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Friday, March 06, 2015


No joy in joystick

by Tom Sullivan

The Air Force seems to have a problem retaining drone pilots. They are quitting faster than new ones can be trained, writes Pratap Chatterjee at Alternet:

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war -- by remote control -- is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward's war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Burnout may be a factor. Whereas pilots for manned Air Force aircraft log 300 hours per year, the drone warriors can spend 900-1,800 flying drones in circles, working "either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” according to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh.

Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."

"It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."

Then again, they could just stop doing it, haunted as they are by the images and scorned by colleagues. And perhaps by a few fellow Americans who want them to stop:

LAS VEGAS — Protesters outside an air base in southern Nevada are calling for an end to U.S. drone missions that they say kill many more civilians than terrorists halfway around the world.

Organizer Toby Blome and base officials said Thursday that no violence and no arrests resulted from the first day of a demonstration outside Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, northwest of Las Vegas.

How effective are the drone attacks? Chatterjee cites a report by Jennifer Gibson of the British-based human rights organization, Reprieve, that claims some targets on the White House "kill list" have allegedly “'died' as many as seven times."

Gibson adds, “We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?” In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 “targets” numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against “him” over the years, according to Reprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.

That would keep me awake at night.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Digby Discusses the Movie Citizen Four, Journalism and Snowden

by Spocko

Tonight on Virtually Speaking Digby and Jay Ackroyd have a fascinating discussion about the movie Citizen Four. (Podcast link)

I was going to call in but I already got to talk to Jay about the pro-war media last week and the role of fiction in our political narratives with Digby on Sunday.

But I invite you all to listen for some interesting points Jay and Digby bring up.

They speak about the role of WikiLeaks in the movie, I was going to mention that I think Greenwald learned a lot about how the media "consumes" news.

I think he learned that you can't just do document dumps anymore. The media and public will lose interest. If there is too much information. important aspects of an issue or story gets lost over some smaller "sexy" part. They roll out was spread out over time. The roll out kept the media and government scrambling to address each issue.

The other thing that I think Snowden (and maybe Glenn) knew is that the media WILL focus on the person. It was good at first to not identify the source so they could talk about the issues, but the media love/NEED to go into the Character of the Whistle-blower.

Digby mentioned how important this movie was to showing Snowden's character. There will still be opportunities for character assassination, but the movie went a long way to show who he was and why he was doing this.

In many ways Snowden was a goddamn saint, so Greenwald took some of the hate. With Assange we went with the whistleblower we had, not the one we wanted.

Laura Poitras's movie went a long way to help show the character of Snowden. Think about how it that might have been edited differently. We all know what reality TV can do.

 I think why Snowden's selecting of Laura and Glenn was a smart move on his part. His understanding of deep encryption helped him protect his data, but his understanding of who these people were and how they would act helped protect his image and probably his life.

In a related story I heard Matt Taibbi on Sam Seder's Majority Report talking about Michael Winston, who was a whistleblower talking about Countrywide's horrible practices and the Justice departments' failure to prosecute. Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece is, A Whistleblower's Horror Story.

It turns out that and BofA (Bunch of Assholes) had Winston's case against them overturned, then put a lien on his house and went after him for court costs to send a message to other whistleblowers. Listen to the interview here.

The interview ended with Taibbi saying that common thread in these cases is that people people often try to work the system from the inside, think they will be thanked for pointing out the problems, but aren't. And then their lives are over when they become whistleblowers.

Digby and Jay talked about the tension watching Snowden walking out of the hotel room, knowing that he might end up spending his life in a Supermax facility.

We might understand why the people inside governments or corporations go out of their way to destroy and punish whistleblowers. They feel they need to send a message. My question is, what mechanisms can we create or put in place to help whistleblowers?  And not just mechanisms, attitudes and practices. Because clearly some changes are in order.

  • Journalists, learn how to encrypt and protect your communications with whistleblowers. 
  • Human beings working in corporations, look at your systems. Are you fulfilling your own corporate governance rules? 
  • People acting as corporate counsel, you are chartered with protecting the corporations, not specific officers. 
  • PR and marketing people, do you really want to have to spin the deaths your company was responsible for? 

The Pulitzer for the Guardian and Greenwald, plus the Oscar for Poitras also sends a message, a good one.

Dispatch from the Great Lakes: which one did it better?

by digby

Steve Benen did a little comparison of two upper midwest states which have everything in common except one is run by Republicans and one is run by Democrats. Guess which one is doing much better economically and which one's in the dirt?
Wisconsin and Minnesota have long made fascinating bookends. As longtime readers may recall, the two neighboring states have similar sizes, similar populations, similar demographics, and even similar climates. But they don’t necessarily have similar politics, at least not lately.

In the 2010 elections, the Badger State elected Scott Walker (R) governor and gave control of the legislature to Republicans, while the Gopher State made Mark Dayton (D) governor and elected a Democratic legislature. The former got to work targeting collective bargaining and approving tax cuts, while the latter raised taxes on the wealthy and boosted in-state investments.

Nearly five years later, one of these two states is doing quite well. Policy.mic had an interesting report this week.
Since 2011, Minnesota has been doing quite well for itself. The state has created more than 170,000 jobs, according to the Huffington Post. Its unemployment rate stands at 3.6% – the fifth-lowest in the country, and far below the nationwide rate of 5.7% – and the state government boasts a budget surplus of $1 billion. Forbes considers Minnesota one of the top 10 in the country for business.

As Patrick Caldwell recently explained very well, Minnesota’s gains come on the heels of tax increases on Minnesota’s top 2% and higher corporate taxes, both of which state Republicans said would crush Minnesota’s economy. As for their neighbors to the east:

By a number of measures, Wisconsin hasn’t fared as well as Minnesota. As the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reports, Wisconsin’s job growth has been among the worst in the region, and income growth is one of the worst in the country. It has a higher unemployment rate than Minnesota. And the budget is in bad shape.

Back in January, the editorial board of LaCrosse Tribune wrote, “The governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota each presented their versions of new year’s resolutions in various media interviews last week….Which approach is better? As we enter the new year, Minnesota is clearly winning by a long shot.”
And yet all the smart money in political establishment circles has it that Walker is a real threat. Because even though he was elected in a Republican sweep year and then quickly recalled, he managed to hang on and then barely win in another Republican sweep year. This makes him a brilliant politician. He can't make a public statement without looking like an out of touch fool. And now we find out that he's barely doing better than Sam Brownback who has made Kansas into a toxic supply side petrie dish.  A winner for sure.


