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Thursday, January 31, 2013


Chapter 2: Republicans Have Very Strange Ideas

by tristero

Texas GOP wants to use government money to bribe businesses not to comply with the birth control benefit in Obamacare. 

Hagel: making an example of the apostate

by digby

I am on the record saying that Hagel never seemed like the brightest bulb to me but I deferred to those who insisted that the's really quite brilliant.  I dunno.  What I saw today didn't exactly make me change my mind, even as I have to acknowledge that the Senators questioning him today sounded more like screeching harpies than serious statesmen. I just have the feeling old Chuck didn't exactly prepare himself for a thoroughly predictable grilling. Or he just doesn't know what he's talking about.

I'm sure this has a lot to do with the fact that he's seen as soft on Iran and hostile to Israel.  But I also think some of this is just the way the Republicans deal with apostates.  Hagel broke with the party in favor of the Democrats and that. is. simply. not. done. They are making an example of him.

I don't know if they just want to beat him up and then let him in with a few GOP votes or if they will really tank this nomination.  Either way, Hagel didn't do very well today.  If his performance is important (and I'm not sure it is) he didn't do himself any favors.

Chapter 1: Republicans Have Very Strange Ideas

by tristero

Voters in "center cities" don't count.  Therefore, Republicans won the election and have a mandate.
The presidency is a powerless office except when it isn't

by digby

From "The Presidency is a symbolic office" files:
Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant, asked Muñoz during a Google+ Hangout how President Obama feels about deporting 1.5 million illegal immigrants since taking office.

"The government’s job is to do what Congress tells it to do," Muñoz replied. "Congress, under the immigration laws that we've got now, Congress requires us to remove people who are removable and gives DHS, frankly, a whole lot of resources to do that job. DHS’s job is to make sure they make the best possible decisions on how they use those resources."

She said the Department of Homeland Security has tried to prioritize whom it goes after, for example those convicted of crimes, but at the end of the day, Congress needs to pass immigration reform.

"We all understand we are enforcing and implementing a system which is broken, and our primary job here is to fix it and that requires the Congress of the United States," Muñoz said. "That’s something we've been trying to get Congress to do for four years, and our moment has come... We have to drive it home and make sure we get to an outcome."

The number of deportations has increased every year since Obama took office and reached an overall total of 1.5 million at the end of last year.

Ok. I guess the president has no power except to do the congress's bidding. Well, sort of:

President Obama's announcement Friday that he is using his executive authority to defer deportation proceedings for young immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally but meet certain requirements was just the latest example of the president's use of his power to act without Congress on policy issues.

And like the other actions the president has increasingly taken as part of his "We Can't Wait" initiative, the decision announced Friday was characterized by Obama's political opponents as an abuse of power and violation of congressional prerogatives.

All of which goes to prove that Obama has reached the stage in his presidency, like so many of his predecessors, where his frustration with congressional inaction has led him to act unilaterally.

William Howell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who wrote Power Without Persuasion: The Politics Of Direct Presidential Action, said in an interview:

"The boundaries of presidential power are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated. This is very typical. In some ways the option itself may be atypical. We haven't seen presidents issue this particular kind of policy initiative on their own before. But all the time, presidents are pushing out on the boundaries of their power and claiming new authority. And their ability to actually secure that authority crucially depends on how the two other branches of government respond.

"So the idea that presidential power is fixed and static is a deep misnomer. It mischaracterizes both the long trajectory of presidential power over time and it also mischaracterizes what the founders themselves had in mind. They fully expected various branches of government to be pushing and pulling."

During the Bush administration we were all very upset at what we saw as the abuse of executive power. Like giving the Vice President presidential powers. But I don't think anyone has ever said that because a lot of money has been appropriated it means that an executive branch agency is required to be extra energetic about administering laws which fundamentally conflict with its values.

This might have been one the Obama administration "pushed back" on. For reasons that are obscure, they went overboard instead. I guess it had no political repercussions so they have little reason to regret it. But it wasn't the right thing to do.


Police state dispatch

by digby

Better stock up on body armor citizens:

Following a rise in violent crime in Paragould, an Arkansas town of around 26,000 residents, the mayor and police chief announced that starting this month police in SWAT gear carrying AR-15s would patrol the streets.

“If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, and check for your ID,” police chief Todd Stovall told a December town hall meeting. As if to render the implementation of a visible police state more palatable, Stovall assured residents that police stops would not be based on any profiling: “We’re going to do it to everybody,” he said.

Stovall also told residents he had not consulted an attorney before instituting the plan. HuffPo’s Radley Balko noted that Paragould is not the first town to bring in such measures:

Using SWAT teams for routine patrols isn’t uncommon. Fresno did this for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The city sent its Violent Crimes Suppression Unit into poorer neighborhoods and stopped, confronted, questioned, and searched nearly everyone they encountered. “It’s a war,” one SWAT officer told Christian Parenti in a a report for The Nation (not available online). Another said, “If you’re 21, male, living in one of these neighborhoods, and you’re not in our computer, then there’s something definitely wrong.”

They ended up cancelling two town hall meeting because after the public outcry the police felt there were "public safety concerns." Which is hilarious.

There's an awful lot of taxpayer funded quasi military gear just sitting in police stations waiting for some terrorists to move to town. It's only reasonable that they'd want to use it. I suspect that's what's driving most of this sort of thing: boys wanting to use their toys.

 The martial law aspect of this is the only thing that's really out of the ordinary. The general militarization of the police is nationwide.


If you live in downtown Miami, you've probably noticed something unusual in the sky the past few nights.

Residents have been posting videos on YouTube of unmarked military helicopters flying through Brickell at late night hours, creating lots of noise and a little concern.

The videos, titled "Miami Under Attack" and "POLICE STATE 2011: Homeland Security/ARMY Black Helicopters in Drill Over Downtown Miami," show the black choppers navigating through the high rises, hovering in place and flying pretty low.

But Military officials released a statement Wednesday saying the helicopters are part of a military training exercise focusing on operating in urban environments, but didn't give any specific details.

the training exercises, conducted with the support of the Miami Police Department, were being done at night to minimize the impact on Magic City citizens, the statement said.

"We recognize this training has an impact on Miami residents and we appreciate your support during this critical training event," the statement reads.

Uhm, what exactly is the "support" being given by the police department? I suppose if it's just logistics then you could just call it a really stupid, paranoia inducing maneuver on the part of the military. All over the internet conspiracy theorists are breathlessly reporting that there are black helicopters doing maneuvers over their city. (I have no idea if it's true, and it probably isn't.)

If this Miami event was some sort of "homeland security" operation, we have reason to be concerned. We don't allow the military to do domestic policing in America. Or at least we didn't used to. And maybe it's outdated anyway. With all the combat gear local police are wearing and carrying around, I'm not sure it makes any difference. An awful lot of police departments seem to think they're at war with the citizens.


Atlas Shrugged for dummies

by digby

John Nichols compiles a list of quotes from some of the "Randiest" members of congress (and I'm talking about people who have the hots for a dead Russian romance novelist.) But then he features one who makes even the Rand lovin' Paul Ryan look like a casual reader:

But it is now safe to say that no congressional Republican is more in the thrall of Rand than Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. The Tea Party favorite who came into the limelight last week, first with his convoluted questioning of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the tragic killings of Americans at Benghazi in Libya, and then with his acknowledgement after a dressing down from secretary of state nominee John Kerry that he had not actually been a member of the committee when some of the basic briefings on Benghazi were presented.

While Johnson may not be prepared for Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, he’s entirely up to speed on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged...

