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Monday, June 30, 2014

Somebody didn't get the chicken little memo

by digby

Well, what do you know?
The newly installed director of the National Security Agency says that while he has seen some terrorist groups alter their communications to avoid surveillance techniques revealed by Edward J. Snowden, the damage done over all by a year of revelations does not lead him to the conclusion that “the sky is falling.”
He sounds like a less ... uhm ... flamboyant Dr Strangelovian character than Alexander and Hayden. I don't know if that's good or bad but I have to think that it's better not to have some over-the-top weirdo running the NSA.  And anyway, the reality has always been that the Snowden revelations did not hamper America's ability to protect itself. After all, we know the programs he revealed have never stopped a terrorist attack, so why would they?

More decline in institutional trust thanks to inequality

by David Atkins

We're fraying even further at the edges:

From Gallup:

Americans' confidence in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, reaching record lows for the Supreme Court (30%) and Congress (7%), and a six-year low for the presidency (29%). The presidency had the largest drop of the three branches this year, down seven percentage points from its previous rating of 36%.

These data come from a June 5-8 Gallup poll asking Americans about their confidence in 16 U.S. institutions -- within government, business, and society -- that they either read about or interact with.

While Gallup recently reported a historically low rating of Congress, Americans have always had less confidence in Congress than in the other two branches of government. The Supreme Court and the presidency have alternated being the most trusted branch of government since 1991, the first year Gallup began asking regularly about all three branches.

Confidence in government itself is shrinking rapidly, but it's also declining in most other sectors of society as well.

What Gallup doesn't mention is that this is directly related to rising inequality in society:

It is not an accident that trust in major institutions has declined on a linear track with rising inequality. Study after study has shown that trust in our fellow citizens and in institutions at large are dependent on the level of inequality and corruption in society. This stands to reason: people know when they're getting the short end of the stick, even if they can't agree on why. Conservatives wrongly blame government spending and regulation. Liberals rightly blame disproportionate rewards going to the very wealthy. Not surprisingly, then, high levels of inequality also create strong partisanship within society as politicians and pundits alike ratchet up the rhetoric of blame. As both secular and religious institutions seem equally powerless to address increasing economic and social insecurity, the social fabric begins to fray and people tend to self-segregate in many ways, including politically. Economic tension and social tension tend to go hand in hand.
Conservative economics are quite literally tearing society apart.


Ganster imperialism

by digby

This blockbuster report from James Risen really ought to blow your mind:

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

I'm not sure which is more shocking, that Blackwater issued death threats as if they were members of the Soprano crime family or the fact that the Embassy officials sided with them:

The shooting was a watershed moment in the American occupation of Iraq, and was a factor in Iraq’s refusal the next year to agree to a treaty allowing United States troops to stay in the country beyond 2011. Despite a series of investigations in the wake of Nisour Square, the back story of what happened with Blackwater and the embassy in Baghdad before the fateful shooting has never been fully told.

Huh. And to think the Iraqis wanted the US to get completely out. Go figure.

Read the whole thing. It's a shocker.

QOTD: Justices Samuel Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by digby

"According to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients."
Fascinating. They aren't "abortifacients." That is simple scientific fact. But they say they believe they are and their "belief" trumps objective reality.

The Daily Beast asks some pertinent questions about why "morality" is found to be in the hands of the employer rather than the person who will be using the allegedly immoral birth control. After all, we don't hold gun stores culpable for the murders committed by people who buy guns there:
Justice Alito specifically refutes these questions later in his opinion. He writes:
The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage. This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.
Justice Alito angrily dismisses the notion that there can be a “binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question.” Thus, if the Hahns and Greens say that it’s so, it’s so.
How convenient. Morality only attaches to people who want to exempt themselves from scientific fact in ways that comport with what a majority of the Supreme Court in this particular moment  find compelling. Funny that he doesn't find the complicated religious and philosophical question of abortion to be equally beyond the scope of a "binding national answer." How odd.

"The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield."
The minefield in question is the one that is, in essence, the Supreme Court choosing to privilege certain religious beliefs over others. It's very hard to see how they are going to thread a needle that says this logic can only apply to contraception. I'm sure they'd like it to  (along with abortion and perhaps gay rights and other socially conservative venues for excusing corporations from participating in government mandates.)  After all, these are the passions that move the political and religious constituency to whom this Court is catering. But there are a lot of religions in this world, some of which have some pretty unusual beliefs. It will be interesting to see how this conservative Christian Supreme Court majority ---  which is clearly trying to extend special dispensation to conservative Christians like themselves and corporations in general   --- deals with the "religious freedom" of those with whom they disagree.

Perhaps they should take a look at what's happening in Iraq for a clue as to what happens when government takes sides in religious disputes.

Meanwhile, women are out of luck if they expect to be treated as equal citizens under the law. When some religious people "believe" things that are not factual their equality is trumped by their employers' rights as "owners", religious or otherwise.

The unprincipled insiders did it again

by digby

They say that no good deed goes unpunished and nothing illustrates the truth of that old trope more vividly that the Human Rights Campaign endorsing Maine Senator Susan Collins over her Democratic opponent, the stalwart defender of human rights and civil liberties, Shenna Bellows. It wasn't the first time Republicans have been unjustly rewarded with endorsements from national liberal organizations, unfortunately. But there are few Republicans who have been more lauded by people for whom she has consistently done so little than the bucket of lukewarm water known as Susan Collins.

This endorsement was particularly galling. Shenna Bellows is not just another Democrat who supports marriage equality. She has devoted her life to expanding civil rights and civil liberties. In her capacity as the Director of the Maine ACLU she helped lead the way for marriage equality in Maine and was instrumental in getting the Maine Human Rights Act passed. It's a truly bold piece of legislation, one of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the country, which Bellows promises to bring to the national level. She has said:
The important thing we learned in Maine was to aim big and be persistent. Frankly, Congress could benefit from our example. The debate in Congress has focused for too long on weak versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which only covers employment decisions and now has such a big religious-exemption loophole that many activists no longer support the bill. As Ian Thompson wrote for Slate in April, the loophole "opens the door for religiously affiliated organizations to engage in employment discrimination against LGBT people -- for any reason." That's not the stuff big civil-rights advances are made of.

I'm proud to say we've done better in Maine, and I'll do better in Washington. We need a national Human Rights Act along the lines of the Maine Human Rights Act. We need to outlaw discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and educational opportunity on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation -- once and for all, nationwide, no exceptions. Sen. Al Franken has done good work on this issue, and I can't wait to join him. The LGBT community isn't alone in worrying that its Washington allies are aiming too low.

Many immigration-reform groups rightly wonder not only why Republicans won't support them but why too many Democrats supported a weaker House bill in this Congress than the one they introduced when they were in the majority. We can't fall victim to lower expectations or lesser ambitions, no matter who controls what branch of government. Good policy is good policy, and fighting the wrong legislative fights won't get us where we need to be.

