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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Meddling with the primal forces of nature

by digby

Of course:

The U.S. is holding off on sanctions against some Russian companies because it doesn’t want to hurt American holders of their debt, according to Fitch Ratings.

“We’ve heard quite a lot of anecdotal evidence that there’s actually a lot of consultation with big investors and bondholders in terms of what sanctions might be imposed by the U.S.,” James Watson, a managing director at Fitch, told reporters today in London. “It seems there has been a significant push back on potentially sanctioning companies that have significant foreign debt.”

How silly to think otherwise.

As @billmon1 quipped on twitter, it's eerily reminiscent of something:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no Third Worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems. One vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rands, rubles, pounds and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, and sub-atomic and galactic structure of things today.

And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature. 

And you will ATONE.


Tweet 'o the day

by digby

Another NRA rally perhaps? A family man out at the Bundy ranch?

If you go over to the article you'll see that you're supposed to be shocked and appalled by these pictures of pro-Russian forces and children in Ukraine posing with guns. I know ... I really couldn't have told the difference either.

I'm not for kids and guns in Ukraine. It's a very bad idea.  However, these sorts of pictures are hardly confined to such hotspots are they?

Here's one warzone where it's happening every day And they aren't just posing:

I realize that we're good and they're evil and all. But when it comes to kids and guns I'm going to say the US really should keep its head down and STFU. We're number 1.

Why not reduce the work week (as long as pay doesn't drop)?

by David Atkins

I've written frequently here before about the multiple effects of globalization, deskilling, flattening and especially mechanization on the workforce. There are many factors leading to the disempowerment of labor in the labor market--some them overtly intentional such as the weakening of organized labor in the United States, but many also structural in a global economy. The problem is rapidly getting worse: even as wages decline and inequality grows, several studies indicate that at least half of the jobs we do today won't exist within a few decades.

Forward-thinking economists and progressive thinkers have been considering how best to handle an economy that simply needs far less skilled labor than it used to. One of the sexiest and most appealing solutions is a basic universal income. Other proposed solutions include guaranteed jobs programs.

But a deceptively simple approach might simply be to reduce the workweek. After all, if the problem is that productivity and profits are skyrocketing even as wages flatline, and if all this increased productivity is exacerbating climate change while forcing several people to do the jobs of one person, and if workers have less leisure time than ever before, why not simply work fewer hours for increased pay?

Such ideas are currently outside the mainstream of American discourse, but they won't be for long. The Guardian had a decent write-up on the idea a couple of years ago:

A thinktank, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which has organised the event with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, argues that if everyone worked fewer hours – say, 20 or so a week – there would be more jobs to go round, employees could spend more time with their families and energy-hungry excess consumption would be curbed. Anna Coote, of NEF, said: "There's a great disequilibrium between people who have got too much paid work, and those who have got too little or none."

She argued that we need to think again about what constitutes economic success, and whether aiming to boost Britain's GDP growth rate should be the government's first priority: "Are we just living to work, and working to earn, and earning to consume? There's no evidence that if you have shorter working hours as the norm, you have a less successful economy: quite the reverse." She cited Germany and the Netherlands.

Robert Skidelsky, the Keynesian economist, who has written a forthcoming book with his son, Edward, entitled How Much Is Enough?, argued that rapid technological change means that even when the downturn is over there will be fewer jobs to go around in the years ahead. "The civilised answer should be work-sharing. The government should legislate a maximum working week."

Many economists once believed that as technology improved, boosting workers' productivity, people would choose to bank these benefits by working fewer hours and enjoying more leisure. Instead, working hours have got longer in many countries. The UK has the longest working week of any major European economy.

Skidelsky says politicians and economists need to think less about the pursuit of growth. "The real question for welfare today is not the GDP growth rate, but how income is divided."

The Independent has a similar, lengthier story this week:

The council at Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, has announced that it is to begin a year-long 30-hour week trial for city workers. “We hope to get the staff members taking fewer sick days and feeling better mentally and physically after they’ve worked shorter days,” said Mats Pilhem, the deputy mayor. On the right, the reaction to shortening the working day is generally for the bigwigs to scoff into their merlot and mutter about excessive regulation. “This is just more cloud-cuckoo-land thinking from the Common Weal,” spluttered Murdo Fraser, the Tory Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) spokesman, in reaction to the idea of a four-day workweek for Scotland. And mention the idea to the leaders of the CBI, “the voice of business”, and you’ll get them spitting their lobster down your front.

But even the utilitarian arguments don’t stand up. There is a quite a body of evidence to suggest that longer hours do not lead to greater productivity. The three-day week in the 1970s, for example, led to a drop of only 6 per cent in productivity. The strivers still have the upper hand, it’s true. The futurologists look forward to a more efficient human being. They are hoping to create brain implants that will increase productivity. Some claim that in the future, man will be able to do without that inconvenient necessity, sleep. Still more reckon that we can get rid of another pesky nuisance when it comes to growth in GDP: death. Mad. And sociologists have recently noted the phenomenon of busy-ness as a status symbol: the super-rich are also proud to say how super-busy they are. The right in general enthusiastically embraces such techno-utopianism.

On this issue, though, history shows that the right is wrong. Positive and humanitarian changes to the working day, which lead to an improved quality of daily life, have traditionally come from the left. In 1810, Robert Owen started campaigning for the 10-hour day. Early working hours were completely unregulated and factories were employing nine-year-olds to work 14 hours a day. Owen’s campaign must have sounded like insufferable intrusion to the early mill-owners and their friends. Writers helped to change public opinion: Oliver Twist was published in 1838. In 1848, the idea became law with one of the Factories Acts.

In the early 20th century, workers across the world campaigned for the eight-hour day. In 1919, following agitation from anarchists, Spain become the first country in Europe to pass an eight-hour day law. Some large employers, notably Zeiss in Germany, introduced an eight-hour day at the turn of the century.

In the US, perhaps surprisingly for a country built on a combination of the Protestant work ethic and the toil of countless African slaves, Kellogg’s introduced a six-hour day on 1 December 1930, the very year that Keynes wrote his essay arguing for the very same.

The six-hour day lasted till 1985. This vision became known as “liberation capitalism”. Today, various lefty professors there, such as Arlie Russell Hochschild, of the University of California at Berkeley, have argued that work has gotten out of hand. The State of Utah introduced a four-day workweek in 2008. Three-quarters of the workforce said they preferred the new arrangement, and the state reportedly saved more than $4m through savings on overtime and absentee rates.
If the Left, generally speaking, is going to a have a real economic voice in this country that actually sparks the enthusiasm and imagination of the electorate, these are the sorts of ideas that will need to come to the foreground. Raising the minimum wage is important, but most people make more than minimum wage. Life is getting harder, free time is slim, and the middle class is disappearing. It's well past time that more politicians and activists started taking seriously how society will function when there's simply not enough work to go around.


Bonfire of the Bundys

by digby

What could possibly go wrong?

A growing number of Bunkerville residents want to see the armed militiamen guarding rancher Cliven Bundy leave Nevada, according to a letter from Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., to Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

Horsford, whose congressional district includes Bunkerville, wrote that his constituents are concerned about Bundy supporters carrying weapons near local churches, schools and elsewhere.

