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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Uhm, I am Marshal McLuhan

by digby

White on white

by digby

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
In his most recent Gawker piece, Cord Jefferson responded to the deluge of right-wing attacks on African-American communities with satire: “White-on-white violence is a menace to white communities across the country, and yet you never hear white leaders like Pastor Joel Osteen, Bill O’Reilly, or Hillary Clinton take a firm stance against the scourge.” Jefferson continued the joke on an All In conversation Tuesday night:
“I used to live in New York City and would occasionally go to Hoboken, New Jersey, St. Patrick’s Day Parade. And there were so many young white men there vomiting in the streets, urinating in the streets, getting in fist fights in the streets. It was a sight to be seen,” said Jefferson of what he has declared the “white-on-white crime scourge.”
Jefferson, Gawker’s West Coast editor, said he wasn’t playing the race card. “Anytime you tell the truth, there’s going to be those people that come out and think that you’re doing it for some insidious reason and say that you’re a racist,” declared Jefferson. ”My best friend is white, my mother is actually white, my prom date in high school was actually a white woman. She was very white actually, she used to ride horses and do that whole thing.”
He's right. We white people need to speak out. Why right in my own backyard, this happened just the other night:
Huntington Beach is cleaning up Monday morning after a fight broke out following the U.S. Open of Surfing, leading to a two-hour confrontation between police and unruly beachgoers. Eight people were arrested and several officers were injured Sunday night. 
Police in riot gear used tear gas and nonlethal rounds to disperse the crowd, which tipped over portable toilets and smashed storefront windows. Video of the rioting shows people in the crowd rocking city vehicles while others jump-kicking or shoving portable toilets onto their sides. 
Kyle Calder told KTLA the melee started when someone was hit with a ketchup bottle from a second-story restaurant. The person threw the bottle into the crowd, triggering a fight that expanded into a small-scale riot. “That’s when the cops came and everything went mayhem from there,” Calder said.
Just look at all those white people hurting each other and destroying their own neighborhood.  Those young white males just have no respect for authority. It's a culture thing.

A quick, visual look at what's wrong with America's economy

by David Atkins

Henry Blodget at Business Insider has a fantastic short piece with four graphs that demonstrate the sickness at the heart of the American economy. Here are the first two:

CHART ONE: Corporate profits and profit margins are at an all-time high. American companies are making more money and more per dollar of sales than they ever have before. Full stop.

And here's chart #2:

CHART TWO: Wages as a percent of the economy are at all-time low. Why are corporate profits so high? One reason is that companies are paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP. And that, in turn, is one reason the economy is so weak: Those "wages" represent spending power for American consumers. And American consumer spending is "revenue" for other companies. So our profit maximization obsession is actually starving the rest of the economy of revenue growth.

Head to the article to see the other two, dealing with employment rates and labor share of national income. It's pretty obvious what's wrong. The solutions aren't complicated or scary. The only obstacle is obscenely rich people who don't want to give up any of their stolen loot.

Dday and the Real Housewives of New Jersey

by digby

Here's a must-read by dday in the New Republic about the Real Housewives of New Jersey. No really. It's about the government's zealous pursuit of one of the reality show stars and her husband for lying on their loan applications. Never let it be said that the Obama administration isn't pursuing mortgage fraud.

Yes, what they did was wrong. But when you read the article you'll see that they were doing was just part of the system the Big Banks had in place. You remember the banks, don't you? The institutions and their corporate leaders which the Attorney General publicly said couldn't be punished because the system would be wrecked? Yeah, they can't be touched.  But Teresa and Joe going to jail for 20 years will certainly teach everybody a lesson: only the little guys or the easy pickings ever have to pay a price. It's the new American credo.

QOTD: David Roberts

by digby

The first step in WLDPS [White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome] therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me! We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.

Read the whole thing. You won't regret it.

And, by the way, the same rule applies to white liberal women privilege too. I've been there more than once over the years with people of color, LGBT, those with physical and mental disabilities and even other women. All you can do is admit that you were wrong and learn from the error. It is an ongoing process.

Good for Roberts for writing it out. I have apologized privately to those I insulted, but rarely in public. I should have done that more often.


Hillary's making them crazy already

by digby

As Atrios says, good luck explaining all this to the kids:

None of the 90s scandals made any sense at all even at the time, unless there was something nefarious about losing money on a land deal or you were pretty sure Hillary Clinton had her friend murdered. 
Still it wouldn't surprise me if the NYT brings the Whitewater band back together. What's Jeff Gerth up to these days?
Fox is already going all in on the Hillary bashing in the crudest manner possible. Here's John Amato:
Fox News sinks to another low for this segment from Tuesday's America Live which discusses media bias over some Hillary Clinton mini-series and documentary being made. WMAL Radio host Chris Plante lowered himself into the Louis Gohmert chamber of shame with this.

Plante: Look, we know what their biases are and we know what the outcome is going to be as Howard said. Casting Diane Lane, the lovely Diane Lane as Hillary Clinton is enough of a tip off as to where this is going to go. 
You know personally I would cast Phillip Seymour Hoffman to play Hillary Clinton.
Plante is the type of vile conservative Fox obviously loves because of the bilge that pours out of his mouth when he discusses anyone left of center. Any liberal pundit who displayed this type of behavior on air would never get on TV again. By the way, he was so proud of this that it's on their website. Fox News is freaking out over the proposed plans that NBC and CNN are developing films around Hillary Clinton. 
Funny how they never cried like this for the Hillary propaganda movie that was made by Citizens United. In fact, they were promoting it endlessly. And we know how the Supreme Court ruled on that movie. It's destroyed our campaign finance laws. [...]
Kurtz: Everybody knows Hollywood, quote, 'Hollywood loves Hillary Rodham Clinton,' but I don't three years before a presidential election anything in the works on Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or any of the other names that you mentioned, so there is this view that feeds the narrative that a lot of people already have, Hillary has this special status both in the culture and the media culture and if there is no film on any of the prospective Republican presidential candidates, then I think that does tilt the scale. 
Megyn Cut Out: ...but we know it's going to start after that point (1998) Do you think they get into Benghazi, I mean it's been such a..I mean a US Ambassador died on her watch as SOS. Is it going to be addressed? Is there a way to address it that in some way portrays her in a positive light, that she did what she could? Plante: Well of course, that's the value of propaganda. Of course she's going to be the innocent victim, the heroic figure. She's already been declared one of our greatest SOS ever with no accomplishments to her name, quite literally as SOS, other than the Benghazi cover-up so of course it's going to make it, paint her the person who tried to save them and worked late into the night. That 3am phone call. This is a whitewash before you begin and the CNN piece, Charles Ferguson is famous for two films. One is a hatchet job on the Bush administration and the Iraq war and the other is a hatchet job on Wall Street and capitalism that he did with Matt Damon. Those are his credentials...
This fool obviously knows nothing about Ferguson, who is a multimillionaire software entrepreneur who won an Academy Award for Inside Job about the financial collapse. And he was an early Iraq war supporter, but was so disillusioned by it that he helped fund research and the movie called No End In Sight, about how disastrous George W. Bush handled the initial occupation of Iraq, which then broke out into an uncontrollable civil war.
Read Amato's entire piece for the full rundown. It's going to be a very ugly campaign if Clinton decides to run. They just can't help themselves.

