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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Corporate Sponsors Leave ALEC and Rush. What We Learn  by Spocko

The other day Google announced it will be leaving ALEC. "Google becomes latest company to abandon right-wing ALEC."

This is a big deal. It comes on the heels of a number of other corporations like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo! having left ALEC.

These things don't just happen magically. There are a lot of people who have worked very hard to make that happen. Here is a list of just some of them from the letter they sent to the Google folks earlier this month. 

I don't know all the people behind those groups, although I can personally point to my friends at both the Center for Media and Democracy for their steller Alex Exposed work, and my friends at Color of Change, who earlier got corporations to peel off ALEC following the Trayvon Martin shooting

I think it's important to acknowledge this success and see what we can learn from it.  Like the actions used to get advertisers to leave Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other RW radio hosts, part of this is educating sponsors and advertisers about the person or entity's comments and actions so people can decide they don't want to taint their brand with the association.

We often think that if we just give people the facts they will make the right decision. That does apply in some cases, especially when dealing with Vulcans. Other times we think people only make decisions to maximize revenue, and that's true when dealing with Ferengi. But humans are more complex, and we need to look at and combine multiple methods to persuade, convince or pressure. 

I listened to the Diane Rhem show where Eric Schmidt talked about ALEC. Here is his actual ALEC comment: (emphasis mine)

I'm curious to know if Google is still supporting ALEC, which is that fund lobbyist in D.C. that are funding climate change deniers.  
We funded them as part of a political game for something unrelated. I think the consensus within the company was that that was sort of a mistake. And so we're trying to not do that in the future.
And how did you get involved with them in the first place? And were you then disappointed in what you saw?
Well, the company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts. What a shock. And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring. And the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people. They're just literally lying.
This comment is great, but for us to learn something about why efforts to use the Spocko Method to alert advertisers and sponsors works, it helps to listen to other parts of the show. 

That’s great. Is it different when you're thinking about millennials? Are they perhaps more open to the kinds of ideas that Google has come to stand for?
Certainly, the millennials that we recruit, hire and so forth, in every way, they seem better than my generation. They're better prepared, they're better educated, they're more collaborative than my generation and they're more socially conscious. They don't want to spend their time working for the man in some cog in a wheel doing one task. They want to feel that there's a social purpose to what they're doing, that they're improving the world in some way.
And, indeed, you'll look in tech companies, many of them have very sophisticated corporate responsibility programs or branding around trying to help. And that's as much to keep the employees motivated as it is for good customer relationships.
Now I know Eric, and have worked with him and Google before, so I know that what he is saying is accurate for Google. But it also applies to people in lots of other companies. 

This is not true of all companies or all people, but the other thing that is not true of all companies is the idea that a public corporation has one, and only objective--to maximize shareholder value. Lynn Stout talked about that myth on Virtually Speaking from her book The Shareholder Value Myth.

What tipped Google over the edge into leaving ALEC? I don't know exactly, but his answers give us clues. The lying, the hurting children and grandchildren are a big part of it. Then the key phrase, "we should not be aligned with such people."

The lying part goes against the "fact-based decision making" model you might expect from a science/engineering/computer company. But you also see how personal, emotional and other values come into the decision.

If you did some reading (or listen to NPR) you would know that Eric and Wendy Schmidt started the Schmidt Family Foundation whose webpage says,
Our vision is a heralthy, vibrant society that values functioning ecosystems, active civic engagement and equity for all.
In addition, Wendy was a founding member of Climate Central  "... an organization that combines an expert media team with the work of experts using the newest science to measure and describe climate change."

CEOs aren't always the final decider, but when you can line up multiple reasons ranging from financial through emotional and into brand image they can be convinced to take a different course of action.

ALEC and Rush appeal to people's most selfish impulses. They use greed, fear and ignorance to get what they want. They want us to believe that everyone thinks like they do, when in fact it is a self-selected minority that holds these beliefs. They say if you only believe them, you will be among society's winners.

But when we go to the interested third parties and educate them, many of those real winners are disgusted with what they hear. Combining that education with appeals to both personal and stated corporate values systems and you have a solid package to help them decide to walk away.

If you want to convince people within the corporate form to walk away from a right wing media personality or a right wing legislation bill mill, learn who they are, what they say their company is about and ALL the things that they care about. We have lots of ways to find that out now, just Google them.

Billo has a little tantrum

by digby

One would be tempted to think he has realized that he's making a total fool of himself which is why he's being so defensive.  But he's always like this:

“Mr. Colbert and others of his ilk have no bleepin' clue how to fight the jihad. They don’t know anything," the Fox News host said on "The O'Reilly Factor." "And when somebody gets beheaded, their reaction is ‘Oh, that’s bad!’ But by being completely vacant, it doesn’t stop these people from mocking ideas that might have some value, might solve some complex problems.”

"Because in the world of the ideologue, where Colbert lives, solutions don't really matter," he added.

O'Reilly has boasted that both Erik Prince, the former CEO of the notorious Blackwater USA security firm, and Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger endorsed his plan.
Point, set match. Or in other words:

If you missed the Colbert bit, it's priceless:

Colbert whipped out his elementary school notebook last week on "The Colbert Report" to share his own plan for a team in O'Reilly's "fantasy warfare league," arguing that the "mutant double ninja super soldiers with laser nunchucks" he drew in fourth grade would be more efficient than the Fox host's mercenary army.

"As long as we're pretending there's a way to fight a war that doesn't involve sacrifice and that the American people and politicians don't have to feel any responsibility for, we need to think bigger -- like maybe my invisible bomb that blows up only bad guys," he said.

Sadly there are people who think that already exists:

The answer to those questions may well involve the use of force on a limited but immediate basis, in both countries. Enough force to remind all parties that we can, from the air, see and retaliate against not only Al Qaeda members, whom our drones track for months, but also any individuals guilty of mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. Enough force to compel governments and rebels alike to the negotiating table. And enough force to create a breathing space in which decent leaders can begin to consolidate power.

Now I'm worried about the president's safety #secretservicewingnuts

by digby

Ok, I'll admit I haven't been as freaked out about the incursion into the White House as some people. But if the fellow who wrote this op-ed for the Washington Post is indicative of the sort of people who are protecting the president, I am now truly afraid for him:

Pierson should be replaced and the next director should come from outside the Secret Service, with the deputy director remaining an agent. In this role, a true leader, not a bureaucrat, is needed. Someone like Florida congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West would be perfect for the role. West has successfully demonstrated that he possesses the leadership skills of a combat officer as well as managerial and diplomatic skills of a congressman, exactly the traits needed in the next director. Highly competent and beholden to no one in the Secret Service, he would be a superb director.
This means this ex Secret Service (and CIA???) agent is a fringe right wing nutball.

Allen West has said more than once that Generals “have to be very careful about blindly following a commander in chief that really does not have the best intent for our military.” I don't think he'd be an especially reliable person to put in charge of protecting the President he calls a "socialist" and whose voters he thinks should "get out" of the United States.

But that will never happen. Allen West will spend the rest of his days among the Tea Partiers making big money ripping off the sad sacks who like what he has to say. But it is somewhat concerning that right wing extremists would be among the people protecting any president. We already knew about Gary Aldrich, the lunatic FBI agent who made a tidy living after retirement claiming the Clintons put condoms and hash pipes on the White house Christmas tree. And now we have another one.