That's the kind of leadership we need so desperately in Washington --- leadership that understands that we are all in this together. If you agree, you can donate to Shenna Bellows' campaign here.

You will not be surprised to learn that Senator Collins is all for that "religious exemption." And her definition of courage is to wait until the nation has largely moved forward before she reluctantly leads from behind: it was only last week that she could summon the nerve to support marriage equality even in principle, much less to act to make it a reality.

As you can see from Shenna Bellows' comments, her approach to basic human rights and liberties stems from her clear, strong set of principles. She doesn't put her finger in the wind, she kicks up a storm and makes things happen. Maine would not have the strong protections and rights available to LGBT citizens that it has today if not for Shenna Bellows. Yet the thanks she gets from the National Human Rights Campaign is an endorsement for her opponent. With friends like these...

Shenna does have real friends, however. Shenna Bellows has been endorsed by all the national progressive netroots groups (with Blue America leading the way by being the very first to do so) and she raised more than Collins in the first quarter, which says something about her incumbent's lack of support from anyone but beltway insiders and establishment courtiers. She is getting favorable press wherever she goes. In fact, Blue America has a donor who has offered a matching donation up to $1,000 on the basis of Bellows' outstanding record on civil liberties. (Click here to help us match it!)

Shenna came out to Los Angeles last week to meet with some supporters and my Blue America partners John Amato, Howie Klein and I were privileged to help host the event. It was a truly inspiring evening, and not just for us. Everyone there was terrifically impressed by her knowledge of the issues, her grasp of the politics and more than anything, her obvious passion and commitment to the principles we all share --- and which are so often poorly articulated by our Democratic establishment politicians. Howie had the honor of introducing her to the crowd and he said it best: "we believe Shenna Bellows is another Elizabeth Warren, a gifted, intelligent communicator with an uncanny ability to explain complicated issues to the American people."

We committed that night to raise $2,000 more dollars for Shenna Bellows' campaign. Our anonymous civil libertarian donor has already met half that goal for us if you will meet him halfway.

Please give what you can. Shenna is the progressive future and we desperately need such principled, passionate and committed leaders to start taking their place in the Democratic Party.

Well that worked out well

by digby

So the Roberts Court with a divided majority just decided that corporations are able to exercise freedom of speech by spending corporate money on political campaigns, they are now able to exercise their freedom of religion by denying benefits to employees who disagree with the bosses religious beliefs. It's a good time to be an abstract legal concept called a corporation. A woman, not so much:

For many years, the Supreme Court struck a careful balance between protecting religious liberty and maintaining the rule of law in a pluralistic society. Religious people enjoy a robust right to practice their own faith and to act according to the dictates of their own conscience, but they could not wield religious liberty claims as a sword to cut away the legal rights of others. This was especially true in the business context. As the Supreme Court held in United States v. Lee, “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.”

With Monday’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, however, this careful balance has been upended. Employers who object to birth control on religious grounds may now refuse to comply with federal rules requiring them to include contraceptive care in their health plans. The rights of the employer now trump the rights of the employee.
My favorite parts of this opinion are all the disclaimers and caveats about how it doesn't apply here and doesn't apply there and don't worry your pretty little heads ladies, you won't be forced to handle snakes or burn incense if you want to work at JC Penneys. When they go to such lengths to soothe people that they aren't setting a hugely significant precedent that makes little sense, that's what they're doing.

Unfortunately, neither is it a good time to be a teacher, firefighter, police officer or any other public employee. The handwriting is on the wall:
By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled in Harris v. Quinn that eight home health care workers in Illinois cannot be compelled to pay dues to a union they don’t wish to join. Illinois is one of 26 states that require public sector workers to pay dues to the unions that negotiate their contracts and represent them in grievances, even if the employees find the union’s advocacy work distasteful.

Union leaders had feared that the justices might strike down those state laws as unconstitutional. The justices did not go that far. They issued a more narrow ruling that the home health care workers at issue in the case are not “full-fledged public employees” because they are hired and fired by individual patients and work in private homes, though they are paid in part by the state, via Medicaid.

Because they’re not truly state employees, the justices decided workers did not have to pay union dues.

But writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito sharply criticized a 1977 precedent, known as Abood, that granted states the right to compel union dues. Alito called that ruling “questionable” and “anomalous,” all but inviting a further challenge in the future. He was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.
Happy 4th of July week everybody. Let's celebrate our freedom to be serfs!


You don't need to be a bleeding heart to know that liberal economics works

by David Atkins

One of my posts yesterday at the Washington Monthly focused on how much the left has lost in terms of vigorous defense of Keynesian economics by allowing itself to be hemmed in as the party of bleeding heart compassion:

Most of the rhetoric around income inequality and economic fairness on the American left is about helping those who have “been left behind in our economy” or “need a helping hand.” While there has been some very welcome focus on broader structural challenges from some, including from President Obama in this superb 2013 speech on economic mobility, the vast majority of liberal rhetoric is framed in terms of either the decline in the middle class or compassion for the poor. Even Hanauer himself falls into this trap somewhat by focusing most of his policy attention on the minimum wage.

But while empathy for the poorest Americans and those who have fallen into poverty is an excellent and important thing, it’s not actually a prerequisite for fixing America’s broken economic system. There has been a widespread and fatally flawed acceptance since at least the 1980s of the notion that unrestrained asset and capital growth is a good thing, and that all we need do is soften its edges by making sure that the people left out of the churning growth-mobile have a safety net to support them.

Very little attention has been paid by either side of the aisle until recently to the problem of stagnant wages, or the problem of overinflating asset bubbles, or even to the problem of inequality itself. There is even less talk around the nation’s capital about broader Keynesian principles, or about how all of this inequality is actually bad for business as well. It is simply presumed that conservatives know what is best for business (even if it’s at the expense of workers), that what is good for the Dow Jones index is good for the economy, that rising housing prices are an unadulterated benefit, and that the biggest difference between conservatives and liberals is how much the rest of us should pay in taxes to help the few who get lost along the way.
I went on to highlight the way that FDR used a much more mechanistic approach to talk about why the New Deal was not only important from a moral perspective, but necessary from a purely functional perspective. For instance, here's a bit from one of his fireside chats:

Now I come to the links which will build us a more lasting prosperity. I have said that we cannot attain that in a Nation half boom and half broke. If all of our people have work and fair wages and fair profits, they can buy the products of their neighbors, and business is good. But if you take away the wages and the profits of half of them, business is only half as good. It does not help much if the fortunate half is very prosperous; the best way is for everybody to be reasonably prosperous.
It's not just that liberal economics are the right policies for those with a shred of empathy in their bones. It's also that it's more efficient and leads to better outcomes in general. We should talk about that more.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'll have an order of freedom fries and you can keep the plus ça change

by digby

I wrote earlier about how the right wingers all seemed to be more at war with liberals than with al Qaeda or Saddam 11 years ago. Well listen to this rant from Fox News today from Larry Gatlin:

"In defense of low-information voters, I knew one. Little half-breed Cherokee Indian — yes, that’s Cherokee Indian for you Florida State Seminoles and Washington Redskins.”

