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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Superbowl super goodies

by digby

It's Saturday and I'm fried.

So here is a recipe for tomorrow for anyone who is going to a party and wants to bring something good. These are super easy and super delicious:

Salted fudge brownies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch square metal cake pan with foil, draping the foil over the edges. Lightly butter the foil.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate over very low heat (Or in microwave on 50% power for 30 second intervals, stirring between each one until chocolate is melted). Remove from the heat. Whisking them in one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, add the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the batter. Using a butter knife, swirl the salt into the batter.

Bake the fudge brownies in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes, until the edge is set but the center is still a bit soft and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out coated with a little of the batter. Let the brownies cool at room temperature in the pan for 1 hour, then refrigerate just until they are firm, about 1 hour. Lift the brownies from the pan and peel off the foil. Cut the brownies into 16 squares. Serve at room temperature.

Oh what the heck --- this is Super good for Superbowl too:

Sloppy Joe dip

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
11/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes with their juice
1/4 cup ketchup
11/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

Salt and freshly ground pepper
Tortilla chips and sour cream, for serving

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the meat, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook over high heat until browned, about 7 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the jalapeño and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and celery seeds. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve hot with tortilla chips and sour cream.

Bon Appetit!

(And may the best west coast team win ...;)


Jeb is the real deal

by digby

People keep saying that Jeb Bush will have a problem with the social conservatives because he's allegedly so middle of the road. But that's nonsense.

They know they can count on him:

On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”

“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”

And what he believed in this case, and what he did, said Miami's Dan Gelber, a Democratic member of the state House during Bush’s governorship, “probably was more defining than I suspect Jeb would like.”

Also too this:

[W]hile acknowledging that states should "have a right" to decide on the legalization of marijuana, Bush publicly opposed an amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

"Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” Bush said before the November midterm election. "Allowing large-scale marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts."

This won't hurt either:

The Globe also spoke to some of Bush's former classmates, who recalled a "physically imposing" young man who was seen as intimidating by some and a bully by others. Tibbetts recalled a story to the newspaper of an occasion during their boarding school days when he and Bush taunted a smaller student who lived in their dorm by sewing his pajama bottoms so that the student couldn't put them on.

Bush told the Globe he didn't remember the incident or any other bullying, and was surprised that some of his former classmates viewed him that way. “I don’t believe that is true,” Bush said, adding that it was more than 40 years ago and not possible for him to remember.

It isn't the first time that allegations of bullying have surfaced about Bush's high school years. Another classmate of Bush's told Vanity Fair in 2001 that he remembered Bush as a bully as well, and that there was "a kind of arrogance" about him during his time at Andover.

These are considered plusses on the right. In fact, if Chris Christie looked different and hadn't hugged Obama he'd probably be way ahead just on the bully level alone. But the bespectacled Jeb being seen as a bully type makes him far more attractive to the base. I'd bet they'll make sure all the activists know about it.

He's the real thing ---just like his brother. Everyone in the beltway always wants to see the Bush family as a bunch of moderate Episcopalian Waspy Eisenhower Republicans but Poppy is a dying breed. (And frankly, he wasn't that either.) They are Big Money Republicans who moved to Texas so they could be elected by the new GOP base that was centered in the South. They are now authentic wingnuts. Did we learn nothing from Junior?


I've got some moral clarity for yah ...

by digby

Again, I'm sure Americans don't care about this and neither do the Europeans. But for all out love of "sending messages" the one place we seem to believe that nobody will notice hypocrisy and corruption is the Middle East. Where we are allegedly fighting a war for Western Civilization and Enlightenment values.
For ex-congressman and GOP strategist Vin Weber, Christmas came a few days early and from an unlikely source: the Qatari government. In December, three days before the holiday, the former Minnesota lawmaker and his lobbying firm, Mercury LLC, signed a lucrative lobbying contract with the Gulf State,receiving a $465,000 advance for the first few months of work.

Weber isn't alone. Over the past year and a half, regimes throughout the Middle East, from Turkey to the United Arab Emirates, have gone on what appears to be a shopping spree for former members of Congress. Compared to the rest of the world, Middle East governments have accounted for more than fifty percent of the latest revolving door hires for former lawmakers during this time period, according to a review of disclosures by VICE.

It's not out of the ordinary for special interest groups to enlist retired lawmakers-turned-lobbyists to peddle influence in the U.S. Capitol. What's unique here is that most special interests aren't countries home to investors accused of providing support to anti-American militants in Syria or engaged in multi-billion dollar arms deals that require American military approval, as is the case with Qatar and some of its regional neighbors.

What's also striking about the latest surge in foreign lobbying is that many of these former lawmakers maintain influence that extends well beyond the halls of Congress. Former Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra, who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, appears regularly in the media to demand that the US increase its arms assistance to the Kurds in northern Iraq. Writing for the conservative news outlet National Review, Hoekstra argued that, "the United States needs to immediately provide [the Peshmerga] with more than light arms and artillery to tip the scales in their favor and overcome the firepower of the Islamists." In that instance and in others, Hoekstra has often not disclosed that since August 12th, he has worked as a paid representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which relies on the beleaguered Peshmerga militia for safety against ISIS.
Lee Fang has more at the link. I just don't know what to say to this. It so obviously distorts the concept of "national interest" that it's hard for me to even define what the national interest might be when people like this are in charge of protecting it.

Meanwhile, I'm a big fool for worrying about the US Government's secret programs. Because it's obviously all on the up and up. In fact, I'm exactly the same as an anti-vaccine activist. Or so I've been told.


Something happening here

by digby

More specifically, there:

Tens of thousands of supporters of Spain’s left-wing protest party Podemos filled the streets of central Madrid on Saturday in an organised march six days after Syriza won the general election in Greece. Many of the those attending had begun their journey to Madrid from other towns in Spain in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Demonstrators began concentrating in Madrid’s Cibeles square—the nominal starting point of the march—at around 11 a.m., and soon filled the main streets leading to the nearby Puerta del Sol, the end point where the political rally and speeches took place

Podemos managed to fill the Puerta del Sol—frequently considered a test of a successful demonstration in Madrid—but calculations of the numbers of people in attendance varied between the 100,000 estimated by the police and the 300,000 estimated by Podemos.

At some point the worm turns. This could get interesting.


They've got a new scare term and it's a doozy

by digby

"Partial-birth abortion" was so successful at making people go "ick", close their eyes and agree to ban it no matter what the scientific rationale or personal circumstances that they're upping the ante: "dismemberment abortion" is the new campaign slogan:
In what could represent their next major effort to dismantle the protections under Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents are laying the groundwork for a new attack on reproductive rights that borrows a page out of their old playbook.

Several pieces of similar legislation emerging on a state level could be the beginning of a national trend. The measures are cloaked in emotional language about “fetal dismemberment” that’s reminiscent of the pro-life community’s successful push to enact the country’s first national abortion ban.

The first bill to use “dismemberment” language was introduced in South Dakota last year. Seeking to “prohibit the dismemberment or decapitation of certain living unborn children,” the measure was just a few paragraphs long and didn’t make it out of committee. But that didn’t deter anti-abortion activists. This year, at the beginning of the 2015 session, identical bills entitled the “Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act” were introduced in Oklahoma and Kansas.

This time around, the legislation is a little more detailed, providing a graphic definition for “dismemberment abortion.” The term apparently refers to “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus through the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body in order to cut or rip it off.”

The language is so vague that this would be impossible to enforce.
Despite those evocative details, “dismemberment” is not actually a medical term. The two bills proposed so far this year are written in a way that would significantly complicate the medical field, leaving abortion doctors scrambling to try to figure out what’s still permitted under the law.

“The language is so vague that this would be impossible to enforce,” Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and an abortion provider who has been practicing for four decades, told ThinkProgress. “It reveals a lack of knowledge of the procedures that the bill proposes to outlaw.”