Before his election to the Senate, Johnson helped purchase and erect a statue honoring the book. And in a newly produced video he tells an interviewer that he thinks we’re living in an Ayn Rand moment and that he’s a lot like one of the characters from Atlas Shrugged.

“Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957, partly as a warning against the growth of government. Do you see parallels between the plot of Atlas Shrugged and current events?” asks Laurie Rice of the Rand-focused Atlas Society in the interview.

“Absolutely,” replies Johnson, while discoursing on how he thinks “we’re all suffering collectively from the Stockholm Syndrome. That’s where people who have been kidnapped are grateful to their captors when they just show them a little bit of mercy. And collectively, we just don’t understand the freedoms we’re really losing.”

The highlight of the interview comes when Rice asks the senator: “What do you see as the differences between your ideas and the ideas of Ayn Rand?”

“I’m not sure there are too many differences,” he says with regard to the writings of the author who decried “the appalling disgrace” of Ronald Reagan’s administration because of its deference to ideas emanating from what she referred to as “the God, family, tradition swamp.”

Then Johnson goes all in, finding something of himself in a favorite Ayn Rand novel.

“I guess when you take a look at the book Atlas Shrugged, I think most people always like to identify with the main character—that would be John Galt,” chirped Johnson. “I guess I identify with Hank Rearden, the fella that just refused until the very end to give up. And I guess I’d like to think of myself more as a Hank Rearden—I’m not going to give up.”

That’s the sort of confidence you’d expect from a senator who boldly interrogated the Secretary of State without bothering to prepare.

This reminds me of nothing so much as girlfriends who half drunkenly confess to each other which character in Sex in the City is most like them. ("I'm deffffinately Miranda, but, you know, I'm short of like Charlotte too.")

I think the true brilliance of Rand may be that she wrote it as a novel rather than an outright polemic. By putting her philosophy into the mouths of strapping heroes and the sexy women who love them, she gave young teen-agers a way to access the ideas through identification with the lead characters. And those who never emotionally or intellectually mature beyond that age continue to see their self-centered philosophy from that "heroic" perspective. Just as 14 year old narcissists see themselves as uniquely gifted and special, so too does Ron Johnson.

Nichols concludes with this, which never gets old:

Paul Krugman reminds us (of Kung Fu Monkey's great quote): “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Erecting a statue dedicated to Atlas Shrugged is the equivalent of erecting a statue dedicated to The Hardy Boys There's nothing wrong with honoring a book you liked as a kid, of course, but you wouldn't want to run a country based on The Hardy Boys. Not that the Bush administration didn't try ...

Lamar Alexander, slave to NRA talking points

by David Atkins

Lamar Alexander, slave to the NRA line, makes a fool of himself in the Capitol Building:

I think guns do affect plenty of people. Especially the ones unfortunate enough to be on the business end of hot lead tearing through their bodies. Video games? Not so much.

You'd think a good Objectivist like Lamar could stand on his own two feet, be a man and think for himself rather than serve as an NRA parasite. A man chooses; a slave obeys. If he ever bothered to play a game sometime, Lamar might learn that.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Religious Incorrectness

by digby

This Barna Group study is fascinating, but unsurprising:

The findings of a poll published Wednesday (Jan. 23), reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.

While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.

“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.”

Yes, they can have it both ways. They believe the constitution is a Christian tract that requires the American government to follow the Bible. To them "religious freedom" means that Christianity must guide the entire nation. And they have con artists out there "proving" it every day:

David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor's degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University and runs a company called WallBuilders in Aledo, Texas. But his vision of a religion-infused America is wildly popular with churches, schools and the GOP, and that makes him a power. He was named one of Time magazine's most influential evangelicals. He was a long-time vice chairman for the Texas Republican Party. He says that he consults for the federal government and state school boards, that he testifies in court as an expert witness, that he gives a breathtaking 400 speeches a year.

Seeking his endorsement are politicians including Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who's mentioned as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich is a fan. So is Mike Huckabee.

"I almost wish that there would be like a simultaneous telecast," Huckabee said at a conference last year, "and all Americans will be forced, forced — at gunpoint, no less — to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country will be better for it."
David Barton says Americans have been misled about their history. And he aims to change that.

Barton has collected 100,000 documents from before 1812 — original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas — something you never learn in school.

For example, you've been taught the Constitution is a secular document. Not so, says Barton: The Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.

"You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause," he told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network. "Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible's all over it! Now we as Christians don't tend to recognize that. We think it's a secular document; we've bought into their lies. It's not."

We looked up every citation Barton said was from the Bible, but not one of them checked out. Moreover, the Constitution as written in 1787 has no mention of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. The First Amendment does address religion.

What about the idea that the founders did not want government entangled in religion? Wrong again, says Barton. On his tours of the U.S. Capitol, for example, he claims that Congress not only published the first American Bible in 1782, but it also intended the Bible to be used in public schools.

"And we're going to be told they don't want any kind of religion in education, they don't want voluntary prayer?" Barton asks his audience rhetorically? "No, it doesn't make sense."

But historians say Barton is flat-out wrong in his facts and conclusion. Congress never published or paid a dime for the 1782 Bible. It was printed and paid for by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken. At Aitken's request, Congress agreed to have its chaplains check the Bible for accuracy. It was not, historians say, a government promotion of religion.

No kidding. A thousand years of bloody religious wars in Europe didn't escape their notice. But then they didn't have "historians" like David Barton around to guide them.


ICYMI: Women ruining warzone bromance

by digby

The great Samantha Bee:

Yeah. And chicks aren't funny either.

And by the way, this throwback was actually being politically correct when he said, "girls become women by getting older, boys become men by accomplishing something, by doing something." The original saying which I heard when I was younger, is "girls become women by bearing children, boys become men by accomplishing something." Yes, they used to say that.

No Austerity for The "Right" People

by David Atkins

While the country debates how many government jobs to cut, how many grandparents to put on a cat food diet, how many working poor to deny healthcare to, and whether the people who do almost all our dirty jobs should be afforded a path to citizenship, this is still happening:

Top executives at firms that received taxpayer bailouts during the financial crisis continue to receive generous government-approved compensation packages, a Treasury watchdog said in a report released on Monday.

The report comes from the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bank bailout law passed at the end of the George W. Bush administration. The watchdog, commonly called Sigtarp, found that 68 out of 69 executives at Ally Financial, the American International Group and General Motors received annual compensation of $1 million or more, with the Treasury’s signoff.

All but one of the top executives at the failed insurer A.I.G. — which required more than $180 billion in emergency taxpayer financing — received pay packages worth more than $2 million. And 16 top executives at the three firms earned combined pay of more than $100 million.

“In 2012, these three TARP companies convinced Treasury to roll back its guidelines by approving multimillion-dollar pay packages, high cash salaries, huge pay raises and removing compensation tied to meeting performance metrics,” Christy Romero, the special inspector general, said in a statement. “Treasury cannot look out for taxpayers’ interests if it continues to rely to a great extent on the pay proposed by companies that have historically pushed back on pay limits.”
But it's all going to "deserving" people, so everything's OK.

Kirsten Powers needs to get out more

by digby

Kirsten Powers is hopping mad:

There is no war on terror for the Obama White House, but there is one on Fox News.

In a recent interview with The New Republic, President Obama was back to his grousing about the one television news outlet in America that won’t fall in line and treat him as emperor. Discussing breaking Washington's partisan gridlock, the president told TNR,"If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News...for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it."

