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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

QOTD: don't forget Poland edition

by digby

This infamous little dust up just cracks me up:

"Kiss my ass --- this is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect."

Because nothing says holy and respectful like yelling "kiss my ass."

There's something wrong with that IRA

by digby

This really should be a bigger deal. If you want to run for president and ostensibly represent all the people of this country, you should have more respect for the spirit of the law:

Another suggestion is that in 2009 he paid income taxes significantly below the 13.9 percent he paid in 2010. This is more plausible, and potentially more damaging politically, even if perfectly legal.

After all, the one year’s tax returns that he has released raise doubt about his campaign’s claims that his offshore accounts did not save him one penny of tax. Putting business assets into an individual retirement account invested in a Cayman Islands corporation allows Mr. Romney to avoid the “unrelated business income tax” — a 35 percent levy — on at least some of his I.R.A.’s earnings, a tax that he would have had to pay if his I.R.A. were held directly by a financial institution in the United States.

With an I.R.A. account of $20 million to $101 million, the tax savings would be more than a few pennies.

The I.R.A. also allows Mr. Romney to diversify his large holdings tax-free, avoiding the 15 percent tax on capital gains that would otherwise apply. His financial disclosure further reveals that his I.R.A. freed him from paying currently the 35 percent income tax on hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest income each year.

Given the extraordinary size of his I.R.A., we have to presume that Mr. Romney valued the assets he put in his retirement account at far less than he would have sold them for. Otherwise it is quite a trick to turn contributions that are limited to $30,000 to $50,000 a year into the $20 million to $101 million he now has there. But we cannot be certain; his meager disclosure of tax records and financial information does not indicate what kind of assets were put into the I.R.A.

Mr. Romney’s Cayman Islands and Bermuda corporations also probably allowed him to avoid limitations on deductions for investment expenditures that would otherwise apply. So we don’t need any more tax returns to know that Mr. Romney is an Olympic-level athlete at the tax avoidance game. Rich people don’t send their money to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands for the weather.

Nobody says a vastly wealthy man like Romney shouldn't be able to keep most of his vast wealth and pass some of it to his heirs, but this is certainly not what the IRA law was envisioned to do. It's supposed to be an incentive for average Americans to save some money for retirement. It's called and Individual Retirement Account after all. Average Americans aren't allowed to "invest" more than five or six thousand a year and they hope against hope that they'll be able to gain a few percent a year and take advantage of compound interest. There is no way in which a man of Romney's means needs any "help" in that department and to use the IRA to shelter his investments and avoid millions of dollars in taxes may be legal, but it's slimy.

It's very hard to fathom why a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars (and who has already sheltered hundreds of millions for his heirs using equally dodgy methods) is so greedy that he couldn't make himself pay a reasonable amount of taxes even as he was running for president --- which he has been doing for the past eight years. After all, if he paid normal taxes on his wealth over the past few years he'd still be worth hundreds of millions of dollars! How much money does this man need?

Given a clear choice between being a stand-up, straight arrow, beyond reproach in his finances, Romney chose to behave like a typical Master of the Universe. He has made a choice: he cares more about hoarding every last penny of his vast wealth than he does about being president.

Update: Harry Reid is a wily old bird:

Saying he had "no problem with somebody being really, really wealthy," Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

"Harry, he didn't pay any taxes for 10 years," Reid recounted the person as saying.

"He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," said Reid. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?

As Peggy Noonan said, "Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to..."

That's not what centrism means, Joe

by David Atkins

Joe Lieberman won't be getting an invite to the Democratic national convention, and it appears all of maybe three Democrats are upset about it:

But when Democrats and Republicans gather in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., later this summer, Lieberman will receive less homage than a local councilman. He will be left out of the festivities altogether.

Some Democrats think keeping Lieberman away is a mistake. After all, he served as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, becoming the first Jewish American to run atop a major party’s ticket.

He also presided for several years as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, which helped transform the ideology of the Democratic Party and laid the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s election in 1992...

“Joe Lieberman is a victim of polarization. He’s another person cast aside by people who aren’t interested in centrist views,” said Professor Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, who has worked as a scholar in residence in the Senate.

Ross Baker should be embarrassed to have been quoted as saying such a ridiculous thing in print. A political scientist should know better.

Joe Lieberman is not a centrist. He is a man who holds some left-leaning positions on social issues and climate change, and extreme right-wing views on invading other countries, slashing social services, banning certain kinds of videogames, and keeping taxes really low on the wealthy. As The Hill notes at the very end of the article:

His vote for Democratic legislation is often more assured than is support from centrists facing tough reelections, although he did vote last week against a Democratic proposal to end the Bush tax rates for income above $250,000.
In an election against Gordon Gekko incarnate, Lieberman votes against the very popular position of ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy while sitting in a safe blue seat in Connecticut. And there's surprise that he's not part of the Democratic convention where economic populism will be a major theme?

Holding contradictory partisan views doesn't make one a "centrist." Supporting lower taxes on the wealthy while supporting action on climate change isn't "centrist." A hypothetical candidate who wanted to ban abortion entirely while supporting single-payer healthcare wouldn't be a "centrist," either. A centrist is someone who supports milquetoast, inoffensive positions on a variety of issues: say, simplifying the the tax code while raising taxes slightly on just the richest incomes. Or advocating toothless carbon exchanges as a "solution" to climate change. Or decrying abortion but wanting to make it "safe, legal and rare." Or converting welfare programs into work programs.

You know, the mainstream positions of the modern Democratic Party. That's centrism. It's not the voters' fault if centrism has been wholly adopted by one political party while the other sits squarely in crazyville. That's just the breaks.

Politicians like Lieberman who take some centrist positions from the sometime left while advocating other extremist positions from the modern right don't get to claim the mantle of centrism. They're just extremists on a less diverse set of issues. And nobody should be surprised if they don't get an invite to the centrist party's big shindig.

Update: As multiple commenters have pointed out, there's also the simple fact that when Joe lost the Democratic primary, he left the party to stay on as Senator. So he's not a Democrat anymore. Why anyone is surprised that he's not at the Democratic Convention is beyond me.

Blue America endorses Sue Thorn WV-01

by digby

Howie made the announcement earlier today:
Blue America is proud to be officially endorsing Sue Thorn today. Sue is a grassroots community activist whose ideas about the role of government hearken back to a time when West Virginians very much saw government as a way of balancing the inordinate power of corporations and the wealthy arraigned against ordinary working families. Her opponent is freshman David McKinley, or, as folks in northern West Virginia like to call him, Moneybags McKinley. He's a millionaire member of the top 1% and Blue America wants to help Sue Thorn send him packing.
Before coming to Congress, McKinely was already a career politician, working the system to please his dirty-dealing campaign contributors, sleazy coal CEOs and shady special interest groups, at the expense of or the ordinary working families. After a slim victory against his DCCC-backed Blue Dog opponent in 2010, McKinley joined the Tea Party caucus. Now that he’s facing Sue Thorn, a real populist Democrat with widespread grassroots support, he’s proved he’ll say or do anything to get re-elected.

Anything? You betcha!

• McKinley ran for office railing against taxpayer-funded mass mailings, or franked mailings, during election years, calling them an “abuse” of taxpayer funds. Now, he ranks as one of the top spenders in the House, spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars mailing constituents campaign propaganda, full of conservative talking points.

• He campaigned with Tea Party rhetoric against big banks and bailouts, then accepted thousands in donations from the banking industry and supported legislation that turns regulatory power over to the bankers.

• McKinley says he is a “Friend of Coal” and claims to support coal miners, but refuses to sponsor coal mine safety legislation along with the rest of the WV Congressional delegation. Mining deaths and rates of black lung disease are on the rise in WV, but McKinley has proved to be a puppet for the profit-hungry coal industry, working in back-room deals to dismantle the EPA, weaken the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and push through anti-regulation bills that would pollute WV communities and poison the water supply.

