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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, November 22, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Let's get lost again: Low Down and Mike Nichols

By Dennis Hartley














I will admit being unfamiliar with jazz pianist Joe Albany prior to watching Jeff Preiss' fact-based drama Low Down, yet the late musician's career trajectory seems depressingly familiar. Credited as a be-bop pioneer, he made his bones in the 1940s, accompanying the likes of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Unfortunately, he suffered an early "lost period" due to a heroin addiction, and spent most of the 50s and 60s chasing the dragon and collecting ex-wives. He came out of seclusion in the 70s, recording a number of albums through the decade (still battling smack). He died alone, in 1988. Oddly enough, that was the same year trumpeter Chet Baker died. Baker, whose career was beset by similar woes, was profiled in Bruce Weber's outstanding 1988 documentary Let's Get Lost. One of its most compelling elements was the moody, noirish cinematography...by a Mr. Jeff Preiss.

Preiss' film (which marks his feature-length directing debut) covers a 3-year period of Albany's life in the mid-70s, when he was living in a seedy Hollywood flophouse with his teenage daughter Amy (Elle Fanning). Albany (John Hawkes) is struggling to stay focused on the work, jamming with his trumpet-playing buddy Hobbs (Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, giving us a taste of his first instrument). Amy is cheerleading for her Dad, doing her best to keep him on track. Speaking of tracks, a surprise visit from his parole officer reveals Dad isn't quite holding things together, and he's whisked off to stir. Amy goes to stay with her grandmother (Glenn Close) until Joe is released. Dad still has issues. Amy tries to keep sunny, but it's tough to be Pollyanna when your social circle is surging with hookers, junkies, drug dealers and, er, porno star dwarves (Peter Dinklage!).

The screenplay (by Amy Albany and Topper Lilien) is based on Albany's memoir recounting life with her father. Albany's recollections about the extended family of eccentrics she encountered during this period inject the film with a Tales Of The City vibe at times. The naturalistic performances and Preiss' cinema verite approach also recalls Jerry Schatzberg's 1971 drama, Panic in Needle Park, a gritty, episodic character study about a community of junkies. Some may find the deliberate pacing stupefying, waiting for something to "happen", but as John Lennon once sang, "life is just what happens to you, while you're busy making other plans." Taken as a slice of life, Low Down just lets it happen...improvising on grace notes while keeping it all in perfect time.

...and one more thing

Mike Nichols 1931-2014 


















Mike Nichols passed away earlier this week. Perhaps more than any other film director I can think of, his catalog (stretching from 1966 to 2007) encapsulates the crucial paradigm shifts in America's social mores (and to some extent, changes in the political landscape) over the past 50 years. I would also consider him one of the progenitors of the modern film "dramedy", which stemmed from his background in improvisational comedy (he was one of the key players in an early 60s troupe that would later morph into Second City) and in later years, his experience as a theater director. He was, in all senses of the term, an "actor's director", clearly evident from the iconic performances that he coaxed from the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. I don’t think he ever made what I would consider a “bad” film, which makes it difficult to narrow down favorites…but I’ll highlight my top three:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  - If words were needles, university history professor George (Richard Burton) and his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) would look like a pair of porcupines, because after years of shrill, shrieking matrimony, these two have become maestros of the barbed insult, and the poster children for the old axiom, “you only hurt the one you love”. Nichols’ 1966 directing debut (adapted by scripter Ernest Lehman from Edward Albee’s Tony-winning stage play) gives us a peek into one night in the life of this battle-scarred middle-aged couple (which is more than enough, thank you very much). After a faculty party, George and Martha invite a young newlywed couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over for a nightcap. It turns out to be quite an eye-opener for the young ‘uns; as the ever-flowing alcohol kicks in, the evening becomes a veritable primer in bad human behavior. It’s basically a four-person play, but these are all fine actors, and the writing is the real star of this piece. Everyone in the cast is fabulous, but Taylor is the particular standout; this was a breakthrough performance for her in the sense that she proved beyond a doubt that she was more than just a pretty face. It’s easy to forget that the actress behind this blowsy, 50-ish character was only 34 (and, of course, a genuine stunner). When “Martha” says “Look, sweetheart. I can drink you under any goddam table you want…so don’t worry about me,” you don’t doubt that she really can.

The Graduate  - "Aw gee, Mrs. Robinson." It could be argued that those were the four words in this 1967 Nichols classic that made Dustin Hoffman a star. With hindsight being 20/20, it's impossible to imagine any other actor in the role of hapless college grad Benjamin Braddock...even if Hoffman (30 at the time) was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a 21 year-old character. Poor Benjamin just wants to take a nice summer breather before facing adult responsibilities, but his pushy parents would rather he focus on career advancement immediately, if not sooner. Little do his parents realize that in their enthusiasm, they've inadvertently pushed their son right into the sack with randy Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), wife of his Dad's business partner (and the original cougar!). Things get more complicated after Benjamin meets his lover's daughter (Katharine Ross). This is one of those "perfect storm" artistic collaborations: Nichols' skilled direction, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry's droll screenplay, fantastic performances from the entire cast, and one of the best soundtracks ever (by Simon and Garfunkel). Some of the 60s trappings haven't dated well, but the incisive social satire has retained its sharp teeth.

Silkwood- The tagline for this 1983 film was intriguing: “On November 13th, 1974, Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear facility, left to meet with a reporter from the New York Times. She never got there.” One might expect a riveting conspiracy thriller to ensue; however what director Nichols and screenwriters Nora Ephron and Alice Arden do deliver is an absorbing character study of an ordinary working-class woman who performed an act of extraordinary courage which may (or may not) have led to her untimely demise. Meryl Streep gives a typically immersive portrayal of Silkwood, who worked as a chemical tech at an Oklahoma facility that manufactured plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. On behalf of her union (and based on her own observations) Silkwood testified before the AEC in 1974 about ongoing health and safety concerns at her plant. Shortly afterwards, she tested positive for an unusually high level of plutonium contamination. Silkwood alleged malicious payback from her employers, while they countered that she had engineered the scenario herself. Later that year, on the last night of her life, she was in fact on her way to meeting with a Times reporter, armed with documentation to back her claims, when she was killed after her car ran off the road. Nichols stays neutral on the conspiratorial whisperings; but still delivers the goods here, thanks in no small part to his exemplary cast, including Kurt Russell (as Silkwood’s husband), and Cher (who garnered critical raves and a Golden Globe) as their housemate.

Also recommended: Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, The Day of the Dolphin, Working Girl, Primary Colors, Angels in America, Charlie Wilson’s War (my original review).

Previous posts with related themes:

Angel-headed hipsters on celluloid: Top 5 Jazz Movies

Saturday Night at the Movies review archives
 
Feeling safer?

by digby

It seems to me that this sort of thing should be far more terrifying than the prospect of immigrants coming over the border and making us all eat beans and tortillas against out will:
The admiral fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.

Although Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina's removal as deputy head of U.S. Strategic Command was announced last year, evidence of his possible role in manufacturing the counterfeit chips has not previously been revealed. Investigators said they found his DNA on the underside of an adhesive sticker used to alter genuine $1 poker chips to make them look like $500 chips.