Alas, the president loves to whine about the media meanies at Fox News. To him, these are not people trying to do their jobs. No, they are out to get him. What other motive could a journalist have in holding a president accountable? Why oh why do Ed Henry and Chris Wallace insist on asking hard questions? Make them stop![...]

This latest volley from the president is just one in a long line of comments from his White House as part of their campaign to silence any dissent they detect in the press corps.
Recently, the White House has kept Fox News off of conference calls dealing with the Benghazi attack, despite Fox News being the only outlet that was regularly reporting on it and despite Fox having top notch foreign policy reporters.

They have left Chris Wallace’s "Fox News Sunday" out of a round of interviews that included CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS for not being part of a “legitimate” news network. In October 2009, as part of an Obama administration onslaught against Fox News,White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week” that the Fox News Channel is "not really a news station" and that much of the programming is "not really news."

Whether you are liberal or conservative, libertarian, moderate or politically agnostic, everyone should be concerned when leaders of our government believe they can intentionally try to delegitimize a news organization they don’t like.

Oh please:

Let the fence-mending begin. According to a Broadcasting & Cable source in Washington, D.C., CBS News president Andrew Heyward, along with Washington bureau chief Janet Leissner, recently met with White House communications director Dan Bartlett, in part to repair chilly relations with the Bush administration.

CBS News’ popularity at the White House—never high to begin with—plunged further in the wake of Dan Rather’s discredited 60 Minutes story on George Bush’s National Guard service.

An incentive for making nice is the impending report from the two-member panel investigating CBS's use of now-infamous documents for the 60 Minutes piece.

Heyward was “working overtime to convince Bartlett that neither CBS News nor Rather had a vendetta against the White House,” our source says, “and from here on out would do everything it could to be fair and balanced.” CBS declined to comment.

And they went way out of their way to make that happen:

In the July 21 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist Gail Shister quoted CBS chairman Les Moonves: "That's not the end-all, be-all, but obviously the White House doesn't hate CBS anymore with [Bob] Schieffer in the anchor chair." But far from hating CBS, the White House has reason to embrace the network and its selection of Schieffer to serve as interim anchor following Dan Rather's departure as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Schieffer has previously described his "golfing friendship" with President Bush "during the 1990s" and has said, "It's always difficult to cover someone you know personally." Following the announcement that Schieffer would moderate the third and final presidential debate last year, Media Matters for America noted several statements Schieffer had made that raised questions about his objectivity.

Moreover, Shister wrote: "Moonves says Schieffer is looked upon kindly at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue because his brother, John Thomas Schieffer, was ambassador to Australia (he was posted to Japan in February), and was partners with the future President Bush in the Texas Rangers."

Perhaps Kirsten Powers is too young to know this but conservatives have been trying to "delegitimize" the so-called liberal media for decades. Let's start with good old Brent Bozell:

The Media Research Center (MRC) is a conservative content analysis organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1987 by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III. Its stated mission is to "prove — through sound scientific research — that liberal bias in the media does exist and undermines traditional American values" and to "neutralize [that bias's] impact on the American political scene".

And these guys:

S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda Lichter wrote The Media Elite in 1986, in which journalists' political views and voting record were compared to the general public.

Bob Kohn wrote Journalistic Fraud, a criticism of The New York Times.

John Stossel wrote Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media in 2004 about what he alleged was a liberal bias in the established media.

Bernard Goldberg wrote Bias in 2001, in which he claimed CBS, his former employer, had a liberal bias. In 2009, he published A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media.

Ann Coulter wrote Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right in 2002, in which she claimed the American television and print news had a widespread liberal bias.

Brian C. Anderson wrote South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias
Tim Groseclose wrote Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind.

Hey, Paul Ryan said this as recently as back in October:

"It goes without saying that there is definitely media bias. I think most people in the mainstream media are left of center and, therefore, they want a very left-of-center president versus a conservative president like Mitt Romney."

I'm fairly sure that Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch started Fox News in response to this critique. That's why they use the laughably inaccurate "fair and balanced" slogan.

Kirsten probably doesn't know all this because she lives in the Fox bubble where right wing conservatism represents everyone in the country. She needs to get out more. This "war" started long before Fox even existed. And it was the right that started it.

Fine lines on immigration reform

by digby

Josh Holland has a nice succinct rundown on the possible roadblocks to the immigration reform effort. It's a little bit more complicated than it seems at first:

[C]onventional wisdom may be underestimating the degree of fractiousness that defines the conservative movement today. Sean Hannity may see the partisan benefit in getting onboard, but Michelle Malkin is a better harbinger of the passions of the base – “Suicidal GOP senators join open-borders Dems for Shamnesty Redux,” screamed her headline.

Meanwhile, many members of the House GOP caucus are insulated from both popular and elite opinion. An analysis by the National Journal highlights the problem for a party struggling to connect with non-white voters:

Fully 131 of the 233 House Republicans represent districts that are more than 80 percent white. Not only have many of those members opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there are also no natural pressure groups for immigration reform in their districts. The Democratic Caucus, which is largely unified in support of some sort of immigration-reform proposal, has just 31 members from such very white districts.

And while the national party has embarked on a period of introspection forced by a crushing national loss, many House Republicans saw their individual victories as mandates to carry on. A number of members represent districts so safe — both politically and demographically — that they don’t need to step out on immigration reform. Some surely fear potential primaries more than standing in the way of a deal: State legislatures across the country are dotted with ambitious Republicans who voted for Arizona-style immigration-enforcement laws over the past few years.

If House Republicans demand that the so-called Hastert Rule prevail – meaning that Speaker John Boehner can't bring a bill to the floor without the support of a majority of Republicans – they could successfully block the effort, regardless of any heat they might take from leadership or the Washington Post's editorial page.

Perhaps more importantly there are the contentious issues of "border security" and "path to citizenship" both of which seem to make right wingers crazy. Nobody even knows what "border security" is supposed to be much less how to tell if we have achieved it. And "path to citizenship" still means amnesty to most Republicans.

Meanwhile, Josh points out that Marco Rubio is walking a very fine line. He could find himself in trouble with the base with this kind of talk. It will be very interesting to see how it works out for him. Rush really doesn't want to give up his preferred stereotype of the primitive Mexican peasant coming over the border to "drop a baby" so she can get some of that generous welfare they hand out like Halloween candy to all the non-English speakers who casually stroll into government offices crawling with police and federal authorities and demand them:

RUSH: Well, is that the reason that a majority of immigrants come to this country today? I know it used to be. They wanted to be Americans. They wanted to escape oppression. They wanted to become citizens of the greatest country on earth. I've seen a number of research, scholarly research data, which says that a vast majority of arriving immigrants today come here because they believe that government is the source of prosperity, and that's what they support. It's not about conservative principles and so forth, not the way it used to be. Are the Republicans stuck in the past in misjudging why the country is attractive to immigrants today?

Who knew that all the lazy Mexicans weren't lazy back in the day after all? And I wonder why they suddenly got that way? This "scholarly research" sounds fascinating. I'll have to look it up over at the VDARE site.

It's hard to know where this is going to go. The President seems to be doing the usual thing of starting out on the center right before negotiations begin, but maybe it will work out this time. Rubio has dopted the Democratic attitude that the Republicans will get big points for making the attempt and the nation --- specifically Latinos, I'd imagine --- will blame the other side for the failure. I think maybe Marco's confused. It's either going to be the Republicans walking away from a deal because it doesn't offer up enough punitive measures, "enforcement", "border security" and offers a much too easy path to citizenship or Democrats walking away because it's too punitive and makes a path to citizenship too difficult. I could be wrong, but I'm going to guess that Latinos will see themselves on the Democratic side of that argument. So, on a political level, this should be good for Democrats.