Militia members flocked to Nevada to support Bundy in his fight with the government over his refusal to pay fees for his cattle to graze on federal land.

“I urge you to investigate these reports and to work with local leaders to ensure that their concerns are addressed in a manner that allows the community to move forward without incident,” Horsford wrote to Gillespie.

The letter also says militiamen have a presence on state and local roads as well as federal highways. In some areas, according to the letter, militiamen have set up checkpoints where drivers are stopped and asked to provide a proof of residency.

They’ve been seen carrying high-caliber weapons and keep a round-the-clock security detail on Bundy.
But hey, these guys are all highly responsible, well-trained professionals, right? Uhm:
The Oath Keepers, one of the groups organizing the armed standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada, issued a bizarre, meandering “advisory” today claiming that a rumor that the group promoted that Attorney General Eric Holder had authorized a drone strike on the ranch was in fact a “psy-op” meant to discredit the protesters.

An Oath Keepers "editor" identifying himself as "Elias Alias," writes:
Yes, it is true: Oath Keepers received a bizarre bit of leaked info which could not be verified but which also could not be ignored. Our contact is connected with the Department of Defense – or “was”. The info we received stated that Eric Holder of the Department of Justice had okayed a drone strike on the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, within a 48 hour period over the weekend of April 26/27, 2014.

This mis-info came from a trusted source, a former Special Forces soldier with significant connections inside DOD. Though the info was unbelievable, in the present climate generated by the BLM and Senator Harry Reid (who called the ranchers and their friends “domestic terrorists”), Oath Keepers decided that the info must be regarded as indicating that a drone attack was at least “possible”.
Knowing that this sort of info is at least bizarre, Stewart and our Board members who were there at the ranch finally, after painstakingly going over all possible angles, decided that this should be handled just as the authorities would handle a bomb threat at a school – evacuate the kids from the school immediately and then sift for the bomb, if indeed one turned out to exist there. Stewart knew this was a potential trap for Oath Keepers, but felt that he could not remain quiet about the info which had come to us. Better safe than sorry, in a nutshell, defines his thinking on this. Oath Keepers is tremendously happy that nothing happened and that this was a bad tip, a piece of “dis-info”, a “psy-op”.
"Elias Alias" then claims that conflicts among militia groups at the ranch can only be the result of FBI infiltration of militias in another “psy-op” on behalf of the “UN’s Agenda 21 domestic usurpations.” He also repeats the debunked rumor that Sen. Harry Reid is working on behalf of a Chinese energy firm. “This is United Nations covert activity inside the United States and it involves the planet’s largest Communist nation, China,” the advisory states. “The Bundy connection connects also the relationship of the BLM to the Reid family. It is deep stuff.”

I wouldn't be surprised if the government has some agents undercover with these people.  They do that with lefty groups and they certainly do it with Muslims. And since these guys are armed to the teeth and openly threatening the federal government, you couldn't blame them for doing it. There are a lot of federal facilities in this country. But these loons are convinced that the federal government is working on behalf of the UN and "Communist China" and God knows what other nonsense. Their conspiracies are completely insane.

I probably wouldn't drive around that part of Nevada if I didn't have to. You have a whole bunch of excessively armed, highly unstable nuts out there looking for trouble.  In fact,  if Tom Wolfe weren't such a right wing nut he'd be writing about these folks with the same sharp wit with which he wrote Bonfire of the Vanities. Everyone thought the unintended consequences of taking the wrong exit and winding up in a 90s era inner city was such a clever twist on the subject of urban decay.  Today, the plot device would be this Congressman Horsford taking a wrong turn in the desert and confronting a bunch of halfwit conspiracy buffs packing heat and completely full of comic book libertarian bullshit. Who are the super-predators now?

By the way, here's the congressman:

Bloodlust, not justice

by digby

Ian Millhiser has written a great post about our "botched" execution problem. It starts out like this:
Clayton Lockett was supposed to be unconscious. The state of Oklahoma, like most states that still enforce death sentences, uses a three-drug cocktail to execute inmates. The first drug was supposed to knock Lockett out. The second drug would paralyze him. The third, potassium chloride, stops the heart. 
But it was clear midway through Lockett’s execution that he was not unconscious. Lockett’s “body started to twitch,” according to his attorney Dean Sanderford. Then Lockett “mumbled something I couldn’t understand.” Soon, “[t]he convulsing got worse, it looked like his whole upper body was trying to lift off the gurney. For a minute, there was chaos.” 
At 6:39, sixteen minutes after the execution began, Lockett was still alive. According to Cary Aspinwall with the Tulsa World, Lockett lifted own head shortly before corrections officials closed a curtain that obscured the execution chamber from witnesses. By one account, Lockett tried to speak during the botched execution, saying the word “man” aloud. Corrections officials later said that Lockett had a “blown vein” and that they were “not sure where drugs went in his body and how much absorbed.” Lockett’s vein, according to a Department of Corrections spokesperson had “exploded.”
It literally makes me ill to read that.  But I urge you to read the whole article anyway to understand just what a nightmare our death penalty is and what mockery it makes of justice. That too will probably make you sick.

But whatever you do, don't wander into the right wing fever swamps and read what those people are spewing unless you want a real insight into the minds of people who enjoy the kind of detail
excerpted above. Indeed, I suspect that if one were to hear their bloodthirsty, sadistic commentary in isolation one would assume they were psychopathic killers themselves. The suffering of the prisoner obviously gives them much more than a sense of justice.  It gives them visceral pleasure --- exactly the same kind of pleasure the convicted killer got  from his crimes.

The sickest part of it is that most of these fine folks like to portray themselves as anti-government. But they certainly do enjoy using the state as their instrument of pain and death. This is bloodlust, pure and simple, and it's got nothing to do with justice.

QOTD: Krugman

by digby

In response to a criticism that he doesn't attack liberal economic shibboleths the way he should, he writes:
Politics and policy are overwhelmingly dominated by what I call the Very Serious People — people who insist that deficits are our most pressing problem, that high unemployment must be a matter of inadequate skills, that low marginal tax rates on the rich are essential for growth. Behind the conventional wisdom of the VSPs lies a vast mass of power and prejudice. As Ezra Klein once pointed out in connection with Alan Simpson, the influence of the deficit scolds is so great that by and large the press abandons any notion of objectivity and simply assumes that the VSPs are right and what they want is good.

And against all this power of conventional wisdom — which is often, by the way, at odds with basic economic analysis and the preponderance of evidence — you have … a handful of progressive economics bloggers. Some of them — well, mainly me — have prominent perches. But it’s still a very unequal match.

So I see no reason to bend over backwards to annoy my most loyal readers. I won’t ever say anything I don’t believe to be true, and I try not to steer away from saying things my fan club will dislike. But shocking the liberal bourgeoisie is not how I see my job.

