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Thursday, March 31, 2011

American Justice

by digby

If the Tea Party truly adhered to the founders' suspicion of government, they could easily find common ground with liberals on issues like this:

A bitterly divided Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out a jury verdict won by a New Orleans man who spent 14 years on death row and came within weeks of execution because prosecutors had hidden a blood test and other evidence that would have proven his innocence.

The 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas shielded the New Orleans district attorney's office from being held liable for the mistakes of its prosecutors. The evidence of their misconduct did not prove "deliberate indifference" on the part of then-Dist. Atty. Harry Connick Sr., Thomas said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disapproval by reading her dissent in the courtroom, saying the court was shielding a city and its prosecutors from "flagrant" misconduct that nearly cost an innocent man his life.

"John Thompson spent 14 years isolated on death row before the truth came to light," she said. He was innocent of the crimes that sent him to prison and prosecutors had "dishonored" their obligation to present the true facts to the jury, she said.
In 1999, when all his appeals had failed on his conviction for the murder of a hotel executive, Thompson was scheduled to be put to death. But a private investigator hired by his lawyer found a blood test in the police lab that showed the man wanted for a related carjacking had type B blood, while Thompson's was type O.
With the new eyewitness reports and other evidence that pointed to another man as the killer, Thompson was quickly acquitted of all the charges in a second trial. He won $14 million in damages in a civil suit against the district attorney.

In rejecting the judgment, Justice Thomas described the case as a "single incident" in which mistakes were made. He said Thompson did not prove a pattern of similar violations that would justify holding the city's government liable for the wrongdoing. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined to form the majority.

However, Thompson's lawyers showed that at least four prosecutors knew about the hidden blood test. They also showed evidence of other, similar cases in New Orleans in which key evidence was concealed from defense lawyers.
Conservatives only mistrust government when it comes to spending money on people they don't like. When it comes to the power of life and death it always gets the benefit of the doubt.

The American Revolution wasn't only about tea and taxes. It was about the power of the government to railroad innocent people into jail and execute them. It's impossible for any institution to be perfect (which is one excellent argument against the death penalty) but when they have been found to have consciously committed a horrible injustice like this they should be held accountable.

But then, nobody who isn't rich or powerful is held accountable for much of anything in this country. It could make a person cynical after a while.

Groundhog Day

by digby

Dylan Ratigan is hosting a Townhall tonight at 5PM pst on energy. You can see it here.

Before you watch it you might want to read this excellent article in today's NY Times:
IMAGINE a foreign policy version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” with Bill Murray playing the president of the United States. The alarm clock rings. Political mayhem is again shaking the Middle East, crude oil and gasoline prices are climbing, and an economic recovery is under threat.

President Nixon woke up to the same alarm during the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo and declared Project Independence to end the country’s dependency on imported oil. President Carter, during the Iranian revolution, called an effort to reduce dependency on foreign oil “the moral equivalent of war.” President George W. Bush called oil an addiction.

On Wednesday, in a nationally televised address, President Obama said, “We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when gas prices go back down. We can’t rush to propose action when prices are high, then push the snooze button when they go down again.”

So, with Libyan and other North African and Middle Eastern oil fields jeopardized by political upheaval and Japan’s nuclear power disaster turning the energy world on its head, the alarm is ringing again. As gasoline prices rise and even the stability of Saudi Arabia is suddenly in question, energy independence is taking on new urgency.

The path to that independence — or at least an end to dependence on the Mideast — could well be dirty, expensive and politically explosive.

Read on.
The Frontrunner

by digby

Here's the latest on the GOP field:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee would go toe-to-toe with President Obama if he sought the presidency in 2012, according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University survey. Among registered voters nationwide, 46 percent said they'd vote for Huckabee and the same number would re-elect the president.

That's good. I think Huckabee would be a terrific president. In hell.

Huckabee has just been caught on video, at a Christian supremacist conference, stating that Americans should be forcibly indoctrinated at gunpoint. The organization which hosted the “Rediscover God In America” conference, United in Purpose, has edited Huckabee’s comment from footage of his speech, but not before People For The American Way’s Kyle Mantyla captured the unedited footage, in which Mike Huckabee states, “I almost wish that there would be, like, a simultaneous telecast, and all Americans would be forced–forced at gunpoint no less–to listen to every David Barton message, and I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.”
If you read this blog you are familiar with David Barton. So are all the Tea partiers who think of Barton as the Commander in chief of Glenn Beck's Black Robed regiment. He is not just a socially conservative preacher. He's a full blown propagandist who's created an alternative history of the United States. It's not a good one.

He's a very dangerous man. And so, apparently, is Mike Huckabee.

Rebalancing The Right

by digby

The Tea Party had a rally today in DC and hardly anyone showed up. I think it's fairly clear that unless the astro-turfed groups provide funds and pay for logistics and Fox News relentless flogs it, the "movement" isn't all that organized.

But it's probably more than that. The Tea Party as a distinct identity was always going to be short lived. We have a two party system and these so-called non-partisan splinter groups tend to move back into the system after a cycle or two. In this case, it was a brilliant strategy on the part of the GOP and the plutocrats. They had to separate themselves quickly from the Bush legacy of failure so they jumped on/created a separate conservative strain they could portray as distinct from the party and mobilize it for 2010. The succeeded admirably, but they aren't needed anymore. The energy is gone and they are going back to the party.

However, the far right is now and even more powerful bloc in the Party and one which the House Republicans can use very effectively in negotiations. ("I'm sorry Mr President, I'd love to help you, but I can't do anything with these people.") More importantly, they are convinced that their victory truly validated their extremism. One hopes that the public's growing restiveness over this hubristic overreach will reach critical mass at the right time so they will be pulled back from the precipice. We have big problems in this country and having a bunch of extremist nutballs with enough political power to veto any rational solutions is dangerous.


Cutting spending in order to raise it

by digby

John Boehner today:
We're listening to the people who sent us here to cut spending so we can grow our economy.

Obama last month:

I’m convinced that the only way we can make these investments in our future is if our government starts living within its means, if we start taking responsibility for our deficits. That’s why, when I was sworn in as President, I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term. The budget I’m proposing today meets that pledge—and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade. We do this in part by eliminating waste and cutting whatever spending we can do without.

When you see the two together it doesn't really sound like there's much to argue about does it?

I wonder how the average American hears them? The Republicans are simply saying that cutting spending will grow the economy, full stop. Obama is saying that we need to cut spending but spend more for the future. Do they know the difference? And if they do, does it make sense to them?

I guess we're going to find out because the administration seems to be hooked on the idea that a message of cutting spending while also investing is something that people will instinctively understand --- and more importantly that cutting spending in order to raise spending will work. Unfortunately, in order to make that case they think they can make a splashy future deficit reduction plan along the lines of the catfood commission stand in for their alleged dedication to spending cuts.

Once you've bought into the idea that reducing spending is the most important priority, it takes on a life of its own --- and unfortunately validates the idea that cutting spending immediately will stimulate the economy. But if you want it to actually grow, you can't actually do that. It's going to be quite a show.

Trading on the Tea Party

by digby

This just makes me laugh:

The Tea Party does not have a presence in Indonesia, where the term evokes cups of orange pekoe and sweet cakes rather than angry citizens in “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirts.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

But a Tea Party group in the United States, the Institute for Liberty, has vigorously defended the freedom of a giant Indonesian paper company to sell its wares to Americans without paying tariffs. The institute set up Web sites, published reports and organized a petition drive attacking American businesses, unions and environmentalists critical of the company, Asia Pulp & Paper.

