House Rules define an earmark as legislation authorizing a grant to an entity outside of statutory, administrative, or competitive award process. Section 6 of H.R. 3 grants a right-of-way and a temporary use permit, outside of an established statutory, administrative, or competitive award process, to only one entity: the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill also is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers, and offends the principle underlying the prohibition of bills of attainder.
Speaker John Boehner has two days to consider and respond to Grayson’s resolution.
“The Keystone XL Pipeline deal is an earmark to a foreign corporation, plain and simple,” Grayson said. “House Republicans claim to have been incredibly keen on ridding our legislative system of Congressional earmarks-- yet here they are-- hypocritically sneaking one in for a foreign corporation. They seem to believe that the ‘no earmarks’ rule does not apply to them. That’s just unacceptable.”
I'm pretty sure the Republicans (and a fair number of Democrats) think that giveaways to oil companies are what they've been sent to congress to do. They certainly don't think of them as "earmarks" which I believe are defined as "any local project that doesn't benefit one of my rich donors."
I'm all for congressional authority and I would guess that in this case, the President might even welcome them taking that Keystone hot potato off his hands. But this is a a crude (pardon the pun) usurpation of executive power, in order to favor a specific, and extremely controversial, project is brazen, even by this congress' standards.
I don't know what Blitzer's personal religious views are, but he comes across in this segment as attempting to talk down to the "little people" of Oklahoma as one of them by using their religious vernacular. Blitzer doesn't seem like the Bible-thumping type, but he is extremely condescending and constantly out of his depth. Fantastically for her, the tornado victim he was interviewing had the courage of her convictions and embarrassed the heck out of him.
Stock market highs --- and high unemployment: the new normal?
The Washington Post rather blandly reports today that nobody in the government gives a damn about unemployment anymore because the stock market is roaring and the wealthy donor class in both parties is partying like rock stars. No really:
Washington has all but abandoned efforts to help the economy recover faster — and lawmakers don’t seem worried that voters will punish them for it.
There are no serious negotiations underway between the White House and congressional leaders on legislation to spur growth, and no bipartisan “gangs” of senators are huddling to craft a compromise job-creation package.
Yet economic growth remains slow by historical standards, and 11.5 million Americans are still looking for work. More than 4 million people have been unemployed for longer than six months. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found in April that two-thirds of Americans said jobs were difficult to find in their communities.
“I’m disappointed that there isn’t more of an effort being made” on the economy, said John Engler, the Republican former governor of Michigan who is now president of the Business Roundtable. “I don’t know if people have concluded that there’s been a reset — we’ve accepted these higher levels [of unemployment] and that’s a new normal. I hope not.”
Why? CEOs and stockholders are doing just fine. I'm sure they'll get to job creatin' any day now:
One key Washington constituency is feeling a new normal: stock market highs.
Fifty-two percent of white Americans earning $50,000 a year or more are optimistic about the national economy, a 13-percentage-point increase from December, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Thanks largely to that shift and to persistent optimism among higher- income nonwhites, economic optimism among all Americans is at its highest level since early 2009.
The change tracks the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, which has risen 20 percent in the past six months. Higher-income Democrats and, perhaps most notably, Republicans are all feeling the effects. Obama’s approval rating for handling the economy among higher-income Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, while dismal, has more than doubled over the past six months.
Well, as long as they're happy. But it does raise the question: with all this confidence, why aren't they creating more jobs?
Oh right. I forgot. They're worried about regulations now. But hey, at least we've made sure that labor costs stay low even as the moneyed elite are cleaning up on their investments. I'm sure they'll get to dismantling all the consumer and safety regulations in due time:
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), vice chairman of the Congress Joint Economic Committee, said her efforts have moved past a “crisis mentality” and talk of “stimulus” and into measures to boost America’s economic competiveness in the long term, including skills training for workers, infrastructure improvements, export promotion and streamlining some government regulations.
She’s optimistic some of those initiatives could win enough bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House to become law this year. “If it was up to me,” she said, “this is all we’d be doing.”
There ya go.
The tone of this piece is so blase --- simply observing the phenomenon as if it's an act of nature --- that I have to assume this is just Village conventional wisdom. 7+ percent unemployment for years on end is kind of a shame, but there's no need to get all hot and bothered about it. It's just the way it is. The new normal. Is that sustainable?
We already knew that JP Morgan is too big to fail, and its powerful CEO Jame Dimon too big to jail. But now it appears that even after a string of multi-billion dollar losses, Dimon is too big to fire:
Jamie Dimon, the nation’s most powerful banker, can hold onto his title of chairman after JPMorgan Chase’s shareholders decisively defeated a proposal to split the two top jobs.
The vote to split the roles of chairman and chief executive — both of which have been held by Mr. Dimon since 2006 — received only 32.2 percent of shares voted. That is down from a vote of roughly 40 percent in support of a similar proposal last year.
All 11 directors of the bank’s board were also re-elected.
Shares of JPMorgan were up more than 2 percent in midday trading.
The votes were a convincing show of shareholder support for Mr. Dimon and the board even amid persistent questions about the bank’s controls and its dealings with regulators. Those questions have emerged after a multibillion-dollar trading loss in the bank’s chief investment office in London surprised investors last year.
Why did shareholders re-elect him?
The shareholder vote on the proposal for an independent chairman was closely watched and provided some uncomfortable scrutiny of Mr. Dimon’s leadership.
Yet some industry analysts have said that a vote in support of Mr. Dimon was assured by the complexity of JPMorgan Chase. A vote to divest Mr. Dimon of the chairman title might have prompted him to walk away, threatening to disrupt the rosy stream of profits the bank has earned for three years.
So Jamie Dimon uses his connections to assure that the government bails out his business that would otherwise have gone defunct, while continuing to extract enormous rents from the real American economy to enrich himself and his predatory friends. His business is too big and too complex to be allowed to fail, a fact which he uses to his advantage.