The forces arrayed against progressive policies, from the Big Money Boyz to the Village deficit scolds, are so powerful that it would be absurd for someone with Krugman's reach and influence to waste it on fruitless internecine battles. There are plenty of people who are doing that and the result of those fights can sometimes result in a change of thinking or a different approach. Everyone has a role to play in these things and those who are coming at these issues from new directions are important to the process. But for Krugman to use his prominent perch (or some of the other progressive economic writers as well) to engage in such discussions would distort the arguments in a way that would be extremely destructive to the larger goals. Eyes on the prize.

Can the Democrats finally stop chasing their (Southern male) white whale?

by digby

They're almost there.  In my piece this morning at Salon I explore the Democratic party's relentless attempts to win back the conservative, rural, Southern, white voter --- and the fact that it may finally be over:
[I]f those conservative, white Southern male voters ever wake up to the fact that their enemies aren’t feminazis, African-Americans or Latinos and figure out just who it is who’s really keeping them down, I’m quite sure the Democrats would be proud to have them back in the fold. Until then Bubba’s going to be the heart and soul of the GOP. He’s their problem now.
It's taken many decades to finally get some clarity on this and understand that you can't be all things to all people.

The week in climate change effects happening TODAY

by David Atkins

Climate change isn't a threat in the far off future. It's a problem today. Here are a few stories from this week alone:

Extreme, flood-causing rainfall is becoming much likelier in Britain:

Climate change caused by humans has made the likelihood of extreme rainfall similar to that seen in England this winter significantly higher, according to analysis seen by the Guardian.

Rainfall events that would previously have occurred only once in a century are now likely to be witnessed once every eighty years in the south of England, the Oxford University work shows.

That will mean far more frequent severe floods for residents of the crowded region, with what were once extremely rare events now happening much more often than the infrastructure of the region is equipped for. The research shows an increase in the rate of such events of about 20 to 25%, which significantly alters the number of homes likely to be vulnerable to flooding.

Friederike Otto, from the university’s school of geography and the environment, said: “It will never be possible to say that any specific flood was caused by human-induced climate change. We have shown, however, that the odds of getting an extremely wet winter [in the UK] are changing due to man-made climate change. Past greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution have loaded the weather dice so the probability of the south of England experiencing extremely wet winters has increased.”

Tornadoes are getting stronger and more frequent in the midwest United States:

The return of tornado season with a vengeance has people asking again about a possible link to climate change. At the same time, tantalizing new preliminary research finds “some evidence to suggest that tornadoes are, in fact, getting stronger.” I talked to the lead scientist behind that research...

And a September 2013 study from Stanford, “Robust increases in severe thunderstorm environments in response to greenhouse forcing,” points to “a possible increase in the number of days supportive of tornadic storms.” In particular, the study found that sustained global warming will boost the number of days experiencing conditions that produce severe events during spring, representing “an increase of about 40 percent over the eastern U.S. by the late 21st century.”

Governments and military agencies are worried about the prospect of climate-induced wars over food and water within the next five years:

While many countries are inadequately prepared for climate change's effects on food supply, it is the world's poorest and most food-insecure countries that will likely be most affected. Nevertheless, no country's food system will be unaffected by worsening climate change.

Greater food insecurity could even pose a security threat as competition intensifies for water and arable land. The IPCC Report warns about an "increase in risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and intergroup violence". The decade-long armed conflict in Sudan, the ongoing civil war in Syria and unrest in Egypt are all example of how severe drought, internal migration and economic hardship can lead to devastating instability.

"Battles over water and food will erupt within the next five to 10 years as a result of climate change," said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim of the IPCC report.

"The water issue is critically related to climate change. People say that carbon is the currency of climate change, water is the teeth. Fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change."

Mount Everest is rapidly becoming unclimbable:

The deadly avalanche on Everest earlier this month wasn't technically an avalanche. It was an "ice release"—a collapse of a glacial mass known as a serac. Rather than getting swept up by a rush of powdery snow across a slope, the victims fell under the blunt force of house-sized ice blocks tumbling through the Khumbu Icefall, an unavoidable obstacle on the most popular route up Everest. The worst accident in the mountain's history has effectively ended the 2014 climbing season. And some see global warming as the key culprit.

"I am at Everest Basecamp right now and things are dire because of climate change," John All, a climber, scientist, and professor of geography at Western Kentucky University, told me by email. "The ice is melting at unprecedented rates and [that] greatly increases the risk to climbers."

"You could say [that] climate change closed Mt. Everest this year," he added.
Every year we wait to act is a year in which all of these effects and many more will compound on themselves even further.

America is making rapid progress on most social issues. Economic inequality is a huge problem that is hamstringing entire generations and futures, but it's a problem of its own day that we can and will solve. But neither of these are how future generations will judge our actions today. We will be judged on what we did about climate change above all else, because it's the issue that carries by far the most lasting and momentous consequences.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014


by digby

Oh my God:

Erick Erickson said on twitter that it wasn't "botched" because it was less horrible than the murder the man was convicted of. So, you know, we're good and they're evil. Jesus said so, I'm pretty sure. Or maybe not.

Also too:
Science and law have led to the exoneration of hundreds of criminal defendants in recent decades, but big questions remain: How many other innocent defendants are locked up? How many are wrongly executed?

About one in 25 people imprisoned under a death sentence is likely innocent, according to a new statistical study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And that means it is all but certain that at least several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent, the study says.

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study's lead author.
Gosh, I sure hope nobody "botches" an execution of an innocent man. Erick Erickson's whole moral framework will come into question and then where will we be? Of course, they must be guilty of something or this couldn't happen, amirite?

Preparing for war

by digby

Cliff Schecter went to the big NRA meeting in Indianapolis. And what he saw in the exhibition hall kind of freaked him out:
As I entered the room, directly in front of me were T-shirts for sale with assault weapons on them, bearing the likenesses of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, President Obama and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Two coastal Jews and an African-American from Chicago—what’s known in Alex Jones land as “The Trifecta.” As I moved past the T-shirts, two guys walking past me looked back, and one chuckled. “Bloomberg,” he said, and shook his head.

ilitary-style weaponry of every kind occupied almost every inch of the terrain to my left and right as I began the long trek down each aisle. Not your father’s hunting rifle, for the most part—although there were a few of those here and there—but the kind of arms you use to start a war. Fifty-caliber rifles, which can take down small aircraft. Assault rifles—rebranded “sporting rifles,” in case your sport might be decimating a small village in under a minute. High-capacity magazines of the variety used in so many recent massacres at malls, schools, and universities.

Some weapons were in glass display cases, while others were right out in front to touch at will. At first the constant clicking of of triggers and magazines being secured in place was a bit unsettling. Soon it just blended into the background, What was hard to not notice was the look of glee on so many men’s faces—white men, for the most part, generally of less than athletic appearance—whose communal id had been unleashed. They looked like kids in a candy store, boys with toys, with a type of porn their political ideology can get behind.

And then there was the gear...
It's not about hunting anymore. These people are gearing up for a war.

That kind of freaks me out too.

Read the whole thing.

Patriots, boy scouts and bad apples praying together for armed revolution

by digby

Oh please:
“I am very quick in calling American citizens ‘patriots,’” [Nevada senator Dean] Heller said in an interview. “Maybe in this case, too quick.”
Heller added: “I want to make it very clear that I never called Bundy a patriot. And I believe Bundy should have been paying those fees.”
You'd think he could have made that clear earlier. I don't think he did:
“What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” he said during the April 18 televised interview. “We have a very different view on this.”