Sue Thorn was asked to run for Congress because the people of West Virginia's first CD were sick of representation by conservative Democrats who vote with the Republicans and DC insiders who vote to slash safety net programs that benefit working families. Sue is not a career politician. She’s worked in economic development and community organizing and she aims to bring people together, not divide them. When we first spoke with her, we asked why she had decided to run.
“I’m running for Congress because I’m sick of the rich getting richer and the rest of us getting left behind. The extreme conservative Republicans currently controlling the House of Representatives don’t have the middle class in mind. They’re focused on passing bogus legislation that will keep campaign donations coming in from Big Oil, super PACs, corrupt CEOs and greedy special interest groups. At a time when the gap between the rich and the poor in this country is at its highest since the great depression, the House Republicans are recklessly voting for tax break for millionaires. I’m running for Congress because we need to rebuild the middle class.”
This is a winnable race, but Sue won’t be doing it with the help of the DCCC. They’re sitting this one out, after wasting a fortune trying to elect a Blue Dog Democrat in 2010 that the people of WV-01 didn’t want. Sue’s running in a traditionally Democratic district, previously represented by Democrats for over 40 years. She even pulled in 13,000 more votes than McKinley in the primary. But she also has to contend with McKinley’s campaign coffer of $1.4 million. Please consider helping her with a contribution here on our Blue America page.

She and Howie had a lively chat this morning over at Crooks and Liars which you should check out. Sue is the real deal.

There was a time when West Virginia was a solid Democratic as you could get. Yes, there are some "cultural" reasons why they no longer are, but the real problem in this poor state is economics. The Dems used to offer something for the poor, the working class and the union worker and it's just not so obvious that they give a damn about any of that anymore. Certainly, they haven't been delivering. So, they see politics is social conservative terms instead.

Sue Thorn is offering the right message at the right time. It would be a beautiful lesson to the establishment if she were to win -- or even make a good showing. I highlighted the fact that she won 13,000 more votes than McKinley in the primary to show that this is winnable. The DCCC isn't interested, but we should be.

You can donate to her and all the other Blue America candidates here.

Big Bad Rush is frightened too

by digby

I'm so enjoying the 1% squirm over the Olympic celebration of British National Health Care. David discussed the specifics in this post this morning, so I'm just going to share my pleasure at Rush Limbaugh's confusion:

Okay, I jabbed Kathryn in the ribs and I said, "That's how the libs want all of us to live. That's where global warming --" Minus the smokestacks and the pollution, they want to get rid of modernity. Anything modern, get rid of it. That's when the planet was not being destroyed. I know, Industrial Revolution. But in terms of simple, non-technological, no electricity, that's what the extremists of the environmental movement want. Of all the things of historical note in Great Britain, United Kingdom, the things they chose to highlight about themselves in that opening ceremony scared me more, because that's a free people basically honoring socialism and collectivism. The ChiCom people had no choice. They are under orders and under guns. In the UK a free people decided to do it.
Imagine that. A free people honoring the fact that they don't have to die and leave their families paupers if they happen to get sick and can't work. Shocking.

By the way, Rush is a liar, (in case there was any doubt.) He insisted that the British hate their health care system. If 70% satisfaction is defined as hating their health care system, I guess he might be right.

Moreover, these Brits hate our "exceptional" form of health care with a passion:

Britain is now embroiled in a healthcare argument of its own, prompted by a proposed shake-up of the NHS. And the phrase on everyone's lips is "American-style," which may not be as catchy as the "death panels" that Palin attributed to socialized medicine but which, over here, inspires pretty much the same kind of terror.

Ask a Briton to describe "American-style" healthcare, and you'll hear a catalog of horrors that include grossly expensive and unnecessary medical procedures and a privatized system that favors the rich. For a people accustomed to free healthcare for all, regardless of income, the fact that millions of their cousins across the Atlantic have no insurance and can't afford decent treatment is a farce as well as a tragedy.

But critics here warn that a similarly bleak future may await Britain if a government plan to put more power in the hands of doctors and introduce more competition into the NHS succeeds — privatization by stealth, they say.

So frightening is the Yankee example that any British politician who values his job has to explicitly disavow it as a possible outcome. Twice.

"We will not be selling off the NHS, we will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system," Prime Minister David Cameron emphatically told a group of healthcare workers in a nationally televised address last week.

In case they didn't hear it the first time, Cameron repeated the dreaded "A"-word in a list of five guarantees he offered the British people at the end of his speech.

"If you're worried that we're going to sell off the NHS or create some American-style private system, we will not do that," he said. "In this country we have the most wonderful, precious institution and also precious idea that whenever you're ill … you can walk into a hospital or a surgery and get treated for free, no questions asked, no cash asked. It is the idea at the heart of the NHS, and it will stay. I will never put that at risk."
It's good that Rush is scared. And the fact that he's scared of America's greatest ally in the GWOT and other international adventures is just frosting on the cake. We know the French hate us for our freedom, but it's pretty clear that everyone else in the world thinks we're not much more than a colossal throwback banana republic at this point. Not that Rush cares about that. But he seems to be worried that this virus could threaten his own perch in the .001%. Isn't it pretty to think so?

Being stupid and disrespectful is not against the law

by digby

I supposed he's lucky he didn't get tasered on some pretext and thrown into the hospital:
Robert Bell had just left a West Village bar last August when four New York City police officers walked by. A moment later, the Edison man "expressed his dislike and distrust for police officers by raising his middle finger toward them," according to a lawsuit he just filed.

In other words, Bell gave the cops the finger.

One of the officers noticed and confronted Bell, seeking an explanation.
"Because I don’t like cops," the financial services recruiter replied. He was then handcuffed, taken into custody and held in a jail cell for two hours before being released and issued a summons for disorderly conduct. Bell’s criminal case was soon dismissed when the arresting officer, Peter Play, failed to appear in court.

There is this little thing we call the First Amendment to the constitution. It applies to all kinds of unpleasant speech, from right wing CEOs expressing their horror at gay marriage to corporate executives spending their shareholders money in elections to buy influence in government to Larry Flynt's sickening misogyny. But there is nothing the First Amendment is supposed to protect more vigilantly than a citizen's right to verbally insult his government, whether it's a policeman on the street or the president of the United States. It is the most fundamental purpose of the free speech right and for these thuggish officers to abuse their power and call such insults "disorderly conduct" is chilling.

I believe this happens all the time, actually. Many of the tasering incidents I chronicle are the result of citizens failing to be properly respectful toward authority rather than threatening to the police or others. It's a fine line, I understand, and I suppose the cops can be forgiven for failing to see the difference in many cases. But that is all the more reason for not using pain compliance willy nilly.

As I said, this fellow is lucky that he wasn't shot with 50,000 volts of electricity for his "disorderly conduct." In plenty of jurisdictions, they would have done it and all they would have had to do is say they "felt" threatened to justify it. It happens every day.

The best cops don't react to "disrespect" and understand they have better things to do than police the attitudes of the citizens. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of officers who have internalized the military mentality that permeates our police agencies these days and feel that they are in a war zone where attitudes are a threat.

This case is pretty clear cut. And the victim is filing a federal law suit:

Legal experts and law enforcement officials say Bell has a case, and courts have generally backed his position in similar instances. What he did could be seen as offensive in some circles or defiant in others, they say, but it was not illegal.

"I can’t arrest you for giving me the finger, any more than I can arrest you for calling me nasty names," said Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who is now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "Sure it’s stupid and disrespectful. But it’s not against the law."
That's right, being stupid and disresepectful is not against the law. I wish more of my fellow citizens understood this, much less the police who are often far too quick to take offense and call it a threat.

Our Marie Antoinettes are getting a little bit nervous

by digby

For years I've been writing that the wealthy are "begging for pitchforks" with their royalist behavior in the wake of economic crisis that seems to come straight out of the French aristocracy. (I would guess that only in America do they they simultaneously claim they are "middle class".) The smugness and entitlement of these "job creators" has been something to behold, particular among the Masters of the Universe who are largely responsible for the recent crash.