And even after enormous losses to the bank are revealed--losses that accrued in large part due to the complexity of the banking system--shareholders are too fond of the ill-gotten gains he provides and too fearful that no one else will understand the overwrought complexity of the business to even consider firing him.
We essentially have a class of totally unaccountable royalty on Wall Street today.
Hey progressive Los Angeles: don't forget to vote. It's important for today and the future.
I live in Santa Monica so I can't vote in today's election. But if I could I'd vote for Eric Garcetti for mayor. And if you want to know why, read Howie's glowing endorsement. I'll just quote the opening:
I don't recall any L.A. Mayor going on to be President of the United States. Eric Garcetti could be the first.
(I would only add that he's one of the most normal politicians I've ever met, which may just disqualify him for that office.)
He's a real progressive and a good politician. If you're an LA voter don't wimp out and say it doesn't matter. It does. He'll be good for LA, and Lord knows this city needs some smart leadership. But we need good, smart, young progressives like Garcetti in the pipeline. This is step one.
There's hypocrisy ... and then there's James Inhofe
Look, he's never been the most consistent guy around and it's pretty obvious he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. But this really takes the cake. Here's Joan Walsh:
Inhofe, of course, believes his state deserves those resources, even though he voted down aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. On MSNBC, Chris Jansing confronted Inhofe about his calling the Sandy aid bill a “slush fund,” and the brazen right-winger insisted the two issues shouldn’t be linked.
“Let’s look at that, that was totally different,” Inhofe told Jansing. “They were getting things—for instance that was supposed to be in New Jersey, they had things in the Virgin Islands, they were fixing roads there, they were putting roofs on houses in Washington D.C., everyone was getting in and exploiting the tragedy taking place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”
Inhofe’s answer is too dishonest to fully parse. First of all, there was Sandy damage way beyond New Jersey, including in the Caribbean and Washington D.C. too. And Inhofe had different objections to the Sandy bill at the time. In a rambling, hard to follow Senate floor speech blocking Sandy aid last December, the Oklahoma conservative objected to the bill’s timing – “There’s always a lot of theater right before Christmas time… We shouldn’t be talking about it right before Christmas” – even though it was already going on two months since the storm ravaged the east coast.
Do you think New Yorkers will be as kind to us as you were to them?
I hope not.
They won't. They actually believe we are one country. James Inhofe doesn't.
By the way, President Obama's BRFF Tom Coburn is being consistent saying he won't vote for disaster funding for his own state unless there are offsetting cuts elsewhere. And that means he not only thinks it's cool that some states already pay far more in taxes and get less back than Oklahoma, but their citizens --- only the poorer ones natch --- should also give up what little they do get for Oklahoma's disasters. Win, win, win for Tom Coburn.
Harry Reid should bring a funding bill to the floor and make Tom Coburn vote against it. Maybe his constituents will be impressed by his consistency. Maybe ...
Dispatch from Taser Nation: dealing humanely with peaceful protesters is just too much trouble
You may have heard about the protests at the DOJ by foreclosed upon homeowners demanding that Eric Holder prosecute some bankers for their criminal activity. If you haven't, you can read all about it here.
Unfortunately, I received reports last night that citizens exercising their right to peacefully protest were being casually tasered by the authorities.
This came from my friend Jason Rosenbaum, who was there:
At the start of the action, when the protesters and homeowners arrived at the south entrance of the DOJ, we were greeted by half a dozen police in tactical gear or uniforms and a metal barrier cutting off access to a small courtyard in front of the large DOJ doors. The group of protesters rallied at the barrier and the planters next to it that made up the square and homeowners slowly climbed over the barriers in an attempt to gain an audience at the DOJ and register their complaints. At that point, the police were keeping people from climbing over, but eventually the police retreated and a few homeowners and protesters made it over and sat down to occupy that space. More joined them. After about 10 minutes, as more climbed over the barrier and the crowd occupied more space, the police retreated up the few steps leading to the door, and eventually ceded the square entirely by going inside the DOJ, leaving the protesters and homeowners alone in the square. The protesters took down the barriers at that point and everyone occupied the square, complete with signs, chants, couches, tents, and the like. (There's video/photos of this on my Twitter feed, @j_ro.)
That was phase one -- for the next phase, the protest split into three groups, with one staying at the south entrance and the two others to take entrances on the north and west sides of the building. I went with the group going to the west, and we were met again by police presence at the west entrance. We pushed on through to the north entrance around the block, and again were met by police. After sitting down there for a bit and taking the intersection down the block, we were notified that our brethren needed our help back at the south entrance and we marched over.
When I got there with the crowd in my group, the police had about a dozen homeowners in plastic cuffs on the south steps and had set up a police line around the original square in front of the door. The people in my group rushed through the line to sit down with their fellow protesters and homeowners being arrested, and it was at this point that at least one officer took out his taser gun, pulled the trigger, and started using it to push back those in the crowd coming to the support of those being arrested. That's what you see in my video. As Matt noted, it was over very quickly, with protesters looking to peacefully support those who were being arrested being tased and pushed back, and those being arrested led into a police van and driven away for processing.
At this point, as the arrests were being loaded into the van, another group of about a dozen sat down inside the police barrier and as far as I know they're still there (I had to leave about an hour after the initial arrests). So there may be more arrests to come shortly.
There is nothing new about protesters gathering at government buildings. And it has never been a problem for the police to arrest protesters in an orderly fashion, even when the protesters are not cooperating by sitting down and refusing to move. This is the way civil disobedience has worked for many a moon.
Shooting protesters full of electricity in order to get them to fall to the ground in excruciating pain, dazed and compliant, however, is new. And it's completely unnecessary, not to mention contrary to our long tradition of peaceful protest. I thought this sort of thing went out with the use of firehoses and police dogs.
It happened again today, this time well captured on video:
Note the casual sadism. The young woman is surrounded by three men as she links arms with another protester. She does not appear to be in any way violent or threatening. The big man behind her holds her around the neck and whispers in her ear (who knows what he told her, but if it's the usual, he says "cooperate right now or you're going to be tased.") As a peaceful protester engaged in civil disobedience she naturally refuses. At this point, they would normally pick her up bodily and carry her to the paddy wagon. Instead, they hit her with 50,000 volts of electricity, she crumbles to the ground as her whole body is overwhelmed by pain.