Nor had the Navy disclosed how extensively he gambled.

The second in command of America's nuclear arsenal was a gambling addict. What could go wrong?

BTW:
The case is among numerous embarrassing setbacks for the nuclear force. Disciplinary problems, security flaws, weak morale and leadership lapses documented by The Associated Press over the past two years prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Nov. 14 to announce top-to-bottom changes in how the nuclear force is managed that will cost up to $10 billion.

It's just nukes. Nothing to worry about. Let's freak out about Obamacare instead.



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Where at least we know we're free

by digby

This review of Laura Poitras' Citizen Four  by David Bromwich in the New York Review of Books is well worth reading. In fact, it's essential if you care to understand Poitras' work and the meaning of it. He discusses this film in detail but also puts it in the context of her earlier work which is something I haven't seen anyone else do.

The whole thing is very thought provoking but I think this is a very keen observation:

The president handed the work to an inside legal team and eventually a commission or two and did not sack the heads of intelligence who took us far on a questionable path and lied about it. Meanwhile, the attorney general indicted Snowden on a charge of treason. In their self-protective understanding of the duties of high office in the national security state—in their refusal to face up to and reform the ungoverned exercise of power that Snowden revealed—Obama and Holder acted in a way that showed them to be profoundly unfree. So, too, did the generals, Keith Alexander and James Clapper, when they spoke under oath to Congress with so little regard for the importance of truth in a system that depends on informed consent.

The strangest revelation of Citizenfour may therefore be this: Snowden, in his hotel room with his journalistic confidants Greenwald and Poitras and MacAskill, affords a picture of a free man. It shows in his posture, and in a sense of humor touched by self-irony. He is not haunted by any fretful concern with what comes next. He is sure he has done something he chose, and sure that someone had to do it. He acted in obedience to a principle; and it was right that the actor should disappear in the action. Citizenfour, by simply using the real-life actor as a way to consider the nature of freedom, honors the premise that moved Snowden to take his unique and drastic step. “The final value of action,” wrote Emerson, “is, that it is a resource.” It is up to other Americans now, the uncertain end of Citizenfour says, to rouse ourselves and find the value of Snowden’s action as a resource.

This tracks with what I see as the fundamental problem of the National Security State and America's military empire: it has a life of its own and operates on its own logic. It goes all the way back to the immediate post-WWII period and has built itself up over time to the point at which it lives beyond our ostensibly democratic system. Politicians, bureaucrats and Generals are doing its bidding as much as the other way around. And it's no more obviously illustrated than in this cynical piece by Michael Hirsch in the Politico. Basically he jadedly declares that nobody cares so whatever. But it isn't that people don't care. They care profoundly. But they quite logically understand that they are powerless --- unfree --- to do anything about it. Like this comment from back in 2008 which I referenced in my Salon piece about rethinking our approach to reforming the surveillance state.
“The FISA bill is obviously imperfect, but I do not believe that a serious Presidential candidate can afford to vote ‘no’ on legislation that is intended to help prevent terrorist attacks. If Obama were to oppose the bill as a whole, he would be handing McCain — who didn’t even bother to show up and vote today — a huge opening to scare voters and paint Obama as weak on terrorism.”
Waddaya gonna do? People hear the fearmongering, they see the cynicism among the elites, they watch their world grow ever less private and they feel impotent. You can't really blame them. So they just ... accept it. Then they can be proud to be Americans where at least they know they're free.

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The passion of St Reagan

by digby

I guess he wanted to destroy the American way of life too:





 
"The low information voter syndrome"

by digby

Fox News continues to be shocked, shocked I tell you, that someone would characterize voters as stupid. Why it's an assault on the American people and democracy itself! And yet:

O'Reilly: "Low Information Voters" "Don't Know Anything."

On the October 24, 2013 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly said, "The President was not elected on performance. He was elected on personality and apathy. Low information voters don't -- who don't know anything and really couldn't care less about their country broke heavily for the President." [Fox News Channel,The O'Reilly Factor, 10/24/13, via Nexis]

O'Reilly: "Low Information Voters" Are "Not Interested In The Outside World," Unable "To Make Intelligent Decisions In Life."

On the August 15, 2013, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly described "an American citizen" who "is not interested in the outside world that person will not be able to make intelligent decisions in life. Those are the so-called low information voters." [Fox News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 8/15/13, via Nexis]

Hannity: People With "Low Information Voter Syndrome" "May Cancel Out Your Well-Informed Vote." 

On October 29, 2013, Hannity complained about "low information voter syndrome" among people who didn't know that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same.

HANNITY: Oh, boy, low information voter syndrome. Our very own Ainsley Earhardt hit the streets of New York to see if people understand that the Affordable Care Act and "Obamacare" are actually one and the same. And as you just heard, the answers by people are downright scary. And by the way, they may cancel out your well-informed vote -- as we continue tonight here on "Hannity." [Fox News Channel, Hannity, 10/29/13, via Nexis]

Hannity: "Low Information Voters" Believe "Lying Campaign[s]." On the April 24, 2013, edition of Hannity, Hannity argued that "lying campaigns" that "demonize conservatives" work because of "low information" voters. From Hannity:

TUCKER CARLSON: The idea that any cuts to government will strand people with illnesses without a cure and if we pass this or that bill we will cure Parkinson's or AIDS. It is an insult to people with Parkinson's and AIDS because the truth is, it is not that simple.

You don't flip a switch and these really complex diseases are cured. This is ludicrous and you have to wonder who sat down and wrote this and what the majority leader thought when he read it off the card. Does really he believe this? Is there a single person that buys this?

HANNITY: You know what, Tucker? I think this lying campaign they use it because they think it works. They demonize conservatives all the time.

CARLSON: Anybody who takes what he says value and is moved to vote on that basis should not be voting.

HANNITY: But they are in big numbers.

CARLSON: You are too dumb to vote if you buy that.

HANNITY: Rush calls them low information voters. There are a lot of them. [Fox News Channel, Hannity, 4/24/13, via Nexis]

Now it must be acknowledged that the Foxmen are really dogwhistling their elderly white male audience here. Let's just say that in their minds the "low information voter" is generally thought to be black, brown or somewhat slutty.  And we know how they feel about those folks having the right to vote ...

.
 

The other dispossessed

by Tom Sullivan

This week the president presented his new immigration plan for undocumented immigrants. The right will hate it as much as the left will insist it is the decent and humane thing to do.

But Democrats might consider that, unless they widen their focus, doing the right thing for undocumented immigrants and other left-leaning voting groups will further alienate a neglected bloc of voters they very much need to pay more attention to: the white working class. Democrats lost them in 2014 by 30 points.

At PoliticsNC, Thomas Mills explains:

For workers, wages have been stagnant for more than a decade and for most of the past 30 years. For a while, easy credit gave a sense of improving lifestyles, but that illusion came crashing down in the recession. Working class families got hit the hardest and have yet to recover. They’ve also not seen much offered in assistance.

However, their neighbors, some who don’t work and some who are in the country illegally, keep getting help. They want something for themselves. Instead, they see affirmative action programs give minority families and businesses a hand up, or as they see it, an unfair advantage. They see the president offering residency and the benefits of this country to undocumented workers, while they’ve been hard-working, law-abiding citizens who aren’t sure they can offer their own children a better quality of life.