Last fall, the institute’s president, Andrew Langer, had himself videotaped on Long Wharf in Boston holding a copy of the Declaration of Independence as he compared Washington’s proposed tariff on paper from Indonesia and China to Britain’s colonial trade policies in 1776.

Tariff-free Asian paper may seem an unlikely cause for a nonprofit Tea Party group. But it is in keeping with a succession of pro-business campaigns — promoting commercial space flight, palm oil imports and genetically modified alfalfa — that have occupied the Institute for Liberty’s recent agenda.

Yes, well, the astro-turfed nature of the Tea Party is well known and nobody should be surprised by this. In fact, this next is just CW nonsense:

The Tea Party movement is as deeply skeptical of big business as it is of big government. Yet an examination of the Institute for Liberty shows how Washington’s influence industry has adapted itself to the Tea Party era. In a quietly arranged marriage of seemingly disparate interests, the institute and kindred groups are increasingly the bearers of corporate messages wrapped in populhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifist Tea Party themes.

There is no evidence that the Tea Party is anti-business. Reporters confuse the fact that they are against bailouts with skepticism about business. That's backwards. It's the government end of the bailouts they are skeptical of.

Pam Stout, one of the grassroots poster girls for the national Tea Party movement, said it on David Letterman when he asks her to explain why she thinks things are getting worse in this country:

I think [it’s] the fact that we demonize business ... we have one of the highest tax structures” in the world.

Right wing populist isn't particularly "anti-business" in the first place, but this Tea Party movement isn't even close. They are far right Republicans who have been brainwashed to believe that wealthy people and businesses must be revered because they are the "innovators" who make this country great. They are, in other words, willing serfs.

It is not in the least bit surprising to me that their astro-turf groups are making tons of money trading on the name. But they'd better be careful. The Tea Party may worship big business and hate taxes like any other far right conservative --- but they are very mistrustful of foreigners. A good many of them are undoubtedly particularly mistrustful of Muslim foreigners,which includes a whole lot of Indonesians. It's a fine line.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Struggles of the top 5%

by digby

How to sound like a total ass in one easy lesson:

At a town hall meeting in Polk County, Wisconsin earlier this year, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) was asked whether he'd vote to cut his http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif$174,000 annual salary. Duffy sort of hedged, and went on to talk about how $174,000 really isn't that much for his family of seven to live on. Then he went on to say he supports cutting compensation for all public employees, along the lines of what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has proposed for the Badger State...

Duffy also said that he pays more in health care costs and retirement savings than he did when he was a district attorney before he ran for Congress. That said, Duffy said he'd support the idea of "public employees across the board" taking a compensation cut.

"Let's all join hands together and say 'I'll take a pay decrease, absolutely," Duffy said.

The median household income in his district was $50,520 in 2008. This guy makes more money than 95% of Americans.

I'm sure Congressman Duffy believes that he is a far superior person than those losers who can't even manage to crack six figures so it's not worth even comparing the sacrifices he makes. And in any case, he's making less than he could if he worked on Wall Street or in some other elevated position (and undoubtedly will when he cashes in from his stint in government.) So really, he's sacrificed quite enough already and it's very generous of him to even consider giving up some of this 172,000 salary.

I've heard this same line many, many times, even from liberals who complain that their quarter million dollar salaries are barely enough to meet expenses. I heard one complaining a few years back that one simply can't afford to live in LA on less that 300k a year (and even then you'd have to live somewhere horrible, darling, like Encino.) I hear this and I want to give them a brisk slap. They simply must not even see the hundreds of people they cross paths with every day of their lives.

Still, there's something particularly smarmy about a politician who whines to his own constituents about barely getting by on three times their salary and then offering to "sacrifice" by taking a pay cut right along with them. Big of him. As if he will feel the same pinch as someone who brings home 600 bucks a week...

BTW: The GOP was so thrilled with that speech they had it up on their web-site until it was pointed out that their boy came off as Little Lord Fauntleroy.They are so far out of touch these days that they can't even fake being human any more.

Seriously, What Is Wrong With These People?

by tristero

From the great Mark Bittman, who has moved very deeply into food politics.
[The poor] are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending...

In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time...

“We shouldn’t be reducing our meager efforts for poor people in order to reduce the deficit,” [David Beckman] told me by phone. “They didn’t get us into this, and starving them isn’t going to get us out of it.”
I should mention that Mark Bittman has ratcheted up his writing on the politics of food in spite of my clear advice to the contrary. I'm beginning to suspect that he doesn't read me.* However if this kind of full-throated advocacy is the result, I couldn't be happier to be dead wrong.

*Special note to those in the commentariat who actually think that I believe that Mark Bittman, in fact, reads my posts: I was kidding.

(I do hope he reads Digby's posts, however. He's missing a lot if he doesn't.)

The Daily Show on Libya:

by digby

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
America at Not-War - Obama Defends Military Action in Libya
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

I think Stewart has the right take -- this is one of those things that just doesn't scan.

Fire This Public Employee

by digby

Now we're talking:

It’s everything that’s wrong with corporate power today: News broke last week that General Electric, America’s largest corporation, made $14,200,000,000 in profits last year and paid $0 in taxes -- that’s right, zero dollars in taxes. At the same time, C.E.O. Jeffrey Immelt saw his compensation double. Now I hear that GE is expected to ask 15,000 of their unionized workers to make major concessions in wages and benefits.

But what really adds insult to injury is the prestigious and influential position Jeffrey Immelt holds as chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That’s wrong. Someone like Immelt, who has helped his company evade taxes on its huge profits -- and is now looking to workers to take major pay cuts after his compensation was doubled -- should not lead the administration’s effort to create jobs...

How can someone like Immelt be given the responsibility of heading a jobs creation task force when his company has been creating more jobs overseas while reducing its American workforce? And under Immelt’s direction, GE spends hundreds of millions of dollars hiring lawyers and lobbyists to evade taxes. All of this at a time when Fox News and the right wing are demonizing public workers, like teachers, as the cause of our economic problems.

It’s time for policymakers to stop coddling corporate interests, and get to work creating jobs and wealth for Main Street. We shouldn’t reward wealthy CEOs and Wall Street for behavior that undermines the nation’s economy.

That's Russ Feingold, calling for Immelt to be fired. Isn't it pretty to think Obama might do it?

It would be surprising, however, considering how effectively the Masters of the Universe and John Galts have worked the refs over the past couple of years. They were so dedicated that they were willing to allow themselves to be seen a whimpering, drooling, crybabies over and over again whining incessantly about how mean the president was. They did this because they are egomaniacs, to be sure. But it was also in order to send the message that they wouldn't be entertaining any donation requests any time soon if they were openly challenged.

Obama knows what's going on:
“It’s almost like they’ve got — they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger,” President Obama said on Thursday of the banks he’s chosen to bail out. “You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk [to] them, ease that finger off the trigger.”

Greg Sargent points out that this may not work for the president all that well going forward:

Feingold’s demand reflects a sense that there’s a large constituhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifency on the left that is fed up with the tendency of corporatist Beltway Dems to treat corporations with kid gloves because they’re “job creators.” Progressives like Feingold believe that Dems achieve far better organizational success and unleash more grassroots energy — as evidenced by events in Wisconsin — when they adopt a more confrontational posture towards corporations and the politicians who lend them aid and comfort, and unabashedly treat corporate America as the institution whose misbehavior and excess landed us in our economic mess.

