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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dennis is on vacation so I thought I'd run this old post for the parents who are celebrating the kids going back to school.  --- d

Saturday Night At The Movies

From crayons to perfume: Top 10 school flicks

By Dennis Hartley

It’s a funny thing. I know that this is supremely silly (I’m over 50, fergawdsake)- but as soon as September rolls around and retailers start touting their “back to school” sales, I still get that familiar twinge of dread. How do I best describe it? It’s a vague sensation of social anxiety, coupled with a melancholy resignation to the fact that from now until next June, I have to go to bed early. BTW, now that I’m allowed to stay up with the grownups, why do I drift off in my chair at 8pm every night? It’s another one of life’s cruel ironies.

At any rate, since it is “that time of the year”, I thought I would share my Top 10 show-and-tell picks for homeroom. As per usual, I must point out this is a completely subjective list of personal favorites; I am not proclaiming these selections to be The Most Beloved School Movies Ever (in case you’re wondering where I stashed Mr. Chips). So please grade my list on a curve. Also, please keep both hands away from the keyboard (on top of your desk where I can see them) and don’t start snarking until you have thoroughly read and understood this lesson plan completely. Wait a minute (sniff)-is somebody out there eating pizza? Put it down, and pay attention. In alphabetical order:

Blackboard Jungle-I always like to refer to this searing 1955 drama as the anti-Happy Days. An idealistic English teacher (Glenn Ford) takes on an inner-city classroom full of leather-jacketed malcontents who would much rather steal hubcaps and break windows than, say, study the construct of iambic pentameter. Considered a hard-hitting “social issue” film at the time, it still retains considerable power, despite some dated trappings. Vic Morrow and Sidney Poitier are appropriately surly and unpredictable as the alpha “toughs” in the classroom. The impressive supporting cast includes Richard Kiley, Anne Francis and Louis Calhern. Director Richard Brooks co-scripted with Evan Hunter, from his novel (Hunter is more widely known by his nom de plume, Ed McBain). The film also had a hand in making Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” a monster hit.

Dazed & Confused-I will admit upfront that my attachment to Richard Linklater’s amazingly vivid 1993 recreation of a “day in the life” high school milieu circa 1976 has almost everything to do with the sentimental chord it touches within me (I graduated from high school in 1974). The clothing, the hairstyles, the lingo, the social behaviors and (perhaps most importantly) the music is so spot on that I was transported into a total-immersion sense memory the first time I saw the film (no, I wasn’t high-grow up!). Perhaps the first wave of boomers a decade or so ahead of me were similarly affected when they first watched American Graffiti (anyone?). At any rate, I knew all these people! Not necessarily a goofy teen comedy; while there are a lot of laughs (mostly of recognition), the sharply written screenplay offers some inspired moments of keen observation and even genuine poignancy at times. Linklater certainly wouldn’t be able to reassemble this bright, energetic young cast at the same bargain rates nowadays: Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Rory Cochrane, Joey Lauren Adams and Nicky Katt, to name but a few. Two power bongs up!

Election-Writer-director Alexander Payne and his stalwart writing partner Jim Taylor (Sideways About Schmidt) followed up their noteworthy 1995 feature film debut, Citizen Ruth, with this biting socio-political satire, thinly cloaked as a teen comedy (which it decidedly is not). Reese Witherspoon delivers a pitch perfect performance as the psychotically perky, overachieving Tracy Flick, who makes life a special hell for her brooding civics teacher, Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick). Payne’s film is very funny at times, yet it never pulls its punches; there are some painful truths about the dark underbelly of suburbia bubbling beneath the veneer (quite similar to American Beauty, which interestingly came out the same year). Also notable for Matthew Broderick finally proving that he could lay the Ferris Bueller persona to rest and play an unlikable bastard.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High -Amy Heckerling’s 1982 coming-of-age dramedy is another film that introduced a bevy of new talent to movie audiences: Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz, Nicholas Cage, Anthony Edwards, and of course Sean Penn as the quintessential stoned surfer dude, who seems to enjoy elevating the blood pressure of his history teacher (a marvelously dry Ray Walston). In the good ol’ days of VHS, I can remember searching in vain for a rental copy that didn’t suffer from extensive “freeze frame” damage at right about that moment where Cates reveals her, erm, hidden talents. Heckerling later returned to the same California high school milieu (updated for the 90s) for her hit Clueless. Rolling Stone reporter (and soon-to-be film director) Cameron Crowe scripted from his book, which was based on his experiences “embedded” at a San Diego high school (thanks to his youthful appearance, Crowe had successfully passed himself off as a student for a year).

Gregory's Girl- Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth’s delightful examination of puppy love crosses over from one of my previous Top Ten lists. Gawky teenager Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) goes gaga for Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), a fellow soccer player on the school team. Gregory receives love advice from an unlikely mentor, his little sister (Allison Forster). His male classmates offer advice as well, but of course they are just as clueless as he is (although they put on airs of having deep insight on the subject of girls, naturally). In fact, Forsyth gets a lot of mileage out of that most basic truth about adolescence-the girls are usually light years ahead of the boys when it comes to the mysteries of love. Not as precious as you might think, as Forsyth is a master of low-key anarchy and understated irony. You may have trouble navigating the thick Scottish accents, but it’s worth it. Also with Clare Grogan, whom music fans may recall as lead singer of Altered Images, and Red Dwarf fans may recognize as “Kristine Kochanski”.

Massacre at Central High- I know I’m going to get some arched eyebrows with this selection. Despite the title, this is not a slasher movie; it’s more of a social satire/political allegory. You've seen the setup before-a gang of alpha high school bullies are terrorizing and intimidating their classmates at will, until the "new kid" rolls in and changes the status quo, Yojimbo style. The film veers into Lord Of The Flies territory, with allusions to class struggle, fascist politics and what-would-happen-if-there-were-no-adults-around anarchy. Don't get me wrong, this ain’t exactly Animal Farm; after all, the film stars Robert Carradine and Andrew "direct-to-video" Stevens, but for its budget and its genre, it’s oddly compelling. A U.S. production, but director Rene Raalder hails from Holland.

National Lampoon's Animal House- “Thank you sir. May I have another?” The twisted brain trust behind the National Lampoon produced this riotously vulgar and slyly subversive ode to college frat house culture, which became a surprise box-office smash in 1978. The film kicked off a lucrative Hollywood franchise for the magazine, and (building on the groundwork that was established by M*A*S*H and Blazing Saddles) opened the floodgates for a whole new genre of raunchy, uninhibited and politically incorrect movie comedy. The film is also notable for launching the fruitful careers of director John Landis and future director Harold Ramis (who co-wrote with Doug Kenney and Chris Miller). And what a brilliant ensemble cast: Tom Hulce, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon (all unknowns at the time) along with screen vets Donald Sutherland and John Vernon. And no, I haven’t forgotten the guy who steals the show! I’m usually not a fan of physical comedy, but for some reason, everything John Belushi does in this movie, whether it’s falling off a ladder, smashing a guitar, crushing a beer can on his forehead, or simply arching his eyebrow-puts me in complete hysterics.