The effort appears to be targeting a specific surgical abortion procedure known as Dilatation and Evacuation, or D&E. This type of abortion, which takes about 30 minutes to perform, has become the standard practice for terminating a pregnancy after 12 weeks. It involves dilating the cervix and using surgical instruments to remove the fetal and placental tissue. This is the method of second-trimester abortion that researchers from the World Health Organization endorse, and it’s now preferred by the vast majority of U.S. patients having midtrimester terminations because it’s a simple outpatient procedure with a low risk of complications.

It’s clear that going after D&E is emerging as a top priority for the pro-life community. The president of National Right to Life published an article this week announcing that “we are determined this year to bring the tragic issue of Dismemberment Abortions to the public’s attention.” Anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek followed suit on her website, advising readers to “keep an eye out for the next big pro-life conquest: dismemberment abortions.”

I predict they'll probably succeed at banning mid-term abortion and also at lowering the first term to 20 weeks, maybe 16. The polling suggests that even young people aren't motivated by this issue and don't support it any more than the older generation. It will inevitably create a lot more illegal abortion in this country and a lot more unwanted kids. More women's lives will be irrevocably altered, their futures restricted and narrowed. But these zealots are going to have to be even more creative if they want to ban early abortions. It's just not very evocative of something violent especially when there are so many miscarriages during those early months. But I'm sure they'll come up with something. They never, ever give up.


The elderly poor had it so good back in the day

by digby

Paul Rosenberg has a very interesting interview on Salon with Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, authors of "Social Security Works!"

An excerpt:
Rosenberg: I mentioned before Amitai Etzioni’s article trying to paint Elizabeth Warren and other progressive Democrats as supporting “unpopular populism,” which he identifies with “welfare,” deliberately misrepresenting the actual issues she and other progressives have been focusing on. Etzioni even goes so far as to try to use Social Security—as opposed to welfare—against Warren, despite the fact that Warren advocates strengthening and expanding Social Security. His argument seems to typify the blindness of elite discourse to the actual economic issues of the day, and your book struck me as perfectly illuminating the one program at the center of their blind spot. To those who might be swayed by such arguments, that there’s nothing popular that progressive populists can hope to do, what points does your book make to shine a light on what’s being missed?

Altman: The beauty of Social Security, the ingenuity of that program, is that it represents basic American values that are shared very broadly. So, as a consequence, Social Security is extremely successful, but it’s also extremely popular across the political spectrum.

We found in polling that Tea Partyers support it, union members support it, independents, Republicans, Democrats – it’s also widely supported among every demographic group and every age. The younger you are, the less likely you are to think Social Security will be there for you but they do support it, they believe it’s an important program … So this is an issue that, when you’ve got 80 percent of the country answering polls that Social Security should be expanded, but they do not think it should be cut, they think it’s vital, they think it’s more important in the future, all of those kinds of things, those kinds of numbers, you know that it’s very popular.

Kingson: The reality is most Americans have only Social Security to count on. This is middle-class, working-class people, low-income people, even upper-middle-income people; the core protection they have for the children if they die, for life insurance protection, if they become disabled as workers, and when they retire. So it’s critical. The other thing, when I think about Etzioni, I think of communitarianism and the irony here is that nothing gives greater expression to the notion of national community than Social Security. Honestly, this program is certainly about restoring economic security, but it’s also about these notions of dignity, holding families together, responsibility to do work, but also to the right to receive just dues as a result. So this is an institution that ties our country together, at the same time that we have many forces moving toward entropy.

Rosenberg: You point out that before Social Security came into being, old age and poverty were synonymous, and old age was commonly looked at with dread. Few people alive today have any memory of that, but could you talk about that reality, what it was like, and what kind of difference Social Security made?

Altman: When Social Security was enacted, every state except New Mexico had poorhouses. I know that sounds like Dickens, but this is just 80 years ago. The residents—they were called “inmates”—were not working-age people, or children; they tended to be people who have been independent all their lives, but dependent on wages. When they were no longer able to work, if they didn’t have children who could take them in, they literally went to the poorhouse. It was often common at that time that if the worker died, the family would split apart. Orphanages were full of children who still had a parent living who couldn’t support those children. Often you’d see people begging on the streets; there were lots of stories about that.

Yes, these poorhouses existed all the way up until the 1930s.

Here's what the population looked like:

The second one is a poorhouse broom factory. Working until they dropped dead kept the old people from becoming moochers and parasites, dontchaknow.

Conservatives won't admit that this is the system we will inevitably adopt if they have their way.  It's where their philosophy leads. Sure, some people will have children who will be forced to take them in at the expense of their own kids. And some people will make enough money in their lifetime to be able to support themselves in old age (assuming they don't have to spend every penny on medical care, which is probable.) But in the conservative/libertarian system this will be the inevitable end for a whole lot of people.

By the way, they are also trying to destroy disability insurance and are questioning whether mental illness really exists, so there are going to be a lot of folks in the poorhouse. They seem to be willing to spend whatever it takes to keep massive numbers of people in prison however, so I'd imagine that most of the sick, old and mentally ill poor could wind up there, so that's good. They'll have a roof over their heads at least.


If your blue state is healthier, thank a Republican

by Tom Sullivan

Affordable Care Act opponents argue in King v. Burwell now before the U.S. Supreme Court that Congress intended to withhold subsidies from the states unless they established their own exchanges. If SCOTUS agrees, ACA opponents expect the ruling to effectively gut the federal exchanges operating in over half the states and to seriously undermine Obamacare.

Even as this argument seems to have fallen apart, should the court strike down the federal exchange subsidies, Republicans in Congress vow not to reinstate consumers’ health insurance tax credits.

Steve Benen writes:

Remember, as far as the public is concerned, a clear majority of Americans would expect the Republican Congress to protect consumers from hardship. Indeed, Greg Sargent this week flagged the latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that nearly two-thirds of Americans would expect lawmakers to keep existing subsidies in place if the Supreme Court ruling goes the wrong way. Only a fourth of the country would expect Congress to do nothing.

The same report found that even most Republicans support states setting up exchange marketplaces so that families can continue to receive subsidized access to medical care. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what GOP policymakers have in mind.

Ezra Klein reframes that outcome, arguing that Republicans' plan for Obamacare's demise has become "a plan to rip themselves off." Klein elaborates:

If the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the subsidies will basically shut off in (mostly) red states. And congressional Republicans won't do anything about it. That means Republicans in those states will be paying the taxes and bearing the spending cuts needed to fund Obamacare but getting none of the benefits.

Which is to say, the biggest fight in American politics in recent years began with Democrats creating a law that was a giant subsidy from blue states to red states and has evolved into Republicans working to turn the law into a giant subsidy from red states to blue states. It is very, very weird.

Not really. Republicans, especially in the 15 refusenik states Klein identifies, have a unremitting knack for cutting off their noses to spite their faces (and their children's). They have principles and they stand in on them.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Says it all

by digby

Senate Republicans revealed this week that they have eliminated the phrase “civil rights and human rights” from the title of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee charged with overseeing those issues.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee this month and announced the members of the six subcommittees this week. With Grassley’s announcement, the subcommittee formerly known as the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights suddenly became the Subcommittee on the Constitution.

The new chairman of the newly named subcommittee is Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). His office confirmed that it made the switch.

“We changed the name because the Constitution covers our most basic rights, including civil and human rights,” said Cornyn spokeswoman Megan Mitchell. “We will focus on these rights, along with other issues that fall under the broader umbrella of the Constitution.”

In his press release, Cornyn never used the phrase “civil rights” or “human rights.” Instead, the release said he would be a "watchdog against unconstitutional overreach and will hold the Obama Administration accountable for its actions." Cornyn is an opponent of legislation that would restore federal oversight over some local and state election changes that were eliminated when the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Well, that makes sense. To Republicans, allowing people to vote is a denial of their civil rights. Read Bush vs Gore ...

