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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Marriage equality and "uncharted waters"

by digby

I wrote about the marriage equality case being argued before the Supreme Court today for Salon:
Today’s oral arguments in the Supreme Court marriage equality case may or may not be exciting, but the importance of the outcome cannot be overstated. We are witnessing before us one of the greatest expansions of civil rights in decades, and if the high court decides to be part of the future instead of the past, this advance will codify into law the basic human right of marriage for gays and lesbians throughout America. This country has come a long way very quickly and it’s inspiring to see it happen.

There is no guarantee, of course. There is still a cultural divide on the issue, as we saw in the recent “religious liberty” controversy in Indiana. Like the nation at large, the Court is divided too. It’s assumed that the four more liberal judges will vote in favor. If any of the the uber-conservative triumvirate of Scalia, Alito and Thomas were to vote with them, it would be a judicial curveball of historic proportions. (Translation: Don’t count on it.) This leaves Chief Justice John Roberts who has shown some propensity for consensus building, and could vote with the liberals; as well as, of course, Anthony Kennedy, the justice known mostly for majority-straddling (and right-leaning) position on the bench.

As Ian Millhiser wrote at Think Progress, Kennedy’s record on gay rights cases is something else:
Nearly every gay rights victory handed down by the Supreme Court has Justice Anthony Kennedy’s name on it. Kennedy authored the very first Supreme Court decision recognizing that anti-gay laws can violate the Constitution’s promise of equality, and he followed that up with decisions targeting sex bans and ending marriage discrimination by the federal government. In the likely event that the Court declares marriage discrimination unconstitutional throughout the nation this June, expect to find Justice Kennedy’s name on that decision as well.

The fact that the same justice repeatedly writes in the same issue area can be a sign that they find that area particularly interesting, but it is also true that closely divided cases are frequently assigned to the most on-the-fence member of the Court — on the theory that no one can tailor an opinion to their own idiosyncratic views better than themselves. Kennedy’s record supports the latter interpretation, as he’s fretted in the past about the “uncharted waters” facing the Court if it hands down a decision bringing marriage equality to the entire nation. Since then, however, the Court has allowed lower court decisions supporting marriage equality to take effect — a strong sign that Kennedy has made up his mind in favor of equality.

Nevertheless, Kennedy remains the justice to watch for the best sign of how the Court will shape its opinion.
And Kennedy may or may not take the necessary steps to insure that LGBT citizens are protected with this decision. There's still work to be done even if the court affirms marriage equality as a constitutional right.
It is to be fervently hoped that the Supreme Court affirms the right of gay people to marry. It will be a happy day indeed. But it’s a mistake to be complacent about such things. As Millhiser said in his piece, there are many issues of discrimination against LGBT people still at stake. And even when the Supreme Court hands down a momentous decision acknowledging a basic human right, there’s no guarantee that it won’t continue to be litigated by the social conservatives for a long time to come. Just ask reproductive rights activists.

Warren to Obama: Put Up or Shut Up on TPP

by Gaius Publius

The latest TPP news — your Open Rebellion Caucus is on the job, featuring Dem-on-Dem violence on trade. The press is enjoying this, of course, and those opposed to TPP appreciate that spotlight. Thanks are due also to President Obama for being so obvious about what he wants, and for not downplaying Sen. Warren's fierce objections to this next-NAFTA job-killing "trade" deal.

The setup — President Obama has been unusually aggressive with members of his own party on trade and his eagerly sought TPP deal. My ongoing coverage of TPP is here; click if you'd like some background.

Now the latest, per Zach Carter at Huffington Post (my emphasis):
Elizabeth Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On Trade

Progressive Democrats have been hoping to see a showdown between Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton for years. Instead, they're getting a public feud between the senator from Massachusetts and President Barack Obama.

Obama accused Warren and congressional Democrats on Friday of being "dishonest" and spreading "misinformation" about the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a trade pact the administration is negotiating among 12 nations. The overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress oppose TPP, while Republican leaders support it.

It was an unusually aggressive attack for the president -- accusing members of his own party not of having misplaced priorities, but of actively working to deceive the public. Obama is rarely so severe even with his Republican opponents. Obama said that the Democratic criticism that "gets on [his] nerves the most" is the notion that his TPP pact is "secret," and went on to insist that the terms of TPP will help American workers.
As many have recently discovered, perhaps to their surprise, when Obama really wants something, he really tries to get it. (Does this give the lie to progressive excuses, that the president wants more progressive policies than he settles for, but is too timid to negotiate for them? I'll let you decide.)

The current battle is between President Obama and two Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, the once-again leaders of "open rebellion" in the Senate — in-your-face rejection of pro-wealth policies pushed by Democratic Party leaders. Warren and Brown's position? Mr. Obama, you say the TPP deal isn't a "secret." Put up or shut up — show the public the treaty before we vote on Fast Track. Or, as Huffington Post put it:
On Saturday, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded with a letter essentially telling Obama to put up or shut up. If the deal is so great, Warren and Brown wrote, the administration should make the full negotiation texts public before Congress votes on a "fast track" bill that would strip the legislative branch of its authority to amend it.

"Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules," Warren and Brown wrote in the letter obtained by The Huffington Post. ...

"Your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal," the letter reads. "It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that Members of Congress may 'walk over ... and read the text of the agreement' -- as we have done -- you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public."
Obama has been aggressive in defending this billionaires' dream, perhaps because of this:

Obama’s Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 1). Like Star Fleet Academy, but with corporate funding. (Discussed here.)

Regardless, the next move is his. If past is prologue, it will be coming soon. His robotic OFA forces (that's not an unfair characterization on this issue, unfortunately) are out in number, throwing up Obama's disingenuous defense of this treaty in many progressive forums. (For a prime instance, see comment threads like this at Daily Kos. There are many such examples of OFA pushback in progressive discussion spaces.)

A question for OFA defenders of TPP: You've shown your loyalty — it's to Obama and his future earnings, not your own as progressives in the "Warren wing" of the Democratic Party. What will you do when Obama is off living his future, and you're left behind to seek your own among the progressives you're now disingenuously attacking? Do you think they'll remember you the way Ro Khanna is remembered, for example?

Did "progressive" ex-OFA media shop 270 Strategies help
Ro Khanna craft this message? (
Click to enlarge; source)

Dem-on-Dem Violence: What Will Happen in the Senate?

Fast Track is coming to the Senate floor. Regardless of what Obama does, Democratic senators are going to have to show, once again, who they stand for — the richest of the rich, or American workers, small business, and, yes, national sovereignty. We've seen a lot of these opportunities for the Democratic Party to define itself. Fast Track is yet another.

Here are your corporate Democrats so far, based on their pro–Fast Track votes in the Senate Finance Committee:
  • Ron Wyden — Ranking Member and lead perp
  • Michael Bennet — Former head of DSCC
  • Maria Cantwell
  • Ben Cardin
  • Tom Carper
  • Bill Nelson
  • Mark Warner
The current Senate holds 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and 2 Independents (Sanders and King, the latter of whom often votes "corporate"). One Republican, Richard Burr (N.C.), voted No on Fast Track in committee. Let's assume all remaining Republicans vote Yes, and Burr holds firm as a No. That makes 53 Republicans plus seven Democrats voting Yes — so, 60 votes for Fast Track on the floor. Enough to break a filibuster, with zero margin for error or defection.

Your questions of the remaining Democrats:
  1. Who will join the filibuster and vote No on cloture, when the TV lights are off?
  2. Who will vote No on the floor vote, when the TV lights are on?
  3. Who will vote both ways — Yes to help end the filibuster, but No in a public-but-losing attempt to prevent the inevitable passage?
The real vote will be on cloture, a vote to end the Warren- and Brown-led filibuster. Any Democratic senator who votes to end the filibuster (where the threshold is 60 votes), yet votes No on the bill (where the threshold is 51 votes) ... is not your progressive friend. A Yes to end the filibuster means a No on the floor vote is "for show." Watch the voting, then make a list.

