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Friday, January 31, 2014


by digby

Party on dudes ...

The Keystone story: an important long read

by digby

If you are engaged in the battle over the keystone Pipeline you probably know the scope of the story, but if you aren't, this long, fascinating article will be an eye opener. This isn't just some hippies protesting on behalf of the environment (not that there's anything wrong with that.) There is a broad coalition of farmers, land owners, ranchers, environmentalists and climate change activists who are extremely alarmed and are fighting the corporate energy producers to push this back. And for good reason:

While most landowners along the pipeline route reached negotiated agreements with the company, Thompson was one of a determined lot who did not want to allow the pipeline at any price. Some of the pipeline opponents were the fourth or fifth generation to farm the same land settled by their ancestors, the original homesteaders whose unsmiling portraits still looked down in judgment from the farmhouse walls.

The landowners had another concern that went beyond property rights: water. Much of Nebraska sits on top of the giant Ogallala Aquifer, a formation of shale and gravel that holds fresh water like a giant, underground sponge. The water table here is so high farmers can hit water when digging post-holes in the spring. Agriculture in the state depends on the water pumped up from the earth. On Thompson’s small farm, a 30-foot-deep well pumps 4,500 gallons per minute. A pinhole leak in the pipe, he worried, could contaminate his well and leave his entire land useless. TransCanada’s additional safety enhancements like additional remote-controlled shutoff valves and increased inspections didn’t persuade him. “If it’s buried on your property, that’s going to be a constant worry for the rest of your life,” says Thompson.
As word about the pipeline spread through the state, TransCanada’s assurances about pipeline safety were no match for the alarming scenes that Nebraskans saw on their television screens in 2010. That spring, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leaking five million barrels of oil into the sea. Then, in July, an Enbridge pipeline, known as Line 6B, carrying the same kind of diluted bitumen from Alberta that the Keystone XL would transport, spilled 900,000 barrels into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan—the largest on-land oil spill in U.S. history.

The Enbridge spill highlighted a worrisome feature of diluted bitumen—it behaved differently from conventional oil when spilled into water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would later report: “In that spill, oil sands crude sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, mixing with the river bottom’s sediment and organic matter, making the oil difficult to find and recover.” The Michigan cleanup would take more than three years and required the dredging of river bottom sediments because “the oil sands crude associated with the Enbridge spill will not appreciably biodegrade.”

Read the whole thing to understand just what a heavy, heavy lift it's been to push back on the oil companies and the government to stop this thing. And there's has been some notable success.

Unfortunately, the State Department review was released today and  it's bad news:
The long-awaited environmental impact statement on the project concludes that approval or denial of the pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is unlikely to prompt oil companies to change the rate of their extraction of carbon-heavy tar sands oil, a State Department official said. Either way, the tar sands oil, which produces significantly more planet-warming carbon pollution than standard methods of drilling, is coming out of the ground, the report says.

In his second term, Mr. Obama has sought to make his fight against climate change a cornerstone of his legacy. In a major speech on the environment last summer, Mr. Obama said that he would approve the pipeline only if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution. He said the pipeline’s net effects on the climate would be “absolutely critical” to his decision.

The conclusions of the report appear to indicate that the project has passed Mr. Obama’s climate criteria.
 But it ain't over til it's over:
The report released on Friday, however, is far from the final decision on the project. The State Department must next determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest. That involves taking into account both the environmental and economic impact of the project, as well as its impact on the relationship between the United States and Canada, the nation’s largest trading partner and largest source of foreign oil.

Although Secretary of State John Kerry must weigh in with a recommendation to the president on whether to approve the pipeline, it is the president who must make the ultimate decision. Nonetheless, the assignment creates a difficult situation for Mr. Kerry, who has a long record of trying to tackle climate change and hopes to make the issue a signature of his tenure at the State Department.

Mr. Kerry has repeatedly been asked about his views on the pipeline but has never publicly commented on it. He has no deadline to make the determination. A State Department official said he was preparing to “dive in” to the 11-volume environmental impact statement as a first step.

Eight other agencies with jurisdiction over elements of the project — the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency — will also weigh in.

If you watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl you know that environmental disaster was caused by mismanagement of the land that made the drought conditions much worse. The repercussions were tragic and it took a very long time to fix. The knew they were doing it at the time but couldn't stop themselves. There was money to be made.

But you don't mess with the water table. And here we go again.

The good news is that as the article shows, the grassroots organizing against this is about as sophisticated and broad based as you can get in our political culture. This isn't a case of a bunch of naysayers whining and spitting into the wind. If anyone can get the right result, they can. But the moneyed forces arrayed to get this thing done are extremely formidable and as influential in elite circles as you can get. And if there's one thing our current administration has shown over and over again, they take those interests very, very seriously.

Credo Action has a pledge of resistance, if you're of a mind to get involved.

Throwing your friends under a bus

by David Atkins

I've always been 99% confident that Chris Christie knew about his Administration's role in the bridge closures, and that he moreover likely ordered the closures himself.

The only little nagging doubt in my mind was the suspicion that not even Chris Christie would be stupid enough to throw his longtime friends and associates that far under the bus and deliver a 2-hour press conference about it unless he either knew they would never talk, or unless he really was innocent.

I guess not:

The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday that “evidence exists” the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.

In a letter released by his lawyer, the former official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.
Anything is possible in politics, of course, but I don't see how Christie survives this to even remain governor of New Jersey, much less start a presidential campaign.

Artistic Solidarity

by digby

This is special:
"Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished," Clapper said, according to a transcript from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, posted by the Washington Post. "If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed, to prevent even more damage to U.S. security."

So who, exactly, are Snowden’s “accomplices?”

Guardian national security editor Spencer Ackerman, among others, questioned on Twitter whether Clapper was referring to journalists.

HuffPost put the question to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which didn't rule out that journalists could be considered "accomplices."

The office's public affairs director Shawn Turner said in an email that “director Clapper was referring to anyone who is assisting Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs.”

The suggestion that Snowden is conspiring with journalists, rather than acting as their source, has come up ever since the National Security Agency surveillance story broke last spring.
Here's the oath that Clapper took when he took the job:
I, James Clapper, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
And here's the First Amendment to the constitution which he swore to uphold in that oath:
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
There is no evidence that Snowden was working with anyone other than journalists who have been vetting the material with the help of editors, lawyers and experts and publishing it via legitimate news organizations. So this cavalier hinting around that there was some kind of espionage conspiracy is completely outrageous. Unless he wants to be remembered in history alongside the likes of Richard Nixon, President Obama needs to put a stop it among members of his administration. (He can't do anything about the congressional miscreants like Mike Rogers.)

One can certainly see why Glenn Greenwald might not feel the need to rush back home right away under those circumstances. Which is why Wally Shawn went to Brazil to perform his show The Designated Mourner. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now talked to Shawn today:

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you back, Wally. So, talk about Brazil.


AMY GOODMAN: Why did you go there?

WALLACE SHAWN: Initially, it was just an emotional response to the fact that I had invited this writer, who I deeply admire, to come and see my play. And, you know, people like me in show business, we’re show-offs, and I wanted him to see the play. And he kept not appearing in the audience. And eventually, I realized he was not able to return to the United States because of having received the NSA papers.