Way back when, I wrote about celebrity millionaire Ben Stein whining about his meager salary and got this in response from Tyler Cowan (the economist who is currently feverishly defending income inequality.) :
I read about this guy and his pitchfork and it genuinely scared me, especially his description of Ben Stein and his intermingling of the political and the aesthetic.
I must admit it gave me a little thrill. If only my metaphorical pitchforks really had such power. But that was the last I heard of any such thing as the nobles being frightened of the rabble. Mostly it's just been more whining and complaining about how nobody understands them.

Until now. This article in New York Magazine about billionaire Jeff Greene indicates that our betters are getting nervous:
Greene gazes across the bay at the multi-million-dollar houses peeking from behind the trees. I assume he’s quietly contemplating acquiring even more of the shoreline, but then he says something surprising. “If somebody wanted to go after a rich person,” he observes, “they have got their pick of the litter out here.”

It’s strange to imagine someone like Greene, who counts Mike Tyson as a close friend, and who has a streak that caused the L.A. party girls to refer to him as “Mean Jeff Greene,” feeling vulnerable. It’s hard to think of any superrich person as vulnerable, just as it’s hard to think that a bear with outstretched claws and giant teeth is more afraid than you are. But over the past few months, it’s become clear that rich people are very, very afraid. Sometimes it feels like this was the main accomplishment of Occupy Wall Street: a whole lot of tightened sphincters. It’s not a stretch to say many residents of Park Avenue harbor vivid fears of a populist revolt like the one seen in The Dark Knight Rises, in which they cower miserably under their sideboards while ragged hordes plunder the silver.

“This is my fear, and it’s a real, legitimate fear,” Greene says, revving up the engine. “You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.”

More often than not, fears like these manifest as loathing for the current administration, as evidenced by the recent wave of Romney fund-raisers in the Hamptons. “Obama wants to take my money and give it to do-nothing animals,” one matron blurted at a recent party at the Pierre for Dick Morris’s Screwed!, the latest entry into a growing pile of socioeconomic snuff porn geared toward this audience.

Greene, a registered Democrat, isn’t buying this school of thought. “It is kind of a problem in America that so many Americans believe if they elect a different president, everything is going to be fine. This whole idea of American exceptionalism, that we’re the greatest, when people don’t have health insurance, don’t have housing,” he says, swinging past the guesthouse, which has 360-degree views of the bay, and the staff house, which does not. “There are all these people in this country who are just not participating in the American Dream at all,” he says. This makes him uncomfortable, not least because they might try to take a piece of his. “Right now, for some bizarre reason, a lot of these people are supporting Republicans who want to cut taxes on the wealthy,” he says. “At some point, if we keep doing this, their numbers are going to keep swelling, it won’t be an Obama or a Romney. It will be a ­Hollande. A Chávez.”
I don't think he's showing quite enough imagination there, do you? A mainstream French socialist? A Latin America leftist? Please. America is far too exceptional for such small bore men on white horses. He should think much, much bigger than that.
This past April, at the Milken Conference, the annual confab hosted by the felon turned philanthropist, Greene sat on a lunchtime panel with Charles Murray, the author of Coming Apart: The State of White America, and historian Niall Ferguson, whose recent book could have been called the same thing. “Do you see this?” Greene asked the audience, pointing to a slide that showed the widening income gap. The crowd, whose members had paid the $6,000 entry fee to get investing tips, not guilt trips, made restless noises. Then there was a smattering of impressed applause, followed by uneasy laughter. Greene blinked, surprised. “People look at Occupy Wall Street as, This is just a little kind of a disorganized joke,” he said, raising his voice. “If we take another 10 percent of middle-class America’s income, who knows what kind of other social unrest could happen in this country and the changes that could happen to our way of life?”
He wonders why so many of the polloi back Republicans and thinks that's bound to change once they wise up and figure out who the real enemy is. And I wonder why he is so sure that will go the way he thinks it will. Nonetheless, it's interesting that the vastly wealthy are starting to notice that their greed and avarice might result in an unstable society. They're not the brightest bulbs on the planet but they do catch on eventually.

Update: And yes, Niall Ferguson is still reprehensible. Read the article. You'll understand why. (h/t to @eliasisquith)


Experiencing Soshulism Firsthand

by David Atkins

I have often said that the instant cure for much of what ails America would be to make every adult citizen spend at least three months living overseas in a social democracy of their choice, be it Japan, South Korea or most of Europe. Fear of universal healthcare, belief in exceptionalism and general ignorance of the existence of other cultures usually derives from never having stepped foot for more than a week at a time outside of tourist traps in a country outside the U.S. Or, in many cases, never having stepped foot outside the country at all.

Dave Johnson at Scrutiny Hooligans points to a great L.A. Times column exemplifying this point earlier this month by David Horsey:

In the mid-1980s when I was a graduate student in England, my parents came to visit and my mother ended up getting a first-hand look at socialized medicine.

It was my dad and mom’s one-and-only trip to Europe -- a very big deal -- and I wanted to show them as much as I could. We crossed the English Channel to France and drove to see the cathedral at Chartres. The first night there, Mom slipped and sprained her ankle. By morning, she couldn’t walk and was in need of a doctor. We ended up at a hospital where, with no wait at all, she got X-rays and a friendly, highly competent female doctor checked her out and wrapped her leg.

As we were leaving, my mother asked where she should pay the bill. This was hard to translate -- and not just because of the gap between French and English. The hospital staff tried to explain that there was no charge. My mom did not think that was right. She felt responsible. She wanted to pay. After a bit of back and forth, it began to dawn on her that not only was there no bill, but the very idea that there should be one was foreign to these citizens of a country where healthcare was a right, not a commodity.

When we got back to England, Mom had a cast put on her leg. In the little village clinic, there was a bit of a wait and the doctor was perfunctory, but the deal was the same as in France: free of charge.

My mother’s experience with socialized medicine made her feel like a bit of a freeloader. She was, after all, not a taxpayer in either of these countries. Still, she did learn something that many Americans -- and particularly many members of Congress -- do not understand: European-style socialized medicine is not a hellish system without redeeming qualities. Doctors are expert and treatment can often come without a wait. If you are poor, you do not have to seek primary care in an emergency room, as is often the case in the United States. Even tourists do not need to worry if they hurt themselves or get sick; care is available for everybody.

It is a fact that European countries spend far less on healthcare than the USA. It is also a fact that Europeans, as a whole, are healthier than Americans. You would not learn that by listening to conservative opponents of the new healthcare law. They seem to believe the most damning complaint to be made about “Obamacare” is that it is moving the country toward a European-style, government-run system.
The most effective fuel for the plutocrats' fire is still the ignorance of their rubes.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Prescient quote of the century

by digby

Via reader Bennet G:

"...the Republicans will join hands with the southern Democrats to try and repeal or undermine every social reform the New Deal has put in. The hue and cry against labor has already started! The republicans have not had an idea since Benjamin Harrison's time and the southern democrats have not had one since Appomattox---and I foresee an unofficial coalition of them running the country."

Esther Murphy, in a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, late 1942, cited in Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar Strauss, 2012), p. 96.

She was right about everything but the "unofficial."

Institutionalizing the buying of elections

by digby

This is a very good question and a very good answer:

I don't think most people know that Super PACs must disclose their donors. Perhaps what's more interesting is that Super PAC donors don't seem to mind having their names associated with the Super PAC. It's as if they want people to know they are buying political influence. Those people are a different breed of millionaire.

But they aren't alone, they are just the most obvious. The 501c4s that Jane Mayer talks about really are secretive and they are powerful. If you doubt it, check out this piece about the re-emergence of Zombie Turdblossom:

On the evening of June 29, Amedeo Scognamiglio, a jewelry designer on the Isle of Capri, met friends for drinks at the elegant Grand Hotel Quisisana. Around midnight, Scognamiglio says, “I noticed some familiar American faces.”

