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Friday, February 28, 2014

The nice curmudgeon

by digby

To make you feel better about this misbegotten human species:

Rush's screaming dogwhistle

by digby

Good lord:
Gosh, I wonder what he was trying to say?

Back to the good old days ...

by digby

For those who are unfortunately watching cable news and are being misinformed and confused by the commentary on the events in Crimea, particularly from the usual suspects like John McCain, this article in the New York Times about Ukraine's history and relationship with Russia will get you up to speed:
Crimea, a multiethnic region populated by Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars, has been the focus of territorial disputes for centuries, and in recent decades it has frequently been a source of tension between Ukraine and Russia.

Before this week, the most recent of these disputes occurred in May 1992, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Crimean Parliament declared independence from Ukraine. And there has always been an expectation that when things become tense between Russia and Ukraine, that tension is likely to be felt must acutely in Crimea.

“The Crimean peninsula has become an arena for the duel between Kiev and Moscow on political, economic, military and territorial disputes,” Victor Zaborsky, an expert on the region, wrote in a 1995 paper for the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

The 1992 dispute was resolved with an agreement known as the Act on Division of Power Between Authorities of Ukraine and Republic of Crimea, which granted Crimea autonomous status within Ukraine.

In that sense, it is similar to the status of Chechnya within Russia. Chechnya’s autonomy nods to that region’s distinct Chechen language and Muslim religion, while in Crimea, such autonomy acknowledges that the political and cultural identity is often more Russian than Ukrainian.
McCain is on CNN now beating the drums for ... I don't know what. But like his pals in this article, he's clearly nostalgic for the cold war:
“I look back wistfully at the Cold War,” Inhofe said Thursday at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “There were two superpowers, they knew what we had, we knew what they had, mutually assured destruction meant something. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Now we have these people who are not rational, not logical, they’re nuts.”
McKeon agreed and harkened back to the days when he said Russia and China could be depended on to keep their client states in line.

“When we used to have superpowers, they would let things go until it looked like it was going to spill over. Then they would step in and stop it,” he said. “We can’t get any help from Russia now with Iran or Syria, they are just pushing us all over the place. It’s a dangerous world and we are making it more so, because by cutting defense we are totally eliminating Reagan’s line 'peace through strength.'”
The good old days ....

That's what I grew up with. It wasn't as fun as it looks.

A story of hope for a Friday evening: de-extinction edition

by David Atkins

This story from the New York Times about the real possibility of bringing back extinct species made me happier than any news item has in some time.

Passenger pigeons, great auks, Carolina parakeets, wooly mammoths are among the millions of species human beings have wiped from the face of the earth. It's no substitute for environmental measures to reduce the extinction-event calamity we are creating, and there are concerns about both ecological impacts and the potential that reviving extinct species might reduce the impetus to change our ways.

But human beings also need hope, and even if we can only give a few species another shot at life that has to be a good thing.

The photo below is of a Carolina parakeet and a passenger pigeon. We killed them all. All of them. Just looking at them brings tears of sadness and rage to my eyes. But I hope I can live long enough to see one of these beautiful creatures living and breathing again, even if only as a sliver of hope in a world of ecological darkness and destruction.

Obamacare isn't going away any time soon. And neither is the fight over Obamacare.

by digby

How many people are going to see this ad?

... and how many people are going to see the Fact Check on that ad?

Lamb’s old plan was provided through a public-private program aimed at lower-income workers called CoverTN, which split the premium costs between an employee, the employer and the state. That’s a big reason why Lamb’s premium was only $52 a month, but in an interview she said she would have gladly paid and could have afforded the full $156 a month.

Why was the plan so inexpensive? For one thing, it had a $25,000 cap on annual benefits. It also had no limit on out-of-pocket costs, and it would only cover generic medications.

CoverTN was terminated at the end of the 2013 because it did not meet key requirements of the ACA, in particular a ban on such caps on benefits. The Obama administration denied the state’s request for a waiver, and so the plan was shut down.

For health-care reformers, such annual caps on benefits were a sign of a substandard plan that could put someone in bankruptcy if they had an accident that resulted in unexpected medical costs. But Lamb doesn’t look at it that way because she already had suffered a major and costly accident that was unrelated to her chronic condition.

In 2007, Lamb fell off a horse, requiring seven surgeries at Vanderbilt Medical Center. She saw one surgical bill for $125,000, but after negotiations with CoverTN, the hospital agreed to reduce the charges to below $25,000. In the end she barely paid anything in hospital costs after her accident.

“Really after that, I was not worried about something catastrophic” that would exceed the $25,000 cap, she said.

(Others might look at this story and decide she was unusually fortunate that the hospital, confronted with a patient who had inadequate coverage for the surgery, decided to eat the difference.)

Meanwhile, lupus can result in very high medical expenses, but that is not the case with Lamb. She said her out-of-pocket costs, for doctor visits and drug costs, amounted to just $1,000 a year.

“I have very good doctors who have helped me manage my condition,” she said. “I was comfortable with the risk of having this limit.”

To put her expenses in context, the American College of Rheumatology says that average cost per patient with lupus is between $14,000 and $28,000, though patients with one form of lupus have significantly higher costs – ranging from $29,000 to $63,000.

Once Lamb was required to go on Obamacare, she discovered she qualified for a $15-a-month subsidy, which could be applied to nearly 40 different options. She chose one of the more expensive options—a Platinum plan – because it limited out of pocket expenses to $1,500, as her doctor fees and blood tests would be higher under the Obamacare plans. She also considered a plan with a lower premium, but it would have meant higher out of pocket expenses. “Instead of paying $6,000 a year, I would have been paying $10,000 a year” with the plan with a lower premium, she said.

Anyone with a chronic condition would have opted for the plan with the lowest out of pocket maximum, even with a higher premium, so Lamb’s choice makes sense. But it did mean she faced sticker shock, going from $52 a month to $373 a month, even after her subsidy.

In other words, AFP has managed to highlight a very unique case—someone with a chronic condition who did not face high annual costs.

One Lupus sufferer, Erin Kotecki Vest, blogged that she was amazed at Lamb’s tale of woe after she researched the coverage provided by CoverTN. “Just ONE of my treatments ALONE wipes out everything CoverTN had to offer me,” she wrote. “I would hit CoverTN’s $25,000 annual limit the first week of January.”

In contrast to Lamb, this Lupus sufferer is thrilled to be on Obamacare. Kotecki Vest gleefully wrote in November that her family ditched her husband’s employer-provided plan after they discovered they would save nearly $19,000 a year by switching to a plan offered on healthcare.gov.

For some reason, Kotecki Vest was not asked to appear in an AFP ad. AFP did not respond to a request for comment.

I have hope that this will all sort itself out to the point at which a majority of Americans fully understand and accept that the health insurance system has been improved overall by the reforms. But I think we have to face the fact that everything that's wrong with the American health care system writ large will now be attributed to Obamacare by a large number of Americans. And there will be no convincing them that they were not better off before. The fight is not going to magically go away once the Republicans fail to repeal or lose some more elections.

Maybe in a generation or two this will change. But I wouldn't get my hopes up. After all, we're still fighting off those who want to get rid of Social Security and that's been in place since 1938. Government welfare state programs are ground zero for the ideological battle in American politics.

And anyway, even the Fact Check is so vague and equivocal in can't help but make people throw up their hands and believe what they want to believe:
We can’t quibble with the ad’s words–we certainly would not call it a “lie”–but the lack of context is going to earn it Pinocchios. We wavered between One and Two, but ultimately settled on Two because this is really an exception that proves the rule.
Whatever ...