Rock 'N' Roll High School-As far as guilty pleasures go, this goofy bit of anarchy from the stable of legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman rates pretty high (and one suspects the creators of the film were, erm, “pretty high” when they dreamed it all up). Director Alan Arkush invokes the spirit of all those late 50s rock’n’roll exploitation movies (right down to having 27 year-old actors portraying “students”), substituting The Ramones for the usual clean-cut teen idols who inevitably pop up at the school dance. To this day, I’m still helplessly in love with P.J. Soles, who plays Vince Lombardi High School’s most devoted Ramones fan, Riff Randell. The great cast of B-movie troupers includes the late Paul Bartel (who directed several of his own cult classics under Corman’s tutelage) and his frequent screen partner Mary Waronov (as the uptight, iron-fisted principal). Although no one’s ever copped to it, I’m fairly sure this film inspired Square Pegs, the short-lived cult TV series from 1982. R.I.P. Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny.

To Sir, With Love-A decade after he co-starred in Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier traded the switchblade and the bad attitude for a nice suit and an earnest lesson plan; it was his turn to play the mentor. This well-acted 1967 drama offered a bold twist on the usual formula (for its time). Movie audiences were accustomed to watching an idealistic white teacher struggling to tame the wild (and usually “ethnic”) inner city students; in this case, you had an idealistic black teacher trying to relate to a classroom chockablock with citizens of the unruly, white British working class. It’s a tour de force for director James Clavell, who also wrote and produced. Culture clash is a dominant theme in many of Clavell’s novels and films; most famously in Shogun. The film is a great “swinging 60s” time capsule-thanks to a spunky performance of the memorable theme song by Lulu, and a brief appearance by the Mindbenders (don’t blink or you’ll miss future 10cc co-founder Eric Stewart). Co-stars include Judy Geeson (delivering a poignant performance) and future rocker Michael Des Barres (vocalist for Silverhead, Detective, Power Station).

Twenty-Four Eyes-This naturalistic, tremendously moving drama from Keisuke Kinoshita could very well be the ultimate “inspirational teacher” movie. Set in an isolated, sparsely populated village on the ruggedly beautiful coast of Japan’s Shodoshima island, the story begins in 1928 and ends just after WW 2. This is a deceptively simple yet deeply resonant tale about a long term mentorship that develops between a compassionate, nurturing teacher (Hideko Takamine) and her 12 students, from grade school through adulthood. Many of the cast members are non-actors, but you would never guess it from the uniformly wonderful performances. Kinoshita enlisted sets of siblings to portray the students as they “age”, giving the story a heightened sense of realism. The film, originally released in 1954, was hugely popular in Japan; a revival some years later enabled it to be discovered by Western audiences, who warmed to its humanist stance and undercurrent of anti-war sentiments. Keep a box of Kleenex nearby.

Extra credit (10 more)-The Class RushmoreFlirting
The History BoysWelcome to the DollhouseHeathersFour Friends400 BlowsThe Browning VersionIf...

Class dismissed!

Speaking of sending signals

by digby

h/t @IncredibleViews
Going to congress doesn't change the merits of the argument

by digby

Just a note to say that while I'm glad the president has decided to get congressional authorization --- it is a necessary concession to democratic principles --- it does not change my calculus about the wisdom of bombing Syria. I've thought a lot about this since the war with Iraq, when I made arguments repeatedly about "norms" and just war theory and constitutional requirements and the necessity of UN approval.  And I realized later that it was all a dodge on a certain level.  Yes, international norms are important as are our adherence to treaties and constitutional obligations.  But they don't trump the fact that it is unwise to take certain actions even if all those conditions are met.

I do not think it makes sense to bomb Syria on the merits, regardless of who approves it.  I think the US is needlessly running into a buzzsaw and may very likely make things worse. In my view, the correct approach for the US is energetic diplomacy with an eye toward pulling Russia and China away from their positions and getting the other Middle Eastern countries to put pressure on Assad. We have become dependent on the idea that bombing and killing is the only way to affect change despite the evidence that it doesn't work any better than using other approaches. The US has a lot of power and influence aside from an ability to launch cruise missiles.  I think we've gotten tremendously uncreative. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

We don't need no stinkin' scientists

by digby

Is this a great country or what?
New data compiled by a coalition of top scientific and medical research groups show that a large majority of scientists are receiving less federal help than they were three years ago, despite spending far more time writing grants in search of it. Nearly one-fifth of scientists are considering going overseas to continue their research because of the poor funding climate in America.

The study, which was spearheaded by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) and will be formally released next week, is the latest to highlight the extent to which years of stagnant or declining budgets, made worse by sequestration, have damaged the world of science.

More than 3,700 scientists from all 50 states participated in the study, offering online responses in June and July 2013. They offered sobering assessments of the state of their profession. Eighty percent said they were spending more of their time writing grants now than in 2010, while 67 percent said they were receiving less grant money now than they were back then. Only two percent of respondents said they had received money from their employers -- predominantly academic institutions -- to make up for the loss of federal funds.
So, what's the problem? As long as we have Jesus and the the Invisible Hand (pretty sure they are the same thing) we don't need a bunch of scientists wasting our hard earned money. Our problems will all go away as long as rich people are properly rewarded for their great service to our society. It's like magic.

I am beginning to agree with the conservatives about one thing: the self-esteem movement has hurt this culture terribly.  However it's not the squishy ladymen on the left who have taken it to heart, however. It's the right wing yahoos who believe the United States has been ordained by God to be the "greatest country the world has ever known." The fact that we are rapidly turning ourselves into a second rate backwater means nothing to them because well --- we're Number One! Everybody says so.


One More False Equivalence

by tristero

And while we're on the subject of science....

The logic goes: people on the right have screwy ideas, therefore people on the left must have equally screwy ideas. And therefore, a reasonable person must position her/his own ideas between the equal "extremes" of right and left opinions.

Of course, this logic is itself screwy. But that doesn't prevent the Times from publishing letters like this one, from a poor 'ittle conservative who believes he was treated unfair:
Anti-science complaints are most often aimed at the creationism espoused by religious conservatives, but there’s rarely a word about the left’s dubious opposition to engineering marvels like nuclear energy...
That's right: opposition to nuclear power is as extreme and intellectually vapid as refusing to accept the fact that organisms evolve.

There a little problem with that, however. It's called reality. From CNN:

While the amount of radioactivity released into the environment in March 2011 [by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster] has been estimated as between 10 percent and 50 percent of the fallout from the Chernobyl accident, the 400,000 tons of contaminated water stored on the Fukushima site contain more than 2.5 times the amount of radioactive cesium dispersed during the 1986 catastrophe in Ukraine...
...[A] huge amount of highly contaminated water – enough to fill 160 Olympic-size swimming pools...

Like it or not, nuclear energy is an extremely dangerous form of power. Given Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima (to name just three), opposition to the building of nuclear power plants is a reasonable position.

On the other hand, any way you cut it, creationism is simply a crude theology and nutso science that deserves not an iota of respect.