Now watch this drive

by digby

... or rather this ad:

And note that Evan Bayh is one of the sociopaths behind it. Just saying.

h/t to Ed Kilgore
Getting the Village band back together

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon today that made a lot of rightwingers mad. And I'll bet the Village wasn't too pleased either:
I got out my old Alanis Morrisette CD this week and listened to “You Oughta Know” for the first time in a decade or more. I had been hit with a strong sense of deja vu and it made me feel nostalgic. A Clinton scandal was burning bright and there was a feeding frenzy on cable news of which I hadn’t seen the likes since Ezra Klein was in grade school. It seems Hillary Clinton did something terrible to do with records she didn’t keep properly and “it doesn’t pass the smell test”. In any case, “where there’s smoke there’s fire”. Or it could have been fog. A light mist perhaps, who knows? But something very serious must be going on or all these people wouldn’t be talking about it, right? So they have to talk about it. Incessantly.

Just like back in the day, no one was prepared to report what was actually supposed to have been wrong about all this, of course, because it was pretty clear after the first NY Times vague report was clarified that Clinton didn’t actually break any laws and there’s no evidence she didn’t adhere to the rules that were in place during her tenure. Sure, something could be wrong with it, but until someone else does some reporting it’s important to discuss ad nauseum what “the problem” really was: this scandal, true or not, important or unimportant, “feeds the narrative” that Clinton is a person of hugely flawed character. None of them were prepared to say this themselves, of course, being unbiased reporters just reporting the facts and all. It’s just that a lot of other people think Hillary Clinton is a devious, Machiavellian control freak and therefore it’s important to report this story. Which will, of course, further feed that narrative.

This is the laziest form of political reporting and commentary imaginable. They are basically sitting around gossiping about what people in DC say about Hillary Clinton and surmising that this story will force them say it even more. Which they will because all these commentators are saying it 24/7 on cable news in a shrill, shrieking feedback loop they mistake for actual public opinion...

read on

They're getting the village band back together. They sound a lot like that garage band in the Viagra commercial.
What could go wrong?

by digby

Gosh what a great idea. If there's one thing the Middle East needs it's some American mercenary yahoos running around:

A U.S. veteran is putting out a call to other veterans to come together to fight the Islamic State on their turf.

"There has been strong support and numerous veterans who are interested in going."

According to Gannett affiliate, WTLV, eight-year military veteran Sean Rowe launched the website, Veterans against ISIS. He's recruiting veterans to fight the terror group in places like Iraq, and he's asking for four years of military experience.

"So, I will be talking with them and screening them. I want to keep it small and simple," said Rowe.

From kidnappings to beheadings, the violence unleashed by ISIL continues, and Rowe says he's had enough.

"I'm not scared of these guys. They can come for me if they want but I am going to take the fight to them," said Rowe.

There are no federal laws prohibiting people from flying to other countries and acting as mercenaries, but former FBI special Agent Ron Wirth says there are other laws to keep in mind.

"If you are training with automatic weapons or weapons or explosives or rocket launches you may exposing yourself to criminal prosecution," said Wirth.

Wirth also says he's not guaranteed medical treatment if he's injured, and he's not protected under the Geneva Convention.

"It's going to be dangerous but that's a risk that anyone who signs up for this is going to be taking," said Wirth.

When Rowe was asked if he had a strategy or where he even plans to go, he said, "We just need to be in an area...just to leave it to us. Don't worry about it."

He's also not concerned about being a terror target.

"Do they care about Jacksonville? I don't think they care about Jacksonville. They are going to come for me," said Rowe.

Just leave it to them. Don't worry about it.

I can only imagine the shrieking right wing outcry if one of these heroes got captured by ISIS. Somehow, I don't think they'd have the same thing to say about them as they said about ISIS victim Kayla Mueller:
In a piece titled “Kayla Mueller: Dead ISIS Hostage Was Jew-Hating, Anti-Israel Bitch,” conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel wrote, “No tears for the newly-departed Kayla Mueller, the ISIS hostage whose parents confirmed today that she is dead.”

“Mueller was a Jew-hating, anti-Israel piece of crap who worked with HAMAS and helped Palestinians harass Israeli soldiers and block them from doing their job of keeping Islamic terrorists out of Israel,” Schlussel wrote.

“I have no sympathy for any of these ‘American’ (in name only!) hostages of ISIS,” she went on. “And my attitude when I hear they’ve been snuffed out is, so sad, too bad.”

One conservative website urged readers to pause before they mourn Mueller’s death and ask whether her support of Palestine was ultimately what killed her.

“People should be asking is why this young American girl was in Syria in the first place,” said Conservative-Headlines.com. “The fact is that Kayla Mueller was a Cultural Marxist who talked about her ‘privilege.’”

The website Shoebat.com’s Lee Kaplan said, “(T)he press tries to paint Kayla as a selfless volunteer helping poor Arab refugees. She may have even helped some injured Arabs in refugee camps. But don’t be fooled where her sympathies laid; she was working to support the goals of Palestinian irredentist/terrorists and to interfere with the IDF on behalf of terrorist groups. As an ISM activist she was a tool for the worldwide jihad.”

And Jim Hoft, also known as the Gateway Pundit, called Mueller “pro-terrorist” for opposing Israel’s ongoing occupation of Gaza.

That's just so awful ...

Mainstream mean boys

by digby

Huckleberry Graham got in trouble this week for making a mean,sexist joke about Nancy Pelosi. He begrudgingly apologized clearly unconcerned about what he'd said. He's not the first Republican to be so rude. Hate radio has made millions with these cheap jokes.

But there is one person we can hold up as responsible for making this particular mean, sexist joke mainstream:
"Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a speech and handed the gavel to John Boehner. Very emotional moment for Pelosi, but she managed to keep a stiff upper lip, a tightly stretched forehead, and unnaturally arched eyebrows." –Jay Leno

"Ohio Republican John Boehner will take over for Nancy Pelosi. Those are some big eyes to fill." –Jay Leno

"Nancy Pelosi has now been elected the new House minority leader. She was smiling from ear to ear, which is pretty impressive considering how far her ears have been pulled back." –Jay Leno

"Christine O'Donnell has a new campaign ad where she says she's not a witch. Nancy Pelosi was furious. She said, 'Hey, that's my slogan.'" –Jay Leno

"Nancy Pelosi's Republican opponent, John Dennis, has an ad where he depicts Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West. Pelosi is very angry and the Wicked Witch is even angrier." –Jay Leno

"Of course, this all couldn't have been done without the help of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. And today, the president thanked her for her unblinking support." –Jay Leno, on the passage of health care reform

"Actually, Nancy Pelosi used the Internet to help gain support for this. She reached out to people on her favorite social networking site, Icantmovemyfacebook.com." –Jay Leno

"Before the health care vote, protesters on Capitol Hill heckled Nancy Pelosi. But she managed to keep a stiff upper lip, as well as a tightly stretched forehead, and an unnaturally arched eyebrow." –Jay Leno

"Before she left for China, reporters repeatedly questioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about her claim the CIA lied to her. But Pelosi remained tight-lipped. She also remained tight-foreheaded and tight-eyelided." --Jay Leno

"It was so cold in Washington, it felt like Hillary's inauguration. It was so cold, Al Gore led a prayer for global warming. In fact, by the end of the inauguration, everybody's face looked like Nancy Pelosi." --Jay Leno

"Nancy Pelosi said today we've waited 200 years for this. 200 years? How many face lifts has this woman had?" --Jay Leno

There are a bunch of Bill Maher jokes in the same vein. You can understand why someone like Graham might assume that such jokes are considered perfectly acceptable. Many millions of people heard them night after night and laughed and laughed and laughed.