He's busy fighting terrorism three days a week

by digby

Scott Walker. I just. I can't:
As one of more than a dozen Republicans with a plausible shot at the nomination, Walker is well aware that he must fill in his national profile. He got an assist from Fred Malek, the former Richard Nixon official and founder of the American Action Forum, who lobbed batting-practice softballs that allowed Walker to talk about his faith, his family, and his limited foreign policy experience.

Walker seemed particularly intent on guarding against the idea that a Midwestern governor might lack sufficient national security expertise to plausibly occupy the White House. Malek had his back. “You command the [Wisconsin] National Guard,” he told Walker. “I wondered if you might want to comment on how you feel about the threat posed by ISIS and other entities abroad?”

It turned out Walker did. “That’s a great question,” he replied. “You know, the interesting thing with that is, as a governor, not only do I and the other governors, the commanders in chief of our National Guard at the state level, which is a distinct honor and privilege … as a part of that, my adjutant general that I have in the Wisconsin National Guard is also my chief homeland security adviser. And on a fairly frequent basis he, along with members of the FBI, gives me and I presume other governors security threat assessments. So we go and get classified information—important confidential information—about threats not only to our state but typically within our region and across the country. Without violating the terms of any of those specifically, I just gotta tell you that for my children and others like them, I see on an ongoing basis legitimate concerns about the threat to national security, state by state and across this country. And it’s one of the reasons why I’ve said repeatedly, one of the most important things we need out of our leaders in Washington, particularly our commander in chief, is leadership.”

Walker didn’t elaborate on his strategy to defeat ISIS, and his adjutant general wasn’t available to ask. Nor did he elaborate on anything else.
LOL! He's a regular Eisenhower, I tell you!

That's from a longer piece by Joshua Green at Bloomberg.

*FYI: The "fighting terrorism three days a week" is lifted from an anecdote in Perlstein's "Before the Storm" in which he quotes an Orange Country California housewife saying she was busy fighting communism three days a week.

Update: Soeaking of Perlstein, I should just mention that Fred Malek is this guy:

It's one of the more gothic stories about Nixon related in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's The Final Days. As they tell it, late in 1971--the same year, coincidentally, that the Washington Senators moved to Texas and changed their name to the Rangers--Nixon summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The "cabal," Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau's methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.

In 1988, when George Bush pere installed Malek as deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee, Woodward dusted off his notes and, with the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, further revealed that two months after Malek filed a memo on the matter--he'd counted 13 Jews, though his methodology was shaky--a couple of them were demoted. (Malek denied any role and said Nixon's notions of a "Jewish cabal" were "ridiculous" and "nonsense.")

Steve King is not an anomaly

by digby

Kilgore makes an important observation about Iowa politics:
Steve King is not being imposed on Iowa by some alien force. He’s been elected to Congress seven times, with his closest race being an eight-point win in 2012 over an exceptionally well-financed and well-regarded opponent, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack. He represents a fourth of the state. And while yes, he’s anathema to most Democrats and many independents, among Iowa Republicans he walks very tall, and would if the Caucuses did not exist. Had he chosen to run for the Senate last year, he would have been given the GOP nomination by acclamation, and we might never have gotten to know Joni Ernst (yes, King could have lost the general election, but we’re talking about Republicans here).

Beyond that, the aspects of the Caucuses that give people like King disproportionate power nationally are not some sort of accident. It’s the labor-intensive nature of that contest that draws in the money and time of campaigns (not just in presidential years, but in midterms when they are expected to support state and local candidates in Iowa with money and staff and expertise). A mere primary would not do so. If, as Salter gently suggests, Iowa Republicans are misrepresenting themselves through the abattoir of the Caucuses, then it’s something they have chosen to do.

This is a close-up view of how the grassroots of the GOP have organized over the past few decades. It's not an accident. It's the plan. And the Party now has to deal with the fact that the hardcore kooks of the Republican Party, the people they've been encouraging for years, are now in the drivers seat. Democracy!
Bush's brain has a thought

by digby

Karl Rove was on Bill O'Reilly's show and wondered if maybe that whole Benghazi thing might not be the slam dunk issue they were counting on:
ROVE: Yeah, look. Benghazi could be a problem [for Republicans.] My sense is this is sort of like potentially like President Obama. And remember how he let all this conversation go about how he was not really born in the United States of America and it took him years before he finally put it out? He loved having conservatives talk about it.

I'm beginning to suspect that Mrs. Clinton might have been happy to let the Benghazi thing go forward and the controversy to be there because she has some asbestos. She's really, if you get into, isolated, insulated from it, I don't know.
Yah think?

The right's Loretta Lynch freakshow

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon this morning about the Loretta Lynch circus hearings yesterday in which the Democrats called law professors and colleagues to testify about Lynch while the Republicans called cranks and kooks from the depths of the fever swamps:
The first person to testify was someone who had never met or had any knowledge of Loretta Lynch. This was former reporter and current right-wing icon Sharyl Attkisson who told a harrowing story of harassment, including her questionable allegation that the government bugged her computer, obviously shocking the likes of Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch to the depth of their souls. It’s one thing for the government to relentlessly pursue reporters like James Risen who report serious and important stories. They wholeheartedly support the Justice Department in such cases. Attkisson, however, resigned from CBS News because she felt the entire network was biased in favor of the Obama administration and refused to allow her to pursue the scandals she just knew were there. (These were scandals like Benghazi and Fast and Furious — scandals that have been investigated approximately 756 times under every committee in the Congress and have turned up zilch.) Somehow they’ve managed to morph this professional dispute into a story of Attkisson being victimized by the authoritarian police state.

It would have been interesting to hear testimony about the government’s pursuit of leaks and reporters over the past few years, which really is a scandal and which should form the basis of questioning for the new attorney general. But since both parties are generally in favor of this practice, that wasn’t to be. Instead the Republicans called one of their celebrity martyrs to testify about how hard it is for a conservative to live in this world.
Read on for the rundown on the rest of the freakshow.

It's clear they're flexing their very rusty muscles for the upcoming Clinton scandal fest. They are so out of shape they're going to have to go on the political equivalent of The Biggest Loser.

The greatest country in the world

by digby

Well, in some ways maybe, but not all:

The good news is that  while they're way down the list of elected officials they're allowed to do lot's of the work behind the scenes for which they receive little credit.  As usual.



Stings and errors of outrageous brokers

by Tom Sullivan

Nice to see Matt Taibbi back at Rolling Stone. But not so nice for the financial services industry.

Taibbi reports on a memo from Jason Furman, Chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, detailing the stings and errors average investors fall prey to from their brokers. “The current regulatory environment," Furman explains in the document obtained by Bloomberg, "creates perverse incentives that ultimately cost savers billions of dollars a year.”

"For instance," Taibbi writes, "it might surprise a lot of Americans to know that brokers handling retirement funds aren't required by law to act in the best interests of their clients." In nontechnical jargon, you might call this a "red flag." When brokers "churn" accounts, performing needless trades to rack up fees, long-term investors can lose as much as 1-3 years worth of retirement withdrawals.

Taibbi continues:

The Obama administration is proposing to fix the problem by changing the rules and imposing a fiduciary duty standard on brokers, forcing them to act in their clients' best interests. If this Labor Department proposal ever gets past the 50 yard line, expect the financial services lobby to carpet-bomb Washington with studies showing that apart from nuclear winter or inviting al-Qaeda to occupy the White House, nothing could be worse for America than forcing brokers to act in the best interests of their clients.

Bloomberg has more details.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

From the no shit Sherlock files

by dibby

Here's a headline that will have you reeling:
States With Most Gun Deaths Have High Gun Ownership And Weak Gun Laws, Report Shows
How can that be? Surely there must be a lot of "good guys with guns" making everybody all polite and friendly. What's going on here?
Alaska has the highest rate of gun fatalities in the country, according to data from 2013. The state saw 19.59 deaths per 100,000 people, which is significantly above the national average of 10.64 deaths per 100,000. VPC's report indicates that Alaska also has the country's third-highest rate of gun ownership, with firearms in 60.6% percent of households.