Watch also for Democrats voting with Republicans even when their votes aren't needed to pass Fast Track. Those could be early applications for corporate funding in their own next election.

After this, the circus moves to the House, where the Paul Ryan–led Ways and Means Committee takes up the Fast Track bill. In the House, many Republicans are opposed. Will it pass? Stay tuned.

What About Wyden?

In my humble estimation, Wyden needs to be dealt with, whether TPP ultimately passes or not. Some votes are regrettable but forgivable, some are very regrettable but forgivable, and some, like this one, should never be forgiven. Similar to NAFTA, TPP will devastate American workers (and line CEO silk pockets) for the next 20 years, after your children have children.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the Democratic perp on TPP; a face worth remembering in 2016

Wyden's seat is up in 2016. Many progressives in Oregon will not vote for Wyden, even in the general election. Others are actively looking to replace him in the primary. Care to tell Ron Wyden which side of either of those fences you're on? Here where to send a message:

Senator Ron Wyden
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C., 20510
tel (202) 224-5244
fax (202) 228-2717

Be polite, but be honest. And if you're from Oregon, tell him you vote.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)




"Like being in a bad marriage"

by Tom Sullivan

Something was bound to give. It's not as if Baltimore didn't have a reputation for brutal policing, as Digby noted last night. The Baltimore Sun investigation, "Undue Force," was from just last fall. As Tavis Smiley asked Bill O'Reilly two weeks ago in the wake of recent deaths of black men at the hands of police, "How many isolated incidents equal a pattern?" After Freddie Gray died from mysterious injuries sustained under police custody in Baltimore days later, his funeral yesterday finally set fire to fuel that was tinder-dry:

After almost two weeks of tension over the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore descended into chaos Monday.

Roaming gangs of mostly young men clashed with police in the streets, seriously injuring officers; tore open businesses; and looted their stocks. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard, and state police requested as many as 5,000 reinforcements from neighboring states.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong citywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Tuesday.

Rawlings-Blake called the rioting and destruction "idiotic."

"This isn't a white-black issue," Gray family attorney William Murphy told a crowd last night. "This is an issue of how do we treat each other as human beings." He set the rioting against the backdrop of community oppression from the days of slavery to Sundown towns to the Civil Rights era to a war on drugs that left America with more of its citizens imprisoned than any other country in the world. Murphy concluded:

"Well, we've spoken tonight. We've spoken with our feet, with our words, and most of all, with our hearts. We live here. We love it here. It's not perfect. It's like being in a bad marriage. But we're not interested in a divorce. We're willing to go into counseling with anybody that wants to make it right. But we love this city, and we're here to work as hard as we can and as long as we can until this problem is solved."

In predictable fashion, the usual media suspects will focus on the looters, on the rocks and bottles, and ignore what sent angry citizens into the streets across the country — in Ferguson, in New York, in North Charleston, and now in Baltimore.

Less predictably, as protests broke out over the weekend, Baltimore Orioles COO John Angelos, son of team owner Peter Angelos, called for due process to be completed before judging the police involved. But he set the protests in a broader context:

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

In some more-affluent, more-privileged communities, the attitude seems to be "let them eat Freedom." But for those paying closer attention, it's beginning to feel like 1968 again: Baltimore, Washington, Chicago. That's not a good feeling.

UPDATE:: Don't miss Ta-Nehisi Coates' commentary on the situation in Baltimore.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Baltimore troubles we ignored

by digby

The local press did their job. Nobody cared apparently:

The city has paid about $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits claiming that police officers brazenly beat up alleged suspects. One hidden cost: The perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police...

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.

And then Freddie Gray...


It ain't Vegas

by digby

I guess you can't call them a No-tell Motel:

City police have arrested four people staying at the Motel 6 on Jefferson Boulevard as a result of the hotel chain's agreement to provide police with a daily guest list, Mayor Scott Avedisian said Tuesday.

The names of Motel 6 guests, which police then check for outstanding warrants, is one of five steps Motel 6 corporate managers agreed to take in response to a string of high-profile incidents and concerns the establishment was becoming a haven for passing criminals.

The other measures listed in an agreement Motel 6 executives signed Tuesday include raising the minimum age to rent a room from 18 years old to 21, hiring a police detail every night, sharing their national "do not rent list" with police and conducting regular training, including on how to spot human trafficking.

"We know everyone who is staying in the hotel tonight," Avedisian said in a phone interview after a meeting with Motel 6 executives that also included Warwick police chief Col. Stephen M. McCartney and Seekonk, Mass., Town Administrator Shawn E. Cadime.

As of now, guests who check-in at Warwick’s Motel 6 will not be told their names are on a list that goes to the police station every night.

This sort of thing happens under the "third party doctrine" which basically says that if you give your information to a motel (or cell phone provider) they pretty much own it and can give it to authorities without your permission or a warrant. But hey, if you don't want to have your information handed over to the police authorities don't stay in hotels or use a cell phone. No biggie.


Accountability free politics

by digby

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written an epic piece for the American Prospect in which they look at the question of why Republicans don't pay for for their extremism. One little piece of it:
Whatever the form of participation—voting, working for candidates, contributing to campaigns—the GOP base does more of it than any other group. At the same time, the ideological distance between the party’s most active voters and the rest of the party’s electorate is greater on the GOP side than the Democratic side. Democratic activists are moderate as well as liberal (and occasionally even conservative). Republican activists are much more consistently conservative, even compared with other elements of the GOP electoral coalition.

Nonetheless, the imbalance in prevalence and intensity between self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives hasn’t changed much in 35 years—even as the role of the Republican base in American politics has changed dramatically. Something has happened that has given that base a greater weight and a greater focus on “Washington” as the central threat to American society.

Here, we need to turn our attention from the GOP’s most committed voters to the organized forces that have jet-propelled the GOP’s rightward trip. Even the most informed and active voters take their cues from organizations and elite figures they trust. (Indeed, there’s strong evidence that such voters are most likely to process information through an ideological lens.) The far right has built precisely the kind of organizations needed to turn diffuse and generalized support into focused activity on behalf of increasingly extreme candidates.

Those organized forces have two key elements: polarizing right-wing media and efforts by business and the very wealthy to backstop and bankroll GOP politics. Pundits like to point to surface similarities between partisan journalists on the left and right, but the differences in scale and organization are profound. The conservative side is massive; describing its counterpart on the left as modest would be an act of true generosity.

Do you want to see news done right?
In an age where cat memes are considered “news,” The American Prospect is dedicated to providing deep, well-reported coverage of vital issues and stories like this. Please sign up and we’ll send you more like this one.
At the heart of the conservative outrage industry, of course, is Fox News. Fox’s role as an ideological platform is unparalleled in modern American history. Its leading hosts reach audiences that dwarf their competitors’. The network plays a dominant role for its audience that is unique. And Fox is also distinguished by extraordinarily tight connections to the Republican Party—linkages, again, that have no parallel among Democrats.

What’s most remarkable is that Fox is just the beginning. The other citadel of the conservative media empire is talk radio, and if cable news looks like a lopsided teeter-totter, talk radio is that teeter-totter with a 16-ton weight attached to the right-hand side. Conservative on-air minutes outnumber liberal ones by a ratio of at least 10 to 1, and all of the major nationally syndicated shows are conservative. Just the top three have a combined weekly audience of more than 30 million. Moreover, the number of talk radio stations has tripled in the last 15 years.