Crooks are Crooks

by digby

Oh my goodness, I think someone's going to have to convene an investigative hearing:

ThinkProgress has discovered more troubling evidence that Issa may have blended his work as a lawmaker with his own business empire. After founding a successful car alarm company, Issa invested his fortune in a sprawling network of real estate companies with holdings throughout his district. One of Issa’s most valuable properties, a medical office building at 2067 West Vista Way in Vista, California, is called the Vista Medical Center, and was purchased in 2008 for $16.6 million. Described as “a long-term investment,” the property was bought by a company called Viper LLC, a business entity operated by Issa’s family that Issa has up to a $25 million dollar stake in.

Around the same time, Issa made the Vista Medical Center purchase, the congressman began requesting millions of dollars worth of earmarks to widen and improve the highway adjacent to the building. In 2008, he requested $2 million to expand West Vista Way, the road in front of his “long-term investment,” but only received $245,000 from the government. The next year, Issa made another earmark request for improving the West Vista Way highway next to his building. He earmarked another $570,000, bringing his total to $815,000, to add parking lots, widen the road, add bus stops, improve the sewer system, and other utility work.
One of the things I love best about the Republicans is their remarkable ability to embody everything they purport to hate. It's like a mass personality disorder.

Issa is, and was, a crook. It's his defining characteristic. Why anyone thought it was good idea to put him in charge of an investigative committee is anyone's guess. (Maybe they just didn't have anyone better?)


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Alert the media

by digby

Americans have decided that Fox News isn't a reliable source:
In the space of one year, Fox News has lost its perch as the most trusted TV news network in the US and is now average at best, a new survey has found.

A poll gauging public trust in TV news has found that PBS is the most trusted name in news, while trust in Fox News has dropped significantly.

According to a survey from Public Policy Polling, "a year ago a plurality of Americans said they trusted Fox News. Now a plurality of them don't."

In a survey taken a year ago, PPP found that Fox was the most trusted news network, with 49 percent saying they trusted the network, and 37 percent saying they did not. In the new poll, 42 percent said they trusted the network while 46 percent disagreed.

PPP notes that trust in the network declined only marginally among conservatives, from 75 percent to 72 percent. "But moderates and liberals have both had a strong increase in their level of distrust for the network -- a 12-point gain from 48 percent to 60 percent for moderates and a 16-point gain from 66 percent to 82 percent for liberals," the institute reported.

What was the tip off, do you suppose?

I know who this guy (Van Jones) is. He's a communist revolutionary. A guy who pined for the days of Stalin, the Iron Curtain went down. Something is wrong there.

Well, it really bothered me until recently when I started looking into all the George Soros connections and the size and the scope of his reach.

And let me tell you something — I said to you, read up on George Soros. There is plenty of ways to read about him. These are all books about George Soros, many of them written by him. So, there is no shortage of information. Read them. Read them.

The comment doesn't bother me anymore, I understand what it means. And that's why that comment now frightens me. And I will put it in perspective tonight and tomorrow. Pull back the curtain and reveal what that actually means and it will terrify you.

There are a couple of other things that you'll understand. First of all, in 2003, Soros and a partner funded the new $5 million liberal group MoveOn.org. Well, MoveOn.org, what exactly is that?

Well, you remember it. This is the group that originally called General Petraeus, "General Betray Us." It was despicable.

Well, who had they tapped for the executive director of MoveOn.org? This guy, Zack Exley. I've never heard of him before. Do you know who he is?

Well, he previously had trained activists for the anarchist group, the Raucous Society. These are the riots in Seattle helped orchestrated by this guy — more on that in just a minute.

Oh, by the way, he's also a blogger for The Huffington Post, which is interesting because The Huffington Post gets money from George Soros. Oh, and he's also a fellow with the George Soros Open Society Institute.

Violent radicals. Oh, and by the way, it's just not that phrase that came — George Soros has been following him as he originally funded the Ella Baker Society, or the Center for Human Rights. And then, of course, he was on the Apollo Alliance. And then, when he got fired from the White House, he went to Center for American Progress, which is also funded by George Soros. Radicals. Radicals.

(And who the hell are the moderates and liberals who didn't know Fox News was nuts until this year?)

Corporations Need Tax Relief

by digby

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Give Up - Pay Anything...
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If you follow their logic, you will see that corporations are aiming for a zero tax rate. Or should I say blackmailing?

"I think when people hear that all these companies are moving overseas because of taxes, they think that doesn't smell right," Stahl said to Swiss tax attorney Thierry Boitelle.

"Yeah, the question is, 'Does a company have a moral obligation to pay its fair share?'" he replied.

"I think many companies in the U.S. would like to keep the jobs in the U.S. if they could, but they also need to keep their shareholders happy. And they are in the U.S. in a corporate tax nightmare because it's the highest tax rate in the world," Boitelle explained.

There you have it. And in case you are looking for a solution:

"We can't write a law their lawyers can't get around. That's the whole problem here," Doggett explained.

"You're in Congress. Why did Congress write these laws that allowed this to happen?" Stahl asked.

"There's been a lot of arm twisting, a lot of effective lobbying here, and some really smart tax lawyers figuring out how to game the system with one shenanigan after the other," the congressman replied.

"But are they shenanigans or is it the law?" Stahl asked.

"I think it was a shenanigan when some of these companies felt so strongly about America that they renounced their American citizenship and began saluting a foreign flag. They exploited a provision in our tax laws and moved offshore," Doggett said.

Congress tried to put a stop to that with a law passed in 2004, mandating that any company that wanted to move offshore would still have to pay the 35 percent. But because of loopholes in the tax code, companies can substantially lower their taxes by moving chunks of their businesses to their foreign subsidiaries.

The Ten Commandments of The Constitution

by digby

From the "we are all teabaggers now" file:

Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice whhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifo lost his job after erecting a monument of the Ten Commandments outside the state's courthouse, plans to announce in mid-April that he is setting up a presidential exploratory committee, an aide told CBS News.

The aide, Zachery Michael, said Moore's platform will be focused on repealing the health care overhaul law, replacing the progressive income tax with a flat tax and bringing "commonsense solutions" on immigration and border control.

Michael said Moore is entering the fray because "we're just seeing the same type of politicians run for president." He said Moore is someone "who can connect with over 300 million Americans across the country, which is something we've been lacking with today's leaders across society."

Michael said Moore should not be thought of simply as a culture warrior, arguing that he has been a strong advocate for limited government.

"He not only stood up for his faith, he stood up against the tyranny of government," he said.

He's going to have to fight off Bachman, Huck, Santorum, Gingrich and the all new PawlentyRomney for the Tea for Jesus vote, but I think he can do it. He's got major cred among the social conservatives --- and he was a judge!