He took to Twitter. “What,” he wanted to know, “is Karl Rove doing at the Quisisana with Steve Wynn?!” The answer came zinging right back from @KarlRove: “Part of a group enjoying really good Bellinis on a beautiful Capri night!” Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its July 30 issue.

Rove is a tech-geek. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was the only White House staff member connected to BlackBerry e-mail on Air Force One as the plane ferried President George W. Bush back and forth across a panicked nation.

When he made his Bellini Twitter message, Rove was on the Amalfi Coast honeymooning with his third wife, Karen Johnson, a Republican lobbyist. On Twitter, Rove didn’t refer by name to Wynn, though the two men are friends. Earlier in June, the casino mogul joined a select group of guests at the Rove-Johnson nuptials in Austin. All of this, be assured, has more than gossip-page significance: Wynn is just one of many mega-wealthy backers whose enthusiasm and checkbooks have fueled a Karl Rove Renaissance that’s redefining the business of political finance.

The bespectacled 61-year-old, once known as Bush’s Brain, left the White House five years ago. His patron was sinking in the polls, and Rove himself had barely escaped criminal indictment. Now he’s back -- big time, as his friend former Vice President Dick Cheney might say.

In a performance that rivals Rove’s nurturing of a famously inarticulate Texas governor into a two-term president, the strategist is re-engineering the practice of partisan money management in an effort to drum Barack Obama out of the White House.

Consider the case of Wynn, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts Ltd. Variable in his political allegiances, the gambling magnate has said publicly that he voted for Obama in 2008, only to change his mind over what he came to perceive as the president’s regulatory hubris.

In swooped Rove. As first reported by Politico, he persuaded Wynn that the best way to oust Obama was to contribute millions of dollars to a Washington-based group Rove co-founded in 2010 called Crossroads GPS.

Wynn’s preference for anonymity in such transactions posed no obstacle. That’s the whole idea behind Crossroads GPS. Although its initials stand for “Grassroots Policy Strategies,” the organization was set up to receive unlimited, undisclosed contributions from industrialists, financiers, and other loaded insiders such as Wynn.

“We do not comment on specific donations,” says a Wynn spokesman.

In the realm of campaign finance, the Internal Revenue Service classifies Crossroads GPS as a nonprofit, nonpolitical “social welfare” organization -- a 501(c)(4) in tax code parlance -- that doesn’t have to identify its backers.
Rove explains that Democrats were the first to seriously use this vehicle, which is true, but liberal donors lost interest after 2004 and the 2008 Obama campaign actively discouraged them. The Republicans are nothing if not quick studies in the art of pumping vast sums of money into the system and they always know how to institutionalize it.

Here's Rove's central insight:
As they began planning how to make Obama a one-term president, Rove and Gillespie saw most Republican outside organizations as either one-shot affairs, like the Swift Boaters, or preachers to the base that pushed candidates to the extreme right. The anti-tax Club for Growth fit in the latter category. Some wealthy political benefactors had their own groups, Rove says, most of which were run by a single strategist who siphoned off enormous fees for as long as the sponsor would tolerate it.

Rove pitched his proposed startup as a more professional alternative, one built to have impact in 2010 yet endure long beyond.

“The business model of a consultant-driven, vendor-directed entity that hired itself increasingly lacked credibility with donors and was unsustainable,” Rove explains. Among those who were convinced and made big contributions: Richard Baxter Gilliam, a Virginia coal mogul; Houston homebuilder Bob Perry; and Harold Clark Simmons, a Dallas industrialist.

A vacuum at the once-mighty RNC made Rove’s work easier, and more urgent. At RNC headquarters, Michael Steele, the chairman for the 2009-10 cycle, was ineffective as a fundraiser and prone to mishaps, such as getting into public scraps with the radio host Rush Limbaugh and suggesting that Republicans needed a “hip hop” overhaul.

To guide Crossroads, Rove convened a board of directors of conservative notables -- Chairman Mike Duncan of Kentucky had served as chairman and treasurer of the RNC; Director Jo Ann Davidson of Ohio had also led the RNC and oversaw the 2008 Republican convention -- a signal that it would be beholden to no single candidate or contributor.

The board hired as chief executive officer Steven Law, an affable attorney and campaign veteran who had worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who’s now the chamber’s minority leader, and for President Bush in the Department of Labor. As general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007-08, Law spearheaded a successful drive to kill the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, a pro-union measure. The locus of the party’s financial strategizing shifted to Rove’s living room on Weaver Terrace in Northwest Washington.

During sessions of the “Weaver Terrace Group,” representatives of the embryonic Crossroads organization gathered with counterparts from groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Tax Reform, and Americans for Prosperity, the funding vehicle affiliated with the billionaires David and Charles Koch. Crossroads served as referee, says CEO Law.

“Conservative activists tend to act like six-year-olds on soccer teams,” he explains, “with everyone grouping around the ball and getting in each other’s way. Karl’s idea was that all of these organizations should share information, coordinate polling, reduce redundancy.”

He swears that he's trying to make the Republican Party stronger. And I assume it his preferred vehicle for these plutocrats' agendas. But clearly this is where the power is centered in American politics today and that power does not reside in elected officials. In fact, elected officials are their minions. The people, unfortunately, are pretty much irrelevant.

I urge you to read the entire Rove article. That little scene in Capri that opens it up is perfectly symbolic.


California's Proposition 32: The next big, deceptive corporate attack on working families

by David Atkins

Never content with record income inequality and corporate profits, America's billionaires are forging ahead with an attempt to destroy what is left of the labor movement. And they're doing it by attempt to use anti-corporate populism to fool the voters In California, that takes the shape of the odious Proposition 32 in California, which does this:

"Restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Same use restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly, in writing. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees. Other political expenditures remain unrestricted, including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by payroll deduction prohibition. Limits government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees"

Here's how the Yes on 32 campaign, funded by Republicans and corporate backers, is selling it:

Special Interests control Sacramento. Corporations, business associations and unions gave $89 million to state politicians & campaigns for the 2010 elections alone. The special interests will stop at nothing to defeat this proposition - spending millions, spreading lies and misinformation - to keep politics as usual. We need your support to fight back.
The measure kills special interest spending! Awesome! Except the only spending it kills are from entities that take payroll deductions. There's only one type of entity that does that: unions.

And based on the anti-special-interest wording alone, the early polling is showing this deceptive proposition well ahead:

The early polling shows 60-28.9% support for CTA-opposed Proposition 32, the measure that would further tilt the political landscape in favor of wealthy special interests that already outspend labor unions by a 15 to one ratio.
The California Democratic Party Executive Board just met in Anaheim this weekend and officially endorsed against this measure. Obviously, labor in California will be engaged in a big push against it.

But the only real antidote to this deceptive power grab by corporate America against working families is education. This is one of the most deceptive measures ever put on the California ballot: what we can do to help (beyond getting involved in phonebanking and precinct walking--contact your local Dem County Committee if you live in California) is have conversations with everyone we know, letting them know that this Trojan Horse is not what it seems. As The Guardian says:

Californians are used to ballot initiatives that claim to do one thing, but in reality do exactly the opposite. However, even by the standards of misinformation now commonplace in our elections, November's most controversial ballot measure, Proposition 32 – which its supporters call "Stop Special Interest Money Now" – really "takes the giddy biscuit", as Bertie Wooster (or, for that matter, Mitt Romney) might say.

So what does Prop 32 say it would do, and what would it really do?

Its supporters claim that Prop 32 is a balanced measure that limits corporate and union influence on state elections, to the extent allowed by federal election law. Indeed, pro-Prop 32 ads focus on spending in Sacramento by AT&T and PG&E, rather than on spending by labour unions.