The study found a similar correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths in the rest of the country. Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Wyoming, the states that followed Alaska in terms of highest gun death rates, had some of the nation's largest percentages of households owning guns.

VPC also noted that states with weaker gun laws tend to see higher gun death rates. All five states named above have gun restrictions that the report's authors describe as "lax."

The study defined states with weak gun laws as those that don't add extra provisions to federal gun laws, such as banning assault weapons or requiring a permit to buy a gun. In addition, states with open or concealed carry laws were considered to have weak gun restrictions.

States with the lowest gun death rates -- the top three were Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York -- were found to have strong gun laws as well as low rates of gun ownership. A separate 2013 analysis from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence similarly found that these three states were among those with the strongest gun restrictions in place.

A number of previous studies have linked gun laws and gun ownership with deaths by gun violence, challenging the "more guns, less crime" hypothesis that suggests a higher rate of gun ownership makes communities safer. The Violence Policy Center published a similar study last year, using data from 2011. According to the two studies, between 2011 and 2013, the five states with the highest percentages of gun-owning households saw a noticeable spike in gun deaths per 100,00 residents.

Another recent report from researchers at Johns Hopkins and Stanford Universities found a positive link in all 50 states between right-to-carry laws and a rise in violent crimes.
I, for one, am shocked. I've been told for years that the answer to gun violence if for more people to have guns and here it turns out that the more people have guns, the more gun violence there is. I simply cannot fathom how this could be. Why, you'd have to think that there's something about gun culture doesn't make much sense. Like the fatuous notion that a bunch of doughy yahoos running around with AR-15s strapped to the backs are going to fight off the jackbooted thugs come knocking on our doors. These statistics indicate that they will more likely panic and shoot one of their kids by mistake.

So much for that militarization of the police issue

by digby

Was I hallucinating or did we just have a national debate about the militarization of police? And wasn't the consensus that it wasn't a great idea? We had congressional hearings on it. Senators of both parties promised to introduce legislation to end the programs that give local police military equipment.

So what the hell is this?

The New York City Police Department announced on Thursday it plans to introduce an anti-terror strike force armed with rifles and machine guns, television station WCBS reported.

The force will be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said, according to the television station.

Officers in the unit will “be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances,” Bratton added.

They're going to use this military force armed with machine guns for protests. Sound cannons, tasers and pepper spray just isn't getting the job done.

I guess that whole thing was just so 2014, like ebola and Piketty. I just can't keep up ...

Holy Moly

by digby

Bryan Fisher has been known as one of the most bigoted, right wing fascists in America for years even as Republican politicians make pilgrimages to his radio show on a regular basis.  Anyone who cared to notice could easily see that he's a toxic boil on the body politic.  But it took until now for the GOP to feel any blowback from their relationship with him. Sarah Posner reports:
Rachel Maddow broke the news last night that Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association’s Director of Issue Analysis, has been fired, following media coverage and pressure from watchdog groups highlighting Fischer’s racist and homophobic views in advance of an AFA-funded trip to Israel for members of the Republican National Committee.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen reports in Haaretz that following news of the Israel trip, the Southern Poverty Law Center highlighted AFA’s “extensive track record of bigotry and hate,” and urged RNC members to boycott the trip. (None have.)

“Our issue is not with these folks going to Israel, which is an important ally and important for international policy,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project told Cohen. “Our issue is that one of our mainstream political parties and a group with these heinous beliefs is sponsoring it.”

The trip is being led by long-time evangelical operative David Lane, who is also organizing a domestic effort to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for political office. Lane is also behind the AFA-sponsored prayer rallies The Response, first hosted by former Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2011, and most recently by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal last weekend.

About his role in mobilizing evangelicals in the 2008 election, Lane told me, “why the left continues to attack public involvement by folks with faith in the public square is beyond comprehension to most people… What we’re doing is the mobilization of pastors and pews to restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage. That’s our goal.”
Don't cry for Fischer though. He still has his noxious radio show. And the Republicans will all be trekking over to kiss his ring just as soon as the heat is off them.

Read the whole piece. I think people are fooling themselves if they think the Christian Right is no longer relevant in American politics. They've just been resting.


Scientists are different than us ...

by digby

Via Mother Jones:

I guess nobody's perfect because I am of two minds about animal experimentation. I understand that it works, but I can't see any reason to do it unless there's no other way.  If it means saving a child who has leukemia that's one thing. But doing it for the purpose of selling cosmetics or other consumer products is wrong in my opinion.  So count me among the Philistines.

I guess I'm mostly surprised that they found as big number believing in evolution as they did.  Baby steps ...

Tactical retreat will save lives

by digby

At Salon this morning I wrote about the move to change police tactics to encourage "tactical retreat" which is an excellent idea:

In the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict the police officers who killed Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed police analysts Eugene O’Donnell and Jim Cavanaugh on his show “The Last Word.” Cavanaugh made an interesting point observing that in the past police engaged in high-speed chases no matter what the crime but came to understand that the trade-off in life lost in accidents for anything less that the pursuit of violent felons was not worth it. He said:

We need to take that attitude to the street. If you would just imagine if Officer Wilson in Ferguson had just taken a step back after the confrontation with the vehicle and after Michael Brown ran away. Just after he called for backup that was 90 seconds away. Where was Michael Brown going to go? He’s going to the hospital, he’s been shot. He’s not going to Kathmandu, on an airplane. You’re going to catch him. Just take a step back. In Mr. Garner’s case, as well. When he puts his hands like this it’s like, “ok ok,” when they get on his back, take a step back. In the Cleveland case with the child, if you drive your car in like that, if you have an escaped felon with a gun you’re dead, he’s going to shoot you as soon as you drive up. What kind of tactic is that? So take a step back and be smart and we can police better than we’re doing.

That is a very common sense suggestion. Despite the fancy gear and the defensive attitude, police aren’t actually at war with the population they patrol and it makes no sense that they go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye when they have other options. The decision to shoot Mike Brown will be a matter of debate for some time to come. But it’s the decision to get out of the car and pursue him before his backup arrived that should really be questioned.

Read on. It seems that there are plenty of cops in high places who want to do this but the cops on the street are not happy about it. It seems they feel any change in tactics will make them look weak. Oy.


We used to build things

by Tom Sullivan

As The Wire's Frank Sobotka once said, "We used to make shit in this country, build shit." But not lately.

In a country whose population has grown by 235 million and where vehicle travel has increased by 2.2 trillion miles since 1960, the highway system has grown by only 15 percent, according to the Washington Post. It is badly in need of maintenance at a time when traditional funding sources are not keeping pace:

“The growth we’re having in this country can’t be met with current resources,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an interview this month.

The need for a new source of transportation funding is under discussion in Washington this week, where lawmakers face a May deadline to come up with a plan before current funding expires.

I'm not a federal planner, but since the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993, do you think that might have something to do with it? Put me on the commission, right?

Our penny-pinching brain trust on the Hill can't figure it out. The people unashamed to spend hours each day begging for campaign donations, yet afraid to ask Americans to materially support their country? The ones quick to complain about nebulous, unspecified waste and the need for cutting taxes for the rich again and again — you know, the personal responsibility people — can't seem to solve the problem of how we maintain what we've built and use every day. Or to see to our other responsibilities, like health care or education of the nation's children. But nearly 900 overseas military bases? No problemo. Because war? War is like jello. There's always room for jello.

The comedy duo Frangela do a bit they begin with, "There was a time in this country...." Yes, there was. It was the early 1960s:

We left from Chicago driving Route 66. (The Nelson Riddle theme to the TV show is still the hippest ever.) The trip took a couple of days. The highway was still two lanes as you went further west. That was already changing.

Beside Route 66 and elsewhere, Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System – the vast system of roads most of us take for granted – was taking shape from border to border and from coast to coast. It was a national project worthy of a great nation. The country was on the move.