And on impulse, I said, "Well, we’ll bring the play to you." And my colleagues—I went to Deborah Eisenberg and Larry Pine, who were the two actors in the play with me, and to the sound designer and—Bruce Odland, and the director, Andre Gregory, and they all said, before I had even finished the sentence—they all are old rebels from the ’60s, you could say—and immediately said, "What a great idea!"

So we brought the whole play to Brazil, and we did it for Glenn and some people he invited. We rented a theater, and we—our lighting designer, Jennifer Tipton, talked to the people in Brazil, and we did the complete version of the play, because, you know, you can’t email a play. A play is not the script of a play. You can’t send that in the mail or—you know, if you want to show somebody a play, that’s what you have to do. So it was a gesture of, expression of respect for the fact that he did what we all should be doing. He has risked his neck. He’s risked his physical security and freedom.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the choice of the play, Designated Mourner, the reason—its relevance to our time? Because the play has been out now for more than a decade, right?

WALLACE SHAWN: Yes. Well, it happens to be a play that is on the subject of speaking out, in a way. I mean, you know, one writes out of a personal artistic impulse that you don’t necessarily plan, but it turns out that this play is about a writer, played by Larry Pine, who wrote quite a while ago some essays that were offensive to the regime, a sort of right-wing regime in this is made-up country. And he and his loyal daughter, played by Deborah Eisenberg, are not even gathering guns for the rebels. They’re simply people who are sympathetic to the poor of their country and have written essays.

So, they haven’t really done anything, and yet, as the political space in the country gets smaller and the regime begins to crack down, the people who are on the fringes are threatened, because artistic freedom, artistic freedom of thought, is dangerous freedom of thought, just the way political freedom of thought is. If people are out there thinking on their own, that’s dangerous to governments, if they are repressively minded. And so, it becomes dangerous for the son-in-law—me, my character—to live in the house with these rather dangerous people, or people who are mildly dangerous because they’re thinking freely. So I get out of the house. I play the survivor who is basically cowardly.

Update: Here's a respectable Canadian politician rebutting the Snowden accusation in a rational fashion. Why would anyone feel the least bit concerned about such mature leadership misusing its power?

When you organize yourself around bigotry ...

by digby

I wish I felt more confident about an immigration bill, but as long as the Republicans are in the grip- of the hard right I just find it very difficult to believe it can happen. It's just not something that base can live with.

Ed Kilgore spells out the reasons better than anyone:
In all the analysis of the GOP’s immigration stance, it’s pretty much been taken for granted that the “self-deportation” stance of Mitt Romney—perhaps his most popular policy stance for movement conservatives, and an important key to his nomination—has to be discarded. But all this insistence on ruling out any “special path” to citizenship, however limited and remote, and on “hard triggers” for legalization that are designed to be unreachable, thinly disguises a fundamental unwillingness to accept the presence of unauthorized immigrants and the hope they will all find life here miserable enough to eventually go home. Illegal border crossings have already slackened significantly. The number of deportations remain very high. So all the talk of “enforcement first” increasingly sounds like an excuse for avoiding or at least delaying legalization in any form.

Conservatives have plenty of grounds for believing the Republican Establishment is being dishonest about its intentions on immigration policy, and is trying to “trick the base,” as I put it yesterday. But for the most part, they are being dishonest, too. They know they can’t just advocate rounding up 11 million people and sending them in boxcars across the border. And “self-deportation” sounds (and is) cruel. But by finding grievous fault with any workable—much less politically feasible—approach for dealing with the undocumented, they are actually fighting to ensure nothing replaces deportations and self-deportations as the de facto policy, particularly in a future Republican administration that owes nothing to Hispanic or Asian voters.
They don't want them here. It's really not any more complicated than that. They know it's a problem politically and so are trying to find other reasons to explain their position. But in the end, they want undocumented workers to "go home" even if they've been here for years, have American kids and have been contributing to our economy and society. And I think we can all figure out why that might be. That's the bind in which the GOP finds itself. It's organized itself around a certain sub-group that simply does not like foreigners and racial minorities. It's a problem for them. But it's a problem for the rest of us too.

TSA kabuki

by digby

This gossipy piece about the TSA is a fun read even though all of your unpleasant suspicions about creepy TSA agents laughing at your nakedness and pulling you aside just because they don't like your attitude turn out to be true. But this is pretty amazing:

Until 2010 (not long after the TSA standard operating procedure manual was accidentially leaked to the public), all TSA officers worked with a secret list printed on small slips of paper that many of us taped to the back of our TSA badges for easy reference: the Selectee Passport List. It consisted of 12 nations that automatically triggered enhanced passenger screening.

The training department drilled us on the selectee countries so regularly that I had memorized them, like a little poem:
Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan
Iraq, Iran, Yemen
and Cuba,
Lebanon-Libya, Somalia-Sudan
People’s Republic of North Korea.

People holding passports from the selectee countries were automatically pulled aside for full-body pat-downs and had their luggage examined with a fine-toothed comb. The selectee list was purely political, of course, with diplomacy playing its role as always: There was no Saudi Arabia or Pakistan on a list of states historically known to harbor, aid and abet terrorists

Just, wow.

When people start lecturing about "trade-offs between security and liberty, just think about that for a minute.


QOTD: Moyers and Winship

by digby

On Tom Perkins' watch:

Perkins also said that he has family “living in trailer parks,” but bragged like some cackling James Bond villain that he owns “an airplane that flies underwater” and a wristwatch that “could buy a six-pack of Rolexes.” That watch, on prominent display during the Bloomberg interview, is a Richard Mille, a charming little timepiece that can retail for more than $300,000. At that price, a watch shouldn’t just tell you the time, it should allow you to travel through it, perhaps back to the Gilded Age or Versailles in 1789, just as the tumbrils rolled in. Here in the office, our $85 Timex and Seiko watches have crossed their hands over their faces in shame.

Even the watches are embarrassed for him.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

MOUs whinng about dead people harshing their mellow

by digby

Even when they are directly responsible for the death of another, they whine and complain about being held responsible for it:

Here's something you probably never knew about Tom Perkins, the venture capitalist who gave his name to one of Silicon Valley's most iconic partnerships. The investor, backer of companies such as Compaq and boardroom schemer at Hewlett Packard, was once convicted of involuntary manslaughter. In 1996, the yacht-crazed financier was racing off the French coast when he collided with a smaller boat, killing a French doctor on board.

In a passage from the Valley veteran's forthcoming memoirs, Perkins writes: "I was arrested and tried in a foreign court in a language you don't understand, by judges indifferent - or worse - to justice, represented by an inappropriate lawyer with the negative outcome preordained."

The negative outcome? He was made to pay a $10,000 fine. (And yes, the zeros there are correct.)

A French doctor died at his hands in a yacht race. And all he could say was that he was tried in a French court where they didn't even speak English and was unjustly held liable --- for a $10,000 fine.

One just does not do that to billionaires. Especially ones who have been knighted by Norway. Which, in an earlier, fairer time would inevitably have led to their ordination by God to rule the peasants. As it should be.

QOTD: "A Southern Republican lawmaker"

by digby

On the problem with immigration reform:
“Part of it, I think — and I hate to say this, because these are my people — but I hate to say it, but it’s racial,” said the Southern Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”
I, for one, am shocked.