Can someone explain to me why this isn't a bigger deal?

by digby

I realize that the intelligence memo was a Friday newsdump on a holiday week-end but I'm still surprised I haven't seen any discussion of this.

American intelligence agencies had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people and has set the stage for a possible U.S. military strike on Syria.

The disclosure -- part of a larger U.S. intelligence briefing on Syria's chemical attacks -- raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions for the American government. First and foremost: What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?

In a call with reporters Friday afternoon, senior administration officials did not address whether this information was shared with rebel groups in advance of the attack. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the information had been shared.

But at least some members of the Syrian opposition are already lashing out at the U.S. government for not acting ahead of time to prevent the worst chemical attack in a quarter-century. "If you knew, why did you take no action?" asked Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist and secure-communications expert who has recently relocated to the United States. He added that none of his contacts had any sort of prior warning about the nerve gas assault -- although such an attack was always a constant fear.

Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition activist in the town of Douma, one of the towns hit in the Aug. 21 attack, said she had no early indication of a major chemical attack. "Even the moment [the attack hit], we thought it was as usual, limited and not strong," she told The Cable in an instant message. That only changed when "we started to hear about the number of injuries."

"It's unbelievable that they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime," Zaitouneh added.
Here's the passage in the Intelligence Memo that to which article refers:
We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.
Call me crazy but that seems like a big deal. Why didn't they reveal this publicly? I get that they were probably protecting sources and methods but this is a chemical weapons attack, something we allegedly believe is so far beyond the pale that it requires military action despite the fact that military action is widely acknowledged to be useless in stopping the carnage. And anyway, the cat's out of the bag now --- if that was their concern why in the world did they put this in this memo?

If this is all about the international norms against the use of chemical weapons being upheld, then I honestly cannot understand why we wouldn't have announced that we knew this was coming --- if only to warn the people of Syria. Who knows, maybe Assad (or whoever else did this) would have called it off! Instead it looks as though we sat on the information, knowing it was coming. (And, make no mistake, there are people who will surmise that was done purposely in order to create a casus belli. And that would be despicably immoral.)

The US government may not be able to do much in this situation because it is perversely limited by its military dominance. But there is one thing it has: the entire world now knows it has the capability of listening in on pretty much any conversation anywhere. That's a power they could have used to intimidate the Assad regime into thinking twice about doing this horrible thing. But it's entirely possible that they are so instinctively over-protective of their secrets that they couldn't move quickly enough.

On the other hand, this memo could just be full of lies. It wouldn't be the first time US Intelligence put out bogus information to bolster a case for military action, would it?

Update: Greg Mitchell did note this yesterday.

Update II: People on twitter presume that the administration probably only put together this evidence after the fact. That may be true. But considering the vast resources that go into our NSA/CIA operations, one has to wonder why they couldn't put it together in real time. After all, they knew what they were specifically looking for.

But hey, maybe all the money and capabilities they've developed haven't improved their ability to connect the dots even when they have a small number of people to spy upon and they have very specific suspicions. Good to know.

A fanfare for the common man on Labor Day weekend

by David Atkins

It's Labor Day weekend here in America. People are dying in Syria while the rest of the world tries to figure out what if anything at all can or should be done about it.

Now would be a good time for Americans to think how lucky we are, and to be thankful for the brave labor and progressive activists who have made our middle class and our prosperity possible, in spite of the plutocrats constantly seeking to destroy it. It's a good time for an old-fashioned Fanfare for the Common Man, courtesy Aaron Copland.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A twerking trainwreck

by digby

Brain bleach and tequila please.  And make it a double
"Iraq was a long, long time ago"

by digby

The New York Times ombudsman has been getting complaints from readers about the newspaper's coverage of Syria. Apparently quite a few people are hearing echoes of Iraq --- and they don't like it. She looked into it:
I talked with the managing editor Dean Baquet about this on Thursday, and to Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, on Friday. I asked both to what extent the work they are supervising – respectively, news stories and opinion pieces, including Times editorials – is influenced by an expressed desire to avoid past mistakes.

Mr. Baquet told me that the specter of Iraq is not something that has come up explicitly for discussion in meetings he has held among editors and reporters on the Syria coverage.

“I’ve never said, ‘Let’s remember what happened with Iraq,’” he told me. “I don’t think it’s necessary. I haven’t had to instruct the staff to ask hard questions. They are doing that.”

He added: “The press’s coverage of Iraq always lurks in the background. But it was a long, long time ago.”

Syria is not another Iraq, he said – one of the major differences, he said, is that the Obama administration has no enthusiasm for this conflict in the way that President George W. Bush’s administration did a decade ago.

“Nobody could read our coverage and say that The New York Times is trumpeting war,” Mr. Baquet added.
Hoookay. The paper that published Judy Miller's WMD propaganda certainly has no obligation to be especially mindful of its reporting about another "WMD" threat in the middle east. It was, after all, a "long, long time ago."

Sullivan weighs in:
I’ve been observing The Times’s Syria coverage and its editorials for many weeks, with an eye to this question. While The Times has offered deep and rich coverage from both Washington and the Syrian region, the tone cannot be described as consistently skeptical. I have noticed in recent weeks the ways that other major newspapers have signaled to their readers that they mean to question the government’s assertions. For example, although it may seem superficial, The Washington Post has sent a strong message when it has repeatedly used the word “alleged” in its main headlines to describe the chemical weapons attacks.

I have also found that The Times sometimes writes about the administration’s point of view in The Times’s own voice rather than providing distance through clear attribution. This is a subtle thing, and individual examples are bound to seem unimportant, but consider, for example, the second paragraph of Friday’s lead story. (The boldface emphasis is mine.)
The negative vote in Britain’s Parliament was a heavy blow to Prime Minister David Cameron, who had pledged his support to Mr. Obama and called on lawmakers to endorse Britain’s involvement in a brief operation to punish the government of President Bashar al-Assad for apparently launching a deadly chemical weapons attack last week that killed hundreds.
With the use of the word “apparently” – rather than directly attributing the administration, The Times seems to take the government’s position at face value. It’s a tiny example, of course, but in the aggregate it’s the kind of thing the readers I’ve quoted here are frustrated about.
I think this has been the usual approach of most of the big establishment papers for decades on these national security stories. They all comically cheered the run-up to Iraq, making their support so clear that it couldn't be ignored. You would think that would have made a difference, but it hasn't. Still, in my experience, the mainstream press identification with the government is these situations is always obvious.

When the government decides its going to war, most elite opinion falls in line and public opinion usually shifts, at least temporarily, as a result. Most pundits seem to think that being against a war that ends in victory is far more embarrassing than being against a war that ends up being a mistake, which has always struck me as very telling.

Still, this doesn't seem to be going as well for the government as one might have expected. The administration seems to have hoped they could get in and out quickly before anyone paid close attention and that hasn't worked out. And it seems not to have anticipated the reluctance on the part of politicians everywhere to stick their necks out again, which is downright puzzling. This product roll-out has been very bumpy and it's hard to see where it's going to end up at this point.

*In fairness, Sullivan does also point out that the editorial board has been more skeptical and that there has been some good, front page reporting that didn't have its thumb on the government's scales.