Astronaut Alan Shepard was a national hero. Our parents wanted us to go to college. Our president wanted us to go. Our country wanted us to go. Getting an education was not just a key to a future better than our parents'. It was a patriotic duty. Not just something you could do for you, but what you could do for your country.

America was going to the moon by the end of the decade. We needed scientists and engineers and new technologies. Between the G.I. Bill and government-backed student loans, America was making it more affordable than ever to get an education. It was good for you. It was good for your community. It was good for all of U.S.

Even as corporate profits skyrocket, we explain away our inability to accomplish anything like that today by telling ourselves we cannot afford it and that we have lost faith in government. Or have we just lost faith in ourselves?

A 527 some friends and I used to have ran a series of radio ads that spoke to that issue. Like this one:

VO: You wouldn’t let the lawn go to seed or leave broken windows broken. You worked hard for your home. And the longer you let things go, the more it takes to set them right. With collapsing bridges, overtaxed power girds and decaying infrastructure, isn’t it time we felt the same way about the home ... we call our country?

VO: Take ownership in America. Register. Vote. Volunteer. A message from BlueCentury.org.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

From blogofascism to PC Police. It's always something.

by digby

If there's anything more enervating than a Jonathan Chait dust-up I'd like to know what it is. I feel like I've been participating in them forever (and in blog years, I have.) Henry Farrell dispatched the essence of his argument with alacrity years ago and there's really little reason to revisit it now. But it's unavoidable. My twitter timeline is still bubbling about it and my emailbox is full. The guy deserves a trolling bonus. Nobody does it better.

As you can see by Farrell's post, most of the arguments Chait is making about the PC Left today are the same arguments he made about the Netroots Left a few years ago. He did give us credit for being a sort of crude army of thugs that might serve a purpose by balancing out the worst of the right wing fever swamps, but aside from that dubious role we were nothing more than lying propagandists without any sense of integrity who were forcing decent mainstream liberals everywhere to cower under their desks for fear that one of us would be mean to them and ruin their day.

Back then the problem was the "blogofascists" as Chait's TNR workmate Lee Siegel called us -- before he was fired for sock-puppeting his own work with all the subtlety of a One Direction super-fan:
The blogosphere’s fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.” … All these abusive attempts to autocratically or dictatorially control criticism came about because I said that the blogosphere had the quality of fascism, which my dictionary defines as “any tendency toward or actual exercise of severe autocratic or dictatorial control.” … insults, personal attacks, and even threats. This truly is the stuff of thuggery and fascism. … Two other traits of fascism are its hatred of the processes of politics, and the knockabout origins of its adherents. Communism was hatched by elites. Fascism was born along the drifting paths of rootless men, often ex-soldiers who had fought in the First World War and been demobilized. They turned European politics into a madhouse of deracinated ambition. 
(Granted, Chait didn't use that word.  But there is little doubt that they high fived each other over the New Republic water cooler at the cleverness of such a phrase.)

That was then. Today the threat comes from the politically correct Social Justice Warriors. Hippies gonna hip I guess.

There have been a lot of articles responding to him and I'm sure you can find them if you're interested in this navel gazing bullshit.  I have to be, so I am, but it's getting really old after all these years. Still, there are a couple of interesting lessons to be taken from this. First, the liberal bloggers back in the day were very, very rude. We were a lot like the current SJWs on twitter. We went right up into the MSM writers' faces and called them out, even (or maybe especially) those who called themselves liberals. It was a nasty pile-on and I'm sure it was unpleasant for the reporters and pundits who had to endure it. I was right in there with the worst of them, foul-mouthed, vituperative and personal. There was a reason for that: it was the only way we could get their attention! 

We had a beef and, I still maintain, a beef that was legitimate and important. For years by that time we'd watched the mainstream media aid and abet the right wing to the point at which they behaved like a bunch of puerile cheerleaders for an absurd impeachment and  stolen election. Iraq was the frosting on the cake.  There was no amount of polite discourse that was going to shake up that comfortable relationship. And after Iraq it was becoming downright dangerous.

Chait bemoaned that dynamic in his 2007 piece which he described this way:
Moulitsas writes. "I mean, who did progressive [sic] have supposedly representing their side? Joe Frickin' Klein. Is it any wonder blogs grew in response?"

The creation of a liberal message machine has not only filled a vacuum in the political discourse. It has also had an impact on the mainstream media itself. One revealing window into how this has worked, as it happens, is Joe Frickin' Klein himself.

In early January, Time unveiled a new blog, Swampland, featuring several of its political writers, including Klein, a columnist for the magazine. While this was almost certainly not its intended effect, Swampland turned out to be a fascinating experiment about the effects of bringing mainstream journalists into close contact with the Internet left.

Klein's initial forays were classic Klein: His second post was a blast at "ill- informed dilettantes" of the left who prove that "[l]iberals won't ever be trusted on national security until they start doing their homework." Predictably, the netroots lashed into him. Just as predictably, his immediate reaction was to lash back, in a follow-up blog post attacking "illiberal leftists and reactionary progressives" and suggesting that his critics did not want the administration's strategy in Baghdad to succeed.

The next couple of weeks, however, saw none of the sorts of criticism of liberals that marked Klein's first post and much of his career. When, a few weeks later, he ventured back onto controversial terrain, he did so in an apologetic tone, almost as if he were cringing in anticipation of the blows that were sure to follow. "I know it's become common practice to slag David Broder in the blogosphere," he wrote. "But let me say this in David's defense ... ."

Klein still regularly took issue with his liberal critics, but the frequency of his dissents declined markedly, and the esteem with which he treated his tormentors rose commensurately. He continued to endure constant criticism and would often post three or four updates to his blog items, each replying to a wave of attacks. Moreover, Klein began with increasing frequency to concede the truth of the criticisms against him--e.g., "I was (correctly) hammered last year when I said on Stephanopoulos that all options--including nukes--should be on the table' in our dealings with Iran." And his liberal opinions seemed to grow more frequent and less hedged. ("I'm dedicating the rest of my life to making sure that we never go to war so foolishly again--if at all.")

Liberal bloggers regarded the newly tamed Klein with unconcealed satisfaction. In a post on how the netroots was successfully lobbying the mainstream media, Yglesias wrote, "I might also note that Swampland is suddenly full of posts I find much more agreeable than the ones they were doing early on." His fellow blogger Ezra Klein (no relation), of the Prospect, offered a persuasive explanation of his namesake's more liberal-friendly tone:
It's worth remembering that, for years, the only thing these quasi-liberal columnists heard was how biased, out- of-touch, and incomprehensibly progressive they were. So they began tailoring, consciously or not, their work to defend against those criticisms.

Klein, like many journalists, had spent his career in a world where there was only one real movement in U.S. politics. He had become accustomed to sustained ideological mau-mauing, but he had expected it only from one side, and, over the years, this imbalance had taken its toll. Now, suddenly, there are two such movements, balanced on either side of the moderate mainstream.

Whether or not liberals ought to consider this a good thing depends on how wide their frame of reference is. At the narrow level, the netroots take part in a great deal of demagoguery, name-calling, and dishonesty. Seen through a wider lens, however, they bring into closer balance the ideological vectors of propaganda in our public life.
Talk about being damned with faint praise.  (And you have to love the idea that Ezra and Yglesias were blogofascists.)

The latest piece about demagogic Social Justice Warriors and the PC police is really just a rehash of that moldy old argument. Mainstream writers are once again cowering under their desks because someone on the internet calls them a sell-out or a racist or some other icky name and it's very unpleasant. And I would suggest that once again, a whole lot of this icky name calling is because they can't get their attention any other way! Just as we older generation of bloggers couldn't seem to shake them out of their comfort zone any other way, so too the newer generation of online activists are undoubtedly frustrated. With the cacophony of online chatter and cable news and a gazillion websites and news feeds, it's even harder than it was a decade ago. You can't blame them for marshalling everything they have to be heard.