And Howie Kurtz is fitting in just perfectly, isn't he?

When a superpower loses it

by digby

In this must-read from James Fallows he picks up on a column over the week-end by academic John Naughton which lays out one of the major ramifications of our surveillance overkill: the fact that the rest of the world is no longer going to trust American internet companies to guard their data. I don't think we understand quite yet how that's going to play out but it isn't good. The concept of the free internet is at stake and our government pretty much ran around like a bunch of cowboys without considering the fallout of their own parochial, paranoid needs of the moment.

He concludes:
The real threat from terrorism has never been the damage it does directly, even through attacks as horrific as those on 9/11. The more serious threat comes from the over-reaction, the collective insanity or the simple loss of perspective, that an attack evokes. Our government's ambition to do everything possible to keep us "safe" has put us at jeopardy in other ways.

One more note: it is also worth emphasizing that this damage was not done by Edward Snowden, except in an incidental and instrumental sense. The damage comes from the policies themselves, just as the lasting damage from Abu Ghraib came not from the leaked photos but from the abuse they portrayed. [My emphasis. And thank you James Fallows, for saying it.]

What governments do eventually becomes known. Eventual disclosure is likely when a program involves even a handful of people. (Latest case in point: Seal Team Six.) It is certain when an effort stretches over many years, entails contracts worth billions of dollars, and requires the efforts of tens of thousands of people -- any one of whom, as we've seen from Snowden, may at any point decide to tell what he knows.

In launching such an effort, a government must assume as a given that what it is doing will become known, and then calculate whether it will still seem "worthwhile" when it does. Based on what we've seen so far, Prism would have failed that test.

So much of our government's reaction to 9/11 can be summed up with one image of our president at the time, standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn, promising retribution. I realize that was very satisfying to many people. It's human. And maybe the nation needed to hear it.

But the irrational decision to invade Iraq dispelled any notion I had that this was merely a performance and that a more thoughtful, considered analysis of how to respond was taking place in the corridors of power. All the literature on the decision process since then has born that out. Some, like Cheney and Wolfowitz, were always crazy and saw their opportunity to advance their crazy cause. Others were just afraid either of the terrorists or being blamed if another terrorist attack took place. The result was that our government lost its collective mind. And it took on an ethos within its national security apparatus that institutionalized that insanity.

So here we are, 12 years later with what looks to me like a runaway surveillance operation run by a power mongering General (not to mention the various CIA operations and Dirty Wars) --- and all of it blessed by a Democratic president. We're not getting any saner. And the blowback hasn't even really begun yet.

Your Big Mac would cost shockingly little extra if McDonalds workers were paid $15/hour

by David Atkins

Update: it appears that the information in the original source may have been erroneous. Apologies for taking the numbers at face value, as the story had appeared in HuffPo, Business Insider and other places.

A business student crunches the numbers on what a Big Mac would cost if McDonalds workers were actually paid a living wage of $15 an hour. The answer? Not that much more:

Arnobio Morelix, a student at the University of Kansas School of Business, found himself asking the same question, so he did some financial modeling based on McDonald’s annual reports and data sets submitted to investors.

Morelix’s take: If McDonald’s workers were paid the $15 they’re demanding, the cost of a Big Mac would go up 68 cents, from its current price of $3.99 to $4.67.

A Big Mac meal would cost $6.66 rather than $5.69, and the chain’s famous Dollar Menu would go for $1.17.

“Some folks online are complaining they will not pay $2 for their Dollar Menu, but the truth is that even if McDonald’s doubled salaries the price hike would not be 100%,” Morelix said. “I will be happy to pay 17 cents more for my Dollar Menu so that fast food workers can have a living wage, and I believe people deserve to know that price hikes would not be as high as it is often portrayed.”
It's not just a moral question. The economic drag and potential inflation of slightly raising the cost of unhealthy fast food would be dramatically overshadowed by the stimulative economic effect of doubling the salaries of every fast food worker in America. It would also have the salutory effect of putting healthy foods on a somewhat more level playing field, which would increase public health and reduce costs in myriad ways.

But that's not all. Morelix' numbers assume that McDonalds takes the same profit as it did before, and assumes wage increases for every worker all the way up to and including the CEO:

Morelix said that his number crunching assumes profits and other expenses are kept at the same absolute number. His calculations are based on increases in salaries and benefits for every McDonald’s worker, from minimum wage line cooks paid $7.25 an hour to CEO Donald Thompson, who made $8.75 million in 2012.
The assumption that profits must be kept at the same level is a critical one that underpins most Republican arguments about economic regulation. They inherently assume that profits must and will be kept at prior levels, such that any added costs due to regulation or wage increases are passed along to the consumer. That simply isn't a valid argument. There is a price point consumers will refuse to pay for substandard sandwiches--and it's probably below $4.67. Even with all workers paid at least $15/hour, it would probably be a competitive advantage for Burger King to offer a Whopper at under $4.50, which in turn would force McDonald's to keep pace. The huge corporations that make up the fast food industry would likely be forced to take slightly less obscene profits, the only drawback to which would be less money in the hands of the very few shareholders who own over 80% of the stocks. Whatever economic drag that might have at the top of the economic ladder would be offset a hundredfold by the increase in consumer demand capacity from the workers at the bottom of the ladder.

Meanwhile, those who would be significantly impacted in their wallets by a 50-70 cent increase in the cost of a hamburger today would be far less impacted by it tomorrow, if the national minimum wage were set to $15.

In short, it would be a win-win for just about everyone--everyone, that is, except for the fat cats at the very top of the chain.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

QOTD: Yellen edition

by digby

James Hamilton explains why Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen is “an outstanding choice to head the Federal Reserve.”
“If someone disagrees with her, her first instinct is not to try to bully them, but instead to try to understand why they have reached a different conclusion than she has. Because of this attribute, Yellen is one of the people I would trust most to be able to sort out what the key problems are and what needs to be done in any new situation.”
In fact,  that assessment has nothing to do with gender.  There  are plenty of men who have that attribute. Larry Summers isn't one them.

I'm so glad these dangerous criminals are off our streets

by David Atkins

Louisana's finest are protecting their communities from all those scary gay people--even though what they're doing isn't actually illegal. Here's the sting:

An East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office task force arrested at least 12 men since 2011 under a sodomy law invalidated a decade ago the U.S. Supreme Court, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The most recent arrest was July 18 when a man discussed or agreed to have sex with a male undercover agent, The Advocate (http://bit.ly/13mSpdc) reported. The task force was trying to deter sexual activities at the parish's public parks.

Although sex in public and sex solicitation for money are illegal in Louisiana, neither was part of these 12 cases, and most of the men were arrested after agreeing to have sex away from the park at a private residence, District Attorney Hillar Moore III told the newspaper.

"The sheriff's office's intentions are all good," Moore said. "But from what I've seen of these cases, legally, we found no criminal violation."

The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that a Texas law against oral or anal sex was invalid. Louisiana was among nine states with such laws. Richard Leyoub, then attorney general, said the high court's ruling made Louisiana's law unenforceable.

The sheriff's office sent a statement Sunday to the newspaper saying it "should have taken a different approach" to worries about park safety, the newspaper reported.
Priorities. Some places have the right ones. Some places don't.