Asked about those comments Tuesday, Heller noted that there were Boy Scouts at the Bundy protests, while scores of supporters were singing the national anthem, delivering the pledge of allegiance and praying.

“I don’t think Occupy Wall Street [activists] were doing the same thing when they were having their protests,” he said.

While Heller said about “80 percent” of the protesters were “people I called patriots,” he added that there were “some bad apples in there, bad actors, no doubt.”

Actually Occupy Wall Street was generally very peaceful. And as far as I know, it didn't feature even one "patriot" packing heat and threatening to shoot officers of the law or push women in the front of crowds so the world could see them shot on television. But I guess there are bad apples and then there are bad apples.

I wonder what he thinks of these fine "patriots":
Heller’s comments come as the senior Nevada senator, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has referred to Bundy’s supporters as “domestic terrorists,” has been the subject of threats at his home, prompting the U.S. Capitol Police to investigate the matter. Reid’s security detail has been increased, sources said, after he called Bundy a “hateful racist” last week.

“Each day that goes by it’s hard for me to comprehend how ugly, vile, vulgar and threatening people are, sending letters to my home and making other threats,” Reid, a Democrat, told reporters Tuesday. “So I don’t know who’s mad at me, but it’s a long list I guess.”

Reid added: “What also bothers me is virtually every one of these horrible things they send, they cite scripture. They cite something out of the Bible. Now try that one on.”

Par for the course. A bigger bunch of violent fruitcakes you've never seen.

By the way, I saw a woman on Fox News drawing a comparison between Bundy and Cindy Sheehan saying that her call to impeach President Bush was equivalent to Bundy refusing to pay his fees. That means that the 1998 Republican House was equally lawless, correct? More, actually. They did it.


Chart 'o the day

by digby

You can see the problem.  All of these people recognize that inequality exists. But they disagree rather sharply on the causes --- and even in areas of agreement, their interpretation of what that means (for example "government policies") is likely to be very different.

One out of ten Republicans believe that inequality is rising because the poor have a bad work ethic and the government coddles them. A greed too.  Those poor people are really greedy.


The conservative jobs program: become a criminal

by digby

They're just not leaving people any alternatives:

If you are poor, live in Louisiana, and have the audacity ask someone else for help, be prepared to spend up to six months in jail.

A new bill to outlaw panhandling is quickly moving its way through the Louisiana legislature. HB 1158 would criminalize solicitation, making it a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $200 and up to six months in jail. The bill is targeted not just at panhandlers, but hitchhikers and those engaged in prostitution as well.

If they decide to apply this to email solicitations for money I might be inclined to support it.

Obviously, this is nuts. There is such a thing as free speech. In fact, the Supreme Court has gone so far as to say that money itself is a form of speech. So how in the world can it be constitutional to make it illegal to ask for money? It's the basis of our entire system!

This is also yet another example of the conservatives promoting their jobs program: become a thief or a prostitute. With their cuts to unemployment insurance, food stamps, their opposition to any kind of subsidized health care and now even banning begging in the streets, they are literally leaving these people no alternative but to become criminals.

The upside is that the police and prison industrial complex will be extremely well compensated by the taxpayers and it will add up to a hell of lot more money than a couple of bucks in a tin can. But if they play their cards right, Louisiana will eventually get prison slave labor fully legalized and they'll be able to "give back."

And then their long lost world will be returned to them.


Oh you crazy kids.... #disillusioned #whywouldntheybe?

by digby

The big news today is that millenials are disillusioned about politics. I can't imagine why ...

And that means they aren't going to bother to vote:

Despite what seems like growing approval for the president, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress among 18- to 29- year olds, the percentage of young people who are likely to vote in the midterm elections is shrinking relative to the last time we asked the question five months ago, and also compared to four years ago at this time. Currently, less than one-in-four (24%) young Americans under the age of 30 say that they will “definitely be voting,”in the upcoming midterm elections for Congress, a sharp decrease of 10 percentage points since the Fall. During a similar time of the year in 2010, 31 percent of 18- to 29- year olds reported that they would definitely vote. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates summarized by CIRCLE1, 23 percent of 18- to 29- year olds voted in the 2010 elections, a decrease of 1.5 points from 2006 when 25.5 percent participated.
But then again, what else is new?

So, yes, young people are disillusioned, depressed and mistrustful.  And who can blame them? They are coming of age at a time of serious economic stress and lowered expectations. I did too --- it was called "the 1970s", and these attitudes remind me a lot of the way the later baby boomers felt about our institutions when we were young. It's ironic that Barack Obama is the vessel for this generation's disappointment while Nixon was ours, but it's not really about particular politicians so much as it is a sense of being sold a bunch of great big lies over and over again. That tends to take a toll on your youthful idealism.

But I also think that drawing too many conclusions from the voting intentions of young people in a second term off year election is a stretch. If there's a drop off it's just as much attributable to ongoing voting patterns that have little to do with external events:

Older people vote more often. They also watch more news programs and give more money to politicians. There's something about the routine rituals of democratic politics that appeal more to older people than young people. Maybe it's just that young people have other things to do and politics becomes a form of entertainment for us old duffers. I was a political junkie way back when I was young too and I blew off some midterms. It wasn't a protest, it was a lack of interest --- my congressional reps were usually incumbents who weren't in any danger and the state and local races were uninteresting. Ballot measures were what caught my eye most often in midterms. These days I'm one of the old people who no longer follows every musical trend or stays out late at clubs so I have even more time on my hands to think about politics, so I always vote. I know it's hard to believe when you're young, but your interests change a bit when you get older.

 I think getting young people to the polls to vote in midterms is always going to be a challenge. It's not that young people don't care --- it's just not a priority in off years.  I suspect that a stronger push for easier voting would help (the last thing the Republicans will stand for.) But here's some good news for the Democrats: studies show that the Party with which you identify when you're young doesn't tend to change. And everybody ages. So it won't be long before all those young Obama voters are voting in midterms too. The question will be if the Republicans are seducing the next groups of youngsters to their fold. Kids do tend to rebel against their parents ...

Blog News. Writing here, there and everywhere

by digby

Just a little note to say that Salon has announced that I have joined their team and I wanted to explain exactly what that means. I will be writing for them as I have been the last three weeks, commenting on various topics that catch my eye. So far it's been a lot of fun and they are a great group to work with.

However, just so you know, I will still be blogging full time here as I always have. I honestly see nothing changing at all in that respect --- this is my home and will continue to be so. The only thing new is that you'll have another place to read my scribbles.

I should point out that normally my Salon piece will go up quite early in the morning.  So, if you go over there around 8AM eastern/5AM pacific time you'll usually see my little contribution.

So, don't remove Hullabaloo from your bookmarks! David, Dennis, tristero and I will still be churning out the words of wisdom --- or words anyway, at the same pace as always.