The impact of all this is difficult to calculate. After all, Republicans were moving right even before Fox came on the scene, and much of Fox’s audience consists of people who already have strong political views. Even so, a recent, innovative study by scholars at Emory and Stanford finds that Fox News exposure added 1.6 points to George W. Bush’s vote in the 2000 election—more than enough to cost Al Gore the presidency. And this excludes the impact of talk radio and Fox’s further expansion since 2000. Arguably, however, the bigger impact of conservative media is to increase and focus intensity within the Republican base, sending compelling messages that build audience trust while insulating that audience from contrary information.

Flanking conservative media is a vastly expanded political infrastructure advancing a right-wing economic agenda and rewarding politicians who maintain fealty to the cause. Some analysts have stressed divisions between Establishment and Tea Party wings. But while differing over tactics and a handful of issues, the two large networks dominating GOP finances—the Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove–led network, on the one hand, and the Koch brothers network, on the other—overlap and agree far more than they conflict. These networks have coordinated their efforts in recent general elections and now provide organizational and financial support on a scale that makes them virtual political parties in their own right. The Koch network alone has announced plans to raise nearly $1 billion for the 2016 elections.

In short, the Republican base generates an exceptionally strong gravitational pull, and that pull takes politicians much farther from the electoral center than do the comparatively weak forces on the left of the Democratic Party.

This is what drives me nuts about the mainstream media. They follow this right wing infrastructure as if its legitimate and in the process legitimize it. And this:

[T]he GOP has become, in the apt words of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, “an insurgent outlier in American politics”—a party willing to tear down governance to gain larger majorities in government.

Appropriately for a party increasingly geared not to governing but to making governance impossible, the two leaders of this transformation were not in the White House but in Congress: Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. Gingrich liked to describe himself as a “transformative figure”—and he was. His political genius was to sense that if voter anxieties and anger could be directed at government and the majority party that ostensibly ran it, power would come. Achieving this goal required simultaneously ratcheting up dysfunction and disgust while more sharply distinguishing the GOP as the anti-government party.

Gingrich and his allies adopted a posture of pure confrontation. The goal was to drag the Democrats into the mud, and if some mud got on the Republicans, well, they were the minority and, besides, they were not the party of Washington. In 1988, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich described a “civil war” with liberals that had to be fought “with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.” He meant it.

Fatefully, Gingrich also went to war with moderate Republicans. (His faction liked to joke that only two groups were against them: Democrats and Republicans.) He led a rebellion against the first Bush administration’s efforts to reach across the aisle, hobbling the president’s 1992 re-election campaign before it had even started. Once the elder Bush was out of the White House, it became even easier to pursue a strategy of uncompromising opposition and scandal-mongering. Obstruction and vituperation became a twofer. With a Democratic president, the Republican assault not only weakened an opponent but promoted the sentiment that politics and governance were distasteful. Association with “Washington” became increasingly toxic, and the Democrats were the party of Washington.

The second phase of Republicans’ anti-Washington strategy was engineered primarily by Mitch McConnell. Personally devoid of mass appeal, McConnell nonetheless has a rare understanding of the American voter. Early on in his leadership, he recognized that American political institutions create a unique challenge for voters. The complexity and opacity of the process—in which each policy initiative faces a grueling journey through multiple institutions that can easily turn into a death march—make it difficult to know how to attribute responsibility. Even reasonably attentive voters face a bewildering task of sorting out blame and credit.

McConnell fully embraced this opportunity after 2008. He organized the GOP caucus in a parliamentary fashion and worked to prevent individual party members from accepting compromise: “If [Obama] was for it,” “moderate” Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.” Without Republican willingness to “play,” the imprimatur of bipartisanship was unavailable. Republicans could make the Democrats’ policy initiatives look partisan to voters and produce a pattern of gridlock and dysfunction that soured voters on government—and the party of government. American institutions, McConnell knew, gave Republicans a lot of capacity to impede governance without a lot of accountability.

On occasions, Republicans have overplayed their hand, as they did with the government shutdowns of 1995, the impeachment of Clinton in 1998, and the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011. But the GOP has escaped blame for the general decline of effective government. What voters get is a sense that the system is a mess and Washington can do little about pressing problems. If voters place blame anywhere, it is as likely as not to fall on the pro- rather than the anti-government party, and on the president, who is viewed as the country’s leader even if he has no capacity to pass laws or effectively promote bipartisanship when the GOP refuses to reciprocate.

Thus Judis is right to note that many moderately inclined Americans are now open to an anti-government message, fueled by their completely understandable distaste for contemporary Washington. This is not, however, because these voters have become more conservative. It reflects the GOP’s success in simultaneously activating and exploiting voter disgust. The deeper message of 2014 is that a radical GOP first drove government into the ditch, generating historically low approval ratings for Congress, and then reaped the benefits.

In short, Republicans have found a serious flaw in the code of American democracy. What they have learned is that our distinctive political system—abetted by often-feckless news media—gives an extreme anti-government party with a willingness to cripple governance an enormous edge. Republicans have increasingly united two potent forms of anti-statism: ideological and tactical. And they have found that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

And yes, too many Democrats play along or are too weak to confront this dynamic. The Big Money Boyz benefit and they pass on many of those benefits to political elites. But this is a strategy that comes from the right and it is enabled and advanced by the mainstream media which seems to be completely clueless.

There's a lot more at the link. I encourage you to read the whole thing. I'll be revisiting it for sure.

Right wing flights of fancy. (Yo journalists, this is a thing)

by digby

Ok, so we have two excellent examples in the last few days of right wing operatives using the same rationale for mudslinging without proof: "I'm just asking questions, I'm not an investigator. The ball is in the media's court." And like the good little lapdogs they are too many members of the press go haring off chasing the ball.

First example is, of course, "Clinton Cash" author Peter Shweizer:
SCHWEIZER: No, we don’t have direct evidence. But it warrants further investigation because, again, George, this is part of the broader pattern. You either have to come to the conclusion that these are all coincidences or something else is afoot.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that — that is that — the Clintons do say it’s a coincidence. As they say, you have produced no evidence. And I still haven’t heard any direct evidence and you just said you had no evidence that she intervened here.

Here's Paul Hinderaker on the ridiculous bogus story of Harry Reid being beaten up by Mafia thugs:

TPM: You write that you checked Pfeifer out "to the extent reasonably possible.” How did you vet him?

Hinderaker: Basically online. As I said in my post, I spent a lot of time with the guy on the telephone. And you know, he was consistent and seemingly sincere. I checked him out online, he didn't come up in any negative way under either of those names — obviously, having two names is odd.

But as I wrote in the post, just Googling Easton Elliot and Lawrence Pfeifer turned up information that tended to confirm how he described himself.

The point I kept making over and over again, is that to really investigate this, you've gotta be on the ground and you've gotta be an investigator.

And you've called for an investigation of Reid's injury, right?

Exactly, right.

And what kind of investigation? What would that look like? An actual police investigation? Could you describe that?

Well [laughs]. I can describe aspects of it, I suppose. I'm not an investigator. I don't know all the techniques that could be available to investigative reporters, even. But, I mean, there are obvious omissions in we know in this incident.

See, they're just asking questions. There's no character assassination or innuendo involved at all.

Finally, one can't help but go back to one of the more famous of these flights of fancy which I posted the other day. It was Peggy Noonan wondering why Bill Clinton would return a little six year old boy to his father:

The great unanswered question of course is: What was driving Mr. Clinton? What made him do such a thing? What accounts for his commitment in this case? Concern for the father? But such concern is wholly out of character for this president; he showed no such concern for parents at Waco or when he freed the Puerto Rican terrorists. Concern for his vision of the rule of law? But Mr. Clinton views the law as a thing to suit his purposes or a thing to get around.