As California goes, so goes the west

by David Atkins

California emigres are changing the west:

Colorado's politics have become positively Californian lately. There are new restrictions on guns. Pot is legal. The legislative agenda featured an expansion of alternative-energy use requirements for rural consumers. Gay couples can now enter into civil unions.

There's a reason for all this.

Lots of Californians have moved to Denver and its environs, bringing a progressive strain of politics with them and angering more conservative parts of the state — so much so that 10 northeastern counties are planning symbolic but serious votes on secession this fall.

Conservatives have discovered that living on the far side of the Rockies is no longer far enough to get away from the influence of West Coast liberals.

"California migration, to a degree, has altered Colorado politics," says Mike Krause, vice president of the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Denver. "I see California license plates in my neighborhood and on my commute all the time."

California transplants aren't the entire reason the Mountain West has become arguably the nation's chief swing region in national politics. The number of Californians moving to other Western states has actually declined over the past couple of decades, while growth of Hispanic populations has been more important in terms of shaking things up politically.

Still, newcomers from California have not only helped put Colorado in the Democratic column in recent presidential elections, but they've also helped President Obama carry Nevada two times.

Californians have contributed to make Salt Lake City and Boise more Democratic in recent years, but they are easily outvoted by Republicans in other parts of Utah and Idaho. Similarly, other states such as Arizona and remain reliably Republican, but contain more liberal enclaves thanks to new arrivals from the West Coast.
Conservatives decry this undeniable phenomenon as Californians leaving a dystopia to ruin other places. Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course: California is such a desirable place to live that property values and other costs of living are through the roof. Inevitably, many professionals decide that it would be more worthwhile to go where the cost of living is cheaper, so long as they can remain reasonably well employed. And eventually, liberal policies will make those states more desirable places to live, which in turn will drive up property values and cost of living due to demand, etc. None of which are problems so long as wages can keep pace.

In the meantime, a liberal shift throughout West will eventually radically alter the entire nation's politics. Soon enough the nation's balance of power will shift away from the South and toward the West, with California--and Californians both resident and emigre--leading the charge.

"Then and there the child of Independence was born" (Hint: it wasn't about taxes)

by digby

I wrote about a California court decision allowing police to search the cell phone of any suspect who'se been arrested. I brought up the fact that cell phones aren't just phones these days, they are a repository of all of our communications with access to our browsing history, emails, pictures an documents. It's an extremely intrusive search and to do it without probably cause is really quite shocking.

This blog post by Brianne Gorod at the Constitutional Accountability Center gives some historical context explaining why it's also an egregious violation of the Fourth Amerndment:

The Fourth Amendment broadly protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and also provides that “no Warrants shall issue” unless they “particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” When the Framers adopted this Amendment, they were responding, in large part, to the British use of “general warrants” and “writs of assistance.” These warrants and writs lacked any specificity about the people or items to be searched and were not predicated on any individualized suspicion; essentially unlimited in scope, they allowed the officers executing them virtually unfettered discretion to engage in broad searches of a person’s home and the personal papers and effects in that home.

The use of these warrants was the subject of great opposition on the eve of the American Revolution. In a high profile case in 1761, a group of Boston merchants challenged the use of general warrants. Their attorney, James Otis, decried them as “the worst instrument of arbitrary power” and warned that they “place[d] the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.” Indeed, their use was one of the grievances that prompted the call for independence from British rule. John Adams later remarked that Otis’s attack on the use of general warrants “was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.” And as the Nation’s new Constitution was being debated, there were calls for an explicit prohibition on the use of such warrants. The uniquely detailed text of the Fourth Amendment was the result. It not only enshrined in our Nation’s charter a specific prohibition against general warrants, but it also reflected the Framers’ more general concern that government officers not be able to search a person’s home, papers, and effects in the absence of some individualized, justified suspicion that a specific search would produce evidence of wrongdoing. Stated simply, the Framers wanted to strip the government of the arbitrary power to rifle through a person’s belongings in the hope of finding something incriminating.

The practice permitted by the California courts (and others) violates this fundamental Fourth Amendment precept. Although the police may sometimes conduct warrantless searches after a lawful arrest, the traditional justifications for such searches were not present in Riley’s case—Riley’s cell phone had been taken away from him upon his arrest, thus eliminating any concern about destruction of evidence, and the text messages, emails, photos, and other digital contents of the phone could not have posed any threat, let alone an imminent one, to the arresting officers’ safety. To the contrary, the police acknowledged that they had dug through “a lot of stuff” on the phone specifically “looking for evidence.” This is precisely the type of search for which the Constitution demands a warrant.

Limits on the government's power to search your home and personal communications without specific suspicion of wrongdoing and authorization by a judge is fundamental to the American definition of liberty. It goes all the way back to the beginning. It's not an afterthought. This vacuous notion that "technology" somehow changes that basic principle must be challenged.


Giants have limitations

by digby

This morning, I wrote:
The calculus seems to be all about maintaining presidential prerogatives, sending messages and maintaining credibility at this point, all of which is total nonsense. The US is the world's military behemoth and everyone knows it. That such a country is also constricted in its ability to act militarily should be common sense. Big strong countries should pick their battles very carefully. But they always seem to be so worried about saving face and demonstrating their "credibility" that they make the mistake of believing their own hype. It's a depressingly familiar routine.
In this excellent post from James Fallows, which sets forth a number of concerns and insightful observations, he quotes this from a reader who says it more clearly than I did:
These pro-intervention responses (likely not representative of the whole country, granted) are indicative to me of a country still not yet at ease with its role as a superpower (~50 years isn't very long, granted). The idea of firing missiles on a country for the sake of one's own credibility is inward looking, and smacks of insecurity. The idea of one sovereign nation 'punishing' another equally so.

There is only one good reason to intervene in Syria: to prevent more innocent civilians from being burnt and gassed to death in their own homes - one can only imagine the true horror. And while that is a fine reason for wanting to intervene, it doesn't change the essential fact: none of the options laid before us will likely be effective in achieving that long term.

While hundreds of nations across the world would like to ease the suffering, they know implicitly that they don't have the capability to do so effectively, and so the debate never even begins. While in the US -- the world's 'only' superpower -- we wrestle with arguments of why and how, because we can't see the elephant in the room: we're powerless to help! (1). As a superpower the US cannot concede this explicitly. If strikes are launched, it will show that the US cannot concede this implicitly either.

(1) caveat: The US could of course launch a full scale invasion and win comfortably, but as we know from Iraq, it would not ease civilian suffering in the short and medium term, and the loss of life to them and us is too great.
This is a point I've been trying to make for a decade. The US government is not a superhero. It is not omnipotent. In fact, it is an unwieldy giant that is so big it is muscle bound and clumsy. It cannot accomplish fine surgical tasks and is, therefore, ill suited to small bore interventions.