God knows there's a lot of moronic discourse on the internet and it's important to try to sort out trolls from serious critics. And nobody says that you are required to absorb whatever abuse any crank decides to lay on you.  My wrecked comment section stays dormant because useful arguments have shifted to twitter and I don't need to spend my days trying to deal with the odd assortment of misogynists and malcontents who took up residence there and chased off all the normal people.  But so-called "PC Police" are among those critics who are actually making a difference, even if it is uncomfortable and frustrating to be on the receiving end. My own response to being "called out" is often anger at first just like Chait.  It's very hurtful and I'm human. But I've learned that when I feel that very particular kind of anger that comes from being attacked for my privilege, it is often a useful signal that I probably need to step back think a little harder about something.

There's a lot about this lefty PC culture to criticize but it's an internal problem, not the one that Chait suggests. Trigger warnings are a very questionable response to trauma and some silly stuff like #CancelColbert reflects an unwillingness to admit when they've erred. But they aren't shutting up the MSM --- they don't have the power to do that. Twitter isn't the world and if some journalists decide it's not worth it to them to participate that's just fine.  And they certainly aren't gagging liberal academia which I would certainly hope can take care of itself. (If it can't we've got bigger problems.)  And anyway this is a young crowd, energized by its newfound ability to create some disruption and maybe make some establishment figures feel some heat. These confrontations will likely evolve over time to a different sort of discussion.

In fact,  that Joe Klein example is actually a good one to show how that could happen. He was very angry at first but he ended up engaging directly with his interlocutors in the comment sections of Swampland and they worked out quite an interesting relationship over time. The MSM did change over the past decade. And as Greenwald points out in his piece about this, that's at least partially a result of pressure from the rude liberal blogosphere.

The "politically correct left" got the MSM's  attention.  They are upset, which is the first step. Now, the MSM needs to step back and think on this a bit and ask themselves how they might constructively deal with these issues of privilege. I'm still asking --- I don't know the answer. But I'm glad they've brought it up.

I don't expect everyone to grow from this experience.  Clearly, this is a scab that just won't heal for some people.  But I'd guess that in the end a lot of others will. Liberalism will survive the social justice warriors just as it survived the blogofascists.  We'll all live to see another day.

Sad Rand

by digby

You'd think that the Kochs and their buddies, big libertarians that they are, would just love rand Paul, wouldn't you? He's the guy who wants to deliver their dream agenda, after all: a small government, free market bonanza of no taxes, no regulations and no programs other than some police and military functions to keep their money safe. What's not to like?

Well, they don't like him. At this week-end's ring kissing ceremony, he came in dead last:
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — who received the least enthusiastic response from donors during a Sunday night forum of prospective candidates that also featured Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — finished last in Luntz’s poll, the source told POLITICO.
They like Ted Cruz better than Rand Paul.

The Politico reporters seem confused about all this:

Rubio got the most votes despite espousing hawkish foreign policy stances that seem to clash with the Kochs' non-interventionist sensibilities. Paul, meanwhile, finished last despite a libertarian worldview that in some ways seems most similar to the Kochs' own philosophies — and his loss marks a potential setback in his effort to build a base of wealthy supporters for a presidential bid.

The "non-interventionist" sensibilities are highly exaggerated, both Pauls and the Kochs. In fact, they are downright hawkish themselves if the intervention means more profits and market dominance. They aren't stupid.

What's more interesting is the fact that they liked Rubio so much despite the fact that he's extremely callow and untried. The reason is that he's a young and he's Hispanic and the Big Money Boyz are smart enough to know that will be very useful in beating back an old woman. There is a model to draw from.

These are the guys who recognize that they are unlikely to get every single white vote in the country so it would be useful to peel off some Latinos. And knowing the way Republicans think, I'd guess they figure that Marco might make some of the young ladies swoon as well. He makes them swoon anyway.

The Kochs are true believers. But on't kid yourself about what they believe. They are hard core economic conservatives who are willing to put up with the social conservatives because they don't care about abortion or gay rights or anything religious, not really. It's fine with them either way. And while they don't think that national security should translate into a police state, they aren't going to get too uppity on that count either since without it they simply cannot win in the United States of America. No, what they care about is the taxing and the regulation portion of the program and in that regard any Republican will probably do --- so given the choice they'll pick the one they think has the best chance of winning the general election.

Ultimately, they'll go with the Republican nominee. It doesn't really matter which one it is. In the meantime, they'll play around in the primary. Unfortunately, it looks like Rand Paul is the guy nobody wants on their team. He just doesn't look like a president. Why should they waste money on someone like that? Ideology isn't the game they're playing.

How espionage charges multiply like rabbits

by digby

Marcy Wheeler wrote the full rundown of the Sterling trial (aka the trial in which James Risen was tormented for nearly a decade) at Salon this morning.  It's as depressing as you might expect: a bunch of dicey espionage charges that don't really add up to a hill of beans.  This was yet another one of those trials designed to "send a message."  One can only wonder what would happen if they  as eagerly wanted to send some messages to Wall Street thieves and wealthy tax cheats.

Here's the essence of the problem:

[A[long the way to the conviction of Sterling this week on all nine counts – including seven counts under the Espionage Act — something far more banal yet every bit as dear to D.C.’s economy of secrets may have been criminalized: unclassified tips.

To understand why that’s true, you need to know a bit about how the Department of Justice larded on charges against Sterling to get to what represents a potential 80-year maximum sentence (though he’s unlikely to get that). Sterling was accused — and ultimately convicted — of leaking two related things: First, information about the Merlin operation to deal flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran, as well as the involvement of a Russian engineer referred to as Merlin in the trial. In addition to that, the government charged Sterling separately for leaking a document (one which the FBI never found, in anyone’s possession): a letter Merlin included along with the nuclear blueprints he wrapped in a newspaper and left in the mailbox of Iran’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. So the government convicted Sterling of leaking two things: information about the operation, and a letter that was used in the operation.

Then, having distinguished the operation from the letter, DOJ started multiplying. They charged Sterling for leaking the operation to Risen, then charged him for causing Risen to attempt to write a 2003 New York Times article about it, then charged him for causing Risen to publish a book chapter about it: one leak, three counts of espionage.

Then they charged Sterling for improperly retaining the letter (again, FBI never found it, not in CIA’s possession, not in Sterling’s possession, and Merlin purportedly destroyed his version before anyone could find it in his possession). Then DOJ charged Sterling for leaking the letter to Risen, then charged him for causing Risen to attempt to write a 2003 New York Times article including it, then charged him for causing Risen to publish a book chapter including verbatim excerpts from it (apparently Risen is a better investigator than FBI, because he found a copy): one letter, four more counts under the Espionage Act.

Altogether, seven counts of spying, for one leak.

Here’s the really scary part though: the jury convicted Sterling based entirely on circumstantial evidence: there was not one shred of evidence showing Sterling handing Risen classified information on the operation, the Russian asset, or the letter that Risen found but FBI could not.

I eagerly await the trials of all those who give government sanctioned unclassified tips and classified leaks to the press as part of their propaganda campaigns.

Legitimate rape: feature not bug

by digby

Jamil Smith at TNR makes an important observation about the latest assault on women's rights --- the push to make abortion illegal after 20 weeks along with a requirement that any exception for rape or incest be officially reported to the authorities.

We all know what this is about, of course, but Smith points out that it's even more cynical than usual. They insist that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" must make a report to the police but make no moves to make such a thing easier for victims of rape in general. As he says:
If you’re going to require that pregnant survivors of rape report that crime to law enforcement before getting a late-term abortion, should there not be accompanying legislative (or at the very least, rhetorical) efforts to make it safer for survivors to do so? How about increased federal support for sexual assault support groups and law enforcement initiatives to improve those rape-reporting statistics? There is nothing like that in the Republicans’ bill.

That's intentional. Republican legislators don't want to make it less difficult for survivors to report their rapes; they're counting on it. The bill’s viability depends on that 68 percent number staying right where it is, or even going up, all in the service of preventing late-term abortions.