And then they blithely walk away, leaving her writhing on the ground. Let's just say they were lucky she wasn't one of the thousands of people who've died from tasers. I guess they would have noticed at some point when she stopped screaming.
This makes me sick to my stomach. And that it happened on the steps of the United States Department of Justice makes me ashamed to be an American.
The woman who was tasered is named Carmen Pittman. Here's her story. I guess she just hasn't been punished enough.
Robert Reich gets the need for international action
by David Atkins
I've mentioned before with some controversy the need for a stronger set of international rules to prevent predation by various malevolent actors, including and especially multinational corporations. Robert Reich agrees:
As global capital becomes ever more powerful, giant corporations are holding governments and citizens up for ransom — eliciting subsidies and tax breaks from countries concerned about their nation’s “competitiveness” — while sheltering their profits in the lowest-tax jurisdictions they can find. Major advanced countries — and their citizens — need a comprehensive tax agreement that won’t allow global corporations to get away with this.
Google, Amazon, Starbucks, every other major corporation, and every big Wall Street bank, are sheltering as much of their U.S. profits abroad as they can, while telling Washington that lower corporate taxes are necessary in order to keep the U.S. “competitive.”
Baloney. The fact is, global corporations have no allegiance to any country; their only objective is to make as much money as possible — and play off one country against another to keep their taxes down and subsidies up, thereby shifting more of the tax burden to ordinary people whose wages are already shrinking because companies are playing workers off against each other.
Of course, just like disjointed tribes more interested in fighting one another than in resisting the invader, the nation-states of the world are reacting to the multinational corporate threat by descending into the very nationalism that will doom them:
Meanwhile, At a time when you’d expect nations to band together to gain bargaining power against global capital, the opposite is occurring: Xenophobia is breaking out all over.
Right-wing nationalist parties are gaining ground elsewhere in Europe as well. In the U.S., not only are Republicans sounding more nationalistic of late (anti-immigrant, anti-trade), but they continue to push “states rights” — as states increasingly battle against one another to give global companies ever larger tax breaks and subsidies.
Nothing could strengthen the hand of global capital more than such breakups.
Reich clearly gets what I've also been stating for a while now: that protectionist nationalism abroad is no different from "states' rights" at home. Both serve to empower corporations over governments.
Reich's progressive credentials are frankly unimpeachable. He's not an imperialist or corporatist any more than I am. Reich gets it. The status quo is a playground for multinational corporations. They get to play nation-states off one another and watch their people fight one another for scraps rather than take on the global capital threat. It's going to take international coalitions with teeth to counter the power of international corporate capital.
Coalitions: what works at a local and state level to counteract corporate power, can work at an international level as well. It's really the only thing that can.
The elderly poor --- there are a whole lot of them
This report by the Kaiser Family Foundation about elder poverty is shocking. I don't think people realize just how many millions of people are barely subsisting in their old age, but it's many more than the government likes to admit to. Just as with the Chained-CPI, we're dealing with how they are accounted for rather than the actual numbers these people are forced to live on.
Dylan Matthews explains why elder poverty is so much worse than we realize:
While the SPM takes transfer payments into account, it does the same with out-of-pocket medical costs. If you’re an unmarried senior with no dependents, make $15,000 a year, and spend $10,000 of it on medical care, under the official poverty measure you’d most likely not count as poor, as $15,000 is above the 2012 poverty threshold for a single senior ($11,011).
But under the SPM, you’d count as poor as $15,000 – $10,000 = $5,000, which is below the relevant SPM threshold. And despite having Medicare, many seniors struggle with out-of-pocket medical bills. As my colleague Michelle Singletary pointed out over the weekend, the Employee Benefit Research Institute has found Medicare only pays for about 60 percent of seniors’ total health costs. Sarah has written about how out-of-pocket costs tend to pile up particularly at the end of seniors’ lives.
Can you believe that we're actually talking about whether or not $15,000 counts as poverty in America in the first place? And then it turns out they aren't counting what these old people have to lay in medicare costs! That's just mind-boggling.
In any case, the article is very interesting and shows that some of the places with the highest elderly poverty are in places like California where 20% of SS recipients are in poverty.
And yet, the president and members of both parties have been talking about cutting benefits. Unbelievable.
As always when I read about the necessity of a guaranteed old age pension that keeps people living in dignified circumstances after they are too old to work, I'm reminded of this great article by Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim from a few years ago:
An employee of Associated Charities, a private organization dedicated to alleviating poverty in the District of Columbia, met an old black woman carrying a basket of cinders near the dump in Southeast D.C. on a bitterly cold day in December 1896.
The woman "could not give street and number, but could 'fotch' the agent to her place," according to a case study labeled "Aunt Winnie" in one of the organization's annual reports from near the turn of the century. "Old age, with a heavy load on top and a strong wind blowing, made the walk a trying one. At last the 8x10 cabin was reached. In it was a stove in many pieces held together with wire, a bedstead with rags for mattress and rags for covering. From the leaky roof the floor was wet through and through."
Aunt Winnie, the report said, had no income save the 50 cents she made every two weeks for taking in wash. In summertime she raised herbs and greens, but in winter she "suffered for food and fuel." Her children had all been sold away to slavery, and a nearby niece was too poor to offer any support. Her neighbors helped, providing money for the stove and cot, and a "colored friendly visitor was found to carry broth and other comforts to her." The neighborly charity wasn't enough to persuade the agent, who was essentially a private sector version of a social worker, that the old woman should be on her own.
"In the fall of '98 agent asked her to go into the almshouse, but she would not consent. During the storm in February '99, she was kept from perishing with a great effort. Every visit, and they were many, had to be made through snow up to the waist. It was during these visits that the promise was made that before another winter she would take refuge in an almshouse."