At that point, Gatlin paused to demonstrate Florida State’s tomahawk chop “war chant.”

“She was very wise, though,” he said. “She said if a child acts badly, if a child is naughty, slap the grandmother. Because, see, that means the grandmother didn’t teach mother, and the mother didn’t teach the child. By the way, that was my grandmother.”

“Here’s what we have, we have old hippies from the ’60s, Bill and Hillary [Clinton], ruling our country, not governing our country,” Gatlin continued, arguing that liberals were upset when the country took military action because “they don’t believe there is a right or wrong.”

“They blame America, they blame Bush, they wrap their robes of self-righteousness around them, get in their Lear jets, and take off, and they’re still mad at me,” he quipped. “Love it or get out of my face!”

“The liberals, they’ll sing ‘Kumbaya’ but they won’t stand up and sing the Marine Corps Hymn!” Gatlin exclaimed, adding that President Obama did not know how to pronounce “Marine Corps.”

“Who elected this doofus anyway?” he asked. “The liberals and the low-information voters.”
You can watch it here.

Chart 'O the Day: executions

by digby

They look like blood stains. Which they are:

Also interesting to note that a disproportionate number of those executions were of African American men.
Your fascinating long read of the day: Bigger ain't better

by digby

A conversation between Tom Frank and Barry Lynn about America's history of monopoly power.  I thought this passage was especially interesting in light of our current "debate" about the president allegedly abusing the power of his office by manipulating the regulatory agencies to to thwart the intent of legislation. The historical discussion picks up in 1980 with Reagan'selection:

Barry Lynn: ... all the traditional concern with protecting our rights as producers of work and ideas and goods, and suddenly it’s all about the consumer, it’s all about, how do we promote your welfare as a consumer? And that’s actually the phrase they use, the “consumer welfare test.” So nowadays, what this means in practice is that if you are a big capitalist, if you go to the Justice Department and say, I’m gonna merge the number one beer company to the number two beer company, or the number one steel company to the number two steel company, and this deal will result in all sorts of big savings, because this deal will let me fire all these excess people and close all these excess plants, and I’m going to pass at least some of those savings on to the consumer, put a few pennies in their pocket, then you get a stamp of approval from the U.S. government. That’s the test put in place in ‘81 and ’82. And that’s the test still in place today. I mean, the Department of Justice just last year let the number one book publisher in America, Random House, merge with the No. 2 book publisher, Penguin. Which is insane.
Thomas Frank: was politically literate in the early ’80s, and was reading newspapers, and I don’t remember any debate about this at all.
There was a big debate in 1981, which I’ve gone back and studied. Much of the debate took place within the Senate. Howard Metzenbaum led the challenge to it. The Reagan people came in and said, we’re going to impose this radical change to your antitrust laws which you’ve been using since 1773 to protect yourselves against concentrated power. . .
Wait, so they worked this huge change in antitrust without actually getting a new law passed, am I right?
Yes, that was what was so brilliant about what they did. The Department of Justice establishes guidelines that detail how regulators plan to interpret certain types of laws. So the Reagan people did not aim to change the antimonopoly laws themselves, because that would have sparked a real uproar. Instead they said they planned merely to change the guidelines that determine how the regulators and judiciary are supposed to interpret the law.
But they didn’t change the laws, the laws were still on the books, is what you’re telling me.
Yes. Here we have laws that go back 200 years in America, and 400 years to Elizabethan times, and 800 goddamn years to the Magna Carta, and the Reagan people came along and said hey, ya know what, we’re so much smarter nowadays, we’re technocrats, we’re scientists, so let’s take these laws and enforce them in a slightly different way, based on this slightly different goal, this scientifically determined goal of efficiency, and you’re going to be so much happier because we’re going to help you live better as a consumer, we’re going to get you so much more stuff. When they said that, there was some real opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. Metzenbaum was against it. Arlen Specter was against it.
Not much of a Republican.
Well, back then he was a pretty mainstream Republican.
So Metzenbaum and Specter were like, what the hell is going on here, this is a big problem, you people in the Reagan Administration can’t just gut our antimonopoly laws like this. But then another group of people came along and said, well no, these radical changes in antimonopoly law are actually a good idea. And this really confused matters, because some of the people who agreed with the Reagan Administration stood on the left wing of the Democratic Party. They were, in essence, the grandchildren of the old Teddy Roosevelt Progressives – people like John Kenneth Galbraith and Lester Thurow.
So wait, they want regulation-
What Galbraith and Thurow wanted was to get rid of competition, which they thought was inefficient and wasteful.
To say a word for my leftists: That can make sense if the giant companies they’re talking about are regulated, right?
Depends what sort of regulation you’re talking about. As Brandeis used to say, competition is often the best regulator. Top-down regulation by government “experts,” on the other hand, can tend toward sclerosis and corruption, the blending of state and private power.
What’s most important to understand about the radical reframing of antimonopoly law by the Reagan people in cahoots with the Progressives is just how  massive a political shift it set into motion in America. In 1978 Robert Bork published a book called The Antitrust Paradox, which became sort of a primer for the Reagan people. Bork argued that monopoly could be more efficient, and efficiency in the name of the welfare of the consumer should be our primary goal. Back when Bork wrote that, there were tens of thousands of families who ran grocery stores in America and hardware stores and garages and general merchandise stores, and that was because the law protected them from concentrated capital. Jump ahead 32 years and we’ve got a single company, Wal-Mart, that is the de facto governor of commerce in many small towns and even small cities all across America. Wal-mart has sucked Main Street right inside their walls. And that has huge political and economic effects. Wealth from these communities flows off to distant places, Bentonville, Wall Street. And power over these communities is exercised from distant places, like Bentonville, and Wall Street. But we see the effects also at a national level. Here you have one family with as much wealth as the bottom 41.5 percent of all Americans. One family with as much wealth as 130 million Americans.
But they do sell stuff cheaper.
Do they?
David Brooks writes about this all the time.
They don’t always sell stuff cheaper. That’s the thing about old, decrepit systems, and Wal-mart is increasingly an old, decrepit system. They have stock-outs all the time. They’ve got empty shelves sometimes. They sometimes don’t have enough people in the stores to stock the shelves. My friend Tracie McMillan went and worked in a Wal-Mart in Michigan in their produce department. She then wrote a book about her experience, and one of the things she details is the remarkable wastefulness of the Wal-Mart system.
That’s cool. Those small towns will generate competitors then and put Wal-Mart out of business, right? *laughs*
*laughs* Yeah, well. So it was a political revolution that happened.
Here we are having all of these discussions in America about inequality. Inequality in wealth. Inequality in voice. And yet no one’s looking at one of the main sources of that inequality, which was the overthrow of antitrust in 1981 by the Reagan Administration.