Value Betrayal

by digby

Mark Goldberg at UN Dispatch shares this letter from Cote D'Ivoire:

Over the last few days, we have received increasingly dire reports from our colleagues. They describe the situation in Abidjan as “pre-genocidal.” Several neighborhoods of the capital and outlying areas that are loyal to President-Elect Alassane Ouattara have now been fenced in by troops supporting ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. Civilians attempting to cross checkpoints have been robbed and killed. Gangs of militiamen conduct regular sweeps through neighborhood houses, ostensibly to maintain order but, in reality, to intimidate. Civilians in these neighborhoods are trapped, threatened in their own homes, terrified to leave, and not knowing where to turn for safety. For people with chronic conditions like HIV – dependent on access to medications for their own health – an already life-threatening situation is made even worse by the growing national drug shortage and the real danger of leaving one’s home just to fill a prescription or to keep a medical appointment.

The political-military situation in Côte d’Ivoire was front-and-center in people’s minds a few short weeks ago. But events in Egypt, in Libya, and in Japan have overtaken the headlines. Gbagbo has capitalized on our collective inattention to secure his illegal position and to terrorize the people. The UN needs to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians in Côte d’Ivoire. More than 400 people have been killed and some 400,000 persons displaced while UN troops have been on the ground. Specific steps that can be taken immediately include: opening UN and French military bases to civilian refugees; establishing a humanitarian corridor to permit civilians to escape the violence and reach these bases; and jamming the state broadcasting system so that it can no longer incite violence.

He adds:

The UN reports that 1 million people have fled Abidjan. At least 462 people have been killed since the crisis began in December, not least of whom were six women gunned down by Gbagbo supporters during a peaceful demonstration three weeks ago. If heavy fighting spreads from the strategic town of Duekoue, an untold number will be killed.

Genocide is not out of the realm of possibility. There are already reports of mass graves in Abidjan. At the very least, the country seems to be inching ever closer toward an ethnic based mass atrocity event.

This is the problem with making the argument that doing nothing in Libya is "a betrayal of who we are," and saying that "some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries but the United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action." The plight of Ivory Coast proves that we "betray ourselves" every day and brings the whole concept of our alleged values into sharp relief.

There are reasons to be in Libya. But the idea that we couldn't live with ourselves if a massacre unfolded clearly isn't one of them. So the the question remains, why Libya?

Tomorrow Today

by digby

Now this is what I call winning the future. Tom Tomorrow will be moving to Daily Kos --- and doing something new:

I’ve had an extraordinary run at Salon, and it has been a fantastic platform, which I have been privileged to share with many talented contributors over the years. But as Blinky notes in this week’s farewell cartoon, I’ve been there for about a million years in internet time. My contract was up for renewal at the end this month, and I was feeling vaguely ready for a change, when I was approached by Markos Moulitsas with an intriguing offer — the chance to not only publish my own work on the Daily Kos, but to serve as the site’s Comics Editor, to help create an entirely new space online for political cartoons.

I’ve been quietly agitating for something like this for quite a while. These are difficult times for cartoonists, particularly those of us working in the subgenre of altweekly cartooning. The papers are still vital to my survival, and I’m grateful beyond measure to the many editors who continue to run my work in print each week — but the larger trend over the past few years has not exactly been encouraging. Too many papers have decided that they no longer have any use for this art form which grew in their stead, adapting itself entirely to their rhythms, and as that market contracts, there’s been no simultaneous expansion online. The niche that editorial cartoons filled in newspapers is almost entirely occupied by Daily Show clips online.

I consider political cartooning to be intrinsic to political dialog and the weird way its been marginalized online has always puzzled me. It's always seemed like a perfect fit for what we do, the same way cartoons have always appeared on the editorial pages. Let's hope this experiment is big success.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Time To Raise Hell

by digby

This is important guys. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, despite what many people insist isn't true and what vast majorities of the public want, Social security is on the chopping block in this congress. The first salvo was the failed deficit commission. The next is coming up in the budget negotiations. We've got people on both sides of the aisle desperate to do this thing to "prove" they are able to harshly cut spending --- 30 years from now --- in some quixotic attempt to make the markets magically fix everything that's wrong with the economy. It's a form of mass delusion, but it has become a matter of conventional wisdom among our ruling elite.

But they aren't unopposed. StrengthenSocialSecurity.org is organizing to push back and they are asking for your help.

Call Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday!

We need you to call your Senators and demand that they vote for the Sanders/Reid Social Security Protection Amendment.

Senator Sanders and Majority Leader Reid are leading the fight in the Senate to protect Social Security from drastic cuts.

Their amendment simply says:

Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries should not be cut and Social Security should not be privatized as part of any legislation to reduce the Federal deficit.

Call your Senators at 866-251-4044. You’ll be given a choice of which of your state’s two senators to be connected with. Call BOTH if you have the time. It only takes a minute each.

Tell the person who answers the phone:

I am a voter/constituent living in [your state]. I am calling to tell the Senator:
I oppose all cuts to Social Security and
I urge them to vote yes on the Sanders/Reid Social Security Protection Amendment.

Please take the time for this very important effort. This is for all of us who depend on Social Security.

Call Tuesday and Wednesday: 866-251-4044.


Stay involved, the threat to Social Security continues. Please click to stay involved in the fight.

This sort of thing can work. Remember that right wing radio single handedly stopped comprehensive immigration reform by mobilizing their listeners to call Washington and raise hell.

Liberals can raise hell too.

* Numbers fixed
The Same Old, Same Old

by digby

This has a ring to it:

As Rep. Michele Bachmann put it in a speech here Saturday: “Social conservatism is fiscal conservatism.”

The Minnesota congresswoman’s line, though an over-simplification, was echoed by numerous social conservatives in conversations with The Huffington Post over the weekend. Their argument is that many of the outcomes that have produced the nation’s economic crisis are, at their core, driven by moral deficiencies: greed, dishonesty, selfishness, cowardice, and the like.

“Go back to Jefferson and Washington. They said, ‘If you want this country to be great, you better first be good,’” said Bob Vander Plaats, the man who has led the charge in Iowa against same-sex marriage. “And so that’s where we’re at saying, ‘You know what, if you think all it is is over here on the economic side while youhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif want all this other stuff to erode, you’re dealing with a house of cards.’”

Sure, why not. There's no reason you can't wear a tri-corner hat and a cross at the same time. (Or, as Sinclair Lewis put it much more colorfully back in the day when one was allowed to speak the obvious.)

Update: Must read this analysis of the current abortion wars by Amanda Marcotte. These people are very savvy, very seasoned campaigners. There's simply no way the GOP could ever do without them. But they won't have to.

Lying and Cheating for Jesus

by digby

This, from Alternet, is disgusting, especially coming from people who claim to care about the mental health of the people they are allegedly counseling:

What will happen when a woman who wants an abortion is counseled at a Fake Clinic? The monstrous deception that occurs in the Fake Clinics has been exposed in films such as the HBO Special 12th and Delaware. Because the Fakes have a well-hidden agenda, everything they do is designed to frighten and shame a woman who knows it is not the right time for her to have a baby. This fraudulence is clearly set out in the instructions given by the diabolical Robert Pearson, who came up with this brilliant and evil plan way back in 1967 when abortion was first legal in Hawaii. Pearson himself acknowledged and defended the deception in a 1994 speech: “obviously, we’re fighting Satan... A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her kill her baby. Therefore, when she calls and says, ‘Do you do abortions?’ we do not tell her, No, we don’t do abortions.” The volunteers in his centers and others like them don’t mind tricking women because they think they are following some ‘higher law’. They don’t mind lying and misrepresenting things like the specious breast cancer-abortion link, the dangers of abortion, and most cruel of all, the help available to a woman who realizes that she honestly cannot support a child financially. The original Pearson manual includes: "[o]ur name of the game is to get the woman to come in as do the abortion chambers. Be put off by nothing... Let nothing stop you. The stakes are life or death." In 12th and Delaware we witnessed a young woman who came to a Fake and was so terrified by what they told her about abortion that she went home and months later knew with great anguish that she was still in no position to have and support a child. But by then she had little choice.