Why did he do this thing? He will no doubt never say, a pliant press will never push him on it, and in any case if they did who would expect him to speak with candor and honesty? Absent the knowledge of what happened in this great public policy question, the mind inevitably wonders.

Was it fear of Fidel Castro -- fear that the dictator will unleash another flood of refugees, like the Mariel boatlift of 1980? Mr. Clinton would take that seriously, because he lost his gubernatorial election that year after he agreed to house some of the Cubans. In Bill Clinton's universe anything that ever hurt Bill Clinton is bad, and must not be repeated. But such a threat, if it was made, is not a child custody matter but a national security matter, and should be dealt with in national security terms.

Was it another threat from Havana? Was it normalization with Cuba -- Mr. Clinton's lust for a legacy, and Mr. Castro's insistence that the gift come at a price? If the price was a child, well, that's a price Mr. Clinton would likely pay. What is a mere child compared with this president's need to be considered important by history?

Was Mr. Clinton being blackmailed? The Starr report tells us of what the president said to Monica Lewinsky about their telephone sex: that there was reason to believe that they were monitored by a foreign intelligence service. Naturally the service would have taped the calls, to use in the blackmail of the president. Maybe it was Mr. Castro's intelligence service, or that of a Castro friend.

Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to. A great and searing tragedy has occurred, and none of us knows what drove it, or why the president did what he did. Maybe Congress will investigate. Maybe a few years from now we'll find out what really happened.

This irrational bullshit "speculation" is the right's modus operandi. It's really not their fault if they keep doing it.  The mainstream media keep jumping on the bandwagon.


QOTD: Steny Hoyer

by digby

“I’m thankful to all of you for what you do because I think what you do is critically important to what I do and to what our people expect us to do, and that is to understand the issues that confront us and them and make the decisions that help them.”

Was he talking to academic researchers? To his staff? To his fellow congressional representatives?

No. He was talking to a group of lobbyists.

Highpockets pwned

by digby

This is the funniest thing I've heard all year:

No, Harry Reid was not beaten up by his brother, says the man who concocted the false rumor to explain the Senate minority leader’s injuries after an exercise accident months several months ago.

Larry Pfeifer told the Las Vegas Sun that he made up the story after being appalled that conservative blogger John Hinderaker published a rumor that Reid’s injuries occurred as a result of a Mafia enforcer roughing him up.

“It was just so outrageous,” Pfeifer told the Las Vegas Sun. “The fact that someone can say something completely false that can destroy somebody’s life, it’s just wrong. Where’s the moral compass?”

Pfeifer said that he completely fabricated the story in which Reid’s brother, Larry, showed up drunk to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on New Year’s Eve and said he had beaten up a relative.
Pfeifer, whom the Sun describes as a former consultant in the nightclub and entertainment industry, said he thought the episode “would be over in a day and a half.”

Hinderaker said earlier on Laura Ingraham’s show that he had “absolutely no idea” whether the story was factual. “He called me and told me this story. He’s related it consistently. Whether he’s right or not, I don’t know,” he said.

Limbaugh also passed along the story, but stopped short of presenting it as fact. Still, Pfeifer blasted their decision to broadcast it without properly vetting the details or its source.
“They had no problem using a story that had nothing but some guy’s word,” said Pfeifer, who said he used the pseudonym Easton Elliott to spread the tale. “Not one of them knew my real name. I didn’t even give them my phone number.”

Highpockets is my pet name for Hindracker who used to blog under the pseudonym "Hindrocket" which is just so ... typical.

Couple of things. First, recall this famous Highpockets quote:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

Second, Powerline is the blog that brought then Army lieutenant Tom Cotton to national attention by publishing his op-ed calling for journalists to be jailed.


Tom Cotton leads the charge on the Patriot Act

by digby

You've undoubtedly heard that certain elements of the Patriot Act are scheduled to expire in June. What you may not have heard is that Tom Cotton is leading the charge to renew it --- and add more powers while he's at it.  I wrote about this for Salon over the week-end:

One of the more disturbing quotes of recent days (and that’s saying something) is this one:

Obviously, the idea that any insight can be gleaned from the freshman senator — who famously made the Republican caucus look like a bunch of bumbling fools when they signed on to his embarrassing letter to Iran — is the disturbing part of that comment. When I described Cotton as “a leading light on the right in foreign policy and national security,” back in February, I thought I was making a little joke. But this man, who has been in the Senate for about three months, really has become the go-to expert on all things related to foreign boogeymen.

But as Ed Kilgore noted in an interesting article last week, this is about more than just Tom Cotton. It is part of an overall GOP turn backwards on national security, which was signaled pretty clearly in the 2014 midterms.

Kilgore writes:
I didn’t write about this a whole lot in my own book on the 2014 midterms, but did discuss it: towards the end of that cycle Republican Senate candidates—led by Scott Brown, who ran a surprisingly strong race in NH—really started demagoguing about terrorists pouring into the country via “porous” borders or in response to the general surrender-money [sic] tendencies of the Obama administration. And since the elections, I think we are all aware that Republican pols and rank-and-file alike are increasingly more likely to favor a re-invasion of Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

This has made one of the big developments of the previous couple of years—the emergence of a bipartisan coalition in Congress aimed at curtailing Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) surveillance programs at NSA and elsewhere—very, very fragile.

Personally, I thought that coalition was always pretty fragile since it mostly consisted of about six libertarian cranks and a bunch of liberal Democrats, but it was something. And even more than that, the general revulsion among the public over the way the wars had been conducted under Bush and Cheney and the urgent attention required for domestic affairs in the wake of the financial crisis made national security a weak, second-tier issue for Republicans — a first in the modern era. But it was always only a matter of time before they got their hawkish mojo back, and there is no time better than when the Democrats are likely to be running a woman for president. (As I have written here before, that fits perfectly into their decades-long storyline about “feminized” Democrats that goes all the way back to the era of long-haired hippies.)
Read on to see how Cotton and company are planning their attack.

Blue America sent a letter to its members this morning. This is part of it:

There was a lot of talk at one time about a new coalition of civil libertarian Republicans and civil libertarian Democrats coming together to reform these programs now that the nation is aware of what they're actually doing. Sadly, the number of civil libertarians in the Republican Party can fit in a small Smart Car and the civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are not a majority. And with uber-hawk Tom Cotton waving the “national security” banner we can be sure the Republicans are intent upon squelching any thoughts of reform.

This is why it's so important for Democrats to elect more real progressive civil libertarians to congress. We cannot count on this tiny faction of libertarian Republicans, led by their hypocritical grandstanding leader Rand Paul, to ever provide the numbers required to roll back the surveillance state. Hawkish national security and authoritarian police policies are in the modern GOP's DNA.
This is going to require a majority progressive Democratic Party led by people like Congresswoman Donna Edwards who is now running for the Maryland Senate seat currently held by retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski. Edwards has been consistent on these issues throughout her career in congress. For instance, in 2014 she voted against the USA Freedom Act, originally conceived as a reform measure which was later gutted by the Republicans in committee. She issued this statement at the time:
“After much deliberation I opposed the USA Freedom Act because I continue to believe it doesn’t strike the necessary balance between protecting our national security and protecting our 4th Amendment rights. Without question, national security issues are critically important, and I applaud all those who work at the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and others for their dedication to duty and professionalism. We must provide them with the means to gather the information necessary to keep America safe. However, we cannot allow the pursuit of that goal to infringe on the civil liberties that we, as Americans, hold sacred and fought so hard to defend.”
She will bring that same principled clarity to the Senate.