When the weather warmed, Aunt Winnie backed off her promise to go to the almshouse. The social worker started to play hardball.
"It would be hard to say which, the agent or the applicant, suffered the more, because through all this distress had sprung up a loving confidence and perfect trust that seemed cruel to deceive. Attention and assistance were withdrawn gradually."
It worked: In July, Aunt Winnie relented and said she'd go to the almshouse as soon she could sell her cabin. Nobody would buy it, so the social worker told her to tear it down and sell it for kindling. At 2 p.m. on Aug. 23, 1899, the social worker showed up in a wagon.
"[S]he was sitting on her trunk, without a stick of the cabin to be seen. Without a murmur she dropped a courtsey to the bare spot where once stood the cabin and turned away. After an affectionate separation in the almshouse the agent came away feeling that for such a balmy day in August it was a trying task to perform, but for winter's blizzards, a blessed relief. In case of her death a promise has been made to her that the general secretary of the Associated Charities will keep her body from potter's field."
Aunt Winnie, whose story is preserved in the archives of the Historical Society of Washington, had been sent to an American institution that was by then some 300 years old and went by a variety of names: the county farm, the poor farm, the almshouse or, most often, simply the poorhouse. She would probably have been surprised to learn that more than a hundred years later, after the virtual eradication of elderly poverty, a powerful political movement would materialize with the mission of returning to the hands-off social policies that made the poorhouse the nation's only refuge for the jobless, the aged, the infirm and the disabled.
Stimulus working in Japan. Austerity failing in Europe. Will economists learn?
by David Atkins
I noted a few days ago how the inflation rate has dashed the expectations of conservative economists by remaining stubbornly low, then pointed out (as Paul Krugman has been gleefully doing for months) that conservative economists have been proven wrong about nearly everything:
The world is in deflationary spiral, not an inflationary one. Just as Keynesian economists predicted, and as conservative economists insisted could never happen.
Throw this in there with the disproven claims that bond vigilantes would punish the dollar for the S&P downgrade, that tax cuts would lead to economic growth, that deregulation would lead to endless prosperity and self-policing markets, that lower taxes would lead to increased revenues, and that austerity would lead to increased investor confidence and lower unemployment. All wrong. Dead wrong.
Even as Europe fell deeper into what just became its longest recession since World War II, Japan posted an unexpectedly robust growth rate of 3.5 percent under the bold new stimulus measures championed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — precisely the medicine many have urged European leaders to take.
“The elites in Europe don’t learn,” said Stephan Schulmeister, an economist with the Austrian Institute of Economic Research. “Instead of saying, ‘Something goes wrong, we have to reconsider or find a different navigation map, change course,’ instead what happens is more of the same.”
He added, “Angela Merkel is not willing to learn from the Japanese experience,” referring to the German chancellor.
Since taking office in December, Mr. Abe has pushed a three-pronged program — called the three-arrowed approach in Japan — to end two decades of stagnation in the Japanese economy. It involves a strongly expansionary monetary policy, increased fiscal spending and structural changes to improve competitiveness; the first-quarter growth spurt suggests that his approach is already paying off.
Not only have exports improved, the logical outgrowth of a weaker currency, but consumer sentiment and household consumption also have risen. “The real economy is responding,” said Adam S. Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “The last five months, six months, there’s been a mini consumer boom. All the things that people said could never happen in Japan have turned around.”
He added: “Japan’s central bank is supporting recovery, and it’s working. The European Central Bank is supporting stagnation, and it’s working.”
If there were justice in the world and economics were an actual science like it pretends to me, every conservative and neoliberal economist who has made wildly wrong predictions at the expense of traditional Keynesians would find their careers and livelihoods in jeopardy. But that's not how the system works. Economists who tout the corporate line serve on boards where they are extremely well-compensated for continuing to infect the academic bloodstream with wildly fallacious theories that have no bearing on reality. Remember this particularly compelling segment of the outstanding docmentary Inside Job:
The time is long past for policy makers to do what works and leave aside what doesn't. There is a temptation (as Digby has noted) to see economics as a morality play in which the poor and middle class must suffer for the sins of the rich. But that does not good policy or economics make.
If the profession of economics refuses to act like a real science and make predictions based on available data rather than on conservative political morality, then it should should have the same impact on public discourse and policy that astrology and young earth creationism do.
Apparently it's necessary to point out that just because something has been legalized, it does not mean that anyone has an obligation to do it. I'm speaking, of course, about this unfolding leak scandal. Yes, the administration appears to have adhered to a strict interpretation of the law (although it seems to me that if the FBI misled the court about possible indictments of reporters in order to get warrants then perhaps that's not actually the case.)
But who cares that it's legal? There is a constitutional principle at stake and we have a right to expect the Department of Justice to be exceptionally cautious about using the sledgehammer of the federal government to shut down the press. Yes, we know the government has reasons to keep secrets and we know the press has reason to want to reveal them. It is a tension that exists at the heart of our system. But that is why we expect that the government, our representatives after all, to give the press notice and allow the process to be litigated through proper channels. These backdoor subpoenas, surveillance of reporters, sweeping dragnets for information is contrary to the principle that the press is a uniquely important institution in a free society.
Perhaps it is just a standard "policy dispute" as the jaded punditocracy drolly asserts today, certainly nothing we could call a "scandal." Everyone knows that reporters are going to be secretly tracked by the government in the course of their jobs. Why what could be more All-American than that?(Oh, and don't worry reporters --- if the government finds something in the course of their surveillance that doesn't pertain to their investigation they pinky swear to forget they ever saw it, so no need to worry that federal agents are prying into your personal life.)
Still, I think it's worth just a teensy bit of concern by those who foolishly believe that the more secrecy a government insists upon having, the more suspicious one should be about why it's keeping all those secrets. That just seems like common sense to me.
Update: It occurs to me that even people inside DC don't know just how massive this secret, domestic intelligence apparatus is, far beyond what's going on with these particular press leaks. There is a hugely expensive, unaccountable, secret part of our government. I've mentioned this Frontline documentary before but it's never been more timely than now. If you haven't seen it, it's worth taking the time. Certainly journalists and opinion writers should. How anyone could be blase after seeing it is beyond me.