Geek Out Live with Rush Holt

by digby

It does not have to be inevitable that the Wall Street friendly, establishment centrist Corey Booker is the next Democratic senator from New Jersey. There are real progressive alternatives, one of whom is a great congressman, teacher, civil libertarian and scientist --- Rush Holt.  Tonight his campaign is holding a major online townhall at 7:30 ET, 4:30 PT featuring a number of big names from the world of science and politics to talk about our future. (They're calling it a GEEK Out, so I know all of my readers will naturally be compelled to tune in.)


You can GEEK Out Live with Rush, here. I urge you to tune in.  It's an innovative concept --- an intelligent conversation with the American people. Imagine that.

Congressman Holt wrote this guest post for Blue America a couple of weeks ago:
I’m not the most famous candidate running for Senate in New Jersey. If you know me at all, you probably know me as the congressman who beat IBM’s computer, Watson in Jeopardy-- the one whose bumper stickers say “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist!”

But as a true progressive, you care about more than celebrity and slogans. You care about electing the senator who will fight the hardest for our shared values.

So let me tell you why, with your support, I will be that person: the truly progressive, evidence-driven voice we urgently need in the U.S. Senate.

As a teacher and a scientist, I used to help run the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and led the nuclear nonproliferation program at the U.S. State Department. This experience gives me a very different perspective from anyone now in the Senate –and gives me the conviction to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

You see, right now, the Senate has zero scientists. And as a result, the evidence in support of our progressive priorities is being ignored:

• The earth’s climate is changing, and human beings are responsible. Every single month for the last 28 years has been warmer than the historic average. If America fails to act, millions of people will die.

• America’s health care system is not the best in the world-- not even close. We’re paying 40 percent more than any other country as a share of our economy, and we’re still leaving almost 50 million people uninsured.

• America is betraying our young college students-- burdening them with an average of $27,000 in student loan debt, then abandoning them to face 13 percent unemployment in the workplace.

If we’re honest about the evidence, the way forward is clear.

We need to tax carbon so that polluters pay for the greenhouse gases they’re dumping into our atmosphere.

We need to move to a single-payer health care system, the kind that has held down costs and improved quality in nations around the world.

We need to make college more affordable by charging students the same low interest rate, 0.75%, that Wall Street banks pay to borrow money from the government.

And we desperately need a senator for the 21st century: someone who has a real understanding of the science and technology that are changing our world.

Because despite what some senators have claimed, the Internet is not a series of tubes, abortions do not cause breast cancer, and breast implants do not make women healthier. And although changing technology does present new challenges to law enforcement, it does not mean the NSA has the need or the right to monitor the phone calls, letters, and e-mails of innocent people-- treating Americans as suspects first and citizens second.

It’s long past time for the Senate to have at least one scientist, at least one voice who follows the evidence wherever it leads, no matter the political or personal risk.
When you think about it, it's kind of shocking that we don't. The closest we have are a bunch of right wing, anti-choice MDs who deny climate change and want to repeal Obamacare.

Please take the time to tune in to Holt's GEEKOut tonight. We really don't need another Big Money centrist in the Senate. That particular constituency is already very well represented. What we need is a progressive, civil libertarian, scientist to challenge the likes of throwbacks like Paul, Coburn and Barraso when they pretend to have scientific knowledge that backs up their antideluvian worldview.

If you'd like to donate to Congressman Holt's senate campaign you can do so here.

Is Kiwi our canary in the coal mine?

by digby

It isn't just us, although we are being very helpful to allied governments in these pursuits. Because GWOT, dontcha know:
The New Zealand military received help from US spy agencies to monitor the phone calls of Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson and his associates while he was in Afghanistan reporting on the war. 
Stephenson has described the revelation as a serious violation of his privacy, and the intrusion into New Zealand media freedom has been slammed as an abuse of human rights.
The spying came at a time when the New Zealand Defence Force was unhappy at Stephenson's reporting of its handling of Afghan prisoners and was trying to find out who was giving him confidential information. 
The monitoring occurred in the second half of last year when Stephenson was working as Kabul correspondent for the US McClatchy news service and for various New Zealand news organisations. 
The Sunday Star-Times has learned that New Zealand Defence Force personnel had copies of intercepted phone "metadata" for Stephenson, the type of intelligence publicised by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The intelligence reports showed who Stephenson had phoned and then who those people had phoned, creating what the sources called a "tree" of the journalist's associates. 
New Zealand SAS troops in Kabul had access to the reports and were using them in active investigations into Stephenson. 
The sources believed the phone monitoring was being done to try to identify Stephenson's journalistic contacts and sources. They drew a picture of a metadata tree the Defence Force had obtained, which included Stephenson and named contacts in the Afghan government and military. 
The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson's phone calls in Afghanistan said that the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations. 
And since early in the Afghanistan war, the GCSB has secretly posted staff to the main US intelligence centre at Bagram, north of Kabul. They work in a special "signals intelligence" unit that co-ordinates electronic surveillance to assist military targeting. It is likely to be this organisation that monitored Stephenson.
This should sound familiar:
The news has emerged as the Government prepares to pass legislation which will allow the Defence Force to use the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders. 
The Stephenson surveillance suggests the Defence Force may be seeking the GCSB assistance, in part, for investigating leaks and whistleblowers. 
Stephenson said monitoring a journalist's communications could also threaten the safety of their sources "by enabling security authorities to track down and intimidate people disclosing information to that journalist". 
He said there was "a world of difference between investigating a genuine security threat and monitoring a journalist because his reporting is inconvenient or embarrassing to politicians and defence officials".
An internal Defence document leaked to the Star-Times reveals that defence security staff viewed investigative journalists as "hostile" threats requiring "counteraction". The classified security manual lists security threats, including "certain investigative journalists" who may attempt to obtain "politically sensitive information". 
The manual says Chief of Defence Force approval is required before any NZDF participation in "counter intelligence activity" is undertaken. (See separate story)
Stephenson took defamation action against the Defence Force after Jones claimed that Stephenson had invented a story about visiting an Afghan base as part of an article about mishandling of prisoners. 
Although the case ended with a hung jury two weeks ago, Jones conceded during the hearing that he now accepted Stephenson had visited the base and interviewed its Afghan commander. 
Victoria University lecturer in media studies Peter Thompson said the Afghanistan monitoring and the security manual's view of investigative journalists confirmed the concerns raised in the High Court case. 
There was "a concerted and deliberate effort to denigrate that journalist's reputation for political ends".
But hey, don't worry.  That could never happen here, right? Cuz' we're good and they're evil.  And anyway, at least we don't have anything like this:
A leaked New Zealand Defence Force security manual reveals it sees three main "subversion" threats it needs to protect itself against: foreign intelligence services, organisations with extreme ideologies and "certain investigative journalists". 
In the minds of the defence chiefs, probing journalists apparently belong on the same list as the KGB and al Qaeda. 
The manual's first chapter is called "Basic Principles of Defence Security". It says a key part of protecting classified information is investigating the "capabilities and intentions of hostile organisations and individuals" and taking counteraction against them. 
The manual, which was issued as an order by the Chief of Defence Force, places journalists among the hostile individuals. It defines "The Threat" as espionage, sabotage, subversion and terrorism, and includes investigative journalists under the heading "subversion". Subversion, it says, is action designed to "weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens." It highlights people acquiring classified information to "bring the Government into disrepute".
To reinforce its concern, the defence security manual raises investigative journalists a second time under a category called "non-traditional threats". The threat of investigative journalists, it says, is that they may attempt to obtain "politically sensitive information". 
Politically sensitive information, such as the kind of stories that Stephenson was writing, is however about politics and political accountability, not security. Metro magazine editor Simon Wilson, who has published a number of Jon Stephenson's prisoner stories, said the Defence Force seemed to see Stephenson as the "enemy", as a threat to the Defence Force. 
"But that's not how Jon works and how journalism works," he said. "Jon is just going about his business as a journalist." 
The New Zealand Defence Force "seems to be confusing national security with its own desire not to be embarrassed by disclosures that reveal it has broken the rules", he said.
Right. But our defense department 's Insider Threat Manual doesn't specifically mention investigative journalists, so we can rest easy:

Seriously, how much of this stuff is being used to ferret out whistleblowers and sources to protect the government from embarrassment? It's very easy to see how they can conflate the revelation of their own foibles, bad policies, errors and malpractice with a threat to the nation, isn't it?

Update: McClatchy is not happy about this.

The House GOP beats a dead horse then runs over it with a tractor. Repeatedly.

by digby

This is so idiotic, I honestly cannot understand it. It is the most perfect illustration of the "beating a dead horse" metaphor I've ever seen:
[L]anguage to bar ACORN from receiving any money made the final cut [of the Defense appropriations bill.] Section 8097 of the bill reads, "None of the funds made available under this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries."

ACORN cannot receive any funding from the U.S. government under any legislation, of course, because ACORN does not exist. Similarly, ACORN has no subsidiaries because ACORN does not exist.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) referred questions on the provision to House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing. "I don't believe our response has changed since the last time you asked this question," Hing told HuffPost.

In June, the last time HuffPost asked Hing about ACORN defunding language, she replied, "These provisions are typically carried every year in appropriations bills."

The time before that, in March, Hing called ACORN defunding language "a typical provision that is included in most appropriations bills."
There has to be a reason for this. What's the point? Are people running on their record of repeatedly defunding ACORN? What else could it be?


"The disastrous rise of misplaced power exists"

by digby

Somebody's happy with our new surveillance state. Can you guess who?
Some of the country's most influential venture capitalists and former spy chiefs are investing in companies now providing the government with the sweeping electronic spy system and evolving cyberwarfare programs exposed by Mr. Snowden.

More than 80 companies work with the NSA on cybersecurity and surveillance, according to a recent report in the German magazine Der Spiegel that was based on top secret documents provided by Mr. Snowden. They include firms like the one that employed Mr. Snowden as an infrastructure analyst in Hawaii, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.,as well as scores of new players.

Last year, venture capitalists pumped about $700 million into security startups, almost a 10th of the estimated market, according to Lawrence Pingree, research director at Gartner Inc., IT +0.88% the U.S. information technology research company.

That's a small part of a broader technology market expected to grow from $67.1 billion this year to more than $93 billion in 2017, he said.

The increases are driven by budget shifts toward cyberwarfare and surveillance and away from ground forces. In his most recent Pentagon budget proposal, President Barack Obama sought cuts in most areas, but is seeking more money for military cyber operations.

"Money always follows problems," said Mr. Pingree.

One prominent player, Endgame Inc., is an Atlanta-based company that provides the U.S. government with the technological tools and know-how to conduct surveillance and, when needed, cyberattacks.

"Endgame is part of an emerging industrial-cyber complex that provides capabilities to our federal agencies much in the same way one might sell bullets to the government," said David Cowan, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, a leading venture capital firm that is one of several investors that have given Endgame $80 million.
Paladin Capital Group, the Washington-based private-equity firm led by former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, has given the company millions of dollars. Endgame's new board chairman is Christopher Darby, president of In-Q-Tel, the CIA-backed venture capital fund. Mr. Darby is joined on the board by Kenneth Minihan, a retired Air Force general who once served as head of the NSA.

The private-sector intelligence world has driven perceptions that the government is cultivating what former NSA Director Michael Hayden has called a "digital Blackwater." That 2011 comparison to the private security contractor was meant to be complimentary. But it suggested to some possible conflicts between public service and private aims.

"Where do we want to draw the line as a country for what should only be reserved for government intelligence officers?" asks Tim Shorrock, author of "Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing," a 2008 book about the role of contractors in intelligence. "Beneath that veil of secrecy, these companies can be helping agencies and making decisions that are colored by their financial interest."

Investors say they understand the concerns, but argue the U.S. government doesn't have enough institutional talent to keep pace with metastasizing dangers in cyberspace.

"Do you go out and hire a mercenary force to defend the kingdom?" said Bob Ackerman, founder of Allegis Capital LLC, which funds a variety of cybersecurity companies. "It's probably not the first choice, but you may have to out of necessity."

The article goes on to point out that they prefer to be thought of as defense contractors, which is just hilarious.

Let's just say that all the shrieking about how these contractors are "protecting America" from terrorists sounds a lot more like they are protecting their profits from being questioned by Americans.

This is what it's all about folks. And my original belief that the major problem here is that the people heading up these programs for the US Government are clueless luddites who are seeking power without the requisite knowledge to contain it is also confirmed.

But hey, there's unlimited tax payers dollars to be had and all those former public servants and current master of the universe have a God-given right to get rich. That's how we do it.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

Grand Bargains, good and bad

by digby

First the good news:
As fall approaches, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has met frequently with Republican senators in the hopes of finding consensus on an overarching fiscal deal. But the two sides are stuck in the same-old tax-and-spending debate — Democrats want to raise revenue, while Republicans refuse.

The lack of progress underscores a growing belief in Washington: The long-sought grand bargain could very well be out of reach during the Obama presidency.

The negotiations come against the backdrop of a double dose of fiscal drama — Congress must act to continue government spending by Sept. 30, or a government shutdown could ensue, and the debt ceiling must be hiked or the country could go into default sometime this fall. 
A short-term solution to the country’s fiscal woes seems more likely, but even that may not happen.

Senators said Monday evening that a decision needs to be made: Should the two sides continue to focus on the grand bargain — a major reform of tax and entitlement programs — or instead on a much smaller goal of reforming the automatic sequestration cuts.
“We’re a sounding board for our conference, so our conference is going to have to be on board with whatever we do,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said Monday. “The administration still wants higher taxes. I’m telling you: That’s a problem. For our conference, that’s a problem.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said there are still “major hurdles” despite the pressure to reform entitlement programs and the Tax Code.

“I’m not too optimistic at this point that we’re going to get there,” he said.

Talks will continue this week, and there is still time to avoid a budget crisis, particularly as fall approaches and fear increases among GOP defense hawks about the deepening sequester cuts affecting the military.

Last week, McDonough, his deputy Rob Nabors and budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell met twice privately with Senate Republicans, representing an uptick in talks after they had mostly stalled in June.
If the sequestration cuts to the military are finally starting to bite in a way that the administration and the congress can no longer mitigate or ignore, then it's possible they could finally come together to fix these automatic cuts. That was the original idea, after all.