On a policy level, I'm not sure who it's good for. But it's unlikely to make things worse, so it's probably worth a try.

Also, too: Why are domestic workers ignored in immigration reform? (Well, they are mostly wimmins...)

Paranoia Runs Deep 

by tristero

If I were a conspiracy theorist -  I'm not, I'm someone who came out of JFK convinced that Oliver Stone had proved beyond a doubt that Oswald acted alone  - I would be getting the tinglies over this amazing little factoid:

[Both the young Richard Nixon and his wife-to-be Pat Ryan] had a role in the Whittier Community Players’ 1938 production of “The Dark Tower,” by George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott. Pat Ryan, a pretty twenty-five-year-old teacher at Whittier High, came to “The Dark Tower” with a smidgen of theatrical experience. Born in a Nevada mining-town shack and toughened by a hardworking childhood on a farm in Artesia, she had helped put herself through the University of Southern California with occasional jobs as a movie extra. But it wasn’t any real enthusiasm for the stage that brought her to the Community Players. As her daughter Julie explains in a biography of her mother, she went only because the assistant superintendent at Whittier High asked her to, and she “found it difficult to say no to a school administrator.” Nixon took to the whole business and several months later was back for more. At the urging of the Players’ director, he went on to appear in “Night of January 16th,” a melodrama by Ayn Rand in which the text itself chewed the scenery.

Tricky Dick Nixon and Ayn Rand sitting in a tree - and way back in the thirties, no less!

Coincidence? I do think so. But still...

US limping along while the Eurozone screams in pain

by digby

Oh good:

And now a real shock – the US economy shrank in the last three months of 2012.

Annualised GDP* fell by 0.1%, much worse than analyst expectations of a 1.0% rise. This is the first time that US GDP has fallen since the second quarter of 2009.

Dean Baker says it's not quite as bad as it sounds:

A sharp drop in government spending, heavily concentrated in defense,
coupled with a decline in inventories caused GDP to shrink at a 0.1
percent rate in the 4th quarter. Government spending fell at a 6.6
percent annual rate, driven by a 22.2 percent decline in defense
spending, subtracting 1.33 percentage points from the growth rate in
the quarter. A $40.3 drop in the rate of inventory accumulation
reduced growth by another 1.27 percentage points. Without these
factors, GDP would have growth a 2.5 percent annual rate in the

Pulling out these extraordinary factors, the GDP data were largely in
line with prior quarters. Consumption grew at a 2.2 percent annual
rate, driven mostly by 13.9 percent growth in durable goods purchases,
primarily cars. This number was inflated due to the effects of Sandy,
which destroyed many cars, forcing people to buy new ones. Growth in
this category will be substantially weaker and possibly negative in
the next quarter. On the other side, housing and utilities subtracted
0.47 percentage points from growth in the quarter. This is likely a
global warming effect with warmer than normal weather leading to less
use of heating in the quarter. (There was a comparable falloff in the
4th quarter of 2011 when we also had unusually warm weather.)

Basically we're still limping along. So, let's have some more austerity. It's working so well. Bring on the sequester!

Oh, and by the way, how's that austerity campaign working out in Spain?

I can hardly wait to see Paul Ryan's plan to eliminate the US deficit in 10 years. If he and Mitt were in charge I'd bet we could give Spain a run for its money. Instead we'll probably just tread water while wages fall and the 1% accumulate more of the nation's wealth more gradually. I'm pretty sure that's what we define as a big economic success these days.


The Church of the Austerians is Shocked by the Heresy of Krugman

by David Atkins

Paul Krugman went on Morning Joe and challenged the Grand Wisdom of the Austerians. Joe Scarborough went and had a conniption fit worthy of a medieval prelate being confronted with heliocentrism for the first time. In Scarborough's world, to believe that the deficit is anything less than a sword of Damocles is to be insane and unworthy of polite society. And yet, Krugman's understanding of the economy is widespread, basic Keynesianism that has been proven right time and time again.

How is it that Scarborough lives in such an ideological bubble that standard Keynesianism is so shocking? Greg Sargent explains:

That’s true, but it’s worth reflecting on why Scarborough believes Krugman’s views are so marginal and isolated. It gets back to what I’ve called the “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.” The relentless bipartisan focus on the deficit convinces voters to be worried about it, which in turn leads lawmakers to spend still more time talking about it and less time talking about the economy, a phenomenon that is self-reinforcing. This is exacerbated by some commentators and news orgs, who continue to treat the deficit scolds with a great deal of deference, while marginalizing the opinion that we should prioritize boosting the economy and job creation as a means of getting the country’s fiscal problems under control over time without savage spending cuts that will hurt a lot of people. Back in 2011 one study actually confirmed that newspapers were spending far more time talking about the deficit than the economy — at a time when the recovery was in serious peril.

The Morning Joe crew’s reaction to Krugman perfectly captures this phenomenon. They treated him as a pariah. According to Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski compared Krugman’s “head in the sand” approach to that of climate deniers. You can almost picture Krugman sent on a lonely march through the Village square, head hanging in shame, with “DD” — Deficit Denier — printed on his back in big scarlet letters.

Of course, these folks only reacted to Krugman this way because they were apparently unaware of all the prominent voices who agree with him, thanks to the aforementioned Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.
Krugman himself calls it incestuous amplification:
Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties. “Incestuous amplification” happen when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group. A fundamentally flawed notion – say, that the Germans can’t possibly attack though the Ardennes – becomes part of what everyone knows, where “everyone” means by definition only people who accept the flawed notion.

We saw that in the run-up to Iraq, where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.
Here at Hullabaloo we call it the Kool Kids Table, a pathway to power and social acceptance inaccessible to those who don't hold the "right" views.

Do I believe that everyone in Joe Scarborough's sphere of influence knows that Keynesianism is accurate and that Krugman is right, but chooses to say otherwise because it pads their bank account? Of course not. It takes a conspiracy theorist and an idiot to believe that. Washington is corrupt, but it's not that corrupt.

No, most of these people believe what they say. I don't doubt that Scarborough's perplexed shock is genuine. Just like I believe that most of the conservative theologians who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake believed that our solar system was the only one of its kind. After all, anyone who believed otherwise wasn't taken seriously and didn't advance in the Church hierarchy. Everyone who was anyone knew better, and since Bruno refused to accept the conventional wisdom he had to be shunned and ultimately silenced. Bruno's ideas were unserious and dangerous. The man had his head in the sand and couldn't see what seemed obvious to everyone else.

Perhaps one day the Church of the Austerians will belatedly apologize to Keynes, Krugman, Stiglitz and all the other great economists whose names have been dragged through the mud. But not likely soon, and not during their lifetimes. In our own sordid lifetimes, Popes Simpson and Bowles will continue to bestow favors upon their cardinals, giving communion only to the Kool Kids who deserve it.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Marriage For All, As Long As You're A Conservative

by tristero

If I get the gist of this guy's nearly incoherent argument, he's saying that he's now ok with gay marriage. And since he's no longer shilling for bigots,  he expects gays to join him and other conservative straights to sign up for a far right discussion group formed to "strengthen" marriage.

I guess when he's thinking of conservative straights who have strengthened the institution of marriage, he's got in mind the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and oh so many, many others.

Good luck with all that, pal.