Speaking of letters ...

by digby

Here's a response to that lawsuit by Exxon's CEO against fracking in his backyard --- from a former CEO of Mobil Oil:
Open Letter to Rex Tillerson, Chairman, ExxonMobil
From Lou Allstadt 
Dear Rex, 
We have never met, but I worked for your company for six months immediately after the ExxonMobil merger, the implementation of which I coordinated from the Mobil side. That was after thirty years with Mobil Oil Corporation, where just prior to the merger I had been an Executive Vice President and Operating Officer for Exploration and Producing in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. I now live in upstate New York. 
For the past five years, I have been actively trying to keep your company and the rest of the industry from fracking here. I understand from several press articles that you have fracking issues of your own, with a fracking water tower and truck traffic possibly detracting from your view and the value of your home. 
In response to the prospect of fracking ruining our communities, many New York towns have passed zoning laws that prohibit heavy industry, including any activities associated with drilling for oil and gas. Those laws, along with very little prospect for economic gas production in New York, mean that we probably will not have to look at fracking water towers, let alone live next to fracking well pads. I say probably, because your industry is still fighting those zoning laws in the courts. 
Ironically, your reasoning at the Bartonville, Texas town council meetings is virtually identical to the reasoning that I and many other citizens used to convince our local town councils to pass laws that prohibit the very problem you have encountered, plus all of the other infrastructure and waste disposal issues associated with fracking. 
No one should have to live near well pads, compression stations, incessant heavy truck traffic, or fracking water towers, nor should they have their water or air contaminated. You and I love the places where we live, but in the end, if they are ruined by fracking or frack water tanks, we can afford to pack up and go someplace else. However, many people can’t afford to move away when they can no longer drink the water or breathe the air because they are too close to one of your well pads or compressor stations. 
My efforts to prevent fracking started over water --- not the prospect of having to see a water tank from my home, but rather regulations that would allow gas wells near our sources of drinking water, in addition to well pads next to our homes, schools, hospitals and nursing homes. These issues are legitimate, but they are localized. I am now much more concerned with the greenhouse gas impacts of fossil fuels in general, and particularly the huge impact of methane emissions from natural gas production and transportation. These are global problems that local zoning cannot protect against. Only a major shift toward renewable energy sources can begin to mitigate their catastrophic climate impacts. 
Before closing, I should explain why I have referred to ExxonMobil as "your company."
For several years after retiring I thought of ExxonMobil as "my company." I thought that the company’s rigor and discipline in investing in sound projects was as good as it gets, and ExxonMobil was my largest single investment. I no longer own any shares of ExxonMobil or any other fossil fuel company. I would prefer to be an early investor in alternative energy for the 21st century rather than hanging on to dwindling prospects for investments in 19th and 20th century fossil fuels. 
It is time that ExxonMobil started shifting away from oil and gas, and toward alternatives --- both for environmental reasons and to protect the long-term viability of the company. Many large energy producers and consumers, including ExxonMobil, are building a carbon fee into their long-term planning assumptions. Actively supporting the phase-in of a carbon fee would be one way to move the company into the 21st century. Recognizing that methane emissions disqualify natural gas as a "bridge fuel" is another. 
Good luck with that fracking water tank. I hope you don’t have to move, and also that you will help a lot of other people stay in the homes they love. 
Lou Allstadt

So the lesson is, go ahead and become a CEO or a Master of the Universe --- become a member of the 1% or even the .001%.  This man proves there's no law that says you must also be an asshole.

Via Bradblog
QOTD: Ian Haney López

by digby

Via Moyers:

“[D]og whistle politics doesn’t come out of animus at all. It doesn’t come out of some desire to hurt minorities. It comes out of a desire to win votes… It’s racism as a strategy. It’s cold, it’s calculating, it’s considered, it’s the decision to achieve one’s own ends, here winning votes, by stirring racial animosity.”

Ain't that the truth. All you have to do is go back to Lee Atwater's famous statement from 1984 to see it laid out in black and white (no pun intended):

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Rick Perlstein wrote a fascinating piece during the 2012 election about this with an exclusive publication of Atwater's full taped interview provided by James Carter IV, the same fellow who disseminated the famous 47% video (and grandson of Jimmy Carter). Perlstein gives the background on Atwater and this interview and then writes:

He then utters his infamous words. The interlocutors go on to kibitz about Huey Long and barbecue. Then Atwater, apparently satisfied that he'd absolved the Southern Republican Party of racism once and for all, follows up with a prediction based on a study he claims demonstrates that Strom Thurmond won 38 percent of South Carolina’s middle-class black vote in his 1978 Senate campaign (run by Atwater).

“That voter, in my judgment,” he claims, “will be more likely to vote his economic interests than he will anything else. And that is the voter that I think through a fairly slow but very steady process, will go Republican.” Because race no longer matters: “In my judgment Karl Marx [is right]... the real issues ultimately will be the economic issues.” He continues, in words that uncannily echo the “47 percent tape” (nothing new under the wingnut sun), that “statistically, as the number of non-producers in the system moves toward fifty percent,” the conservative coalition cannot but expand. Voila: a new Republican majority. Racism won't have anything to do with it.

That's what he said but he was either deluded or lying. (I vote for the latter ...)


Not bloody likely. In 2005, the political scientists Nicholas Valentino and David Sears demonstrated that a Southern man holding conservative positions on issues other than race is no more likely than a conservative Northerner to vote for a Democrat. But when the relevant identifier is anti-black answers to survey questions—like whether one agrees “If blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites”—white Southerners were twice as likely than white Northerners to refuse to vote Democratic. As another political scientist, Thomas Schaller, wrote in his 2006 book Whistling Past Dixie (which naturally quotes the infamous Atwater lines), “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters...the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”

Which one particular Republican spinmeister, when he wasn't preening before political scientists, knew fully well—which was why, seven years after that interview, in his stated goal to “rip the bark off the little bastard [Michael Dukakis]” on behalf of his candidate George H.W. Bush, Atwater ran the infamous ad blaming Dukakis for an escaped Massachusetts convict, Willie Horton, “repeatedly raping” an apparently white girl. Indeed, Atwater pledged to make "Willie Horton his running mate." The commercial was sponsored by a dummy outfit called the National Security Political Action Committee—which it is true, was a whole lot more abstract than saying "nigger, nigger, nigger."

Which brings us back to the quote 'o the day. That interview, linked here, discusses just how much these "47%" comments are not merely appeals to the 1% donors but also racist dogwhistles. And none were more cynical and patently opportunistic about using them than Mitt Romney. True, he was talking to bunch of rich white people who apparently feel they are being taken advantage of when they are asked to kick in what amounts to pocket change to create a decent society. But he also had no problem slipping in the other kind of dogwhistles to make it clear he knew who his core voters were going to be:

Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” Mr. Romney said, standing alongside his wife, Ann, and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan. “Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

Yes, it's more abstract than nigger, nigger, nigger. But still very, very clear to the people who are tuned to that frequency.

Job seeking in a sellers market

by digby

This is what happens in a sellers job market --- people get treated like dirt:
Kelly Blazek is kind of a big deal: she runs a Cleveland Job Bank House and has gone off on anyone who has dared to try and make a professional connection with her that they are too “green” to have. As explained to the blog CleveScene, jobseekers reach out to her to get on her members-only “NEOHCommJobs” listserv. According to her, the listserv boasts over 7,300 subscribers and breaks job openings before they are posted elsewhere. It sounds like a great resource for Cleveland-ites looking for communications connections and jobs.

Perhaps it’s too great a resource. See, it seems Kelly Blazek has let running some rinky-dink Ohio listserv get to her head. Read this email from a jobseeker, followed by Blazek’s response:

Yikes. She goes after millenials who are often treated like they are spoiled children for simply wanting to work for a living, but a friend of mine who is in her 50s has a similar story in which she was told at a recent interview that they prefer not to work with older people because they're depressing. I think the problem isn't the age of the job seeker. If you give small minded people power they will inevitably abuse it. And our job market for the past five years has been a laboratory for worker abuse. Not that workers are in a position to complain, mind you. When there are people lined up around the block ready to take your job you're not inclined to make trouble.

And to think that all these businesses are making record profits. Oh wait ...

The inflation bears get another sharp stick in the eye, courtesy WhatsApp

by David Atkins

Do you hear that deafening silence? That's the sound of the sky-is-falling inflation bears' embarrassment by events that have totally contradicted their every prediction. The destruction of the middle class, the rise in income inequality, and continued wage declines have produced an extremely low-inflation economy, much to the chagrin of conservative "experts."