How many are there?

Working themselves into an early grave

by digby

Here are some statistics on the lazy American worker who could get rich if she only worked as hard as Mitt Romney:

American workers are putting in more and more hours each week, as the supposedly 40-hour workweek has stretched to 47 hours. At the same time, they’re getting very little paid time off of work to recharge:

As you can see, it's going the wrong way. That's the beauty of keeping unemployment high. Makes the workers nice and docile when you take away pay and benefits.

It's not a religion problem it's a species problem

by digby

There's an awful lot of talk these days about religions of peace vs religions of war and how some are intrinsically violent and others aren't. It's all nonsense. Right now, for a variety of reasons, Islam features some violent extremism on the fringe which happens to be in a part of the world where everyone has an interest. But you only have to look at history to see that all religions have their moments of violence. Even Buddhism, which I think we all would assume is one of the most peaceful religions in the modern world, can be drawn into violence:
Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?

This is happening in two countries separated by well over 1,000 miles of Indian Ocean - Burma and Sri Lanka. It is puzzling because neither country is facing an Islamist militant threat. Muslims in both places are a generally peaceable and small minority.

In Sri Lanka, the issue of halal slaughter has been a flashpoint. Led by monks, members of the Bodu Bala Sena - the Buddhist Brigade - hold rallies, call for direct action and the boycotting of Muslim businesses, and rail against the size of Muslim families.

While no Muslims have been killed in Sri Lanka, the Burmese situation is far more serious. Here the antagonism is spearheaded by the 969 group, led by a monk, Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting religious hatred. Released in 2012, he has referred to himself bizarrely as "the Burmese Bin Laden".

March saw an outbreak of mob violence directed against Muslims in the town of Meiktila, in central Burma, which left at least 40 dead.

Tellingly, the violence began in a gold shop. The movements in both countries exploit a sense of economic grievance - a religious minority is used as the scapegoat for the frustrated aspirations of the majority.

On Tuesday, Buddhist mobs attacked mosques and burned more than 70 homes in Oakkan, north of Rangoon, after a Muslim girl on a bicycle collided with a monk. One person died and nine were injured.
I don't think the point is that because these Buddhists are acting violent that Buddhism is a violent religion. Obviously. But it does happen even to the most peaceful of them. All you have to do is look at what was done in the name of Christ the prince of peace to understand that.

Last night on CNN, I saw one of the most disturbingly obtuse interviews I've ever seen on cable TV (and that's saying something.) It featured Don Lemon, Alisyn Camerota and Reza Aslan, who tried in vain to make the point I just made above and was met by a brick wall of stupidity:

Alisyn CAMEROTA: Defenders of Islam insist it is a peaceful religion. Others disagree and point to the primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities.

LEMON: So let's discuss this now.

We're joined now by Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions, a professor at University of California, Riverside, and the author of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth."

Let's talk about this because it's a very interesting conversation every time we have it. Before we get into this discussion, I want to play with you this clip from Bill Maher's show just this Friday night. Here it is.


MAHER: President Obama keeps insisting that ISIS is not Islamic. Well, maybe they don't practice the Muslim faith the same way he does.


MAHER: But if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS; it has too much in common with ISIS. There's so much talk -- you can applaud. Sure.



LEMON: He went on for a good five or six minutes about that, talking about how women are -- circumcision for women, not respecting the rights of women, not respecting the rights of gay people. And what's your reaction? And then we will talk.

REZA ASLAN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE: Well, I like Bill Maher. I have been on his show a bunch of times. He's a comedian.

But, you know, frankly, when it comes to the topic of religion, he's not very sophisticated in the way that he thinks. I mean, the argument about the female genital mutilation being an Islamic problem is a perfect example of that. It's not an Islamic problem. It's an African problem.


CAMEROTA: Well, wait, wait, wait.


CAMEROTA: Hold on. Hold on a second Reza, because he says it's a Muslim country problem. He says that, in Somalia...

ASLAN: Yes, but that's -- yes. And that's actually empirically factually incorrect.

It's a Central African problem. Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It's a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.

But, again, this is the problem, is that you make these facile arguments that women are somehow mistreated in the Muslim world -- well, that's certainly true in many Muslim-majority countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Do you know that Muslims have elected seven women as their heads of state in those Muslim-majority countries?

How many women do we have as states in the United States?


LEMON: Reza, be honest, though. For the most part, it is not a free and open society for women in those states.

ASLAN: Well, it's not in Iran. It's not in Saudi Arabia.

It certainly is in Indonesia and Malaysia. It certainly is in Bangladesh. It certainly is in Turkey. I mean, again, this is the problem is that you're talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes very easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush by saying, well, in Saudi Arabia, they can't drive and so therefore that is somehow representative of Islam.

It's representative of Saudi Arabia.


CAMEROTA: But hold on. I think that Bill Maher's point is that these aren't extremists. We often talk about extremists and that we should crack down on extremists and why aren't Muslims speaking out about extremists?

In Saudi Arabia, when women can't vote and they can't drive and they need permission from their husband, that's not extremists. Why aren't we talking more about what...


CAMEROTA: That's not extremist. That's commonplace. Why don't we talk more about the commonplace wrongs that are happening in some of these countries?


ASLAN: It's extremist when compared to the rights and responsibilities of women, Muslim women around the world. It's an extremist way of dealing with it.


LEMON: But it's not extremist in that country, in Saudi Arabia. That's the norm.


LEMON: That's what she is saying.

ASLAN: Oh, no, it's not.

I mean, look, Saudi Arabia is one of the most, if not the most, extremist Muslim country in the world. In the month that we have been talking about ISIS and their terrible actions in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia, our closest ally, has beheaded 19 people. Nobody seems to care about that because Saudi Arabia sort of preserves our national interests.


ASLAN: You know, but this is the problem, is that these kinds of conversations that we're having aren't really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We're not talking about women in the Muslim world. We're using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That's actually the definition of bigotry.

LEMON: All right, fair enough.

Let's listen to Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations today.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: So when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS, and ISIS is Hamas. And what they share in common, all militant Islamists share in common.


LEMON: So, Reza, the question at the bottom of the screen that everyone is looking at, does Islam promote violence?

ASLAN: Islam doesn't promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you're a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. There are Buddhist -- marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful. And that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.

CAMEROTA: So, Reza, you don't think that there's anything more -- there's -- the justice system in Muslim countries you don't think is somehow more primitive or subjugates women more than in other countries?

ASLAN: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries.

I just told you that, Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men. In Turkey, they have had more female representatives, more female heads of state in Turkey than we have in the United States.

LEMON: Yes, but in Pakistan...


ASLAN: Stop saying things like "Muslim countries."

LEMON: In Pakistan, women are still being stoned to death.

ASLAN: And that's a problem for Pakistan. You're right. So, let's criticize Pakistan.


LEMON: I just want to be clear on what your point is, because I thought you and Bill Maher were saying the same thing. Your point is that Muslim countries are not to blame.

There is nothing particular, there's no common thread in Muslim countries, you can't paint with a broad brush that somehow their justice system or Sharia law or what they're doing in terms of stoning and female mutilation is different than in other countries like Western countries?