The greatest advantage this nation really has is the mystery of its power. When it decides it must intervene and fails to accomplish its stated goals, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, that mystique is eroded and it's very difficult to get it back. Demonstrating over and over again that it doesn't have the agility to affect behavioral change with its mighty military force (and is sloppy, at best, with its intelligence capabilities) is a mistake. It emboldens foolish people to take chances they wouldn't otherwise take and risks escalating into the major confrontation that the US doesn't want to have to wage.

After years of crying wolf and being exposed as far less capable that the world once thought, it's absolutely predictable the Syrians (whoever they are) decided to test the boundaries. Taking the bait in this precise way, proving that we don't have the capacity or the influence to do anything other than ineffectual "signal-sending" or all out war weakens our national security and doesn't help the Syrian people. Giants have limitations too. But it's not a good idea to go out and prove it every chance you get.

Good news on the Grand Bargain Zombie

by digby

It sounds like we dodged the Grand Bargain bullet again.  For the moment anyway:

Through multiple meetings with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the group discussed a range of options, including a “grand bargain” that would involve a complete restructuring of Medicare, according to people familiar with the meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

The group also discussed a smaller deal that would replace much of the remaining sequester savings — about $500 billion over the next eight years — with narrower reforms to Medicare, Social Security and other ­mandatory-spending programs, such as farm subsidies.

But the talks never really gelled, in part because Republicans would not consider raising taxes on the wealthy or corporations as part of the smaller deal, arguing that congressional Republicans as a whole would never agree to replace sequester cuts with higher taxes. Nor did they offer a specific strategy for raising taxes as part of the larger deal.

The final meeting came Thursday at the White House, where the group also discussed potential military action against Syria. The eight senators were Corker, Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Daniel Coats (Ind.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.) and, joining by phone, John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.).

By the end of the session, both sides agreed there was no point in meeting again.
The idea that the President could have sold this to the Democrats, even with some illusory tax hikes seems unlikely, but who knows? On the other hand it's far more likely than the GOP being able to sell it to the tea partiers. The sequester is terrible and so is the Grand Bargain. It's time for some fresh thinking on all of this.

In the meantime it looks as if we're heading for another showdown. What could go wrong?

Guess who's copying George W. Bush's most manipulative rhetoric?

by digby

I'm sure you all recall this war cry from George W. Bush's, right?
"There's no question that the leader of Iraq is an evil man. After all, he gassed his own people,"
-- George W. Bush Bush Oct. 11, 2001, address.

"Saddam Hussein is a man who is willing to gas his own people, willing to use weapons of mass destruction against Iraq citizens." --George W. Bush, March 22, 2002

"As he said, any person that would gas his own people is a threat to the world."--Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, May 31, 2002

"A lot of people understand that this man has defied every U.N. resolution -- sixteen U.S. (sic) resolutions he's ignored. A lot of people understand he holds weapons of mass destruction. A lot of people understand he has invaded two countries. A lot of people understand he's gassed his own people. A lot of people understand he is unstable." --- George W. Bush, September 7, 2002

Q: If I could follow-up on it. You and the President have repeatedly said one of the reasons Saddam is part of the axis of evil is because he's gassed his own people. Well, he gassed his own people with our help. You saw the Washington Post article, didn't you, by Michael Dobbs?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that statement is not borne out by the facts. I think that he gassed his own people as a result of his decisions to use his weapons to gas his own people. And I think the suggestion that you blame America for Iraq's actions is way beyond the pale. --- press briefing January 27, 2003
There's a reason why the world asked Saddam Hussein to disarm -- for 12 years. (Laughter.) And the reason why is because he's dangerous. He's used them. He tortures his own people. He's gassed his own people. He's attacked people in the neighborhood. -- George W. Bush, January 29,2003

It is undisputed that Saddam did "gas his own people." But this act (which was ignored at the time it happened) became one of the rallying cries of the Iraq invasion, which we all now know was a terrible decision. Bush said it dozens of times in his speeches and press conferences. It is seared into the memories of every American who was paying attention at the time. And one would hope that any decent politician would be smart enough not to echo that rhetoric as a casus belli again so soon.

Unfortunately, this happened last night:
“It is clear that the American people are weary of war. However, Assad gassing his own people is an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security,” Pelosi said in a statement after the 90-minute conference call with members of the National Security Council and 26 high-ranking lawmakers.
George W Bush couldn't have said it better. I'm just surprised she didn't add "the oceans can't protect us anymore" to really drive home the point.

No, Assad "gassing his own people" (if, in fact, he actually gave that order, which has not been established) is not an issue of our national security. That's as daft as Powell talking about Saddam's drone fleet dropping bio-weapons on America. (Which  turned out to be a couple of outdated Czech UAVs that couldn't fly more than a few meters.) Our national security is affected by Assad's alleged actions only in the most abstract sense, even beyond anything that the last administration threw out there. And strangely, nobody has been making that explicit argument until the top Democratic leader in the House stepped up to make it.

If I didn't know better (and I do) I would almost think she said it to derail the intervention. Nobody who was serious would back anything that sounds exactly like the justifications that were used for the Iraq debacle. That's the craziest thing I can imagine, particularly coming from a Democrat who used to sound like this instead:

"The Democratic Party lost an opportunity five months ago to avert the massive military buildup toward war against Iraq by failing to take a unified stand, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Friday. Pelosi, a California Democrat who voted against the October 2002 congressional resolution to back a possible U.S.-led war, told a foreign policy think tank [Council on Foreign Relations] that President Bush 'is too far down the road and I don't think he's turning back. If the Democrats had spoken out more clearly in a unified vote five months ago in opposition to the resolution, if the people had gone onto the streets five months ago in these numbers in our country and around the world, I think we might have been in a different place today,' Pelosi said...
Unlike others, I would guess at this point that if the Obama administration wanted to take this vote to the congress he could get it passed with Democratic votes and half the Republicans. (I do not believe they have lost their taste for blood altogether, but just as with Kosovo many of them will be singing Kumbaaya for purely political reasons.) It doesn't look as if the President's going to do that but things are just scrambled enough with the UK backing out that it could happen.

The calculus seems to be all about maintaining presidential prerogatives, and sending messages and maintaining credibility at this point, all of which is total nonsense. The US is the world's military behemoth and everyone knows it. That such a country is also constricted in its ability to act militarily should be common sense. Big strong countries should pick their battles very carefully. But they always seem to be so worried about saving face and demonstrating their "credibility" that they make the mistake of believing their own hype. It's a depressingly familiar routine.


The Onion delivers some spot-on Syria analysis

by David Atkins

You know the elite punditry leaves quite a bit to be desired when The Onion beats most of them out for cogent policy analysis:

So, What's It Going to Be?

by Bashar Al-Assad

Well, here we are. It’s been two years of fighting, over 100,000 people are dead, there are no signs of this war ending, and a week ago I used chemical weapons on my own people. If you don’t do anything about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. If you do something about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. Morally speaking, you’re on the hook for those deaths no matter how you look at it.

o, it’s your move, America. What’s it going to be?

I’ve looked at your options, and I’m going to be honest here, I feel for you. Not exactly an embarrassment of riches you’ve got to choose from, strategy-wise. I mean, my God, there are just so many variables to consider, so many possible paths to choose, each fraught with incredible peril, and each leading back to the very real, very likely possibility that no matter what you do it’s going to backfire in a big, big way. It’s a good old-fashioned mess, is what this is! And now, you have to make some sort of decision that you can live with.