Now you can add another woe to the pile of mockery for the inflation hawks:

Larry Summers gave a speech today at the National Association For Business Economics (NABE) conference in Arlington Virginia.

In his speech he said some really sharp stuff about the significance of WhatsApp — the messaging company being purchased by Facebook for $19 billion.

Here's the exact language, via Bloomberg:

Ponder for example that the leading technological companies of this age, I think for example of Apple and Google, find themselves swimming in cash and facing the challenge of what to do with a very large cash hoard. Ponder the fact that WhatsApp has a greater market value than Sony with next to no capital investment required to achieve it. Ponder the fact that it used to require tens of millions of dollars to start a significant new venture. Significance new ventures today are seeded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the information technology era. All of this means reduced demand for investment with consequences for the flow of - with consequences for equilibrium levels of interest rates.

In other words, if you hardly need any cash to start huge companies, then cash just piles up in investor bank accounts with nowhere to go. And if cash isn't moving, because there's no demand or use for that money, then interest rates will fall.

Summers notes that there are other factors putting downward pressure on real interest rates, including the aftermath of the deleveraging, the declining rate of US population growth, the unequal distribution of income, resulting in a lot of wealthy people who have a high propensity to save, and a global trend towards putting money into safe assets, especially dollar denominated ones.
It's almost as if allowing obscenely rich people to have all the money, and creating a world in which companies requiring little startup capital and employing only 53 people can make $13 billion, might produce deflationary economic results with little circulation and growth.

Who knew? Aside from anyone with an ounce of sense, that is?


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Can we get an amen?

by digby

Keith Alexander in congressional hearings today:

General Keith Alexander, testifying before the Senate armed services committee for what could be the final time as head of the NSA, told senators that one option under consideration in the Obama administration’s deliberations about revamping the NSA’s surveillance programs was to “get only that data” relating to terrorist communications.

Imagine that.

Mark me down as +1 on that. And let's also talk about what a "terrorist" is.

Today's weepy billionaire

by digby

Oh boo-fucking-hoo:

Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries Inc. in Wichita, is used to being criticized.

Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) went on the attack against Charles and David Koch on Wednesday calling them “un-American” during a speech on the U.S. Senate floor.
According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, Reid took issue with what he called “lies” in new ads from opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

Charles Koch told me that criticism comes with the territory in today’s political environment.

“When you start attacking cronyism and people’s political interests, it gets nasty,” he said, during a Feb. 18 interview. “We’ve been called every name under the sun.”

Interesting that he says this is an attack on cronyism as if there's something wrong with doing that. Maybe someone should clue him in that most people think cronyism is a bad thing. Even weepy billionaires very rarely defend it.

Update: It's been pointed out to me on twitter that he's likely referring to himself as the scourge of cronyism and people's political interests which is probably right but equally absurd. I don't know what he's referring to but he's the ultimate crony capitalist. And his political interests are quite obvious.

Also too, I don't think he's known as someone who's on some crusade against crony capitalism is he? Not that it isn't something he'd be perfectly willing to launch without any sense of irony, of course. He is a conservative.


Why is Andrew Cuomo trying to elect Republicans?

by digby

So Andrew Cuomo is trying to dissuade Republicans from nominating a far right candidate to run against him. Why on earth would a Democrat do such a thing in a Blue state like New York where he would be bound to benefit by running against a far right crank?

It's almost beyond belief that he would actually tell people this, but apparently he has:
A number of people who have spoken to Mr. Cuomo say he also has expressed his desire to ensure that his eventual opponent is not far to the right on social issues. This, he has argued, could alienate moderate Republicans and other voters so much that Republican candidates for the State Senate could suffer too, potentially costing Republicans control of the chamber.
Why, you may ask, would a Democratic Governor be worried about the Republicans losing control of the State Senate?
Such concern for the Republican Party’s fortunes may seem counterintuitive for a heavyweight in the national Democratic Party who is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. But Mr. Cuomo actually has a friendly working relationship with many Senate Republicans. He and those senators have been at odds on social issues, but he has relied on their backing for his fiscal agenda, which has focused on issues of great importance to Republicans, like restraining government spending and cutting taxes.
The Republicans now control the Senate in a coalition with a small group of breakaway Democrats. Mr. Cuomo has expressed concern before about the main caucus of Democratic senators, citing the “dysfunction” and chaos that defined their time in the majority in 2009 and 2010, and has conspicuously remained on the sidelines as the two parties have battled for control.
I don't think I've ever seen a more perfect example of the "dysfunction" of the Democratic Party elite. It's bad enough that a leader with presidential ambitions even thinks this way. But to go so far as to publicly stab his own party in the back so that he can enact a conservative economic agenda says everything you need to know about where the center of the Democratic Party is today.

Andrew Cuomo is a shoo-in to win no matter who the Republicans nominate. And he has come right out and said that he doesn't want to have to run against a real social conservative because a campaign around gay rights or abortion might make Democrats vote for other Democrats than just him. And that would mean he wouldn't have all those nice Republicans to help him cut "deals" to screw Democrats.

And there's every reason to believe that he is not the only one ...

Using religious "liberty" as an excuse to hate on others is as American as apple pie

by digby

Over the years I've posted about the direct through line from racism to anti-abortion zealotry, using the manipulation of religion, particularly the Southern evangelical churches, to get the job done. Today, they are pushing a "religious liberty" strategy to roll back abortion rights and allow discrimination against gay people.
Here, Ian Millhiser goes back to the Jim Crow era to show how religious "liberty" was used as an excuse for racism in the first place:
[W]hile LGBT Americans are the current target of this effort to repackage prejudice as “religious liberty,” they are hardly the first. To the contrary, as Wake Forest law Professor Michael Kent Curtis explained in a 2012 law review article, many segregationists justified racial bigotry on the very same grounds that religious conservatives now hope to justify anti-gay animus. In the words of one professor at a prominent Mississippi Baptist institution, “our Southern segregation way is the Christian way . . . . [God] was the original segregationist.”

Theodore Bilbo was one of Mississippi’s great demagogues. After two non-consecutive terms as governor, Bilbo won a U.S. Senate seat campaigning against “farmer murderers, corrupters of Southern womanhood, [skunks] who steal Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms” and a host of other, equally colorful foes. In a year where just 47 Mississippi voters cast a ballot for a communist candidate, Bilbo railed against a looming communist takeover of the state — and offered himself up as the solution to this red onslaught.
Bilbo was also a virulent racist. “I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the n[*]ggers away from the polls,” Bilbo proclaimed during his successful reelection campaign in 1946. He was a proud member of the Ku Klux Klan, telling Meet the Press that same year that “[n]o man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux.” During a filibuster of an anti-lynching bill, Bilbo claimed that the bill:

... will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.

For Senator Bilbo, however, racism was more that just an ideology, it was a sincerely held religious belief. In a book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo wrote that “[p]urity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” Allowing “the blood of the races [to] mix,” according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the “Divine plan of God.” There “is every reason to believe that miscengenation and amalgamation are sins of man in direct defiance to the will of God.”
There were many more like him, including the infamous Bob Jones.

Bigots have used their religious "freedom" as an excuse to discriminate and force their beliefs on others forever. One of the great advances of the American system, screwed up as it is, was the idea that the government would stay hands off of religious disputes. (500 years of bloody religious wars will do that to you.) The idea that the government should allow a particular church's dogma to be used as an excuse to violate civil rights is a violation of that concept and can only lead to the very kind of trouble the Enlightenment thinkers who founded this country (and decent people ever since then) were getting away from.

Milhiser's whole piece is well worth reading if you have the time. One thing you cannot say is that this nefarious use of "religious liberty" is UnAmerican. Shamefully, it's been as American as apple pie.

Too right wing for the American Legion? I didn't know it was possible ...

by digby

Looks like it:
The head of the American Legion, one of the largest veterans advocacy groups in the United States, said on Wednesday that an amendment to place more sanctions on Iran has “no place” being added to a veterans bill currently being considered in the Senate.