Today, a bipartisan Senate committee published the searing results of a two-year investigation (PDF) into “fusion centers,” which were created in the aftermath of 9/11 as places for state, local and federal officials to share and analyze information, in the hopes of detecting and thwarting terrorist threats.
The country’s 70-plus state and local fusion centers have “not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts” and have “too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties,” according to the report, which goes on to criticize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for insufficient oversight.
According to the congressional report, DHS estimates that it has spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion to support fusion centers since 2003. Why is there such a broad range and so little certainty of just how much money has been spent?
DHS has given an unusual amount of autonomy to each state to figure out what to do with fusion center money, which also means they don’t have good accounting of what each state spends their money on and how effective it’s been. It’s a broad problem for DHS. They were trying to give states autonomy, but it lacks the accountability that such a broad and expensive program needs.
Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted that while fusion centers have not provided useful intelligence, they “may provide valuable services in fields other than terrorism,” like criminal investigations, public safety or disaster response. What’s the likelihood that the centers remain in place, but take on other activities? What’s the likelihood that they are eliminated altogether?
Is this ok? Are we just accepting that the government has built 70 surveillance centers that are not doing anything to thwart terrorism, but need to be funded because they might become valuable in "other things" like criminal investigations and "public safety?" Feel safer with more and more yahoos with surveillance power using this federally funded technology to track ...well, anything they want to?
That's just one example. Perhaps it's true that nobody gives a damn about all this, but the one group I would expect to care would be the press. To see some of these pundits and reporters pooh-pooh it is just depressing.
We've known about much of this for some time, what with the disdainful treatment of Wikileaks and stories of other reporters being hounded and personally investigated. But it's still very unnerving to know that the so-called liberal media won't even uniformly fight for itself when it finds the press in the cross-hairs. What the hell are average citizens supposed to do?
Update:This Greg Sargent interview with Mark Mazzetti, who covers national security for the New York Times, is well worth reading. Unlike the jaded commentariat (not Greg, obviously) people who work in the field really are disturbed.
Of course, if you don't care to know what your government is doing well then, this is just a tempest in a teapot.
. digby 5/20/2013 02:00:00 PM
It was obvious during the runup to the Iraq war that what was going on in the minds of many hawks — and not just the neocons — was not so much a deep desire to drop lots of bombs and kill lots of people (although they were OK with that) as a deep desire to be seen as people who were willing to Do What Has to be Done. Men who have never risked, well, anything relished the chance to look in the mirror and see Winston Churchill looking back.
Actually, I suspect that even the torture thing had less to do with sadism than with the desire to look tough.
And the austerian impulse is pretty much the same thing, except that in this case the mild-mannered pundits want to look in the mirror and see Paul Volcker.
Much of the problem in trying to stop the march to war was precisely the fear of many pundits that they would be seen as weak and, above all, not Serious if they objected. Austerity has been very much the same thing — and again, it’s not just the right-wingers who are afflicted.
I wrote something similar about the right's Benghazi obsession yesterday. But Krugman is correct that it isn't just a right wing thing. It's a Very Serious People thing as well, both in foreign policy terms as well as, we now know, economic ones. The world is run by a bunch of macho wannabes who have some deep need to show their masculine bonafides by either pounding their chests for war or demanding human sacrifice to "toughen us up."
Maybe people like this should be in charge instead.
Prosecuting the press: "This has not fared well in American history."
Wow. It would appear that the Obama administration's Department of Justice is now officially out of control. This report about a leak investigation involving Fox DC bureau chief James Rosen:
FBI investigators used the security-badge data, phone records and e-mail exchanges to build a case that Kim shared the report with Rosen soon after receiving it, court records show.
In the documents, FBI agent Reginald Reyes described in detail how Kim and Rosen moved in and out of the State Department headquarters at 2201 C St. NW a few hours before the story was published on June 11, 2009.
“Mr. Kim departed DoS at or around 12:02 p.m. followed shortly thereafter by the reporter at or around 12:03 p.m.,” Reyes wrote. Next, the agent said, “Mr. Kim returned to DoS at or around 12:26 p.m. followed shortly thereafter by the reporter at or around 12:30 p.m.”
The activity, Reyes wrote in an affidavit, suggested a “face-to-face” meeting between the two men. “Within a few hours after those nearly simultaneous exits and entries at DoS, the June 2009 article was published on the Internet,” he wrote.
The court documents don’t name Rosen, but his identity was confirmed by several officials, and he is the author of the article at the center of the investigation. Rosen and a spokeswoman for Fox News did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Reyes wrote that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.” That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target.
Under questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Holder dismissed the notion of prosecuting reporters as, basically, nuts.
"You've got a long way to go to try to prosecute people—the press for the publication of that material," Holder declared. "This has...not fared well in American history."
"With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I've ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy," Holder added later. "The focus should be on those people who break their oath and put the American people at risk, not reporters who gather this information. That should not be the focus...of these investigations."
Apparently, they just used the threat of prosecution to persuade a court to issue a warrant. Which, considering Holder's testimony, means they misled the court -- or he misled the committee. But hey it appears that anything goes with these cases so maybe nobody cares.
I'm going to guess that the explanation for all this will be that these investigations are at the individual prosecutor's discretion and they're only following departmental policies, doing their jobs etc, etc. And maybe these prosecutors really are personally offended by national security leaks, in this case from the State Department regarding North Korea. But even if this goes all the way to Holder, how likely is it that the DOJ has taken it upon itself to worry about protecting a North Korean source, which is the issue at stake in the Rosen case? Who's ordering these investigations?
Like a lot of reproductive rights advocates, I've often been accused of being hysterical about the anti-abortion right's agenda. I'm often told that there is no desire to deny women their agency and that we really should lighten up. When we point out that the logical end point of the anti-abortion zealots' arguments for conferring "personhood" from the moment of conception is to criminalize miscarriage, we're told that we are being ridiculous and that we need to calm down.