When the plutocrats have lost even Politico...

by David Atkins

The Politico article on the collective hysteria of the plutocratic class doesn't contain anything particularly revelatory, but it's interesting per se in that even the reliably center/center-right news site is treating the temper tantrums of the obscenely rich with some scorn and derision:

At one level, the reaction seems dramatically out of proportion to anything any politician is actually proposing. And recent comments from the super-wealthy can seem baffling — and infuriating — to the vast majority of Americans who occupy much less rarefied air and now have myriad social media forums to castigate what they view as deeply out-of-touch whining from the plutocrat class.
Nothing Obama proposed in his relatively mild State of the Union address would do much to impact the lives of the nation’s top earners. Raising the minimum wage wouldn’t do it. Nor would extending unemployment benefits or instituting universal pre-kindergarten.

Even the president’s toughest lines on the issue of inequality were hardly the kind of fire-and-brimstone condemnation that Franklin D. Roosevelt heaped on bankers’ heads in the 1930s.
“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better,” Obama said. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”

That was pretty much it.

Obama made no call to raise taxes further on the rich, who still enjoy rates dramatically lower than they were through most of the booming 1980s. He did not summon Occupy Wall Street protesters back to the barricades or threaten new actions to bust up big banks.

Meanwhile, de Blasio has no power to raise taxes unilaterally on the rich despite his fiery campaign rhetoric.
On a practical level, the wealthy are jumping at shadows.

“None of the issues currently on the table would have a large effect on the very rich,” said Justin Wolfers, economics professor at the University of Michigan. “If there is anything driving this rise in rhetoric, it’s that the president pivoted to talking about inequality, which some interpret as taking from the 1 percent and giving to the 99 percent.”
People who counsel the wealthy for a living say there is both an unease with growing income disparity and a fear of even greater persecution.

“I think that with Occupy Wall Street there was a sense of the heat getting turned up and a feeling of vilification and potential danger,” said Jamie Traeger-Muney, a psychologist whose Wealth Legacy Group focuses on counseling the affluent. “There is a worry among our clients that they are being judged and people are making assumptions about who they are based on their wealth.”
Much of the current anxiety is also driven by the precarious nature of the recovery from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The U.S. economy is showing signs of picking up speed with job creation and consumer confidence on the rise. But there is still an enormous sense of national pessimism about the future, as evidenced in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed 68 percent of Americans believe the country is stagnant or worse off since the president took office in 2009.

And the recent stock market swoon, the bad December jobs report and gyrations in emerging market currencies could convince some wealthy Americans that their pessimism is well-founded and that another economic downturn is not far off — and might carry even greater risks for the rich.

“People are very anxious about the decline in the stock market and feel that this may be just a hollow shell of a recovery, and we may see in the next few years that things really haven’t changed,” said Louis Hyman, a historian of capitalism at Cornell. “They are afraid the critics are right and that inequality really is a driver of all this, and are afraid of what that means for them.”
No kidding. They should be worried. All but the worst of the Objectivist Randroids know at some level that they're being compensated wildly out of proportion to their contributions to the economy. Some, myself included, would even argue that much of the modern financial industry is directly counterproductive to broader economic health. They also understand that their obscene wealth isn't the anodyne result of growing the pie, but constitutes a direct theft of the pie at the expense of everyone else.

And most of them have enough experience of history to know that when things get unequal enough in a society with a big enough middle class, the results range from broad progressive economic reforms to bloody revolution.

The only historical alternatives to those left-leaning scenarios are total economic collapse and decentralization leading to feudalism, or fascist military coup. Most of even the top 1% outside of the Koch far right aren't particularly keen on those outcomes, either.

Instead of having a collective meltdown, it would behoove the top tenth of one percent to head things off at the pass by promoting and accepting some New Deal 2.0 style economic reforms, including a collective basic income, higher minimum wages, single-payer healthcare, and the like. They would wind up with a little less money, but they'd still be extremely well off. Not to mention the psychological benefits of knowing they did the right thing, and discarding the specter of violent revolution.

It's a pretty easy call, actually--unless you're a narcissistic wealth addict using money to keep score instead of secure comfort and happiness.

The WMD in my kitchen

by digby

I'm against the death penalty in all circumstances. I think it is a barbaric, backwards concept that has no place among civilized people. I would be against it for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev no matter what, even acknowledging that the crimes he is alleged to have committed are heinous. If found guilty he could be locked up for life and never harm another soul, at which point the state's obligation to protect the people from criminals is fulfilled and justice is served to the best extent decent human beings can deliver it.

But that's not the law of the land. And the Justice Department today decided to charge the Boston Bomber with crimes that carry the death penalty. This is not surprising. But look at some of these absurd charges:
[T]he United States will seek the sentence of death for these offenses: Conspiracy to Use A Weapon of Mass Destruction Resulting in Death; Use of A Weapon of Mass Destruction Resulting in Death; Possession and Use of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Resulting in Death; Conspiracy to Bomb a Place of Public Use Resulting in Death; Bombing of a Place of Public Use Resulting in Death; and Malicious Destruction of Property Resulting in Personal Injury and Death, all of which carry a possible sentence of death.
A pressure cooker bomb is a "weapon of mass destruction?" It's as if the Department of Justice is trying to make a mockery of the law. I guess it must make it easier to convict and kill him. But really, the other charges should have been enough. Adding this to the mix is ridiculous.

I guess I shouldn't reveal here that I used a weapon of mass destruction just last night to make pot roast. Shhh.

For a deeper think piece on Tsarnaev and the death penalty, read this piece by Zack Beauchamp and Ian Millhiser.

A Buck Ain't What It Was

by tristero

This story's been making the rounds of the inter tubes. But the moral of the story isn't, as the headline goes, that "money won't turn people straight." No kidding.

No, the moral of the story is that $65 million wasn't enough. Now $130 million, that's when a "moderately deluxe life" gets somewhat interesting and so the offers are flooding in.
When you've lost Fournier ...

by digby

The DNC sent this out which clearly indicates the "even the conservative Ron Fournier says ..." nature of it:
A year ago, I wrote: "The smartest move in politics today is to move against Washington and the two major parties. And the smartest man in politics may be Chris Christie." I take it back.

At the time, the New Jersey governor had channeled the public's disgust with political dysfunction, chastising House Republican leaders for refusing to allow a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Christie said the game-playing that derailed the relief bill showed "why the American people hate Congress." He accused his own party's leadership for "selfishness," "duplicity," and moral failure.

His approval rating topped 70 percent.

Now his numbers are dropping, because he wasn't so smart. Rather than stay true to his post-partisan image, Christie ran a hyper-political governor's office that focused relentlessly on a big re-election win to position him for a 2016 presidential race. In this zero-sum gain culture, Christie enabled (if not directly ordered) an infamous abuse of power: the closure of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge in a fit of political retribution.

If not criminal, it was pretty damn stupid. His reputation is in tatters. Reporting a poll conducted jointly with ABC News, Philip Rucker and Scott Clement of the Washington Post wrote:

Christie has benefited from the perception that he has unique appeal among independents and some Democrats, a reputation the governor burnished with his 2013 reelection in his strongly Democratic state.

But that image has been tarnished, the survey finds. More Democrats now view Christie unfavorably than favorably, with independents divided. Republicans, meanwhile, have a lukewarm opinion, with 43 percent viewing him favorably and 33 percent unfavorably. Overall, 35 percent of Americans see him favorably and 40 percent unfavorably

Christie has fallen from first to third among potential GOP presidential candidates, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll, behind Rep. Paul Ryan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

A plurality of respondents said the bridge episode represents a pattern of abuse in Christie's office. While most Republicans give him the benefit of the doubt, 60 percent of Democrats and half of all independents don't think it was an isolated incident. There is good reason for the suspicion.