Republicans this week have grounded Senate action on important military issues to a halt by adding Iran sanctions measures to bills meant to combat military sexual assault and help America’s veterans. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) included an Iran sanctions provision in his alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) vets bill, which would, according to the Hill, “boost veterans’ healthcare programs and give veterans in-state tuition rates at all schools across the country.”

Democrats criticized the Republicans for “inject[ing] partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

The American Legion piled on, saying in a statement that “sanctions against Iran have no place in a U.S. Senate debate over legislation that aims to expand health care, education opportunities, employment and other benefits for veterans.”

There was a time when the American Legion would have attacked any group as being unpatriotic for saying something like this. And they still would if veterans benefits weren't at stake. But still, I think this is progress of a sort. They've been forced to publicly come out against warmongering in order to protect their own people and that's not a position in which the hawks of yesteryear would have ever placed them.

This is yet another positive consequence of the tea party's insanity. They've knocked over the three legged Republican stool of "family values, small government and national security" and the establishment doesn't know how to right it.


by digby

A study of election integrity around the world found:

Experts were critical about flawed elections in several long-established democracies, such as Italy and Japan. Most strikingly, according to the PEI index, the United States ranked 26th out of 73 elections under comparison worldwide, the lowest score among Western nations. Experts highlighted concern over American practices of district boundaries, voter registration and campaign finance.

What with all the cracking down on non-existent voter fraud and runaway campaign contributions from billionaires, we can get down in the 50s in no time.

And hey, our vaunted electoral college guarantees that from time to time we will elect someone who fails to get a majority, and when there is a dispute in the electoral college we turn to outright banana republic tactics and allow the political machines to install someone who didn't actually get the most votes. I'm thinking that if they took those practices into account we'd be down there with Malaysia and Indonesia.

That "special" relationship

by digby

I hope you and your honey weren't flashing a bit of skin over your webcam recently because it's been preserved for a bunch of bureaucrats to "research" and "analyze" if they think they might need to. Our good friends across the pond are looking at your nibbles and bits.

Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy".

GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans' images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.

The documents also chronicle GCHQ's sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.

Well that's good. I'm awfully glad they try to keep it away from the staff. What could possibly go wrong?

It should be clear to anyone by now that there is no good reason to store all the stuff they're storing. They can't even point to a good reason. They are doing it because they can.

What this changes is the idea that the act of ephemeral, private communications must now go back to a far more primitive time when the only way you could have an ephemeral, private communication was to speak in person. The fact that they are storing your private calls and messages basically renders everything the internet and your telephone is used for a potentially incriminating piece of documentation for the government to use if it wants to build a case against you. And that doesn't even take into account the massive threat it poses to individuals from private parties who may find ways to access this information. Maybe you trust the government. What about cyber-criminals? Do you trust that the government will be able to guard this information? They haven't been particularly good at it so far --- Chelsea Manning accessed it and snuck it out on a Lady Gaga CD.

Do you want your face (much less your T&A) in a "mug book" to be used by law enforcement based upon truly primitive facial recognition technology?

Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users' feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ's servers. The documents describe these users as "unselected" – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.

One document even likened the program's "bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events" to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.

"Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for 'mugshots' or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face," it reads. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."

The agency did make efforts to limit analysts' ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.

However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display "webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target".

(If you think that's cool, remind yourself of this little error. I)

It is, quite simply, too dangerous to our civil liberties and our personal privacy for these records to be stored at all. Governments functioned quite well having to build cases based upon suspicion. They should have no problem being able to get warrants for specific people or groups of people. It's how it's always worked before.

Read the whole thing. It would be laughable if it weren't so appalling. We've officially graduated to farce.

*Oh, and if you think the NSA isn't intimately involved in this --- and likely farmed it out to GCHQ because of their more lax legal system --- you must have recently taken a trip to Colorado and bought some of that really good Mountain High.



You wouldn't know it from the political conversations happening in the United States and Australia, but the world's scientists are speaking loud and clear. The debate is over, and it's long past time to act:

Two of the world’s most prestigious science academies say there’s clear evidence that humans are causing the climate to change.

The time for talk is over, says the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, the national science academy of the UK.

The two released a paper, Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, written and reviewed by leading experts in both countries, lays out which aspects of climate change are well understood and where there is still uncertainty and a need for more research.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said:

“We have enough evidence to warrant action being taken on climate change; it is now time for the public debate to move forward to discuss what we can do to limit the impact on our lives and those of future generations.”

NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone said:

“As two of the world’s leading scientific bodies, we feel a responsibility to evaluate and explain what is known about climate change, at least the physical side of it, to concerned citizens, educators, decision makers and leaders, and to advance public dialogue about how to respond to the threats of climate change.”

Here's the deal.

NASA knows humans are causing climate change and that it's dangerous.

The Pentagon knows it.

The UN knows it.

99% of the international scientific community knows it.

We can either believe what NASA, the Pentagon, the UN, and the entire scientific community say about climate change.

Or we can believe what the paid lackeys for the oil industry, Tony Abbott, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh say.

That's not a debate. It's a joke.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

DOJ Follies

by digby

Come on ...
The Justice Department is asking a secret federal court to let the government keep telephone records collected by the National Security Agency beyond a five-year limit, arguing that it has an obligation to retain evidence in lawsuits it is facing.

Data collected under the NSA's phone records programs are supposed to be destroyed within five years, but lawyers for the government are asking that the records be preserved longer for use as potential evidence in pending lawsuits. The Justice Department says it has a legal obligation to identify, locate and maintain information that may be used as evidence in those suits that might otherwise be destroyed.
So, if you file a lawsuit protesting the retention of record collection for five years it means they will have to retain them for more than five years due to the fact that they want to keep the records for five years and will draw out the litigation beyond five years?

A rather large mistake

by digby

Oopsie ...

Income inequality can lead to slower or less sustainable economic growth, while redistribution of income, when measured, does not hurt and can even help an economy, IMF staff found in a research study released on Wednesday.

Although the study by International Monetary Fund economists does not reflect the Fund's official position, it is another sign of a shift in its thinking about income disparity.

"It would still be a mistake to focus on growth and let inequality take care of itself, not only because inequality may be ethically undesirable but also because the resulting growth may be low and unsustainable," according to the study.
"In the bad old days, the IMF asked governments to cut public spending and taxes," said Nicolas Mombrial, the head of Oxfam's Washington office. "We hope this research and Christine Lagarde's recent statements are a sign that they are changing their tune."
Jonathan Ostry and Andrew Berg, two of the authors of the IMF paper, also researched the link between income inequality and growth in 2011.

At the time, Ostry said the response was that income redistribution rather than inequality was responsible for hurting growth: some argued that inequality prompted governments to transfer money to the poor, which reduced incentives to work.

Their follow-up paper on Wednesday showed redistribution was not to blame.

"We find that inequality is bad for growth ... in and of itself," Ostry told reporters on Wednesday. "And we can say that redistribution by itself doesn't seem to be bad for growth, unless it's very large."

They said there was evidence that extremely high taxes or transfers to the poor, such as which occurs in some European countries, could hurt growth. But they found that redistribution also helped growth by reducing inequality.
Oh H-E-double hockey sticks. You mean all that character building austerity wasn't really a good idea after all?

I'm shocked.


Progress: scammer Republicans are at least pretending to tax the rich

by David Atkins

Michael Hiltzik has a good take on the GOP's latest tax scam:

The long-awaited Republican tax reform plan was released today by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich). It's being hailed as a breakthrough in putting real reform on the table, but also being instantly eulogized as dead-on-arrival in a Congress that wants no part of any tax reform, now or ever.
Still, it's instructive to examine the Camp plan for a primer on the latest mathematical trickery aimed at making something that preserves, even enhances, tax benefits for the wealthy appear instead to be a tax increase for the wealthy. Nice try, Congressman Dave.