It's not the biggest problem in the world. But Pelosi is the most powerful elected official in the US Government. This stuff is demeaning and very much designed to portray her as an unserious old bag. Why not poke fun at her politics straight up instead of doing it with cheap sexist and ageist tropes? There's a ton of material there. Comedians don't really have to do it like this.

Certainly Huckleberry Graham can figure out how to deploy his dull, mean boy wit in less obvious ways.


Supreme hackery

by digby

I think Scott Lemieux's example of conservative movement hackery and scamming is right on point:

Let’s consider another of Scalia’s talk radio soundbites: “This is not the most elegantly drafted statute. It was ­­ it was pushed through on expedited procedures and didn’t have the kind of consideration by a conference committee, for example, that ­­ that statutes usually do.”

The “expedited procedures” claim is just erroneous; both the Senate and then the House passed the ACA using ordinary procedures, and then there was a set of amendments passed through reconciliation. The implicit claim that the ACA was passed in unseemly haste is a joke to anyone who actually remembers the interminable process. It is true that the bill did not have the usual benefit of being harmonized through a conference committee. But the reason that this didn’t happen is that the Republican minority in the Senate would not have permitted a vote on a new bill.

It’s a neat scam: A Republican minority prevents Congress from functioning properly, and then their political allies on the Supreme Court use this as an excuse to willfully misread the resulting statute, with disastrous consequences for many people. When the same Supreme Court justice to then assert that congressional Republicans would never, ever dream of seeing large numbers of people go without health insurance it just completes the shameless hack cycle.

And let's not forget the fact that the House Republicans have voted 56 times to kill or scale back Obamacare.

This is how the Republicans deal with being a congressional party. They use every lever of power they hold to obstruct absolutely everything and then blame the President for being unable to get anything done. Their only negotiating stance is to pass their agenda or nothing. And even then they'll find reasons not to do it. If the Democrats manage to pass anything they then do whatever it takes to disrupt the implementation including running around to the states to persuade them to sign on to something (the federal exchanges) they have every intention of destroying. After which they will blame the resulting carnage and pain on the president and his party for failing to stop them.

As Lemieux says, it's a neat scam. And it fits right in with the conservative mind. This what they love to do more than anything: screw with other people. It's enjoyable in a way that tax cuts for the rich never will be.

There surely are officials more corrupt than Christie 

by tristero

But there are very few who are so cynically blatant about it. 

For more than a decade, the New Jersey attorney general’s office conducted a hard-fought legal battle to hold Exxon Mobil Corporation responsible for decades of environmental contamination in northern New Jersey.

But when the news came that the state had reached a deal to settle its $8.9 billion claim for about $250 million, the driving force behind the settlement was not the attorney general’s office — it was Gov. Chris Christie’s chief counsel, Christopher S. Porrino, two people familiar with the negotiations said.

One of those people, Bradley M. Campbell, was the commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection in 2004 when the lawsuits against Exxon were filed. Mr. Campbell, in an Op-Ed article appearing in The New York Times on Thursday, wrote that “even more troubling” than the decision to settle the lawsuit were “the circumstances surrounding the decision.”

He goes on to say that former colleagues of his in the state government told him that Mr. Porrino “inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon.”

The settlement, first reported by The Times on Friday, came two months after the attorney general’s office, in a court brief, argued vigorously for $8.9 billion in damages, saying, “The scope of the environmental damage resulting from the discharges is as obvious as it is staggering and unprecedented in New Jersey.”


The pigment tax

by Tom Sullivan

Reading Charles Blow's New York Times column this morning, one phrase stopped me cold: a pigment tax. That, essentially, is what the Justice Department's report charges the Ferguson Police Department was extracting from African American citizens:

The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.

Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.

Take this passage from the report:

“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”

The report, writes Blow, reads like an account of "a shakedown gang."

There were many insane accounts from Ferguson, MO of police oppression — what else can you call it? — but this one (via CNN) made my blood boil:

1. Unlawful arrest has long-term consequences

Summer of 2012. A 32-year-old African-American was cooling off in his car after a basketball game in a public park.

What comes next is a series of civil rights violations described in the Justice Department report that resulted in the man losing his job as a federal contractor.

A Ferguson police officer demands the man's Social Security number and identification before accusing him of being a pedophile and ordering the man out of his car.

When the officer asked to search the man's car, the 32-year-old refused, invoking his constitutional right.

The response? The officer arrested the man at gunpoint, slapped him with eight charges, including for not wearing a seat belt, despite the fact that he was sitting in a parked car. The officer also cited him for "making a false declaration" because he gave his name as 'Mike' instead of 'Michael.'

"The man told us that, because of these charges, he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government that he had held for years," the report says.

The Washington Post sums it up as a racket (emphasis mine):

This, as the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out in a tweet, is “plunder made legal. … Municipal employees in Ferguson report sound more like shareholders. Gangsters.” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called it a system “primed for maximizing revenue” — one that now basically serves as a “collection agency” instead of “a law enforcement entity focused primarily on maintaining public safety.”

“The new Department of Justice report depicts a system in Ferguson that is much closer to a racket aimed at squeezing revenue out of its population than a properly working democracy,” wrote George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell in the Monkey Cage blog, which runs in The Washington Post. Ferguson city employees, from the police chief to the finance director, collaborated to generate revenue through tickets and fees, according to the Justice Department. As described in the report, Farrell and others pointed out, Ferguson is reminiscent of medieval Europe, when gangster governments collected “tribute” and bamboozled the subject population at every turn.

This is a department that might properly be prosecuted under RICO and likely won't be. And for the same reason Dick Cheney, the torture master, is still fly fishing instead of swatting flies in a jail cell; for the same reason banksters walk free after defrauding courts, plundering people's homes and throwing families into the street; for the same reason HSBC pays a fine for laundering drug money, and those too poor to pay parking fines face debtor's prison.

Justice, which was never equal in this country, has utterly broken down along class lines, rigged like the economy. The scales of justice aren't just out of balance. They've been thrown out. Medieval is right.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A crucial insight on King vs Burwell

by digby

...from Jack Balkin. He makes the important point that conservatives and liberals don't always agree on what "reality" is. But he also points out that the Supreme Court Justices all seemed to accept that dire consequences would flow from the denial of subsidies in the federal exchange, so in this case they might have at least some common ground on that point.