Making the anti-austerity case isn't really that hard

by digby

Bob Borosage has a good piece of advice about how to deal with our coming austerity battles:

Mass unemployment, declining wages, and faltering growth suggests the United States has already suffered too much austerity, too soon. And yet the political debate is focused on how much more to impose. Washington imposed $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years in the 2011 “debt ceiling” deal. Washington stumbled past the year-end “fiscal cliff” with a deal that featured about $600 billion in tax hikes over ten years, including returning rates for the richest Americans back to Clinton era levels, and ending the payroll tax holiday, adding 2 percent to every working family’s payroll tax rate.

Now Congress has created an even more precarious fiscal peril to extort even greater cuts. Between now and the middle of May, we’ll hit the debt ceiling again, the automatic cut (sequester) of military and domestic budgets for the remainder of the year will kick in, and the temporary appropriations for government will expire. This sets up a new negotiation to forestall these ruinous calamities, now with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid directly targeted.

The leaders of both parties suggest that more deficit reduction is needed and that it would help the economy. Not surprisingly, polls suggest that most Americans believe that cutting spending will help the economy, not harm the recovery. The reality is that spending is not out of control, the deficit is already plummeting, and we should be focused on fixing the economy to make it work for working people, not on austerity driven by wrong-headed deficit hysteria.

Here’s how we can make the case against it.

Start with the struggles families are facing. The budget debate now underway in Washington, focused on “fixing the debt,” misses the point. Americans are still suffering record levels of long-term unemployment. Poverty has risen to a level unseen in generations. Inequality is at new extremes. Wages are at the lowest percentage of the economy on record, while corporate profits are at the highest. We should be focused on fixing our economy.

Challenge the austerity myth. And here’s the real deal. You can’t fix the economy by “fixing the debt.” Cutting spending now will only slow the recovery, put more people out of work – and as we have seen in Europe, end up adding to our debt burdens.

In fact, fixing the economy is the necessary first step in getting our books back in order. Our deficits are largely due to the recession, with the costs of unemployment and the lost revenue from the loss of jobs. In these conditions, the best deficit reduction program is to put people back to work.

Even the slow growth we’ve witnessed has begun to reduce our deficits as jobs have been created. Despite all the hysteria, deficits are down by 25% compared to the economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office. They are falling faster than anytime since the demobilization at the end of World War II. And our debt level is basically stabilized for the next decade. More austerity – whether balanced between taxes and spending as the president calls for or focused just on spending cuts as Republicans suggest – will only serve to slow growth, cost jobs, and impede the recovery needed to get our books back in shape.

Worse, the austerity debate is now focused on whacking at the basic pillars of family security – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The cuts under discussion – slowing the inflation adjustment for Social Security, raising the eligibility age for Medicare or the retirement age for Social Security — would harm the most vulnerable in our society.

Describe the way out. Fixing our economy requires a very different agenda than mindless cuts. We need to invest in areas vital to our future, and stop squandering resources on things we don’t need and can’t afford. End the wars abroad, bring our troops home, and invest the savings in rebuilding America – putting people to work while modernizing our decrepit infrastructure, from roads and rail to broadband and the electric grid.

End the subsidies and tax breaks to big oil companies and invest the resources in research and development to capture a lead in clean energy and the green industrial revolution sweeping the country.

Crack down on global tax havens, tax Wall Street speculation, tax investors at the same rate as workers, and use that income to provide every child with the opportunity to learn, from universal preschool to affordable college.

Lift the minimum wage, empower workers to gain a fair share of the profits they help to generate and curb perverse CEO compensation schemes that give them million-dollar incentives to ship jobs abroad.

And fix the sole source of our projected long-term debt problems – our broken health care system. Don’t cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Instead, take on the insurance and drug company lobbies that have made our health care cost nearly twice what the rest of the industrial world pays.

This sounds like common sense to me. And yet he might as well be speaking Swahili for all that you hear of this in the national dialog. There's time to change this if progressives and Democrats will make this case.

Personally, I would have thought that an election campaign would have been a good time to do it, but that ship sailed. But it's never too late.


Wherein I strongly agree with Chuck Grassley

by David Atkins

Sherrod Brown and Chuck Grassley want answers on too-big-to-fail and too-big-to-jail banks:

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter today to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder questioning whether the “too big to fail” status of certain Wall Street megabanks undermines the ability of the federal government to prosecute wrongdoing and impose appropriate penalties. They also requested that the Justice Department disclose the identities of parties with whom prosecutors consult about the appropriate level of penalties for financial institutions.

“Wall Street megabanks aren’t just too big to fail, they’re increasingly too big to jail,” Brown said. “Already, the nation’s six largest megabanks enjoy what amounts to taxpayer-funded guarantee by virtue of their size, making it harder for regional and community banks to compete. Now, these megabanks may also enjoy some impunity when they violate the law by laundering money or illegally foreclosing on homeowners. Wall Street should pay the full price of its wrongdoing, not pass the costs along to taxpayers.”

“The best deterrent to crime is to put people in prison,” Grassley said. “That includes those at powerful banks and corporations. Unfortunately, we’ve seen little willingness to charge these individuals criminally. The public deserves an explanation of how the Justice Department arrives at these decisions.”
I think we'd all like to know. The American people would like to know. The banking cartel has become immune from prosecution because they collude to threaten our economy with destruction if we so much as look at them askance.

But it's an empty threat. They're not a force of nature. They exist because of laws on the books. And while it might be a little messy, the various pensions, bonds and investments they hold on their books can be transferred to a variety of smaller, more manageable institutions.

Too big to fail is still too big to exist.

Heckling the mourners

by digby

Usually, this sort of thing is confined to Fred Phelps and his constitutionally protected band of psychopaths. But apparently it's become socially acceptable for everyone these days:

“He was my son, he was my buddy, he was my best friend,” testified Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in December before a Connecticut gun violence prevention hearing Tuesday. “And I never thought I’d be speaking like this and asking for changes on my son’s behalf. He’s my only son, he’s my only family.”

As Heslin asked legislators to tighten restrictions, gun rights activist interrupted his testimony, yelling “our rights will not be infringed!” and “Second Amendment!” Local news sources reported that there were nearly a dozen hecklers, who were quickly silenced.

Heslin continued to ask why anyone needs assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

“We’re not living in the Wild Wild West, we have the strongest military in the world we’re not living in a third world. We don’t need to defend our homes with weapons like that. I just hope everyone in this room can support change—ban assault weapons and high capacity clips and magazines. That’s a step in the right direction.”

Heslin’s son, Jesse Lewis, died after trying to flee the gunman with other students.

“Jesse died bravely trying to lead other children to safety. He ran into the hallway to help when he heard the shots. In our hearts we already knew because that was the way he lived his life—fearless, full of courage and strength,” his family said in a Legacy.com obituary.
If only six year old Jesse had been armed. Sure, a few more bodies would have probably fallen, but that's the price we pay for freedom.

Another father of a 6-year-old boy murdered in the shootings fought back tears as he told lawmakers to make any changes in gun laws simple.

"I don't believe it's so complex," said Mark Mattioli, whose son, James, was among the first-graders slaughtered on Dec.14.

"We need civility across our nation," said Mattioli, who appeared with his wife, Cindy, before the legislative panel. "The problem is not gun laws. It's a lack of civility."

Heckling the father of a boy who'd been killed with semi-automatic weapon fire by evoking the 2nd Amendment is more than uncivil. It's indecent. So yeah, civility is a problem. But so is the gun culture that makes it impossible for adherents to understand that their right to own certain kinds of guns is coming into direct conflict with an innocent little boy's right not to be mowed down in the middle of his first grade classroom. I would think that any human being with some basic empathy would at least be decent enough to be silent as his mourning father was testifying.