ASLAN: Stoning and mutilation and those barbaric practices should be condemned and criticized by everyone. The actions of individuals and societies and countries like Iran, like Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia must be condemned, because they don't belong in the 21st century.

But to say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same, as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though somehow what is happening in the most extreme forms of these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what's happening in every other Muslim country, is, frankly -- and I use this word seriously -- stupid. So let's stop doing that.

LEMON: OK, Reza. Let's -- I want you to listen to Benjamin Netanyahu again. This is actually the one I wanted you to hear.

ASLAN: Yes, the ISIS.


NETANYAHU: But our hopes and the world's hopes for peace are in danger, because everywhere we look, militant Islam is on the march. It's not militants. It's not Islam. It's militant Islam. And, typically, its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one.


LEMON: He's making a clear distinction there. He says it's not militants, it's not Islam; it's militant Islam. Do you understand his distinction there? Is he correct?

ASLAN: Well, he's correct in talking about militant Islam being a problem.

He is absolutely incorrect in talking about ISIS equaling Hamas. That's just ridiculous. No one takes him seriously when he says things like that. And, frankly, it's precisely why, under his leadership, Israel has become so incredibly isolated from the rest of the global community.

Those kinds of statements are illogical, they're irrational, they're so obviously propagandistic. In fact, he went so far as to then bring up the Nazis, which has become kind of a verbal tick for him whenever he brings up either Hamas or ISIS.

Again, these kinds of oversimplifications I think only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS is a problem. Al Qaeda is a problem. These militant Islamic groups like Hamas, like Hezbollah, like the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn't actually help us to deal with them when, instead of talking about rational conflicts, rational criticisms of a particular religion, we instead so easily slip into bigotry by simply painting everyone with a single brush, as we have been doing in this conversation, mind you.

LEMON: Well, we're just asking the questions, Reza. And you're answering. And I think you answered very fairly, and we appreciate it.

Thank you, Reza Aslan.

CAMEROTA: We appreciate your perspective...

ASLAN: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: ... and helping everyone understand your perspective.
I thought he was going to come through the screen and I don't blame him. Being interviewed by Beavis and Butthead had to be frustrating.

I'm not a religious person myself and really don't have a stake in defending any of them. I find an awful lot of allegedly religious behavior to be hypocritical and somewhat obscure. However, it's clear to me that the underlying problem of religious wars of the past or the violent religious extremism of the present cannot be attributed to one religion or another. This is a species problem --- the human species. We will always find a reason to fight one way or another if that's what we want to do. Religion is just one of many reasons we come up with to justify it.

You can see the interview here

Mitt's "reflection"

by digby

David Corn reports on Mitt Romney's ongoing flirtation with another losing presidential race and notes that Romney continues to flail about trying to explain why he said that 47% of Americans (all 145 million of 'em) are a bunch of moochers and looters. He goes over all the explanations, quasi-apologies, rationalizations and mea culpas he's made over the years. And then reveals a new one courtesy of Mark Liebovich who quotes him saying this:

Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.

"My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man," Romney said. "If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man." I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the "47 percent" line by a ranting supporter.
Liebovich says he can't ever remember Romney saying this before and Corn can find no record of it. Corn concludes:
To recap: Romney has gone from side-stepping the remark, to owning the thrust of this comment (though noting it was not well articulated), to saying he was wrong, to denying he said what he said (and contending his words were distorted), to claiming he was only mirroring the rambling remarks of a big-money backer. This last explanation is certainly not fair to the 1-percenter who merely expressed his very 1-percentish opinion. Does this mean that Romney was thrown off his game by a simple question—or that he was trying to suck up to a donor?

In the two years since Romney was caught on tape, he just cannot come up with a clear explanation of an easy-to-understand short series of sentences that were responsive to the question presented. But there is one possible explanation he hasn't yet put forward: He said what he believed.

Actually, I think he did admit it. He just said that if he had known that what he was saying would be seen by whole world he wouldn't have said what he said. It's possible that Mitt is less honest in private than in public but that would make him a unique person indeed.

I'd guess that the only part of it he doesn't agree with is the number --- I'm sure he believes  it's much higher. He's rich so therefore anyone can become rich so if you aren't rich it's because you just don't apply yourself and work as hard. That's how conservative rich people think.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Corn provides the "rambling" question for you to judge:
"For the last three years, all everybody's been told is, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of you.' How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you've got to take care of yourself?"

Nothing rambling about that. There are dozens of ways Mitt could have answered that question even if he were "reflecting back" the man's attitude. There was nothing there about the 47% or the ignorant trope that almost half the country is a bunch of freeloaders who have no stake in the nation because they allegedly pay no taxes. Mitt brought that into it all by himself:

"There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what ... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... and so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

And Mitt has a funny way of "reflecting back" this man's attitude. He was asked how he was going to convince voters that they would have to fend for themselves. Presumably even this man felt that they were part of the body politic and should be convinced. Mitt basically said, "to hell with them --- they're a bunch of losers an there's no point in even talking to them." That was as much a problem as the 47% comment itself --- the fact that he thought they weren't even worth his time to try to convince.

I hope Mitt runs. The 1% should have someone who personally embodies their concerns fighting it out among everyone else. It's clarifying.


They won't be dissed, Mr President

by digby

After all President Obama has done to rehab the reputations of the intelligence services and make them feel secure, this is how they treat him:

By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.

But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

He obviously made the foolish mistake of telling a truth so obvious that he didn't realize it could possibly offend the honor of the Deep State officials. This nonsense explains why Obama has recently been sounding like a cheap Vin Diesel impersonator.

Here's the thing: people are trying to make this the equivalent of Bush blowing off the intelligence that said BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO ATTACK INSIDE THE UNITED STATES, even telling the fellow who delivered it, "fine, you've covered your ass..." The difference is that ISIS has not attacked the United States and neither is it likely to any time soon. It attacked cities in Iraq. Surely anyone should be able to see the difference.

The article goes on to show just how confused the intelligence was along with all the geo-political complications. Ask yourself: would anyone in the United States have endorsed Obama going back to Iraq or invading Syria or even responding to any of this with a sense of emergency a year ago? Please. Even if they were monitoring every communication (which I assume they are ... ahem) the US really couldn't do a damn thing about it to prevent it. They had to succeed to some extent to get the kind of attention that would show Republicans that they finally have the foreign policy hook they've needed since the Iraq debacle. Without that, they weren't going to be on board and getting Democrats on board isn't much easier. And then came the execution videos, which kicked it into high gear.

I still believe that Obama was reluctant to get into this.(And yes, I know that makes me a naive Obamabot, blah, blah,blah.) Say what you will about him but he has not been one to get all excited about war plans. (He's more of a covert, clandestine kind of guy.) But, as with all presidents regardless of their party, once the war machine gears start moving there's only so much you can do. And then the playbook clearly requires that you start flagwaving and saying a bunch of jingoistic nonsense. It doesn't strike me as particularly natural for Obama so I suspect he said what he said about the intelligence underestimating the threat of ISIS simply because the crap he was spewing was so foreign to him.

Seriously, he's got many flaws as I've endlessly documented on this blog. But being a jigoistic fool isn't usually one of them. It just goes to show you that no good deed goes unpunished: he let the CIA off the hook for a lot of nefarious BS. And yet all he had to do was say they made one mistake and they are running to press to stab him in the back. A lot of good it did him.