Here's a key exchange between Justice Scalia and Solicitor General Don Verrilli:

JUSTICE SCALIA: What about what about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while while all of these disastrous consequences ensue. I mean, how often have we come out with a decision such as the you know, the bankruptcy court decision? Congress adjusts, enacts a statute that
that takes care of the problem. It happens all the time. Why is that not going to happen here?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, this Congress, Your Honor, I- I-

GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I mean, of course, theoretically of course, theoretically they could.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I-- I don't care what Congress you're talking about. If the consequences are as disastrous as you say, so many million people without without insurance and whatnot, yes, I think this Congress would act.

Verrilli offers the conventional wisdom-- that the current Republican-controlled Congress is hopelessly dysfunctional and that Republicans have been unable to agree on a fix for Obamacare--in part because there is no consensus on a substitute for Obamacare, and in part because their more radical elements will punish politicians who attempt to fix the program. Moreover, he assumes that it is vain to hope that there will be a bipartisan solution because Republicans and Democrats disagree so pointedly about Obamacare.

Scalia, however, sees things differently. He believes that when push comes to shove, Republicans will overcome their internal divisions and come up with a sensible solution that will preserve insurance coverage for millions while getting rid of the hated Obamacare. If you read the media that Scalia reads, you might well believe that this is the case.

But even if you don't agree with that view, and you don't regularly get your news from conservative media, you might well believe (or at least hope!) that Congress will respond in the face of a genuine disaster. Republicans will back down from their complete rejection of Obamacare and pass a technical fix.

But that assumes that the Republicans in Congress see the world the way that you do. Some of them may, but some of them may not. Your judgment of the likely consequences depends on other people's vision of reality.

Scalia's optimism about the consequences of holding for the petitioners is premised on the view that Congress is not really dysfunctional, and that this is an unfair portrait painted by a liberal media. People with a different view of the world will probably disagree-- Congress is broken. Or, at the very least, they have insufficient faith in the current political system to want to gamble that Congress will be able to avoid a disaster.

Competing visions of the world matter greatly in making arguments about consequences. And there many many ways that liberal and conservative elites can find ways to disagree about what is actually happening. Even if the Justices all agree on the consequences of denying subsidies in federal exchanges, they may still have very different views of the world when it comes to how the current political system works and whether Congress can be trusted to work things out. And that difference in their views of reality may be crucial to how the case comes out.

I think that's right. They may very well believe that when push comes to shove the congress will "fix the problem" and they may even hope they do it in a way that cynically forces the president and the Democrats to sign on to something truly toxic in the bargain. They love to hold hostages after all. But it's also entirely possible that they simply do not think that this congress will just let the federal exchange die and make 10 million people drop health insurance because it's become too expensive overnight. It's possible. They have voted to repeal Obamacare almost 50 times. It's very difficult to see how they suddenly move to reinstate subsidies on the federal exchanges.

But whether they fix it or not the price will be very, very high.


Murder confidential

by digby

Another summary electrocution:

Nearly a week after a man died in police custody, the Coconut Creek Police Department still refuses to provide any information, declaring his death “confidential.”

Calvon Reid, 39, died in police custody after apparently being Tasered by several Coconut Creek Police Officers. Police Chief Michael Mann refused to even acknowledge or confirm the name of the person who died, citing the federal healthcare privacy law known as HIPPA.

“The information sought is confidential and exempt, therefore, as an agency, we have no comment at this time,” Mann wrote in a statement.

However, Barbara Peteresen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, said the city of Coconut Creek was wrong in their interpretation of state and federal law.

“They are misinterpreting and misapplying an exemption for complaints of misconduct to cover up what led to the Tasering and ultimate death of a human being,” she told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.
Even more disturbing, she said, is the city attempting to use HIPPA to try and hide the fact Reid died.

“HIPPA does not apply to the Coconut Creek Police Department. It applies to healthcare providers. It does not exempt the name of a man who died in police custody.”
Mann refused to meet with reporters who showed up at the police station Monday.
Sgt. Henry Cabrera, the department’s public information officer, also refused to answer any questions: “I’m not going to answer any of your questions. No comment.”

City leaders in Coconut Creek are supporting the police chief and his refusal to release public records.

“You’ve already been given a statement,” said Mayor Becky Tooley, referring to the chief’s statement declaring the death confidential. “I’m not going to answer any more questions from you sir.”

Commissioners Sandra Welch, Mikkie Belvedere, and Lou Sarbone also refused to make any comment or criticize the police department for withholding public information.

And unfortunately we still don’t have some very basic information: What day did this occur? What time did it occur? What was the initial call that brought officers into contact with Reid? How many officers responded? What happened once they got there? Are the officers still working or have they been relieved of duty pending the results of the investigation?

Reid’s father told the Sun Sentinel the police claimed his son had was Tasered after his son became belligerent with paramedics who had been called to treat him after he was found beaten inside the gated retirement community of Wynmoor Village.

I've seen some cynical cover-ups in my day but I've never seen anything quite that bad. To use the medical privacy law to hide the facts in a police killing by taser takes some real chutzpah.

Rating the munchkins

by digby

Grover Norquist says the GOP has a big field of serious candidates:
In no particular order, Norquist says the credible field of GOP hopefuls is made up of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

“We have six guys who are either on stage already, or half a step offstage who can and will step on stage and can’t be pushed off the stage, can’t be mau-maued off the stage. They can falter, they could melt, they could decide to walk off the stage themselves, but they can’t be pushed off,” Norquist said. “These guys have enough name ID and can raise enough money to stay all the way and be credible.”

Notably absent from his shortlist are senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. He predicts both will struggle to build a national support base while they battle for funding against Perry and Bush, both better known in their home states.

“I think the six is pretty set,” he said. “There will always be one or two surprises, but that is a very different situation than two and six years ago when there were two or three serious challengers and everybody else – I don’t mean to be unkind – but they were munchkins. They were never going to become national figures. They each got their 15 minutes of fame, but you couldn’t take that two weeks of attention – Herman Cain, [Newt] Gingrich, the lady from Minnesota [Rep. Michelle Bachman], and turn that into a campaign.”

I don't know why he excludes Rubio . He certainly isn't a munchkin like Bachman. He did very well at the Koch primary. And today he came out with this:
On Wednesday, Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee unveiled the blueprint for their long-awaited tax reform plan, which would cut taxes for individuals, families, businesses, and investors while eliminating a swath of deductions. Individual tax rates would be compressed into two brackets of 15% and 35% while the top corporate tax rate would shrink to 25% from 35%. The centerpiece of the plan, and a potential model for GOP policy in the age of stagnant wages, is a pricey new $2,500-per-child tax credit. It will undoubtedly play a central part in a Rubio presidential campaign should the Florida lawmaker take the plunge.

“No matter what I run for, whether it’s the Senate or presidency, of course this is going to be part of our platform,” Rubio said. “You think I’m going to come up with a second tax plan?”
Sounds like a Grover wet dream.