The Religious Left fights back

by digby

Some of the most creative progressive organizing these days is happening in North Carolina.  We've all heard about Moral Mondays and the leadership role assumed by the liberal Christian churches in taking to the streets on social justice issues. Now the liberal clergy is taking to the courts. And it's a very clever strategy.

My piece at Salon today reviews the Manhattan Declaration, the right wing Christian and Catholic manifesto from 2009 which started the ball rolling on the new "religious liberty" argument that they can never be free as long as they are not allowed to discriminate. (More or less.)
This ... is going to force them to confront their own argument head on:
In a novel legal attack on a state’s same-sex marriage ban, a liberal Protestant denomination on Monday filed a lawsuit arguing that North Carolina is unconstitutionally restricting religious freedom by barring clergy members from blessing gay and lesbian couples.

The denomination argues that a North Carolina law criminalizing the religious solemnization of weddings without a state-issued marriage license violates the First Amendment. Mr. Clark said that North Carolina allows clergy members to bless same-sex couples married in other states, but otherwise bars them from performing “religious blessings and marriage rites” for same-sex couples, and that “if they perform a religious blessing ceremony of a same-sex couple in their church, they are subject to prosecution and civil judgments.”
You mean to say that Christian clergy who support gay marriage believe they have a right to exercise their religious freedom too? Well now, that’s a conundrum, isn’t it? After all, nobody has ever said that conservative Christians should be compelled to go against their beliefs and legally marry gay couples. But these laws are very definitely telling these liberal Christians that they cannot. Indeed, in North Carolina they criminalized it, holding clergy legally liable for performing the ceremonies.

Surprisingly, the North Carolina Values Coalition did not step up to defend the religious freedom of these Christian Clergy. Quite the opposite, in fact. They attacked their religious belief: read on

No, the answer isn't more asset building for the 99%. The answer is boosting wages over assets

by David Atkins

If you want your day's fill of poorly thought-out, plutocrat-friendly pieces, Politico Magazine has become a great place to go. Andrea Levere and Ezra Levin's neoliberal answer to Piketty deserves an honored mention in the tradition.

They acknowledge the reality of Piketty's argument that asset returns grow faster than incomes, leading to increasing inequality. They also acknowledge that the wealthy control the vast majority of the assets. But they reject the call for taxation on the assets of the super-rich in favor of...increasing the assets and savings of the poor, instead of providing income (wage) support. No, really:

In other words, government spends to help low-income families just get by, and it spends to help high-income families get further ahead. Piketty found that concentrated wealth is the driving force behind income inequality, and federal policy is actively concentrating that wealth.

Some may argue that working families do not receive benefits for saving and investments because these families are unable to save or invest. But decades of research proves otherwise. The American Dream Demonstration, for instance, a nationwide research project on savings for working families, showed that even the lowest-income families will save toward their goals of college, home and business ownership if provided with the right opportunities and incentives. And a rigorous study of New York City’s $aveUSA program has found that low-income tax filers will save a significant portion of their refund to serve as a personal safety net.

There’s no shortage of ideas for new asset-based policies. Children’s Savings Account programs, which help children start building assets early in life, have launched throughout the country and congressional leaders have committed to supporting legislation to provide every child born in the country with a savings account.
Other asset-based proposals would expand and make refundable the Saver’s Credit — a rare retirement savings tax expenditure targeted to low- and moderate-income households. Policymakers are also working to remove asset limits from public benefit programs so families don’t have to choose between building wealth and receiving benefits that help them make ends meet. (In many states, a parent who saves as little as $1,000 or $2,000 in a savings account for themselves or for their kids risks getting kicked off of public benefits.)
So instead of doing something about radical inequality, the new neoliberal answer is to give the 44% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck more savings vehicles and incentives to stash away money to pay for those increasingly impossibly high mortgage and tuition costs.

As the inequality problem becomes more and more severe and as Piketty's arguments gain increasing influence, look for all the neoliberal asset addicts to make ever more preposterous arguments to defend incentivizing boosting assets over boosting wages.

It's all they know, and doing anything else would turn their worlds inside-out and hurt all their very asset-heavy bank accounts.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Social Security is a very efficient program. If the granny starvers have their way it won't be for long.

by digby

I used to work with a friend who gave classes about retirement planning and perhaps one of her more surprising observations was that working with the Social security administration was very easy and the experience was always efficient and well managed. This must be one of the reasons why people are so happy with it (after the checks they get each months, obviously.) It works.

Well, guess what? The granny starvers can't get what they want the honest way --- their constituents actually like Social Security and want it protected. So they're going after it with stealth:
[C]ries to cut benefits have grown quieter as the program’s enemies realize that the American people will work together to beat back anything they throw at us. But benefit cuts aren’t the only way to dismantle our Social Security system. There is already an invisible war under way—and we’re losing!

The Social Security Administration is funded the same way Social Security benefits are—by payroll taxes that all of us pay. Its expenses have no impact on the federal debt, and represent less than 1% of Social Security’s annual expenditures. But Congress has still cut fourteen of the last sixteen SSA budget requests! And now, these cuts are being felt, as the Social Security Administration is forced to shutter dozens of field offices around the country.

RJ Eskow wrote on the Huffington Post that “many disabled and elderly Social Security recipients depend on field offices, and the workers in them.” And as Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times said “They haven’t been able to cut benefits, so they’re doing the next best thing: making it hard for you to know what you’re due, and harder to get it when it comes due.”
That's very clever. The best way to undermine any government program is to make it inefficient and make the people who need it come to hate it.

I have another friend who went through a tough financial patch this past winter and needed to apply for heating oil help from the state. It was so onerous to go through the process --- and they were so ineffective and downright incompetent  --- that she had to give up. Months later, after she'd suffered through the cold winter by hook or by crook, they informed her that they had finally sent a check to the heating oil company. It was April. Needless to say, the heating oil company had not been willing to extend credit so the account had been closed long before.

If the conservatives can make Social Security work that badly they'll go a long way toward finally breaking the compact it has with the American people. One way or the other, they're not going to give up.

Oh, and when I talk about conservatives, I'm not just talking about Republicans. The GOP doesn't do this on their own.


The best way to make sure Obama doesn't give in? Hold the Senate.

by David Atkins

Dems are worried about what will happen in a post 2014 environment in which Republicans hold the Congress. Will President Obama exercise his veto pen? Or will he cave?
Democrats have something else to fear after the November midterms besides just an all Republican-controlled Congress: President Barack Obama.
With Obama’s political career winding down and poll numbers continuing to languish, his party brethren fret that their own president — forced to work with GOP majorities — would give away the store on key policy issues ranging from the budget to energy and trade. It’s a concern congressional Democrats have voiced every time Obama and Vice President Joe Biden tried to cut big fiscal deals with Republicans — and the panic is now more palpable with the growing prospect of a Senate GOP majority.
I'm worried, too. But the best way not to find out is to not lose the Senate.


Oliver vs Alexander

by digby

For the debut of his new show on HBO, John Oliver interviewed General Keith Alexander;

That may be the most disturbing thing I've seen all month.

Just remember: you should "trust" the NSA because it's full of good people who are protecting you. So there you go.