I know it's shocking to find that it's perfectly fine for Ronald Reagan to boldly use the power of the presidency in exactly the same way that President Obama has (tepidly) used itand is now being called a tyranical despot for having done so.  That's how it rolls.

This article is a fresh perspective on the problem of inequality by looking at how we've dealt with "bigness" in the private sector. Well worth the time.

Stimulating Media and bored presidents

by digby

This Jacobin piece by Corey Robin about bored leaders and thinkers seeking "stimulation" really illuminates something I've long observed but have only been able to articulate in piecemeal fashion. His quote by Christopher Hitchens really gets to the heart of it:
I should perhaps confess that on September 11 last, once I had experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for mastery. On examination, and to my own surprise and pleasure, it turned out be exhilaration. Here was the most frightful enemy–theocratic barbarism–in plain view… I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost.
At least he was honest.

Way back in March 2003, just as the invasion of Iraq was beginning, I wrote about this, wondering why the most powerful country in the world was so afraid. I don't think I realized quite yet just how stimulating that fear was to so many people. And while Hitchens ascribes his excitement to his ideological zeal to rid the world of "theocratic barbarism" the fact is that he was far from the only media figure to be feverish and aroused by the prospect of war. Recall:

Embedded Ambition

by digby

With all the discussion about the media's malfeasance leading up to the war, I think one aspect of it has been overlooked: the thrill of embedding. Here's a taste of what we all saw during the first few days of the war from CNN:

BROWN: Again, down in the corner of your screen, what you are seeing is the 7th Cavalry on its way to Baghdad. How quickly and what it will encounter as it gets there, we do not know. But we know what has happened so far because CNN's Walt Rodgers has been riding with them. Walt, tell us -- you don't need to tell us location. But tell us what you can about what you have encountered to date.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The pictures you're seeing are absolutely phenomenal. These are live pictures of the 7th Cavalry racing across the deserts in southern Iraq. They will -- it will be days before they get to Baghdad, but you've never seen battlefield pictures like these before.

Immediately in front of our cameras, an M1-A1 Abrams tank. We're sitting about 30 meters, now about 40 meters off the back of that tank. You can see that they've got water bottles stacked on board. That's how close we are.

The orange cover on the back is called a VF-17. That's a visual identification marker for allied aircraft in the air to let them know this is the 7th Cavalry, these are friendly units, we are rolling through the desert. Speed here, probably 40 to 50 kilometers an hour. That's been our speed most of the time.

A short while ago, perhaps 30 minutes ago, this unit took some incoming fire. It never came within more than half a kilometer of the 7th Cavalry. But there you can see these tanks rolling along. The Army says these are the most lethal killing machines on the earth. And when you see those 120-millimeter guns go off, there's no doubt about it.

There he's swinging the turret. That constant swinging of the turret is to maintain a state of alertness. As you look at the soldiers atop the tank, the one nearest us on the left side of the tank is the loader. He is responsible for loading the 120-millimeter shells, gun shells into the tank when it engages in hostile combat. That has not occurred. That is, the tanks have not fired, to the best of our knowledge, so far today.

The other soldier on the right side of the turret, his head sticking up too, is the commander of the tank. You have to realize, they've been riding along, bouncing along in these tanks for probably six or more hours now. Those two on top are standing. The driver is -- if you can look on the left front side, the driver is in a reclining position by that slash (ph) 91 figure. He's in a two-thirds reclined position.

And then deeper inside the tank, and if you ride inside that tank, it is like riding in the bowels of a dragon. They roar. They screech. You can see them slowing now. We've got to be careful not to get in front of them. But what you're watching here...

BROWN: Wow, look at that shot.

RODGERS: ... is truly historic television and journalism. This is live pictures of the 7th U.S. Cavalry headed for Iraq. This is actual time. What you are witnessing now is what is happening here in the Iraqi desert as the 7th Cavalry, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, is moving northward through the Iraqi desert.

I remember that story vividly --- the sunburned, khaki-clad Rogers standing up in the back of the vehicle with the sand blowing in his face looking for all the world like some sort of JC Penney version of TE Lawrence going on about the total awesomeness of his own awesome reporting of the awesome march across the awesome desert. I'm sure that the Pentagon was extremely pleased that day at the success of their war marketing.

One of the things that cannot be discounted is the fact that the news organizations and reporters themselves were beside themselves at the prospect of being able to cover "the war." Their childlike excitement was palpable and the government used the enticement of "embedding" reporters on the front lines with access to that totally awesome coverage as Rodgers shows in the clip above. It's not that I blame reporters for being thrilled to be a part of this operation --- it was the obvious Walter Mitty warrior fantasy that made me queasy.

This was set up in a very systematic way by the Pentagon. In a very slick maneuver, they held a media "boot-camp" months before the war began (and while they were insisting that they were not preparing for war.) They got the reporters all hot and bothered about the exciting story they would be able to cover. Who wanted all those unpleasant old facts refuting the casus belli to get in the way of that?

December 11, 2002

At the November boot camp, finding that separation wasn’t easy. Upon arrival, journalists received military issue equipment such as backpacks, helmets, flack-jackets and NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) suits, which they then used in training exercises. Washington Times staff photographer Gerald Herbert says at first they enjoyed getting their hands on the new "toys," but a few of the journalists quickly realized the dangers of donning all the military gear.

After a demonstration on weaponry, one of the participating photographers took a picture of UPI reporter Pam Hess wearing full battle fatigues and holding an M-16 while a marine at her side gave instructions. When the picture ran in The International Herald Tribune the next day, some boot campers began to worry about how they were being perceived by the outside world.

Some feared the picture would fuel suspicions that American journalists are working in concert with the American military, a danger made all the more real by the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl last year in Pakistan.

"I don’t think in any sense we should wear anything that confuses us as members of the military," Platt says. "This is a new war and journalists are targets. If the concept gets out there that we’re working for the military, it’s going to make our jobs much more difficult."

On the final night of boot camp the journalists learned they were about to become the subjects in a massive photo-op organized by the military. The thought of marching five miles in full gear with still and TV cameras documenting their every move spooked many of the journalists there. So before the big event, many decided to present themselves in more of an independent light when the time came for their pictures to be taken.

"All of a sudden the media was trying to spin the media," says Herbert. "That question was nagging me all week long and came to a head that day: at what point are we observing and at what point are we participating?"