If a woman in Virginia has a miscarriage, they must report it within 24 hours to the police or risk going to jail for a full year. At least, that’s what would have happened if a bill introduced by Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) had become law.
And yet, the Virginia Republican Party wants to make Obenshain into the state’s top prosecutor. This weekend, Virginia Republicans selected Obenshain as their nominee to replace tea party stalwart Ken Cuccinelli (R) as the state’s attorney general.
Under Obenshain’s bill, which was introduced in 2009,
When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion, the mother or someone acting on her behalf shall, within 24 hours, report the fetal death, location of the remains, and identity of the mother to the local or state police or sheriff’s department of the city or county where the fetal death occurred. No one shall remove, destroy, or otherwise dispose of any remains without the express authorization of law-enforcement officials or the medical examiner. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
That means they could face up to one year in prison. But don't worry your pretty little heads about it girls, they probably won't use it except on the really "bad" girls who deserve it.
Meanwhile, did you know that this is already on the books in Virginia?
Even without Obenshain’s bill, Virginia law already treats many miscarriages as potential crimes. Under existing Virginia law, “[w]hen a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion or when inquiry or investigation by a medical examiner is required, the medical examiner shall investigate the cause of fetal death and shall complete and sign the medical certification portion of the fetal death report within twenty-four hours after being notified of a fetal death.”
That's almost as chilling as far as I'm concerned. Criminalizing a failure to report miscarriage takes it to a more sinister level, but I don't know why it's any of the state's business at all. It's an extremely common, natural occurrence after all. Half the time we don't even know it's happened. They might as well require reporting of nocturnal emissions or menstrual periods. It's an extremely inappropriate intrusion on the internal bodily functions of women.
At least as it stands, the only time the state is involved is if they are informed of an "unattended" fetal death, but just having that on the books means that the state can treat miscarriage (and now possibly the practice of medical abortion with oral mifepristone) as something requiring an official investigation. Sure, it probably doesn't happen very often and is used mostly to gather statistics. But then you inevitably have some patriarchal throwback like Mark Obenshain come along to try to take it to the next level. After all, he was just proposing to give the existing law a little bit more teeth wasn't he?
And he's running for Attorney General to replace this guy, so it's not as if these nuts can't get elected. Indeed, that neanderthal is so successful he's now running for Governor.
I'm all for "reform" and "streamlining" but in my personal experience in the corporate world that inevitably just meant making one person do the job of three. Or four. For the same money. They call this "enhanced productivity" and on paper it looks really great. But for anyone who's on the job, most often it's clear that morale tanks and the work suffers.
The controversy that erupted in the past week, leading to the ousting of the acting Internal Revenue Service commissioner, an investigation by the FBI, and congressional hearings that kicked off Friday, comes against a backdrop of dysfunction brewing for years.
Moves launched in the 1990s were designed to streamline the tax agency and make it more efficient. But they had unintended consequences for the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division.
Checks and balances once in place were taken away. Guidance frequently published by the IRS and closely read by tax lawyers and nonprofits disappeared. Even as political activity by social welfare nonprofits exploded in recent election cycles, repeated requests for the IRS to clarify exactly what was permitted for the secretly funded groups were met, at least publicly, with silence.
All this combined to create an isolated office in Cincinnati, plagued by what an inspector general this week described as “insufficient oversight,” of fewer than 200 low-level employees responsible for reviewing more than 60,000 nonprofit applications a year.
This was all the rage among the New Democrat types during the 90s. They told us that even though "the era of Big Government" was over, there was no reason services would suffer. How'd that work out for us?
Bill Nye, the harmless children's edu-tainer known as "The Science Guy," managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.
As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own.
But don't tell that to the good people of Waco, who were "visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence," according to the Waco Tribune.
Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.
But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: "God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars."
The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.
At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled "We believe in God!" and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they'd always suspected.
I'm going to take a wild guess that it wasn't the "moon" thing that got them all upset so much as the "science" thing in general.
Va. GOP picks conservatives for fall ticket; black minister is lieutenant governor choice
“The tea party leaders in Virginia are not for toning it down,” said Mark Daugherty, chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, which unites 46 tea party groups across the state. “We think folks who left us billions in debt and deficits and regulations, they need to tone it down. . . . Trying to move to the middle, or moderate your view, or tone down your conservative view is the wrong approach to future electoral success.”
Jeff Ryer, spokesman for the state Senate Republican caucus, said party activists are yearning for unabashed conservatives.
“I just get the sense that most Republicans are looking for candidates that are forthright, that are direct,” Ryer said. “They’re looking for people who aren’t embarrassed . . . like they’re at a cocktail party and they chose the wrong fork.”
That description could apply to North, the former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and Iran-contra figure who attended the convention to support businessman Pete Snyder for lieutenant governor.
“I go all over the country for my party, and I’m not ashamed to do so,” North said in an interview Friday. “The best chance we have as a party is to find young, positive, free enterprise-experienced conservatives who understand what the media describe as social issues are really deeply moral and spiritual issues. And those candidates we need have not only that full background, but they’re unashamed to stand up and say so.”
And to think that just a couple of months ago everyone was writing the right wing's epitaph. Again.
That's not to say they wouldn't be wiser to moderate and try to capture at least a small portion of the middle of the American electorate. But they still aren't convinced they need to. And if they have a good 2014, they will remain assured they are on the right track.
I wonder how much this has to do with the fact that they've successfully bullied a large portion of the country to identify itself as "conservative" in polls even though they aren't. That sort of thing could easily lead to self-delusion.
And now that they know the tyrant King Obama sicced the jack-booted thugs on their tax-exempt applications well ...
That's right. Chief Fox news researcher Karl Rove gets everyone back on track with the "scoop" that the State Department spokeswoman said the National Security Staff was on the case. It's very important that everyone keep their eye on the prize which is the implication that the White House was petrified of being found out to be the national security blunderers they really are.