Here's the easiest calculation. Camp says he's eliminating the preferential tax rate on capital gains, and taxing them the same as ordinary income. That would be a big philosophical change and a big tax hike on the rich, if it were true.

It's not true.

Camp's plan exempts 40% of capital gains (and investment dividends) from any taxation at all. How does this work out in real numbers? The top marginal tax rate on married taxpayers today is 39.6% (couples with more than $457,600 income). The top capital gains rate is 20%.

Camp wants to cut the top marginal rate to 35%. If you tax capital gains at 35%, but exempt 40% of them from any tax, your effective rate on all capital gains works out to (... wait for i t...) 21%. In other words, Camp is raising the standard cap gains rate by a single percentage point. But since he's also cutting the top rate on all income by nearly five percentage points, rich taxpayers still come out ahead.
This is all typical Republican economic royalism and lying chicanery--except for one thing. They're actually trying to make it look like they're taxing wealth the same as work.

They know they're losing the argument. I pointed this out before in the context of the Right's shift from attacking Democrats as "socialist" to calling us "crony capitalists."

They know that Americans are upset about the preferential treatment of wealth over work. They know that if this is what capitalism looks like, more and more Americans want no part of it. They know they're losing. These sorts of desperate dodges and lies in the hope of acknowledging but avoiding reality are what a political party does when it's on the ropes.

Speaking of liberals ...

by digby

I wrote earlier about the Gallup findings that show more people assuming the liberal label in the past couple of years. And I mentioned that while it's good news that people are no longer afraid to identify with the left side of the dial, the question remains as to what that left side of the dial actually stands for.

This conversation between Bill Moyers and Professor Adolph Reed delves into that question and the upshot is that modern liberalism leaves a whole lot to be desired. (Surprised?)

If you have the time today to watch this (or read the transcript) I urge you to do it.

Reed worries that liberals have come to depend upon electoral politics as their only path to progress and that this is short sighted. I think that is short sighted as well, but as people who read this blog regularly know, I take the Norman Solomon approach and say that "state power matters" and it's foolish to abandon it to the right wing or the "neos" on both sides. (Reed agrees as well, by the way.) His critique is aimed at liberals who only focus on electoral politics when obviously that's not getting us where we need to go.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how much expectation and pressure we are putting on semiotics to create the change we all believe in. So often lately it seems to me that symbolism, labels, totems and signs are becoming the ends instead of the means for progress. And I don't mean to suggest that those things aren't important. They are indispensable. But they aren't enough. The system must be challenged too. And on that I think Reed is correct in this exchange:

BILL MOYERS: You remind us of how leftist, progressive, liberals, a lot of everyday folks were swept up in the rhetoric and expectations surrounding Obama's campaign, his election, and his presidency. I'll bet you remember election night in Grant Park in 2008.

ADOLPH REED: Yeah, I do.

BILL MOYERS: Here it is.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is our time to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids, to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one. That while we breathe, we hope.

And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people. Yes we can. Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

ADOLPH REED: The clip is interesting, right? Because you think about the clip and his utterances, right, were a collection of evocative statements. But there was no real content there, right? I mean, he didn't say, I'm going to fight for X, and I have--

BILL MOYERS: Against inequality or for equality--

ADOLPH REED: Right, right.

BILL MOYERS: --or for wages, or--

ADOLPH REED: Right, right. So it was as he said himself in one or both of his books, his move is to encourage people to imagine a better world and a better future and a better life for themselves through identification with him.

BILL MOYERS: And you say in your article that his content, essentially, is his identity.


BILL MOYERS: I can imagine that if President Obama were sitting here talking with you or you were at the White House talking with him, he'd say, Adolph, I understand your diagnosis. But what you have to understand is that pragmatism can be and often is an effective agent or tool or weapon in the long-range struggle for social justice.

And I know you're impatient, I know you believe in this restructuring of society, but we're not going to get there with the wave of a wand. And it takes just as it did in the civil rights movement, a long time for me to get here to the White House, it's going to take a long time for this country to get where you would take it.

ADOLPH REED: Right. Oh, I am absolutely certain that he would say something like that. I admit that this is kind of treading maybe, into troublesome water, but among the reasons that I know Obama's type so well is, you know, I've been teaching at elite institutions for more than 30 years.

And that means that I've taught his cohort that came through Yale actually at the time that he was at, you know, Columbia and Harvard. And I recall an incident in a seminar in, you know, black American political thought with a young woman who was a senior who said something in the class. And I just blurted out that it seem, that the burden of what she said seemed to be that the whole purpose of this Civil Rights Movement was to make it possible for people like her to go to Yale and then to go to work in investment banking.

And she said unabashedly, well, yes, yes, and that's what I believe. And again, I didn't catch myself in time, so I just said to her, well, I wish somebody had told poor Viola Liuzzo, you know, before she left herself family in Michigan and got herself killed that that's what the punch line was going to be, because she might've stayed home to watch her kids grow up. And I think--

BILL MOYERS: This was the woman who on her own initiative went down during the civil rights struggle to Selma, Alabama to join in the fight for voting rights and equality, and was murdered.

ADOLPH REED: Right, exactly. I'm not prepared to accept as my metric of the extent of racial justice or victories of the struggles for racial justice, the election of a single individual to high office or appointment of a black individual to be corporate CEO.

Well, you can't really say there is no progress if women and people of other races aren't allowed to be avaricious greedheads just like middle aged white men. That's our "meritocracy" at work. But I take his point. And for the rest of us who are never going to be investment bankers or CEOs, there are more important concerns. Like the disappearing middle class. And personal debt. And hunger. And gun violence. And a government run by the rich for the rich. I do think it matters that we have an African American president. It matters a great deal. And it might even matter that we have African American Masters of the Universe. But to declare "mission accomplished" because of that is to leave the job undone.

Our society has undoubtedly made some very important social progress in the last few years, especially on race and gay rights. It was a huge lift and largely done by activists and allies on the left. And liberals must continue to fight for equality and human rights wherever and whenever it's needed. But most people of all colors, sexual orientation, creed, ethnic background etc, etc., are facing a decline in living standards and a drop in expectations for their children along with the prospect of some cataclysmic dislocation if we stay on our current path. And Reed and Moyers are absolutely correct that the only way to meet the challenges of our time is to band together in common cause.

It's an easy equation really: I'll fight for you if you'll fight for me. We're all in this together. It would be nice if we avoided our apparently natural inclination to fight amongst ourselves while the world is burning.

QOTD: A gullible police chief

by digby

Some people will believe anything:
"The first day of legalization, that's when Colorado experienced 37 deaths that day from overdose on marijuana," said Annapolis, Md., police chief Michael Pristoop while testifying against legislation to decriminalize cannabis in Maryland, according to the Capital Gazette. "I remember the first day it was decriminalized there were 37 deaths."
He was informed that this statistic came from the satirical web site The Daily Current and later apologized, which is nice.

But how could a police chief think such a thing is possible?

Obviously, the man is completely out of touch if he was willing to believe that pot could kill people at all. He's downright stupid if he thought that it was reasonable that it killed 37 people in one day. The day it became legal.

This man is the police chief of a fair sized city.

The shoot first and ask questions later doctrine

by digby

I think a lot of us watching this increasingly surreal devolution of our cultural norms around guns are starting to get a little bit scared. This is rapidly spinning out of control.

After the Dunn verdict, I wrote that it's more and more obvious that the "polite society is an armed society" trope is really just a get out of jail free card for bullies and hotheads to run society by the law of the jungle. I noted that a European friend told me recently that it's common advice for travelers to the United States to be told to avoid confrontation at all costs, no matter what the provocation, because you never know who might be armed.  Certainly, the bullies in places that have enshrined "stand your ground" believe they are allowed by law to provoke a confrontation and then shoot the victim if he fights back.

Dahlia Lithwick unpacks all this and more  in typically incisive fashion:
The gun lobby has single-handedly made certain that the very definition of what one might reasonably expect from an altercation at a Walmart, a movie theater, or a gas station has changed. By seeking to arm everyone in America, the NRA has in fact changed our reasonable expectation of how fights will end, into a self-fulfilling prophecy about how fights will end. It should surprise you not at all to learn that of the 10 states with the most lenient gun laws in America, seven support “stand your ground.” In those jurisdictions shooting first isn’t merely “reasonable.” It borders on sensible.