So, where do I begin? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but let’s start with the fact that my alliance with Russia and China means that nothing you decide to do will have the official support of the UN Security Council. So, right off the bat, I’ve already eliminated the possibility of a legally sound united coalition like in Libya or the First Gulf War. Boom. Gone. Off the table.

Now, let’s say you’re okay with that, and you decide to go ahead with, oh, I don’t know, a bombing campaign. Now, personally, I can see how that might seem like an attractive option for you. No boots on the ground, it sends a clear message, you could cripple some of my government’s infrastructure, and it’s a quick, clean, easy way to punish me and make you look strong in the face of my unimaginable tyranny. But let’s get real here. Any bombing campaign capable of being truly devastating to my regime would also end up killing a ton of innocent civilians, as such things always do, which I imagine is the kind of outcome you people would feel very guilty about. You know, seeing as you are so up in arms to begin with about innocent Syrians dying. Plus, you’d stoke a lot of anti-American hatred and quite possibly create a whole new generation of Syrian-born jihadists ready to punish the United States for its reckless warmongering and yadda yadda yadda.

Okay, what else? Well, you could play small-ball and hope that limited airstrikes to a few of my key military installations will send me the message to refrain from using chemical weapons again, but, c’mon, check me out: I’m ruthless, I’m desperate, and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in power. I’d use chemical weapons again in a heartbeat. You know that. And I know you know that. Hell, I want to help you guys out here, but you gotta be realistic. Trust me, I am incapable of being taught a lesson at this point. Got it? I am too far gone. Way too far gone.

Oh, and I know some of you think a no-fly zone will do the trick, but we both know you can’t stomach the estimated $1 billion a month that would cost, so wave bye-bye to that one, too.

Moving on.

I suppose you could always, you know, not respond with military force at all. But how can you do that? I pumped sarin gas into the lungs of my own people, for God’s sake! You can’t just let me get away with that, can you? I mean, I guess you easily could, and spare yourself all of this headache, but then you would probably lose any of your remaining moral high ground on the world stage and make everything from the Geneva Conventions to America’s reputation as a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world look like a complete sham.
It goes on like this. It's a great read, and strikes at the heart of what makes this such an impossible problem.

There are no good options for the Western world here. None. Anyone who thunders on about how morally obvious the answer is, whether it be intervening or failing to, isn't a trustworthy policy analyst.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

About those war plans ....

by digby

I was wondering about this rather detailed, voluminous amount of information being leaked pertaining to specifics of the proposed bombing campaign in Syria.  Obviously, the administration believes that there is some utility in leaking this information and I suppose it's one thing if it's designed to fake out Assad or allow for some kind of surprise.  But it seems to me that it's a little bit less understandable if it's being done to build political support here at home.  After all, this administration has been absolute hell on leakers:
The administration has gone after Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, journalists, midlevel federal officials and even Hoss Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over various allegations stemming from the release of classified information.

“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” Obama said in May as he defended criminal probes of leakers. “I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”

And, in June, McClatchy reported on an administration-wide “Internal Threat Program” designed to get federal employees to spy on each other and report information-sharing abuses 
Fast-forward a few months, and Obama administration officials, eager to make the case that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people and that the United States should launch reprisal strikes against him, have been talking out of school.

Citing a “wide range of officials,” The New York Times reported on Tuesday that an assault would be “limited.” The story further reported “scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea” would be “aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks.” The story included the tidbit that the number of potential targets numbered fewer than 50 — and it wasn’t the week’s only report on operational planning.

The juxtaposition of the recent string of anonymous quote-fueled stories with the administration’s history of cracking down on certain leakers has given fodder to the president’s critics on both the right and the left, particularly as the White House makes the case for launching military strikes.

“This isn’t unique to the Obama administration. It’s a problem that transcends party. But we have expressed concern in the past with selective leaking,” said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy director in the ACLU’s Washington office. “The administration, because of the way in which the system works, has the ability to, in the case of possibly Syria, leak in its interest. But when you have leaks in the public interest that might be embarrassing, it gets treated as espionage.”
I guess the commander in chief gets to decide if he wants to leak something, but there is something very unseemly about being so harsh that you would go after journalists for publishing leaks but leaking war plans(supposedly the absolute worst kind of leak there could be) to bolster your political position. It may be legal, but it sure doesn't look good.

Meanwhile, I'm sure everyone's heard by now that the Brits voted down their participation in a non UN sanctioned strike --- against PM Cameron's wishes.

They got to vote on it. Imagine that.

Update: Grayson comes out swinging and points out the obvious: we don't know for a fact that Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons and we don't even know for sure what chemical weapons were used, if any. There are inspectors on the ground and it is vitally necessary to allow them to do their work and prove to the world that this isn't another instance of the US playing fast and loose with the facts in order to justify a military action.

If you are not skeptical of all this simply based on our recent track record, I would urge you to take a look at this very, very interesting piece by Emptywheel:
Let’s take a step back. 
Idris defected — at least publicly — from Assad’s army last July, around the same time as then CIA Director David Petraeus and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unsuccessfully lobbied to start arming the rebels, and the month before Obama laid out chemical weapon use as his “red line.” 
Idris was elected — thanks to a lot of arm twisting by US and its allies — to command the Free Syrian Army in December, just weeks after a chemical weapons incident I’ve been obsessing on. Shortly after his election, Idris gave a number of interviews in which he emphasized two things: that his people had an eye on Assad’s CW, and that Assad would use them if he got cornered. 
The new Syrian rebel commander has told The Associated Press that his fighters are monitoring the regime’s chemical weapons sites, but don’t have the means to seize and secure them. 
Gen. Salim Idris, who defected from the Syrian army in July, says he is “very afraid” a cornered regime will use chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. Syria is said to have one of the world’s largest chemical arsenals. 
Effectively, Idris was repeating the line intelligence analysts had given just weeks earlier (or they had been repeating what he told them), even while suggesting his men were the ones watching over the CW.
If that has you curious, read the whole thing. I'm sorry, this is exactly the sort of pattern that makes me skeptical.

QOTD: Howard Wolfson

by digby

This is very honest and straightforward:
MT: De Blasio wants to raise taxes on those making more than half a million dollars to pay for pre-K and after-school. Tell me exactly what’s wrong with that.

HW: We’re already the highest-taxed jurisdiction at the high end in the country.2 People who live here are already making a decision that says, “It’s more expensive for me to live here then anywhere else, and I’m willing to pay that price.” What changes that? You can raise the price, and people could decide it’s not worth it anymore. Or it could be because crime goes up or it becomes dirtier. Or both of those things could happen. A combination of things could really have an impact.

MT: You say people might leave. And you imply that you would rather have those less-affluent people leave than have the people making more than $500,000 leave. Why?

HW: In a pure economic sense, one person who pays an enormous amount of money in taxes is worth more to the city than someone who doesn’t. A very small number of people in the city pay a very large portion of our taxes. That’s all redistributionist. And that’s fine! God bless. That’s America. But you only need a very small number of those people to leave before you have a revenue problem.