I'm sure this is a banal observation but I'll make it anyway since it's an important factor in understanding why people drift to modern conservatism: it's the right that is afraid --- of losing its reputation as the military leaders of American culture. It is, after all, at the center of their emotional appeal. That's why this bizarre Benghazi obsession remains at the center of the Fox News cycle and why they are so excited about it. In their minds, it washes away any Democratic advantage from killing of bin Laden and puts the Democrats back in the coward corner where they rightfully belong.
They have a deep psychological need to see themselves as the "manly party", protecting the babies from the bad guys. Sure, they hate taxes and love traditional values. These are very important pieces of their philosophy. But at the heart of their self-image is the idea that they are the warriors. If you look at the past 50 years of conservative thought, it's that which animates their engagement and it's that which they need to get back in order to feel confident again.
The IRS thing speaks specifically to the paranoid, small government, anti-tax, Obamacare hating part of the Republican Party. That part overlaps with the larger macho, military-worshiping, imperial part of the GOP. (Unfortunately, that part also overlaps a big part of the Democratic party as well ...) It's been neglected since Bush screwed the pooch with Iraq. But they aren't going to give it up. It's a major piece of their identity.
What do Jonathan Karl and James O'Keefe have in common?
Jay Rosen has a critique of the Jonathan Karl brouhaha over the edited Benghazi emails on his site that's well worth reading if you haven't paid attention to the details. Like Rosen, I sort of expected that ABC This Week would address it, but they didn't.
This part of Rosen's piece is the most pertinent:
I had been following all this and last night I said on Twitter: “Jon Karl got played. But he refuses to admit it. Every ABC anchor who doesn’t ask him about it is complicit, too.” I was anticipating Karl’s appearance on ABC’s signature political program, This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He had appeared on May 12th, two days after his original report, to talk about Benghazi with guest host Martha Raddatz. There had been big news in the intervening week: the release of the original emails.
I figured that ABC News would have him on again, if they believed so strongly in his original report. He is, after all, ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent; the story that dominated Washington all week was the re-emergence of a scandal narrative. A typical headline: Obama Pivots to Jobs Tour at End of Scandal Filled Week. (That’s from The Note, the politics blog at ABCNews.com, to which Karl is a major contributor.) Well, here’s the line-up for This Week with George Stephanopoulos. No Jon Karl. Instead, ABC News Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
When a confidential source burns a reporter, a reporter is within his rights to burn–that is, “out”–that source. But it almost never happens because reporters are concerned that potential sources will take it as a sign that the reporter cannot be trusted to keep their names secret. That’s bad enough. But this is worse. Karl had a chance to limit the damage to ABC News from his faulty reporting when he first responded to Jake Tapper’s report.
He blew that. Inexplicably, an ABC News spokesperson then doubled down on Karl’s original reporting: strike two. They had a chance to recover by asking Karl to explain how he got misled on This Week. They blew that when they chickened out and asked Jeff Zeleny to appear instead.
Karl came to mainstream journalism via the Collegiate Network, an organization primarily devoted to promoting and supporting right-leaning newspapers on college campuses (Extra!, 9-10/91)—such as the Rutgers paper launched by the infamous James O’Keefe (Political Correction, 1/27/10). The network, founded in 1979, is one of several projects of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which seeks to strengthen conservative ideology on college campuses. William F. Buckley was the ISI’s first president, and the current board chair is American Spectator publisher Alfred Regnery. Several leading right-wing pundits came out of Collegiate-affiliated papers, including Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, Michelle Malkin, Rich Lowry and Laura Ingraham (Washington Times, 11/28/04)[...]
After a stint at the New York Post, Karl soon found his way to CNN, but he was still connected to ideological pursuits; he was a board member at the right-leaning youth-oriented Third Millennium group and at the Madison Center for Educational Affairs—which, like the Collegiate Network, seeks to strengthen young conservative journalism. After moving to ABC in 2003, Karl contributed several pieces to the neo-con Weekly Standard, such as his April 4, 2005 article praising Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as out to “make her mark with the vigorous pursuit of the president’s freedom and democracy agenda.”
Karl’s high profile at ABC demonstrates that conservative messages can find a comfortable home inside the so-called “liberal” media. Karl channeled former ABC corporate cheerleader John Stossel with a segment (3/5/11) complaining that regulation of the egg and poultry industries was “almost embarrassing,” since different government agencies regulate different aspects of the industries. “Got that?” Karl asked. “Fifteen separate agencies have responsibility for food safety.”
During the rollout of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, Karl (1/26/11) gushed that the Republican media darling was “a little like the guy in the movie Dave, the accidental president who sets out to fix the budget, line by line.” And while Democrats were saying Ryan “is a villain,” Karl was clear about which side he was on: “Ryan knows what he sees.... Paul Ryan is on a mission, determined to do the seemingly impossible: Actually balance the federal budget.” (Actually, even with its draconian spending cuts and absurdly optimistic economic assumptions, the Ryan plan still foresees a cumulative deficit of $62 trillion over the next half century—Congressional Budget Office, 1/27/10.)
There's more and some of it, in my view, are just examples of the beltway media being beltway media. But Karl's history does suggest that he's tied in with the conservative network in DC, which means that his reasons for not exposing his source may very well be personal. I'd guess they all know a lot of things about each other. It would be risky.
The news that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the most important global warming gas, have hit 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years increases the pressure on President Obama to deliver on his pledges to limit this country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
America cannot solve a global problem by itself. But as Mr. Obama rightly observed in his inaugural address, the United States, as both major polluter and world leader, has a deep obligation to help shield the international community from rising sea levels, floods, droughts and other devastating consequences of a warming planet. In his State of the Union speech, he promised to take executive action if Congress failed to pass climate legislation.
Which is just what he will have to do. The prospects for broad-based Congressional action putting a price on carbon emissions are nil. The House is run by people who care little for environmental issues generally, and Senate Republicans who once favored a pricing strategy, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have long since slunk away. Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have spent the last two weeks trying to derail Mr. Obama’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency — a moderate named Gina McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy has served two Republican governors (Mitt Romney was one) but is considered suspect by the right wing because she wants to control carbon pollution, which is driving global temperatures upward.