It should strike everyone that the Village newspaper writes about it in these particular terms, however:
The long-sought grand bargain could very well be out of reach during the Obama presidency.
Unfortunately, it's entered the beltway lexicon now and we can expect it to be the holy bipartisan grail going forward. Thanks a lot.

Also, think about what it is that's reportedly holding up an agreement:
Republicans and the White House both agree on proposals to cut Social Security known as chained CPI, referring to reduced payments to beneficiaries because of how annual cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. And the two sides seem to be on the same page regarding reducing benefits that wealthy seniors now receive from entitlement programs, a proposal known as means testing.

But the White House wants new taxes in exchange for those entitlement cuts, something at which the GOP continues to balk. And Republicans have pushed for the two sides to agree on going beyond the typical 10-year budget projections and instead examine how much the budget picture will worsen over the next 30 years. But the White House is resisting a 30-year budget projection, believing the numbers are unrealistic.
I continue to be amazed that the White House thinks temporary tax hikes are a good "bargain" in exchange for making the elderly suffer. I guess they really do believe Democrats love taxes so much would do anything in order to raise them --- even destroy their own legacy. The good news is that Republicans hate taxes even more than Democrats supposedly love them. So far, that's good enough to keep this thing from happening.

But one cannot worry a little bit if somehow this new Grand Bargain is going to be folded into the old one --- after all, it cuts taxes:
“Obama wants to cut the corporate tax rate of 35 percent down to 28 percent and give manufacturers a preferred rate of 25 percent. He also wants a minimum tax on foreign earnings as a tool against corporate tax evasion and increased use of tax havens. The new twist is that in exchange for his support for a corporate tax reduction, he wants money generated by the tax overhaul to be used on a mix of proposals such as funding infrastructure projects like repairing roads and bridges, improving education at community colleges, and promoting manufacturing, senior administration officials said. Obama’s proposal would generate a one-time source of revenue, for example, by reforming depreciation or putting a fee on accumulated foreign earnings.”
As a stand alone, this seems fine to me. I don't think corporations need to have their taxes cut but if the GOP corporate tax cut plan (and that's basically what it is) can bring in enough pin money temporarily to do some investment spending, then maybe it makes some sense --- as long as they don't decide to sweeten the pot by throwing in the already agreed upon Social Security cuts.

Because if they do that, we're looking at the Grand Bargain that was set forth a long time ago, aren't we?

At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your campaign some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"

"Yes," Obama said.


An "A" in cheating for the cult of conservatism

by David Atkins

Republicans do seem to be experts at fixing the facts around the policy in so many ways:

Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”
The next quote is my favorite:

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist."
If Republicans don't cheat to make big-donor charter schools look better than public schools, accountability will be compromised!

My first thought when reading a sentence like that is to wonder whether the person who wrote it was cackling with knowing evil maniacal laughter when he did, or if Mr. Bennett is simply so dedicated to his ideology that he actually meant it with a straight face--that only accountability for public schools matters, and any cheating to make public schools look worse justifies the means.

I think the latter is probably more terrifying. The dead, determined eyes of the cult member are far more terrifying that the greedy gleam of the malicious huckster. You can bargain with or intimidate the huckster. The cultist, not so much.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Your moment of zen: Indigo

by digby

Ok, this is even cuter than kittens. And kittens are really cute:

Via Laura Beck at Jezebel who writes:

Sam Cornwell, a photographer from England, took a second of video a day and stitched into a video of his son Indigo's first year on planet earth...It's cool to watch Indigo's transition from a high needs pet to a little boy. That's not to knock on any part of a child's development, but they get a lot more fun as time goes on, right? Well, at least cuter and more capable of staying alive. Good job, kiddo.

Little Indigo may not be adorable every second of every day but he's certainly adorable every second his daddy caught on film during his first year, even on day one.

Zombie rising

by digby

Apparently, no matter how low the deficit goes or how much the president publicly repudiates the deficit framework,  the White House is still offering what it offered back when the deficit was widely considered the greatest threat the world has ever known:
During an hour long interview looking back on his time at the White House and on the economic challenges that lay ahead, Krueger said Obama has not given up on reaching a so-called “grand bargain” debt and deficit deal with congressional Republicans.

“The president’s last offer to Speaker [John] Boehner is still on the table,” he said. “I think he had a very sensible balanced compromise on the table.”
The president admitted in his NY Times interview that the deficit "framework" has been "damaging" and perhaps he finally believes that. But that means he must really believe that the elderly are living high on the hog on their Social Security and need to be forced to shop a little more smartly. How else to explain why they continue to offer this deal?

Certainly that's what the Washington Post editorial board believes. Here's their comment on the President's speech:
By the tendentious standards of politics, it was okay for the president to challenge Republicans to come up with better ideas than his, while simultaneously portraying most of them as mindlessly bent on a government shutdown. What’s rather less forgivable, however, is that, even though the president of the United States is well into a highly promoted series of major addresses on the future of the U.S. economy, searching the text of his speeches for “entitlement reform” or “entitlement” yields nothing but “phrase not found.”

Yes, Mr. Obama told Democrats that they “can’t just stand pat and just defend whatever government is doing.” Addressing Republicans, he pronounced himself “ready to work” on tax reform, or a “balanced, long-term fiscal plan that replaces the mindless cuts currently in place.”

But that’s a far cry from leveling with the public about the fact that Social Security, Medicare and the rest are crowding out other domestic priorities — including those that the president emphasized in his speeches — and that these programs are at the heart of the country’s long-term fiscal challenges, which have still not been addressed even as the deficit has declined in the short term.

Absent that kind of candor, Mr. Obama’s demand for “a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades” rang hollow.
The Villagers are far from willing to give up their favorite stale tropes. They never are. Remember, there was a time not long ago when the deficit was gone and we had a projected surplus. They still fretted about the old people stealing the food out of baby's mouths.

Here's a little reminder of the deficit hawk record on these projections:
August 28, 1996

CHICAGO - Sen. Bob Kerrey smells an odor coming from the Republican and Democratic stands on entitlements.

"It's one of the cruelest things we do, when we say, Republicans or Democrats, `Oh, we can wait and reform Social Security later,' " the Nebraska Democrat said.

Mr. Kerrey says that without reform, entitlements will claim 100 percent of the Treasury in 2012.

"This is not caused by liberals, not caused by conservatives, but by a simple demographic fact," Mr. Kerrey warned at a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council.

"We [will have] converted the federal government into an ATM machine."

Even official projections have been, shall we say, off the mark ...

And yet the wealthy celebrities and aristocrats of the Village will never stop fear mongering that these programs are going to swallow up everything.  If the president is on the same page then he could very well have been saying in his interview that "austerity" is damaging while still believing we need to destroy these programs in order to save them. This belief is not a policy in Washington DC -- it's a religion.

Leaving this December "offer" on the table after the change in numbers (as well as his welcome change in rhetoric) is not reassuring.

They may not believe in climate change, but climate change believes in them

by David Atkins

I wish I could make myself feel more sympathy for the plight of farmers in the Deep South, but it's difficult:

Peaches, the gem of the Southern summer, are just not so sweet this year.

The tomatoes in Tennessee are splitting. Tobacco in North Carolina is drowning. And watermelons, which seem as if they would like all the rain that has soaked the South, have taken perhaps the biggest hit of all.

