played so ham handedly, it's a lot worse than usual in terms of the amount of finesse involved. Thank you very much. You'd think that these guys were pros at it...
This reminds me of the Gore coverage. They justified their puerile attacks by saying he deserved what he got for being a stiff and boring poll who didn't parry the nonsense that the GOP freakshow was throwing at him and that disqualified him for the presidency. Hazing politicians on behalf of GOP operatives really should not be part of our political press coverage. It rewards the worst kind of politicians who have more "savvy" than integrity and perpetuates a political system that creates incentives to damage and destroy people on the basis of trivial nonsense, thus obscuring the very serious substance of their business. This really isn't a parlor game and politicians should not rise or fall based upon how they anticipate and deal with the GOPs mendacious machine, which is designed solely for the purpose of ruining their enemies.

My favorite thing about the exchange above is their wide-eyed wonder at why in the world the administration and Sestak didn't just "come clean" to begin with --- right after they slammed them for "politics as usual" and sniggered and smirked over Bill Clinton being involved. They had to hope it blew over because they knew they were screwed no matter what they said. That's just how these things work. Issa kept it up, Sestak won, the press is mad at the white house -- et voila. (And now Bill Clinton is involved and they are breathless with arousal)

It may go away, but you can be sure that Issa and his minions will do everything they can to make sure it doesn't. And if the press decides this is too much fun to let go of, they have settled on the excuse that even though nothing illegal took place, "ham handedness" should be a crime and therefore Obama and Sestak are to blame for this assault because they were asking for it. Same as it ever was.

The BP Disaster Is Like Katrina In One Important Way

by tristero

Kevin Drum:
...Katrina would have been an immense disaster no matter what. But it was far worse than it had to be because a conservative administration, one that fundamentally disdained the mechanics of government for ideological reasons, decided that FEMA wasn't very important. Likewise, the BP blowout was made more likely because that same administration decided that government regulation of private industry wasn't very important and turned the relevant agency into a joke. If you believe that government is the problem, not the solution, and if you actually run the country that way for eight years, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But we shouldn't pretend it's inevitable.
Yep. The response to both disasters could not be a better illustration of the sheer stupidity and madness of conservative/libertarian ideology. "Less government versus more government" is a grossly false dichotomy. The valid one is decent government versus incompetent and corrupt. As Kevin reminds us in his post, FEMA was a competent, well-run agency until Bush trashed it.

Vernon Jordan In The Library With A Candle Stick

by digby

Oh now I get it. Greg Sargent gets the story on Sestak:

Senior White House advisers asked former President Bill Clinton to talk to Joe Sestak about whether he was serious about running for Senate, and to feel out whether he'd be open to other alternatives, according to sources familiar with the situation.

But the White House maintains that the Clinton-Sestak discussions were informal, according to the sources. The White House, under pressure to divulge the specifics of its interactions with Sestak, will release a formal statement later today outlining their version of events, including Clinton's involvement.

According to the sources, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel asked Clinton and his longtime adviser, lawyer Doug Band, to talk to Sestak about the race. It's unclear right now whether the White House will say that Clinton was asked to suggest specific administration positions for Sestak, whether Clinton floated positions on his own, whether Clinton discussed other options not related to the adminstration, or whether employment even came up at all in the talks.

But the news that Clinton is at the center of this whole story is noteworthy on its own because of the former president's stature, and underscores how heavily invested the White House was in dissuading Sestak from running.

That's noteworthy, for sure. But more noteworthy for the Village is the fact that it was a) Clinton and b) it features an alleged "bribe" for a job.

Why is this noteworthy? Well, Bill Clinton was impeached for arranging for Vernon Jordan to offer Monica Lewinsky a job, remember? There is no doubt in my mind that the Villagers are salivating over this. So many "questions" remain. So many "concerns." So many titillating possibilities.So much fun! (And keep in mind that these things are always trivial --- that's the point. It's a show of strength to be able to turn a nonsensical scandal into a political threat, which is a skill the villagers greatly respect.)

During the impeachment I always used to say that it was actually proof that things were going pretty well in this country because otherwise nobody could justify wasting that kind of time and money on something so stupid. We can't say that about this era. So I'm hopeful that the sheer volume of real news and the scope of the various crises confronting us will drown this idiocy out and that the public will reject such scandals for the trumped up nonsense they are. So far the polls for Sestak look as if that's happening. But you can see the outline of the plot if they do care to pursue it. And the point of these things is to plant doubts and build upon them.

The bottom line is that no matter what, it isn't illegal to offer someone a job, much less to turn one down and it is no crime for a politician to be miffed at the party establishment trying to muscle him out of the race and mentioning it on the trail. There is literally no there there besides the usual "process" story by which we are supposed to judge politicians on how well they play village games, the rules for which change on a daily basis and which always seem to turn petty, non-stories into major Democratic scandals while excusing far more egregious Republican offenses. I'll leave it to you to figure out what mechanism makes that happen.

Update perfect illustration of press justification for its own malpractice. Cillizza:
And so, the report this morning that former president Bill Clinton was tasked by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to make such an approach to Rep. Joe Sestak -- allegedly offering him an unpaid advisory role on an intelligence board in exchange for getting him to drop his primary bid against Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) -- would not normally raise much of a stir in official Washington.

That the story has become a major controversy, a regular fixture on cable news chat shows and a momentum-killer for Sestak following his come-from-behind victory against Specter in last week's Pennsylvania primary is evidence of how the White House mishandled the controversy, according to conversations with several high-level Democratic strategists.

"How do you make something out of nothing?" asked one such operative who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the matter. "By acting guilty when you're innocent."

Another senior party official said that the White House "has a lot of egg on their face" and described the events as a "PR nightmare."

The unfolding of events since Sestak told a local television host -- albeit obliquely -- in February that he had received a job offer from the White House speaks to one of the oldest political adages about the presidency: Stonewalling almost never works. (The full White House report on the matter is here.)

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was repeatedly asked in the intervening months about Sestak's allegation but deflected comment. As the story became a bigger deal in the wake of Sestak's primary victory, the statements out of the White House grew more and more opaque -- as Gibbs insisted over the weekend that "nothing inappropriate happened" but refusing to engage in the more basic "what happened question."

The matter came to a head during President Obama's news conference yesterday when, asked by Fox News Channel's Major Garrett about the details of the Sestak job offer, the president said only: "I can assure the public that nothing improper took place. But as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue."

Republicans gleefully highlighted every incident of the White House's practiced silence on the matter, using the Sestak allegation to undermine one of the pillars of the Obama brand: transparency and accountability.

Note the passive voice. The press had nothing to do with this. It magically became a "regular fixture on cable news." (And don't forget the White House press corps is very, very unhappy about not being treated to Dove bars and back massages.)

It's now officially morphed into how the White House "mishandled" it, which will turn into finger pointing at Sestak for his "exaggerating," which will be a mark of his bad character. This is the way that the Village keeps politicians in line, let's them know who's in charge. And as I wrote earlier, the triviality is the point. To be able to make the White House sweat over something this stupid is an exercise of power.