MT: So you’re saying that the economic imperative trumps all the others? We could all adopt a sort of libertarian, anarchic …

HW: Well Mike Bloomberg is very far from that.

MT: I think we know that. But on economic issues …

HW: Here’s the thing. We can all whistle “The Internationale.” But this is the most redistributionist place in the country.

MT: But it’s also the most unequal place in the country, and when you extrapolate to the five boroughs, it’s the most unequal big city. And that’s fine, there’s reasons for that.

HW: I was gonna say, Detroit is very equal.

MT: I get that. But given that, why isn’t it okay to make a little correction?

HW: I guess I’m more concerned about mobility than inequality. I’m more concerned about poverty than inequality. To me, inequality is a political argument, and from an economic or policy perspective, we ought to be talking about mobility. I would rather have a conversation about how we reduce poverty and increase mobility than how we redistribute wealth.
In case you don't know who Wolfson is:
Howard Wolfson is counselor to the Mayor of New York City and a Democratic political strategist. He replaced Kevin Sheekey as Deputy Mayor of New York City for governmental affairs.

A native of New York, Wolfson graduated from the University of Chicago and holds a Masters in U.S. History from Duke University. He first worked for U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) as her chief-of-staff and press secretary, and was executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1998 to 2000. He served as communications director for the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer (1998), Hillary Clinton (2000, 2006), and Ned Lamont (2006).

Wolfson was co-chief strategist and communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, after which he became managing director at the consulting firm Glover Park Group. He was a senior strategist for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2009 re-election campaign. He was a Fox News contributor, and advised Ned Lamont's campaign for governor of Connecticut.
If there is one person who accurately represents the political establishment in all its glory, it's Wolfson.

Now go back and read what he said again.

If the President gets to act like a King in foreign policy, people will make the same assumption in domestic policy

by David Atkins

One of the indicators that a person has an intelligent grasp of domestic policy is the understanding that the President can't just get whatever he or she wants from Congress. This point seems obvious to the sort of person who would read Hullabaloo, but it shouldn't be taken for granted. In addition to the "green lantern theory" of presidential power espoused by some journalists, there are a large number of voters who attribute imperial power to the President, and who automatically blame him if the economy goes sour or if there is a failure to pass needed laws. It's the President, not the Congress, who takes the blame. This is unfair, particularly in an era where the Republican Congress is acting with an intransigence not seen since the pre-Civil War Congress. Those of us who know it's unfair tend to look down on those who think the Presidency is essentially an elected kingship, and who believe that the President can simply enact universal healthcare, deftly reduce the deficit and end student loan debt with a wave of his hand.

But why shouldn't they believe that, after all, when the President can simply decide to drop bombs on another country without an act of Congress? Why should it be easier for the President to unilaterally decide whether and when to go to war, than to decide whether Wall Street should have more stringent regulations? Matters of war and peace are emotional and highly newsworthy. People notice, and take their cues from them as to how the government works.

It's obvious that Presidents since World War II have enjoyed the broader authority granted to the Executive Branch in matters of war and peace. But in a time of gridlocked government, Presidents should think twice about the signal that failing to get Congressional approval for acts of war sends to the American people.

We've got money to burn as long as its kept a secret

by digby

This new Washington Post story about the intelligence services black budget (taken from documents provided by the inveterate narcissist, Edward Snowden) is a real blockbuster. It's going to take some time to fully digest what it means, but this is what jumped out at me to begin with:
The CIA’s dominant position will likely stun outside experts. It represents a remarkable recovery for an agency that seemed poised to lose power and prestige after acknowledging intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The surge in resources for the agency funded secret prisons, a controversial interrogation program, the deployment of lethal drones and a huge expansion of its counterterrorism center. The agency was transformed from a spy service struggling to emerge from the Cold War into a paramilitary force.
This budget has been off the books for decades and from the sound of the article nobody knew that the CIA had become the Big Player in all this. The implication is that the government decided that despite CIA's inability to accurately assess the state of Saddam's nuclear weapons program (or, perhaps, willingness to lie about it) it was nothing that couldn't be fixed with a firehose full of money --- to pay for secret prisons, illegal torture operations and drone warfare.  And yet oddly, here we are today, unsure about who's responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Syria. Go figure.

I'm not sure the fact that the CIA is the behemoth secret intelligence operation matters all that much except to the extent that the CIA has a license to kill.  Still, one would hope that we would at least know what the list of so-called enemies really has on it and what kinds of measures these agencies think are necessary to protect us from them. (For instance, it's unclear why bugging the EU at the UN is considered a national security matter.) Covert is covert and whether its the NSA or the CIA.

Still, this via Kevin Drum is striking by any measure:
Unsurprisingly, the CIA, NSA, and reconnaissance satellites collectively account for nearly 80 percent of our total civilian-ish intelligence spending. Another $23 billion goes to "intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military." That's a total of $75 billion. Adjusted for inflation, Gellman and Miller say this exceeds our peak spending during the Cold War
That's amazing. I'm so old I remember when we had an enemy that put nuclear weapons 90 miles offshore very nearly resulting in WWIII. And yet we're spending more today to face down a threat from non-state actors and a few other countries which hardly match the intensity of  the old Soviet Union's hostility toward the west.  But hey, we've got money to burn for this stuff.  It's everyone else who has to have "skin in the game."

You have to love this:
Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who was a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and co-chairman of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, said that access to budget figures has the potential to enable an informed public debate on intelligence spending for the first time, much as Snowden’s disclosures of NSA surveillance programs brought attention to operations that had assembled data on nearly every U.S. citizen. 
“Much of the work that the intelligence community does has a profound impact on the life of ordinary Americans, and they ought not to be excluded from the process,” he said. 
“Nobody is arguing that we should be so transparent as to create dangers for the country,” he said. But, he said, “there is a mindset in the national security community — leave it to us, we can handle it, the American people have to trust us. They carry it to quite an extraordinary length so that they have resisted over a period of decades transparency. . . . The burden of persuasion as to keeping something secret should be on the intelligence community, the burden should not be on the American public.”
That man is obviously a narcissist who cares nothing for the security of our nation.  Doesn't he know that just need to"trust the professionals so that we might be "comfortable"? The man is seriously out of touch.

Goldilocks is the permanent doyenne of This Town

by digby

Good lord. This may be the stupidest thing Vandehei has ever written and that's saying something:

Imagine Dick Cheney in a “Saturday Night Live” skit fantasizing about Barack Obama handling the pressures of going to war.

Cheney’s sitting there, yucking it up with Rummy and the boys, eating yellow cake. He laughs off his own reckless rush to an unwinnable war fought on flawed grounds. His thought bubble pops up.

Obama would be droning on about the complexities of Syria, the limits of U.S. power in the region, the danger of action and the wisdom of caution.

He would promise swift action only if true red lines were crossed. The deaths of 100,000 people would not be one of them.

