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Friday, January 30, 2015

Says it all

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's busy fighting terrorism three days a week

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve King is not an anomaly

by digby

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

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

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

by digby

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

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

The right's Loretta Lynch freakshow

by digby

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

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

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

The greatest country in the world

by digby

Well, in some ways maybe, but not all:

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



Stings and errors of outrageous brokers

by Tom Sullivan

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

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

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

Taibbi continues:

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

Bloomberg has more details.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

From the no shit Sherlock files

by dibby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for that militarization of the police issue

by digby

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

So what the hell is this?

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Moly

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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


Scientists are different than us ...

by digby

Via Mother Jones:

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

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

Tactical retreat will save lives

by digby

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

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

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

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

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


We used to build things

by Tom Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sad Rand

by digby

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

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

The Politico reporters seem confused about all this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How espionage charges multiply like rabbits

by digby

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

Here's the essence of the problem:

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

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

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

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

Altogether, seven counts of spying, for one leak.

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

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

Legitimate rape: feature not bug

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

"Some of our Republican female members ..."

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

QOTW: stars bursting in air edition

by digby

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

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

[Cheers and applause]

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

[Cheers and applause]

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

[Cheers and applause]

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

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

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

[Wild applause]

Here's Palin:

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

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

[wild applause]

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

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

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

by Tom Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

Heads up, Nantucket.

The proposal is still preliminary, officials suggested:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The big secret

by digby

James Fallows:

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

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

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

So true in so many different ways.

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

Another casualty in the war on the mentally ill

by digby

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

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

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

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

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

Authentic nonsense

by digby

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

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

Hobgoblins, small minds, etc.

See no evil overseers

by digby

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

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

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

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

Jeb's odd solution

by digby

... to the vexing problem of illegal immigration:

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

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

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

Night Will Fall
by Batocchio

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a trailer for Night Will Fall:

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

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

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

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

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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


Peek-a-boo, we spy you ... again

by Tom Sullivan

Via a 2011 slide presentation leaked by Edward Snowden, The Intercept provides more details on how spy agencies are "building haystacks to search for needles." By intercepting unencrypted data relayed from smartphone ads and apps to analytics firms and advertisers, British and Canadian spy agencies can compile detailed profiles of individual smart phone users. Advertisers typically collect this information to answer usage questions:

How often does a particular user open the app, and at what time of day? Where does the user live? Where does the user work? Where is the user right now? What’s the phone’s unique identifier? What version of Android or iOS is the device running? What’s the user’s IP address?

But since the data sent from apps is often unencrypted, it represents "a major privacy threat" exploitable by spy agencies. This particular spy program was/is code-named BADASS:

Analysts are able to write BADASS “rules” that look for specific types of tracking information as it travels across the internet.

For example, when someone opens an app that loads an ad, their phone normally sends an unencrypted web request (called an HTTP request) to the ad network’s servers. If this request gets intercepted by spy agencies and fed into the BADASS program, it then gets filtered through each rule to see if one applies to the request. If it finds a match, BADASS can then automatically pull out the juicy information.

And those privacy policies?

Companies that collect usage statistics about software often insist that the data is anonymous because they don’t include identifying information such as names, phone numbers, and email addresses of the users that they’re tracking. But in reality, sending unique device identifiers, IP addresses, IMEI numbers [a unique device identifier], and GPS coordinates of devices is far from anonymous.

In one slide, the phrase “anonymous usage statistics” appears in conspicuous quotation marks. The spies are well aware that despite not including specific types of information, the data they collect from leaky smartphone apps is enough for them to uniquely identify their targets.

It's going to be tough on screenwriters for Hollywood spy thrillers. How are we suspend our disbelief when what used to be the stuff of fiction no longer is? At the end of the spy comedy, The President's Analyst, androids from the shadowy TPC have the entire world under surveillance. In 1967, that knock on The Phone Company was a joke.

Monday, January 26, 2015

How Torture Wins In the US Marketplace of Ideas 
by Spocko
Over two thirds of Christians support the torture of terrorist suspects.--Washtington Post Poll, January 3, 2015
How did this happen? How did actions considered morally repugnant and war crimes in World War II, become acceptable now? And by Christians, goddamnit! Who made this happen, who let this happen, who helped it happen? And finally, is there a way to change this opinion?