On the other hand, this callous behavior is hardly confined to gun owners. There does seem to be a major empathy gap in our culture at large, doesn't there? It's tempting to ascribe it to the bad economy, but unless they were forgetting how it really was, I recall my parents and grandparents always saying that the Great Depression brought out the best in everyone, not the worst. So, something's different this time. (It does make you think about the behavior of some of the Europeans during their time of economic stress in that era. I suppose incivility is one way to describe how they treated one another.)

I would be more sympathetic to these fanatical gun owners if they were truly in danger of losing their right to bear arms. But nobody's threatening that. All anyone's saying is that gunmen shouldn't have the capacity to kill large numbers of people in the matter of a few seconds with an easily obtainable weapon. After all, nobody's saying they shouldn't have the right to easily buy a handgun and kill children one by one. We're all good with that. The only thing that anyone's trying to do is make it hard for one murderer to obtain an obscenely high body count in one single event. That just doesn't seem like too much to ask to me.


No thanks, we don't need another pro-Wall Street, pro-gun proliferation Representative

by digby

From Howie:
Residents of the IL-02-- Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old Southland seat-- will decide who's going to Congress on February 26, 4 weeks from today. And although there are nearly two dozen candidates running, polls show only two in the double-digits, progressive state Senator Toi Hutchinson and self-described "conservative Democrat," ex-Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson. They're neck and neck but Chicagoland voters who haven't been paying close enough attention to see the difference got a big jolt from a headline in the Chicago Tribune yesterday: Halvorson Says She Won't Join Democrats On Assault Weapons Ban.

It certainly isn't the first time Halvorson has been more in tune with right-wing Republicans than with her own party and with the constituents who once sent her to Washington. She was one of only 27 right-wing Democrats who opposed Wall Street reform and voted against Dodd-Frank, almost all of whom, including Halvorson, were subsequently defeated when Democratic voters boycotted their reelection bids. She worked with the GOP to water down the tough provisions that were meant to protect investors and bank customers from the financial predators who have nurtured her own tawdry political career.

Halvorson is also a darling of the NRA. She refuses to back President Obama's common sense, moderate approach to putting an end to the NRA's reign of terror in American streets and schools. A few weeks ago Senator Hutchinson did a guest post at Down With Tyranny laying out why she's sponsoring a ban on assault weapons in the Illinois legislature and why she backs President Obama's approach:
There is no question that in America we have a problem with guns. The Newtown tragedy, the Aurora shooting, Columbine. These are places-- events-- that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives. And for me there is no question that there are certain kinds of weapons soldiers should have, and other kinds that civilians should be allowed to own.
As a State Senator I represent a district that straddles the landscape of South Suburban Chicago and the rural counties of Will and Kankakee. And if I win this race for Congress in the 2nd district, I will cover even more rural areas. I have a lot of constituents that are hunters. These people firmly believe that they should always be allowed to own guns that they need for recreation, and I’m with them. But I know, and they agree, that no one needs an AR-15 to bring down a deer. And no one needs a 100-round magazine on that semi-automatic for recreation or self-defense. So while I always will stand up for the hunters in my district, I also am a cosponsor on two bills in Illinois that would outlaw assault weapons and high capacity clips.

Halvorson is the only serious candidate who refuses to back the President and the Democratic Party-- and the public's grassroots public opinion-- on an assault weapons ban. She's sticking with the NRA. She read off a list of Republican Party talking points written by the NRA at a candidates forum on Sunday at Trinity United Church of Christ on W. 95th St. "For her part," reports The Tribune, "Halvorson was adamant against looking at a gun ban. 'I refuse to take a look at these wide ranging gun bans and pass one more law against a law abiding citizen until there is something done against those who get their guns illegally or criminal,' she said after the forum."

She doesn't sound anything like Toi Hutchinson:
"Many across the country were hopeful that the NRA would moderate their position after the profound tragedy we experienced at Newtown, but unfortunately their prescription for the epidemic of gun violence that has gripped our country has been not only distributing more guns, but also letting them into our schools. Their response angered me. This kind of ideological, single-minded approach to our problems isn’t acceptable to me and it’s why I am a co-sponsor on legislation here in Illinois to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines."
Blue America is eager to help Toi respond to the barrage of misleading campaign mail Halvorson has been sending out. We have four weeks to make a difference. Please consider making a contribution at the Blue America special election page here.

There are lots of routes to change in this nation's politics.  And I applaud every single person who is engaged on what ever level they are engaged. Blue America is in the business of trying to make the US House of Representatives more progressive one seat at a time.

The political establishment is, naturally, backing the pro-Wall Street, pro-gun conservadem because well, she's one of them. This is the seat that was held by Jesse Jackson Jr.  To see it fall into the hands of a New Dem would be a setback.   Please help if you can. 

This is Toi:

Mainstreamed Racists 

by tristero

Given all the nonsense we hear about living in a post-racial society, one would think that anyone with an overtly racist resume would have a lot of difficulty these days getting close to the mainstream of American discourse.

Not so.
With these positions, Robinson and Taylor are at the center of mainstream conservative infrastructure. But each also sits on the three-person board of America's PAC, a far-right outfit that in 2004 gave $5,000 to the Charles Martel Society, a white nationalist group, according to the PAC's filing with the Federal Election Commission.

No, the sequester is not really going to take place (And Ryan knows it)

by digby

I hope everyone understands that when Paul Ryan said they were going to leave "entitlements" alone and the sequester would take place that it was a form of political trash talk before the negotiation, right? Nobody really believes that either side will allow defense cuts of that magnitude to take place. Nobody. And the domestic cuts would cause havoc too, so they aren't going to do that either. I'm sure there are a few Tea Partiers who would be fine with all that, but they no longer have the hold on the caucus John Boehner might have once wanted us to think they do.

But just because the looniest Tea Partiers aren't in charge doesn't mean the Republican majority in general is suddenly a nice bunch of Rockefeller Republicans who are eager to put all this ill will behind them and work with the Democrats to preserve the welfare state. There all nuts you know, even if they aren't all kamikazes.

I'm going to take a wild leap here and guess that Ryan said they wouldn't touch Social Security and Medicare because they're hoping they can get the White House to be the ones to put it on the table (again) in the negotiations.  They know by now that this is likely to divide the Democrats and they are seeking a negotiating advantage.

Here's a fascinating little discussion about all that from The Cycle on MSNBC yesterday:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Kornacki: It's hard to believe but the inauguration was just a week ago. In that speech, the president staunchly defended medicaid, medicare and social security and at least made it seem like they would be safe in the next round of debt talks but a month ago he was singing a different tune and hinted at makes cuts to medicare. That move could lead to some Democratic intraparty fighting like we have seen within the GOP recently. Which Obama will show up for the state of the union and more importantly the spending battle ahead? Here to help us make sense of it, Buzzfeed contributor, Blake Zeff. You have been writing a lot about this. I guess what i'm trying to make sense of right now is where Obama is sort of strategically on this. Two summers ago during the debt ceiling talks, there was signals of the White House to raise the eligible age of Medicare like two months ago signals ago CPI change is good and then Paul Ryan saying I don't think there's anything and going to accept the sequester, you know, which touches defense and not the social safety net at all and that's it. Have we entered a new face and Medicare and Medicaid off the table? What do you think? Zeff: I wouldn't be so sure. You're right the president is all over the map on this and yesterday there's an interview with him in The New Republic that might have been code words and wanted the talk about judicious reforms to Medicare and make changes to Social Security and how he's willing to buck what he called I think "the ideological wing" of the party, this kind of a thing. And so as you mentioned, he's many times before have been willing to even interested in floating changes to Medicare and Medicaid and now to think he's not going to is a stretch at this point. Krystal Ball: Have Republicans kind of missed they should moment, though? because as Steve is saying, the president seemed to be willing to offer up entitlement reforms and during the fiscal cliff negotiations, there was an offer of reduced Social Security benefits. Have Republicans kind of missed their chance to really force reforms on the democratic party? have they saved news a sense? Zeff: It's a good way of putting it. If that's what happens, that would be the cause. Republicans had overreached or overplayed their hand and certainly possible but I do think that, you know, I just want to be clear. Obama is on the record many times over in the past saying he supports changes to the programs including change CPI as Steve mentioned and raising the age for Medicare and so it would not surprise me at all to see these things come back in talks over the next month or two.