Last week the House passed yet another Republican surveillance bill.Blue America's slate of progressive civil libertarians voted against while all the usual suspects supported it. Blue America primary candidate Alex Law, who is challenging New Jersey congressman Donald Norcross gave this statement:
"Yet again we have a clear difference between myself and my opponent in the Democratic primary in NJ-01. Today, Donald Norcross voted in support of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill that is a surveillance bill disguising itself as a cyber-security bill. This bill gives companies a significant expansion in their ability to monitor customers' online activities. It allows them to share vaguely defined 'cyber threat indicators,' which then automatically go to the NSA. The NSA is then authorized broad law enforcement rights that could stretch beyond cyber-security. This chain of events is a slippery slope. I totally disagree with the structure of this bill. We must stand up for individual privacy. What we have in this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and if I were in Congress, I would have voted against it like other progressives such as Alan Grayson and Judy Chu."
The provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire in June should not be extended. We don't know for sure if they will. The USA Freedom Act ultimately died in the Senate when the Democrats who were in the majority at the time added a few safeguards and then couldn't overcome a filibuster. (Yes, the GOP ultimately filibustered the bill for being too weak ...) The Republicans are now in charge and Tom Cotton is working overtime to give the NSA every last item on their wishlist. Perhaps we'll get lucky and gridlock will work in favor of freedom once again. But I wouldn't count on it. 
There are simply not enough principled, progressive civil libertarians in congress to stop these abuses. We must elect more of them. Please give what you can to stalwart civil libertarians like Donna Edwards and Alex Law. 

Then, give your current representatives a call and tell them you want them to vote against any extension of the Patriot Act.

Deprivation of rights under color of law ... for tasering

by digby

This could be a big case.  I hope so anyway:
Two former small town police officers in South Carolina should spend at least a year in prison for shocking a mentally disabled woman at least eight times with a Taser without giving her time to follow their orders, federal prosecutors say.

Both Eric Walters and Franklin Brown will be sentenced on federal charges Monday in Florence. The two Marion police officers pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law in October.

Walters was patrolling in Marion early on the morning of April 2013 when he saw 40-year-old Melissa Davis walking out of the yard of a home for sale. He asked her what she was doing, thinking she might have broken into the home, then shocked her with his Taser, according to court papers.

After Davis fell to the ground, Walters ordered her to put her hands behind her back, then shocked her four more times before she could respond, prosecutors said.

By the time Brown responded, Walters had determined Davis did nothing wrong and was removing the Taser probes from her back. Brown noticed one of Davis' hands had slipped from her improperly applied handcuffs and ordered everyone to move away and shocked Davis again, even though she was not trying to fight or escape, according to court papers.

Brown shocked Davis twice more, then offered to let her go if he could shoot her in the forehead one more time with his Taser, prosecutors said.

Brown told the other officers at the scene he shot Davis with the Taser because he "did not want to touch that nasty (obscenity)," according to his plea agreement.

Both officers are white. Court records did not indicate Davis' race.

Prosecutors said they agree with federal sentencing guidelines that ask for 12 to 18 months behind bars for Walters and an 18- to 24-month sentence for Brown. The guidelines are tougher for Brown because Davis was in a vulnerable position when he shocked her.

Walters' lawyer asked for a six-month prison sentence and six months of home detention because he is in poor health after several heart attacks suffered before age 39. The lawyer added that Walters had a good record as an officer before the incident. Brown's lawyers did not file any motions asking for mercy before the sentencing.

Prosecutors said the officers should have known Davis had a diminished mental state, and a lawsuit filed by her caretaker against the officers and the city of Marion said she was well known around town.

The civil suit said along with the physical pain and suffering from the shocks and their after-effects, Davis also continues to need help to deal with mental anguish from what happened. Her lawsuit is seeking a minimum of nearly $2 million.

The officers originally faced state charges, which were dropped when federal prosecutors took over. At least three officers in South Carolina have been recently charged with shooting unarmed suspects.

The fact is that mentally disabled people are often unable to follow an officer's orders. As are deaf people or those who are in the midst of a seizure or old people. Sometimes people who are nervous or anxious in the presence of police (kind of like whitecoat anxiety when you're in the presence of a doctor) can make people behave in ways that police don't care for and see as disrespect.And in all those cases and more, cops routinely shoot people with electricity to make them behave and often administer electro-shock after they are in custody to deliver some street justice for having failed to show proper respect.

And nobody gets this worse than the mentally ill. Sometimes, there may be no choice. If they are a danger to themselves or others, it might be the best way to quickly de-escalate. But the police most often use these torture weapons gratuitously and unnecessarily, either for their own convenience or out of malice. Maybe a few cases like this will start to change the legal atmosphere that allows it.


A whole new not-you

by Tom Sullivan

This is how crazy the world is. Designer Adam Harvey's goal is to make your face unrecognizable by surveillance software:

His CV Dazzle designs for hair and makeup obscure the eyes, bridge of the nose and shape of the head, as well as creating skin tone contrasts and asymmetries. Facial-recognition algorithms function by identifying the layout of facial features and supplying missing info based on assumed facial symmetry. The project demonstrates that a styled “anti-face” can both conceal a person’s identity from facial recognition software (be it the FBI’s or Facebook’s) and cause the software to doubt the presence of a human face, period.

Click through to see some of the wild makeup and hair for foiling surveillance cameras and facial recognition programs. Some of the info in this Raw Story post might be a year old or so old, but it's new to me. And not surprising. I grew up watching dystopian science fiction movies. Now it feels as if I'm living in one. But would rather not have my eyeballs replaced, thanks.

David Atkins has written here before about how technology will, inevitably, eliminate jobs in The World of Tomorrow as automation takes over. Self-driving cars, etc. The challenge is what to do with people who have become obsolete. In a lengthy article on Big Data turning you into an information source the way the Matrix turns you into a power source, Jacob Silverman writes at Salon:

This situation won’t be completely remedied by more aggressive regulation, consumer protections, and eliminating tax breaks. Increasing automation, fueled by this boom in data collection and mining, may lead to systemic unemployment of a kind we’ve never seen. Those contingent workers laboring for tech companies through Elance or Mechanical Turk will soon enough be replaced by automated systems. It’s clear that, except for an elite class of managers, engineers, and executives, human labor is seen as a problem that technology can solve. In the meantime, those whose sweat this industry still relies upon find themselves submitting to exploitative conditions, whether as a Foxconn worker in Shenzhen or a Postmates courier in San Francisco. As one Uber driver complained to a reporter: “We have a real person performing a function, not a Google automatic car. We have become the functional end of the app.” It might not be long before he is traded in for a self-driving car. They don’t need breaks, they don’t worry about safety conditions or unions, they don’t complain about wages. Compared to a human being, automatic cars are perfectly efficient.

And who will employ him then? Who will be interested in someone who’s spent a few years bouncing between gray-market transportation facilitation services, distributed labor markets, and other hazy digital makework? He will have no experience, no connections, and little accrued knowledge. He will have lapsed from subsistence farming in the data fields to something worse and more desultory—a superfluous machine.

Once that happens, will Big Data even care what superfluous machines "like" on Facebook?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

SWATing with cops

by digby

Somehow I don't think this is what the founders had in mind when they wrote the 4th Amendment:

A Residence With Locking Doors And A Working Toilet Is All That's Needed To Justify A No-Knock Warrant

No-knock warrants have become the strategy of first choice for many police departments. Most of these target those suspected of drug possession or sales, rather than the truly dangerous situations they should be reserved for. The rise in no-knock warrants has resulted in an increased number of deadly altercations. Cops have been shot in self-defense by residents who thought their homes were being invaded by criminals. Innocent parties have been wounded or killed because the element of surprise police feel is so essential in preventing the destruction of evidence puts cops -- often duded up in military gear -- into a mindset that demands violent reaction to any perceived threat. In these situations, the noise and confusion turns everything into a possible threat, even the motions of frightened people who don't have time to grasp the reality -- and severity -- of the situation.