I remember in my own clinic years that when a woman came to our front desk crying and shaking I always knew she had been waylaid by the Fake Clinic directly across the hall from us--the Fake Clinic that advertised Free Pregnancy Testing and Financial Assistance. There was no financial assistance for abortion in Dallas, Texas. We did everything we knew to alert women to its existence including telling everyone who called us that the Fake Clinic was next door. But women who were poor, didn’t speak English, and had the very fewest resources went to the Fake Clinic because they believed they would be able to get a free abortion. During one of the most stressful days of their lives, some of our patients still got confused and went in the wrong door. Sometimes the Fake Clinic would actually send their white-coated volunteers out into the parking lot to take our unwitting patients into their facility--like spiders luring flies to their doom.

We always spent extra time with patients who had been to the Fake Clinic because we knew they hadn’t been told the truth. But I was shocked to really GET how powerful the lies were. I counseled with a patient who had been to the Fake. She said she didn’t feel like she could get up and leave even though she knew it wasn’t the right place, because the woman reminded her of her grandmother and she didn’t want to be rude. In counseling she seemed resolved about her choice, so we did all the usual paperwork and lab work. She was early in pregnancy so an abortion was many times safer than continuing a pregnancy. I went through her abortion with her. After the five-minute procedure she burst into tears and said, “I can’t believe I lived”.


The elimination one year ago of Medicaid funding for prenatal care for about 1,600 low-income women has had dramatic effects, doctors and health clinic administrators reported Wednesday. At least five babies have died. Women are traveling 155 miles to get prenatal care. Babies have been delivered at clinics, in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms. [...]http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Andrea Skolkin, chief executive officer of One World Community Health Centers in Omaha, said that in the past year, only about half of uninsured women are receiving any prenatal care. The health center has more premature births to uninsured women, compared to insured women. Uninsured mothers were twice as likely to delhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifiver through cesarean section, which is more expensive. [...] Four infants died in utero at the Columbus health center, she said. In the previous seven years, the clinic had never had an in utero death.

Evidently some forced childbirth advocates are having second thoughts, but when push comes to shove many conservatives are more concerned about the skin color of the fetus than they are about its well being. Meanwhile they are torturing others into giving birth to dying babies out of ideological rigidity.

Let's just say they are a bit confused. It's not surprising after all that lying to pregnant women. That kind of deceit tends to take on a life of its own after a while.

DeMint's Rules Of Democracy

by digby

Think Progress has an exclusive from conservative leader Jim DeMint:

KEYES: Senator, would you like to see some of these bills that we see at a state level curbing the collective bargaining rights of public employees’ unions, would you like to see those on a federal level?

DeMINT: I don’t believe collective bargaining has any place in government.

KEYES: Including at a federal level?

DeMINT: Including at the federal level. That’s what elections are, collective bargaining, for people who are [inaudible]. I think it just doesn’t make sense. When we’re elected as representatives, to determine the fiscal condition of the government, then to have an unelected third party bargaining at the table with monopoly power, it just doesn’t make any sense.

It's an interesting view, especially considering the fact that DeMint's primary method of governance is to use undemocratic means (the filibuster) in an undemocratic institution (the Senate) to prevent the majority from enacting its agenda.

Aside from the nonsensical view that government workers could get a fair shake through a legislative process that's financed and dominated by people who's life mission it is to drown government in the bathtub, it's particularly absurd in the sense of federal workers in DC. After all, it's the Republicans who refuse to allow the district to have any representation in the congress. Talk about a catch-22.

But then democracy isn't really a fundamental principle for Republicans so this has a certain logic to it, doesn't it?

Gunning for AARP

by digby

I sure hope someone warned AARP about a skinny white guy in a pimp costume:

Newly empowered House Republicans are getting ready to renew their attacks against AARP over its support for the healthcare reform law, The Hill has learned.

The Ways and Means health and oversight subcommittees are hauling in the seniors lobby's executives before the panel for an April 1 hearing on how the group stands to benefit from the law, among other topics. Republicans say AARhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifP supported the law's $200 billion in cuts to the Medicare Advantage program because it stands to gain financially as seniors replace their MA plans with Medicare supplemental insurance -- or Medigap -- policies endorsed by the association.

The hearing will cover not only Medigap but "AARP's organizational structure, management, and financial growth over the last decade."

The Republicans have only one growing demographic: the elderly. And they are going to have to decouple them from any trusted institution that might challenge their propaganda. We saw the beginning of this during the health care debate in which they convinced a number of senior citizens to give up their membership due to the AARP's debunking of the "death panel" lie. And they've been slowly building up alternatives that present themselves as independent advocacy groups like 60Plus.

Here's a little example of their work:

The Republicans are obviously operating on a Shock Doctrine blueprint, moving aggressively to put liberal advocacy groups and organizations on the defensive, defunding where they can, certainly calling their credibility into question everywhere. And they have had quite a bit of success.

Like I said, watch out for that skinny guy in a pimp costume.

Big Deals

by digby

Here's a shocker:

The White House and Democratic lawmakers, with less than two weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, are assembling a proposal for roughly $20 billion in additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to people close to the budget talks.

That would come on top of $10 billion in cuts that Congress has already enacted and would represent a deeper reduction than the Obama administration and Senate Democrats had offered previously in negotiations. But it isn’t clear thathttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif would be enough to satisfy Republicans, who initially sought $61 billion in spending cuts and face pressure from tea-party activists not to compromise.

We talked about this back when the White House thought they could dazzle the Republicans with slick arguments over semantics:

the White House argues the president has already essentially agreed to $44.8 billion in spending cuts from his original proposal. Add the current $6.5 billion in new cuts proposed today and voila! – roughly half of $100 billion.

Republicans argue that President Obama’s original budget is a nonsensical baseline from which to begin since it was never enacted.

What you have to do, Republicans say, is start from the current level of spending as represented in the original Continuing Resolution.

This is why, House Republicans say, they only claimed to have cut spending by $61 billion, not $100 billion. They say to do otherwise is taking credit for $44 billion in cuts the White House never actually agreed to in any serious negotiation.

“I understand that maybe some people who originally decided to use that math may not want to use that anymore,” Pfeiffer said today. “There are innumerable quotes, many of them in stories in papers that you guys did on that day,…with Republican leadership saying that they cut $100 billion on that day. By that measure we have come half way.”

“Their thing hasn’t passed into law either, right?” said Sperling “This is the president of the United States has put forward a request that’s his ideal budget that he put forward. They put forward their ideal proposal. Something they could pass in the House, but and that’s – there’s a $102.3 billion difference there. I don’t know why when you’re covering any type of negotiation that it’s not highly relevant to know where the president’s proposal was, where their proposal was, and then, and then if there’s movement – to what degree is that splitting the difference or moving towards one side or the other. So I think it’s a totally legitimate important thing covering the negotiation.”

Pfeiffer added that “what is clear is that we are at the beginning of the process discussing this. They are not going to get everything they want. We’re not going to get everything we want. And we’re going to discuss how we’re going to get there. Much like the tax cut deal.”