Republicans understand these reactions and have exploited them. Democrats, in contrast, make the case for why the policies are the right thing to do. In short, Republicans appeal to emotions while Democrats appeal to morality and reason. In politics, emotion wins almost every time.

Democrats are losing working-class whites faster than demographics and a younger base of voters can shift the balance in their favor, writes Mills. Plus, they hate welfare, as Kevin Drum says. So while the left's focus on helping disadvantaged classes feels like (and is) a good and moral thing to do, the struggling white, middle-class worker — feeling pretty dispossessed himself — looks on and feels ignored. The GOP will at least give him a lip-service tax cut and somebody to blame: the undeserving poor and their benefactors, the Democrats.

Kevin Drum writes:

It's pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. But it's there. And although it's bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn't vote for Democrats either.

Complaining that polls show progressive policies are widely popular doesn't win elections. Especially when a frustrated populace complains that there's no difference between parties and Democrats in leadership go out of their way to reinforce it. The buzzword solution seems to be populism, but it's one thing to say and another to communicate effectively when it's virtually a dead language, and Democrats' leading 2016 contender doesn't speak it.

An old anecdote about George H.W. Bush comes to mind:

“Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes,” Ajemian wrote. “This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.”

Promising a laundry list of policies, however popular, will not impress a dispossessed white, working class failed by a rigged system unless they fit into a vision of a fairer economy and a more secure quality of life.


Friday, November 21, 2014

 
Power and process

by digby


Rand Paul doesn't want the president to have too much power.

I care that too much power gets in one place. Why? Because there are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious," Paul said. "Think of what happened in World War II where they made the decision. The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people 'we're going to put you in a camp. We're going to take away all your rights and liberties and we're going to intern you in a camp.'"

He was, of course, comparing that to President Obama's immigration order. The fact that he chose that case as an example can't be a coincidence. It involves a minority group and a controversial executive order about their status, after all. Of course, it couldn't be more different. Roosevelt's order to intern Japanese Americans was a terrible, discriminatory decision which nobody (but Michelle Malkin) can defend. Who do you suppose are the minority being oppressed by Obama's tyrannical power grab are? Tea partiers? Why not?

I'm sure he didn't bring that issue up out of the blue but he was actually making a different point about the process and power. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle opportunistically approve of presidential power depending on who the president is and what he's trying to do. Shocker. But there are people who believe on principle that the president should defer to congress because they are closer to the people who elected them. Paul, however, doesn't believe that government should do much of anything so he's also being opportunistic. He prefers congress to be the decider mostly because they are very slow to do anything and right now are completely gridlocked. Win-win for him.

I confess that I used to care about these principles more than I do now. I thought it was terribly important that the congress take the lead because it is a deliberative body answerable to the people, the constitution blah,blah, blah. But the truth is that congress is bullshit. It's a fine idea but in practice they pretty much always rubber stamp the worst things a president wants to do in foreign policy and the only domestic initiatives they ever wholeheartedly support are tax cuts, jails and money for cops. They don't even do pork barrel spending anymore which used to at least benefit a few people in their individual states. Everything else is just working around the edges. Not that those things don't matter.Every decent policy can make a difference. It's just that I no longer fetishize the legislative process because it's mostly just kabuki anyway. At this point, I'll take decent outcomes wherever I can get them and be thankful for it since they happen so rarely.

Again, for Paul gridlock is a feature not a bug. And frankly, for all his caterwauling about presidential misdeeds on the foreign policy and national security front, most of the time he's just arguing for process for process sake --- for instance, he wants a vote on the ISIS operation but fully admits that it will pass and that he will vote for it. So, that will be a nice pageant for us all to watch, but it won't make a bit of difference.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. We could elect a congress that takes its prerogatives seriously, challenges the massive national security apparatus and agrees to work on behalf of the people instead of their big money benefactors. That would help. Let's do that, shall we?

In the meantime Rand Paul can keep his lugubrious paeans to the primacy of the legislative process over executive power. He simply wants the government to do nothing at all and there's no faster or clearer route to that end than throwing an initiative into the black hole known as the US Congress.

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125 million women in the world today have been mutilated

by digby


So Egypt just let a doctor who performs female genital mutilation off scott free without explanation. It has been "illegal" for a while and it was hoped that this first prosecution would send a message to doctors and others that they could no longer mutilate women. It is not to be. Read the whole story. You'll especially like the way he refers to women as dogs.

In case you are not fully aware of the details, here is a fact sheet from the World Health Organization about this atrocity:

Key facts

Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.

Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated (1).

FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.

FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend towards medicalization is increasing.

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

Procedures
Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.

Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).

Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
No health benefits, only harm

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Needless to say, the whole point of removing the clitoris and labia is to ensure that women do not feel sexual pleasure. In fact, many of them feel nothing but pain from sex their whole lives. (And yes, in the villages it's midwives who do this procedure and other women who help. Mother to daughter to granddaughter.)

I'm sure you know how to search to see what this look like. It's a horrifying disfigurement.

It's not a Muslim requirement but rather a pre-modern custom in the part of the world where Islam is revalent. There are Christians and others who also follow the practice. Societies which place a high value on female chastity are most likely to do it. Of course.









 
It's just his home that's all

by digby


Here's a sickening conversation between Bill O'Reilly and Journalist (and DREAMer) Jose Antonio Vargas to end your week with a bang:

“I don't know if people know this, but more than half of undocumented people in this country have been here for 10 years or longer,” Vargas responded. “This has been our home, this is where we go to school, this is where we work, this is where we go to church, this is what we call to be our own communities.”

Vargas lamented that the President's immigration actions were so politicized before O'Reilly cut in to tell him the real "deal."

“It is a compassionate move, but it may not be a just move because you and the other people here illegally don’t deserve to be here," O'Reilly said. "That’s harsh. It’s harsh, okay, but you don’t have an entitlement to be here.”

"Sir, I don't feel entitled to be here," Vargas responded. "I don't ask for any sort of entitlement. All I know is this is where I grew up, this is my home, my family is here."

Vargas was only 12 years old when he came here. It was not his choice. And even if it was, he's been here for most of his life. Like most undocumented people he's a contributing member of this society. He works. He pays taxes. He is part of the social fabric of the nation. And he's certainly "entitled" to be treated like a human being rather than seen as some kind of a virus that's destroying this great country's culture of strip malls and fast food joints.

By the way, the "entitlement" O'Reilly likes to claim is a bit of a stretch too. Unless he is a native American he came from immigrants himself and up until the 1920s we didn't consider immigrants to be illegal or legal. They just came. So, it's a little bit much to claim this "entitlement" for yourself just because some old European great grandparent crawled on a boat and landed in the US back when almost all Americans were refugees, criminals, losers and dreamers. To hear these people talk you'd think they were all descended from British Royalty.


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The pastor with the Mean Girl sense of humor

by digby

That would be Mike Huckabee:

It is interesting that Obama cites Scripture as the justification for him taking unilateral action on illegal immigrants.