No-knock warrants are basically SWATting, with cops -- rather than 13-year-old gamers -- instigating the response. Judges should be holding any no-knock warrant request to a higher standard and demand more evidentiary justification for the extreme measure -- especially considering the heightened probability of a violent outcome. But they don't.

A Massachusetts court decision posted by the extremely essential FourthAmendment.com shows just how little it takes to obtain a no-knock warrant. The probable cause provided to obtain the no-knock warrant was ridiculous, but it wasn't challenged by the magistrate who signed off on the request. What's detailed here should raise concerns in every citizen.
The affidavit supporting the warrant contained the following representations: 1) the extensive training and experience in drug investigations, controlled purchases and arrests of the officer who made the affidavit, 2) the confidential informant's report that the apartment for which a warrant was sought was "small, confined and private," 3) the confidential informant's report that the defendant "keeps his door locked and admits only people whom he knows," 4) the fact that the defendant sold drugs to the informant only after arrangements were made by telephone, and 5) the officer's assessment that, given the retail nature of the defendant's operation and the fragile nature of the illegal drugs involved, "it would not be difficult for [the defendant] to destroy the narcotics if given the forewarning."
In other words, if you have a "private" home with working toilets and locks and you don't routinely allow complete strangers to wander around your home, you, too, could be subjected to a no-knock warrant. This description fits pretty much every person who lives in a residence anywhere. All it takes is an officer's "upon information and belief" statement and a few assertions from a confidential informant, whose otherwise unreliable narration (if, say, he/she was facing charges in court) is routinely treated as infallible by cops and courts alike.

I was watching the show "Turn" the other night, which is about the Revolutionary War. And in the show one of the main things that really chaps the colonists' hides is the high-handed way the government soldiers and other representatives just storm into their homes whenever they pleased. Not all that much has changed, unfortunately. And they are mostly doing it in service of the insane war on drugs.

Sunday Funnies

by digby

From the Pulitzer Prize nominated Tom Tomorrow:

TPP for dummies:

Laboratories of failure

by digby

Paul Rosenberg has a deep dive piece at Salon today about the abject failure of GOP economic policies and how that's likely to be a big factor in the presidential race. Here's a bit of it:

What do Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal all have in common? They’re all sitting governors who’d like to be president, sure. But what else?

How about being embarrassingly bad at job creation? That’s right. From January 2011 through January 2015, Louisiana under Jindal ranked 32nd in job creation with 5.4 percent growth over four years. Wisconsin under Walker ranked 35th, with 4.85 percent growth. New Jersey under Christie ranked 40th, with 4.15 percent growth. This compares with a national average of 8.21 percent.

Even Ohio’s John Kasich, who’s worked more with Democrats—most notably by agreeing to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare—and thus tarnished his brand with conservative purists while puffing himself up with Beltway pundits — only ranked 23rd. He’s still under the national average, with Ohio’s 6.23 percent growth. Ohio has yet to get back to 2007 employment levels, “The nation and the majority of other states reached this benchmark in 2014,” said researcher Hannah Halbert, in a statement from Policy Matters Ohio.

And then there’s Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, once a 2016 hopeful cheered on by Grover Norquist and supported by supply-side icon Arthur Laffer in his crusade to slash (and eventually abolish) Kansas state income tax—a sure-fired job-creation move, according to the promises of all concerned. Justly dubbed a “failed experiment” for the massive deficits it has generated, the experiment also produced only lackluster job growth of 5.95 percent, ranking 28th in the nation—better than Walker and Christie, sure, but lower than its neighbors in Nebraska (25th) and Oklahoma (14th).

After years on end of House Speaker John Boehner whining, “Where are the jobs?” this is a singularly unimpressive lot of contenders, wannabes and dropouts. But it’s not an anomaly, as we’ll soon see. Nor is it an anomaly that the national press, so far, routinely ignores this abysmal record. But can they continue to ignore it going forward—particularly in the age of social media?

Historically, state governors have been the most credible candidates for president. Eight sitting governors have been elected to the White House, compared to just three sitting senators, and four vice presidents (compared to eight who took office after a president died). As chief executive of a state, governors can claim an experience most similar to that of president (though without the foreign policy part), and the potential diversity of that experience purportedly allows for an influx of proven practical state-level solutions to be ushered onto the national stage.

At least that’s how the political folklore goes. Now, however, it’s something of the opposite. With the off-year Tea Party wave of 2010 sweeping a large number of ideologically extreme politicians into office, decades of right-wing state-level institution-building reached fruition, and helped establish a high degree of uniformly mistaken economic practices—cutting taxes, public investment and much-needed services, all in accordance with a playbook that’s a proven loser. While individual presidential candidates can be expected to blow their own horns, the fact that their basic playbooks are all so similar opens them up to a broader attack: the entire framework of how they think about economic policy simply doesn’t work.

They'll talk about tax rates as if that's a substitute for jobs and growth and economic security. It will be interesting to watch them spin. But we've had a major experiment in the "laboratories of democracy" these past few years and the picture isn't pretty.

Rosenberg presents tons of data to support this in the rest of the piece, all of which is very informative.

What is this "appearance of conflict of interest" you speak of?

by digby

While the Village scribes were all preening about their moral superiority and pretending there's nothing even slightly unseemly about hobnobbing with the officials they cover and kissing the rings of Hollywood celebrities, look what the Republican candidates were up to:

This weekend, Republican presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), will travel to Las Vegas to audition for billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s backing at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting. In their speeches, the candidates will make their pitch to Adelson that they mostly closely share his interests.
Mega donor Adelson and his wife Miriam spent nearly $150 million on the 2012 election — more than the Koch brothers — and are likely to match that amount this campaign cycle. With his $32 billion net worth, Adelson was the single largest campaign donor in American history.

Early in the last presidential election, Adelson made a decision to give a majority of his donations to conservative nonprofits which do not disclose donors. At the time, Adelson said he believed the media’s use of the phrase “casino mogul” when discussing his contributions is not helpful to the people he is trying to elect. By the time President Obama was reelected, Adelson had given close to $50 million of his contributions to dark money groups that were created after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stream of rulings against political spending limits.
But even though his donations may not be disclosed, his intentions are still transparent.
Last year, the “Sheldon Adelson primary,” as it has been called, auditioned Gov. Chris Christie (R), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), among others. Those candidates and the ones speaking this year will all try to one-up each other by appealing to the policies Adelson most strongly supports.

Adelson owes hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year, a low amount considering his wealth that he achieves through loopholes like shifting his stock holdings in ways that exempt the transfers from federal taxes. The GOP candidates speaking at this weekend’s meeting have all proposed making his rate even lower.

Bush has called for eliminating the capital gains tax which would have given Adelson and his wife an estimated $139.7 million tax cut in 2013 on dividends from their shares in Adelson’s company alone, according to a Center for American Progress report. Meanwhile, Cruz co-sponsored a 2013 tax proposal that called for replacing all income, payroll and employment taxes with a 23 percent sales tax. If that were to pass, Adelson’s taxes would be almost completely eliminated. And Perry’s proposed 20 percent flat tax would give Adelson an almost $142 million tax cut.
One of the issues most important to Adelson is his staunch opposition to a Palestinian state and his unwavering support for Israel. Adelson owns a popular newspaper in Israel called the Israel Hayom, which is widely recognized as having the singular goal of promoting Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Although Israeli campaign finance rules prevent contributions from non-Israeli citizens, “the existence of a newspaper like Israel Hayom egregiously violates the law, because [Adelson is] actually is providing a candidate with nearly unlimited resources,” Hebrew University economist Momi Dahan told the American Prospect.