Rand Paul's populism. He tells those Fat Cats to listen up: he's going to cut their taxes whether they like it or not.

by digby

According to Benjy Sarlin, our man Rand is out there pounding the populist drums insisting that the GOP has to stop being the party of the wealthy. It's vitally important to make sure that Americans understand they are NOT the party of Wall Street but are instead the party of the average Joe the Plumber. And how do they demonstrate this? You might be surprised --- if you don't know Rand Paul:

“What did Ronald Reagan do, did he come forward and say ‘Oh, lets just cut taxes for low-income people?” he said. “No! He said forthrightly ‘Let’s cut everyone’s taxes.’ He did dramatically. The top rate, that’s what rich people pay, the top rate was 70%, he lowered it to 50% then he lowered it again to 28% and 20 million jobs were created!”

Mocking the naysayers who might think better of cutting taxes on the 1% during a period of exploding inequality, Paul quipped: “Anybody here ever work for a poor person?”

And if you're a racial minority you'll benefit even more by Paul's plan to cut certain millionaires' taxes to nothing. Take that, fat cats!

Tax cuts are the communion wine of wingnut religion. Paul is just doing what all the right wing "populists" have been doing for years --- explaining to a certain kind of fool that it's in their best interest to give all the money to rich people. And there are a whole bunch of people out there who buy it.

I've told the story before about the Rush Limbaugh caller I heard years ago who told the 250 hundred million dollar man that he was happy for his boss to get a big bonus while he didn't get a raise because that meant the company was doing well and he'd do well too in the long run. Rush heartily congratulated him on his perspicacity.

The Sarlin piece points out that all the "populist" Republicans from Ryan to Paul to Huckabee have one thing in common: whatever they think the best strategy for winning elections, they are of one mind about cutting taxes and they are making sure that the Fat Cats know they are in no danger of any pitch forks pointing in their direction. Not that there was ever any question about that. Right wing populism aims its pitchforks at the poor parasites, especially those of color, not the rich ones. But as we know, the wealthy plutocrats are very sensitive about all this. The Republican trickle down theory soothes those wounds in in a very comforting way.

On the other hand, it's not as if Democrats have nothing to work with:
Two dozen interviews about the 2016 race with unaligned GOP donors, financial executives and their Washington lobbyists turned up a consistent — and unusual — consolation candidate if Bush demurs, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doesn’t recover politically and no other establishment favorite gets nominated: Hillary Clinton.

Most donors and Wall Street titans have not lined up with any candidate yet, waiting for the field to take shape after the midterms. But if Bush doesn’t run, the list of Republican saviors could be short. Some donors fear Christie will never overcome the Bridgegate scandal. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin so far seems more inclined to stay in the House than to run for president. And to varying degrees, other candidates — such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — are either unknown or untrusted.

The darkest secret in the big money world of the Republican coastal elite is that the most palatable alternative to a nominee such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would be Clinton, a familiar face on Wall Street following her tenure as a New York senator with relatively moderate views on taxation and financial regulation.

I don't know why this is considered a big secret. Of course they're going to align with Clinton over Cruz or Paul --- those two are very unlikely to be able to win the presidency. I seriously doubt that it's an ideological issue, although I'm sure they all think Cruz and Paul are cranks. But they have nothing to fear from either of them. In fact, they have nothing to fear from any GOP candidate and unless Warren or Sanders could put up a serious campaign, they have nothing to fear from Democrats either, least of all Clinton.

They're betting on winners. It's what they do. They'd prefer to back Republicans because they don't like the hippie faction of the Democratic Party. (Of course, the Bundy faction has them a little spooked as well --- for different reasons.) But all things being equal, these are patriarchal, plutocratic conservative men who are naturally more at home in the Republican Party. But the Democrats are fine too. They can make money either way.

What they really fear are the people.


Piketty the marmot

by digby

For those of you who prefer the Classic Comic version:

I'm not going to link to any of the articles or youtubes discussing this book because there are a whole lot of them and you can easily find them if need be. It's challenging the way people think in some fundamental ways. And that's a good thing.

h/t to AG
Cliven Bundy let a lot of people down. Especially the NRA's Wayne LaPierre

by digby

Poor Wayne LaPierre. It was supposed to be his week. And then Cliven Bundy imploded. My piece over at Salon this morning:
It’s always tough when a speaker has to alter his or her address at the last minute due to some big change over which they had no control. For instance, imagine what Wayne LaPierre’s speech to the National Rifle Association leadership forum on Friday must have been before right-wing hero Cliven Bundy donned a metaphorical white hood and declared himself a racist cretin in front of the entire nation.

It must have been a rousing cri de guerre summoning up the ghosts of great Americans from Patrick Henry to Wyatt Earp to Charlton Heston to illustrate the patriotism of Real Americans like Bundy. (Well, probably not Wyatt Earp — he was a notorious gun-grabber.) After all, the Second Amendment guarantees their right under the Constitution to declare the federal government illegitimate and threaten it at gunpoint. Or something.

Anyway, one can certainly imagine him laying out the thrilling scenario of a grizzled old cowboy and his friends and neighbors out on the range holding off the government thugs and finally forcing them to retreat rather than risk losing like the lily-livered cowards you just know they are...
Too bad old Cliven showed up on TV with dead animals in his arms and carrying on about how black people were better off slavery. It put a bif kink in the program.

So what did LaPierre do? He pulled an old trope off the shelf, dusted it off and pretended like it still meant something. That's right, he declared war on the "liberal media." Again. Still.

Has the GOP message machine on wealth inequality really run so low on ideas?

by David Atkins

If this Judd Gregg column in Politico is the best the right wing can come up with to combat the politics of wealth inequality, I'd say they're in some serious trouble:

We often hear these days, from President Obama and his chorus on the left, that there is massive income inequality in America and that he and his minions are committed to correcting this situation.

It is an interesting observation.

It means that after almost six years of control of the presidency and the majority of the government, those who anointed themselves to resolving the problem now implicitly — but never explicitly — acknowledge that they have failed to do so.
Why after six years of a liberal-progressive government that has taxed high-income folks at historically high rates and redistributed the money, has this issue of alleged income inequality gotten worse?

If this were a business confronting an issue so precisely seen by its leaders, one would presume those leaders would be out of work for not having come up with an effective solution.

But they are not in business; they are the government, where there is no actual accountability.

The president and his followers accept no blame and continue to shout “injustice,” hoping no one notices that they are in charge.

If one gives the president and his spokespeople, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the benefit of the doubt (and the doubt is considerable) on their claims that America is uniquely unjust in its wealth distribution, then why are their policy approaches such an abysmal failure?

First, we must examine the basis of their assumption. They seem to genuinely believe that it is not individuals who generate and create economic growth and thus wealth, but rather they themselves, the elected elite and their bureaucracy.

But in America today, the truly wealthy are for the most part the greatest producers of growth, jobs and productivity in the world’s history .

Just a few names make the point: Mark Zuckerberg; Bill Gates; Larry Ellison; and Steve Jobs, before his death. These are the folks who have developed the ideas and products that have kept the U.S. economy on the cutting edge of world growth.

Under the Democratic Party’s now dominant philosophy, they are people who must be vilified under the label of “too wealthy .”