Neither would I. And I'm fairly sure Paul Ryan wouldn't be surprised either. Ryan is obviously going to be a big player in the next negotiations. He's been charged with writing the Republican Dream Budget that erases the deficit within 10 years. Whatever they are saying right now is meaningful only to the extent that it positions them in public opinion and among the elite Villagers.

Crimes against history are crimes against humanity

by David Atkins

News like this makes my blood boil:

Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town's mayor, in an incident he described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage.

Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. They also burned down the town hall, the governor's office and an MP's residence, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.

French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town's airport. But they appear to have got there too late to rescue the leather-bound manuscripts that were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa's rich medieval history. The rebels attacked the airport on Sunday, the mayor said.

"It's true. They have burned the manuscripts," Cissé said in a phone interview from Mali's capital, Bamako. "They also burned down several buildings. There was one guy who was celebrating in the street and they killed him."

He added: "This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali's heritage but the world's heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north."
There are many on the left who argue that the modern Islamist movement is nothing more than the latest reaction to a combination of Western imperialism and domestic corruption. But that's simply not the case. The ideology that drives these people is criminal on a historic scale.

The people of Afghanistan are a long-suffering lot. They've been conquered, ravaged, reconquered, re-ravaged, and been the victims of savagery and imperialism of all kinds for centuries. But through it all the Bamiyan Buddhas stood tall for a full one thousand five hundred years. The Buddhas continued to stand even during the predations of Genghis Khan. The same Mongols, those most brutal and awful murderers in human history who committed one of the greatest crimes against humanity when they besieged Baghdad, slaughtered its people and destroyed its library such that the Euphrates ran black with ink, still managed to leave the Bamiyan Buddhas intact. They survived the regime of the Persian Saffavids, and remained to overlook Timur's Afghan Empire. They watched in silence as the Brits marched in and out. They survived the survived the Soviet incursion, and the brutal Afghan civil war that followed. All of the imperial conquerors and the subsequent resurgences of local power respected them and their contribution to history. It was understood that imperial powers, religious affiliations and ethnic feuds were ultimately transient. But history...history is permanent. History is larger than the individuals walking the stage. History is not to be tampered with.

But not the Taliban.

Once the Mongols left Baghdad, its treasures were secured in various ways and eventually placed into museums. Baghdad was conquered and reconquered by various forces in the years that followed. But it was not until the United States failed to secure the museums and the religious extremists began their looting that the priceless objects were lost to humanity, probably forever.

And now the latest casualty of this new brand of extremist conservative religious totalitarianism is the library at Timbuktu, which stood for 800 years of war, exploitation and ideological change. Until today.

There are those who will mock me for caring more about dusty old books and statues than about real people. Fine. But generations come and go. People live, die and are largely forgotten. History is forever. All of humanity is the same species, and our species has survived literally countless wars, ethnic cleansings, incursions and imperial aggressions. But once an irreplaceable artifact of history is gone, it's gone forever. Thanks largely to a similarly barbaric cleansing on history on the part of early Christians, the world has lost 107 of Livy's 142 books of Roman history, as well as Aristotle's On Comedy--both losses of enormous consequence. These are crucial pieces of the human experience we will never recover.

There is an unforgettable scene in Raiders of the Last Ark in which Indiana Jones, holding a rocket launcher, threatens the Nazi regiment carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The villainous archaeologist leading the Nazis, Belloq, says to Jones: "All your life has been spent in pursuit of archaeological relics. Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see it opened as well as I. Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This, this *is* history." That reminder was enough to make even Indiana Jones allow himself to be captured, though it meant almost certain death.

Belloq is right. The Nazis, evil as they were, will ultimately have amounted to little more than a footnote in the pages of history. For Jones to have destroyed the Ark in order to save his girlfriend or punish a few Nazis would not just have been shortsighted or contrary to his profession. It would have been an epic crime against humanity. Nothing was worth the destruction of that artifact: not Jones, not Marion, and not that temporary tug of war between Allied and Axis powers.

There is something deeply barbaric about casually, intentionally destroying humanity's heritage. Something terrifying, and something new to this world in the modern era. Something more inherently barbaric than run-of-the-mill murder or even mass murder.

It's a big problem, one that transcends the usual Hegelian dialectic of imperialism and nativism. The loss of the libraries at Timbuktu will resonate across the centuries long after 99.99% of the people alive on this planet are gone and forgotten.



Monday, January 28, 2013

QOTD: Henry Blodget

by digby

A rich man goes slumming in coach:

I Was Quite Surprised By Some Things On My American Airlines International 'Economy Class' Flight

Totally hilarious:
I got a free pillow. And a free blanket. I didn't necessarily expect either of those. The blanket came in a plastic pouch, and it didn't obviously have hair or any other foreign matter on it.

On a 9 hour flight, you're going to want to sleep. But when you tilt your chair back the 3 inches your chair tilts back, there's no room for your legs. You can shift your knees left and invade your neighbor's space. Or you can shift them right and try to squeeze them between the next seat up and the fuselage. Or you can try the "knee up" technique.But nothing is going to be comfortable. The traveler in the next row up appears to have developed a technique that involves jamming one's head between the window and seat ahead. Maybe I'll try that one next time.

Click over for more. It has pictures. Like this:

In the end he feels it was just great. He even got a free cookie!


Poor Rush carries a very heavy burden

by digby

He's frightened and alone:

Anyway, one of Marco Rubio's points, folks, essentially is that Obama's already given us de facto amnesty anyway. He did it with the children of illegal immigrants via the executive order back last year. It was prior to the election. I mean, thanks to Obama you have amnesty unless you get convicted of a major felony. So I don't know that there's any stopping this. It's up to me and Fox News, and I don't think Fox News is that invested in this. I don't think there's any Republican opposition to this of any majority consequence or size. We'll have to wait and see and find out. But this is one of those, just keep plugging away, plugging away, plugging away until you finally beat down the opposition.
After Obama's first election you'll recall that Rush was out there all by himself as well, saying that he wanted Obama to fail. The Villagers gasped, the conservative politicians got nervous.

And then came CPAC:
RUSH AT CPAC: This notion that I want the president to fail, folks, this shows you a sign of the problem we've got. That's nothing more than common sense, and to not be able to say it? Why in the world do I want what we've just described, rampant government growth, indebtedness that has -- wealth that's not even been created yet is being spent. What is in this? What possibly is in this that any of us want to succeed? Did the Democrats want the war in Iraq to fail? Well, they certainly did. And they not only wanted the war in Iraq to fail, they proclaimed it a failure. There's Dingy Harry Reid waving the white flag, "This war is lost."

CROWD: (cheers and applause)

RUSH AT CPAC: They called General Petraeus a liar before he even testified.