In a way it's actually more honest. Many of these anti-abortion zealots truly believe that women and girls should be forced to give birth to their own brothers. They see nothing harmful in that to the person who's being forced to do it because they don't see the person who's being forced to do it as a person. They are merely the "method" by which a fetus is brought to term. It literally does not matter what they think or feel. Once pregnant, by whatever means, they are no longer relevant to the conversation.

Smith's piece contains a humorously revealing quote from Louis Gohmert, bless his sexist little heart:

"Some of our Republican female members ..."

As Smith quipped: "yes, that’s the word he used for women, with a possessive"

QOTW: stars bursting in air edition

by digby

There hasn't been much discussion of the right wing freak show's foreign policy comments in Iowa last week-end. I found them quite interesting. This is from Rick Perry:

Take a look. Think about our friends who have been abandoned, Think about how we have weakened our alliances around the world. Take Israel. When peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart, did we stand with out greatest ally in the Middle east? No! Unnamed administration sources were quoted as hacking the Israeli Prime Minister! The Secretary of State compared Israel to the apartheid regime of South Africa. That is not the America I know. The America I know stands for freedom. It stands steadfast with Israel.

[Cheers and applause]

Thank you. Thank you. Last year we saw ISIS terrorists enter Iraq using American tanks, American weapons, taking cities, secured through the sacrifice of American blood. This happened because of the president's inaction in Syria where he led opposition forced to become radicalized. Separately he warned the Syrian dictator that using chemical weapons on his own people was a red line he could not cross. Assad crossed that line without consequence meaning a dictator today remains in power due to this administration's empty words. When a president makes promises that he won't back up his statements are not a policy, they are just an opinion. The world pays attention, realizing they can test both our strength and our resolve. These brutal terrorists do not respect talk. They only respect force!

[Cheers and applause]

What is at stake here? What is at stake is no less than the preservation of western values. And what is required is not moral confusion but moral clarity. It matters that we understand all of this. Without confidence in the truth and goodness of our own values, the great moral inheritance of our own culture, how are we going to deal with the falsehood of theirs? What happened in Paris reminds us that this is not a rhetorical question. This is a simple fact. When it comes to the Western world. fighting this great threat, this administration needs to stop bleeding from behind ---- leading from behind.

[Cheers and applause]

What is needed at this time in history is a clear vision for the world, with America leading again with freedom on the march again on the most pressing issues of out time. We don't have to settle for the present state of decline. We can usher in a new era of growth and strength,

I am proud to be an American. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that stands for freedom and befriends freedom around the globe, I am proud to have worn the uniform of the United state Air Force! [cheers and applause]

I am proud of the young men and women who travel to far-flung regions of the world to fight for all that is right in the world {Cheers and applause]. There is nothing wrong in American today that can't be fixed with new leadership. The next two years are about hope and revival and a vision to restore America's place in the world! Starting today, let's give it to them!

[Wild applause]

Here's Palin:

We need to get honest on national security. We need to give hope to the people we need not, we will not, succumb to evil. And we call it as it is. We address it. That must be, that 800 pound elephant in the room of the White House the radical left won't even name, won't even name the threat to our way of life today,k we will hit it and name it. It is any Muslim who would choose evile, whose loyalty to a death cult perversion is so darkened and has deceived their souls that they actually think they are welcome here to transform here,

No. What we do, we strengthen our military, we respect our troops. We let the, our troops and gatekeepers, le let them tell Jihadists: "this is our house, get the hell out!"

[wild applause]

The crowd loved this stuff more than anything else as far as I could tell by the applause. I'll transcribe some more over time just to get a baseline of what they are saying to the faithful. I'm not getting a sense that they are in an isolationist mood ...

I happen to have Ben Nelson for you right here ...

by digby

This would be funny if it weren't such a perfect illustration of how nuts the conservatives are:

The challengers in the latest Supreme Court battle over the Affordable Care Act point to former Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson as evidence of their claim that Congress intended that tax credits go only to qualified recipients in states that had established their own insurance exchanges.

Nelson, a Democratic holdout as Congress debated the bill, insisted that states take the lead in establishing the exchanges. And the challengers use that to support their theory that Congress was using the tax credits to induce states into establishing the exchanges, rather than having the federal government do it.

But Nelson, who announced his retirement in 2011, speaks for himself in a brief filed by Democratic congressional leaders and others.

“I always believed that tax credits should be available in all 50 states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) who sought Nelson’s view.

The question of “what-does-Ben-Nelson-want” has always been a part of the ACA controversy. To win his vote in 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered Nelson a deal that would give Nebraska full federal funding of a proposed Medicaid expansion indefinitely.

During the Supreme Court’s 2012 arguments over the constitutionality of what has become known as Obamacare, Justice Antonin Scalia mentioned the controversy over the “Cornhusker Kickback.” Scalia was apparently unaware that the deal had become so controversial that it was removed from the bill before passage.

The current Supreme Court case, King v. Burwell, which will be argued March 4, is different, but Nelson still figures prominently in the briefs.

It's impossible to believe that they would use Nelson's thoughts as part of their reasoning when the man is still alive and kicking and can testify to what he thought! Are they going to argue that he's lying? That's he's senile and doesn't know what he's saying? They'd have to. It's been central to the arguments they've presented to the court.

This case is daft from start to finish. But the fact that the Supremes even took such a looney case in the first place is why everyone is so nervous about it.



Alas, poor derrick: Obama drills "Graveyard of the Atlantic"

by Tom Sullivan

Oil rigs in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic"? Someone tell the president April 1st isn't for two months yet:

(Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration proposed opening to offshore drilling an area from Virginia to Georgia in a policy shift sought by energy companies but opposed by environmentalists worried about resorts such as the Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach.

The offshore plan for 2017-2022 marks the second time President Barack Obama has recommended unlocking areas in the U.S. Atlantic for oil drilling, and it drew a swift retort from allies who say the payoff doesn’t justify the risk of a spill along the populated coast. The agency said Atlantic leases won’t be auctioned for at least six years and drilling wouldn’t start for several more years.

Well, that's a relief. Plus, you know, with the Gulf Stream and all, a massive oil spill 50 miles offshore of the Outer Banks might never reach Cape Hatteras.

“Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries,” said Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts. “A spill in North Carolina could affect Massachusetts.”

Heads up, Nantucket.

The proposal is still preliminary, officials suggested:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters the proposal was a “balanced” approach, but she stressed that it was only a draft.

“It is not final, we’re in the early stages of what is a multi-year process,” Jewell said, cautioning that some regions listed in it “may be narrowed or taken out entirely.”

That caveat and the timing make the announcement a mite suspect. Days ago, the Obama administration had Alaska livid over its request "to designate parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area" off-limits to oil drilling. The request left Sen. Lisa Murkowski fuming. Something about decisions on federal land made Outside being a violation of state sovereignty. Other Alaska legislators were similarly put out:

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker was "outraged" at the timing of the announcement, which comes amid low oil prices and declining production "despite having more than 40 billion barrels of untapped resources, mostly in federal areas where oil and gas activity is blocked or restricted," the joint statement said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, called the plan “callously planned and politically motivated" in the same statement.

On the heels of the Alaska announcement, the Atlantic drilling proposal is generating predictable howls from East Coast environmentalists:

"This proposal sells out the southeast fisheries, tourism, and coastal way of life," says Sierra Weaver, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "This is an area that has never been drilled for oil production. These are places and communities that rely on natural resources like clean air and clean water for the quality of life and the lifestyle that they know."

The White House surely knew its twin decisions would raise firestorms from both the left and right.

A head fake in advance of a Keystone pipeline veto? Or a sop?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The big secret

by digby

James Fallows:

Israel doesn't have the military capacity to "stop" Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and neither does the United States, at least not in circumstances short of total war.

Why does this matter? As a question of negotiation, I think it's fine for U.S. officials from the president on down to act as if they might seriously be considering a military strike. George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike have consistently said that "all options are on the table" when it comes to Iran, and that's fine too. It can be shrewd to keep an opponent guessing about what you might do if provoked.