This may be good political rhetoric but it fuels bad economics. And, when pursued in policy terms, it leads to a bad outcome for the millions of Americans whose jobs and personal prosperity have benefitted from the products these super-wealthy people have originated.
That's the best they've got?

Pretending that Democrats have actually held the reins of government since 2010?
Pretending that tax rates on the wealthy are at historic highs, rather than near historic lows?
Pretending that Mark Zuckerberg has created lots of jobs, or that people actually like rather than tolerate Facebook and Microsoft?
Pretending that computers and social media would never have existed without the biggest players in those fields making billions?
Pretending that most of the super-rich are tech innovators rather than Wall Street tycoons and hedge fund managers?

Gregg then goes on to advocate lower taxes on the rich and then blames teachers unions for not educating Americans well enough because...why not?

It's such a pathetic, half-hearted attempt that it's a wonder Politico even bothered publishing it.

Seriously. If this is the best case the Right can make on wealth inequality, they've got such a glass jaw that it needs punching at every available opportunity.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

QOTD: Maleficent of the arctic

by digby

"Come on. Enemies, who would utterly annihilate America, they who'd obviously have information on plots, to carry out Jihad. Oh, but you can't offend them, can't make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen," she said. "Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we'd baptize terrorists."

This sadistic cartoon creature was on a presidential ticket six years ago.

America land of the free: leading the world in "guard labor."

by digby

Speaking of  a country run by greedy billionaires buying the protection of a global military empire, how about this?
Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.

And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.” In addition to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.
But however one totes up guard labor in the United States, there is a lot of it, and it seems to go along with economic inequality. States with high levels of income inequality — New York and Louisiana — employ twice as many security workers (as a fraction of their labor force) as less unequal states like Idaho and New Hampshire.

It's a fascinating article and one that should at least make people stop and wonder just what in the hell is going on here in the land 'o the free. The authors speculate about the effect of inequality and how that leads to a need to "guard the store." And I'm sure that's at the heart of much of this.

But there are other factors that make us unusual. There is the huge military manufacturing sector that is creating a market for its goods. You see police forces turning themselves into para-military operations all over the country. Half the medium size towns in America look like they're being guarded by the Delta Force these days instead of your old fashioned beat cop.

And we are also a very wealthy nation that's uniquely overflowing with guns. Where you have a heavily armed population of have-nots it seems logical that you'd need a lot more people guarding the store.

None of that is based in any data, of course, just my own observation. But I think it's pretty clear that that chart above must reflect both economic inequality and a unique culture.

As I have written ad nauseam: if you build it, they will use it. If you don't want a police state, it's probably a good idea not to finance one. But look who needs a police state to guard its stores of vast wealth? The people at the very top who are also buying our political system. It all works together quite conveniently.


Sunday Funnie not so funny

by digby

It's actually just sort of depressing:

This is not freedom, people

by digby

Public parks are a nice idea and all, but be advised that if some gun nut wants to intimidate you and your family there's nothing you can do about it. Not in Georgia at least.

A Georgia man panicked parents and children at a local park and baseball field by randomly walking around and displaying his gun to anyone he encountered in the parking lot.

According to witnesses who spoke with WSB-TV, the man wandered around the Forsythe County park last Tuesday night showing his gun to strangers, telling them “there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Anyone who was just walking by – you had parents and children coming in for the game – and he’s just standing here, walking around [saying] ‘You want to see my gun? Look, I got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ He knew he was frightening people. He knew exactly what he was doing,” said parent Karen Rabb.

Rabb said that the man’s intimidating behavior panicked parents causing them to hustle children who were there to play baseball to safety after the man refused to leave.

“It got to the point where we took the kids and brought them into the dugout and the parents lined up in front of the dugout,” Rabb said.

You've got a problem with that? Tough luck.

After deputies arrived, they questioned the man who produced a permit for the handgun. According to authorities, since the man made no verbal threats or gestures, they couldn’t arrest him or ask him to leave.

The police did say they thought his behavior was "inappropriate", so there's that.

The upshot is that if parents want to protect their kids from some asshole who's waving a gun around they can't use the park when he's there. He has the gun. He doesn't need to make threats. Nobody sane with kids would confront him back, armed or not. Therefore, he owns the park.

That's what this fetishizing of guns leads to --- freedom for the people who have them to do whatever the hell they want. Everyone else is out of luck.


A noble mission tainted by hypocrisy

by digby

So disheartening:
The US State Department announced the launch of its third annual "Free the Press" campaign today, which will purportedly highlight "journalists or media outlets that are censored, attacked, threatened, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting." A noble mission for sure. But maybe they should kick off the campaign by criticizing their own Justice Department, which on the very same day, has asked the Supreme Court to help them force Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen into jail.

Politico's Josh Gerstein reports that the Justice Department filed a legal brief today urging the Supreme Court to reject Risen's petition to hear his reporter's privilege case, in which the Fourth Circuit ruled earlier this year that James Risen (and all journalists) can be forced to testify against their sources without any regard to the confidentiality required by their profession. This flies in the face of common law precedent all over the country, as well as the clear district court reasoning in Risen's case in 2012. (The government's Supreme Court brief can be read here.)

Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee commendably grilled the State Department spokesman about the contradiction of its press freedom campaign and the James Risen case at today's briefing on the State Department initiative, repeatedly asking if the government considers press freedom issues in the United States the same way it does abroad. (The full transcript.)

As Gerstein noted, "The Justice Department brief is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists," and if the Justice Department succeeds "it could place President Barack Obama in the awkward position of presiding over the jailing of a journalist in an administration the president has vowed to make the most transparent in history."
That ship sailed some time ago, I'm afraid. The most transparent administration has been as opaque as any and has defended its secrecy with more fervor than most. It has waged a war on whistleblowers unlike any we've seen before. But nonetheless, one might expect an allegedly liberal administration to at least allow the courts to have the last word. But then, they are trying to do an end run with a bogus
shield law" that makes them look like they're doing something while in reality creating a new legal roadblock that the court would have to consider:
The government does mention it is working with Congress to craft a reporter's shield bill, which should give you some indication that the proposed bill is at best a watered-down, toothless version of what many courts have offered journalists for decades, and that would be no help to James Risen—the exact type of reporter that we should be attempting to protect the most. It's important to remember that in Risen's case, the government has previously analogized reporter's privilege to a criminal receiving drugs from someone and refusing to testify about it.
That's disgusting.

It's also in line with decades of manipulative maneuvering in which the government (of both parties) gets caught doing something illegal and instead of stopping the illegal behavior, instead enlists congressional authoritarians in both parties to legalize it. (See FISA debacle, for which the allegedly transparency advocate Senator Obama voted even before he was elected.)The Deep State protects its prerogatives and expands the scope of its powers by consistently overreaching, then falling back a bit and only legalizing the pieces of its program it most values --- one step forward two steps back. It's the natural consequence of global military hegemony. Unless you are one of those who are under the illusion that American people are somehow more moral and principled than other human beings that's going to lead to more and more authoritarian power.

Until people decide to challenge this system we are looking at a nation of the future run by greedy billionaires who are buying the protection of a powerful global military empire. Sound good?