Herbert says some of the journalists used white tape and black markers to designate themselves as press, while others wore jeans and one guy even drew a peace symbol on his shirt.

This issue of what to wear was obviously quite a problem for the press as I recall laughing at some of the embeds' quasi-military get-ups. Many of them were very sharp, like this one:

Yep, that's Judy Miller on the left...

Just as the anchors back in the booth were waving flags and enjoying the huge ratings that war porn brings to the usually flat cable news networks, the reporters in the field were getting fitted for Prada camo-fatigue safari gear for their war epic. By the beginning of January 2003, the news networks were literally selling the war.("See full coverage of The War, here on CNN...")

Update: Speaking of bored presidents, this is one I'll never get out of my head:
As Bob Woodward reports in his book "Bush at War," a month into the bombing of Afghanistan, when the Taliban stronghold of Majar-i-Sharif fell, Mr Bush turned to Condoleezza Rice and asked: "Well, what next?"

There's bored and then there's ADD ...

Who is the real enemy of patriotic Americans?

by digby

Here's a little reminder of what really got the pro-Iraq war patriots going back in 2003: 

Note the fawning CNN commentary: 

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, promoters here were predicting a crowd of about 10,000 here at Atlanta, at the Rally for America, but they're now saying on the podium that they have more than doubled that.

Let's take a look at this crowd. People coming out today, decked out in their red, white and blue, thousands of people. Thousands of people carrying banners and signs, offering patriotic sentiments and supporting U.S. troops.

A part of what you're looking at could also be the power of talk radio. Stations across the country have been promoting rallies for America. They've been striking a chord that seems to resonate deeply with people in this crowd. They are pro-U.S., pro-military.

And some of the featured speakers also taking shots at anti-war demonstrators, particularly Hollywood celebrities protesting war in Iraq.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were starting to believe that we were surrounded by them, by the ones that are the freaks in the limousine, the ones with the hairy armpits and the lesbian, whatever that is. We thought we were being surrounded by California.

Today, today, I'm proud to tell you they are clear, we surround them


MATTINGLY: Things wrapping up right now. They just had the song, "Proud to be an American" playing. People singing along with it.

Again quite a few thousand more people than they expected for this rally, particularly with this kind of rain. So promoters very happy with the showing here today and people leaving with a very good feeling that their opinion is being made known across the country.

Back to you.

WHITFIELD: And David, to make it clear, the folks that are assembling there in Atlanta say this is not a pro-war rally but instead, it is one showing patriotism, showing support of the troops, as you mentioned, as well as the president's plans?

MATTINGLY: That is the theme here, support for the troops, for American soldiers right now in the Middle East. They say they don't want a repeat of what they saw after Vietnam, where soldiers came home and were not treated with respect. They want to make sure that does not happen again this time.

But there are some political undercurrents going on. There's a lot of signs here, a very partisan in support of the president, and a lot of signs critical of anti-war protesters, as we showed you before
Kind of hard to tell who they thought was the enemy there, wasn't it?

Sunday Funnies

by digby

Via KosComics
Trickle-down economics is a proven failure

by David Atkins

I have a post up at Alternet detailing the ways in which trickle-down economics is a proven failure. Here is an excerpt:

The money doesn't trickle down. Of all the failures of supply-side economics, this is the most damning. Conservatives often excuse poor wage growth and high unemployment as part of the global competitive marketplace, saying that everyone needs to tighten their belts. But not everyone is struggling--in fact, the rich are better off than ever. They control half of all the wealth, and the top 10% control almost 9/10ths of it. Corporate profits are at or near record highs, disproving the myth that the middle class must suffer due to competitive pressures. The Dow Jones index is threatening to burst past 17,000. Meanwhile, wages have stagnated since the Reagan era, even though productivity continues to increase. Corporate executives, in other words, are forcing workers to toil longer, harder and smarter than ever, but all the proceeds are going into the hands of the very rich while the people actually creating the wealth are struggling harder than ever to get by.


2. The rich aren't investing almost half of their resources.

This one is almost comical. In concept, supply-side economics is supposed to work by the corporate rich taking money gleaned by tax breaks and subsidies, and plowing it back into investments that theoretically employ people. Now, we already know that the economic life doesn't actually work that way: when wealthy individuals and companies invest, they tend to do it in financialized vehicles, mergers, acquisitions and interest-bearing accounts while employing the fewest people possible at awful wages.

But even if it did work as supply-siders theorize, the brutal reality is that the rich aren't investing almost half of their money (corporations aren't doing much better, as their record profits sit largely idle avoiding taxation). 40% of the assets of the wealthy are sitting in deposits: the rich person's equivalent of stuffing money into a mattress. Money sitting in deposits in Swiss and Cayman Islands accounts is essentially wasted wealth. It does as little good for the world economy as gold hoarded by a dragon in Middle Earth. It essentially sits there uselessly as an economic security blanket for the very people who need it least. By contrast, putting more money into the hands of the poor and middle class pays off immediately for the economy, as most people living paycheck to paycheck spend the money immediately or at least create a small backstop against bankruptcy and delinquency--thus creating immediate economic and social benefits. So not only does giving the rich more money not pay off when they do invest, it doesn't even have the opportunity to pay off at all since almost half of the money isn't even being invested.
I also go on to note that supply-side economics leads to a more unstable bubble economy with bigger and longer recessions, that it frays society and reduces trust in institutions, and that it increases the deficit as well.

Head on over to read the whole thing.

It might have been excusable back in 1980 to believe that supply-side economics might work. There's no excuse for it today. It's a proven failure.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Die bummelant

By Dennis Hartley

Drinks for all my friends: A Coffee in Berlin

Have you heard the good word? There's this trendy new food pyramid that apparently keeps you energetic and svelte: Vodka, cigarettes and chewing gum. This appears to be all that sustains Niko (Tom Schilling), the Millennial slacker hero of writer-director Jan Ole Gerster's debut film, A Coffee in Berlin (known in Germany as Oh Boy). Oh, you are allowed to drink coffee...if you can get your hands on a cup. This is proving difficult for Niko, as we follow him around Berlin on (what we assume to be) a typical day in his life.

"I'm late...I've got a million things to do," Niko tells his skeptical (and soon-to-be ex) girlfriend after she catches him giving her the early-morning slip (her Jean Seberg haircut is no accident; from this opening scene onward, Gerster's camera movements, black and white photography and jazzy score leaves no doubt that his film is a paean to the French New Wave). In reality, Niko doesn't seem to have much of anything going on, except maybe the rent. Even that is doubtful, after an ATM machine confiscates his debit card, much to his puzzlement. In a Benjamin Braddock moment set at a posh country club, Niko gets an explanation, along with an admonishment from his father, who has finally figured out his deadbeat son has in fact not been spending his 1000 Euros a month stipend on law school for the past two years, as had been assumed. Niko’s day has barely begun; many more such encounters await him, each more discombobulating than the last.