He would feel self-conscious about looking weak, so he would talk to those in the press who truly understand his complex views. In doing so, he would spring a surprise on his advisers and say the movement of or use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be the trigger to “change my calculus.”

His staff would leak that it was improvised, so even it didn’t know if it was real.

Syria would then cross that red line, using chemical weapons in defiance of Obama and other leaders of civilized nations, a provocation the president simply could not ignore.

So Obama would promise swift, decisive action. But not until aides leak to the media that he doesn’t really want to do it.

Obama would know his anti-war base on the left would simply hate another war based on allegations of weapons of mass destruction.

So he would promise swift but very limited action. Of course, he won’t topple the regime like that crazy Bush did in Iraq, his staff would privately explain to the press. Of course, it will be short, targeted, with no boots on the ground or sustained effort, it would add.

Obama would seek the backing of world leaders, to find only Britain and France would immediately stand with him and that the same nations who refused to help in Iraq would refuse to help him here. Vladimir Putin, the guy Obama took office promising to straighten out, would thumb his nose.

Obama would get hung up on legal justification for action, finding out quick that it’s scant or at least dubious in the eyes of many.

Just as he appeared ready to hold his nose and hit the button, The New York Times and Associated Press would report that the intelligence brief is not a “slam dunk” and there is “no smoking gun.”

This would come only hours after the president tells PBS that the chemical weapons could, possibly, maybe be one day be directed against the United States because there are so many of them and who knows who could get their hands on them.

So, there Obama would stand in the White House, looking like Bush before he hit Iraq, staring at intelligence that can never be infallible, listening to intense dissent around him, feeling pressure to act to show strength. But unlike Bush, everyone in the room — everyone in the world — would know he was only acting reluctantly, with virtually no chance of ending a horrific civil war and absolutely without intending to follow through to finish the job.

The thought bubble closes. Cheney, who became a parody of the excesses of the right wing approach to military power, grins as he thinks of Obama becoming a parody of the liberal approach to military power on Syria.

The skit ends with Cheney grimacing:

“Live from Washington — it’s NOT Saturday Night.”

Maureen Dowd he ain't. In fact, this is such a bad version of her patented schtick that it's hard to figure out exactly what he's trying to say here.

It appears that he thinks there's some magical Goldilocks approach to all this that wouldn't be a "parody" of the excessive right wing or a "parody" the girly-men of the silly liberal approach to military power. (I don't think that word means what he thinks it means...) But if he does think there's a middle ground between the stalwart he-man Cheney and waffling girly man Obama, I wonder why he hasn't bothered to tell us what that is? Surely, they must have discussed it in "this Town" somewhere over the last few days.

"The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality"

by digby

I wonder if most of you have heard this speech by A. Phillip Randolph, which opened the ceremonies at the March on Washington 50 years ago?  I hadn't:
We’re gathered here for the longest demonstration in the history of this nation. Let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers. We are not a pressure group, we are not an organization or a group of organizations, we are not a mob. We are the advanced guard of a massive, moral revolution for jobs and freedom. This revolution reverberates throughout the land touching every city, every town, every village where black men are segregated, oppressed and exploited. But this civil rights revolution is not confined to the Negro, nor is it confined to civil rights for our white allies who know that they cannot be free while we are not.

And we know that we have no future in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty. Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them. Yes, we want a Fair Employment Practice Act, but what good will it do if profit-geared automation destroys the jobs of millions of workers black and white? And so we have taken our struggle into the streets as the labor movement took its struggle into the streets, as Jesus Christ led the multitude through the streets of Judaea. The plain and simple fact is that until we went into the streets the federal government was indifferent to our demands. It was not until the streets and jails of Birmingham were filled that Congress began to think about civil rights legislation. It was not until thousands demonstrated in the South that lunch counters and other public accommodations were integrated.

We want integrated public schools, but that means we also want federal aid to education, all forms of education. We want a free, democratic society dedicated to the political, economic and social advancement of man along moral lines. Now we know that real freedom will require many changes in the nation’s political and social philosophies and institutions. For one thing we must destroy the notion that Mrs. Murphy’s property rights include the right to humiliate me because of the color of my skin.

The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality. It falls to the Negro to reassert this proper priority of values, because our ancestors were transformed from human personalities into private property. It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment, and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits—for we are the worst victims of unemployment. Negroes are in the forefront of today’s movement for social and racial justice, because we know we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations.
And so we have taken our struggle into the streets as the labor movement took its struggle into the streets, as Jesus Christ led the multitude through the streets of Judaea. The plain and simple fact is that until we went into the streets the federal government was indifferent to our demands. It was not until the streets and jails of Birmingham were filled that Congress began to think about civil rights legislation. It was not until thousands demonstrated in the South that lunch counters and other public accommodations were integrated.

It was not until the Freedom Riders were brutalized in Alabama that the 1946 Supreme Court decision banning discrimination in interstate travel was enforced and it was not until construction sites were picketed in the North that Negro workers were hired. Those who deplore our militants, who exhort patience in the name of a false peace, are in fact supporting segregation and exploitation. They would have social peace at the expense of social and racial justice. They are more concerned with easing racial tension than enforcing racial democracy.

The months and years ahead will bring new evidence of masses in motion for freedom. The March on Washington is not the climax of our struggle, but a new beginning not only for the Negro but for all Americans who thirst for freedom and a better life. Look for the enemies of Medicare, of higher minimum wages, of Social Security, of federal aid to education and there you will find the enemy of the Negro, the coalition of Dixiecrats and reactionary Republicans that seek to dominate the Congress.

We must develop strength in order that we may be able to back and support the civil rights program of President Kennedy. In the struggle against these forces, all of us should be prepared to take to the streets. The spirit and techniques that built the labor movement, founded churches, and now guide the civil rights revolution must be a massive crusade, must be launched against the unholy coalition of Dixiecrats and of the racists that seek to strangle Congress. We here today are only the first wave.

When we leave, it will be to carry on the civil rights revolution home with us into every nook and cranny of the land, and we shall return again and again to Washington in every growing numbers until total freedom is ours. We shall settle for nothing less, and may God grant that we may have the courage, the strength, and faith in this hour of trial by fire never to falter.

Somehow, I don't think Jim DeMint's appropriation of the civil rights movement would have been approved by this fellow. That's a radical speech with a radical idea: "We want a free, democratic society dedicated to the political, economic and social advancement of man along moral lines." The only people I've ever known who think capitalism's invisible hand is "moral" are Ayn Rand fanatics.

It's been so interesting to revisit this march over the past few days with a fresh eye, informed by our recent economic history. These issues of income inequality are not new problems. It's just that for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, the white middle class is feeling its effects. Clearly our African American brothers and sisters were on to this a long, long time ago. And they have had to fight racism at the same time. Yet they made this universal argument for economic fairness right along with their argument for their own freedom and dignity.

This was and is a truly magnificent mass movement. As much as we revere it today (so much the right wants to take for themselves!)I don't think most of us white liberals have fully realized just how great it really was. These arguments form the moral basis for American liberalism. We would do ourselves a favor by playing close attention to what these people said and did. It's as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

h/t to Doug Henwood