Some watermelon farmers in South Georgia say they have lost half their crop. The melons that did survive are not anywhere as good as a Southern watermelon ought to be.

“They are awful,” said Daisha Frost, 39, who works in Decatur, Ga. “And this is the time of year when they should be the bomb.”

Day after day, the rains have come to a part of the country that relies on the hot summer sun for everything from backyard-tomato sandwiches to billions of dollars in commercial row crops, fruit and peanuts.

While the contiguous United States as a whole is about only 6 percent above its normal rainfall this year, Southern states are swamped. Through June, Georgia was 34 percent above normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. Both South Carolina and North Carolina were about 25 percent above normal. Alabama’s rainfall was up 22 percent.

The weather is a particular shock because more than two-thirds of the region was abnormally dry or suffering a drought last year.

Although the total cost to farmers has yet to be tallied, agricultural officials in several states in the Deep South predict severe losses this year that could be in the billions of dollars.

“Nobody’s ever seen it this wet this long,” said Randy Ellis, a Georgia farmer who grows wheat and watermelons, the latter of which end up at East Coast grocery stores.

He usually he pulls about 60,000 pounds of melons from an acre of land. This year, he said, he barely got 30,000 pounds. What is worse, the cooler, rainy weather meant the crop was ready after the important Fourth of July window, when prices are at their peak.

Standing water has made cornfields look like rice paddies in some parts of the rural South. Mold is growing on ears of corn, and in some fields entire stalls have toppled. Late blight, a fungus-like pathogen, is creeping into tomato fields early and with unusual vigor.
This is what climate change does. It's not just warming. It's extreme and unusual weather patterns. And it's only going to get worse.

One would hope that even the Deep South wakes up and realizes that whatever ideological reasons they might have to protect the oil industry, they're not worth the cost.

Dispatch from Taser Nation: fighting off canes and shoehorns

by digby

Hey, 95 is the new 85 ...
A 95-year-old resident of an Illinois nursing home died early Saturday, hours after being shocked with a Taser and bean bag rounds in a confrontation with police.

Authorities said John Warna was a resident at Victory Centre of Park Forest, on the 100 block of South Main Street in the south suburb. He was threatening paramedics and staff with a cane and a metal shoehorn when police arrived at the complex, they said.

Police said they struck him with a Taser and bean bag rounds after he threatened officers with a 12-inch butcher knife.

Warna was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where he later died.

I'm sure they had no alternatives. These strapping police officers must have felt terribly frightened by a senile 95 year old man. They had to shoot him full of electricity and kill him. What else could they do?

And anyway, no harm no foul. If they hadn't tasered him to death they would have had to shoot him dead with their guns. Because everyone knows that tasers are only used in cases where officers would otherwise use their service revolvers. Amirite?

You know, I suspect that cops used to have a few other tricks up their sleeves to deal with frail, demented geriatrics other than torturing them with electricity. I guess those are lost arts. Torture is the number one go-to when authorities want cooperation from anyone, regardless of the situation, no matter how much overkill it is. It saves time and teaches the public a lesson in bowing down to authority on command.

I'll bet that old man won't try that again any time soon.

Oh wait ...


Let the majority rule on gay marriage

by digby

This poll on whether we should make gay marriage legal in all 50 states is very clarifying:

Across the nation's major demographic, political, and religious groups, support for the proposed law ranges from as high as 77% among self-described liberal Americans, and 76% among those with no religious affiliation, to as low as 23% among weekly churchgoers, and 30% among Republicans and conservatives.

Other groups showing at least 60% support for legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide include Democrats, adults aged 18 to 34, those who rarely or never attend a church or other place of worship, moderates, Easterners, and Catholics. Others showing less than 50% support include Protestants, adults 55 and older, Southerners, and men.

Is anyone surprised at who and where the majority against is? Didn't think so.

By the way, it might be time for the president to evolve on this again as well. The last we heard he was "personally" in favor but felt that states had a right to say otherwise because people have "different beliefs." At this point the majority of this country is in favor of nationally recognized equal rights for a minority. Yes, we believe in "majority rules, but protect the minority." But the idea that the rights of the minority means that one minority group has a right to prohibit another minority group from equality under the law is a perversion of that principle.


Blue America chat: Meet Barbara Buono, Chris Christie's worst nightmare

by digby

My first exposure to Chris Christie was when I saw video footage of him abusively browbeating a school teacher at a town hall meeting for having the temerity to question his education policies. I can hardly begin to explain the depth of my visceral repulsion at his bullying tactics. I can't imagine ever voting for him after seeing that and I don't think I'm the only woman in America to react that way.

But it's not just his vile personality. His record is execrable as well. Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger characterized his time in office this way:
New Jersey’s unemployment rate is the highest in the region, and yet he left $3 billion in federal money on the table when he canceled plans to build a tunnel under the Hudson River. The state’s credit rating has dropped on his watch, thanks to his habit of pushing costs to the future. New Jersey’s foreclosure rate is also among the highest in the nation, and the state’s response among the most inept...Christie opposes abortion rights and closed six Planned Parenthood clinics. He vetoed marriage equality. He vetoed a surtax on millionaires. He has retreated on climate change. And he removed the only black justice from the state Supreme Court.
He's also on record denying climate change and just last week declared himself the one true heir of Rudy "9/11" Giuliani with a national security speech that would have sounded better in the original German. Only in America would such a man be widely touted by the chattering classes as a voice of "moderation."

Luckily for New Jersey there is one feisty politician who knows better, State Senator Barbara Buono, the Democrat who'd like to save her state from any more of Christie's so-called "success" by denying him another term as Governor. Let's just say her record is as progressive as his is conservative. And there's no mistaking what she really stands for.

Buono is the daughter of a butcher and a substitute school teacher who put herself through law school. She vividly recalls her own early years of struggle, even having to apply for government assistance at one point. Her compassion for the concerns of average working families led her to politics in the early 90s, working her way up to become the first woman majority leader in the State Senate, where she took on Christie as the Chair of the budget committee. This woman isn't one little bit cowed by the thuggish Christie.

We know it's an uphill climb and so does Buono. But we all think that there are a whole lot of New Jersey Democrats, especially women, who will go into that voting booth and decide they just can't stomach the idea of Chris Christie as Governor again or ... gulp ... president and put a stop to him. If people get a chance to hear a reform-minded, anti-corruption progressive like Barbara Buono they may just realize they have a better choice.  We'd like to help her get the word out and we hope you will too.

Please come by CrooksandLiars.com today (Monday) at 11 am PT and 2 pm ET to chat with Senator Buono. And if you can donate something to her campaign it will go to not only help a true Blue America progressive but also to stop one of the most odious conservative villains in American politics. A twofer!