While you could say that the film is about “nothing”, it manages to be about everything. Perhaps it is the sheer breadth of the vignettes that make up Niko’s day; from the bathos to the pathos. From moments of silly slapstick, like Niko’s attempt to appear casual whilst dipping back into a homeless man’s hat to retrieve the change he had donated a few moments before his fateful encounter with the ATM machine, to an extraordinary monolog from an elderly barfly recounting a suppressed childhood memory of Kristallnacht, it collectively adds up to a summation of the human experience. Visually, the film evokes Wim Wenders’ moody Wings of Desire; which has everything to do with the location photography. Berlin, like New York or Paris, is a metropolis that is most likely to reveal its true colors when viewed through a stark black and white lens. It’s tough to explain why such an episodic affair, wherein the dramatic tension derives from whether or not the protagonist will find an uninterrupted moment to enjoy a cup of coffee before credits roll, is one of the freshest films I’ve seen this year, but I believe I just did.

Previous posts with related themes:

What are these states' rights you speak of?

by digby

Thanks a lot:
The Republican-controlled House on Thursday approved a new, albeit long-shot, bill to expand domestic energy exploration, including opening up new areas off the West Coast to drilling.
The measure would require lease sales by the end of next year for energy production off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, with production coming from existing offshore rigs or onshore-based extended-reach drilling operations. 
In  addition, the legislation would direct the Interior Department to develop a five-year plan that provides for energy exploration in coastal areas "considered to have the largest undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources,’’ including areas off California. 
Drilling off the Virginia and South Carolina coasts enjoys support, but offshore drilling has long been a controversial issue in California, where a 1969 spill off Santa Barbara devastated the coast. 
[...]The California delegation broke along party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it, except for Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who backed the bill. Democratic Reps. George Miller of Martinez and Grace Napolitano of Norwalk did not vote.
 This is why many rich Republicans in Santa Barbara and around the state vote Democratic even though they would also prefer not to pay taxes..  They don't want to see the environment destroyed by a bunch of yahoos and the GOP is completely useless on this issue./

Clever authoritarian tricks

by digby

This is a neat trick:
As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.
That's very clever, you have to admit.

I think the militarization aspect also has a different dimension here. They probably came to this privatization scheme from the experience of private contractors in Iraq which operated outside the normal military justice system but were also granted immunity from the Iraqi justice system because it was a war zone. When the US attempted to try some Blackwater murderers back in the US it was hampered by the byzantine rules of immunity that were granted in Iraq. The ultimate Catch-22.

The idea here would be to take what would be normal police operations and "incorporate" them so they can benefit from not having to be accountable by the taxpayers as government officials while maintaining the various grants of immunity that are given to government authorities.Very creative.


by digby

I wouldn't think American rich people would enjoy this movie except for the fact that they persist in believing they are just salt of the earth, regular folks and will probably identify with the rebels. It's one of the United States' greatest delusions: everybody thinks they're middle class ...

I wonder how long that can last?

Live broadcast from Sarajevo

by digby

The BBC is doing an amazing job of commemorating the hundred year anniversary of WWI:
BBC News is used to reporting breaking news around the world. It's what we do, part of the reason for our very existence. So if there were to be an assassination of a prominent European leader today, we would want to be there, reporting live. And audiences expect to consume breaking news in a live blog environment which is why we wanted to experiment with revealing history in this way.

This was the idea behind 1914 Live as the BBC's First World War season reaches the first significant anniversary.

We would use all the techniques of breaking news in 2014 to report on events from Sarajevo 100 years ago, particularly the BBC's Live format used to great effect during the World Cup and Queen's Baton Relay. And we would do it by using BBC correspondents in their familiar roles...

No one at the time thought the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire and his wife would lead to World War One. So our reports don't suggest that. But what they do reflect are the tensions in Europe that summer and how Europe's rulers were all deeply suspicious of each other.

1914 Live begins by reporting a royal visit by what was, by early 20th Century standards, a very modern couple. It follows the events of the morning as they happened and ends by reflecting the shock felt around Europe which, unbeknown by anyone, was suddenly 37 days away from war.

It's fascinating stuff, well worth spending some time with if you're interested in history.

Vox, meanwhile, has put together a handy little primer to soothe you afterwards by explaining that war isn't what it used to be.  On the other hand, if there's one lesson (among many) to be taken about WWI, it's that things can hurtle out of control very quickly with very few people seeing it coming.

Just don't call it terrorism

by digby

If you have time to watch this over the week-end, you should:

In 1996, FRONTLINE took an in-depth look at one case that helped lead to the buffer zone law. Two years earlier, John Salvi, a radical young Catholic abortion opponent, opened fire on two clinics in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston, and killed two women: Shannon Lowney, a 25-year-old receptionist at Planned Parenthood, and Lee Ann Nichols, who worked as a receptionist at PreTerm, the clinic down the street.

The killings ignited a fierce debate about the intersection of free speech, abortion and religion. For the first time, Murder on Abortion Row is streaming online.

Watch it at this link. It will remind you that making political statements through terrorism is not a tactic confined to radical Muslims.

The rebrand's final death knell

by David Atkins

Why, it seems like not even two years ago that the GOP seemed committed to a major rebrand. Not anymore. Greg Sargent gives the eulogy:

Exactly one year after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill that built a compromise on an exchange of increased enforcement for legalization for the 11 million, Republicans have now officially abandoned any pretense of a willingness to participate in solving the immigration crisis. Instead, they have committed the party to a course premised on two intertwined notions: There are no apparent circumstances under which they can accept legalization of the 11 million; and as a result, the only broad response to the crisis they can countenance is maximum deportations.

This means it’s now all in Obama’s hands to decide what he can do unilaterally to ease the pace of deportations and address the current unaccompanied migrant crisis.
Referring to the move of GOP representative Bob Goodlatte from pro-immigration-reform to the anti side, Sargent says:

This tells the entire story. Goodlatte was an early proponent of a form of legalization for the 11 million that could have been the basis for compromise. In this scenario, Republicans could have voted on piecemeal measures that included just legalization — and no citizenship — packaged with concurrent enforcement triggers. Paul Ryan and Mario Diaz-Balart both floated versions of that idea, which is to say, Republicans probably could have passed something like this, though it would have been (shock! horror!) difficult. This could have led to a decent deal for Republicans: In negotiations with the Senate, Dems would drop the special path to citizenship in exchange for Republicans agreeing to legal tweaks making it easier for the legalized to eventually find their way to citizenship through normal channels.