Funny how, for the first six years of his Administration, even the two years when he had unstoppable majorities in both houses, Scripture did not compel immediate action. But two weeks after the final election he'll have to deal with, suddenly, Scripture requires us to do this.

It's similar to the way that his Biblical beliefs led him to oppose same-sex marriage as a candidate for election. Then when he needed big campaign donations from gay liberals for his reelection, the Bible suddenly got rewritten.

I always thought that Scripture was eternal and unchanging, but apparently, now that Obama is President, Scripture gets rewritten more often than Bill Cosby's Wikipedia entry.
Oh snap!

Eternal and unchanging? How about this:

Exodus 22:21
"Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

Exodus 23:9
"Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 24:17
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.

Deuteronomy 24:18
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

Deuteronomy 27:19
"Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"


Oh, and I'm sure Pastor Huckabee will be giving up all his worldly goods and devoting himself to the poor very shortly. That's in the Scripture too.

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Fighting over torture

by digby

This just boggles my mind:

Before White House chief of staff Denis McDonough came to brief Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had a little pep talk with his flock. Every Tuesday, during the weekly caucus lunches, he said, you all gripe and moan about the White House. But then when the White House comes by, there's never a peep.

The talk may not have been necessary. The White House's briefing to Democrats on immigration Thursday erupted instead into a confrontation over the Senate's classified torture report, Senate sources told The Huffington Post.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, waited for the immigration discussion to end and then pulled out a prepared speech that she read for five or six minutes, making the case for the release of the damning portrayal of America's post-9/11 torture program.

"It was a vigorous, vigorous and open debate -- one of the best and most thorough discussions I've been a part of while here," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who served as intelligence committee chair before Feinstein, was furious after the meeting, and accused the administration of deliberately stalling the report.

“It’s being slow-walked to death. They’re doing everything they can not to release it," Rockefeller told HuffPost.

"It makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad, which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future," he continued. "The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it."

As negotiations continue, Rockefeller said Democrats were thinking creatively about how to resolve the dispute. "We have ideas," he said, adding that reading the report's executive summary into the record on the Senate floor would probably meet with only limited success. "The question would be how much you could read before they grabbed you and hauled you off."

Besides Rockefeller, Sens. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) all spoke up in defense of Feinstein, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

What a goddamned sideshow. How in the world can anyone talk about America's great moral leadership after this?

Here's your quote 'o the day from the likely incoming head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, North Carolina’s Richard Burr. His legislative ACLU score on civil liberties is zero, and the zealously pro-CIA-and-NSA Burr once famously declared: “If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing."

Why bother even having a Senate Intelligence Committee?


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Compassionate at birth

by Tom Sullivan

Genesis 4
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?

One of the takeaways from the Genesis account of Cain's murder of his brother is, yes, you are. And we are wired that way, suggest experiments involving young children. Cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies told Inquiring Minds last week that a basic sense of morality likely developed via Darwinian evolution:

"I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses," says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast.

The question is how much of our moral sensibility is innate and how much is acculturation? By studying babies before they receive instruction and language, Bloom and other researchers hope to get at that answer. Using simple puppet plays [video here at Mother Jones], researchers find that babies and toddlers exhibit a sense of fairness, and a preference for "helping" characters. They avoid "hindering" ones.

Interestingly, as the toddlers get a little older, this sense of fairness seems to morph into pure egalitarianism—at least when it comes to distributing other people's stuff. "There's a lot of research suggesting that when it comes to divvying up resources that strangers possess, they are socialists—they like to share things equally," says Bloom.

When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.

"But this compassion and this helping, it all pertains to the baby's own group," says Bloom. They are less naturally generous with out-group members.

By our natures, we strongly value those around us over strangers. And to the extent that you and I don't, to the extent that you and I might recognize that somebody suffering, I don't know, from the Ebola virus in Africa, is a life just as valuable as those of our closest friends and family, that's an extraordinary cultural accomplishment. And it's something that's not in the genes. It's not what we're born with.

What strikes me is how this research echoes something paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said about Turkana Boy in speculating about the development of compassion in early Man:

Bipedalism carried an enormous price, where compassion was what you paid your ticket with. You simply can't abandon somebody who's incapacitated because the rest will abandon you next time it comes to be your turn.

There but for the grace of God. Compassion has an evolutionary advantage, Leakey suggests. Perhaps it is what helped us rise above the law of the jungle.

The irony is that a libertarian-leaning conservative posted the Mother Jones article on Bloom — "Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist" — to a Facebook forum as a tweak to lefties (socialist babies, I suppose). In fact, it would seem that a movement that sneers at being your brother's keeper in organizing human society is hardly an accomplishment, cultural, political, or evolutionary.


 
Let it snow!

by digby

Somebody's having too much fun:


Thursday, November 20, 2014

 
Megyn Kelly accidentally tells the truth

by digby

Ooops:

"Amnesty is citizenship and that's not what [Obama] is talking about. That's a hot-button term that the right uses to sort of get people upset."

Of course every person on Fox has used the term including Kelly. Still, it's nice to see her admit what her job really is --- to get people upset. And she does it well.

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What does "poisoning the well" really mean?

by David Atkins

The pushback against the noxious idea that Obama's move on immigration reform has somehow "poisoned the well" with Republicans has been delightful to see. American Bridge, Daily Kos and Huffington Post have all been on the case, showing how often the Republicans have cried out about the President "poisoning the well."

Two things stand out about it. The first is that a simple google search shows that the phrase was almost never used to describe George W. Bush's presidency. Somehow, no matter how outrageous and vindictive the Bush Administration became, nothing they did ever seemed to eliminate the possibility of some sort of cooperation between the Administration and Democrats. Democrats were always eager to cooperate to pass bills if there was something on which common ground could be found.

The second is that it's a thinly veiled indication that Republicans cannot control their own caucus at all.

What does it mean that a Democratic president is constantly guilty of poisoning the bipartisan well (besides being a meaningless rightwing talking point, of course)?

It means that the Republican Party intends to obstruct absolutely everything and wants to blame the President for it when they do. But it also means the leadership of the GOP that needs it to looks slightly less than totally insane will be unable to control their rowdies.

In essence, the GOP leadership is telling the President that if he does anything at all to help people, the crazies that make up the majority of the GOP caucus will get out of line and do crazy things, and that would be bad.

What I don't understand is why the President would help out GOP leadership on this front? What possible incentive does he have to do that, since GOP leadership hasn't been the least bit cooperative with him in the past?

Live by the crazy, die by the crazy. That well is already long since poisoned
 
Obama+Immigrants= Haters in full effect

by digby

Right Wing Watch caught up with everyone's favorite "self-deporter", Kansas Secretary of State and all around xenophobe, Kris Kobach. He is very frightened.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leader in the anti-immigrant movement, said during his Sunday radio program that it’s possible that a Hispanic majority in the U.S. could conduct an “ethnic cleansing.”

Kobach made his remarks in response to a caller who asked, “What happens, if you know your history, when one culture or one race or one religion overwhelms another culture or race?”

Claiming that immigrant rights groups are “calling for the return of the Spanish territory, which could be almost half of the United States,” the caller warned, “When one race or culture overwhelms another culture, they run them out or they kill them. And it’s a bigger issue than just being Democrats. And they know in numbers, once the numbers are so bad, they can pretty much do whatever they want to do.”