And then:

As of several days ago, this math might have worked with the GOP. But as negotiations have entered a new stage, so to has the context. Republicans now insist negotiations instead should be based off current spending levels, not those in Obama's 2011 budget proposal. With that as a baseline, their CR offers roughly $60 billion in cuts. The president, in turn, offers just $10 billion (the $4 billion passed already plus the $6 billion suggested on Thursday).

"I understand that people maybe want to change the math, now," said Pfeiffer, arguing that it would be irresponsible for the media to base the current proposals off anything other than FY 2011 suggestions. "What is clear is no matter what math they use, Republicans won't get everything they want and Democrats won't get everything they want."

So now they've come back with another 20 billion in cuts. As I wrote at the time:

I think that tax cut "deal" may have made the administration stupid.

The GOP objective isn't to "get a compromise" or "split the difference" so everyone in the Village will drool all over them because they are so awesomely bipartisan. It's to get what they want. They really, really, really wanted those tax cuts for the wealthy and they got them. Now they really, really, really want spending cuts.

Arguing over semantics or even arithmetic with these people is to fundamentally misunderstand how they operate.

And if the rest of my prediction comes true, they have probably made a phony "deal" not to cut off Planned Parenthood or completely defund NPR in exchange for all these tax cuts. That's been foreshadowed as well:

One thing Republicans might not get are the host of riders that attached to their continuing resolution, including language that would cut off, among other things, funds for Planned Parenthood.
"We think the focus should be on how to cut spending in a way that is smart for the economy," said Sperling, "and that no one should get that core mission derailed by focusing on any political or ideological [cause]."

If this keeps going on this trajectory, when all is said and done you are probably going to be asked to clap very loudly for a deal that is essentially draconian cuts in government at the worst possible time in exchange for not cutting some programs you like. That's what constitutes a "victory" for a Democratic president and Senate these days. The good news is that Gloria Borger and Andrea Mitchell will say it's a brilliant example of bipartisan compromise and the president's approval ratings will undoubtedly improve for at least two weeks. So that's something.

Update: Dday adds even more context:

There’s no question that Republicans played the “Bad Cop, Insane Cop” game very expertly. But it was apparent from the moment that Democrats allowed the 2011 budget to be decided on the watch of the new Republican House that there would be a massive reduction like this. They failed to finish a 2011 budget resolution as part of the deal for extending the Bush tax cuts for two years. They failed to incorporate an increase in the debt limit into that as well. As a result, they forced themselves to negotiate with a bad hand. And they’re not the best negotiators in the first place.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Health Care In Bizarroworld

by digby

Now this is funny:

BRIT HUME: What I would say about this is, think how different this would be now had the president and the Democrats in Congress been willing to incorporate some Republican ideas; a serious attempt at tort reform for example. He would have gotten I think not only much of what, he, the president wanted, Republicans would have gotten some of they wanted. A bunch of them would have voted for it. This notion that it's a partisan bill would be gone and the whole picture would look different right now from the way it does.

I actually in my life have never seen anything like this. I've never seen a bill with this much consequence rammed through by one party alone. And it raised questions about the legitimacy of the measure from the start and those questions persist today. And that is why, even with the polls that you and Juan cited and there are others that show something quite different, the thing remains up in the air and I think Bill is right in thinking that it will be a burden to this presidency.

Right. A Rube-Goldberg health care industry wet dream that was far more conservative than anything Dick Nixon or Ronald Reagan ever proposed contained no Republican ideas? That's ridiculous. The whole thing was based on Republican ideas. The liberal idea was Medicare for all, always has been. And Joe Lieberman and Ben nelson made sure there wasn't anything even close to that included in the package.

And needless to say, even if the Democrats had outlawed all malpractice lawsuits and eliminated medicare in favor of a useless voucher scheme, they wouldn't have voted for it. They called it 'Obama's Waterloo" remember?

Brit Hume knows all this, of course. He's just spinning for his team.

transcript courtesy of Heather at Crooks and Liars

The enemy of his enemy

by digby

It really doesn't get any more unconstitutional than this. Think Progress asked conservative presidential candidate Herman Cain, "Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?" Cain replied:

"No, I would not. And here's why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they've got a social problem that they don't know what to do with hardly.

The question that was asked that 'raised some questions' and, as my grandfather said, 'I does not care, I feel the way I feel.'"

Setting aside how asinine and ridiculous his "feelings" are, he's simply not allowed by the US Constitution to act on them. This is not in dispute. Article VI, paragraph 3 states:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
You just can't refuse to appoint people on the basis of their religion without changing the constitution, which explicitly precludes doing that.

Ok, so this is a 7th tier GOP candidate so who care, right? Well, Steve Benen points out that he isn't unique in this promise:

In the fall of 2007, Romney said he would not consider Muslim Americans for his cabinet. Indeed, he said this more than once, in front of plenty of witnesses.

It's just as stupid coming from him. but you have to really admire the chutzpah of a Mormon doing it. I guess he figures the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

Block by block

by digby

Holy Joe is all in:

Senate Homeland Security chairman Joe http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifLieberman (I-Conn.) said the U.S. should intervene to help Syrian protestors if officials there turn weapons on the public as took place in Libya on Fox News Sunday.

Lieberman told host Chris Wallace that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad begins to slaughter his own people he could face an international coalition willing to implement a no-fly zone as they have done in Libya.

Lieberman said he would support U.S. intervention "if Assad does what Qaddafi was doing, which is to threaten to go house to house and kill anyone who's not on his side."

"There's a precedent now that the world community has set in Libya and it's the right one," Lieberman said. "We're not going to stand by and allow this Assad to slaughter his people like his father did years ago and in doing so we're being consistent with our American values and we're also on the side of the Arab people who want a better chance for a decent life."

I guess that means we're going in to Cote d'Ivoire, Yemen and Bahrain too! Unless, of course, we are following the Matthews/Mitchell Doctrine which is exactly what Lieberman said -- unless the bastard in question is one of our "friends." But then "friend" is a term of art in these cases isn't it?

I am interested in what Lieberman said about how we must stop any leader "threatening to go house to house and kill anyone who's not on his side." I know it's not precisely comparable, but I couldn't help but hear echoes of this when he said it:

Hours after the violence ended I visited the Army compound in south LA, where an officer of the 18th Cavalry, that had come to rescue the city, introduced me to two of his troopers. They could not have been 20 years old. He told them to recount their story.

They had come into LA late on the 2nd day, and they walked up a dark street, where the mob had looted and burned every building but one, a convalescent home for the aged. The mob was heading in, to ransack and loot the apartments of the terrified old men and women. When the troopers arrived, M-16s at the ready, the mob threatened and cursed, but the mob retreated. It had met the one thing that could stop it: force, rooted in justice, backed by courage.

Greater love than this hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend. Here were 19-year-old boys ready to lay down their lives to stop a mob from molesting old people they did not even know. And as they took back the streets of LA, block by block, so we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country.

Again, I'm not comparing the National Guard in the LA riots to Qadaffi's militia or suggesting that anything in America is literally similar to Libya. (There is no need to start lecturing me again about being a silly old hysterical hag for even thinking there could be a legitimate comparison between awful foreigners and ourselves.) But I am comparing two hyperbolic speeches in which the implicit message is that the government can "take back" its cities "block by block" with "force, rooted in justice, backed by courage." (You'll surely recall the circumstances that led to the LA riots.)