In reality, "Stop Special Interest Money Now" would do nothing of the sort. Though AT&T and PG&E (both unionised firms) are undoubtedly peeved at being singled out, Prop 32 would have almost no impact on the ability of corporate executives to contribute unlimited money to candidates or campaigns, but would have a devastating impact on the ability of unions to participate in state politics. Its restrictions on unions are so sweeping that it would prevent them from communicating with their own members on political issues. Worse still, Prop 32 would enhance the ability of super political action committees (PACs), and other wealthy groups that are exempt from the measure, to dominate elections.

This is not genuine campaign finance reform but a bill of rights for billionaires, which would be a game-changer in California politics. California voters have twice before rejected rightwing initiatives to destroy labour's political voice, in 1998 and 2005. Unable to win by honest means, conservative groups decided to come up with something more deceptive this time round.

To appreciate just how misleading this measure is, one has to understand who supports and opposes it, and why. Prop 32's principal backer, the Lincoln Club of Orange County, co-produced Hillary: The Movie, which was at the heart of the 2012 landmark supreme court decision Citizens United and which led to a flood of special interest spending. The Lincoln Club boasted it was "instrumental" in pushing Citizens United, and celebrated the decision as a victory for political free speech. Since its founding in 1962, the Lincoln Club has consistently sought to weaken rules that stop big money from dominating elections, and Prop 32 would go a long way to achieving that goal.

Other backers of Prop 32 include Orange County anti-union activists and rightwing billionaires (often one and the same), and the usual suspects among Republican activists. And if the polls are tight come November, we will likely see an influx of pro-Prop 32 money from the same 0.1% currently funding conservative super PACs at the federal level. Opposed to Prop 32 are the nation's leading good-government groups – Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and others. Common Cause California has accused the measure's conservative backers of "trying to use our anger and mistrust to change the rules for their own benefit" and of "laughable" deception, while the League of Women Voters says that Prop 32 is "not what it seems, and it will hurt everyday Californians". Sacramento Bee senior editor Dan Morain, meanwhile, says the initiative "wears a soiled white hat" and is "dripping with cynicism".

If Prop 32 passes in November, rightwing activists will promote a tsunami of ballot initiatives designed to drive down working conditions in both the public and private sectors. California's workers could soon face the weakest labour standards in the country.
This is the biggest threat to California's future in decades. It's up to all of us to stop it.

They just want it all

by digby

We keep hearing that the "job creators" will pick up stakes and move elsewhere if they are forced to pay even a penny more in taxes. In fact, they might move if we don't lower their taxes. And then where will we be?

The question is, where do they propose to go?

Here's where they are now:

According to the Internal Revenue Service, there are 66,000 taxpayers who individually control $20 million or more in assets, and all these people put together are worth $4 trillion—more than the net worth of 70 percent of the US population.

The investment bank Credit Suisse, for its part, classifies "ultra high net worth individuals" as people with at least $50 million in assets—and according to the bank's 2011 Global Wealth Databook, more of these UNHWIs live in the United States than anywhere else in the world (see chart above).

So perhaps America has lots of multimillionaires because it's a prosperous country? That's certainly a factor—but not the only one. Compared to the superrich in the six other countries with the most multimillionaires, American tycoons grab a disproportionately large share of the economic pie:

Guess what the tax rates are?

I suppose these fabulously wealthy plutocrats and Masters of the Universe could all buy an island and live there without paying any taxes. But they aren't going to find a better deal in a first world country than the US.

These people are greedy bastards and they just think they deserve it all. Their tax rates are not onerous and they have more money than they can possibly spend. They would be "creating jobs" tomorrow is there was a point in it. The problem is that nobody else has any money so there's no demand. And they really don't care.

All those charts and the quoted commentary are from this great Mother Jones article by Josh Harkinson.


Lame Duck Terrorism

by digby

You think all this caterwauling about the deficit is just a bunch of useless jibber-jabber that will never go anywhere? Well, we have millionaire Bill Keller basically telling non-millionaire baby boomers to cut their own throats and then "save" the next generation by cutting theirs. For the good of the country, dontcha know.

And then, courtesy Jay Ackroyd I see we have Third Way eagerly piggy-backing on his sophistry:
In this report, we argue that the only way for Democrats to save progressive priorities like NASA, highway funding, and clean energy research is to reform entitlements. The lame duck offers Congress a “Now or Never” chance to set the terms of a budget deal that saves money on entitlements, raises revenue, and protects investments. And the heart of the Democratic brand is depending on it.
I agree that we need to destroy the village in order to save it, but I'm not talking about the same village.

The entire political establishment is aligning to get this momentous change done at the moment of least accountability. And they will say anything to get it done, no matter how dishonest. This is not a choice between highways and clean energy and Social Security. The government can borrow at near zero interest rates to fund those kinds of investments. Social Security can pay out 100% of promised benefits for the next 20 years and if they want to extend that, they can raise the cap so that these millionaires who are so anxious for all of us to "sacrifice" can put some more money in that kitty.

Third Way is a terrible organization in so many ways. But this may be the most dishonest thing they've ever done. The idea of pitting future "investments" against future security for the American people is as low as it gets. I know the older folks won't fall for it because they know very well that social security is what makes the difference between some of them living like animals and living like human beings when they are unable to work anymore. I trust the kids aren't so dumb that they think cutting their own benefits will somehow help them.

We need investment desperately. And there's no reason we shouldn't do what wealthy investors all over the world are dong right now: use cheap money to stimulate the economy and build for the future. This is a very, very big con. I wish I believed that re-electing Obama will insure that this would never be signed into law. Unfortunately, I think we have to depend on the Tea Party. I hate that.

Mainstreaming McCarthy

by digby

I'd heard about this last week and chalked it up to Loesch and the Breitbart Empire's ongoing shark jumping contest:

DANA LOESCH: Looking especially at how some of our foreign policy has been handled, Hillary Clinton essentially siding with the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in Egypt, and then it was discovered that her top aide -- Huma Abedin -- is essentially a member of the female version of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Sisterhood. All of this -- it seems enough to me to pose questions as to why our government is becoming so close with a group that has been so hostile to the United States, has fought against the United States, has sided with terrorists, and is a very oppressive regime that believes in Sharia law.

All right, so she's just another rightwing liar. Whatever.

And then I turned on the TV yesterday morning and saw her on ABC's This Week alongside George Will, Ruth Marcus and Donna Brazile as if she were just another establishment Villager. And she was talking:

And — and you want to talk about gaffes. Here we have 41 straight months of unemployment that's been over 8 percent, which was — the stimulus was supposed to have fixed. In terms of gaffes, it's not good to have the president get up in front of people during an election cycle and say, well, if you have a small business, you didn't built that, or as some have tried to say, oh, he took — the Republicans took something out of context. He was talking about the Clinton tax plan, which really actually in context it's even worse, because he really was referring to his own plan, and the Clinton tax plan, we could — we could get into...


This is just the latest in Driftglass' enduring series called "Sunday Morning Coming Down" which,among other things, chronicles the mainstreaming of right wing extremism into the public bloodstream. It's chilling.

I understand that Loesch is an attractive TV presence and craetes the same sort of dangerous frisson that made Ann Coulter such a thrilling green room companion for centrist Village men. But at some point you'd think these bookers would feel just a little bit dirty for putting people like this in America's living rooms on Sunday morning.


Oh, and the Tea Partying congressmen aren't backing down. But why should they? Apparently, their Mccarthyism is just another mainstream opinion.


Isn't Mitt supposed to be some expert on health care systems?

by digby


"Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the G.D.P. in Israel? Eight percent,” [Romney] said. "You spend eight percent of G.D.P. on health care. You’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our G.D.P. on health care, 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, compare that with the size of our military — our military which is 4 percent, 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of G.D.P. We have to find ways — not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs.

Apparently someone forgot to tell Mitt how Israel does it:

Rights of the Insured under the National Health Insurance Law

-—Every Israeli citizen is entitled to health care services under the National Health Insurance Law.

—Every resident has a right to register as a member of an HMO of his/her choice, free of any preconditions or limitations stemming from his/her age or the state of his/her health.