So we just have to accept the coming climate immolation, right? Well, not so fast:
As this page has noted, it is possible to adopt a robust climate strategy based largely on executive actions. The most important of these is to invoke the E.P.A.’s authority under the Clean Air Act to limit pollution from stationary industrial sources, chiefly the power plants that account for almost 40 percent of the country’s carbon emissions. The agency is reworking a proposed rule to limit emissions from new power plants. A more complex but no less necessary task is to devise rules for existing power plants, which cannot be quickly shuttered without endangering the country’s power supply, but which can be made more efficient or phased out over time.
Mr. Obama can also order the E.P.A. to curb the enormous leakage of methane, a potent global warming agent, from gas wells and the pipes that bring natural gas to consumers. This is critical if America’s bountiful supplies of cheap natural gas are to become a cleaner bridge from coal to alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.
The article goes on to note other executive actions the President can take as well. Will executive actions be remotely enough? Of course not. But they can help a great deal.
It's not as if Republicans are being remotely cooperative, anyway. Nothing is getting done in Congress. The President might as well step up and do the right thing. Washington, D.C. is a cold war zone. The President might as well do what's right and let the chips fall where they may.
The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so over the next several weeks I will be sharing highlights with you. SIFF is showing 272 films over 26 days. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. Yet, I trudge on (cue the world’s tiniest violin). Hopefully, some of these films will be coming soon to a theater near you…
In Our Nixon, director Penny Lane strives to construct an arch portrait of The Tricky One by sneaking in through the back door. It seems some of the president's men were home movie buffs. A treasure trove of Super8 footage taken by H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin during their White House tenure recently surfaced. Lane blends choice snippets of the aforementioned with archival news footage, interviews with the three aides and excerpts from the infamous secret Oval Office recordings. It's the Nixon administration retooled as an episode of Entourage. No new revelations or insight for political junkies, but for viewers of a "certain age", it sustains an oddly nostalgic tone.
Forbidden Voices (from Swiss director Barbara Miller) is an excellent doc profiling three influential "cyber-feminists" who bravely soldier on in the blogosphere whilst running a daily gauntlet of intimidation from their respective governments, including (but not limited to) overt surveillance, petty legal harassment and even physical beatings. Despite the odds, Yoani Sanchez (Cuba), Farnez Seifi (Iran, currently exiled in Germany) and Zeng Jinyan (China) are affecting change (if only baby steps). In an interesting (and disturbing) bit of kismet, a day after I saw this, the DOJ/AP phone records scandal broke.
Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton is an aptly entitled profile of the free-spirited poet, playwright and filmmaker (1913-1999) who was part of the "San Francisco Renaissance" (pre-cursors to The Beats). Stephen Silha's documentary is as playful and provocative as his subject, who emerges here as one of those fascinating, Zelig-like figures who managed to remain relevant to and in simpatico with nearly every major counter-culture arts/social movement from the Beats and the hippies to gay liberation and beyond. I admit being previously unfamiliar with Broughton, but this film made me a fan.
Canadian actress Sarah Polley has quietly made a name for herself as a feature film director in recent years (Away from Her, Take This Waltz). Now she turns the camera inward, for her documentary Stories We Tell. Polley uses her film as a sort of family therapy session, seeking to uncover the truth regarding her late mother's rumored dalliances outside the marriage. Polley was 11 when her mother (also an actress) died of cancer. As Polley gently grills her father (a retired actor), siblings and long-time family friends, secrets, lies and unbelievable truths slowly burble to the surface, Rashomon-style. It teeters toward the navel-gazing side, but it unravels like a good mystery should.
My favorite Emo Philips joke goes: A man came to my door and said "I'd like to read your gas meter." I said, "Whatever happened to the classics?" A breezy documentary called Out of Print takes that rhetorical question to the next level: Whatever happened to reading? That is, “reading” in the traditional sense…as in holding a book and turning pages? Director Vivienne Roumani examines the impact of digital media on the world of publishing, with a variety of industry mavens weighing in with their take on the central question: “Is the book dead?” The issues raised mirror the economic, legal and aesthetic hysteria stirred up by the advent of music file sharing back in the late 90s. Absorbing, if not essential (and at 54 minutes long, it’s surely destined for PBS). Meryl Streep narrates.
The Horde is an historical epic from director Andrey Proshkin based on a relatively obscure event (well, outside of Russia) that occurred in the 14th century, when the Metropolitan of Moscow (a monk also known as St. Alexius) saved his city from destruction by the Mongolian Golden Horde by “healing” the Khan’s mother, who had been stricken blind. The first half is involving, with royal intrigue and (literal) backstabbing amongst squabbling members of the Khanate, but once the story shifts to the endless suffering of St. Alexius as he wends his way home (we get it…he’s a saint) the film suffers too. Lavish production design and fine acting helps makes up the deficit.
The Rocket could prove to be one of this year’s sleepers. Aussie writer-director Kim Mordaunt tells the story of Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe, in a remarkable performance), a 10-year old Laotian boy who can’t catch a break. In rapid succession, a member of his family dies in a freak accident and then the surviving members are forced to relocate after their village gets earmarked for razing to make way for a hydroelectric project. Ahlo’s dour grandma labels him as a “bad luck charm”. Determined to redeem his standing, Ahlo sets out to win an annual Rocket Competition. Mourdaunt has a Terrence Malick-like penchant for gorgeous “magic hour” composition; perfectly capturing the dichotomy of UXBs and battle-scarred ruins as they contrast with Laos’ lush, rugged natural beauty.
Note: You may or may not have noticed that the site I have been using for the past year or so to archive my reviews, Clipboard.com has put up a notice on their home page advising that they will be going dark at the end of June (I know..."So whaddya expect for free?"). I'm currently scrambling to find a similar site that I can port the archives over to.