And it’s not just cultural expectations that are shifting. We’re also shifting what we ask of our jurors. Under “stand your ground,” we are asking jurors to impose a subjective test about whether the shooter was experiencing a profound moment of existential panic. We are asking them whether—in a country seemingly full of people who are both armed and terrified that everyone else is armed—shooting first makes sense. By redirecting jurors to contemplate whether people who are armed and ready to kill are thinking reasonably about others they believe to be armed and ready to kill, we have created a framework in which one’s subjective fears about the world are all that matters. Or as the father of one victim explained to the Washington Post, “Somehow, we've reached the point where the shooter's word is the law.”

Every time we hear about a Zimmerman, a Dunn, or a Cyle Wayne Quadlin, we get a little bit closer to believing that we need to become a Zimmerman, a Dunn, or a Cyle Wayne Quadlin merely to protect ourselves. And then it gets a little bit easier for us to relate to, and to believe, the next Zimmerman, Dunn, or Cyle Wayne Quadlin. It’s a perfect loop of logic. We define the reasonableness of a lethal response by the growing number of lethal responders. “Stand your ground” laws, or at least the public conception of what they do, are changing the way the rest of us think about self-protection. This is, of course, exactly the world the NRA dreams of constructing: Everyone armed and paranoid that everyone else is armed. But the old canard that an armed society is a polite society is pretty much bunk. Ours is not a polite society; we are rude and hotheaded and terrified. Now we have guns to help us sort it all out.
I think that's so. But I don't think the NRA dream will be realized.  Something much more repressive and socially stifling is taking place. In the final analysis, I think most people will not take a chance on getting into a deadly altercation. If it becomes accepted that the bullying types who demand "respect" and like to tell strangers to follow their orders are packing heat most people aren't going carry their own guns and they aren't going to be reckless enough to get into gun battles with armed thugs.

They will submit.

They will keep quiet.

They will apologize and move on.

Sure, there will be more killing of young men and assorted people asserting their right to speak, but once most of us understand that we could die if we fail to follow a bullying stranger's orders, we'll usually do what we're told. Life is already short enough.

And the gun proliferation zealots will call it liberty.

Is everyone getting the same picture in their heads? It's not unprecedented in America.

 In fact, we had an entire race of people live under a regime like that once before:

A dirty word gets clean

by digby

The shift toward greater liberal self-identification has been led by Democrats. Currently, 43% of Democrats say they are liberal, a nearly 50% increase from 29% in 2000. Over the same period, the percentage of Democrats identifying as moderate is down to 36% from 44%, and conservative identification is down to 19% from 25%. 
U.S. Political Ideology -- Recent Trend Among Democrats 

Now, we don't know exactly what they are defining as "liberal." I would guess more than a few define it as President Obama's philosophy which I think is more accurately defined as "moderate." (He said himself that he would be considered a moderate Republican back in the 80s.) It is curious that this increase in self-defined liberals seems to have jumped just in the last couple of years, so it's hard to say it's all Obama driven.

In any case, there are two factors here that are of interest. The first is that the demonization of the word itself seems to have faded a bit. If 43% of Democrats are now willing to call themselves liberal it is obviously no longer a shameful label. I don't know why that's happened, but perhaps it's just as simple as the fact that the conservatives have been making such asses of themselves in recent years that normal people are no longer as influence by their opinions.

But I'm more interested in the fact that 43% of one of the major parties is a big constituency. Now it's not as large as the conservative constituency in the Republican Party, which holds a large majority, but it's a plurality and it's growing. I think the Party poohbahs had better start reckoning with the idea that they need to show that faction just a little bit more respect than they've been showing it in the last few decades. At the very least they need to stop insulting them.

Paging Fix the Debt and Chuck Todd

by David Atkins

If Fix the Debt and Chuck Todd really want to reduce government deficits even more than the President has already done, the bloated defense budget would be the place to start. But if that's entirely too politically difficult, then perhaps they should look here:
State and local governments have awarded at least $110 billion in taxpayer subsidies to business, with 3 of every 4 dollars going to fewer than 1,000 big corporations, the most thorough analysis to date of corporate welfare revealed today.

Boeing ranks first, with 137 subsidies totaling $13.2 billion, followed by Alcoa at $5.6 billion, Intel at $3.9 billion, General Motors at $3.5 billion and Ford Motor at $2.5 billion, the new report by the nonprofit research organization Good Jobs First shows.

Dow Chemical had the most subsidies, 410 totaling $1.4 billion, followed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway holding company, with 310 valued at $1.1 billion.

The figures were compiled from disclosures made by state and local government agencies that subsidize companies in all sorts of ways, including cash giveaways, building and land transfers, tax abatements and steep discounts on electric and water bills.
That's some big money. And those numbers actually understate the case. David Cay Johnston explains why in the full story.

Obsessing over deficits at a time of record corporate profits, rising inequality and declining wages is such bad public policy that it can only be construed as ideological perversion or blatant corruption.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bring out yer dead (Grand Bargain)

by digby

Alex Pareene hits the Village scribblers' obvious depression at the prospect of no Grand Bargain on Social Security this year. They really, really wanted to see "sacrifice" from the losers ... er voters and it's a crushing disappointment that they'll have to settle for long term debt and unemployment and rising numbers of hungry people:
MSNBC’s Chuck Todd has a brief requiem for the seemingly dead grand bargain in this morning’s “First Take.” In just one brief paragraph, it manages to hit just about every single trope of Beltway centrist deficit scold writing, from treating an unpopular and unnecessary plan to cut social insurance programs as a universally acknowledged urgent necessity instead of a highly ideological goal, to bemoaning the fact that politicians who support unpopular things are campaigned against for supporting unpopular things.
Why entitlement reform isn’t going to happen for a long, long time

Want to know why achieving entitlement reform — even on an incremental, bipartisan basis — is so difficult in American politics? Because the political parties are poised to pounce on ANY changes to Social Security or Medicare. The latest example is this recent story from the FL-13 special congressional election: “NRCC Hits Alex Sink on Social Security for Backing Simpson-Bowles.” From the story: “‘Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love,’ said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.” For political parties, it’s too tempting to exploit someone wanting to raise the retirement age, raise taxes, or cut benefits. (Folks, it also explains why politicians like President Obama or House Speaker John Boehner never 100% backed Simpson-Bowles.) But that is the only way to truly achieve bipartisan entitlement reform – something that we don’t believe will occur anytime soon.
You can just feel his disappointment, can't you? In all the discussions about this, he's never once revisited his basic assumption that voters are a bunch of silly, selfish assholes who refuse to give up their "goodies" and hamstringing our leaders' genuine desire to do the "right thing."

But as Pareene says:
I might have phrased the first sentences differently: Want to know why achieving entitlement reform — even on an incremental, bipartisan basis — is so difficult in American politics? Because it is deeply unpopular with actual voters who recognize it as a shitty deal for everyone but the rich.
The rich. Like wealthy political TV celebrities ....

The social conservative "death by a thousand cuts" strategy

by digby

Ed Kilgore's take on the future of the "religious liberty" strategy that has Arizona (and other states) proposing a gay Jim Crow legal regime and a War on Women is persuasive. He concludes his survey of how this is backfiring, with this:

On many fronts in the culture wars, the momentum has usually been possessed by those who can best identify themselves with the ambivalent attitudes of a mushy middle “swing vote”—favorable to contraceptives and early-term abortions but not late-term abortions; increasingly accepting of LGBT folk but indulgent of their parents’ and grandparents’ “ick factor.”

After years of shedding crocodile tears for the victims of late-term abortions, anti-choicers are now finding themselves defending businesses who in open court argue that the dividing line between acceptable contraception and murderous abortion occurs moments after sexual intercourse — when women instantly transition from autonomous individuals to “hosts” for a state-protected zygote. And after years of arguing against marriage equality on behalf of the positive “rights” of men and women in “traditional marriage,” those who actually think gay people in love are abominations unto the Lord are being exposed for who they really are.