The point I'm making is that a doctrine of invading a country based upon the verbal threats of its leaders could be a rather dangerously elastic doctrine in the wrong hands. I guess we just have to hope a dangerous foreign power (or even one of our "friends") doesn't take it into their heads to adopt it or things could very confused.

Passport To Liberalism

by digby

Howie has a great post up at Down With Tyranny about this map which Krugman featured last week:

A tip from Paul Krugman last week, America's Superiority Complex, had me thinking about Wexler again as I read a post by Richard Florida, America's Great Passport Divide. You'll notice on the map above that, generally speaking, the states with the smallest percentage of passport holders-- i.e., states with people who don't travel outside the country-- are also the states that elect Republicans that most regularly. Mississippi is the worst, closely followed by West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.

"It’s a fun map," writes Florida. "With the exception of Sarah Palin’s home state, it reinforces the “differences” we expect to find between the states where more worldly, well-travelled people live versus those where the folks Palin likes to call “real Americans” preponderate. Mostly to entertain myself, I decided to look at how this passport metric correlates with a variety of other political, cultural, economic, and demographic measures. What surprised me is how closely it lines up with the other great cleavages in America today." And, as he says, the statistical correlations are striking across a range of indices.

People in richer states tend to hold passports and people in poorer states tend to not. Same for educated people versus ignorant people. The kinds of folks who elect Haley Barbour, Mitch McConnell, Jim DeMint, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter don't hold college degrees-- or passports. They watch Glenn Beck instead and listen to Hate Talk Radio.

States with higher percentages of passport holders are also more diverse. There is a considerable correlation between passports and the share of immigrants or foreign-born population (.63) and also gays and lesbians (.54). The more passport holders a state has, the more diverse its population tends to be. And yes, these correlations hold when we control for income.

What about politics? How does passport holding line up against America’s Red state-Blue state divide? Pretty darn well, actually. There is a considerable positive correlation between passports and Obama voters (.59) and a significant negative one (-.61) for McCain voters. It appears that more liberally-oriented states are more globally oriented as well, or at least their citizens like to travel abroad. Again, the correlations hold when we control for income, though they are a bit weaker than the others.

...And finally, states with more passport holders are also happier. There is a significant correlation (.55) between happiness (measured via Gallup surveys) and a state’s percentage of passport holders. Yet again, that correlation holds when we control for income.

I've always thought that America is dual tribal culture that goes back a long way. (All the way, actually.) And during this last couple of decades the differences have been particularly pronounced. But I do recall taking some comfort during the Bush years in recognizing that as much as liberalism seemed on the run here in the US, we were actually a huge faction in the West in general. Indeed, many times during that period (and today) I felt solidarity with the large number of allies in Europe and Canada and realized that our "tribe" is much bigger than it seems. (Of course xenophobes and chauvinists are a world wide phenomenon as well, but the American version only sees them through the prism of friend or foe.)

I used to believe that while Americans are certainly parochial we also had such a high rate of immigration that it mitigated it a bit and made us more flexible. And in some ways it has. We at least developed a mechanism for assimilation that a lot of countries haven't. But I've realized in my later years that it only goes so far. We might eventually absorb "the other" but only once they agree to accept American exceptionalism. Those who travel, however, quickly learn that while cultures differ, at the end of the day humans are humans and most problems are the fault of fundamental flaws in the species, not the race or the culture or the borders.It boradens the thinking a little.

Lessons Learned

by digby

Steve Clemons answers Juan Cole's stirring support for the Libyan intervention with a number of good points. But echoing Jonathan Schwarz from last week, I think this remains the the most troubling practical concern:

The Aspen Institute Germany, based in Berlin, is holding over this weekend a meeting of former US government officials -- including some former Cabinet level officials -- and North Koreans on the subject of denuclearization and bilateral relations.

According to one of the US attendees, the North Koreans 'wanted' this meeting to put forward expectations they have of the United States -- wanting to trade resumption of nuclear negotiations for US inputs of food, fuel, and economic support over the next year. 2012 is a very big year of transition and consolidation for North Korea. 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and has been marked by the North Korean government as the pivot year for North Korea's "economic revival."

At the same time, the former US official attending these talks told me that North Korea is watching the Western intervention in Libya and seeing the lesson that forfeiting nuclear weapons was a mistake made by Moammer Gaddafi. North Korea and many other nations are seeing that if one acquires nukes, keep them. They are the only ultimate security these regimes can count on in collisions with the West.

This official said that we are likely to see more unpredictable behavior and saber-rattling from North Korea as it reminds of its hard edge and it manipulates the fears of its neighbors by rationally deploying what appears to outsiders an erratic irrationality.

Obama felt he had to intervene in Libya. Juan Cole and Anne-Marie Slaughter and many of my progressive friends have been cheerleaders for this move. I accept what the administration has done -- but want to move out of the action as soon as possible.

But in any tally, we need to add to the negative roster that we have sent the signal to nations that nukes are a great security blanket and don't be fooled by the West in giving them up.

With Qadaffi it's particularly pertinent because the US very ostentatiously welcomed him in from the cold just a few years ago and used him as poster boy for the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine. It can't be lost on Iran either that it didn't work out all that well for him (or that the US didn't even think about military action to support their own uprising.) This is the kind of "signal sending" and "credibility" that is actually meaningful.

Juan Cole makes many good points in his piece and I can't fault him. I still disagree overall because I think that the motives are much more complex and opaque than the government is admitting and that we aren't particularly good at this and usually make things worse. Most importantly, I think we are fighting wars in this region mostly because we are engaged in a Great Game over oil and that it needs to be discussed so that we can start having a rational discussion about energy.To the extent that there are other strategic reasons, the most important is around keeping nuclear arms out of the hands of extremists and rogue states and this latest adventure is probably counter-productive for the reasons Steve Clemons and Jonathan Schwartz raised above. I still feel quite strongly that "humanitarianism" is really far down the list of official concerns even as it's being raised as the main motive for our actions. It's a delusion that no populace in a mature nation, much less a military empire, should have --- raining bombs for "good" is a dangerous concept even in the clearest situation.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Night At The Movies

Faith, hope & chainmail

By Dennis Hartley

Iron-deficient maiden: Carice van Houten in Black Death

When humans speak for God in terms of rejection or condemnation, we may rest assured that dangerously narrow minds are at work.
-Rev. Webster “Kit” Howell

Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
-H.R. Mencken

Ah, the Dark Ages. It was a time of pestilence. It was a time of monarchs and serfs. It was a time of profound socio-political turmoil. And, most notably, a time of widespread ignorance and superstition, where one of the most oft-repeated declarations was “I’m not a witch.” No…I’m not talking about the 2010 midterms-I do mean, the actual Dark Ages.

For nitpicky academic types, I am more pointedly referring to the Late Middle Ages; specifically the Year of Our Lord (if you believe in that sort of thing) 1348, which is right about the time that the first wave of bubonic plague was sweeping across Europe. This is the cheery backdrop for a new film from the UK called Black Death, a dark period piece from up-and-coming horror/thriller director Christopher Smith. Visceral, moody and atmospheric, it plays like a medieval mash-up of Apocalypse Now and The Wicker Man.