First, the governor is deeply engaged in the minutia of his office, an operation that doesn't discriminate between politics and policy. As the New York Times reported this week in a must-read analysis:

Mr. Christie has said that he had not been aware of his office's involvement in the maneuver, and nothing has directly tied to him to it. But a close look at his operation and how intimately he was involved in it, described in interviews with dozens of people — Republican and Democrat, including current and former Christie administration officials, elected leaders and legislative aides — gives credence to the puzzlement expressed by some Republicans and many Democrats in the state, who question how a detail-obsessed governor could have been unaware of the closings or the effort over months to cover up the political motive.

In other words, how stupid do you think we are, governor? Christie either knew or should have known that his administration was snarling Fort Lee in traffic and endangering lives.
Yeah, no kidding. I think that last point is what's sinking him. Control freaks can't get away with saying they were out of the loop.

It's still early enough that Christie could recover some of his lustre but it's looking as though he just has too many enemies. He's not like a Bill Clinton who had preturnatural survival gifts and the ability to charm his enemies even as they hated his guts. Christie was all about his image as a no-nonsense, get the job done guy. It's not as if he has some great vision for America or is inspiring to young people or can relate to the average Joe. If he used his office for petty partisan revenge, then he's blown up his image as a no-nonsense guy. If he didn't know what was going on, his tough guy image is obviously phony. Either way, there's no good argument for him at this point.

Fournier says it's now all about Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush. Feel the magic.

Update: And then there's the corruption.

The War between the Tea Partiers

by digby

Right Wing Watch caught a recent South Sarolina GOP Senate debate
Over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition held a convention that included a lively debate between Bright and his three fellow Tea Party candidates vying for the chance to face Graham in a runoff.

Perhaps the most memorable candidate at the debate was Bill Connor, an Army veteran and former lieutenant governor candidate, who spent the whole debate waving a pocket copy of the Constitution.

We put together a highlight reel of Connor’s commentary during the debate, including his assertions that the Europeans he fought alongside in Afghanistan were less hard-working and ingenious than American soldiers because “Europe had gone socialist” and “post-Christian”; that Congress should impeach President Obama over his executive order implementing part of the DREAM Act; that the separation of church and state has led “atheism to be our national religion”; and that Congress should disband federal appeals courts that enforce church-state separation because “if you’re being biblical, you’re doing your job as a judge.”

Watch it:

Keep that in mind the next time some lazy Villager frames the right and the left of the two parties as equivalent. Unless a liberal congressional challenger starts demanding the nationalization of all business, mandatory abortion and boldly declares that all religion should be outlawed by the state, I think they've got a long way to go before they can be considered equally radical.

Oh, the tyranny!

by David Atkins

If this isn't the face of an Imperial tyrannical Presidency one step short of Hitler, I don't know what is:

I mock, of course, but looking at this chart one thing is fairly obvious: FDR still has Republicans spooked. They know we're just one more FDR away from blowing their little greed-soaked Objectivist world right out of the water, and it scares them half to death.

Good. They should be scared, particularly once the 2020 census comes knocking. But not by this President. Not today.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fuzzy delight

by digby

This is what it looks like when a baby polar bear sees snow for the first time.

The cub, named Remy, was born in November and is the sole survivor of three cubs. Zoo staff have been raising the cub indoors, nursing it by hand and shooting plenty of adorable videos.

We're not sure how Remy feels about the snow and the so-called 'polar vortex,' but seeing as how he's a polar bear, we're pretty sure those are oh-so-cute squeaks of joy.

I've watched that five times in a row. I needed to. It's been that kind of day.

Elizabeth Warren is madder than hell

by digby

Mike Lux of American Family Voices writes about a recent event in New York featuring Warren as the main speaker. It's quite a speech:

Lux writes:

The kind of politics Elizabeth Warren represents is at its heart a moral kind of politics. She doesn’t worry about party politics, as she has always taken on the powers-that-be of both political parties. She doesn’t shy away from a tough fight, instead she has always been willing to push for what is right no matter how powerful the lobbyists on the other side are. And it was fitting that the event we did with her was in a church, because the politics she preaches are deeply moral - the politics not of right and left, but of right and wrong.

She has become an icon for an important new kind of politics, a political movement focused less on the size of government than on, as she talks about in her speech, which side is our government on, everyday people or the rich and powerful. Her willingness to hold both big business and government officials accountable when the playing field is tilted in favor of wealthy special interests is something that has been all too rare in modern American politics, and it is the reason so many people are responding to her the way the crowd in that New York City church was.

And it isn’t just activists who are responding: she is remarkably effective, especially for a first year Senator. It is clear that her calls for tougher Wall Street prosecution drove the bigger, tougher settlements JP Morgan and other bankers have had to agree to in the last year. Larry Summers would be the Fed Chair if it wasn’t for her. Her speech on Social Security was a major factor in taking discussion of Social Security cuts off the table for the time being. And her passionate pursuit of a higher minimum wage have helped create the atmosphere that led to President Obama’s executive order and focus on the issue in his SOTU.

What AFV is seeking to build is a broad national movement around this brand of politics. We want to help Elizabeth Warren and other progressive allies take on the powers that be and fight the good fight for the American people no matter who is on the other side. When she said that “our time has come”, I believe she was right, but only if we join her in the battle. When she said “we have found our voice”, she wasn’t talking about her being the voice of progressives, she was saying we all have to find our voice and join this movement. Join is in that fight by signing up on our website, and enjoy watching Elizabeth Warren at her best.

I post these stories and videos featuring Senator Warren and always feel as if there's nothing left to say. She says it all. And she says it perfectly. All I can do is say, "what she said."

Warren is one of the very few elected officials who is explicitly aligning herself with the progressive movement and is totally unafraid to make that known. That takes guts. She will not be rewarded by the Party apparatus for doing this. But then, she has us.

How the private sphere coalesced with the public sector to destroy lives with the anti-communist blacklist

by digby

I excerpted a piece of the Pete Seeger testimony before the HUAC yesterday and sarcastically commented that we can feel confident this could never happen again because well ... humans are different now. Especially Americans. We're good, they're evil yadda, yadda, yadda.

Corey Robin gives this subject a proper historical treatment and it's vitally important to understand the real dynamics at work:
While Seeger’s HUAC appearance, and its legal aftermath, is making the rounds of his eulogists, it’s important to remember that HUAC was probably not the most difficult of his tribulations during the McCarthy era. Far more toxic for most leftists was the blacklist itself. From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s (the dates are fuzzy, and it depends on which particular medium we’re talking about), Seeger was prevented from performing on a great many stages and venues. First with The Weavers, and then on his own.

The blacklist did not work independently of the state. It was the transmission belt of the state, both a feeder to, and an enforcement mechanism of, the government. Men and women who didn’t cooperate with the government were subject to the blacklist, so it was a useful means of securing cooperation and providing information. The secret enforcers of the blacklist were often ex-FBI men or ex-HUAC staffers, and the FBI and HUAC supplied critical information to industry executives and their underlings. Who then used it for either political or narrower self-interested purposes.

That said, the blacklist, and the more general specter of private penalties, touched more people than did HUAC or the state. For most men and women during the McCarthy years, the immediate point of contact with political repression and coercion was their employer, their teacher, their therapist, their lawyer, their supervisor, their co-worker.