I hope he's right that these discrimination laws are not going to be acceptable to a majority and that banning contraception will, at the very least, remain a battleground rather than a fait accompli. Overall, I've been shocked at how fast gay rights have become mainstream and there's certainly some good reason to hope that this flailing around over "religious liberty" (assuming the courts don't go way out on a limb) will eventually lose its energy and die out.

But this is, unfortunately, just one tool in the social conservatives' toolbox. For instance just today I read about this ingenious new approach:
HF 2098 was cosponsored by [Iowa] Republican (of course) Greg Hartsill and company, and it provides a formal legal mechanism for "establishing a civil cause of action for physical injury or emotional distress resulting from an abortion."

The bill allows patients to do so for up to ten years.

Here's the thing. There's already a mechanism in the law for tort claims related to physical injury caused by medical malpractice. There's a lot to be said about medical malpractice reform in the US and the suit-happy culture this country cultivates, but the short version is that if a patient incurs a physical injury as a result of an abortion, that patient already has a mechanism for bringing suit.

Let's say, for example, that horrible complications during an abortion render a patient infertile -- if this was the result of malpractice, the patient can claim a potentially very large settlement.

While medical malpractice is in urgent need of reform (especially in OB/GYN, where it's particularly thorny), patients need to have the right to seek redress for serious injuries caused by negligence, carelessness, and mistakes made in the course of practicing medicine. Including mistakes made while performing abortions -- fortunately, abortion has an extremely low complication rate. First trimester abortion (the most common) carries a complication rate of less than 0.05%.

But this bill isn't really about malpractice. It's about regrets. Specifically, a woman who regrets having an abortion and wants to sure the doctor who performed it. They call this "emotional distress." The anti-abortion movement has already recruited a cadre of women who have made themselves into the poster children of abortion regret and I'm going to assume they will be able to find what they need to put doctors out of business wherever these laws are enacted. Fear of lawsuits may just be the silver bullet they've tried to use to kill doctors in the past.

This is just one of a number of different approaches being pushed by the social conservatives. This one could backfire too, of course. It's possible that the "mushy middle" that Kilgore describes could acknowledge that a woman has free will and therefore has no case against a doctor who performs an abortion at her request. That would seem logical to me, but then I don't understand the mush middle's belief that because someone thinks a thing is "icky" it should be banned by the state so perhaps I'm not the best person to judge this. The point is that the social conservatives are not relying on any single strategy. It's more like the death of a thousand cuts --- they just keep at it incrementally and hope that the "mushy middle" just gets sick of the whole thing and lets them have their way. It's a pretty good bet in my opinion.


At what point do "job creators" become "unpatriotic thieves"?

by David Atkins

Another day, another tax evasion story in the annals of our patriotic job creators:

Senate subcommittee investigation accused Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse of using elaborate “cloak-and-dagger” methods to hide the accounts of 22,000 wealthy American citizens with a total of up to $12 billion in assets from U.S. authorities so they could avoid paying taxes.
The bipartisan probe also sharply criticized the Justice Department for being lax in using subpoenas and other legal tools to pressure the bank to reveal most of the names of account holders, which have been withheld as part of a long Swiss tradition of bank secrecy.
“The key to piercing the cocoon of bank secrecy and collecting the taxes owed by tax evaders is getting the names on those accounts,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“Yet after years of investigations, negotiations and jawboning, the United States has names for just 238 of those 22,000 Credit Suisse customers,” he said Tuesday in unveiling a 175-page report on the bank’s practices.
The subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the report’s findings. Senators will question Credit Suisse Chief Executive Brady Dougan, other company executives and two top Justice Department officials.
It's not just important that we get the rest of the names.

It's also important that these 22,000 people not get a slap on the wrist or a fine they'll barely notice. Real jail time would be a good start.

Yes, we should be alarmed by documentation that shows spy agencies could be involved in dirty tricks

by digby

I notice that people are complaining about Glenn Greenwald's latest piece about the spy agencies' ratfucking operations because of its "tone" and I realize that it's time to remind people of this little episode in case anyone's gotten it into their heads that this is just some paranoid conspiracy theory:

How Spy Agency Contractors Have Already Abused Their Power

by Lee Fang on June 11, 2013

Could the sprawling surveillance state enable government or its legion of private contractors to abuse their technology and spy upon domestic political targets or judges?

This is not a far off possibility. Two years ago, a batch of stolen e-mails revealed a plot by a set of three defense contractors (Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal) to target activists, reporters, labor unions and political organizations. The plans— one concocted in concert with lawyers for the US Chamber of Commerce to sabotage left-leaning critics, like the Center for American Progress and the SEIU, and a separate proposal to “combat” WikiLeaks and its supporters, including Glenn Greenwald, on behalf of Bank of America— fell apart after reports of their existence were published online. But the episode serves as a reminder that the expanding spy industry could use its government-backed cybertools to harm ordinary Americans and political dissident groups.

The episode also shows that Greenwald, who helped Snowden expose massive spying efforts in the United States, had been targetted by spy agency contractors in the past for supporting whistleblowers and WikiLeaks.

Firms like Palantir—a Palo Alto–based business that helps intelligence agencies analyze large sets of data—exist because of the government’s post-9/11 rush to develop a “terror-detection leviathan” of high-tech companies. Named after a stone in the Lord of the Rings that helps both villains and do-gooders see over great distances, the company is well-known within Silicon Valley for attracting support from a venture capital group led by libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel and Facebook’s Sean Parker. But Palantir’s rise to prominence, now reportedly valued at $8 billion, came from initial investment from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA, and close consultation with officials from the intelligence-gathering community, including disgraced retired admiral John Poindexter and Bryan Cunningham, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice.

While Palantir boasts that its government-backed technology is geared towards helping the military track terrorists, stolen e-mails from HBGary Federal show the firm and its senior executives were eager to use its platform on behalf of the Chamber, one of the largest corporate lobbying associations. In the fall of 2010, the Chamber had received unflattering attention, first from a New York Times piece about allegedly laundered money from AIG, and then from my reporting at the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress blog about foreign funds flowing to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) entity used to run campaign advertisements. The Chamber’s attorneys at the firm Hunton & Williams, at the time already busy prosecuting a group of activists for impersonating the Chamber, sought out the help of Palantir to develop a team to go after the Chamber’s critics. As I reported later for TheNation.com, Palantir eventually connected with Berico and HBGary Federal, and along with the Chamber’s attorneys, the group began plotting a campaign of snooping on activists’ families and even using sophisticated hacking tools to break into computers:

The presentations, which were also leaked by Anonymous, contained ethically questionable tactics, like creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win, a federation of labor unions that sponsored the watchdog site, US Chamber Watch.

Even more troubling, however, were plans by the three contractors to use malware and other forms of malicious software to hack into computers owned by the Chamber’s opponents and their families. Boasting that they could develop a “fusion cell” of the kind “developed and utilized by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC),” the contractors discussed how they could use “custom malware development” and “zero day” exploits to gain control of a target’s computer network. These types of hacks can allow an attacker not only to snoop but to delete files, monitor keystrokes and manipulate websites, e-mail archives and any database connected to the target computer.

In January of 2011, Hunton and Williams, which had met with the Chamber to discuss the proposals, sent by courier a CD with target data to the contractors. The targets discussed in e-mails included labor unions SEIU, IBT, UFW, UFCW, AFL-CIO, Change to Win, as well as progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org, Courage Campaign, the Ruckus Society, Agit-Pop, Brave New Films and others.

Fang goes on to describe their emails targeting Greenwald for allegedly helping Wikileaks and looking forward to using their spying capabilities for the private sector in the future to rake in the big bucks. Unfortunately, this particular scheme was exposed when Anonymous discovered it and dumped their emails online.