CROWD: (booing)

RUSH AT CPAC: Mrs. Clinton --

CROWD: (crowd booing)

RUSH AT CPAC: -- said she had to suspend, willingly suspend disbelief or whatever to listen to Petraeus. We're in the process of winning the war. The last thing they wanted was to win. They hoped George Bush failed. So where is it, what is so strange about being honest and saying I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed?

CROWD: (Cheers and applause.)

There are a lot of things that fueled the Tea Party, from Ron Paul to Rick Santelli to Fox News. But this CPAC cris de coeur from Limbaugh had a galvanizing effect on the hardcore right. They stopped being defensive that very day.

This little whine from this morning is a pathetic sequel to that performance, I'm afraid. If you read the whole transcript you'll see that he thinks everybody in the party is being stupid because nobody ever said anything about deportation and that it's all a big poopyhead Democratic plot. Also too, poor Sarah Palin.

I suppose it's possible that he'll make a big comeback or the legislation will fail and he'll take credit for doing it. But at this moment he just sounds like a big old bawling baby.

Do exactly the opposite of what your gut tells you

by David Atkins

Can we all just admit that austerity doesn't work?

The U.K. economy shrank more than expected at the end of last year, leaving Britain at risk of its third recession in four years and putting more pressure on the government to ease austerity measures as it tries to turn around the country's economy.

Official figures published Friday showed gross domestic product fell 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared with the third, due largely to a drop in mining, quarrying and manufacturing output. The consensus among many economists was that the economy would shrink by 0.1% on a quarterly basis. Annual economic growth was flat, even as nations such as the U.S. and Germany show signs of growth.

Obviously, government spending cannot increase ad infinitum and deficits can have dramatic negative consequences if allowed to spin violently out of control. But the very last time to curb either is in a recession. This is a point Paul Krugman has made again and again, but it doesn't seem to resonate.

Human beings are simple-minded creatures. Even--and especially--those at the elite levels of finance and government. Moving beyond simple venal and greedy efforts by a great many elites to use deficits as an excuse to bolster their own obscene wealth, there are a significant number of Very Serious People who do truly believe in the austerity nonsense as beneficial for an economy to avert long-term collapse.

The rapacious greedheads cannot be reached, of course. But to those ill-informed but well-intentioned people whose concern about deficits comes from heartfelt good will, here's the deal: when it comes to deficits and government spending, the key is to do the opposite of what your gut tells you.

When there's a recession, contraction in GDP will cause deficits to soar. Your gut will tell you to panic and contract spending. This is in fact the opposite of what you should do. It is in recession that spending must increase and some demand-focused taxes be cut, even if it seems wildly irresponsible in the face of growing deficits.

When there's an expansion, by contrast, your gut will tell you to let it all hang out, give people their money back in the form of tax cuts, and ride that rocket to maximum prosperity. Again, this is the opposite of what you should do. It is precisely in boom times that excess spending should be trimmed and taxes be raised, in order to curb deficits that will otherwise be potentially problematic during the next recession.

This is called countercyclical fiscal policy. You should have learned this in Economics 101, but forgotten it when your Chicago School professor declared it hogwash in the era of Milton Friedman and permanent growth. Countercyclical fiscal policy is correct. Austerity during recession doesn't work. Feeding the bubble monster during periods of growth is disastrous.

Basically, you should do pretty much the opposite of what your gut and everyone from the University of Chicago economics department tells you to. Unlearn what you have learned. And until you do, please stop jabbering on the teevee. It's unbecoming, and makes you just a tool of the rapacious greedheads who do know better and are using deceptively intuitive procyclical arguments to line their own pockets.

Barack and Hillary sittin' in a tree

by digby

I'm watching people on MSNBC deconstruct the Obama Hillary interview on 60 Minutes last night and marveling that they are pretending to be so much alike and share so many viewpoints. There are also many snarky exchanges about the 08 primary election saying that it can't possibly be true because they were so horribly nasty to one another, replete with tired references to "you're likeable enough" and implying that Barack had to do this to keep the crazy "ruthless" bitch close so she doesn't ruin his legacy. Oy vey.

As someone who believed in '08 that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between them, (and still have the scars to prove that it was a very unpopular position) the interview was totally unsurprising. This is absolutely correct:
Secretary Clinton: ... after I ended my campaign, I immediately did everything I could to help the president get elected, because despite our hard-fought primary, we had such agreement on what needed to be done for our country.

President Obama: Made for tough debates, by the way, 'cause we--

Secretary Clinton: It did. We could never figure out what we were different on. Yeah, we worked at that pretty hard.

'08 was nasty not because they were so different but because they were so much alike. Their most ardent followers had to find reasons to justify their passion. But the fact is that they have always been intellectually sympatico, pragmatic technocrat types and both ran as moderate Democrats. On policy, I totally believe Hillary when she says they could often communicate wordlessly. If there was any difference, I believe that Clinton might have been less naive about the possibility of bipartisan comity --- but then Obama had much less baggage, which is very meaningful in that town full of vipers.

I don't know who's going to run in 2016 and at this moment I could not care less. I would love to back a hardcore progressive woman in the primaries at least, but who knows if that chance will come? I do know that if the B list Village prattlers haven't come any farther than this in the last four years, I really hope Clinton doesn't run at all. It's clear that whatever it is that makes people turn into slobbering sexists when it comes to her is still just lurking under the surface. Maybe someone else wouldn't flip that switch.

Thanking Jeff Merkley

by digby

I wish more activist groups did this sort of thing. You simply have to reward effort in politics and let politicians know that they have support for their progressive initiatives even if they ultimately fail. Just beating up everyone all the time has limited efficacy after a while, especially in the liberal realm.

Last week's filibuster reform deal fell far short of Sen. Jeff Merkley's expectations, but the Oregon Democrat's efforts to end the silent filibuster have not been left without reward.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) on Monday said it has raised over $30,000 for Merkley's 2014 reelection campaign. The fundraising was based on an email touting the senator's refusal to back down from demands for more far-reaching reforms to the Senate rules, even when faced with opposition within his own caucus.

Merkley is one of the serious, strategic liberals in the congress who isn't afraid to step up. It's important to back him and I congratulate the PCCC for doing it. 30k is a big chunk of change even in this big money environment and it means something that it came from small donors. Good for them.

Update: And if you would like to give him a little boost through our Blue America page, please feel free to do so. We've been big fans and backers since his first run and we're looking forward to doing so again in 2014.

Ten years ago today

by digby

Jonathan over at Michael Moore's place commemorates an anniversary that nobody else will:

Bush's Greatest Lie Ten Years Ago Today:

Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come.

Nice words. Americans love to believe they've been forced into doing things they wanted to do all along. But Bush and his cronies had been itching to invade Iraq for a very long time:

Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.

"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow.

And we all know about the dreams of Iraqi demaaahcracy from the neo-cons at the PNAC, most of whom were in the Bush administration. It was baked in the yellow cake from the beginning. 9/11 just gave them the pretext.

As I read this I was reminded of David's piece below and my own oft-stated contention that President Obama and his team believe their own hype. Perhaps it's a function of necessary ego for anyone who wants to wield this massive power to have such delusions of grandeur.

And honestly, it's not just the presidents themselves. Bush's followers were thrilled at "the opportunity to invade" and I don't think they would have resisted him whether 9/11 had happened or not. Vietnam Syndrome haunted the American right and they were eager to vanquish it once and for all --- under a Republican president, of course. And I recall a friend of mine saying before the 2008 election that Obama had to be elected because he was the only man in the country who could change Washington and bring the country together. Political delusions come in all shapes and sizes.