And that raises a larger question. It is easy today to look back on that time, to read the transcripts and case histories, and tut-tut at all the nastiness or laugh at all the foolishness of the blacklist. With everyone from President Obama to the New York Times delivering warm encomia for Seeger, we forget that the blacklist only worked because so many people like President Obama, like the editors of the New York Times—who refused during the McCarthy years to hire anyone who was a member of the Communist Party—worked together to make it work.

To be sure, there were many hard-right ideologues behind the blacklist: the writers at Red Channels, an anticommunist handbook that named names in the entertainment industry, were conservative propagandists of the first order, anatomized to brilliant effect by a young researcher by the name of Michael Harrington.

But the blacklist would never have had the reach it did—not merely in Hollywood or the academy, but throughout virtually every industry in the United States—had it not attracted a wide range of men and women to its cause. The blacklist was also the work of liberal pamphleteers, executives in the culture industries, influential politicians in and around the Democratic Party, and most prominent of all, J. Edgar Hoover, about whom Arthur Schlesinger wrote:
All Americans must bear in mind J. Edgar Hoover’s warning that counter-espionage is no field for amateurs. We need the best professional counterespionage agency we can get to protect our national security.
Far from being the object of liberal derision that he is today, Hoover was, in his time, thought to be the consummate rational bureaucrat, a professional of the first order who needed, said the liberals, more money, more resources, more power, not less. As Hubert Humphrey declared:
If the FBI does not have enough trained manpower to do this job, then, for goodness sake, let us give the FBI the necessary funds for recruiting the manpower it needs….This is a job that must be done by experts.
For liberals, Hoover, the ultimate impresario of the blacklist, was someone to collaborate with, not contend against.
He goes on to explain, in rather chilling detail, how the private sphere and the public sphere came together around the blacklist, crossing all of the normal ideological barriers and cultural boundaries. I certainly feel reverberations of that dynamic in our current discussions about the surveillance state.

I urge you to read the whole thing.


The public is clear: solve inequality by taxing the obscenely rich

by David Atkins

America is often described as a divided nation, and in many ways we are. A person from suburban Kentucky and an urbanite in California don't see eye to eye on most issues.

But when it comes fixing the unfair rewards of our economic system, Americans unequivocally agree on a few things. Among them are:

1. Taxing the rich won't hurt the economy. Pundits like to pretend that the nation is evenly divided between demand-side and supply-side thinking on economics. That's not actually true. An overwhelming majority of Americans are clearly Keynesians who believe in progressive taxation. A recent Pew poll asked:

"In your view, what would do more to reduce poverty: raising taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to expand programs for the poor, OR, lowering taxes on wealthy people and corporations in order to encourage more investment and economic growth?"

54% said that raising taxes would help, only 35% said lowering them would, and 11% were unsure. Supply-siders are a rump minority.

2. Even a sizable number of Republicans think economic rewards should be distributed more fairly. A recent CBS News poll asked:

"Do you feel that the distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair, or do you feel that the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among more people?"
While 60% of Americans overall said it should be more even, so did many Republicans--34% of them, in fact.

3. Almost half of Americans don't think it's possible people to get ahead through their own effort. The question was asked this way:

"Which comes closer to your view? In today's economy, everyone has a fair chance to get ahead in the long run. OR, In today's economy, it's mainly just a few people at the top who have a chance to get ahead."

Only 52% of Americans said that everyone has a fair chance to get ahead.

4. Most Americans feel the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy. 60% of them, in fact.

The devil is in the details, of course: there are a lot of voters who interpret the question of hand-outs versus hand-ups differently based on their experiences or prejudices.

But there's little doubt that people believe the American dream is dying, that inequality is a problem, that it's getting worse, and that taxing the obscenely wealthy is the right way to fix it. Even a sizable chunk of Republicans agree.

What the Republicans oppose

by digby

This little list from Jed Lewison is very instructive:
When President Obama said these things...
That it's a good thing that after 12 long years the war in Afghanistan is finally coming to an end

That Congress shouldn't shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States

That Congress should pass legislation to put more Americans to work in the tech manufacturing sector

That he'll protect natural lands with his executive power

That Congress should repeal tax breaks for Big Oil

That Congress should restore unemployment insurance that it let expire at the end of the year 
That women deserve equal pay for equal work

That nobody who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty, so Congress should raise the minimum wage to $10.10

That Congress shouldn't have another 40+ votes to repeal Obamacare

That votes, not money, should drive democracy

That he'll work to prevent more tragedies like Sandy Hook
...Republicans couldn't bring themselves to applaud.

Someone should put that into a video and make an advertisement of it.

Backing off lunacy

by digby

Some Democratic senators are coming to their senses on this Iran sanctions bill. Thank goodness.

When asked to respond to Obama’s veto threat after the speech, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — who signed on to co-sponsor the new Senate Iran sanctions bill in December — said he only lent his support for the bill to help the president, but now he thinks it should be shelved.

“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we’re negotiating,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer if he needed it and showed him how determined we were to do it and use it if we had to. But with that being said we’ve got to give peace a chance here and we’ve got to support this process.”

I don't know who told him that it was a good idea to "help" the president this way, but I doubt it was the White House simply because it's such a daft thing to do at such a delicate moment. (I'm looking forward to some reporting that explains just how that whole thing came down.)

I think everyone should keep this little gambit in the back of their minds as some of these Senators look toward higher office. Signing on to that ridiculous bill is a tell. A big one. We should pay attention.

Ted talk. (Cruz on the SOTU)

by digby

This man is pathological:

There's something so confident about this loon that it still makes me nervous. It's easy to dismiss him because he's positioned himself (and as far as I can tell is a true believer) with the far right crazies.That would seem to make him unelectable to higher office. But there are some fairly vivid historical examples of other people with crazy right wing views who were similarly dismissed.

Regular folks like a laundry list

by digby

I was out last night and only got to see highlights of the State of the Union address and hear some of the analysis. From the commentary, many of the President's supporters seemed to be just a tad disappointed. They prefer the soaring oratory.

The instant polling suggests that the regular folk liked it just fine:

I have no idea how that stands up to the reactions to his earlier SOTUs and I'm not interested enough to check. But I do know that people tend to like State of the Union speeches generally and that the "laundry list" type like last night doesn't throw them the way it does the cognescenti. It turns out that they like it when the president lays out specifics, even if they are "small bore" as I kept hearing last night.

I did manage to catch the end of the speech with the tribute to the wounded soldier which was very moving. You cannot be human and fail to feel for that person's sacrifice. On the other hand, it's a little bit cheap for politicians to reap any reward for that sentiment, in my opinion.

Other than that, from what I can tell by reading it, the speech was a standard issue SOTU. I hope he follows through the proposals to use his executive power to help whatever discrete groups he can help. (A hundred thousand people here, a hundred thousand people there, pretty soon you're talking about real improvement...) He's coming up against the lame duck wall pretty soon and this is probably his only option. And the issues that really animate him, obviously, are in the foreign policy realm. In fact, it's always been his biggest ambition and if he hadn't been saddled with the financial crisis and its fallout, it's likely that would have been the focus of this presidency. If he gets a deal with Iran, it will certainly be a BFD, as Joe Biden would say.

All in all a fairly predictable second term so far. I'm just happy he didn't go on about the need to cut the deficit this time.