First they came for the air traffic controllers ...

by Tom Sullivan

"Nothing makes people more stupid and foolish than money and fear,” the creator of The Wire told the Guardian. David Simon spoke about what drives him, and about his new mini-series, Show Me a Hero.
Set in the 1980s, the show examines a community split over a plan to build public housing in the upscale -- predominantly white -- east side of Yonkers, NY. It was a breakdown driven not only by race, but by fear and money.

Simon sees the dispute as allegorical of the political dysfunction in an America that no longer knows how to solve its problems. The period coincides, he believes, with the breakdown of the social contract in America, the triumph of capital over labor and the unpairing of tides and boats that had risen together in a postwar America we had come to believe was normal.

This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode. 
“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.
“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”
A guy I knew in the T-party once insisted that there is no society, just as Simon describes. And if there is none, by that logic how could he bear any responsibility for it? T-party members may clasp copies of the U.S. Constitution to their breasts, but they've lost its spirit after rejecting the document's first three words. There is no we in their America, just I and me. And community? Sounds too much like communism. And an excuse for low-caste Irresponsibles to collect a government check for not working.

The view portends a grim, decidedly unexceptional American future in which doomsday preppers barricade and arm themselves against their neighbors while the rich retreat to lush, gated sanctuaries protected from both by armed security.

The thing is, as more Americans slip out of the middle class and find themselves struggling to get by, they are catching on to the barrenness of that future. The Moral Monday movement caught on by bringing together a diverse community to call out the depravity of the ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ culture of Wall Street's Jordan Belforts, and among ALEC corporations out to strip America for parts.

But David Simon doesn't believe We the People are quite there yet.

“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’. 
“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”
First they came for the air traffic controllers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an air traffic controller.
Then they came for the factory workers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a factory worker.
Then they came for the schoolteachers, the firefighters, the cops, the academics ... .


Monday, September 29, 2014

Headline 'o the day

by digby

Rand Paul, moderate centrist

by digby

Ryan Lizza has published a fascinating profile of Senator Paul that includes quite a bit of interesting info. I thought I'd just start with what the political media thinks is most important about it, using Chris Cilizza's rundown of the five most important quotes in the article.  I'll just pick two.

Here's a note on Rand's position within the party these days, starting with this quote:
"I’ve seen him grow and I’ve seen him mature and I’ve seen him become more centrist. I know that if he were President or a nominee I could influence him, particularly some of his views and positions on national security. He trusts me particularly on the military side of things, so I could easily work with him. It wouldn’t be a problem.” -- Arizona Sen. John McCain
Chris Cilizza says:
Rand Paul has spent much of his first four years in the Senate -- and especially the last two as it became clearer and clearer he was running for president -- trying to reduce some of the heat directed toward him (and his father) by the Republican establishment. He knows people like McCain are ever going to endorse him for president. (My guess on a McCain endorsement? Rubio.) But, Rand also believes that having people like McCain -- and McConnell -- actively working either behind the scenes or in front of them against you is a recipe to lose. (Ted Cruz, on the other hand, views this antagonistic relationship as a key to victory for him.) This McCain quote suggests that Paul's effort have paid off; he's never going to be McCain's guy but neither will the Arizona Republican go out of his way to say or do things to try and keep the nomination from Paul if it seems obvious the race is headed that way.
Well that's a relief. Cilizza is also convinced that Paul is not a libertarian ideologue and is more of a pragmatic conservative --- or at least is smart enough to hide his "true beliefs" in order to win. (At which point I guess his followers are supposed to believe he'll take off the mask and become the one true libertarian they voted for. Sure he will.)
“Ron was always content to tell the truth as best he understood it, and he saw that as the point of his politics. Rand is the guy who is committed to winning.” -- Paul family strategist Jesse Benton
Cilizza says:
This gets to the core of the difference between Rand and Ron Paul. It's not -- as Lizza correctly notes in his piece -- fundamentally about their policy views on which there is considerable overlap. "They don’t really have differences," Carol Paul, wife of Ron and mother of Rand, told Ryan. "They might have fractional differences about how to do things, but the press always want to make it into some kind of story that isn’t there.” The real difference between the two men is stylistic and focus-oriented. Many Republican strategists admit that if Ron Paul had simply refused to go down the rabbit hole of his foreign policy views (over and over again) during nationally televised debates, he might well have won a primary or caucus in 2012. Rand Paul, by contrast, understands the need to pivot off of topics where his views are not entirely aligned with the people he is trying to woo.
And apparently he also understands the total lack of professionalism on the part of the political press which will allow him to hide from his own record, a tactic Cilizza interestingly sees as a matter of style and focus rather than character. (Whether other Republicans will allow it is another question.)

I happen to think there's very little difference between Paul and the average Tea Party Republican which means that he will slash domestic government programs to the bone if he can, he will end as many regulations as he can, he will end as much taxation for the "job creators" as he can --- all good libertarian/conservative economic ideals. He will speak of religious "freedom" as it's now defined, which means that he will support the notions that the government has no ability to create or enforce laws that offend someone's religion while religion, on the other hand, has the "freedom" to insist that others abide by their beliefs. (Because otherwise they aren't free to practice their religion which requires them to compel others to follow their beliefs --- duh.) And he will also do whatever the national security state deems necessary because all presidents do that, regardless of party. There will not be any substantial advantage to voting for President Paul over President Cruz. (Well, maybe he would be less terrible on marijuana prosecutions.)

But from the looks of things, he's being positioned as the pragmatic centrist of the GOP presidential club. Which would be hilarious if it weren't so scary. It appears that in today's Village, any Republican who doesn't advocate capital punishment for pot smoking is now a moderate. Those goal posts just keep a-moving.

Can John Oliver Writer Scott Sherman Help Expose Gen. Zinni's Raytheon Connection? 

by Spocko

Hey Scott,

I'd love you to do a segment for John Oliver about how the network TV shows aren't telling the public that the retired generals selling the Syrian bombing and ISIS war actually work for the military contractors who profit from the war.
UPDATE: Cost of U.S. campaign against the Islamic State likely closing in on $1 billion

You might be thinking, "Didn't the New York Times already write this story after the Iraq war?" You are correct sir! It was written in 2008. Link  It was about the last war. Now there are all new retired generals for this war.

Here's the TLDR of Dan Bastow's Pulitzer winning article:
All the networks got busted for their military analysts having financial conflicts of interest.
Then why does Last Week Tonight need to do a segment? Because they are at it again. And they are ignoring the people calling them on it. That's why we need you.

Two weeks ago Lee Fang of The Nation wrote Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?  The retired generals going on the TV networks pushing for ISIS and Syrian bombing, drone strikes and more "boots on the ground." In most cases the networks didn't tell viewers that they actual worked for General Dynamics, Raytheon and whatever name Blackwater is calling itself this week.

Fang's piece built on an extensive 2013 report, Conflicts of Interest in the Syria Debate by the Public Accountability Initiative. I wrote to Fang and asked what the media response was. Nada.  The TV media ignore journalism critics because they can. "Ohh what are they going to do? Shame us in print? Ohhh I'm so scared." As you learned at the Daily show, it's harder for them to ignore comedy TV shows. That's why we need you.

They even tried to avoid the New York Times piece. My favorite comment from that piece was, "A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives 'refused to participate' in this article."