My friend Dr. Rebecca Gordon, goes into detail on some of these questions in her book Mainstreaming Torture, but recently I saw a TV show and heard a radio program that illustrated how some of it happened. It took a mix of secrecy, rhetorical tricks and proactive marketing to make torture become acceptable in the US.

First I watched a tv series set in 1962 in a slightly different America. Here's the opening scene:
Fade in: Two men are watching a color newsreel in an elegant theatre. The title reads, "A New Day in America." We see images of smiling workers in factories, farms and office settings. The announcer says, "Everyone has a job, everyone knows the part they play keeping our country strong." he adds, "but our greatest days lie ahead."
In the seats a note is handed off. As one of the men leaves he is silhouetted by the American flag flying on the screen. As the flag unfurls you see the stars have been replaced by a white swastika on a blue background. The announcer ends with, "Sieg Heil." 
This is the opening scene from the new Amazon TV series "The Man in the High Castle." (The first episode is free.)

In this alternative history, based on the Phillip K. Dick book, the Nazi's won World War II, the US is split between the Japanese in the west and the Nazi's in the east.

In this timeline Hitler wasn't defeated. The Nuremberg Trials never happened. The atrocities committed by one group of humans on another were never revealed, condemned or punished.

Additionally, the ideas behind the justification and need for torture weren't discredited, nor were the people who suggested them. This also means the people who provided the intellectual, legal, moral or religious foundation for torture, genocide and other war crimes were not repudiated.

Imagine a United States in which the people who provided the justification for torture weren't discredited, shunned or marginalized by their various communities.

In the show it's fifteen years after World War II. What do people normally do after a war? They go on with their lives. Some go back to academia, others to law firms or into government positions as "senior advisers."

Christian religious leaders go back to their churches to give Sunday sermons about the Bible and the New Testament. 

People write books, become pundits and experts in their field. They talk to the media, go on talk shows to plug their latest books and go on the speaking circuit to explain how they won the war.

In this alt-US, do they allow some dissension, or do they attack, smear and jail people who try to reveal the whole story

We often hear this question, "How could Germans gone along with the atrocities that were happening?" Lots of answers.
  • They didn't know. 
  • They knew but were afraid to speak up because of the fear of their own safety. 
  • They knew, but were told these actions were necessary for safety and success. 
  • They agreed with the actions. 
  • They were angry at the people whom they believed hurt them and their country and wanted to hurt them back. 
  • They rejected previously agreed upon legal, practical, moral and religious views about torture and accepted new definitions, rationals and priorities that were provided to them for justification of torture and other war crimes.
Who's Selling Torture In the Marketplace Of Ideas?

Which leads me to the radio program I heard,  Does Mass Phone Data Collection Violate The 4th Amendment? It was a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared with John Yoo arguing that mass phone data colletion does NOT violate the 4th Amendment.

Yoo is introduced  as "controversial" by ABC correspondent John Donvan. Yoo makes a few jokes about Berkeley liberals, the audience laughs and claps and it's off to the races.

The intro reminded me of a guest on the Tonight Show offering up a funny story before he sets up the clip from his latest fish-out-of water buddy film. 

Here's the video link to the intro. Here's the transcription link to the debate.

Spoiler Alert! Yoo's side lost. The audience's minds were changed.


After watching the debate I thought about all the people who promoted and are still promoting Yoo and his ideas vs those who challenged them. Conservatives love to talk about winning in the "Marketplace of Ideas." I laugh when I hear this. It reminds me of the sales people I knew who would half jokingly say, "All I want is an unfair advantage."

The pro-torture forces look for venues where they have an unfair advantage like one sided "debates" where they control the microphone or use strawmen instead of guests.

They want to talk to people and venues they can control via fear and rhetoric. For example, Dick Cheney on Meet the Press talking to Chuck Todd about torture.  Todd wasn't going to really push Cheney, he might be seen to have an option, or worse, risk Cheney not coming on the show again.

 (BTW, listen to this great clip from the Jimmy Dore Show where Todd admits if he "barks" at guests they won't come back on the show. Audio clip, starts at 24:45 )

If Todd and the rest of the corporate media aren't going to challenge these ideas can we get them to book an anti-Dick Cheney to go on shows and challenge him?