But of course it doesn't matter. According to the Villagers, there is no "appearance of conflict of interest" in their little week-end soiree and neither is there even the slightest reason to be concerned about any "appearance" of a quid-pro-quo when Republican candidates for president openly go begging for money from billionaires who openly require them to promise to deliver on their pet issues.

All of this is evidently perfectly fine, nothing to see here. Nobody said a word about it on any of the morning shows. But then they didn't have time what with all their pearl clutching and hand wringing over Clinton's "appearance of conflict of interest" with the family's global charity.

Near certainty is in the eye of the beholder

by digby

Here's a quote for the ages:

Mr. Weinstein’s death caused some in the White House to question whether the president’s policy was being followed. “It makes you wonder whether the intelligence community’s definition of near certainty is the same as everybody else’s,” said a senior administration official. “But the near certainty standard is the best possible standard.”

I don't even know what to say to that. Don't they have any criteria or do they just ask the analyst what his gut tells him? And how can you call something a "standard" if you don't even know how it's defined?

CNN's latest war porn images 

by digby

Can you see the problem with the following images?

I knew that you could. Those images are from other countries. There are no ISIS fighters taking to the streets of Oxnard waving their ISIS flags. And most people surely know that on a conscious level. But by telling these stories of American threats with this footage they create a scary, subliminal image in the minds of Americans who are watching, especially those who are only halfway paying attention, which is most of us.

I seem to recall some alleged journalistic ethic from the dark ages that said you must never use images which are not directly related to the story you are telling. Now, it's true that in the screen shot at the top, it says "Syria" in small print, but that doesn't get them off the hook. All day long they had "experts" from a remote location calling in to talk about this story in exactly the same way they might have a correspondent on the phone talking from a battlefield.  The whole thing was set up to look as if ISIS had invaded the United States.

Again, people certainly understood on a conscious level that this was not the case.  But subconsciously, these images are now associated with a threat to America.  CNN was telling a story with those images but it wasn't a news story it was a fantasy, one designed to titillate its audience. Turn the sound off when one of these stories comes on and you'll understand the plot they're selling.

When these guys get bored by politics it's very bad news

by digby

Corey Robin has a good piece in Salon this morning warning about this latest expression of political ennui coming from certain writers. He warns that when people of this ilk get bored with politics it's usually time to start a war.
Packer belongs to a special tribe of ideologically ambidextrous scribblers — call them political romantics — who are always on the lookout for a certain kind of experience in politics. They don’t want power, they don’t seek justice, they’re not interested in interests. They want a feeling. A feeling of exaltation and elation, unmoored from any specific idea or principle save that of sacrifice, of giving oneself over to the nation and its cause.

It’s not that political romantics seek the extinction of the self in the purgative fire of the nation-state. It’s that they see in that hallucination an elevation of the self, a heightening of individual feeling, an intensification of personal experience. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They think they’re shopping for the public good, but they’re really in the market for is an individual experience. An experience that often comes with a hefty price tag.
It's the media, too, although they are moved by a simpler desire for sheer stimulation which can be delivered through tabloid stories, disasters and other major events. But little gets their juices flowing like a war. (Why else do we see all these reporters embellishing their stories of being in the battle?)

And needless to say, nothing makes right wing hawks happier than when they can march around wrapped in the flag calling everyone else a traitor.

Read the whole thing, it's very good. And then check out this older piece by Chris Hayes talking about how so many of the Iraq war cheerleaders openly expressed a desire to be another "Greatest Generation." This is a rather human impulse, I think.  But one that should be resisted, particularly by the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth.


The plaintive cry of the perpetually oppressed

by Tom Sullivan

A somewhat misanthropic friend once said if he ever wound up as an insider in some group he would have to create an outside just to feel like himself. Even as conservative Christians insist that they are America, inhabiting a country created by God himself just for them, and as sure as the prosperity gospel that he smiles upon and blesses them, they are most comfortable posturing as oppressed outsiders. So GOP presidential wannabes were on message yesterday in Iowa:

“The single greatest threat to all of our freedoms is the threat to your religious liberty,” Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, told the crowd in a speech that at times sounded like a church sermon. “Let me be clear tonight: I’m not backing off because what I’m saying is true. We are criminalizing Christianity in this country.”

That theme was predictably popular and reverberated throughout a five-hour-long summit hosted by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition that attracted more than 1,200 Republicans and churchgoers. The event kicked off with a prayer calling on the Lord to "restore this country through godly leadership."

“You know, in the past month we have seen religious liberty under assault at an unprecedented level,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his White House bid last month. He was also met with repeated bursts of applause.

You know the drill. If you won't let us dominate you, then you're oppressing us.

Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal this week took to the New York Times to position himself as defender of the faith:

Our country was founded on the principle of religious liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn’t an individual or business have the right to cite, in a court proceeding, religious liberty as a reason for not participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony that violates a sincerely held religious belief?

In an America in which over three-quarters identify as Christians, a GOP that controls both houses of Congress, 31 governorships, and nearly 70 percent of state legislatures is, according to Jindal, beset on all sides by "left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom" and "seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence."

As Heather Cox Richardson observed in Salon, Jindal laid bare Movement Conservatism's Grand Bargain when he wrote that defending freedom "requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters." And what's really got Jindal and the religious right pissed is that after Walmart and NASCAR sided with marriage equality activists against recent "religious freedom" bills, the bargain is broken. Richardson writes:

Its end has been a long time coming. The toxic amalgam of economic and social reactionaries that Jindal identified began to mix after the Second World War. Americans in that era rallied behind the New Deal consensus. Reactionary businessmen loathed business regulation and taxation, but had no luck convincing voters to turn against the policies most saw as important safeguards against another Great Depression. Then, in 1951, a wealthy young writer suggested that social issues might be the way to break popular support for the New Deal. William F. Buckley, Jr. advanced the idea that unfettered capitalism and Christianity should be considered fundamental American values that could not be questioned. According to him, anyone who called for an active government or a secular society was an anti-American collectivist in league with international communism.

With communism a fading memory except among aging Cold Warriors, and with one-quarter of the world's population Muslim, Movement Conservatives will have a hard time getting buy-in from multinational corporations in alienating an already huge and growing market. What the religious conservatives are waking up to post-Indiana is that their former partners no longer need them.

Perhaps capitalists should have betrayed them with a kiss?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies

Stealing the sun from the day: Top 10 Eco-docs

By Dennis Hartley

Come on you world, won’t you give a damn?
Turn on some lights and see this garbage can
Time is the essence if we plan to stay
Death is in stride when filth is the pride of our home

-from “Powerful People” by Gino Vanelli

So, did you do anything special for Earth Day? I know, if you blinked, you missed it. But in case you care, it was this past Wednesday. Frankly, it almost seems counter-productive to have a once-a-year, standalone Earth “day”, because when you stop to think about it for about, oh, 5 seconds, shouldn’t every day be “earth day”? It sort of devalues the importance of taking care of our planet (since we appear to have only been issued the one, far back as I can remember). And what with the drought in California and the rising sea levels in Florida, and the snow-less winter in Anchorage, Alaska (they had to start the Iditarod in Fairbanks this year, ferchrissake) and the record snow in New England…you get the picture. At any rate, in honor of Earth Day (week), I’ve cobbled together my picks for Top 10 Eco-docs. As per usual, my list is alphabetical, in no ranking order. And, as long as you don’t print it out, this week’s post is 100% biodegradable (it’s a com-post!).