And really, Cruz is a weirdo but he isn't a munchkin. He's got a sizeable following in the party and speaks for a lot of them.  Sure, he might not be able to win the general but it's a stretch to think Bobby Jindal or Rick Perry could either ... And Rand Paul's following is arguably much smaller than Cruz's.

You'll notice he left out the guy who keeps coming in 2nd in all the straw polls: Ben Carson.

Process server

by digby

ICYWW, this is how the White House explained the email rules and procedures today:
Press Sec Josh Earnest: What we have said about senior officials or even officials at a lower level who use their personal email to conduct their personal business, is that it's important to insure that when official business is conducted on personal email that those records are properly maintained and preserved. The easiest way to do that is to simply take your personal email and forward it to your government email where it can be archived with your other official correspondence.

But there are also procedures that have been set up by some agencies, including the department of state, where individuals can essentially print out personal emails that relate to the conduct of official government business and ensure they are properly maintained and preserved in that way. And again it's important that these emails are properly maintained and preserved so they can be used to respond to legitimate inquiries from the public, legitimate inquiries from the congress or even legitimate inquiries from historians down the line.

Now I understand that hundreds of these documents have been produced to congress in conjunction with a legitimate congressional inquiry and that is again the way this process is supposed to work.

Reporter: Can you understand the concern that if a cabinet level official is not only using a private email and their own server that there really is no independent way to verify that they have turned over all the emails that involve official business?

Ernest: All I can say  is that the guidelines that we have laid out are consistent with the law the president signed into law at the end of last year, which is to establish clear guidelines for how we can insure that work that's done on a personal email account is properly maintained.  This is also why the guidance that we have given to administration staffers is that they should save themselves this additional step and do their official government business on their official government email.  That is the path that the vast majority of administration staffers use.  I put myself in that category.

If there are occasions in which there happen to be an email exchange on ones personal email account that is relevant to their official responsibilities it's important for them to remember to forward their email to their official government account so it can be properly preserved.
Who do you think decides which personal emails will be forwarded under the rules set forth by the administration and law the president signed? No, there are no professional government archivists who come along and inspect personal emails to determine which ones to send.   It seems that the person who sent the email is the one who determines which ones are archived and which ones aren't.

The Bush administration official just deleted all theirs which undoubtedly solved a lot of problems. Perhaps Clinton should have followed in their footsteps.

Now maybe there should be a rule that nobody can ever use their private email for any official business ever.   But it would appear by all accounts that the rules allow people to use their private emails for official business and only stipulate that they forward these emails to the government archive either by ccing their government email account or printing out hard copies. And there is no provision for anyone to "check" and make sure they have done it. (But then they can always check with the NSA's dragnet files, amirite?)

From the sound of the media today, the idea congealing is that the congress and presumably others shoud have the right to go through all emails, personal and private, of anyone subject to an investigation to determine whether or not they are lying about what is relevant to official business.  This would be a big break from what we normally call the subpoena process which requires that someone turn over all documents pertaining to a particular matter. They don't employ a group of government officials or private detectives to go on a fishing expedition and comb through all the documents the person has to determine if they've complied with the request either.  They require the person themselves to determine what is pertinent to the request and produce them. 

This is what happened with the Benghazi request that was the basis of the leak to the NY Times.  But as with all these feeding frenzies, the media doesn't know what it's talking about.  I just watched Thomas Roberts on MSNBC going on and on about transparency and how this sort of document production for a congressional request was tainted by the fact that  the person who was required to produce the documents produced them and so we can't know if they are lying. Transparency, openness etc, with the implication that somehow this is a big break with normal procedures. Oy, it gives you a headache.

This report from Medium.com raises some issues not raised in any other reporting as far as I can tell, pointing out that the government email system has been repeatedly hacked and highly confidential State Department communications were also famously leaked by Wikileaks, so keeping the emails on a secure private server may have made more sense from a security standpoint. Maybe that's not the case.

Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC did inform us that this is a Big Problem for Clinton even though there's nothing illegal because ....
It speaks to a larger narrative going all the way back to Whitewater and the first Clinton White House when Hillary Clinton resisted providing documents, it fits into this idea that she's "calculating" and "Machiavellian". You can be sure that Republicans are going to keep advancing that narrative.
And the press will lead the parade for them like a bunch of tumbling, cheerleaders:
One of the best practitioners of the political dark arts used to refer to the kind of story that appeared yesterday about Hillary Clinton using a personal e-mail account instead of an official one while at the State Department as a “Picasso.” By that, he meant a masterpiece of his craft: placing, without fingerprints, negative stories that wind up on the front pages of a major newspaper and command the political news cycle for a few days. These stories are often months in the making and, at best, reinforce or create a new negative narrative about the target. So it is with this latest story on Clinton and e-mails. For Clinton-haters and skeptics, it underscores a pattern of deception and rule-breaking and threatens to become a chronic annoyance for her eventual candidacy. What e-mails are missing? What’s in them? A congressional investigation, anyone?

There’s another interesting wrinkle to this story for those who follow the game within the game of political campaigns. Who might have been the source of the story? Which master of the craft of opposition research? Well, I don’t know, but you don’t have to be an expert in forensics to suspect the campaign of Jeb Bush. Bush, after all, released all of his e-mails from his years as governor of Florida, which seems less curious now. And his campaign communications director, Tim Miller, perhaps the best in the Republican Party, is the former head of the factory of Clinton opposition research, America Rising. If that’s the case, the story could be a signal that Bush’s campaign knows how to throw a fastball up and in.

Oooh baby.

By the way, the reference to Whitewater by Seitz-Walz offered up as a matter of historical fact forgot to include the important detail that Whitewater was a fraud perpetrated by the right wing and gleefully flogged by an eager press corps. But whatever ... "it's out there."

*I am going to issue the standard disclaimer that if Clinton did something real bring it on.  But this is a patented pseudo-scandal planted by the Benghazi bullshit squad and I'm not jumping on the bandwagon.
If somebody wants to do an expose of Clinton's cozy relationship with Wall Street, her hawkish foreign policy or her penchant for nonsensical bipartisan cant, that's perfectly fair.  In fact, it's necessary. I think a hardcore investigation into the Clinton Foundation and all its opaque financial dealings is absolutely in bounds. But when they start recycling rightwing Benghazi crapola, referencing Whitewater,talking about her "calculating Machiavellian character"  and don't even have a clue about what it is she's supposed to have done wrong, just that it doesn't "pass the smell test", I'm going to be ornery. This is the Village in all its glory and I'm sad to say that a new generation of Villagers is just as willing to chase the shiny object for the Dark Ops wingnuts as their forebears.