He's got a point. That is,after all, what the Europeans, our white American forefathers, did to the natives here in the Americas. When they weren't committing all-out genocide anyway. But that was a long time ago. More recently, you may recall that Kobach is the guy who came up with Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" plan which bears more than a passing resemblance to ethnic cleansing. Adam Serwer described it this way:

"Self-deportation" might sound like something you don't want your parents to catch you doing, it's actually an old euphemism for an immigration strategy of "attrition through enforcement." What "self-deportation"—the favored approach to immigration of the GOP's right-wing—actually means is making life so miserable for unauthorized immigrants that they "voluntarily" leave. Here's Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies (the anti-immigrant think tank that tried to mainstream the "terror baby" conspiracy theory) explaining the concept in 2005:

Among the other measures that would facilitate enforcement: hiring more U.S. Attorneys and judges in border areas, to allow for more prosecutions; passage of the CLEAR Act, which would enhance cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local police; and seizing the assets, however modest, of apprehended illegal aliens.

These and other enforcement measures would enable the government to detain more illegal aliens; additional measures would be needed to promote self-deportation. Unlike at the visa office or the border crossing, once aliens are inside the United States, there's no physical site to exercise control, no choke point at which to examine whether someone should be admitted. The solution is to create "virtual choke points"—events that are necessary for life in a modern society but are infrequent enough not to bog down everyone's daily business. Another analogy for this concept to firewalls in computer systems, that people could pass through only if their legal status is verified. The objective is not mainly to identify illegal aliens for arrest (though that will always be a possibility) but rather to make it as difficult as possible for illegal aliens to live a normal life here.

This is the right-wing's answer to the question of how you deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants: You don't. You force them to "deport themselves." Although immigration reform advocates would prefer a solution that involves a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here, Romney and his top immigration advisers believe they can remove millions of people through heavy-handed enforcement that makes life for unauthorized immigrants intolerable. This approach is notable for its complete lack of discretion and flexibility. Unauthorized immigrant parents with citizen children who need to go to school? Americans who are married to an undocumented immigrant who needs medical treatment? "Self-deportation" hits them all with the same mailed fist.

I can think of somebody else who had that idea and implemented it for a few years until he decided that more drastic steps were needed.

It's interesting that someone who came up with such a plan would project it back on to the very people he sought to "cleanse" the nation of. There's some heavy duty psychological baggage operating there.


This paranoia is getting completely out of hand on the right, however. They truly seem to believe that a vast horde of latinos are going to go on a rampage and kill them. I'm not kidding. This is the leap they have made. Just listen to Laura Ingraham or watch Fox. They are working the right wingers into total hysteria.

Here are just a few of the stories Right Wing Watch has captured:


Anti-Immigrant Activists: Obama Inciting Civil War By Making Immigration Announcement On Mexico's Revolution Day


Arrest Obama for his Immigration Action

Fighting Obama's immigration action is like fighting ISIS

The immigration announcement could lead to civil war

Allen West predicts demand for impeachment over immigration

Rep. Kelly says Obama dragging America into a civil war

Heritage: Obama will use government goodies to replace Americans with Latinos

Viguerie: Both Republicans and Democrats want to impeach Obama over immigration

And on and on and on. They are having a hissy fit of epic proportions. Whether they can work up a Tea Party level lather over it is still unknown. But they're trying.

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There's always impeachment

by digby

The Republicans are looking at every way possible to stop the horror of Emperor Obama doing what Ronald Reagan did:

It would be “impossible" to defund President Obama’s executive actions on immigration through a government spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday.

In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers's (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama's scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama's actions is funded entirely by user fees.

Oh heck. Congressman Steve King is having none of it.He says he doesn't believe that and that people just want to go home and have Thanksgiving instead of defunding the INS. Because they are communists. (No, I just made that last part up. But I'm sure he was thinking it.)

Unfortunately, he appear to be right, at least about the part about defunding. And Senator Jeff sessions agrees. But it's pretty complicated and will probably fail:

Budget expert Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP, said Sessions is correct that something can be done.

“Congress can, if it wishes, use an appropriations bill to include authorization language,” he said. “There’s no constitutional prohibition against that.”

But while Collender warned to take Rogers’ words with a “grain of salt,” he said defunding the order would face major hurdles.

Even if a bill defunding Obama's actions made it to the Senate floor, there would likely be a point of order that would require 60 votes to waive, Collender said.

On top of that, President Obama would almost certainly veto the bill, and Congress likely wouldn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to override it.

Don't worry though. They have many other ideas up their sleeves to thwart the Emperor Obama and keep him from doing what all other presidents have done:

Another idea Rogers had advanced for dealing with Obama's order was for Congress to pass a funding bill for the entire government this year, and then look to rescind funds related to the executive order in January, when Republicans will have control of both the House and the Senate.

Asked if a rescission bill would be irrelevant now, Hing said, “right,” but then added that this could change based on the executive order’s provisions.

“Later on, if we find out down the road that ... other agencies have some piece of it, then we can go back and specifically look at those agencies,” she said.

Congress could also pass an authorization bill to shift the funding authority for CIS to lawmakers.

But Rogers argued that couldn’t be part of an appropriations bill.

“To alter or change the fee matter, it would take a change of law — an authorization — to change an immigration act. It would take an act of Congress,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.

That sounds exciting. Maybe congress could just pass a law that removes all discretion from the Executive branch unless the president is a Republican. That would solve the issue too.

On the other hand, there's always this:
The Appropriations panel, meanwhile, is moving forward with a 12-bill omnibus spending package.

“We’re making good progress on negotiations and we expect to have the bill on the floor the week of December 8,” Hing said.

Congress must pass a new spending bill by Dec. 12 or the government will shut down.

So what's the problem?

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QOTD: "In your heart you know he's right" edition

by digby

"We went down the government-shutdown route before, and the results didn't hurt the Republicans at all," says Rick Tyler, a onetime spokesman for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "Republicans got reelected to the majority."

What's the problem with his logic? I can't see it. The Republicans acted like hooligans in the last congress and got richly rewarded at the ballot box. Why wouldn't they keep doing what they're doing?

Now, this might be one of those sticky situations where the owners of America don't like this sort of behavior and believe they've bought themselves protection from it by buying up most members of both parties. But that doesn't mean the Republicans won't do it anyway. The election told them that they can do whatever they please and it doesn't matter whether the Big Money Boyz like it or not. Why would they think otherwise?


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That time when Lynn Cheney said Jim Webb was full of baloney

by digby

So Jim Webb is officially exploring the idea of entering the race for president. I'm sure quite a few people are thrilled.  He's never been my favorite politician --- I'm suspicious of anyone who couldn't see through Ronald Reagan, even to the extent he would work in his administration --- although he does take some interesting iconoclastic positions.  But I'm a bit believer in primaries, as painful as they may be, so I think it's just fine if he runs and good luck to him. 