They had to deal with the Times piece because there was a financial conflict issue. Therefore the network lawyers, accountants and HR people were forced to act, even though the spokespeople didn't. And that is another reason we need you, not only will everyone at the networks watch the show, it now has a reputation of doing journalism and getting your viewers to act. (BTW, the FCC sends its hate.)

So how did the network's lawyers, accountants and HR people avoid the financial conflict of interest problems? Easy, they simply don't hire the generals to be their military analysts anymore! Clever boots eh?

Networks accountants love it, they save money and don't need to send out all those pesky 1099 forms! Plus, since the generals aren't employees, they don't have to follow any annoying HR internal guidelines, corporate ethics rules or SEC reporting rules for a publicly traded company. The retired generals are now just 'guests' with opinions!

What this tells us is that unless the TV networks have some sort of legal or financial pressure, they'll continue to cover for the people making money on this war.

But does it really matter if everyone knows? When I tell savvy news consumers this they say, 'Well duh, of course they work for a military contractor. So what? What general ISN'T for more war?"

It might be different if during this run up to the bombing and war the TV networks did even the minimal, "both sides" game. Did we hear from veterans against the war or historians talking about the disastrous blow back consequences of war?

Every time they talked about those ISIS beheadings did they 'balance' it with heart breaking videos of innocent children being killed by US drone strikes?

Why not? Because there is no money in peace for the network. Plus it might upset the former military guests, who count on the media to let them tell their story to the public like one big infomercial.
(Side note: If these "news" shows were classified as an infomercial or as a celebrity endorsement, the FTC would be overseeing it. Fox News' own FTC Standards and Practices rules make it clear the lack of disclosure would not be allowed. See pages 6, 10, 11, 20 and 21)
For example, look at retired General Jack Keane. He's a Director of General Dynamics. He is paid in stock. More war, more product sold, stock goes up -- he makes more money.

TV journalists aren't identifying these connections even though:
They'll blow off the journalists, the FCC and ignore their own admission of blowing it last time. They follow FTC regulations for now because if they don't it costs them money.

But they won't blow off you guys. The next day all the internet will be aflame with the video, 'John Oliver Eviscerates TV Journalists' Excuses" or "Watch John Oliver Destroy Network News Divisions" And your readers will all be tweeting to the TV networks things like:
@ABC @GStephanopoulos When talking about #syriaairstrikes why don't you tell viewers Gen Zinni works for .@Raytheon, the missile's maker?
I'd like to think that massive public attention of their complacency would help because it would give the public something specific to ask the TV network journalists, producers and bookers to do, since, 'Do your fucking job!" isn't working.

As your old boss once said to the hosts on Crossfire, "Stop. You are hurting America." They are at it again. It's your turn now.

Who ya gonna call? (We ain't afraid 'o no terrorists)

by digby

Despite the authentic thrill of electing the first African American president, I was never a big believer in President Obama's liberalism. He always struck me as a slightly left of center, middle of the road guy whose paeans to "hope" and "change" in 2008 were meaningless slogans that did not add up to the progressive utopia so many assumed. I was hostile from the beginning to his persistence in believing he could transcend partisanship and his willingness to strike "grand bargains." I thought his unwillingness to pursue justice in the torture cases and his zeal to prosecute a covert war were indefensible.

But I always thought he was at least sensible in his rhetoric when it came to geo-politics and America's place in the world. He certainly didn't seem eager to throw his big, swinging, American hegemony all over the place. Unfortunately, that's changed. This administration is now employing the worst Hollywood dialog we've seen since Bush was babbling about "smokin' 'em outta their caves" and Cheney was droning on about torture being a "no-brainer."

This is from the 60 Minutes interview where Steve Kroft pointed out that, once again, the US seems to be bearing the majority of the burden in the latest war:
“Steve, that’s always the case. That’s always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation; we have capacity no one else has; our military is the best in the history of the world. When trouble comes up anywhere in the world,they don’t call Beijing, they don’t call Moscow — they call us.”
Groan. As Elias Isquith quipped:
Having reduced geopolitics to the level of “Ghostbusters” (because when there’s sectarian killing born from a centuries-long ethnic and cultural conflict in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?) Obama continued, “When there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge, making sure Haiti can rebuild.”
And then, (oh.my.dear.God) the president concluded with a flourish:
“That’s how we roll. That’s what makes us America."
Huh. I used to think that what made us America was our belief in the inalienable rights of every human being, our welcome of immigrants from around the world and the dream of a decent life for yourself and a chance for your children to do better than you did, democracy ...

But really, we're just a big old global first responder. With guns. A lot of guns.

Global solidarity on authoritarianism

by digby

I love this so much:

Those are protesters in Hong Kong using the same hands up sign used by the Ferguson protesters.

According to Vox it's unclear if these protesters are deliberately doing this as a sign of solidarity but even if the message, the message, whether in Ferguson or Hong Kong is exactly the same. Is it possible we are seeing the beginning of a global protest against authoritarian tactics?

The Obama Doctrine: We hit bad dudes

by digby

I asked my husband a week or so ago what thought about Khoresan and he said he'd never heard of them and wondered what kind of music they played. (True story.) He's well-informed about current events, reads the papers and everything. My point being that this is a very new phenomenon, one which we all first heard about just two weeks ago.

I've been writing about the oddness of this sudden revelation since I first heard about it:

So al Qaeda is actually the group that we must keep from killing us all in our beds, not ISIS? Just like we've been keeping them from killing us in our beds for 13 years?

Huh ...

I'm being facetious and it's probably inappropriate. But many of us have been pointing out for months the reason Al Qaeda split with ISIS was because it was being too brutal to fellow Muslims when al Qaeda's mission was to take on the Great Satan --- just as it has been for a decade and a half. In other words, little had changed for Americans in the threat department. Al Qaeda still wants to kill us but we've been pretty successful at keeping them from doing that. For some reason we needed a new boogeyman. I wonder why?

We've spent trillions on Homeland Security, outfitted every Barney Fife in the nation with robo-cop gear and allowed the government to spy on Americans at will.  I don't know about you but I kind of expect that all of that should actually be worth something. If we're going to run around tearing our hair out every time somebody puts out a scary video maybe it's time to re-evaluate that strategy. 

This is not to say that there isn't a threat for the people in the Middle East and there is a legitimate argument to be made that it requires intervention from outside the region lest the whole place blows up even further. (I'm not sure we won't make things worse --- we usually do -- but I understand the arguments for it.) What is galling is the fact that they continue to treat us like children and tell us spooky bedtime stories so they can scare us into supporting their commercial/geopolitical goals. Maybe those goals are worth pursuing but we'll never know because we're chasing evil Ninjas who are allegedly coming over the border to unleash mushroom clouds on American cities. 

I'm serious. This is what Fox News reporter Todd Starnes said on Hannity last night:

And frankly, I'm almost as disgusted that the American people continue to be thrilled at the prospect of kicking ass over some trumped up threat --- and yes, I do believe that a whole lot of us are anxious to get back to the business of ass-kicking. It's much more exciting than thinking about the wealthy elites stealing more and more of your meager earnings. But it's a dangerous and nasty way to entertain ourselves out of a nasty malaise. 