Can Republicans exceed George W. Bush's minority vote?

by digby

I have a piece up at Salon today talking about a new report that has to have the smarter of Republican strategists very nervous:
[D]espite the fact that the new CPAC organizers encouraged a slightly less fringy tone, they were unable to do anything about the fringy policies. Even the Great Whitebread Hope, Scott Walker (who, predictably, committed yet another embarrassing gaffe), reversed his position on immigration reform. He was for it before he was against it. And needless to say, the legislative game of chicken the House of Representatives was playing in the background over the funding of the Department of Homeland Security proved that the Tea Party wing of the GOP isn’t dead yet. Until the establishment is able to put a stake through its zombie heart, they have a big problem on their hands.

One little discussed CPAC panel on demographics discussed a new bipartisan report which reveals a daunting statistic that will make it very, very difficult for Scott Walker or any other anti-immigration Republican to win the White House in 2016. Ariel Edwards-Levy at Huffington Post reported:

“The fundamental challenge for my side is the seemingly inexorable change in the composition of presidential electorates,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres, whose clients include Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said during a panel discussing the report. “And there’s no reason to believe that that’s going to stop magically.” 
The demographic change poses little problem for the GOP in midterm elections, when young and minority voters are far more likely than older, white voters to stay home. But in the run-up to 2016, the demographic trend has some Republicans citing a need for change.
In 2004, Republicans’ most recent presidential victory, George W. Bush won 58 percent of the white vote, and 26 percent of the non-white vote — numbers that would lose him the White House today, Ayres said. 
‘”That’s the stunning part for me in running these numbers — to realize that the last Republican to win a presidential election, who reached out very aggressively to minorities, and did better than any Republican nominee before or since among minorities, still didn’t achieve enough of both of those groups in order to put together a winning percentage” for 2016, Ayres said.

George W. Bush did better than any Republican has ever done with racial minorities. He reached out, he spoke Spanish, he had a long-term reputation for being moderate on these issues. He came from a border state and had a cultural affinity with Latinos. When he ran in 2000 the U.S. was in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom and conservatives had temporarily put the xenophobic genie back in the bottle. He just was not widely seen as a bigot of the old style. In any case, the GOP had made great efforts to try to get at least some minorities on board and Bush was successful in attracting about 25 percent of them. That would not be enough for any GOP candidate to win the presidency in 2016.

And that would seem to spell almost certain doom. read on ...
Obviously, anything could happen. Maybe the Democrats will end up nominating someone like Jim Webb and depress turnout among the younger, more female, racially diverse coalition that they need to win. Or an external event could throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing.

But all things being equal, Republicans are going to have a very tough time winning the presidency unless they figure out a way not to sound like total cretins toward racial minorities and women. Let's just say they have a long way to go.

QOTD:A warped Republican

by digby

Chris Cuomo asked Ben Carson whether the courts should step in when people vote to violate the rights of some of their citizens as they are doing in some places on marriage equality. He referenced slavery as an example:
You can’t just say because it happened that way, this time this is the same situation,” Carson opined. “It’s not the same situation. Because people have no control over their race for instance.”

“You think they have control over their sexuality?” Cuomo wondered.

“Absolutely,” Carson replied.

“You think being gay is a choice,” Cuomo pressed.

“Absolutely,” Carson said. “Because a lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight, and when they come out they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”

I don't know where he got that idea or if it's true that when "a lot" of straight people come out of prison they are gay. I'm sure it happens. A lot of people go into college straight and come out gay. A lot of people probably join the military straight and come out gay. The fact is that a whole lot of people try to convince themselves they are straight and at some point realize they are gay. That does not denote a choice. It denotes a recognition.

And anyway, I don't know what business it is of his whether people have a choice or are born gay in the first place as to whether or not they should have the right to marry. Either way he's wrong. But it seems to me that he's somehow referencing the hideous reality of prison rape and suggesting that this barbaric practice somehow turns people gay. Which is so gross I don't even know what to say.

I would express shock and dismay that so many Republicans love what this man has to say, but why bother? To paraphrase Jonathan Capehart on MSNBC: the man has brilliant hands and a depraved mind.


Draft Donna Edwards!

by digby

This went out to Blue America members this morning:

Following in the footsteps of Senator Barbara Boxer earlier this year, the Dean of Senate women, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, announced this week that she will not run for re-election. For 38 years Senator Mikulski was a pathbreaker, having been "the first" in at so many things, perhaps most notably the first woman to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. She has served her country well and will be missed.
For those of you who might not have been with us back in the day, let's just say that Donna isn't just a hard-working public servant with great progressive record, although she is that. And she isn't just brilliant on TV at articulating our philosophy with passion and skill, although she is that too. She is a giant slayer which she proved back in 2008 when she took down a powerful and corrupt Democratic party hack with a bold progressive message that impressed just about everybody who heard it. Her race was a template for the many Netroots primary races to come.
In fact, Donna was one of our first ever endorsees— for the 2006 race she very narrowly lost. Here's Howie back in 2007, endorsing her for the re-match she won handily:
I have a dream. I don’t know how realistic it is, but it doesn’t seem completely crazy. My dream is that my country will elect a superb leader, one who is wise and sharp and compassionate and educated, who understands what America needs and works effectively towards those goals. 
A few months ago I met Donna Edwards in Georgia. I had spoken to her many times on the phone but we had never met before. Of all the people I’ve talked to on behalf of Blue America, she’s the one who I am certain would best fulfill that dream.
And she has done just that. Donna has proven to be a stalwart progressive in the House with a perfect record on the issues. She has been a vocal leader and fighter for everything we care about. In fact, she has fulfilled Howie's expectation in every respect. 
That's why we'd like to see Donna Edwards run for the Senate
She has expressed no desire to do it at this point. And maybe she has other plans. But we'd like to try to persuade her to take up the challenge.
It would be a sad day indeed to see Barbara Mikulski's seat go to anyone less worthy. 
Donna is the Netroots promise in living color. She talked the talk and we backed her. We stuck with her when she hit a snag and worked hard to get her over the line in her winning race. And she fulfilled her promises every step of the way. 
Senator Donna Edwards. It has a nice ring to it don't you think? 


"Politics has gone so hideously wrong"

by Tom Sullivan

We wrote here in the last couple of days about "House of Cards" and ugly political rumors. That kind of politics claimed the life of Missouri state auditor and Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tom Schweich. Former Missouri Republican senator, John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, gave a eulogy Rachel Maddow last night said "scorched the political earth" before many of Missouri's political elite after Schweich committed suicide last week:

Schweich died after an apparent suicide in his suburban St. Louis home last Thursday. Danforth said in his speech that he had spoken with Schweich two days before and that Schweich was “upset about” a radio commercial and a “whispering campaign” that he was Jewish.

The ad in question, run by the Citizens for Fairness PAC, features a narrator imitating “House of Cards” character Francis Underwood, calling him a weak candidate for governor who would lose in the general election.

Writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tony Messenger gave one theory for the suicide:

I have no idea why Schweich killed himself. But for the past several days he had been confiding in me that he planned to accuse the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, John Hancock, with leading a “whisper campaign” among donors that he, Schweich, was Jewish.