—Every resident has a right to receive, via the HMO of which he or she is a member, all of the services included in the medical services basket, subject to medical discretion, and at a reasonable quality level, within a reasonable period of time and at a reasonable distance from his/her home.

—Each member has a right to receive the health services while preserving the member’s dignity, privacy and medical confidentiality.

—Every Israeli resident has the right to transfer from one HMO to another.

—Each member has a right to select the service providers, such as doctors, caregivers, therapists, hospitals and institutes, from within a list of service providers who have entered into an agreement with the HMO to which the member belongs, and within the arrangements in place for the selection of the service providers, and which the HMO publishes from time to time.

—Each member has a right to know which hospitals and institutes, and other service providers, are included in the agreement with the HMO, and what are the selection processes at the HMO.

—Each member has a right to see and to receive a copy of the HMO regulations.

—Each resident has a right to receive from the HMO complete information concerning the payment arrangements in place in the HMO for health services as well as the HMO’s plans offered for additional health services (CIP).

—Each member has a right to complain with the Public Inquiries commissioner at the medical institute that treated the member, to the person in charge of investigating member complaints at the HMO of which s/he is a member, or to the complaints commissioner for the national health insurance law in the Ministry of Health.

—Each member has a right to file suit at the district labor court.

Shhh. Don't tell Mitt but it's funded with a progressive health care tax.

What in the world is Mitt doing praising a buncha commies like this? Oh wait, it's Israel. I'm confused ...

There is no absurdity to which they won't stoop

by David Atkins

It wasn't more than a couple of days ago that I said this, apropos of massacre prevention:

But if an armed citizen militia is to protect against outside invasion or internal tyranny, it should theoretically be equipped to do so. Yet few conservatives or NRA members would argue that random civilians should be allowed to own anti-tank weaponry, anti-aircraft missiles or military-grade explosives, much less chemical weapons.

Simply put, traditional firearms are utterly helpless in the face of the might of modern state arms. Which means that either the 2nd Amendment is hopelessly outdated for the modern era, or we need to take the discussion of "Arms" out of the realm of firearms and into the realm of much more potent technology.
The point of saying was to create a reductio ad absurdum for Conservatives: a line that proceeds logically from their current argument, but that even they would be unwilling to cross. The reductio ad absurdum is one of the most potent tactics in rhetoric because it's perhaps the most effective way of demonstrating the untenability of fallacious arguments that seem reasonable at first, but are actually crazy when put under the spotlight. One's opponent has two choices: stand by their argument at risk of seeming crazy, or abandon the argument. In theory, either choice forces a retreat or total loss of the debate.

But the rules of debate class don't really apply to the real world. In the real world where the only judge of the debate is a broken media and ill-informed electorate, there seems to be no penalty for simply clinging to fallacious arguments and adopting the crazy position. That in turn makes the reductio ad absurdum very dangerous, as it simply lets conservatives come to greater acceptance of extreme beliefs they may not have known they had. Case in point, Justice Scalia's seeming embrace of rocket launchers as Digby mentioned yesterday:

“We’ll see,” Scalia replied. “Obviously the amendment does not apply to arms that can not be carried. It’s to ‘keep and bear’ so it doesn’t apply to cannons.”

“But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to — it will have to be decided,” he added.
When I engaged several conservatives on Twitter with this very scenario, all of them took great offense at my equating handheld ballistic firearms with rocket launchers. Give it another week or two, and they'll come round to Scalia's apparent point of view.

The same thing has happened during the abortion debate. I used to think it was a great idea to challenge conservatives about their supposed concern for the fetus. After all, the vast majority of conservatives, according to polls, believed that an exception could be made in the case of rape or incest. But they wouldn't kill a baby born of the same circumstances. Ergo, they must not truly believe that life begins at conception. They must, rather, believe in punishing women for daring to get pregnant outside of wedlock, or refusing to have the husband's baby within wedlock. So I would tell conservatives to pick one or the other: either they shouldn't make exceptions in case of a 14-year-old raped by her father, or they could give up the entirety of their supposed "life" argument and admit that it's all about control of women and sexual prudery.

That was a mistake. It is now almost mainstream conservatism to deny any exceptions at all on abortion, just as it's apparently within reason for the longest serving conservative justice on the Supreme Court to think the Founders would have demanded that each citizen have the right to carry a surface-to-air missile launcher.

The modern conservative has no boundaries and no shame. Everything from their economic theories to their social positions is based entirely on an ideological faith-based lack of reasoning.

Using a reductio ad absurdum on them doesn't paint them into a corner. It merely allows them to go deeper down the rabbit hole.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The burn-out era

by digby

Mark Follman (who, along with the rest of the Mother Jones crew has done an incredible job compiling the data about America's mass murders) prints a letter from a survivor of a mass shooting in Tennessee a couple of years ago:

Mr. Follman:

I read your article about mass murders and spree killings in the U.S. I'm a survivor of one which you didn't list. On Sunday morning, July 27, 2008, at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Knoxville Tennessee, Jim Adkisson walked into my church with 70 shotgun shells and opened fire. He killed 2 and injured 7. The only reason he stopped firing was that the gun jammed after the 3rd shot. He was tackled by retired history professor Dr. John Bohstedt.

Maybe the low death toll keeps this incident off the list.

However, I noticed something recently in the news which struck home. Discussion about the shooting in Aurora Colorado has included several people saying "we'll never forget." Yet here in Knoxville, I've been in more than one circumstance when the subject has come up, and someone will say "oh yeah, I do remember that" as if it's something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Maybe because I was there, my perspective is a little different. The fact that the anniversary is coming up may be why I'm thinking about it right now.

Anyway, just my opinion, the TVUUC incident might belong on your list.

Best wishes,

William Dunklin
Knoxville, Tennessee

That was the one in which the guy did it because he hated all liberals. (It was a UCC church.)

This depresses me almost as much as the shootings themselves, although I understand the psychology. Life has to go on. But damn, even in the places where his happens I guess it's now just one of those things. Nothing to be done.

I fear this cultural paralysis much more than I fear the political gridlock. Our whole society seems to be burned out, apathetic and tired. I don't think anything good will come of that.

Inkblot: the original LOL Cat

by digby

I don't know what it is about cats and the internet, but the relationship by this time is obvious. But before there were LOLCats and sleepy Youtube kittens and cheetah cub cams, there was Inkblot. The phenomenon of catblogging was invented by him (and his pet Kevin Drum.)

The New York Times first noticed him way back in 2004:

IN the vitriolic world of political Web logs, two polar extremes are Eschaton (atrios.blogspot.com), a liberal, often anti-Bush site with a passionate following, and Instapundit (www.instapundit.com), where an equally fervent readership goes for hearty praise of the Administration.

It would seem unlikely that the two blogs' authors could see eye-to-eye about anything. Yet Eschaton's Duncan Black (known as Atrios) and Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds have both taken part in a growing practice: turning over a blog on Friday to cat photographs.

"It brings people together," said Kevin Drum, who began the cat spotlight last year on his own blog, Calpundit (www.calpundit.com). "Both Atrios and Instapundit have done Friday catblogging. It goes to show you can agree on at least a few things."

Mr. Drum has moved on to write a blog for The Washington Monthly called Political Animal, which, despite its name, features no cats. But for him, watching bloggers step back from partisanship in favor of the warmth of cat pictures is a reminder of the March 2003 day when he discovered that his cats offered an antidote to stressful blogging.

"I'd just blogged a whole bunch of stuff about what was wrong with the world," Mr. Drum said. "And I turned around and I looked out the window, and there was one of my cats, just plonked out, looking like nothing was wrong with the world at all."

Grabbing his camera, Mr. Drum photographed his cat, Inkblot, and posted the picture (calpundit.com/archives/000597.html). He soon began doing it each Friday, attracting fans who just wanted to see the felines.

"I had a lot of people who were looking forward to it," he said. "I started getting e-mails on Friday mornings where people were like, 'Where's catblogging? What's going on?' "

As often happens in the blogosphere, other people latched onto the idea and ran with it.