QOTD: Rick Perlstein

by digby

On Up with Steve Kornacki this week-end:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
I think the reason Obama's rhetoric and his whole strategic approach to his presidency fails is because going back six years or more, he fundamentally misunderstands the Republican Party. He doesn't understand they behave, this kind of Leninist cell waiting in the mountains, waiting for the final apocalypse. He claims Reagan as a role model, a transformative presidency. Reagan every day said, "there's a problem that screwed Americans: the Democratic party and the liberals." By drawing that distinction he taught Americans to think that way. Barack Obama is constitutionally incapable of saying, "we have adversaries." That every time a Democratic president comes in that they handle the government more effectively. Every time a Democratic president comes in, they create more jobs than the Republicans. But to say that would be constitutionally impossible for Obama because he needs to tell this story about reconciliation -- there is no Red America, there is no Blue America.
Also too, this:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
The presidency is, in important respects, a rhetorical office it's a bully pulpit as TR called it. And one of the things Ronald Reagan was very good at was losing well. When he lost lost a fight, let's say when he had to raise taxes, he was very good at using that to drive home his fundamental message: "I have to raise taxes because those liberals made me do it. That's just what liberals do." Ultimately, everything, whether he won or lost, he made that a generational project of telling a story about how the world works that kept on hammering home what he wanted the presidents after him to do. 
And lo and behold, that's what the presidents after him did, even Clinton and Obama.

Perlstein is working on a big new book on the rise of Ronald Reagan and he knows of what he speaks.

The good news is that if the president is sincere in his desire to repudiate his former zeal for deficit cutting our way to prosperity, he might be able to leave a different imprint. It will cause a lot of dissonance among people like me who have been intensely frustrated by his insistence on framing every liberal initiative in Reaganesque terms, but if he sustains this message and doesn't take actions to undermine it --- or at least resists the temptation to own the compromise as he usually does and instead blames the House lunatics for making him do the things he didn't want to do as Reagan did --- over the long term it could change the legacy he's made and set the table for a more liberal future.


The choice in front of white America

by David Atkins

Another reminder that the American Dream is still dying, and the economy remains terrible no matter what the stock and housing markets say.

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The findings come as President Barack Obama tries to renew his administration's emphasis on the economy, saying in recent speeches that his highest priority is to "rebuild ladders of opportunity" and reverse income inequality.

As nonwhites approach a numerical majority in the U.S., one question is how public programs to lift the disadvantaged should be best focused – on the affirmative action that historically has tried to eliminate the racial barriers seen as the major impediment to economic equality, or simply on improving socioeconomic status for all, regardless of race.

Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families' economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy "poor."
The racial dynamics are fascinating: lower-income white Americans are losing their privilege, statistically speaking.

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government's poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

The gauge defines "economic insecurity" as experiencing unemployment at some point in their working lives, or a year or more of reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones.

"It's time that America comes to understand that many of the nation's biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position," said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty. He noted that despite continuing economic difficulties, minorities have more optimism about the future after Obama's election, while struggling whites do not.

"There is the real possibility that white alienation will increase if steps are not taken to highlight and address inequality on a broad front," Wilson said.
Lower-income whites can do one of two things in response to this. They can develop a class consciousness and understand that they have more in common with lower-income persons of color than they do with Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity. Or they can do what they have traditionally done and attempt to preserve their sliver of privilege over their fellows of different races.

Democrats could certainly do a better job of making the class-conscious appeal to recruit these voters. But it's not entirely clear that they respond any better to Elizabeth Warren's populist appeal than they do to Barack Obama's neoliberal one. Leadership helps, but it only goes so far. The onus is on working white America to wake up and realize that minorities are not the enemy; the corporate bosses are. If things continue on their current path, it's going to be a long, slow electoral trench war until lower-income whites become an electorally near-irrelevant segment in a few decades.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Larry Summers joke

by digby

A friend in Washington told me this last week:

The president, Larry Summers, a dirty hippie and the pope were all on Air Force One when it started to have engine trouble. The pilot opened the door of the cockpit and said with terror in his voice, “The plane is going down, so put on a parachute and jump! I’ll show you how.” The pilot grabbed a parachute from the pile, strapped it on, opened the plane’s door, and took the leap.

After his departure, the four people left were startled to notice there were only three parachutes left in the pile. The president humbly suggested that the other three take the parachutes but the others protest saying, "no, Mr President, the world needs you, you must take one of the parachutes." After a few minutes of haggling, the president agrees and straps on his chute and jumped.

The remaining three look at each other for a moment at which point Larry Summers says,“there are other smart people, but no one in the world is as smart as I am. The world needs me as much as the President, so I must take one of these parachutes and save myself.” So he jumped, too.

The dirty hippie and the pope sit quietly for a moment and the pope says, "you must take the last parachute, my son, it is God's will."

The hippie smiles and replies, "oh don't worry Your Eminence, we each have a parachute. The smartest man in the world just strapped on my backpack and jumped out of the airplane."


Culture of corruption, Island edition

by digby

This would be shocking if it weren't so common among these New Dems:

A senior aide to Rep. Colleen W. Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) told his colleagues late last month that the nation’s top drug lobby had agreed to run a campaign supporting the congresswoman’s challenge to Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and wanted to coordinate it with her strategists.

Such an effort, described in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post, could run afoul of campaign finance laws, which prohibit candidates and their staff from substantial discussions with interest groups about their independent political activities.

Officials with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Hanabusa’s campaign denied that the group had offered to run such an effort but acknowledged talks about a possible fundraiser for Hanabusa and about the state of the race in general.

Campaign officials blamed the e-mail on a misinformed staffer.

“He made inaccurate assumptions about the type of help PhRMA could provide the campaign,” campaign spokesman Peter Boylan said.

Matt Bennett, a spokesman for PhRMA, said officials there did not offer to do a campaign on Hanabusa’s behalf. But he said the group had “preliminary” discussions about hosting an industry fundraiser for Hanabusa through its political action committee.

He also said that a PhRMA lobbyist had spoken with Jennifer Sabas, a top Hanabusa campaign adviser, but that they had talked only about the state of the Democratic primary campaign in Hawaii.

“They discussed the race and what’s happening on the ground,” Bennett said.

Boylan echoed that, saying Sabas did not provide PhRMA with any information “that would constitute coordination in violation of the law.”

But Clay Schroers, Schatz’s campaign manager, said the arrangement the e-mail outlines “is a deeply troubling situation, and Rep. Hanabusa clearly owes the people of Hawaii an explanation.”

The e-mail was sent June 28 from the Gmail account of Hanabusa’s deputy chief of staff, Christopher Raymond, to Sabas, Boylan and Rod Tanonaka, the congresswoman’s chief of staff. The Post obtained it from a person who received a copy and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contents.

The message described a practice that is often suspected but rarely revealed: interest groups coordinating their putatively independent efforts with the candidates they are backing.

“As I’m sure you have heard, PhRMA has committed to pulling together an independent expenditure on CH’s behalf,” Raymond wrote. “Nick Shipley (Government Relations VP) and Bob Phillipone (Senior VP) are the leads on this and would like to be put in touch with folks on the campaign. After having talked with Nick about this a little more, and based on our discussion, I came to the conclusion that is it the three of you the he would like to be in touch with. I am going to give him your email address so he can be in touch. I didn’t feel comfortable giving out your phone numbers.

“Should you be contacted by Nick or Bob please know they are good democrats,” he concluded.

Lulz. "Good Democrats." That's funny. More like "Good snake oil salesmen."

And I'm sure they know that New Dem Hanabusa will remember who her friends are when it comes time to sell out the people of her state. After all, she's got a proven record of doing that in the House.


Idiocracy in full effect

by digby

On Friday, Fox News invited renowned religious scholar and prolific author Reza Aslan onto the air, ostensibly to discuss his latest book on Christianity, ‘Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.’