The specter of apocalyptic doom hangs over the opening scenes of the film, where we join a young monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) as he ventures out of his dank cloister and into the grim milieu of the surrounding city. Most of the traffic slogging across the cobblestones is comprised of horse-drawn carts, piled high with the plague victims whose bodies litter the streets and alleyways. Not surprisingly, Osmund appears focused on whatever his errand is; apart from a perfunctory pit stop to absolve a dying man, he’s making a proverbial beeline for his destination. When he gets there, we understand the reason for his haste. Her name is Averill (Kimberley Nixon), and she’s the kind of winsome lass who could (if I may paraphrase Raymond Chandler) “make a bishop kick a hole in a stain glass window.” Suffice it to say, Osmund may be breaking a vow or two on the side. After giving his lady love provisions that he’s “borrowed” from the church’s pantry, he urges her to flee quickly from the plague-ridden city and head for a pre-arranged meeting place in a nearby forest, where he promises to join her posthaste.

Meanwhile, back at the monastery, Osmund struggles with his crisis of faith. Torn between his devotion to the church and his desire to run off with Averill, he prays fervently for guidance, and for God to give him a Sign. No sooner does “amen” escape his lips, than his prayers get answered (in oblique fashion) by the appearance of a “man of God” of an altogether different stripe. He is a veteran knight named Ulric (Sean Bean, recycling his “Boromir” accoutrements from Middle Earth). He has come to the monastery as an emissary of the local bishop, with a small yet mean and formidable looking band of well-armed mercenaries in tow. He seeks a guide who can lead his team to a small village that the Church has taken a keen interest in investigating. It appears that they are the only settlement for miles around who have managed to escape the “black death”. And, as said Church is currently pushing a meme that posits this mysterious scourge as “God’s punishment” for mankind’s sins, this anomaly calls for closer scrutiny.

Obviously, the people of this sleepy and hitherto unsullied hamlet must be embroiled in some form of devilry, because they are simply not suffering as much as people living in the Dark Ages are supposed to be suffering. In fact, it is rumored that the people of the village are beholden to the spells of a resident “necromancer”, who has the power to raise the dead. Ulric’s mission (so he claims) is to sniff out evidence of any such sorcery and report back. As luck has it, the route to this village runs through the forest where Osmund has promised to hook up with the lovely Averill. Discreetly keeping this part of the equation to himself, Osmund “selflessly” volunteers to act as guide for the mercenaries, much to the chagrin of his superior (David Werner). Reluctantly, the abbot gives Osmund his blessing, but not without first pulling him aside and cautioning him (and the audience) that this Ulric character, while undeniably a pious fellow, is the most “dangerous” kind.

Indeed, not long after the journey commences, Osmund does begin to notice a few things. Like a cartful of nasty-looking torture devices that Ulric’s crew has brought along, which includes a man-sized contraption that looks to be an early prototype of an iron maiden. Then there’s the fellow with an ill-favored look who (in so many words) introduces himself to Osmund as the resident torturer. It’s becoming obvious that this expedition is more than a scouting mission; these guys are out to get Medieval on someone’s ass. Ulric fesses up. The Bishop wants the “necromancer” located and brought back alive, at which time he or she will be, shall we say, proactively “encouraged” to make a full confession.

After a series of trials and tribulations worthy of any “heart of darkness” excursion, the men finally arrive at the village, which is populated by a curiously happy-go-lucky bunch of folks (considering that this is, after all, a time of great pestilence and misery). There also seems to be a disproportionate number of pale young maidens amongst the populace. All the villagers defer to a striking and enigmatic woman named Langiva (Carice van Houten), who warmly welcomes the strangers (despite their furtive demeanor and grungy appearance) and offers to put on a feast for them that evening. Ulric, while intuitively suspicious, is encouraged by the docile and unsuspecting behavior of the villagers and figures that this going to be a cakewalk. Then again, appearances can be quite deceiving.

I liked this film; it’s a throwback to the halcyon days of those stylized Hammer Studios productions, with their foggy marshes, mist-shrouded villages and general atmosphere of dread. The performances, particularly by Bean, Redmayne and van Houten, are solid and convincing. Screenwriter Dario Poloni has some fun blurring the line between Christian dogma and the tenets of paganism, demonstrating that charlatanism and sleight of hand are no strangers to either camp. And whether one places their faith and hope into the graces of an omnipotent super-being or a bundle of twigs, perhaps it is the most simplest of single-celled organisms, the lowly bacteria, that wields the greatest power of them all.

Plagued by superstition: The Last Valley, The Devils, Flesh+Blood, Restoration, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Name of the Rose, Masque of the Red Death (1964), Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Witchfinder General (aka Conqueror Worm), Season of the Witch, Macbeth (1971), Queen Margot, Goya’s Ghosts, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Robin and Marian, The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Reckoning (2003), Vampire Circus

Brand Value

by digby

So, I get this in my email today for some reason:
Let me first put it out there that, unlike some of my fellow conservatives/libertarians, I don't believe unions are inherently bad, or at least the larger labor movement isn't. In the past, it was a force for good, producing some much needed reforms at a time when some companies were beyond corrupt.

However, I also believe that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and many, if not most, unions have gained absolute power wherever they set up shop.

Take Philadelphia, for example, where the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America is trying to give a business a bad name. Not because they make their employees work backbreaking long hours. Not even because they won't negotiate better wages or benefits. No, it's because their landlord won't hire from within their union to do construction work on the building.

Apparently, you hire only union workers in Philly or face the consequences.
Oh please. Of course unions are going to complain if their landlord hires non-union labor. In fact, they are going to complain if anyone hires non-union labor. They explain why right there in the article --- it lowers wages and work standards in their community. I don't know when it became a crime for union workers to complain about non-union shops, but it's a fairly recent development.

But this seems to be a new theme. If a labor union complains about an employer they are "hurting the brand" which in America, in 2011, is akin to stealing someone's first born child:
Six key organizers with the Jimmy John’s Workers’ Union in Minneapolis were fired on Tuesday, March 22, after putting up posters around the city demanding paid sick days from the sandwich chain. According to David Boehnke, one of the discharged workers, the six workers received notices that they were fired for “defaming the brand and disloyalty to the company.”

The Jimmy John’s Workers’ Union, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), garnered national media attention last year, as it would have been the first union in the American fast food industry. These workers' struggles could have implications for the entire service sector.

The firings come in the wake of a National Labor Relations Board settlement which threw out the results from an October 22 union election that the Jimmy John’s Workers’ Union narrowly lost, 87-85. In filings with the NLRB after the elections, the union alleged that the Mulligans, owners of the Minneapolis franchises, had threatened to freeze wages, falsely accused union supporters of sabotage, and engaged in other illegal actions prior to the election. The settlement allowed the union to call for a new election anytime in the next 18 months.

Over the past two months, union supporters had been campaigning to get the Mulligans to negotiate over their “10-Point Program for Justice at Jimmy John’s,” which includes wage increases, guaranteed hours, and better job security. Recently, they had begun to emphasize their demand for paid sick days, wearing buttons that said “Sick of Working Sick” and beginning to put up posters around the city.

I don't know about you, but I really don't want sick people making my food for me. More than that, I really don't want to live in a country where people don't get sick pay as a matter of course. Unions shouldn't have to fight for this one --- it should be a federal law.

However, that's not really the point, is it? The most important thing in all that is that the "brand" suffers when its business practices are called into question. And nothing is more valuable than a brand --- in fact, nothing else even matters.