Al Qaeda has a strategy to create dramatic terrorist attacks on the West.  We've known this for a long, long time and have been spending trillions to protect ourselves from it for well over a decade. That has not changed.  ISIS is a different problem. The fact that the war hawks pimped this line about ISIS being worse than Al Qaeda should make everyone skeptical of what they are hearing about this whole thing --- and skeptical of the motivations behind it.  
How many times do we have to be lied to?
An then there was this:
Several of Mr. Obama’s aides said Tuesday that the airstrikes against the Khorasan operatives were launched to thwart an “imminent” terrorist attack, possibly using concealed explosives to blow up airplanes. But other American officials said that the plot was far from mature, and that there was no indication that Khorasan had settled on a time or location for the attack — or even on the exact method of carrying out the plot.

Some experts said it was more likely that American spy agencies had developed specific intelligence about the location of Mr. Fadhli and others, and that Mr. Obama had ordered the strike to kill the Khorasan operatives before they could scatter.

One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.
Again, WTF???

Something is very,very off about all of this. In this Intercept piece, Glenn Greenwald documents how this new threat exploded into the ether and it's fascinating. This really struck me:

Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian — the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September — published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group. Headlined “U.S. Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it noted that “several U.S. officials told reporters this week that the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to happen.” But now:

Senior U.S. officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the decision to attack the militants.

James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .

Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”

Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means…’imminent’” — a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.
"Bad dudes?" Really? Is that all it takes? The government reveals they've been tracking some "bad dudes" and decided to "hit them"? That wouldn't pass muster in a Screenwriting 101 class. In fact, it's right up there with the most puerile nonsense that ever came out of George W. Bush's mouth.

And James Comey doesn't know what the word "imminent" means which is kind of depressing. It's not as though we didn't recently have an arduous debate over this definition when the Bush administration stretched it to its limits it justify the invasion of Iraq. (Here's a bucket of lukewarm water Michael O'Hanlon on the subject if you don't believe me.) Or, as the Obama administration put it in their memo justifying the extra-juducial assassination of people overseas:
Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, the condition that an operational leader present an "imminent" threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.
Yes, that's from an official legal document prepared by the Obama administration. We have always been at war with Oceania.

It appears that the Obama administration has adopted a new doctrine that says "Don't worry your pretty little heads about this, we don't need no stinking dossiers, if they're a bad dude we hit 'em". So that's clear enough. They "hit" whomever they want to hit simply because they could do something bad someday. They are, after all, bad dudes.

Greenwald thinks the US has been flogging the "imminent"  Khoresan threat in order to get people riled up to support this bombing campaign. But I think it may be a bit more complicated.

Setting aside the propaganda purpose, which I agree is a big part of this, resting this Syrian operation on that "imminent"  legal doctrine is a bit precarious. This is a bombing campaign not an assassination. And it wouldn't have been a problem if the government hadn't spent weeks touting the fact that ISIS was so uniquely evil that it was even expelled from al Qaeda, (who were, by contrast, not such "bad dudes" after all.) If ISIS had still been painted as an offshoot of al Qaeda they could have just cited the 2001 AUMF and said they were chasing those familiar al-Qaeda bad dudes. And citing the Iraq war AUMF is also a stretch for bombing Syria. So, it seems logical that they might have wanted to gin up the threat of Khoresan --- which they clearly tie to al Qaeda --- as an alternative to cover their legal options.

This doesn't explain why they felt the need to call the threat "imminent" but the inconsistent statements among administration officials suggests that this was more a case of one hand not knowing what the other hand was justifying.  The fog of quasi-war and all that ...

None of us can know what really went on and we probably won't know for some time until enough people write their memoirs and tell us.  But we have been lied to so many times about this terrorist threat that we have a right --- a responsibility --- to look at these situations with skepticism and demand something more than a glib dismissal like this:
We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.
Basically, that Pentagon spokesman said this to the American people:
You are in what we call the reality-based community,people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ...

The progressive future: Shenna Bellows

by digby

Blue America sent this out to our members today. We're getting down to the wire and there are some candidates really worth supporting in this final stretch. Shenna Bellows is one of them:

It's almost the end of the quarter-- and you know what that means-- hundreds of e-mails from the DCCC and DSCC and their careerist candidates begging for money.

Please tell them you already gave-- through Blue America-- to individual candidates whose agendas you believe in and values you share.

As you probably know, we’ve supported Shenna Bellows' entirely grassroots campaign for Senate in Maine this cycle more than any other candidate, and now we’re asking you to step up again. She’s running as an outspoken, unapologetic progressive in a blue state that voted for President Obama twice.

Her opponent, Susan Collins, is out of step with Maine’s economic needs and won’t tell voters where she stands on the big issues. It’s time for Shenna to join progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Senate and give Maine a big upgrade in representation.

Shenna is running the kind of campaign that makes progressives stand up and cheer. She’s outraising Collins more than three to one in small-dollar donations, according to OpenSecrets, and she hasn’t taken a nickel of corporate PAC money.

She walked 350 miles across the state this summer to hear from real Mainers and bring their stories to Washington where they need to be heard. She’s running full steam ahead on universal health care, investing in our economy, a higher minimum wage, student loan reform, and a national Human Rights Act that extends Maine’s strong LGBT protections to every American man, woman and child.

In other words, as a first-time candidate, Shenna Bellows is setting a standard a lot of incumbents should be trying to meet.

Shenna’s a strong candidate because of her values and her background-- she’s the working class daughter of a carpenter and a home health care nurse-- but also because of her experience fighting for privacy and civil rights.

Those fights are hardly over in Washington, and we need her there fighting to restore our liberties. As the head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine for eight years, Shenna worked hard to protect the people of her state from law enforcement overreach. Her own website tells you everything you need to know:

Abuses of power like the Patriot Act, REAL ID, the NDAA, NSA spying, and domestic drone surveillance threaten our democracy. When the government spies on its own people, we, the people, lose trust in our government. We can restore trust and a sense of community by restoring our constitutional freedoms. 
In Maine, I led a coalition to pass groundbreaking privacy laws to require warrants before law enforcement accesses email or phone communications. As United States Senator, I will work with Republicans and Democrats alike to repeal the Patriot Act and restore checks and balances on government spying. I’m proud to have been called “the Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties,” and that’s exactly the kind of senator I intend to be.

Needless to say, you don’t find a record like that every day. We need Shenna Bellows in the Senate, standing with our most dependable leaders and bringing her passion and principles to a legislative body that’s short on both right now.

One last thing about this race you need to know: Susan Collins is nervous. When she started running a recent television ad trying to claim credit for ending the government shutdown, Shenna didn’t let it pass. She put out a web video telling voters the other half of the story-- the half where Susan Collins voted with the tea party to hold the government hostage and hurt businesses in her own state.

Now Susan Collins is backpedaling and trying to convince reporters her votes meant the opposite of what they meant. She can’t defend her record, so she’s trying to ignore it. Voters aren’t buying it, and we need to help Shenna hold her accountable for voting against her own state.

Shenna Bellows is the future of the U.S. Senate. She’s the future of progressive politics. There’s no one we’re more excited to support this year, and we hope you’ll join us-- right here and right now.