The President's power to act on inequality isn't limited to executive orders

by David Atkins

As the right moans and cries about the President's planned use of executive orders to implement policy insofar as he can given the utter intransigence of Congressional Republicans, it's worth remembering that the President's options aren't limited to executive orders.

Certainly, he should be applauded for using the power of the White House to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors. But the President can do much more than that to address inequality.

By far the most salutary thing the President could do is to instruct the Justice Department to prosecute misdeeds in the financial sector. While there are many problems facing the American economy, one of the biggest is that there is simply no accountability for people at the top of the financial food chain. Sometimes an institution pays a meager fine, but the players themselves never go to jail unless they were caught swindling even bigger fish above them.

Making an example of a few of the reckless, unaccountable criminal greedheads at J.P. Morgan, HSBC and similar institutions would drive up the President's popularity, return at least some belief in basic fairness to the general public, and put a chill on financial sector excesses at the same time.

The power of the Justice Department is second only to the power of the Defense Department in the President's bag of tools. It can and should be used to improve and enforce economic fairness and restore a sense of public trust.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SOTU: pen and phone edition

by digby

From what we hear this is going to be the president's "I guess I have to do everything myself" speech, which I frankly hope is what he says.  While they've used Executive Orders in the past, perhaps this time we'll see a bit more action beyond the margins. He's certainly been using them liberally and effectively in the realm of national security so we know the president's pen has ink in it.

For those who can't bear to hear the gasbags pontificate as usual about who wore what and how many times someone applauded, there's an alternative: MoveOn, the AFL-CIO, and the radio show The Good Fight will be livestreaming a progressive response from AFL-CIO HQ right after the speech, co-hosted by Ben Wikler and Thea Lee, where they'll talk to a number of labor and progressive folks. We might even learn something:

Update: Michael Moore had an interesting little factoid today that we should keep in mind as we watch the garment rending over the minimum wage proposal for federal workers tonight:

One hundred years ago this month Henry Ford began paying his workers a minimum of $15 an hour! (It was $5 for an eight hour day – which would be worth $116.48 now.) That's right – in a much poorer America, one without TV, radio, phones or House of Cards on demand, Ford could afford it. In fact, Ford later said, he couldn't afford not to: "The owner, the employees, and the buying public are all one and the same, and unless an industry can so manage itself as to keep wages high and prices low it destroys itself, for otherwise it limits the number of its customers. One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers."

Tell THAT to anyone who says we can't afford a minimum wage of $15 here in 2014 – 100 years later, in a country about eight times as rich per person. The CEOs will scream and weep now just like they did then, and just like then they'll be wrong. Not only would it not destroy American businesses, it might be the only thing that can save them.

Also too, this. Just for fun:

The pro-constitution campaign 2014

by digby

Politico reports:
Edward Snowden’s leaks didn’t just cause turmoil in the U.S. intelligence community, prompt international backlash toward President Barack Obama and revive a debate in Congress over civil liberties.

They spawned a whole new breed on the 2014 campaign trail: The anti-National Security Agency candidate.
Really? Is that what they are? Only insular Villagers would think that's what this is about. No, they are not "anti-National Security Agency" candidates, they are pro-civil liberties candidates --- or perhaps more accurately pro-constitution candidates.

Nobody is against the NSA in the abstract. It's been around for a long time and serves an important function. Why even that commie traitor Edward Snowden defends the agency's mission. The problem is that it is gathering personal information on everyone and storing it just in case the government might need it some day. That's a big no-no under the 4th Amendment, which says that the government needs probable cause to seize personal communications. Up until now Americans thought that it was a bad idea for the government to keep dossiers on everyone. Had just a whiff of authoritarianism if you know what I mean.

But, regardless of Politico's typically obtuse understanding of the issue, they are correct that we will see some races in which this issue will be debated. One I'm particularly interested in is the Senate race in Maine featuring former head of Maine ACLU Shenna Bellows challenging the bucket of lukewarm water named Susan Collins:
The Democratic candidate didn’t think much about running for Senate against the popular GOP Sen. Susan Collins — until the aftermath of the Snowden revelations prompted tougher restrictions on warrantless surveillance on the state level that she now wants to replicate in Washington. Bellows wants an end to the NSA’s bulk data collection program, along with the PATRIOT Act. She argues the country needs stronger whistleblower protections. She even believes Snowden deserves clemency.

“Constitutional freedoms is how I win the race,” said the 38-year-old Bellows, who headed the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine for eight years and now faces a very steep climb to catch Collins. “I think the erosion of constitutional freedoms exemplifies how Washington has become out of touch with some of the values that we share as communities.”

"She even believes Snowden deserves clemency." Burn the heretic!!!

In a phone interview from Maine, Collins rebutted criticism that she has not done enough to protect against civil liberties, highlighting legislation she co-sponsored in 2004 that created the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board and her support for recent proposals to tighten oversight over the surveillance programs. But, she said, doing away with the ability of the government to collect phone records would cause great harm to the country’s ability to root out terrorism.

“We know that there were plots thwarted solely or partially by the programs, so doing away with it altogether would mean a less safe America,” said Collins, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and has supported the PATRIOT Act and legislation codifying broader electronic surveillance.
Actually, it hasn't thwarted any plots and Collins should know that since the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (which she was instrumental in creating) just issued a report saying so after reviewing all the documents. A profile in courage on this, she's not.

The article goes on to discuss other races where the issue is coming up. I personally doubt it's going to be a driver of votes --- average folks have more immediate problems on their minds. But campaigns are one of the primary ways to politicians can educate the public about issues and I'm glad to see candidates debating this. Over time we may see that politicians will not be punished for taking a principled stand in favor of the constitution after all.

Shenna Bellows is a great candidate by the way. Blue America has endorsed her if you'd like to contribute to her campaign. We need some more strong civil libertarians in the US Senate. Lord knows the National Security State is already very well represented.

Or he'll do what?

by David Atkins

Leverage is a tricky thing. The first rule of leverage is that in order to use it, a person has to either have something to trade or some extra pressure they can apply. People who are in a maximally hostile position don't tend to have political leverage over their opponents, because there's nothing they will trade for, and there's nothing they can do to their opponents that they're not already doing.

Case in point: John Boehner threatening the President today about the use of executive orders.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday delivered a blunt message to President Obama ahead of his plan for increased unilateral action: We’re watching you.

House Republicans urged Obama not to go around Congress, and Boehner warned that Congress would act if the president's orders did not pass muster under the Constitution.
The House GOP "will continue to look closely at whether the president is faithfully executing laws, as he took an oath to do,” Boehner told reporters after a meeting of the Republican conference. “We’re going to watch very closely, because there’s a Constitution that we all take an oath to, including him, and following the Constitution is the basis for House Republicans.”
Or he'll do what? What can he possibly do to scuttle the President's agenda that he isn't already doing?

Asked what the House would do if lawmakers determined Obama skirted the Constitution, Boehner said only, “There are options that are available to us.” Republicans, he said, would discuss them at their annual retreat, which begins Wednesday in Cambridge, Md.
That's what I thought. A lot of nothing--or else options so disgusting and distasteful that he can't tell the press about them.

They've already shut down the government, forced cuts to food stamps and denied long-term unemployment benefits. Short of impeachment (which would be a godsend for Democrats), what else is there?

That's the problem with becoming the insane party. Once you've gone over that edge, there's not much leverage left. A President's calculus quickly becomes to ignore Congress completely and do whatever is possible through executive order. Nothing else is left.