Sadly, Kevin shares the bad news:

I hate to write this post, but all of you have been part of Inkblot's life for so long that I can hardly not do it. One of our neighbors saw the flyers we posted around the neighborhood and called a few minutes ago to tell us that she had seen the body of a cat nearby. We went out to look, and it was Inkblot. There wasn't much question about the ID.

From the evidence, it looks like he got killed by a coyote. And he hadn't wandered very far after all. The remains were only a couple hundred feet from our house.

This is sad, sad news. But I want to thank everyone who sent kind thoughts our way, either via comments or email. He will be remembered.

Indeed, he will be. RIP you gorgeous boy.

Dumb Justice

by digby

Why do people think this man is brilliant?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Sunday said that even “handheld rocket launchers” could be considered legal under his interpretation of the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

In the wake of a massacre in Colorado that left 12 dead and 58 wounded, host Chris Wallace asked Scalia if the Constitution would support assault-type AR-15 rifles and 100-round clips.

The justice explained that under his principle of originalism, some limitations on weapons were possible. Fox example, laws to restrict people from carrying a “head axe” would be constitutional because it was a misdemeanor when the Constitution was adopted in the late 1700s.

“What about these technological limitations?” Wallace wondered. “Obviously, we’re not now talking about a handgun or a musket, we’re talking about a weapon that can fire a hundred shots in a minute.”

“We’ll see,” Scalia replied. “Obviously the amendment does not apply to arms that can not be carried. It’s to ‘keep and bear’ so it doesn’t apply to cannons.”

“But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to — it will have to be decided,” he added.

Head ax's are out because the founders thought they were too frightening, but any weapon invented since then that can be carried (in your arms!) is fine because they didn't know they were going to be invented and so didn't think ahead.

He should be impeached for this "originalist" claptrap. But I take it back that he isn't brilliant. He is. To be able to get away with this sort of logic actually requires a very lively mind.

Cokie's Law WaPo 2012 version

by digby

You know what Cokie's Law is by now. Here's an example of it hot off the pages of the Washington Post:

If you’re a Democrat, Romney’s ad will look wildly out of context and irresponsible.
But if you’re a Republican, you can make a credible case that the ad is completely justified.

It goes like this: Obama was contrasting two different tax policies — one being the Republican policy, and the other being the Democrats’ policy. Obama was talking about how the Democrats’ policy is better. But Democrats have been in the White House for four years now, and things are still bad. So obviously Democrats’ policies — on taxes or otherwise — aren’t that great.

If you’re predisposed against Romney, that sort of justification will seem ludicrous and make your skin crawl. But it paints just enough of a gray area over the whole matter to justify the attack.

Romney may be attacked in the days ahead for running an out-of-context campaign, and some objective reporters might even say it has gone too far.

But the fact is that these two comments further clarify a picture (or caricature, depending on where you stand) of Obama that’s already out there. And plenty of — nay, almost all — people who don’t dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value.

Talk about a caricature. This one's got it all: Cokie's Law, Church of the Savvy, He said/She said. If I didn't know better I'd think it was a parody by Jay Rosen.

(Be sure to click through and read the whole trainwreck.)

If it weren't for bad luck there's be no luck at all?

by digby

David Frum has been deconstructing the president's "you didn't build that" line, trying to figure out why it seems to have hit the nerve that it did. In this piece he compares Obama's words with Elizabeth Warren's and susses out the subtle difference between them:

Warren is offering a single message: your success was made possible by the contributions of others, now you must contribute in turn. Nobody would seriously dispute her claim. We're just left to haggle over price: Should the successful pay forward 36% of their success or 39% or 28% or what...

Obama combines two ideas: the familiar and broadly acceptable idea in Elzabeth Warren's speech—and a second, much more destabilizing idea.
I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
Obama's second idea is that success is to a great extent random, a matter of luck. You think you succeeded because you were smart or hard-working? Listen—a lot of smart and hard-working people don't succeed.
(Frum then points out that Hayek agreed and used to grumble that this unfortunately gave capitalism a bad name!)

He notes that this election's overarching theme boils down to an argument over the idea that those who are making obscene amounts of money in this obscenely unequal "recovery" are doing so because of their moral superiority and work ethic, while the rest of us floundering because we are lazy and undeserving. And he thinks this irks Obama, who sort of let his irritation show.

Well, I should hope so. It sure as hell irks me.

But this, I think, is the reason his remarks irk conservatives so much:
To be sure, other politicians have declared that "life is unfair." But that instruction is usually directed to society's losers. Obama is—almost uniquely—directing the message to society's winners, including the very grand winner who will soon be nominated to run for president against him. They're not used to it, and they don't like it, not one bit.
That's exactly right, I think. To even imply that luck plays a role in the success of the 1% is to expose what they are really afraid of: if luck was partly responsibly for getting them where they are then luck could easily put them back where they started. This is why they are working so hard to secure all the protections, all the rewards, all the power for themselves. They are trying to hold bad luck at bay, trying to build a wall of money and privilege so high that they are impenetrable.

And yet it's obvious that they have been hugely lucky. Just to have been born in this time is lucky. There were countless moments where they beat the odds, got an unanticipated break, happened to know the right person, were in the right place at the right time. To fail to acknowledge that, to not know that and be humble, awed and grateful is one of the causes of hubris.

These folks are all too willing to chalk up foreclosed mortgages and lost jobs to "bad luck" and have no problem shrugging their shoulders at those who have the misfortune of getting sick without health insurance and thinking "those are the breaks." But when it comes to the other side of that coin, the side that makes people vastly wealthy with one (or many) good breaks, we are required to believe that it's all a matter of hard work and talent that got them there.

The idea Obama was skirting around was the idea that all of us are subject to the vagaries of luck. The central idea of our modern society was just that we would try to provide opportunity for everyone to be prepared to take advantage of the upside when it comes along and provide some cushion for everyone on the downside. That's it. The whole thing was just an attempt to even out the odds a little bit. And frankly, as Chris Hayes so smartly shows in his book, our current problems can be boiled down to the simple fact that lucky people who have everything are determined to make sure that it's all upside for them --- and all downside for everyone else.

I hate to tell you this Masters of the Universe, but just like the rest of us unlucky losers, you're all going to die one day. Every single one of you. No amount of talent, hard work, moral superiority, money or luck can save you.


Morally Straight

by digby

I think this is a big deal:
Last week, The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that they will continue to exclude gay members from their private organization, upholding their right to bigotry that they won in a Supreme Court case in 2000. Now, for the first time, a protest is brewing from within the organization. Eagles Scouts are resigning and returning their medals.

Click over to see the letters at Boing Boing. They're great.

Eagle Scouts really do tend to be impressive young men. I remember someone telling me years ago that one should never fail to give an Eagle Scout an interview for a job --- they are almost always stand-up, responsible workers. I don't know that it says anything about their talent or their value as a person, but it does show that they are focused and accomplished.

For that and other reasons, those who achieve the title value being Eagle Scouts quite highly. To resign and turn in their medals means something.

American media stunned by love of universal healthcare in Britain

by David Atkins

Yes, there was a celebration of the British NHS at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Yes, it was adorable and memorable. And yes, the American media was clueless and confused. The Guardian:

Perhaps not surprisingly in a country where healthcare reform is so controversial, it was the high-profile presence of the NHS that stunned many American writers.

After all, the idea of state-control of healthcare is demonised as "socialised medicine" with scare stories of "death panels" touted by top – usually Republican – political leaders.

Certainly the US equivalent, which would be dancing health insurance corporate executives, was hard to imagine.

"For the life of me, though, am still baffled by NHS tribute at opening ceremonies. Like a tribute to United Health Care or something in US," tweeted clearly confused Los Angeles Times sports writer Diane Pucin.