Carbon Nation-The tag line for Peter Byck’s 2009 documentary promises “a climate change solutions movie that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change”. This is either good news or bad news, depending on what you generally look for in an eco-doc. If you are looking to have your worst fears confirmed about how screwed the planet might be, or a “catch ‘em with their pants down” muckraker about the fossil fuels industry, (like Gasland) then you may be frustrated by Byck’s non-partisan approach. However, if you already “get” the part about the sky falling, yet yearn for positive news on the solutions front, this film just might inspire you. Byck traverses America, profiling people who are striving to make actual headway to lighten our carbon footprint. And that’s a good thing.

Chasing Ice- This is not a putdown: Jeff Orlowski’s film is glacially paced. Because these days, “glacial pacing” ain’t what it used to be. Glaciers are moving along (”retreating”, technically) at a pretty good clip. This does not portend well for the planet. To put it in a less flowery way…we’re fucked. After all, according to renowned nature photographer (and film subject) James Balog, “The story…is in the ice.” Balog’s fascinating journey began in 2005, while he was on an assignment in the Arctic for National Geographic to document the effect of climate change. Up until that fateful trip, he candidly admits on camera that he “…didn’t think humans were capable” of affecting the Earth’s weather patterns in such a profound manner. His epiphany gave birth to a multi-year project utilizing specially modified time-lapse cameras to capture irrefutable proof that affective global warming had transcended academic speculation. The resulting images are beautiful and mesmerizing, yet also troubling. Orlowski’s film itself mirrors the dichotomy, being in equal parts cautionary eco-doc and art installation. This is best illustrated in a jaw-dropping sequence depicting an ice peninsula equivalent in size to lower Manhattan sluicing off of Greenland’s massive Hulissat Glacier. The image handily trumps the squawking that emits from the likes of the bloviating global climate deniers featured in the opening montage, and proves a picture is worth a thousand words.

If A Tree Falls A Story of the Earth Liberation Front- According to the FBI’s definition, “eco-terrorism” is “…the use (or threatened use) of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, sub-national group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.” That certainly covers a lot of ground. There are a number of “environmentally-oriented” types in the federal pen right now for non-lethal actions that the government considers terrorism and that others consider heroic. So what circumstance can transform a nature lover into a freedom fighter? This is not a black and white issue; a point not lost on co-directors Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman. They focus primarily on Earth Liberation Front member Daniel McGowan, who at the time of filming was facing a possible life sentence for direct involvement in several high-profile “actions” (like setting fire to an Oregon lumber mill) resulting in millions of dollars in property damage. Holed up in his sister’s apartment, and sporting a house arrest anklet for the first third of the film, McGowan candidly opens up about his life and talks about what led him to change his M.O. from “environmental activism” to “domestic terrorism”. Don’t expect any easy answers, but do expect a well-balanced and compelling look at a complex issue.

An Inconvenient Truth- I re-watched this on cable recently; I hadn’t seen it since it opened in 2006, and what struck me is how it now plays less like a warning bell and more like the nightly news. It’s the end of the world as we know it. Apocalyptic sci-fi is now scientific fact. Former VP/Nobel winner Al Gore is a Power Point-packing Rod Serling, submitting a gallery of nightmare nature scenarios for our disapproval. I’m tempted to say that Gore and director Davis Guggenheim’s chilling look at the results of unchecked global warming only reveals the tip of the proverbial iceberg…but it’s melting too fast.

Koyannisqatsi -Released in 1982, this is a profound, mesmerizing tone poem for all the senses, and one of those films that nearly defies description. It’s the first (and best) of a film trilogy. The title is taken from the ancient Hopi language, and describes a state of “life out of balance”. There are likely as many interpretations of what the film is “about” as there are people who have viewed it; if I had to make a broad generalization, I would say it’s about technology vs. nature, and mankind’s ongoing roughshod trampling of Mother Earth. But you’ll have to experience it for yourself (if you haven’t already!). Director Godfrey Reggio, cinematographer Ron Fricke and composer Philip Glass appear to have born to work together on this project; the result is sheer artistic perfection. I must have seen this film at least 30 times, and I’ll never tire of it. Reggio followed up in 1988 with Powaqqatsi (worth watching, but comes off a bit like a coffee table book variation of its predecessor) and the well-produced yet curiously uninvolving Naqoyqatsi in 2002.

Manufactured Landscapes -A unique eco-documentary from Jennifer Baichwal about photographer Edward Burtynsky, who is an “earth diarist” of sorts. While his photographs are striking, they don’t paint a pretty picture of our fragile planet. Burtynsky’s eye discerns a terrible beauty in the wake of the profound and irreversible human imprint incurred by accelerated modernization. As captured by Burtynsky’s camera, strip-mined vistas recall the stark desolation of NASA photos sent from the Martian surface; mountains of “e-waste” dumped in a vast Chinese landfill take on an almost gothic, cyber-punk dreamscape. The photographs play like a scroll through Google Earth images, as reinterpreted by Jackson Pollock. This one is a real eye-opener!

No Impact Man- Sometimes, it takes another guilty liberal to make a guilty liberal like me feel, well, guiltier; and filmmakers Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein succeeded in doing so in their 2009 film, documenting the efforts of blogger/author Colin Beavan to spend one year making as little environmental impact as possible. Operating under the supposition that there are more than a few well meaning, self-proclaimed “environmentally conscious” wags out there that don’t exactly practice what they preach (and humbly considering himself to be among them) Beavan set out to put his mulch where his mouth is. He convinces his dazzling urbanite wife, Business Week writer Michelle Conlin (a classic NYC neurotic) and their toddler to join in as well. So how does a family of Manhattanites pull it off without leaving their metropolitan cocoon? The paradox provides rich narrative compost for the filmmakers, and they cultivate it well.

Oceans- In their magnificent nature documentary, directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud wisely avoid hitting us over the head with cautionary rhetoric about mankind’s tendency to poison the precious well of life that covers three-quarters of our planet with pollution, overfishing and unchecked oil exploration. Any viewer, who becomes immersed in this stunningly photographed portrait of the delicately balanced aquatic ecosystem, yet fails to feel connected to the omniverse we cohabit with it (and a resulting sense of shared responsibility), has something missing in their soul. Or as the great Jacques Cousteau once said…“We forget that the life cycle and the water cycle are one.”

Queen Of The Sun- I never thought that a documentary about honeybees would make me both laugh and cry-but Taggart Siegel’s 2010 film managed to do just that. Appearing at first glance to be a distressing, hand-wringing examination of Colony Collapse Syndrome, a phenomenon that has puzzled and dismayed beekeepers and scientists alike with its accelerated frequency of occurrences over the past few decades, the film becomes a sometimes joyous, sometimes humbling meditation on how essential these seemingly insignificant yet complex social creatures are to the planet’s life cycle. We bipeds might harbor a pretty high opinion of our own place on the evolutionary ladder, but Siegel lays out a convincing case which proves that these “lowly” insects are, in fact, the boss of us.

True Wolf- It’s often said that “politics makes strange bedfellows”, but have you ever heard of a “wolf ambassador”? Before I screened Rob Whitehair’s modest but engrossing documentary, I certainly hadn’t. The film tells the story of how a wolf named Koani became an environmental activist (in a manner of speaking) and touched the lives of thousands. Born into captivity, Koani was raised by Montana couple Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker, who co-founded Wild Sentry: The Northern Rockies Ambassador Wolf Program back in 1991. The star of the show was Koani, who travelled around the country with Tucker, who wanted to dispel age-old myths about wolves. Ever cognizant of the inherent “wrong” (no matter how noble one’s intentions) in keeping such a magnificent wild creature as a pet, Weide and Tucker nonetheless overcame these challenges and found a way to make Koani’s life matter, and it all makes for an amazingly moving story.

…and singing us out, Gino Vanelli (try to get past the skintight elephant bells, chest hair and disco moves, and focus on the lyrics…also, that is one tight band backing up Gino!)

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