Iceland's big problem: bringing 4% unemployment down to 2%

by digby

At one time there was a big debate about whether or not Iceland came out on top during our current depression, largely due to it's hard core treatment of its banks. It was always pretty obvious that they made the smarter decision.  It looks even more obvious today:
Iceland let its banks fail in 2008 because they proved too big to save.

Now, the island is finding crisis-management decisions made half a decade ago have put it on a trajectory that’s turned 2 percent unemployment into a realistic goal.

While the euro area grapples with record joblessness, led by more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain, only about 4 percent of Iceland’s labor force is without work. Prime MinisterSigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson says even that’s too high.

“Politicians always have something to worry about,” the 38-year-old said in an interview last week. “We’d like to see unemployment going from where it’s now -- around 4 percent -- to under 2 percent, which may sound strange to most other western countries, but Icelanders aren’t accustomed to unemployment.”

The island’s sudden economic meltdown in October 2008 made international headlines as a debt-fueled banking boom ended in a matter of weeks when funding markets froze. Policy makers overseeing the $14 billion economy refused to back the banks, which subsequently defaulted on $85 billion. The government’s decision to protect state finances left it with the means to continue social support programs that shielded Icelanders from penury during the worst financial crisis in six decades.
We, on the other hand are making nearly 7% official unemployment (along with many millions not even being counted) the new normal. And we're slashing our meager safety net, even food assistance. But our megabanks are doing very well which is what matters.

Leave the poor billionaires aloooooone!

by digby

For those of you who haven't seen the now infamous Tom Perkins interview on Bloomberg yesterday, here are a couple of the choicest bits.

Mr. Perkins apologized for his comparison of attacks on San Francisco’s wealthy to Kristallnacht. After all, he spoke with Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, and repeatedly acknowledged that his use of the “awful” comparison was inappropriate.

But he then resolutely stood by his point: that a majority was intimidating a minority. He said that his late partner Eugene Kleiner, a refugee from Nazi Germany, would have agreed with the letter to the editor.

“When you start to use hatred against a minority, it doesn’t go well,” he said on the program.

Mr. Perkins doesn’t count himself among the richest Americans. He noted that he’s not a billionaire, only a multimillionaire. But he defended the wealthy as helping to lift the so-called 99 percent. Recent targets of class criticism, including high-rise buildings in San Francisco and Google’s shuttles, are actually part of the solution to helping spur the economy.

“I don’t feel personally threatened,” he said. “But I feel that an important part of America, namely the creative 1 percent, are threatened.”

He later added, “It’s absurd to demonize the rich for being rich and doing what the rich do, which is get richer by creating opportunities for others.”
It's hard to know how to react to someone who so perfectly embodies the arrogance, the self-pity and the Randroid intellectual rot of our 21st century robber barons. He's obviously convinced that he's an oppressed minority who must be protected from the plebes. But he also hates the government and says it's the instrument of his oppression. So I don't know who it is he expects to protect him from the pitchfork mob. Does he think the Tea Party has an army?

Here's the evidence for the horrific oppression of this brave, persecuted minority.  You can see why they feel this rhetoric is so darned unfair. 

The top marginal did go up a teensy bit in 2011 -- back to where it was in 2000.

So you can see the tremendous burden that's being placed on the "creative"  1% who are working themselves to the bone getting richer so we can all benefit.

Here's the whole interview. You just won't believe it ...

Update: Here's what he does for kicks

The largest privately owned sailboat in the world, the Maltese Falcon arrives under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Owner Tom Perkins has brought her here to get outfitted for a submarine, his latest interest.

The Maltese Falcon mega-yacht is getting a new toy - a private, high-performance "flying" submarine. This is a deep flight personal submarine built for Tom Perkins Maltese Falcon yacht. Tom Perkins was there for the launch of his new private submarine, he's the one in the black blazer.

Perkins sold the yacht in 2009 to a hedge fund owner from Cyprus.
By the way, everything I could find via Mr Google says that Perkins is a billionaire around 8 times over. But he denied it in the interview.  Which seems odd.

A tiny historical note about government police power and freedom

by digby

A piece of Pete Seeger's congressional testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee in 1955:
MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled "What's On" appears this advertisement: "Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don't believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn't answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn't answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of "What's On," an advertisement of a "May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy." The advertisement states: "Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally." Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, "Entertainment by Pete Seeger." At the bottom appears this: "Auspices Essex County Communist Party," and at the top, "Tonight, Newark, N.J." Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?

MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don't you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don't want to hear about it.

MR. SCHERER: I think that there must be a direction to answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer, sir.

MR. SCHERER: Let me understand. You are not relying on the Fifth Amendment, are you?

MR. SEEGER: No, sir, although I do not want to in any way discredit or depreciate or depredate the witnesses that have used the Fifth Amendment, and I simply feel it is improper for this committee to ask such questions.

MR. SCHERER: And then in answering the rest of the questions, or in refusing to answer the rest of the questions, I understand that you are not relying on the Fifth Amendment as a basis for your refusal to answer?

MR. SEEGER: No, I am not, sir.
Seeger was held in contempt for this testimony and sentenced to one year in jail. He finally won on appeal after years of legal wrangling.

Fortunately, human beings have now evolved to the point at which something like this could never happen again. Whatever information the government obtains today about one's political affiliations and activities is perfectly safe because they've assured us it will never be used for anything except finding and rooting out enemies of the United States.

Which is what they said then. But that was different. Obviously.

Where have all the flowers gone?

by digby

My favorite Pete Seeger song:

I remember hearing this one when I was a young kid. It moved me to tears even then. It perfectly captures the insane, futility of war.

RIP Pete Seeger, a Great American.

The majority of people on food stamps have jobs

by David Atkins

Let me say up front that when it comes to the social safety net, it shouldn't matter at all whether you have a job or not. Employment is increasingly hard to come by in an economy ravaged by outsourcing, deskilling and mechanization, and those with jobs are very often underemployed.

Still, if only in the service of debunking yet another right-wing lie, let it be known far and wide that most people on food stamps do have jobs. For whatever that's worth, since the "jobs" the free market sees fit to provide them don't pay enough for them to survive without government assistance:

In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps — a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.

Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program — twice what it cost five years ago — may not subside significantly anytime soon.

Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America's former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.

The findings coincide with the latest economic data showing workers' wages and salaries growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history.

President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night is expected to focus in part on reducing income inequality, such as by raising the federal minimum wage. Congress, meanwhile, is debating cuts to food stamps, with Republicans including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wanting a $4 billion-a-year reduction to an anti-poverty program that they say promotes dependency and abuse.

Economists say having a job may no longer be enough for self-sufficiency in today's economy.

"A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps is becoming more common for the working poor," said Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in income inequality. "Many of the U.S. jobs now being created are low- or minimum-wage — part-time or in areas such as retail or fast food — which means food stamp use will stay high for some time, even after unemployment improves."
Many people don't want to admit it, but this is the new normal. And it will stay the new normal until enough Americans get angry enough to force through major policy changes to increase wages and make sure that everyone has enough to live on in dignity regardless of whether the "free market" deigns in its infinite wisdom to make decent jobs available or not.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Hating on the Duck people

by digby

More evidence that the liberal media is out to get the Duck Dynasty family:
"At the end of day, we sit down and thank God for our blessings ,and we're gonna continue to do that and hopefully we can spread that message. And I think, as a country, if we can come back to that a little bit, we'll have a great 2014."