A protest made in Hong Kong

by Tom Sullivan

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue. As financial district crowds swelled Monday (reports conflict on this), riot police pulled back, CNN reported, to chants of "Stand down CY Leung!" (Leung is Hong Kong's current chief executive). Protesters demanded elections free of interference from Beijing.
“The people of Hong Kong want freedom and want democracy!” a protest leader yelled into a megaphone as demonstrators — many of them university students — donned goggles, covered themselves in plastic wrap and held up umbrellas to shield themselves in case they were hit with tear gas or pepper spray. “Redeem the promise of a free election!” chanted the crowd.
With Washington focused on the Middle East, there was a tepid show of support from U.S. officials — and nothing from the White House that I could find — as pro-democracy protesters calling themselves Occupy Central with Love and Peace faced a police crackdown in Hong Kong on Sunday and into the early hours Monday.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement on Sunday that Washington supported Hong Kong’s well-established traditions and fundamental freedoms, such as peaceful assembly and expression.
The outbursts surprised some residents, the Guardian reported Sunday. People there are usually more interested in working and making money:
In many ways it was a very Hong Kong protest, down to the protesters who politely explained that they would not be present the next day as they needed to go to work. 
But the resident saw something unique in the exuberance and spontaneity of the peaceful crowd – preempting plans to launch the civil-disobedience movement on Wednesday, a national holiday – combined with the tough tactics of the police. It is the first time officers have fired teargas in Hong Kong for almost a decade.
But the police response over the weekend changed that:
"Before dinner, I never would have imagined that I would join [the protests]," Candy Lam, a 32-year-old bank employee, said.
"I thought it was unhelpful to confront the Communist Party in this way, and that we could find other ways to negotiate, but tonight is too much. I saw the 6 pm news and so many of us cried in front of the television." 
A 57-year-old construction worker, who only wanted to be identified by his last name, Ng, said he saw the tear gas on television and decided to join the protest then and there.
As of 7 a.m. EDT this morning, streaming video was still available here.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

The coming climate war

by digby

Josh Marshall took a look at the countries which will be most affected by climate change. (It ain't us, btw.)

He wonders how these countries most affected will deal with this since they are also the countries in the midst of an industrial hyper-revolution where people are getting access to a first world lifestyle for the first time. A very good question. It's fairly clear that there will be, at the very least, some extraordinary migration that's going to cause some unpredictable upheaval.

I also have to wonder if the US and Europe --- both of which will be affected in many ways, including flooding, but not the the same extreme extent --- will take the high road or if this will become a matter of "national security." And I think you know what that usually means ...

QOTD: Joel Silberman

by digby

In our media if it bleeds, it leads. By over-emphasizing each horrific beheading video and war images, our media does its audience a terrible disservice. They are omitting the root causes for the rise of ISIS. Where is the funding money coming from? Who is buying ISIS’ oil at below market prices that subsidizes ISIS? Who and where are the banks facilitating the transfer of $2-4 million a day in oil sales to ISIS? Where are the banking regulators who have access that information? To be sure, this is a complicated story to tell to an audience that wants understand the situation but doesn’t want to invest a lot of time in getting educated. But that’s the story that I’d like to see.
Me too!

That's from an interview with Silberman, a media expert, who has written this piece about horrific coverage of the ISIS situation and a lot of the history that led up to it. It's mind-boggling to me that we've fallen back to the hysterical post 9/11 phase without missing a beat. And this time, all it's taken is two video-taped murders. We are easy marks these days.

*I must take the opportunity to give a shout out to Chris Hayes who is actually questioning all this lunacy on his show. At this point, he's about the only one I'm watching on cable news on this story beyond keeping tabs on the stupidity elsewhere. I'm getting nothing from any of the other shows.

Buying "content" or propaganda?

by digby

I'd guess this wasn't an isolated incident:
Yesterday I received a flattering email with a generous financial offer. “I came across several of your articles on the Columbia Tribune website and I really like your work,” Molly Berry of a company called Skyword wrote to me from Boston.

I blushed.

She was looking for writers, she told me in the email. Grow Missouri wanted “content” for its blog. “Based on your writing style and level of expertise, I think you would be a great fit,” Berry wrote.

In case you are unsure, Grow Missouri is the political advocacy group created by Rex Sinquefield that flew a giant blimp over Columbia during the Tigers inexplicable loss to Indiana. Perhaps that is due to Sinquefield’s own losing streak this year. But more about that later.

I was to receive $250 for each article, two or three each month, of 500 to 700 words. I didn’t even have attach my name to the articles, she told me.

That was the signal that made me think she was attempting to buy me. I could have written the articles anonymously, pocketed the money and kept quiet about it around the Tribune.

Just because everything that appeared afterward in the Tribune about Grow Missouri and its wealthy creator and only donor Rex Sinquefield happened to emphasize benevolent intentions towards the state and all the citizens who didn’t have $628,000 to spend on defeating four lawmakers would be mere coincidence.

“Thank you for the kind words regarding my work but I have never written for any advocacy group & do not intend to do so,” I replied to Berry. “Accepting this offer would disqualify me for my job at the Tribune covering state government.”

The lowest form of reporter, and one I hope has long since been run out of the business, is one who takes secret payments from people they cover. It could be due to my inherent mediocrity, but this has never happened before in any form. I have never been offered a job by a politician or political organization.

I try to be hard to offend. If you tell me by breath smells bad, I will get a mint or brush my teeth.

This particular offer had the rankest odor of anything I have encountered in my professional career.
The group explained that this was a big mistake, they didn't mean to approach reporters, it was a PR vendor etc, etc. And maybe it was.  But even if they aren't dumb enough to approach legitimate journalists, you know they are hiring someone to write their propaganda.

The whole story is quite interesting as an anatomy of a rich man's project --- a project designed to influence the public to support his cause: himself. This is all about tax cuts for the wealthy. Natch.

Fun stuff for the Netroots

by digby

Via Seeing the Forest:
Netroots Nation is announcing The Netroots Music Project, “to re-inject music into our current political discourse and support the artists already doing this day to day.” 
Netroots Nation will hold an annual Unity Concert with music and performers that focus on the issues of the Netroots Nation host city. At the Netroots Nation event in Phoenix the theme will be immigration. 
They need to raise money to pull this off. 

Why not?

Baby talk

by digby

Some people are upset by this but I think it's funny. She is, after all, an actual baby, so calling her a liberal "crybaby" isn't really an insult. (Now it's true they are insulting liberals, but what else it new?) And the picture is very sweet.

And just to prove I'm non-partisan when it comes to political babies, I thought this one was very sweet too. (It was Halloween, btw, and the baby was dressed as a tiny astronaut.)

No good deed ...

by digby

That's depressing. Here you have Muslims literally taking to the streets to protest extremism and as you can see (click on the pic if you haven't) the responses prove that doe the people who are demanding they do such a thing it doesn't matter at all.


"I still don't see these as "good" Muslims. Do they tear out the pages relating to the kill or convert parts?"

"I see signs but I don't see them going to Iraq and taking up arms to fight the "extremists". It's all a sham.

Sunday Funnies

by digby

... not so funny edition:


Funny, how that works

by Tom Sullivan

Perhaps it is not just a coincidence or a quirk of American policy-making that the words "innovation" and "reform" lately seem to attach themselves to ideas that drive more public money, public infrastructure, and public control into the hands of private investors. Nor that this meme is driven by lobbyists for public-private partnerships (P3s) where corporations stand to rack up profits by privatizing the commons.