That’s essentially the larger scenario Goodlatte supported as early as last summer, and those who closely follow this debate have long known it was a plausible scenario and an endgame GOP leaders such as John Boehner privately hoped for. But it would have required getting the right angry at some point (which any immigration solution was always going to do). And so, it ran up against an unwillingness by a large bloc of Republicans in the House to do the hard work of figuring out what set of terms and conditions, if any, might enable them to support some form of legal status in the face of the right’s rage. Jeb Bush’s remarks were controversial precisely because he revealed the GOP unwillingness to cross this Rubicon as a moral challenge Republicans could not bring themselves to tackle. Even Boehner — who actually deserves some credit for trying to ease the party towards accepting legalization — essentially admitted this was the real obstacle to reform in a moment of candor earlier this spring.

And that’s where we are now.
There is no more rebrand. It's done. The GOP tried to buck its racist base, and it couldn't. Eric Cantor, of all people, paid the price for it.

Which means the GOP is only going to go farther and farther right. I'm not even sure they'll try another round of rebranding after a 2016 loss.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday baby dolphin blogging

by digby

Because you need this:

You can read all about this little orphaned dolphin rescued and raised by humans here.


McDaniel determined to fight to the legal end

by David Atkins

Chris McDaniel is fuming mad and going to fight every vote:

The Tea Party-backed candidate who has refused to concede defeat to Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi's primary runoff said his campaign has found more than 1,000 instances of ballots cast by people who were ineligible to vote.

Chris McDaniel said his supporters continue to look for evidence of voters who participated in the state's Democratic primary on June 3 and then voted in the Republican runoff primary on Tuesday, which would not be permitted by Mississippi law.

"We've already found more than 1,000 examples of that in one county alone," McDaniel said in an interview Thursday night on Fox News' Hannity show. "We're talking about widespread irregularities, ineligible voters that should not have been there in the first place."

In a bitterly fought contest, Cochran edged McDaniel by fewer than 7,000 votes out of more than 370,000 cast - a dramatic increase over the 313,000 votes cast in the earlier primary election.
As I've said before, I don't like open primaries and I sympathize with Republican arguments that they should be allowed to select their candidate within their own caucus. But it's awfully rich to watch McDaniel explicitly try to disallow every last Democratic vote, almost all of them African-Americans. He's morally outraged by it:

McDaniel attacked his opponent's strategy for attracting Democratic voters.

"They were pushed there by an overt action, an aggressive action on the part of Senator Cochran's campaign that was filled with race-baiting, lies, distortions," McDaniel said in the television interview.

"He literally ran the latter three weeks on food stamps," McDaniel added. "He ran on voter suppression, and he ran on pork."
There's a large part of me that wants to see Mississippi Republicans get what they want. Most of the "pork" coming in to Mississippi isn't going to African-American communities: it's going to well-heeled connected families and corporations, as well as the military. If they want to elect a Senator who will destroy the state by preventing any federal largesse from coming in, who are we to stop them?

From the "duh" files

by digby

This is a shockingly overdue move, but welcome nonetheless:

U.S. regulators are studying whether restrictions on marijuana should be eased, a step toward decriminalizing the drug at the federal level.

The Food and Drug Administration is conducting an analysis at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s request on whether the U.S. should downgrade the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, said Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs at the FDA, at a congressional hearing.

Is it possible that US federal drug policy is finally becoming a tiny bit more sane?

Update: Probably not just yet ...

Never mind ...

by digby

This has to be one of the worst predictions in history:
"It is not to be supposed," wrote a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian analysing the significance of the assassination 100 years ago on Saturday, "that the death of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand will have any immediate or salient effect on the politics of Europe."

Thirty-seven days later, Britain declared war on Germany and Europe was plunged into a worldwide conflict in which more than 16 million people died in four years.

That's from a piece in the Guardian commemorating the beginning of WWI by discussing how wrong the paper was in its early assumptions. It's fascinating. If you want to see an example of everything going to hell in a hurry, read about that war...

Knowing who your friends are

by digby

Many of us were sorely disappointed this week to see the Human Rights Campaign endorse Republican Senator Susan Collins who has a stalwart supporter of gay rights opposing her for office, Shenna Bellows.(She's not just a supporter but an accomplished organizer who helped get marriage equality passed by referendum in Maine.) Collins, on the other hand, only belatedly decided a couple of days ago that it was ok for gay people to marry after all.

Here's Howie Klein a past recipient of one of HRC's highest awards:
I heard about HRC endorsing Susan Collins again a few hours ago. It seems to have surprised a lot of people. It would have surprised me if they hadn't. Susan Collins and HRC are made for each other. Don't they always. Last time, in fact, was the same year they chose not to endorse Tammy Baldwin's congressional election, the same year I removed them from my will. I dug this up from a post I wrote this just over 8 years ago, May 30, 2006:
Because I was lucky enough to have had something of a reputation as an enlightened corporate leader for several years, my mantle is filled with awards from progressive public advocacy groups like the ACLU, GLAAD, People For the American Way and HRC. Actually my mantle used to have an HRC award on it. But a little over a week ago HRC endorsed Lieberman over clear, enlightened, unambiguously progressive and pro-gay Ned Lamont. So I took the award down and put it in a box where no one-- including, or especially, myself-- will see it.

In 1997 I had been so proud to accept HRC's Leadership Equality Award "for outstanding corporate leadership and dedication to the gay and lesbian community." My mother and my grandmother were kvelling and my boss, the Chairman of Warner Bros, was beaming at my side when I went up to make my speech. Last week I thought about calling friends and family over and having a smashing-up ceremony but I decided to just wait and see if HRC changes and gravitates more towards their roots as real agents for change and leaves the severely compromised kiss-up politics that pervades the sick, sick system Inside the Beltway to others. I'm not overly optimistic. HRC's fancy new 8-story building symbolizes their institutional self-perpetuating role inside that insider game.
Two years later, I found that award and chopped it up with an axe when HRC endorsed Susan Collins in her race against Tom Allen. Inside the crazy world known as "Inside-the-Beltway," Collins was deemed to be "good... for a Republican" on gay issues. Rep. Allen was perfect on gay issues as a human being and as a Democrat.
So, this is nothing new. It's actually indicative of a certain strain among liberal institutions in Washington which seem to crave bipartisanship for its own sake, even when it's unnecessary and will make them no allies for the causes they espouse. (And it's not just gay organizations --- NARAL, among others, has done the same.)

Conservative organizations rarely do this. Imagine an anti-gay marriage group endorsing a Democrat who merely uttered a few words indicating that she might not be fully on board (while voting with the Party down the line) over a true believer. It wouldn't happen because their donors and supporters would be appalled.