Perhaps many writers simply struggled with so much going on.
But none so much as Time's Catherine Mayer, whom the Guardian quotes with amusement:

Boyle couldn't overcome two fundamental problems. Britain is good at the sort of solemn pageantry surrounding royal occasions. It's less good at solemnity without a traditional framework.

It's hard to disagree with Boyle's messaging – for example about the dangers of unfettered capitalism and about how generations of immigrants have enriched and renewed Britain and about the value of the NHS – but it was clunky and worthy.

That's because the other banana skin is the idea that last 100 years of British history, with its loss and confusion as well as its triumphs and achievements, lends itself to the lobotomized format of an Olympics opening ceremony … So we got something that almost worked, and captivated in parts. And that is as true a reflection of Britain as it's possible to imagine.
No, it worked quite well. It just takes a little more appreciation for empathy and complexity than most American media are able to handle.


Saturday, July 28, 2012


Saturday Night at the Movies

Start the revolution without me

By Dennis Hartley

From family trees the dukes do swing: Farewell, My Queen

Benoit Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen is the type of period film that critics love, because it gives them carte blanche to use descriptive phrases like “handsomely mounted” and “sumptuously detailed” with abandon. OK, so it is a handsomely mounted, sumptuously detailed period film that finds its verisimilitude by occasionally soiling the hem of its petticoats with (to paraphrase Monty Python) “lovely” (and authentic!) 18th century filth. That’s exactly what happens when an otherwise poised young lady named Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) goes unceremoniously ass over teakettle while scurrying to attend to the whims of her employer, one Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). The year is 1789, and that would be the same Marie Antoinette who was Queen of France at the time. As any history major would tell you, 1789 wasn’t the best year to have that particular gig. Indeed, it is July of 1789, and there’s a sizable coterie of disgruntled (and filthy!) 99 per centers who are but days away from donning tri-corner hats and brandishing pitchforks to storm the Bastille.

But the Queen currently has more pressing concerns. For example, where oh where is her “finery book”? She’s just had an epiphany for a new dress design, while Sidonie (her personal reader) reads an article aloud to her from a fashion magazine as Marie wistfully ogles the pictures (you have to understand, they didn’t have cable back then). You are probably getting the picture that, despite the fomenting revolution on the streets of Paris, life within the Société Particulière de la Reine is continuing unabated. At least at first glance. Through Sidonie’s eyes (she is one of the Queen’s primary “ladies in waiting”) we are given an upstairs/downstairs peek at all the doings at Versailles during the waning days of the French monarchy. In the drawing rooms, it’s all curtsies and hushed deference, but as the action moves farther out of royal earshot and closer to the servant’s quarters, gossip and rumors rule (as well as some furtive, down and dirty bodice-ripping).

It’s nearly impossible to observe the disconnect of these privileged aristocrats carrying on in their gilded bubble while the impoverished and disenfranchised rabble sharpen up the guillotines without drawing parallels with our current state of affairs (history, if nothing else, is cyclical). The director seems sharp enough to “know that we know” this already, so he doesn’t hit us over the head with it. His screenplay (co-written by Gilles Taurand) manages to contemporize the emotional life of the characters, whilst managing to avoid the kind of anachronisms that plagued Sofia Coppola’s 2006 misfire, Marie Antoinette.

The film is carried primarily through the earthy and believable performances from Seydoux and Kruger (who, interestingly, last worked together in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds). Kruger conveys Marie’s spoiled frivolousness, but avoids broad caricature; there’s a resigned melancholy that lurks just beneath the veneer, adding an interesting layer to her performance. Kruger’s subtlety is particularly highlighted in a memorable scene where she confides to Seydoux about her “special” friendship with Gabrielle de Polignac (a duchess in the Queen’s court historically rumored to have been her lover). The dialog is strictly innuendo, but Kruger’s delivery and facial expressions say it all (it’s quite reminiscent of Laurence Oliver’s infamous “snails and oysters” scene with Tony Curtis in Spartacus). This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this story, and it won’t be the last, but somehow…I never tire of watching the oligarchy crumble (pass the popcorn!).

Saturday Night at the Movies review archives


Rule #24

by digby

"Feminism was established to allow easier access to the mainstream for unattractive women" --- Rule #24, Rush Limbaugh

"Right wing talk radio was established as a slick con for sad, confused white men who don't understand that they are no longer running things" --- Rule #23, me.

Thomas Paine knew he didn't build that, either

by David Atkins

Thomas Paine:

Land, as before said, is the free gift of the Creator in common to the human race. Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to mike land originally.

Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.

This is putting the matter on a general principle, and perhaps it is best to do so; for if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.

Mitt Romney and his Objectivist Republican friends are a disgrace to America and the ideals upon which it was founded.

Loving their deep fried bigotry

by digby

I honestly don't have a problem with this. They choose to support a business owned by someone who shares their beliefs. I think those beliefs are odious and disgraceful and I have no respect for people who are hostile to civil rights, but it is within their rights to be jerks.

But it's within my rights not to patronize such businesses as well. I have never been to a Chik-fil-a and I guess I never will go there. I have boycotted these restaurants for years: Carl's Junior, Domino's Pizza, White Castle and Waffle House. (And for any of you middle aged ladies out there, Curves Fitness is owned by a real extremist who gives 10% of the profits to anti-choice wingnuts.)

Likewise, there are a bunch of businesses the anti-choice zealots say should be boycotted because of their support for Planned Parenthood. Get a load of this partial list:

New boycott targets include AOL, Darden Restaurants (Bahama Breeze, The Capital Grille, LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Season 52), Franchise Services (PIP, Signal Graphics, Sir Speedy), Hilton Worldwide (Conrad Hotels,Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inns/Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Hotels, Homewood Suites), Ignite Restaurants (Brickhouse Tavern+Tap, Joe’s Crab Shack), ING (financial services), Kohl’s (department stores), Mrs. Fields (cookies),Staples (office/school supplies), Toys “R” Us, and Trader Joe’s(markets/supermarkets).

Returning to The Boycott List are The Gap (apparel/accessories) and Freddie Mac (U.S. Government-sponsored secondary mortgages).

Corporations continuing as boycott targets from the previously released Boycott List include AlphaGraphics, Wells Fargo (including Wachovia), Nike, Time Warner, Bank of America, Walt Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Lost Arrow (Patagonia, etc.),Chevron, and Nationwide Insurance, among others.

Garvey was critical of pro-life organizations that continue to use PayPal even though it has been a boycott target for several years now. “PayPal is owned by boycott target eBay,” Garvey said. "Most pro-life groups are aware that it is a boycott target because it has funded Planned Parenthood, but they have consciously chosen to continue doing business with the company. Doing so is indefensible."

The new Boycott List includes a “Dishonorable Mention” section, which identifies charitable groups that are associated with Planned Parenthood and/or its agenda. Groups named in this section include Lions Clubs, the American Cancer Society, Easter Seals, Boys & Girls Clubs, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Camp Fire, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts, Kiwanis Clubs, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association,Rotary Clubs, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Salvation Army, YWCA,America Gives Back (formerly [American] Idol Gives Back), and YMCA, among others.

"This has not been some sort of 'Jesse Jackson boycott' where we make news for a few days and then go away," said LDI Chairman Thomas C. Strobhar. "Corporate officials are learning that those who value life are among the most dedicated people on earth. We will not go away until corporate involvement with Planned Parenthood comes to an end."

I can easily live without Chik-fil-a, Carl's Jr, Dominos, White Castle and Waffle House. I wonder how many cultural conservatives are actually living without all those organizations above? And that's just the tip of the iceberg, apparently. (You can't find out all the names on the list without buying it from this group, naturally.) And lest you think this rightwing boycott list is an obscure list that nobody's heard of, check out the endorsers.

Some of the corporations listed above are not automatically worth supporting simply because rightwingers don't like their charitable giving. Obviously, there are other criteria that we all must use when evaluating a company. But let's just say that when it comes to women's rights and gay rights, it appears that the business community is far more attuned to the beliefs of the liberal side of the dial.