He wasn’t, which is to say that he attended an Episcopal church, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t proud of his Jewish heritage, passed down from his grandfather.

Missouri is the state that gave us Frazier Glenn Miller, the raging racist who last year killed three people at a Jewish community center in Kansas City. It’s the state in which on the day before Schweich died, the Anti-Defamation League reported on a rise of white supremacist prison gangs in the state.

Hancock, of course, denied he meant anything malicious:

Hancock has said that he may have mentioned his mistaken belief that Schweich was Jewish, but that it was innocent conversation. He has vehemently denied it was meant as a smear. He has said it was merely a description, similar to saying, “I’m Presbyterian and somebody else is Catholic.”

In his eulogy, Danforth wasn't buying it:

Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry. Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?

The whispering campaign was classic Lee Atwater. (Ask John McCain.) The kind of politics RNC chief Ken Mehlman apologized for a decade ago, but that the party never really abandoned. It's in its DNA now. Danforth continued:

The message for the rest of us reflects my own emotion after learning of Tom’s death, which has been overwhelming anger that politics has gone so hideously wrong, and that the death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become. I believe deep in my heart that it’s now our duty, yours and mine, to turn politics into something much better than its now so miserable state.

Sure, politics has always been combative, but what we have just seen is combat of a very different order. It used to be that Labor Day of election years marked the beginning of campaigns.

This campaign for governor started two years in advance of the 2016 election. And even at this early date, what has been said is worse than anything in my memory, and that’s a long memory. I have never experienced an anti-Semitic campaign. Anti-Semitism is always wrong and we can never let it creep into politics.

As for the radio commercial, making fun of someone’s physical appearance, calling him a “little bug”, there is one word to describe it: “bullying.” And there is one word to describe the person behind it: “bully.”

We read stories about cyberbullying, and hear of young girls who killed themselves because of it. But what should we expect from children when grown ups are their examples of how bullies behave?

Since Thursday, some good people have said, “Well that’s just politics.” And Tom should have been less sensitive; he should have been tougher, and he should have been able to take it.

Well, that is accepting politics in its present state and that we cannot do. It amounts to blaming the victim, and it creates a new normal, where politics is only for the tough and the crude and the calloused.

Indeed, if this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it? We should encourage normal people — yes, sensitive people — to seek public office, not drive them away.

There’s a principle of law called the thin skull rule. It says that if you hurt someone who is unusually susceptible to injury, you are liable even for the damages you didn’t anticipate. The person who caused the injury must pay, not the person with the thin skull. A good rule of law should be a good rule of politics. The bully should get the blame not the victim.

We often hear that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just the opposite. Words for Jesus could be the moral equivalent of murder. He said if we insult a brother or sister we will be liable. He said if we call someone a fool we will be liable to hell. Well how about anti-Semitic whispers? And how about a radio ad that calls someone a “little bug,” and that is run anonymously over and over again?

Words do hurt. Words can kill. That has been proven right here in our home state. There is no mystery as to why politicians conduct themselves this way. It works. They test how well it works in focus groups and opinion polls. It wins elections, and that is their objective. It’s hard to call holding office public service, because the day after the election it’s off to the next election, and there’s no interlude for service. It’s all about winning, winning at any cost to the opponent or to any sense of common decency.

The campaign that led to the death of Tom Schweich was the low point of politics, and now it’s time to turn this around. So let’s make Tom’s death a turning point here in our state.

Let’s decide that what may have been clever politics last week will work no longer. It will backfire. It will lose elections, not win them.

Let’s pledge that we will not put up with any whisper of anti-Semitism. We will stand against it as Americans and because our own faith demands it. We will take the battle Tom wanted to fight as our own cause.

We will see bullies for who they are. We will no longer let them hide behind their anonymous pseudo-committees. We will not accept their way as the way of politics. We will stand up to them and we will defeat them.

Good on him for saying so. Just don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

House of evil

by digby

Like a lot of my fellow political junkies I've been enjoying House of Cards' new season. (I'm not done watching yet ...) But one thing that's driven me nuts is the fact that Underwood is selling total Third Way bilge as the Democratic wish list. Not that there isn't some basis in fact there --- after all, elements of President Obama's Grand Bargain came right out of a Third Way wet dream.

Richard Eskow points out that one of the founders of Third Way is a consultant on HOC which probably explains how this happened:
[W]ho knew that the show itself – not the characters, but the show – had a hidden agenda? It’s already taken on teachers. Now comes the anti-“entitlement” tirade from Frank Underwood in Episode One of the new season. Frank, despite his evil ways and means, has an ambitious dream, which is introduced during a lengthy scene in which he lectures his staff, and the audience, on some highly misleading “facts.”

How did that happen? How did the “AmericaWorks” fictional plot point come to be built on real-world lies?

Here’s a clue: Episode One’s credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That’s a Wall Street-funded, so-called “centrist” Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.

Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.

Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests. They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Frank’s a Democrat, like all Third Way members, and his rant is filled with exactly the kind of misinformation and manipulation that we’ve come to expect from that corporatist crowd. “Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every entitlement program that is sucking us dry,” says Underwood in his rant, “I want it on the table.”

“Sucking us dry”? That’s economic gibberish.

“We obviously have to get back to some basics,” Underwood says in his rant, “remind ourselves of some of the facts that are before us …” (emphasis ours.)

Underwood continues: “This (the number $32,781, displayed on a flip chart) is what the average senior gets in one year from entitlements …This money is a job we could be giving to a single mother or a student just out of school. Now at the moment, 44 cents of every tax dollar goes to pay for these programs. By 2030, it’ll be over half, 62 cents.”

“Entitlements are bankrupting us,” he concludes.

Except that they’re not. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the federal budget, but it is forbidden by law from adding to the overall deficit. What’s more, its trust fund is currently holding $2.8 trillion dollars in reserves. The statement is meaningless.

Eskow details many other examples of Frank Underwood's Third Way cant in House of Cards.

But here's the thing. The man proposing all these Third Way solutions is a homicidal sociopath. I'm going to guess that Kessler didn't mean to associate his pet agenda with a character who will be remembered as the most malignant fictional politician in TV history but that's what he's done. And it's very believable.

The Fiction Culture War We are Losing 

by Spocko

Sunday Night on Virtually Speaking Digby and I talked about the Leonard Nimoy's passing and how fiction and fictional characters can shape people's attitudes.  (podcast link here.)

Today some friends who work in the world of politics were discussing House of Cards. Some loved it, some hated it.  I don't really move in those specific circles so before the discussion I wanted to know, "Is it realistic?"

A professional musician friend asked, 
Does anyone really expect a TV show about politics to be a more realistic representation of that life and that process than the Monkees represented a life of trying to make it as a young band in theirs?
This seems like such an obvious point I realized that I was NOT asking the question that the producers and writers of the show were asking themselves, which is, "Is it entertaining?"