This negotiating stance could be useful, as long as it doesn't spill over from fooling the Iranians to fooling ourselves. (A la, "we'll be greeted as liberators!") Letting Iran's leaders think the U.S. is contemplating a strike might pay off. Actually contemplating it could be disastrous.

So true in so many different ways.

But I heard Chris matthews tell his audience just a couple of days ago that Iran will never be allowed to build a nuclear bomb No. Matte. What. People believe this.

Another casualty in the war on the mentally ill

by digby

A 16 year old girl with a knife was shot by three cops in the lobby of the police station:

When Officers arrived they were confronted by a white female who threatened them. The suspect brandished a weapon, made threatening movements toward the officers and was shot. The suspect was transported to Good Shepherd Medical Center where she were pronounced dead by a Justice of the Peace. The Texas Rangers have been called in to investigate this shooting.

Coignard had been living with her aunt, Heather Robertson, who told ThinkProgress that the girl struggled with depression and bipolar disorder and had previously attempted suicide several times. "I think it was a cry for help," said Robertson about her niece's actions. "I think (police officers) could have done something. They are grown men. I think there is something they are not telling us."

Yes, there is undoubtedly something else they could have done. This was a mentally disturbed teen-age girl with a knife. They could have retreated, called for some help to try to talk her down or even used a taser if they really felt afraid for their lives. But why should they bother? This is easier.

Remember, these cops have very tough jobs. We can't second guess their actions even when it might seem obvious to anyone with half a brain and the tiniest common sense that there might be other options besides opening fire on a disturbed teenage girl inside a police station.

Authentic nonsense

by digby

Greg Sargent has a nice piece today on the "authenticity" nonsense that political strategists and Villagers peddle to the public. Worth reading in its entirety.

I thought I'd just put this quote from a week or so ago back up to illustrate how dumb it really is. This is about Chris Christie:
Chris Matthews: I sort of liked his style in the beginning before I realized it was for real, you know this Jilly Rizzo thing, this tough guy thing. Not exactly attractive when you realize it's for real it's not a feint.
I contrasted that with one of his thousands of insults toward Hillary Clinton in 2008 about her phoniness and inauthenticity.

Hobgoblins, small minds, etc.

See no evil overseers

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon today about Senator Richard Burr the new Intelligence Committee chairman who is charged with "overseeing" the CIA. I'm sure you'll be surprised to find out that he thinks they can do no wrong:
[I]t’s an understatement to say that Sen. Burr is a very curious choice to be an “overseer” for the CIA if the Republican Party is now our greatest champion of civil liberties. He’s never seen a CIA program he didn’t think was just ducky. And it looks as though he’s not just going to continue to turn a blind eye to CIA perfidy, he may have a plan in place to ensure that the torture report is thrown into the memory hole never to be seen again.

Katherine Hawkins of OpenTheGovernment.org explains that going all the way back to December of last year Burr was making an arcane argument that the classified report is part of the congressional record and therefore exempt from request under the Freedom of Information Act and Guantánamo defense attorneys (an argument supported by the administration as well). Through a series of letters from Dianne Feinstein and the White House and subsequent letters by Sen. Burr, those who wish to deep-six the torture report have engaged in various actions that will challenge the ability of any judge or any government official who wants to release the full report. Hawkins believes this will not work, although she is less sanguine about other gambits having to do with the so-called Panetta Review that would likewise shine a light on the full scope of the torture regime. This is also based on some very byzantine reading of the law in which Burr and his allies in the administration assert that the Congress should have never seen the report in the first place, so it should go back to the CIA where they will presumably burn it in the same bins in which they burned the tapes of the CIA torture sessions.

This is what we call “congressional oversight.” It works so well, everyone is clamoring for more of it.

If you thought Dianne Feinstein was a pushover for the intelligence community, get ready. We'll be lucky if Burr even bothers to call a meeting of the committee.

Jeb's odd solution

by digby

... to the vexing problem of illegal immigration:

“First and foremost we need to control our border. The 40 percent of the people that have come here illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave.”

A couple of thoughts here. Jeb probably thinks he's dogwhistling to Latinos by pretending that he's going after European college students and would-be hijackers instead of them but I don't think they're going to hear it. They know very well what the immigration debate is really all about and visas aren't involved. He also thinks that by saying this the rabid xenophobic base will be appeased, but the last thing they want to hear is "politely ask them to leave". They like the idea of "self-deportation" a lot. But they only like it in the context of making immigrants so miserable they will voluntarily go back to countries where they will starve or be killed. Let's just say that would have to be pretty miserable. After all, if they don't suffer then they won't learn their lesson and they might come back.

It's early in the cycle and Jeb's out of practice. He's also campaigning pretty much exclusively for rich donors at the moment so maybe this will impress them if no one else. (They have a different set of interests when it comes to immigration.) But he's going to have to figure out a better way to speak to this issue if he wants Republicans to vote for him. The words "immigrant" and "polite" cannot be in the same sentence.

Night Will Fall
by Batocchio

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and a new documentary looks at some important old footage. The Los Angeles Times provides a good summary:

Seventy years ago, British, Soviet and American forces were unprepared for the atrocities they encountered when they liberated the Nazi concentration camps. Combat and newsreel cameramen recorded these harrowing discoveries at camps that included Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz.

In April 1945, the footage was to be turned into a film, "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey," and was supposed to be screened in Germany after the collapse of the Third Reich.

Despite having Alfred Hitchcock as a supervising director, the 1945 film was never completed. In 1952, London's Imperial War Museum inherited the rough cut of five of the six planned reels of the film, as well as 100 compilation reels of unedited footage, a script for voice-over commentary, and a detailed shot list for the completed film.

"Night Will Fall," a new HBO documentary airing Monday [1/26/15] on the cable network and then repeating on HBO2 on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Tuesday, chronicles the making of "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey." The actual 1945 documentary, which has been restored and assembled by London's Imperial War Museum, will also screen Tuesday at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Here's a trailer for Night Will Fall:

(The New York Times also has a good write-up and Metro UK rounds up British viewers' powerful reactions.)

I haven't seen either film in entirety yet, but the footage from 1945 has featured in plenty of previous Holocaust pieces, and some completed segments from German Concentration Camps Factual Survey have been shown before, including sections demonstrating Alfred Hitchcock's approach of using wide shots, panning shots and long takes where possible. (He was sadly prescient about the possibility of Holocaust denial.) Some of the footage is indeed harrowing. An excellent Guardian piece on both documentaries recaps a segment from the 1945 film that's stuck with me for years:

In one piece of film, from Majdanek concentration camp, we see huge bags containing human hair. Collected from the murdered, it would have been carefully sorted and weighed. “Nothing was wasted,” says the narrator. “Even teeth were taken out of their mouth.” Bernstein’s film then cuts to a large pile of spectacles. “If one man in 10 wears spectacles,” we are asked, “how many does this heap represent?”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. features something similar – 4000 shoes, which make a lasting impression on visitors:

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The focus of the day has always been on (horrific) historical events but also on the general idea of human rights. Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl observed that there are limitations to comparing suffering, because it is like a gas filling a room, and "suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little." Meanwhile, Akira Kurosawa once said that "The role of the artist is not to look away," and that's certainly true of great documentary filmmakers, good historians, and really anyone who bears witness to injustice. (The documentary The Act of Killing is also well worth a look.) Injustices may vary in scale, but here in the United States, I can't help but think of indefinite detention without charges in the present, the U.S. torture regime in the recent past (and efforts to keep it unexamined), the oppression of Jim Crow laws and internment camps in living memory, and slavery and the treatment of Native Americans in the more distant past. Of course, not everyone wants to look at those events in our own nation's history, some vehemently deny them (in part or in whole) and the effects of those events are hardly limited to the past. Personally, I plan to see both Holocaust documentaries, but I suspect they serve as reminders not only of essential historical events but our own sadly enduring capacity for inhumanity. (Where we go from there is the big question.)