Whether it is turning over state prisons to for-profit Corrections Corporation of America or public education over to publicly traded K12 Inc., we are to believe that despite the scandals and poor outcomes, the private sector will always do a better job than big gummint. We hear the private sector is more "efficient" than efforts run by the people and for the people. But more efficient at what?

This last week, as we noted, ITR Concession Co, and its parent company, the Spanish-Australian consortium Cintra-Macquarie declared bankruptcy on its concession to operate the Indiana Toll Road. The 75-year deal fell apart after only eight.

But getting back to efficiency. Think maybe the Germans could do it better? Maybe not.

... a study by the Federal Audit Office has found that costs may actually be higher for ÖPP [P3] project [sic] than they are for conventionally funded enterprises. The auditors examined seven large, privately financed road-construction projects. They found that five of them would have been cheaper had they been paid for in the usual manner -- that is, with taxpayer money. The total savings were estimated at €1.9 billion. In the A1 expansion project, the Transportation Ministry had assumed that the public-private partnership would be 40 percent cheaper than tax financing, but the final cost was a third higher.

ÖPP projects "did not achieve significant goals" and projects conducted to date have been "uneconomical," the auditors concluded.

Funding costs are higher for public-private deals in Germany than with government-backed loans in the U.S. Still, Berlin infrastructure economist Thorsten Beckers estimates that "the capital costs of such projects amount to almost 28 percent of construction costs. Therefore, Beckers argues, the supposed financial advantages of ÖPP autobahn expansion projects are 'extremely implausible.'"

Writing for Thinking Highways regarding new P3 highway projects in Virginia, Randy Salzman writes that despite the positive press, the Congressional Budget Office sees financial benefit to taxpayers from P3s [emphasis mine]:

The cost of financing a highway project privately is roughly equal to the cost of financing it publicly after factoring in the costs associated with the risk of losses from the project, which taxpayers ultimately bear, and the financial transfers made by the federal government to states and localities,” the CBO’s Microeconomic Studies director told congress in March. “Any remaining difference between the costs of public versus private financing for a project will stem from the effects of incentives and conditions established in the contracts that govern public-private partnerships.”

And those contracts tend to be one-sided, win-win deals for investors – aided by financiers "mining" the tax code. Borrowing from the work of former Penn State law professor Ellen Dannin, Salzman describes the setup and the sting [emphasis mine]:

A private creates a shell company with a major finance – usually foreign – arm and an international construction contractor to bid on the P3. It sells private bonds, bonds generally backed by federal guarantee, and includes those funds as the major part of its “private” contribution. Any state’s representatives at negotiations are outclassed because they have little background in finance or contract law and its legal consultants, like Allen and Overy, are conflicted. The privates’ upfront financing allows the project to get underway quicker and it is implied that private efficiency is overcoming bloated public bureaucracy while heavily inflated traffic projections indicate the privates will be compensated through tolls...

Once the highway is built, the shell company – and we used that word consistently with Secretary Layne – accelerates the depreciation and about 15 years later, just when the highway is actually needing much repair, often goes bankrupt. The bond holders, however, are protected because of federal financing guarantees and taxpayers find themselves facing the costs of a highway re-build when all of the toll income has gone to the shell company backers, now protected by bankruptcy laws from having to pay back loans, bonds or depreciation.

Except as we noted, besides the Indiana Toll Road deal going belly up in 8 years, similar P3 deals have failed in Texas and California in just 2 and 3 years respectively. Is there a pattern here?

In North Carolina, the deals sound familiar. Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Rep. Thom Tillis, has been promoting a P3 to put toll lanes on I-77 in his own district. Tillis is aided by legislative lieutenants fanning out across the state and by lobbyists working the country like so many Professor Harold Hills to sell boys' bands to the rubes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Swimming to Soulsville: Take Me to the River

By Dennis Hartley

Maybe I'm just jaded, but there's a subgenre of music doc that is becoming somewhat formulaic. "(Insert director and film title here) is the story of (insert name of venerable American recording studio here), located near the banks of (insert name of venerable American river here), which has given host to the likes of (insert impressive roll call of venerable American musicians here), frequently backed up by (insert aggregate nickname for venerable American session players) who have collectively given us the soundtrack of our lives." There's no other way to say it: Martin Shore's Take Me to the River is the story of the Stax recording studios, near the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis Tennessee, which has given host to the likes of Mavis Staples, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Isaac Hayes, Otis Clay and William Bell, frequently backed by house band Booker T. & the MGs, who have collectively given us the, erm, soundtrack of our lives.

That's not to say that it isn't a damn good soundtrack, especially for those of (ahem) a certain age, who grew up digging classic Stax A-sides like "Green Onions" by Booker T., "Walking the Dog" by Rufus Thomas, "Walk on By" by Isaac Hayes, "Private Number" by William Bell and Judy Clay, "Knock on Wood" by Eddie Floyd, "Soul Man" by Sam & Dave, "Mr. Big Stuff" by Jean Knight, "Respect Yourself" by The Staple Singers, and...well, you get the gist. Using archival footage and recollections by seminal Stax artists and producers, Shore traces the history of the label, from its founding in the early 60's, through its occasionally stormy partnership with Atlantic Records, to its heyday as an independent label from 1968 to 1972 (he doesn't dwell too long on the rough patches from the mid-70s through the early 1980s, which included bankruptcy and internal strife).

The good news is that Stax has enjoyed a second wind over the last decade (mostly as a reissue label). It is in the spirit of this revival that the director decided to frame the film by documenting the making of an inter-generational "duets" album that pairs up hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg, Lil P-Nut, Al Kapone and Yo Gotti with Stax veterans. This leads to some interesting moments; in my favorite scene, the great Bobby "Blue" Bland offers some grandfatherly advice about the music biz to the 11 year-old Lil P-Nut, as well as a "tough love" tutorial on how to inject his vocal phrasing with real soul. Mavis Staples really lights up the room with her wonderful spirit and "that" voice. Another music highlight is an impromptu jam session featuring the soft-spoken blues legend Charlie Musselwhite, proving age is not a factor when it comes to blowing a mean harp.

The best part about Shore's film is that it admirably aspires to connect the dots between the R&B “Memphis sound” and the contemporary subgenres that have evolved from it (like hip-hop and neo-soul). In this sense, the older artists who appear in the film (vital and soulful as ever) are literally "living history". One also gets the poignant sense of a legacy passing on, especially in a segment showing students from an associated music school working with veteran Stax artists on one of the sessions. An important element of that legacy is the colorblind factor; from its earliest days to the present, this has been a music scene (based in the Deep South, mind you) that remained happily oblivious to the very concept of a color barrier. All that mattered was the music that came out of the box.

The need to preserve that legacy of spirit holds more import once it's revealed that several of the older performers have passed since principal filming. One of those late legends, guitarist Charles "Skip" Pitts (who provided those iconic wah-wah licks on "Shaft") embodies this gracious spirit when we see him praise a young student drummer. "Watch this fellow," Pitts gushes like a proud dad, "He's already plugged in. Nobody had to tell him how to do nothing." He gives the teenager a fist bump, adding "Love you, man. Hope you like what I did...I tried to put a little some-somethin' on it." Hey, that's the best any of us can aim for before we shuffle off this mortal coil...puttin' a little some-somethin' on it.

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