I suppose I'll have a lot to say about him over the next couple of years so I won't go into it today.  But I thought it would be fun to re-run this most excellent conversation about Webb between Wolf Blitzer and Lynn Cheney from a while back. It's just so ... great:
BLITZER:Let's talk about another issue in the news, then we'll get to the book. This -- the Democrats are now complaining bitterly in this Virginia race, George Allen using novels -- novels -- that Jim Webb, his Democratic challenger, has written in which there are sexual references, and they're making a big deal out of this. I want you to listen to what Jim Webb said today in responding to this very sharp attack from George Allen. 
L. CHENEY: Now, do you promise, Wolf, that we're going to talk about my book? 
BLITZER: I do promise.
L. CHENEY: Because this seems to me a mighty long trip around the merry-go-round.
BLITZER: I want you to -- this was in the news today and your name has come up, so that's why we're talking about it, but listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: There's nothing that's been in any of my novels that, in my view, hasn't been either illuminated the surroundings or defining a character or moving a plot. I'm a serious writer. I mean, we can go and read Lynne Cheney's lesbian love scenes, you know, if you want to get graphic on stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
L. CHENEY: Jim Webb is full of baloney. I have never written anything sexually explicit. His novels are full of sexual, explicit references to incest, sexually explicit references -- well, you know, I just don't want my grandchildren to turn on the television set. This morning, Imus was reading from the novels, and it's triple-X rated. 
BLITZER: Here's what the Democratic Party put out today, the Democratic Congressional -- Senatorial Campaign Committee: "Lynne Cheney's book featured brothels and attempted rape. In 1981, Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, wrote a book called "Sisters," which featured a lesbian love affair, brothels and attempted rapes." 
L. CHENEY: No. 
BLITZER: "In 1988, Lynn Cheney wrote about a Republican vice president who dies of a heart attack while having sex with his mistress." Is that true? 
L. CHENEY: Nothing explicit. And actually, that was full of lies. It's not -- it's just -- it's absolutely not a... 
BLITZER: But you did write a book entitled "Sisters"? 
L. CHENEY: I did write a book entitled "Sisters." 
BLITZER: And it did have lesbian characters. 
L. CHENEY: This description -- no, not necessarily. This description is a lie. I'll stand on that. 
BLITZER: There's nothing in there about rapes and brothels? 
L. CHENEY: Well, Wolf, could we talk about a children's book for a minute? 
BLITZER: We can talk about the children's book. I just wanted to... 
L. CHENEY: I think my segment is, like, 15 minutes long and we've had about 10 minutes of... 
BLITZER: I just wanted to -- I just wanted to clarify what's in the news today, given -- this is...  
L. CHENEY: Sex, lies and distortion. That's what it is. 
BLITZER: This is an opportunity for you to explain on these sensitive issues. 
L. CHENEY: Wolf, I have nothing to explain. Jim Webb has a lot to explain. 
BLITZER: Well, he says he's only -- as a serious writer, novelist, a fiction writer, he was doing basically what you were doing. 
L. CHENEY: Jim Webb is full of baloney

 
How convenient

by digby

Opposition was led by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and colleague Sen. Rand Paul, who both voted down the legislation, though for different reasons. McConnell, like many Republicans, voted it down because he believed the reforms went too far, while Paul voted against the bill because it did not go far enough.

Paul said immediately after the vote that he “felt bad” about his vote against the motion.

“They probably needed my vote,” he said, opposing Leahy’s bill because it would extend the sunset provisions for the laws authorizing surveillance. “It’s hard for me to vote for something I object to so much.”

It's always nice when you can vote with your party and still hold yourself up as superior to them for doing what you say you abhor.

Evunthelibertarian Reason magazine doesn't think it was such a hot move.

Although his single vote would not have been enough to open up debate, Paul should nevertheless have heeded the insight of the developer of radar Robert Alexander Watson-Watt who explained, "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes." I am no parliamentarian, but it appears that under Senate rules because Paul voted with the prevailing side, he could move to have the Senate reconsider the bill, although it seems unlikely that he will do so.

Why should he? This way he can have his cake and eat it too.

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Help us call on Mark Udall to read the Torture Report into the record

by digby


Blue America sent this out to our members last night asking them to sign this petition asking Senator Mark Udall to read the Torture Report into the congressional record
There have a been many dark days in America during the past decade but the revelation that the government had authorized the torture of prisoners has to be one of the darkest. It took a lot of painstaking journalism  to uncover what we know even as the government did everything in its power to cover up the details, going so far as to destroy evidence and immunize the perpetrators from prosecution.

Nonetheless, the Senate Intelligence Committee went to great lengths to compile a 6,000 page report on this ugly chapter in our history. It was approved for release by a majority of the committee many months ago but the White House insisted on a further review and approval process even going so far as to insist that pseudonyms be redacted. They are still dragging their feet.  If they have their way the report will be issued with every word blacked out except  "the" and "end". As of yesterday, the outlook for its release any time soon looked bleak.

The Senate is going to lose one of its foremost civil libertarians at the end of this congress. Senator Mark Udall, who lost his seat  in the midterm election, has been among the few in congress who performed his oversight duties as a member of the Intelligence Committee with independence and integrity and he will be missed. But he could do one last act of conscience before he goes: as a sitting Senator, he can place the Torture Report into the congressional record  as former Senator Mike Gravel did back in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers.

Udall himself has said he is considering it:
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who was defeated in the midterm elections, has threatened to read the unredacted report into the Congressional Record on the Senate floor, a rare and provocative move that is nevertheless protected by the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause.

"I'm not going to accept the release of any version of the executive summary that doesn't get out the truth of this program," Udall told the Denver Post last week. "Not only do we have to shed light on this dark chapter of our nation's history, but we've got to make sure future administrations don't repeat the grave mistakes."
We are hoping that Senator Udall will cap his Senate career with this act patriotism and have joined with several other groups to petition him to do it. If you would like to sign on to this request along with us, you can click here.

This isn't an easy thing to ask of any Senator. But torture isn't just another issue. It goes to the very heart of who we are as a country. Senator Udall can help this nation face up to what happened and let the government know that it must never, ever, happen again.

We don't ask people to sign petitions very often but this one is special. If this is an issue about which you feel as strongly as we do, please consider signing it.



 

What kind of people are they?

by Tom Sullivan

Walmart is a store my wife refuses to set foot in. We have that luxury. Then again, there are plenty of Walmarts in rural areas heavily frequented by poorer shoppers who don't. Then again, Walmart does not seem to have learned what Henry Ford knew: unless you actually pay your employees a decent salary, they won't be able to buy your products. Walmart's (and others') answer is to cheapen everything, customers and employees included. Can't afford to shop elsewhere? Tough luck.

Since 2000, Public Eye has staged a counter-event to the World Economic Forum to highlight bad corporate actors. Walmart is in their sights again:

Walmart workers in 10 countries joined a global day of action on Wednesday to demand better wages and treatment for employees, as a public interest group nominated the retailer for a Lifetime Award as “worst corporation in the world”.

Organizers with the group OUR Walmart estimated that about 300 protesters would march on Walmart’s headquarters in India and block the gate. Another 200 people were expected to protest at the company’s headquarters in Mexico City. Workers in Argentina, Brazil and Canada were also expected to participate.