This article proves once and for all that progressives should know up front that they will not necessarily be rewarded for championing basic human rights against people who want to deny them:
It was a slap in the face.” Steven Levine is remembering that day in 2006 when President George W. Bush took the stage in a small-town school gym in Indiana. It was October 28, right before the midterm elections, and Levine was a 22-year-old White House advance aide. He’d been camped out in Sellersburg all week, working to get the details just right for Bush’s campaign rally. The flags hung just so, the big presidential seal on the podium. Then Bush started talking, his standard stump speech about taxes and supporting the troops. But a new applause line took Levine by surprise. “Just this week in New Jersey,” the president said, “another activist court issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman, and should be defended. I will continue to appoint judges who strictly interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.”
The crowd loved it. Levine was crushed.

He was gay and working for a Republican and convinced it was possible to be both at the same time.

Like dozens of other gay colleagues in the Bush White House, many of them closeted, Levine had been sure that Bush himself was personally tolerant even if the GOP was not—and uncomfortable with gay-bashing as a way to win elections. But this was a rebuff, and it was hard not to take it personally: “To be working extraordinarily hard with all of your energy, working through many nights for somebody that you believe in, and to hear that person that you work so hard for come out against something that you are.”

Levine knew, of course, that Bush had officially backed the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed amendment to the Constitution to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman. But this was also the president who had made combating AIDS in Africa a personal cause (later, at Levine’s urging, he would even decorate the White House North Portico with a giant red ribbon to mark World AIDS Day), who had met with previously ostracized gay Republican leaders and whose hard-line conservative vice president had an openly gay daughter. And besides, opposing gay marriage just “wasn’t a centerpiece of the campaign to date,” Levine recalled when we talked recently. “So it wasn’t something that I was expecting to have been sort of his rallying cry at that event.” 
Afterward, Levine made what small protest he could, telling his bosses he refused to work advance for future campaign events. Back in Washington, Levine says, “I told the folks in the [White House] advance office that I couldn’t do that anymore. … I told them why. These are my friends.”

“That was sort of my quiet way of objecting,” Levine recalls.
Levine stayed with Bush right up until the president hopped into the armored presidential limo for the ride to Barack Obama’s inauguration 27 months later. As the taillights disappeared down Pennsylvania Avenue, Levine left town. A few months later, one of his gay friends who had also worked in the White House sat down in front of Facebook and counted the Bush White House staffers he knew to be gay. He came up with at least 70 (only two of them women).
That's just depressing ...

The good news is that fighting for civil rights and civil liberties for everyone is its own reward. But there are lots of places to put your money and your time to that end. It's worth it to find those who have a holistic belief in the betterment of human kind in all respects.

Support Shenna Bellows. She's one of those people.


Classy as always

by digby

This is lovely:
"Obama and Boehner have proven once and for all that their talk of passing immigration reform amnesty, instead of enforcing America's existing border and immigration laws, only brings more unwanted and destructive illegal immigration!" Gheen said. "Instead of using our tax money to buy illegals 42,000 pairs of new underwear, we would like to send the illegals and DC politicians a message by mailing them our used underwear, and some of our pairs are in really bad shape due to the bad economy and all of the jobs illegal immigrants are taking from Americans."
This is in response to a line item budget request from the DHS for underwear (among many other things) to properly supply the facilities that are holding undocumented workers.

They believe these people aren't entitled to even basic human decency. It's sick.

Buy pitchfork futures

by digby

Reading the Nick Hanauer piece that David flags below, I can't help but be reminded of a little dust-up that happened back in 2010, when all the rich boys were whining to the newspapers about how tough it was to get by on their millions and how the plebes really didn't understand how much worse it was to lose some of your income when you're rich because you're used to having so much more than a poor person. I used to used the pitchfork metaphor quite often.

In fact, at one point, writing about a particularly annoying screed by Ben Stein,  I said "I'll be sharpening my pitchfork. After all, according to these people I've got nothing to lose," which evoked this response from conservative economist Tyler Cowan:
I read about this guy [me] and his pitchfork and it genuinely scared me, especially his description of Ben Stein and his intermingling of the political and the aesthetic.
I responded to that with a little reprise of Ben Stein's greatest hits as a celebrity and actor and a political commentator.  Talk about intermingling the political and the aesthetic ...

Anyway, at the time I made this point, which I think Nick Hanauer would appreciate:
But Cowan's argument [is] about whether or not people have a moral right to complain about money if they are better off than some portion of the population and I'm sure there is an interesting philosophical argument to be had about that. But that's not really the point. Perhaps these people do have a right to complain without issuing a disclaimer that there are others who are worse off than they are. But regardless of where you come down in the moral argument, I think there's little debate among decent people that it's just plain tacky for people in the upper one percent to publicly complain about the fact that after saving 60k a year, paying for their million dollar home, fancy educations and servants that they don't have much money left over for their well-deserved $200 dinners, much less taxes. Not to mention that it's also just plain stupid to rub salt in the wounds of millions who lost their jobs and homes and futures in this stalled economy. The arch comment about pitchforks was meant to convey where this level of arrogant stupidity leads.

This is one of the things that's puzzled me the most in the last couple of years. It's one thing for the wealthy to lobby the government on their own behalf. There's nothing new or even controversial in that. It's always been the case. But it's quite another for them to lobby the public with endless plaintive wails about how hard they have it in a time of economic crisis. They are in better shape than any time in history. Their tax rates are the envy of wealthy people all over the industrialized world. They have the leaders of both parties tied up in knots trying to keep the metaphorical pitchforks at bay. And still it's not enough. They seem to need sympathy from the proles --- their millions just aren't enough to keep them warm at night.

If they'd kept a low profile and worked the politics solely behind the scenes, they'd probably get off with a modest tax hike, as few regulations as possible and they'd be back in business collecting their vastly outsized portion of the nation's wealth with little notice. If they'd thrown a couple of sacrificial lambs to the slaughter and gone on a Celebrity rehab Mea Culpa tour, even better. Instead they keep whining and shrieking (and lying) about how unfair it is for them to pay slightly higher taxes on their bloated wealth, while the average worker is experiencing a huge, probably unrecoverable, contraction in their fortunes and expectations. It's unnecessary and shortsighted and it only provides more evidence that the failure of the financial system wasn't a fluke --- it was because the wealthy elite aren't as smart as they think they are.

This is a simple equation: when the majority of the population is hurting economically and your biggest problem is being unable to keep up with the Hiltons, it's the better part of valor to STFU and suffer in silence. If you want to know why people have no faith in the elite institutions, this is exhibit one: those who run them seem to have the emotional maturity of 15 year old kids. 

Hanauer has his work cut out for him if he expects to make the capitalist's smartest self-interested case against being a total greedhead. I'm not sure this generation of Marie Antoinettes are reachable. And they're intent upon taking the rest of us down with them.

The best play for a wily capitalist is to buy pitchfork futures ...