The changing face of America

by digby

We all know this.  But it's still interesting to see this in chart form.

Now, if all white people were Republicans it would still present a big challenge for racial minorities. 43% is still a whole lot of people and a very powerful plurality. But if you look at the age demographics you see that most younger people aren't racially prejudiced and they will likely carry those attitudes into their later years as well. So the number of white racists within that plurality of whites is also shrinking rapidly.

There will always be some racists. It's deeply embedded in American culture and frankly, the human species. But the Cliven Bundys of the world are dying off and they aren't being replaced. He may have 14 kids who have the same attitudes but there are 114 out there for every one of them who don't see the world that way.

It gives you hope.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Tracks of my fears: New train thriller & a Top 5 List

By Dennis Hartley

Uh, I believe that was my stop: Last Passenger

You don’t see that many train thrillers these days. They’re still around, of course, but it seems that filmmakers aren’t pumping them out as frequently as they once did. And if you do see one, more often than not you have seen it before (deja vu all over again). Could it simply be “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to”? Don’t know. Mongo only pawn, in game of life. Have something to do with where choo-choo go. Or perhaps it’s one of those movie genres that has simply played itself out. Over. Finished. Check, please. End of the line, literally and figuratively. But they do still try (oh, how they try!).

The latest attempt is a UK import called Last Passenger, the feature-length debut for writer-director Omid Nooshin. Dougray Scott stars as a doctor (a widower) who is headed home on a late night London commuter train with his young son (Joshua Kaynama) in tow. As the train nears the end of its run, only a handful of passengers are left, including an attractive young woman (Kara Tointon) who seems bent on ingratiating herself with the doctor and his son, a young Polish hothead (Iddo Goldberg) who gets belligerent when a train guard asks him to put out his cigarette, a quiet and unassuming middle aged woman (Lindsay Duncan) and an enigmatic businessman (David Schofield). Once the young hothead calms down, normalcy returns. All seems quiet. Too quiet. Faster than you can say “the lady vanishes”, the train guard mysteriously disappears, right about the time the remaining passengers realize that the train is starting to blow by some of its regularly scheduled stops…and “someone” has sabotaged the brakes. Uh-oh.

It reads like an intriguing setup for some good old-fashioned “thrills and chills on a runaway train”, but unfortunately the proceedings get bogged down by lackluster character development, uneven pacing, over-reliance on red herrings and gaping plot holes big enough to drive a flaming, out-of-control locomotive through. Scott and Goldberg do the best they can with the material that they’re given, but Duncan’s talents are completely wasted and Tointon, while lovely, makes for a woodenly unconvincing romantic interest. I don’t know, maybe they caught me on a bad night, but if you buy the ticket, you’re going to have to take the ride. As for me, I’d rather take the bus. Or walk.

Okay, so this week's film isn't exactly a genre classic. Here are my picks for 5 that are:

La Bete Humaine - The term film noir hadn't become part of the cinematic lexicon yet, but Jean Renoir's naturalistic 1938 thriller could arguably be considered one of the genre's blueprints; in fact, it still looks and feels quite contemporary. Jean Gabin is mesmerizing as a brooding train engineer plagued by blackouts, during which he commits uncontrollable acts of violence, usually precipitated by sexual excitation (speaking of which, Freudians will have a field day with all those POV shots of Gabin chugging his big, powerful locomotive through long dark tunnels). The beautiful Simone Simon sets the mold for all future femme fatales, played with an earthy sexuality not usually found in films of the era. Curt Courant's moody cinematography, and an overall vibe of existential malaise doesn't exactly make for a popcorn flick, but noir fans will eat it up. Fritz Lang's 1954 remake, Human Desire starred Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame.

Emperor of the North- The “train top donnybrook” is an oft-used, time-honored tradition in action movies (and has helped put more than one stuntman’s kid through college), but for my money, few can top the climactic confrontation between Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine in this 1973 adventure directed by the eclectic Robert Aldrich. Marvin plays a Depression-era hobo who is considered a sort of “A lister” amongst those who ride the rails of the Pacific Northwest; the ultimate “ramblin’ guy” who knows how to keep one step ahead of the dreaded railroad bulls. Borgnine plays his nemesis, a sadistic railroad conductor who prides himself on the fact that no hobo has ever made it to the end of the line on his watch (he sees to that personally, usually in medieval fashion). Marvin is up for the challenge; it’s a steam-powered “battle of the titans”. Keith Carradine gives an interesting performance as a cocky, not-so-bright wannabe who gloms on to Marvin’s coattails. The film doubles as a rollicking adventure yarn and an offbeat character study.

The Lady Vanishes- This 1938 gem is my favorite Hitchcock film from his “British period”. A young Englishwoman (Margaret Lockwood) boards a train in the fictitious European country of Bandrika. She strikes up a friendly conversation with a kindly older woman seated next to her named Mrs. Froy, who invites her to tea in the dining car. The young woman takes a nap, and when she awakes, Mrs. Froy has strangely disappeared. Oddly, the other people in her compartment deny ever having seen anyone matching Mrs. Froy’s description (is that classic Hitchcock, or what?). The mystery is afoot, with only one fellow passenger (Michael Redgrave) volunteering to help the young woman sort it out (oh, he may have some romantic motivations as well). Full of great twists and turns, and the Master truly keeps you guessing until the very end. The production design may seem creaky (obvious miniatures, toy trains and such), but for me that’s what lends this film its charm. It’s clever, witty and suspenseful, with delightful performances all around.

Silver Streak - Director Arthur Hiller and Harold and Maude screenwriter Colin Higgins teamed up for this highly entertaining 1976 comedy-thriller, an unabashed Hitchcock homage. Gene Wilder stars as an unassuming, bookish fellow who innocently becomes enmeshed in murder and intrigue during a train trip from L.A. to Chicago. Along the way, he also finds romance with a charming woman (Jill Clayburgh) who works for a shady gentleman (Patrick McGoohan) and bromance with a car thief (Richard Pryor) who may be his best hope for getting out of his predicament. It's pure popcorn escapism, bolstered by the genuine chemistry between the three leads. All the scenes with Wilder and Pryor together are pure comedy gold. Pryor had originally been slated to team up with Wilder two years earlier, as "Sherriff Bart" in Blazing Saddles, but Cleavon Little got the part; Wilder and Pryor ended up doing 3 more films together after Silver Streak.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (original version)- In Joseph Sargent’s gritty, suspenseful 1974 thriller, Robert Shaw leads a team of bow-tied, mustachioed and bespectacled terrorists who hijack a New York City subway train, seize hostages and demand $1 million in ransom from the city. If the ransom does not arrive in precisely 1 hour, passengers will be executed at the rate of one per minute until the money appears. As city officials scramble to scare up the loot, a tense cat-and-mouse dialog is established (via 2-way radio) between Shaw’s single-minded sociopath and a typically rumpled and put-upon Walter Matthau as a wry Transit Police lieutenant. Peter Stone’s sharp screenplay (adapted from John Godey's novel) is rich in characterization; most memorable for being chock full of New York City “attitude” (every character, major to minor, is soaking in it).

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