Public Eye has nominated Walmart for "worst corporation in the world." They will have company:

In 2005, Walmart received a Public Eye award in the labor category for “lack of respect for human and labor rights along its supply chain in places such as Lesotho, Kenya, and Thailand”. This year, Public Eye will give a lifetime achievement award to one of its previous winners. Goldman Sachs and Chevron are also among those nominated. Consumers can submit their votes over the next two months.

In an op-ed awhile back, I explored how Sam Walton, the pickup-driving, underdog owner of a small, American-flag-draped chain of five-and-dime stores from Bentonville, AR, went from being Everyman Sam to selling cheap, plastic crap from China as the downtown-killing Prince of Darkness. How many stores did that take? Can you be too successful? How big is too big?

The best I could figure it was when he took his company public. In privately held or closely held companies, one man (or woman) with a vision is its guiding light. He/she has as much of himself/herself invested as money. How the company comports itself is a direct reflection of its founder’s character, and those with any moral compass take the reputation of their firm personally. But once the company goes public, once it is sold to nameless, faceless absentee-landlord investors, that connection is broken. It’s no longer personal. The visionary loses control, the soul and any morality he/she brought to the company is lost, and like a great white shark, its eyes go black and dead. All that remains is appetite and instinct.

Like Walmart, the thing that’s wrong with business today is not the corporation per se, but the disconnected, amoral nature of the public corporate “person”. Writing about megabanks, Matt Taibbi puts it more bluntly:

... what we’ve found out in the last years is that these Too-Big-To-Fail megabanks like Goldman no longer see the margin in being truly trustworthy. The game now is about getting paid as much as possible and as quickly as possible, and if your client doesn’t like the way you managed his money, well, fuck him – let him try to find someone else on the market to deal him straight.

The Public Eye protest in Miami was mostly rained out, but a few people showed up nevertheless:

“I’m standing with protesters all over the world today to send a message to Walmart and the Waltons that we need better pay,” said Emily Wells, one of the protesters. Wells makes $9.50 an hour and relies on food stamps to make ends meet. “As the richest family in America and one of the richest in the world, we all know the Waltons can afford to pay $15 an hour to the workers that make them richer every day.”

Maybe. But that's not the new business model.

If corporations are people it's legitimate to ask, what kind of people are they?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

 
#Eventheconservativefederalistsociety

by digby

Sam Stein reports:
At the Mayflower Hotel, lawyers gathered for the annual Federalist Society national convention -- one of the highest-profile conservative legal events of the year. The day’s big draws were the opening speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and an evening event featuring Justice Samuel Alito.

Before the crowd changed into black tie attire for Alito's appearance, however, a smaller panel convened under the title, “Federalism: The President’s Duty to Take Care That the Law be Faithfully Executed.” Panelists discussed major confrontations between the branches of government, from enforcement of marijuana law and the implementation of health care to Obama's impending executive order on immigration.

The talk was, well, lawyerly. Every conclusion seemed to have a qualification attached to it. But, by and large, the panelists agreed the president has wide legal latitude to prioritize and shape deportation laws, as regrettable for Republicans or the long-term balance of powers that may be.

Ooops

“I think the roots of prosecutorial discretion are extremely deep,” said Christopher Schroeder, the Charles S. Murphy Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies at Duke Law School. “The practice is long and robust. The case law is robust. Let me put it this way: Suppose some president came to me and asked me in the office of legal counsel, ‘Is it okay for me to go ahead and defer the deportation proceedings of childhood arrival?’ Under the present state of the law, I think that would be an easy opinion to write. Yes.”

Schroeder was speaking specifically about the deferred action program that Obama already has put into place -- the one affecting so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children. But later, Schroeder expanded his legal reasoning.

“I don’t know where in the Constitution there is a rule that if the president’s enactment affects too many people, he’s violating the Constitution,” Schroeder said. “There is a difference between executing the law and making the law. But in the world in which we operate, that distinction is a lot more problematic than you would think. If the Congress has enacted a statute that grants discretionary authority for the administrative agency or the president to fill in the gaps, to write the regulations that actually make the statute operative, those regulations to all intents and purposes make the law.

“I agree this can make us very uncomfortable. I just don’t see the argument for unconstitutionality at this juncture,” Schroeder added.
Well, they can always look for a typo. They're definitely unconstitutional, we know that. Or if push comes to shove the Supremes could just hand down a Bush vs Gore style one-off.

On the other hand, the Republicans can take heart in the fact that even if it's constitutional, it's still impeachable. High crimes and misdemeanors are something the congress gets to define all by iytself without any pointy headed lawyers interfering.


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QOTD: libertarian madness

by digby

This is truly amazing:
Sarah Kliff: Are you 100 percent convinced it was Congress's intent to withhold subsidies in the federal exchange?

Michael Cannon: There are two ways to interpret that question. Did the people who wrote this language mean to withhold subsidies in federal exchanges? My answer to that is, I'm 100 percent convinced that they meant to do that.

The other way to think about it is, "Did the people who voted for this law intend to withhold subsidies in federal exchanges?" That’s a different question, but the answer is the same. I’m 100 percent convinced that’s what the members of Congress who enacted this law meant to do, just the same way I’m 100 percent convinced they meant to throw people off of their existing health plans even though they said, "If you like your health plan, you can keep it."
It's not as though we're pouring over the Federalist Papers here trying to figure out what the founders had in mind. This happened just five years ago. And that just ain't true.

He states different things throughout the interview --- that lawmakers were rushed and didn't know what they doing, that they were perfectly aware that states would have to create exchanges or their people would not get subsidies, or that Democrats created a federal exchange apparently for their own health since it is completely useless without the subsidies. But at the end of the interview it's obvious that he knows it was a drafting error and simply sees this as a way to remove the subsidies from millions of people so they will not be able to afford health insurance --- at which point the Republicans can blame the Democrats for doing that and then offer some weak tea "reform" removing community ratings, the pre-existing condition ban and required coverage, all of which will raise prices even more.

And then their plan will once more be in place. You remember the libertarian health care plan don't you?

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Doing the right thing is the best negotiating stance

by digby

Simon Maloy at Salon breaks down the latest polling on Immigration in anticipation of President Obama's big announcement tonight:

USA Today and Princeton Survey Research ... provide us with our first post-election look at the public’s stance on unilateral immigration action, and the results are pretty unsurprising: the country is split almost down the middle, and support for Obama’s proposal breaks down along partisan lines. Given the circumstances, that’s fairly decent news for the White House.

The USA Today poll’s question was curiously worded (more on that in a bit), but the survey found that 42 percent of Americans want the White House to act immediately on immigration, while 46 percent want the White House to wait. Democrats favor immediate action by a huge 60-28 percent margin, Republicans favor waiting by an even huger 76-17 percent, and independents are split 44-46 in slight favor of delay.

If I’m in the White House, then I’m reassured by this poll. After the child migrant crisis during the summer and Obama’s decision to delay taking executive action, the president’s credibility on immigration took a big hit, and for a while it looked like the public was starting to turn away from meaningful immigration reform. Obama’s approval rating on immigration as an issue tanked to 31 percent, according to Gallup. There were also dips in public support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Gallup hasn’t polled Obama’s approval on immigration since then, but public support for a pathway to citizenship has bounced back. The fact that Obama has fought the executive action issue almost to a draw would seem to indicate that he’s come back somewhat from the summer’s immigration doldrums.