But instead, host Lauren Green launched into an Islamophobic attack on Aslan’s credentials and expressed incredulity that he, a self-professed Muslim, would be able to write about Christianity in a fair and honest way.

Throughout the nearly 10 minute interview, Green inaccurately sought to portray Aslan as a religiously-motivated agitator with a hidden agenda out to discredit the very religion that he himself once practiced:
GREEN: This is an interesting book. Now I want to clarify, you’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?
ASLAN: Well to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees — including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades — who also just happens to be a Muslim. So it’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus, I am an expert with a Ph.D in the history of religions…
GREEN: But it still begs the question why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?
ASLAN: Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.

Undeterred, Green continued by reading aloud from an equally Islamophobic FoxNews.com column by John Dickerson in which he dismissed Aslan’s academic pedigree, referring to him simply as “an educated Muslim” with an “opinion” about Jesus.
Fox remains the most popular cable news network in America.

When the inmates take over the asylum (GOP style)

by digby

Ryan Cooper has a bunch of interesting stuff up at Political Animal this week-end, but I thought I'd just highlight this one and let you click over to read the rest.

He's referring here to an interview with Tom Coburn in which he discusses the uselessness of trying to defund Obamacare because it is destined to fail and will then demoralize the base:
It really throws into stark relief the extent to which Republicans are driven these days not just by ideological extremism, but also by procedural extremism. Any democratic system (especially the clunky American version) depends on parties accepting basic democratic values. Ideally, when you would like a new program, or don’t like an existing one, then what you do is win some elections and then pass legislation. If you don’t have full control of government, you achieve what you can by cutting some deals while laying the groundwork for when you do take power, when you can then pass your program. This is the 2006 Nancy Pelosi strategy and it works quite well.

Republicans, by contrast, are trying to get their way via threats and hostage-taking even though they lost the last election fair and square. Despite losing the presidency and seats in both houses of Congress, they demand the president kill his signature achievement or they’ll shut down the government.

This is well-trodden ground, but the interesting point that Coburn makes is that behaving like an irresponsible fanatic will backfire even on its own terms. Sarah Kliff followed up this morning:

SK: What do you think happens next with this defunding push?

TC: I don’t know. They’re really rallying all the outside groups. They’re going to spend a bunch of money to just demoralize the base. The only way you get rid of Obamacare is winning the 2016 election. Their worry is that if you get a bunch of people on free health care, you may not be able to do that. But I think costs are going to be so high that those who are not going to get the benefits are actually going to revolt.

SK: What do you think of legislators who say that they’re willing to shut down the federal government over Obamacare funding?

TC: If you’re actually going to do that, and hold it, that’d be fine. The problem is that I know the strength of the backbone of the Senate and House, and as soon as the heat gets hot they’ll fall like wet suits.

They don’t have a microphone. Let me tell you what happens when you shut down the government: You start seeing the consequences. Who controls what is left operating? The president. As soon as the first Medicare bills go unpaid, where do you think the pressure will be? And what’s the likelihood the president will collapse on the most significant legislative accomplishment of his administration?

They have no idea, I was in it. I experienced it.
This is a useful observation. Their ideological extremism has led inexorably to this procedural extremism. They now believe they are doing God's work and must save the Republic by any means necessary.

And because of that, I don't think Coburn is right in worrying that losing an Obamacare repeal would demoralize the Republican base. It would do the opposite --- it would energize it. They thrive on being the underdog and love to run against both Democrats and their own establishment. It's what they do.

Here's conservative movement guru Richard Viguerie after the loss of the congress in 2006:
Sometimes a loss for the Republican Party is a gain for conservatives. Often, a little taste of liberal Democrats in power is enough to remind the voters what they don’t like about liberal Democrats and to focus the minds of Republicans on the principles that really matter. That’s why the conservative movement has grown fastest during those periods when things seemed darkest, such as during the Carter administration and the first two years of the Clinton White House.

Conservatives are, by nature, insurgents, and it’s hard to maintain an insurgency when your friends, or people you thought were your friends, are in power.
Cooper concludes:
This might seem like a minor point here, but I think it’s fairly compelling evidence that the biggest problem with American politics is not the structure of our government (which, I’ll agree, sucks) but the Republican party itself. As goofy and jerry-rigged as the American system is, it could probably accommodate an ideologically extreme party if they just bought in to the basic underlying premises of democratic governance.
Well, sort of. The Republican establishment is afraid of its own voters which is perhaps the most important underlying premise of democratic governance there is. They truly are responding to the will of the people. Unfortunately, their voters have been radicalized by about 40 years of increasingly nihilistic propaganda that's resulted in the insurgency turning on the system itself. Since men like Coburn are responsible for this, it would be tempting to just sit back and munch on the popcorn as the party implodes, but unfortunately the GOP wields a tremendous amount of power in our two party system, even if it has gone nuts. Their problem is our problem whether we like it or not.


Big Brother update

by digby

George Stephanopoulos managed to interview Glenn Greenwald this morning about a new scoop without questioning his journalistic credentials or asking him when he stopped being a traitor. It was rather refreshing.

After all, the story is rather important, particularly in light of the very close vote in the House last week:

Today on “This Week,” Glenn Greenwald – the reporter who broke the story about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs – claimed that those NSA programs allowed even low-level analysts to search the private emails and phone calls of Americans.

“The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years,” Greenwald told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things. It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.” 
Greenwald explained that while there are “legal constraints” on surveillance that require approval by the FISA court, these programs still allow analysts to search through data with little court approval or supervision.

“There are legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans,” Greenwald said. “You can’t target them without going to the FISA court. But these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents.”

“And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst,” he added.
The good news is that Saxby Chambliss has been on the case and knows for a fact that Greenwald is completely full of it. Because Chambliss asked the NSA and they told him so.
But the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee told Stephanopoulos he would be shocked if such programs existed.

“It wouldn’t just surprise me, it would shock me,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, said on “This Week” Sunday.

Chambliss said he recently spent time with NSA officials and was assured that the programs Greenwald describes have been exaggerated.

“I was back out at NSA just last week, spent a couple hours out there with high and low level NSA officials,” Chambliss said. “And what I have been assured of is that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any e-mail.”

Chambliss said that any monitoring of emails is purely “accidental.”

“In fact, we don’t monitor emails. That’s what kind of assures me is that what the reporting is is not correct. Because no emails are monitored now,” Chambliss said. “They used to be, but that stopped two or three years ago. So I feel confident that there may have been some abuse, but if it was it was pure accidental.”
Meanwhile, we had David Gregory fluffing the NSA's pool boy, Congressman Mike Rogers, on Meet the Press. Rogers  explained at length, without any follow-up,  that the vote this week that came just 6 votes short of dismantling the NSA programs was a result of the public being upset about the administration's abusive Big Brother IRS and Obamacare which they confused with  the benign NSA that's doing God's work.

That is no joke, it's what he said.  And then he lied repeatedly about other details we already know while the petty little Villager David Gregory (who, like so many others, obviously can't see past his personal animosity toward Greenwald to the underlying issues) asked him to go on at length about how Edward Snowden is killing people.

And that was it. Rogers was the only guest he had on this subject. They didn't have time for any opposing views.  They needed to talk about more important issues: Weiner and Filner.