In fact, the liberal media have been out to get them from day 1.

ICYWW: US Magazine is owned by Jann Wenner, who also owns Rolling Stone.

Is childbirth a form of child abuse?

by digby

Another day another anti-abortion lie:

A Kentucky state politician is claiming that abortions are a form of domestic violence because they cause pain to the fetus.

“The most brutal form of domestic violence is the violence against unborn children,” Republican state Rep. Joe Fischer.

I suppose he might be right about that. But it's not the 20 week old fetus that hasn't neurologically developed to the point of being able to feel pain. It's the fully formed baby being physically forced to pass through a hole the size of a bagel.

Here's just one complication of childbirth that most definitely causes pain to the baby:

Fractured clavicle in the newborn

A fractured clavicle in the newborn is a broken collar bone in a baby that was just delivered.


A fracture of a newborn's collar bone (clavicle) can occur during a difficult vaginal delivery. It is fairly common during difficult births.


The baby will not move the painful, injured arm. Instead, the baby will hold it still against the side of the body. Lifting the baby under the arms causes the child pain. Sometimes the fracture can be felt with the fingers, but usually the problem cannot be seen or felt.

Within a few weeks, a hard lump may develop where the bone is healing. This lump may be the only sign that the newborn had a broken collar bone.

Exams and Tests

A chest x-ray will show whether or not there is a broken bone.

An infant's refusal to move an arm may also be due to partial dislocation of the elbow (nursemaid's elbow), nerve damage (Erb palsy), broken humerus (upper arm bone), or other causes.

That's not the only thing. Anyone who's ever been in a hospital nursery or an NICU can see that newborns are often bruised. Their heads are commonly misshapen, and although they don't know whether or not the naturally soft skull adjusting to the birth canal is painful to the baby, it certainly could be. The physical trauma for both mother and child in normal childbirth is harrowing. The old common wisdom was that even newborns couldn't feel pain so no harm no foul. But we know better now. Newborns do feel pain and, like their mothers, they certainly feel it during childbirth.

Nobody's suggesting (yet) that we must require all women to have ceasarean sections in order to avoid abusing the fetus, but the way they're going, it's only a matter of time before some zealot decides that women are child abusers if they opt for a natural delivery. (Or, at the very least, they'll have the decision made for them by a tribunal of priests, legislators and judges. Silly women can't be trusted to make such important decisions on their own.)

To distort science to assert that fetuses feel pain long before their neurological systems have developed is simply daft:

"The way that a fetus grows and develops hasn’t changed and never will,” Dr. Anne Davis, a second-trimester abortion provider, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon. “And what we know in terms of the brain and the nervous system in a fetus is that the part of the brain that perceives pain is not connected to the part of the body that receives pain signals until about 26 weeks from the last menstrual period, which is about 24 weeks from conception.”

So, these anti-abortion zealots are lying as usual.

And their unctuous concern for the non-existent pain of a 20 week old fetus is especially rich considering how little they care about whether it has any food in its belly or a roof over its head once it's born.


Using international law to strengthen the progressive labor movement abroad

by David Atkins

My first post up at the UN Global Dispatch blog went up today, about the need for stronger international treaties and regulations to advance the goal of worker protections abroad. I used the example of Bangladesh as a case in point, due to the devastating factory collapse and subsequent reactions by international state and non-state actors.

In the wake of the collapse, two different agreements took shape: one of them was a more toothless American-style approach crafted by the "Bipartisan Policy Center" (why is it that "bipartisanship" must so often align with corporate interests?) in which corporations made voluntary commitments to worker safety without independent investigators or consequences. There was also another agreement, created by international labor organizations and signed on to by more Eurozone companies, that did feature independent investigations of factory safety as well as real consequences for failure to provide better working conditions.

However, as I noted in my post, not even the stronger approach will be adequate to the task:

However, it’s clear that even the more labor-friendly response has serious problems. First, it only applies to Bangladesh, even though many other developing countries where multinational corporations have factories have frightening labor and safety conditions as well. Second, it’s essentially reactive: the commitments were only made after the deaths of over a thousand people had shocked the conscience of the world, potentially causing PR headaches for the manufacturers in question. Third, it puts Bangladesh itself in a precarious position: the country must walk the line between delivering too little in the way of protections and wages for its workers, and delivering enough that production costs lead manufacturers to look elsewhere for expendable labor—including in nations whose conditions may or may not be worse than those in Bangladesh.

The lesson should be obvious: the more international and legally binding the agreement, the more helpful it will be to workers in developing nations. The more expansive and multi-party the treaties are, the less competitive labor arbitrage risk will entail for any nation that improves factory conditions. Voluntary commitments from multinational corporations will do little to prevent the next tragedy.

Labor and worker protection agreements are in their infancy at the highest international levels. But with multinational corporations increasingly able to use labor arbitrage to manufacture products in nations with the weakest worker protections, the international community must take a stand in creating legally binding, global treaties that are proactive in nature, and carry negative trade consequences for those nations that choose to flout or ignore them.
Neither an increase in protectionism by developed nations nor a piecemeal patchwork of voluntary corporate deals will be adequate to protect workers in either the developed or the developing worlds. There is no way to put the multinational corporate genie back into the national bottle.

The only way to control their behavior is to embrace stronger and more effective international organizations with the power to enforce supranational treaties and obligations that protect workers and minimize the damage of global labor arbitrage.

Is the president going to tap his power?

by digby

Greg Sargent reports on the White House's new strategy for the second term --- use executive power:
The recalibrated strategy is partly a reflection of a realization that there’s probably no chance of winning GOP cooperation on most of Obama’s agenda. But the White House is not simply resorting to new tactics to move Obama’s agenda forward, though that’s important. Rather, it looks to me like Obama and his advisers are also embarking on an ambitious effort to re-engage the president with the public on a new set of terms.

Scott Wilson has a must read on what’s really driving the new thinking. Short version: Obama advisers have concluded that he’s coming across as too much of a prisoner of the Congressional stalemate that has resulted from GOP obstructionism. Resorting to executive authority is also about resetting the prism through which the American people evaluate the president’s performance and his engagement with them — by conveying a sense that he has a plan to move the country forward, and he’s acting on it.
Wait. The last I heard from all the analysts was that the presidency was little more than a ceremonial position, sort of like the Queen of England, and there's no point in expecting anything at all from it. Indeed, I had been given to understand that it's foolhardy to even think about what a president could accomplish with his one branch of government that oversees all federal agencies, the military and the entire regulatory state as long as a rump faction of the GOP held sway in the House of Representatives. Who knew he could actually do things and say things that might make a difference?

I can certainly see why the administration was getting a teensy bit uncomfortable with all that talk of presidential impotence. It's not exactly an inspiring image. Still, you can't help but wonder just what the hell took them so long to realize that all their supporters relentlessly flogging the idea that the poor president is little more than a figurehead might just not reflect well on legacy of the man the nation elected to be its national leader.

The fact is that he does have power. Let's hope he uses it well.


Plutocrat Whine 'o the Day

by digby

They're having a good old fashioned pity party over there in Davos:

“Life is hard enough,” according to Swiss banking executive Sergio Ermotti, “without people “constantly bashing banks.” The UBS chief executive made those remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “I think this constant lecturing on ethics and integrity by many stakeholders is probably the most frustrating part of the equation,” he said, “because I don’t think there are many people who are perfect.”

Yeah, "life is hard" for the "imperfect" super wealthy.