He knew there would be a shitstorm either way and recognized that in such a situation it's better to do the right thing, for both moral and practical reasons, than it is to try to please the beltway with some bogus excuse about bipartisanship. That is a very good thing.

Republicans terrified that Latinos are going to make them a permanent minority party. Right -wingers just don't like Latinos. Their media under the likes if Laura Ingraham has persuaded them that immigration reform is a stealthy way to make "illegals" into Democratic voters. Case in point:



There is nothing you can do to change these things before taking action. So, Democrats should just do what they can to help human beings and let the chips fall where they may.

The president's Executive Order is probably not going to be everything we might hope. But he could have succumbed to the Villagers and the Republicans and made a case that the election showed that the nation wasn't ready for Immigration Reform or that he wants to give the "new congress" a chance to work something out. Advisors like David Axelrod were saying publicly that's what he should do. Instead, he's saying I'm doing this and if you don't like it, pass a bill I can sign and I'll rescind it. He's not foreclosing compromise he's just saying that he's not going to wait any longer for them to do what they keep saying they are going to do and never actually do it. I don't know how it's going to work politically but he has nothing to lose by trying it. And actual humans will benefit. Good.

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The deeper problem with "Intelligence Reform"

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon today about the debate around the USA Freedom Act and other "reforms" of the Intelligence Community.  I think the problem is that even if it had passed last night and even if it had been much better than it was, there is no reforming them simply by using the law to do it.  The way these agencies are structured in secrecy and with ever changing, complex capabilities means that there must be a different mechanism applied.  Oversight isn't working. Lawyers find ways to do what they want to do. The congress will inevitably legalize anything they cannot justify.

We need to do a serious re-think about how to deal with this stuff.  The good news is that there are some very smart people doing that. Read the piece if you're interested in such things.


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"Influencers"

by digby

For those of you who haven't been following the Uber flap, it has two parts. The first is the fact that the Uber exec told a bunch of important people and journalists that he thought it was a great idea to dig up dirt on journalists who criticize the company essentially to blackmail them. Lovely fellow, lovely company. (He's since apologized for the remark. Sort of.)

The second half of the flap is about the fact that journalists routinely attend these gatherings as what PR people call "influencers" and agree to drink their wine and eat their food and keep whatever is said off the record. Buzzfeed's Ben Smith was invited to the Uber Influencer get-together by journalist Michael Wolff who didn't tell him that it was on background and so Smith wrote about what he heard. Wolff thinks that was teddibly untoward although, strictly speaking, it was perfectly ethical if you want to get all technical about it:
In an effort to argue its case with more care and professionalism, Uber has recently organized some background meetings with journalists and what are called in the PR trade, "influentials." I was invited to one such dinner last week in a private room at the Waverly Inn in New York. In turn I asked Ben Smith, BuzzFeed's editor in chief, if he'd like to come as my guest.

I had understood that the Uber dinner, like other such media meet-and-greets — I've been to hundreds over the years — was off the record. I neglected, however, to specifically tell Smith this. And while I might have fairly assumed Smith knew the context, this was my oversight — though surely not Uber's. I might have thought too that, as my date, he would have asked if there was an understanding — suffice to say, he didn't ask, and likely, didn't want to know.
Yes he certainly didn't want to know that. Because he is a journalist. And journalists are supposed to write about what powerful people are saying behind closed doors when they hear them saying it. What's telling here isn't that Smith didn't seek permission to write about something that nobody told him was off the record --- something I would hope most reporters do every day. What's interesting is Wolff's comment here:

I had understood that the Uber dinner, like other such media meet-and-greets — I've been to hundreds over the years — was off the record. I neglected, however, to specifically tell Smith this. And while I might have fairly assumed Smith knew the context, this was my oversight...

What the hell?

I'm not a member of the New York or LA media cognoscenti by any means. But I have attended a few dinners and fundraisers attended by politicians, businessmen and media celebrities over the years. Never once have the hosts, and often the speakers and guests as well, failed to say explicitly that they were off the record if they were off the record. The idea that anyone would just assume such a thing where media are present is mind-boggling to me. The fact that Wolff and the others who were there have no problem with this says everything you need to know about the cozy insiderism that exists among all these elite players.

But even beyond that, this idea that all these rich people hire PR firms to get "influencers" in the media together to let their hair down and tell it like it is without the riff raff being in on it is pretty sickening. I would never attend such an event if someone told me it was off the record. I can buy my own meals, thank you. And I certainly wouldn't want to be stuck in the same room for hours with people like this for no good reason.

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Today's blast from the past: Wall Street brat edition

by digby

In doing some research in my moldy archives I came across this memorable email that was making the rounds in 2010.  It's the sort of thing we shouldn't forget:

“We are Wall Street. It’s our job to make money. Whether it’s a commodity, stock, bond, or some hypothetical piece of fake paper, it doesn’t matter. We would trade baseball cards if it were profitable. I didn’t hear America complaining when the market was roaring to 14,000 and everyone’s 401k doubled every 3 years. Just like gambling, its not a problem until you lose. I’ve never heard of anyone going to Gamblers Anonymous because they won too much in Vegas. 
Well now the market crapped out, & even though it has come back somewhat, the government and the average Joes are still looking for a scapegoat. God knows there has to be one for everything. Well, here we are.
Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you’re only going to hurt yourselves. What’s going to happen when we can’t find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We’re going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that. 

For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We’re going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I’ll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.
So now that we’re going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we’re going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren’t going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We’re going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.
The difference is, you lived off of it, we rejoiced in it. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee might get their way and knock us off the top of the pyramid, but it’s really going to hurt like hell for them when our fat a**es land directly on the middle class of America and knock them to the bottom.
We aren’t dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive. The question is, now that Obama & his administration are making Joe Mainstreet our food supply…will he? and will they?”
After his mommy gave him a bottle and put him to bed he felt much better.

The sad thing is that this attitude must now be even more pervasive.  None of them paid a price for the ongoing years of pain for average people.  They're richer than ever and undoubtedly even more arrogant than they were then.  After all, they've just "proved" they are the winners.

And the rest of us are the losers.

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Working more, earning less

by digby

With all the talk of inequality, this comment from Nick Hanauer strikes me as one of the more important insights:
If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you are—falling further behind, that is. Adjusted for inflation, average salaries have actually dropped since the early 1970s, while hours for full-time workers have steadily climbed.

Meanwhile, a handful of wealthy capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams, in large part because we’re able to take advantage of your misfortune.

So what’s changed since the 1960s and '70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

I watched the phenomenon of "more work, less pay" grow over the course of my so-called career. It took many forms, from re-classification of workers to non-contract and "executive" to avoid paying paying overtime to subtle coercion from the boss implying that you won't get ahead if you put in for overtime pay. "Productivity" became the watchword which, in the business world, just means squeezing more work out of fewer people.

It's so pervasive that they don't even think about what they're saying when they run ads like this:



People who "work through" their lunch don't get paid for that time.

Read the whole piece. Hanauer is one of the most interesting rich guys around.


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