Nothing happened to any of these people, needless to say. Indeed, the government has subsequently stepped up its actions against the "hactivists." A handful of Democrats made a desultory call for an investigation but nobody bothered.

The results?
In the wake of the scandal, HBGary Federal shut down, but its sister firm, HBGary, was later sold to another military contractor, ManTech International for $23.8 million. Berico retained an influential DC lobbyist; Palantir increased their spending on lobbyists. Both companies managed to escape much scrutiny.
Fang's story concludes with an aside which wasn't much addressed at the time of the Snowden revelations:
Although some media outlets have reacted to the Snowden story with apprehension that such a young employee of a government contractor would have such wide-ranging spy capabilities, the disclosure presents other questions. Journalist Tim Shorrock, who also blogged recently about the rise of Palantir, reported that some 70 percent of the nation’s intelligence gathering budget is spent on private contractors. Could any of these firms, which number in the hundreds, use their terrorist-seeking espionage weapons against their fellow Americans? If what Snowden claimed is true, he could have spied upon judges and journalists and sold that information to powerful domestic or foreign interests. At one point during the discussions about how to use their technologies to attack activists, Barr had met with Booz Allen Hamilton senior vice president Bill Wansley. The disclosure of the Palantir-Berico-HBGary proposals suggest other abuses could be lurking out there, from a rogue employee to a carefully planned effort to spy on activists.
Indeed. And I found that very interesting in light of this recent comment from James Clapper:
“In the end,” he says, “we will never ever be able to guarantee that there will not be an Edward Snowden or another Chelsea Manning because this is a large enterprise composed of human beings with all their idiosyncrasies.”
Or another Palantir or another HBGary either. As Conor Friederdorf put it:
Consider the implications of that admission.

The NSA has collected information about the communications of millions of Americans. Nefarious actors, given access to metadata from the phone dragnet alone, could blackmail countless citizens and quietly manipulate the political process. The NSA doesn't deny that. They just insist that they're not nefarious actors, that safeguards are in place, and that we should trust them as stewards of this data.

Well, here is Clapper telling the truth: Despite regarding Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as having done grave damage to the United States with their data thefts, he can't guarantee the same thing won't happen again. And if a future whistleblower could gain access to the most sensitive data, so could a blackmailer.

So could a foreign spy.

Data retention of this sort, whether carried out by the NSA or telecoms, poses a grave threat to privacy, in part because neither the NSA nor the telecoms can guarantee that the highly sensitive information they collect on us won't be stolen. "To this day," Lake writes, "the U.S. government doesn’t know the full extent of what Snowden revealed or whether more documents that have yet to be published in the press have made their way into the hands of Russian or Chinese intelligence."

But they expect us to keep trusting them with our data. Why?
Yes, a foreign spy could get access. Or a blackmailer. Or the Chamber of Commerce! They already tried! And when it was revealed that they wanted to ratfuck left wing activist groups, nobody gave a damn. (Meanwhile, the right wing is still crying victimhood over an IRS program that targeted both left and right...)

If they could give us even one good reason beyond "because we can" and "maybe we might find it useful some day" perhaps people would be less alarmed. But when you have documented misuse of the data by private organizations, documented plans to use propaganda and dirty tricks to discredit dissenters along with not even one example of how these programs have been helpful, it's just beyond my ken as to why people are still defending the government's ongoing insistence that this is perfectly above board.

Clapper even goes so far as to clutch his pearls over Edward Snowden's "betrayal" wondering how anyone who has access to all this information could find fault with the NSA. As Friedersdorf says:
Granted, no one but Snowden himself can know his motivations with 100 percent certainty. Still, he has offered what strikes me, and millions of other Americans, as a perfectly plausible explanation: earnest alarm at the scale of NSA spying.

It isn't as if no one else has felt this alarm. Snowden's revelations alarmed masses in multiple countries, including heads of state, legislators in both American political parties, professionals at some of the world's leading IT companies. Clapper can't even imagine what might've inspired Snowden? The answer is everywhere. Maybe he should get outside the SIGINT bubble.

I truly believe that lies at the center of this issue. The national security apparatus and, in particular, the spy agencies, are like a cloistered cult at this point, completely oblivious to the real world implications of what they are doing or how it's being perceived. They seem to be stunned that anyone would question them --- a very bad characteristic for any institution with the kind of power they have. You don't have to be an oracle to see how that can go sideways very easily. Indeed, all you have to do is look at that Chamber of Commerce gambit to see exactly how it can happen.

What's next? Exempting themselves from taxes? Oh wait ... 

by digby

On last night's show, Chris Hayes featured the most obnoxious case of NIMBYism I think I've ever heard of.  Get this: Exxon's CEO is suing to keep fracking out of his backyard:

It's this sort of thing where you begin to see the process by which wealthy powerful people eventually declare themselves to be living Gods. I suspect the concept of shame and hypocrisy are the first to go as they exempt themselves from consequences they inflict on others:

Is Ted Nugent a closet gun-grabber?

by digby

I watched this bizarre CNN interview last night in which Ted Nugent explained that his good friends in the GOP had requested that he cut back on the dehumanizing Nazi rhetoric in public because it's making them look bad. He said he was sorry for doing that. Making them look bad. Because they're good people. Like him.

Anyway, I thought this was interesting:

Last week, under siege for his comments referring to the President as a “subhuman mongrel”, Nugent backed off with an apology stating, “I do apologize–not necessarily to the President–but on behalf of much better men than myself.”

Asked by Burnett if he meant it, Nugent replied, ” I bet you understand that the question is, do you apologize and I answer yes. You don’t really have to ask that question again, do you?”

After Nugent stated that ‘mongrel’ “was a street word”, Burnett followed up, pointing out that the only place she found the term ‘mongrel’ used in that context was on the Aryan Nation’s membership form.

“The only use of the word ‘mongrel’ that I could find in common talk, because you’re talking about street talk, was actually the Aryan Nation membership form where you have to affirm, quote, ‘I’m an employed white and Christian. I concur the Aryan Nations is only Aryans of Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Nordic, Basque, Lombard Celtic and Slavic origin,’ Burnett read. ‘I agree with Aryan Nation’s biblical exclusion of Jews, Negroes, Mexicans or Orientals and mongrels.’”

“That’s the only place I could find that word. Did you mean that way?”

Nugent explained that he had served as a police officer in Lake County, Michigan and that he had been involved “with the DEA and ATF and U.S. Marshals and the FBI and Texas Rangers and heroes of law enforcements.”

“And we are re-arresting fugitive felons let out of their cages after murdering and raping and molesting children, carjacking. And we keep going after these guys,” he stated. “The adrenaline is something like you will never experience, I hope you never have to experience it, but when we are done with these kinds of raids, we get together and our hearts are broken that we have to face these monsters. We call them mongrels. We call bad people who are destroying our neighborhoods mongrels.”

Stung by criticism from CNN hosts Wolf Blitzer and Don Lemon that his comments appeared to be racist, Nugent told Burnett he is not a racist and accused her network of propaganda.

“But for anyone to claim that I’m a racist or it had racist overtones is the typical crap that the propaganda ministry and the media, particularly most of your cohorts there, even though I got Piers Morgan’s ass thrown out and I’ll do the same with Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer when I can.”

Why would Ted Nugent be participating in "raids" with the DEA, ATF, FBI, Texas Rangers and the U.S. Marshals? Is he in some kind of program? Shouldn't we be aware of it if he is? After all, he's been on record making violent threats against government officials including the president. His disgusting threat against Hillary Clinton was especially colorful:

I realize the Secret Service considers these threats not to be serious, but you'd think that Federal agencies would at least be careful about consorting with such a twisted piece of work.

And anyway, I thought the federal government was a bunch of jack booted thugs coming to take your guns. Does the NRA know about Ted's affiliation with the ATF? That's a great big no-no in the fun proliferation crowd. Even Islamic terrorists are supposed to be exempt from gun laws, much less your average All American subhuman mongrel.

Is ted Nugent a closet liberal gun-grabber merely posing as a right wing terrorist? Someone should look into this...