When only the sellers of torture are being bought by the media as public the best guests and leading experts, we get an United States like in The Man in the High Castle. We have won the war but lost the values that we believed made us special.

Is this our flag?
american flag in the breeze

Or is it really this? What are our current values?

Next, what will it take to change this opinion? Who will do it? Will anyone pay for doing it in the marketplace of ideas? Or should we just accept Dick Cheney's reality has won and move on?

*American Flag, by Eric Lynch via Creative Commons license
*Flag from screen grab of Amazon Production's The Man in The High Castle 

"Sarah, Sarah, so easy to look at, so hard to define"

by digby

Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review writes an essay declaring that Sarah Palin is a joke and has been one for a very long time. Seems she doesn't make much sense and is in it for herself and not the conservative movement. Imagine that.

And then I looked at the comments to find that, lo and behold, a lot of people at NR agree with him. People like this:

I admired her for about a year, then asked myself, "Why do these 'strong women' have such p-whipped husbands?" I'd hate to come home at night to one of them and find out.

There's your problem. The gibberish isn't an issue, never has been. But then they all love Rick Perry and Ben Carson too so that's obvious. The problem is that once you get to know her she's just another ballbuster, amirite?


Statistic 'O the Day

by digby

Some things you probably didn't know:

During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries -- roughly 70% of the nations on the planet -- according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises. And this year could be a record-breaker ... just 66 days into fiscal 2015 -- America’s most elite troops had already set foot in 105 nations, approximately 80% of 2014’s total.

Despite its massive scale and scope, this secret global war across much of the planet is unknown to most Americans.

I would imagine that most Americans don't care much either. This is a very efficient form of warfare which doesn't require any participation from the public. What could be better?

I'm just glad the US Government is omnipotent and knows exactly what it's doing at all times or I might worry that running military actions in 70% of countries in the world might create some problems down the road.

Bond villains in every sense of the word

by digby

So everyone's all agog at this number. And it's big, especially since it will apparently come from only a few hundred donors, the largest of which will be the Kochs themselves.

The Koch brothers’ political operation intends to spend $889 million in the run-up to the 2016 elections, according to an attendee at the operation’s annual winter donor gathering in the California dessert.

The spending goal, shared with donors at a Monday morning session at the Rancho Mirage Ritz Carlton, reflects the sweeping ambition of a private conservative political network that in many ways has eclipsed the power of the official Republican Party.

The $889 million spending goal dwarfs the $404 million the Republican National Committee spent during the 2012 election and the $188 million it dropped during last year’s midterm campaign.
While the RNC’s spending was supplemented by congressional campaign arms, part of the potency of the Koch operation is that it doesn’t have to spread its cash across the entire GOP political landscape.

Rather, it’s able to pick its spots, funding initiatives targeting specific slices of the electorate – such as Hispanic voters, veterans or millennials – or specific issues that jibe with the libertarian-inflected conservatism of the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch

The $889 million will be raised from a network of a few hundred donors who attend twice-a-year gatherings like the one at the Ritz. The gatherings, which are known as “seminars” in Koch world, typically run for three days – from Saturday night through Tuesday morning – and conclude with pledge sessions during which donors contribute six- and seven-figure sums to help fund the advocacy efforts detailed at the seminars.

Yes, I'm going to remind you all that this is not a Big number when you have the kind of money the Kochs have at their disposal. Combined they are worth over 100 billion dollars. Just the two brothers.

They could literally spend 50 times the amount they plan to spend and still have more than 50 billion between them and be among the top richest men on the planet.

And, by the way, this isn't about making more money for themselves. Their money is making plenty of money for them. They are true believers:

During a Saturday night welcome speech in Rancho Mirage, Charles Koch took the slightest of victory laps – calling the midterms “an important step in slowing down the march toward collectivism” – but he implored the assembled donors to dig deep headed into 2016.

Espousing a political worldview that protects free speech and “individual and property rights with equal protection for everyone under the law,” Koch said: “It is up to us. Making this vision a reality will require more than a financial commitment. It requires making it a central part of our lives.”
They are willing to spend whatever it takes to fulfill their vision. Yes, that will undoubtedly end up making them more money. But that's no longer their prime motivation. They are so rich that they've become Bond villains. They want to run the world.


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