Last night I watched a movie called "Harmontown" about the creator of Community, Dan Harmon. He talked about his deep desire to entertain people. He craved the satisfaction he got knowing his writing made people laugh, smile or feel better.

I watch a lot of fiction on tv. I also read a lot of fiction. I sometimes forget that my attitudes are shaped by people whose goal is to entertain.

If people think that it's a "message movie" it will often turn them off. "I don't want people to ram their message down my throat!" they say, even if they might agree with the message. When the question, "Is it entertaining?" is answered first, any message it might also have slides in more subtly and perhaps more effectively.

A message that writers of TV and movies have been sending for a long time is torture is effective. On tv and movies they show it is effective in getting non-false, new information in a short time.  They show the threat of torture is effective. It has become so ingrained in our thinking that when confronted with the reality of torture, reality is questioned, not the fiction.

The fiction that we see in our movies and TV shows are designed to be entertaining. Torture, and the threat of torture, serve the needs of the writers in these cases. It can make the story more dramatic, horrifying, gruesome, sexy and even funny. Its use serves a major goal of fiction, entertainment.

Torture's use can move the story forward, show character traits, tap into viewer or readers empathy or fear.

When the Senate report on torture came out showing that actionable intelligence was not obtained by torture, it seemed to go against what we knew from fiction or what we read and heard about from the "real" world and "the dark side" that Cheney talked about.

This "non-fiction" about torture is coming from a media that gets their info from an entire group of people in the CIA whose job it was to push the lie that torture got them intel.

Interestingly for some media, torture not working goes against their "common sense." A sense based on school yard experience and low tolerance for pain.

"I would totally spill the beans if I was tortured!" They might say. This assumes they knew about the beans in the first place.

"I would torture if we needed that bomb location." They would say on their TV show. This assumes the person they are torturing knows the bomb location, is just like us and not someone who would rather die than "spill the beans."

So the question is, if fiction better mirrored the reality of torture, would it still be entertaining? I don't mean fun or likable, but entertaining in its broadest sense.

I haven't seen American Sniper, but I understand that it is an entertaining movie. I think about another entertaining film from Clint Eastwood, one that had a killer as a lead character. A movie that helped change attitudes toward a fictional character we believed we knew.

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don't seem real... how he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever... how he's dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid. 

The fictional movies and TV shows that flip the idea of a "heroic torturer" and effectiveness of torture on its head might be out there, but they aren't coming through with the same power as other fictions.

If these ideas do start showing up in our fiction, I believe the writers can make them as useful to their stories as their previous ideas on torture, and just as entertaining.

The Crisis Chronicles

by digby

Steve Benen made a list of the GOP House's accomplishments:

[S]ince January 2011, Congress has excelled in one area: manufacturing avoidable crises. If there’s one thing a GOP majority has guaranteed, it’s that the nation’s legislative branch will careen, over and over again, from one self-imposed crisis to the next.

* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation’s debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* September 2013: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* October 2013: Republicans actually shut down the government.

* February 2014: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* December 2014: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* February 2015: Republicans threaten a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.

Boehner made a surprise move to bring the DHS funding bill to the floor today and it passed. With most Republicans voting against it. Still, they are undoubtedly relieved to have it passed so they can go back to bashing Democrats for being soft on national security and law enforcement.

Who know what any of this really adds up to for the GOP but in their view it's been worth a lot. Over the course of these last few years of rolling from one crisis to another they have increased their margin in the House dramatically and they won a majority in the Senate. So I wouldn't expect these games of chicken to stop any time soon.


From the always been wrong about everything files: Netanyahu edition

by digby

At what point does this become dangerous for his country? After all the moral of the "boy who cried wolf" fable is that the result of his hysterical fear-mongering was that people didn't believe him when it happened for real.
Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress again in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”

Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false.
There's an election in a couple of weeks. Maybe the Israeli people will take care of this problem.

The Man Called Petraeus gets a slap on the wrist

by digby

While others got years in jail. Socked, I tell you, shocked. Emptywheel has the best, most succinct, rundown of The Man Called Petraeus' plea deal:

Among the materials in the eight “Black Books” Petraeus shared with Broadwell were:

…classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.

The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information.

Petraeus kept those Black Books full of code word information including covert identities and conversations with the President “in a rucksack up there somewhere.”

Petreaus retained those Black Books after he signed his debriefing agreement upon leaving DOD, in which he attested “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody, or control at this time.” He kept those Black Books in an unlocked desk drawer.

For mishandling some of the most important secrets the nation has, Petraeus will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Petraeus, now an employee of a top private equity firm, will be fined $40,000 and serve two years of probation.

He will not, however, be asked to plead guilty at all for lying to FBI investigators. In an interview on October 26, 2012, he told the FBI,

(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer.

For lying to the FBI — a crime that others go to prison for for months and years — Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped away the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.

When John Kiriakou pled guilty on October 23, 2012 to crimes having to do with sharing a single covert officer’s identity just days before Petraeus would lie to the FBI about sharing, among other things, numerous covert officer’s identities with his mistress, Petraeus sent out a memo to the CIA stating,

Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

Those oaths obviously matter a little more for some than they do for others.

Cokie's Law renewed by acclamation

by digby

As we rush headlong into the first  of what are sure to be many "Clinton Records Scandals" (it's a perennial) I just thought I'd remind everyone of one thing: Cokie's Law, in which she proved that truth and facts are rarely the issue when it comes to arcane Clinton scandals:
"At this point,it doesn't much matter whether she said it or not because it's become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about."
Once people are talking about it, it's a legitimate news story. So they publish stories that imply something or other "doesn't pass the smell test", the news media get weirdly excited about it, convey that to the people and then we're off to the races.

Liberals are all aflutter this morning over this e-mail scandal. They have no idea if it's true or what specifically is wrong with it other than it allegedly "shows bad judgment" but they are very upset. Moreover, I have no idea why I'm supposed to be so shocked, appalled that it's time to run for the hills and beg Jim Webb to come to the rescue. But that's what I'm hearing. And it's as predictable as the sun. Maybe there's something truly nefarious going on. I'm open to believing it. But at this point what I see is that Villager hysterical impulse asserting itself once again.

There are excellent reasons to oppose Hillary Clinton. She has a long history of DLC centrism, mixed with a record of hawkishness both as a Senator and as Secretary of State. If people oppose her on the merits I cannot argue with them. But this scandal mongering has always been a facile and tawdry way for Villagers to express their belief in their own sense of moral superiority by complaining about the Clintons' characters. (In his case being "undisciplined" and in her case being a soulless "control freak.") It's always about some Shakespearean flaw rather than the policies, mostly because this is what the Village press corps really wants to talk about. Politics are boring. And I might actually believe some of it except for the fact that aside from a few furtive blowjobs in a hallway, none of the so-called evidence they presented to prove it ever panned out.

I don't think the country is in good enough shape right now to afford that shallow, faux muckraking. Perhaps Clinton really did sell America's national security to foreign leaders to feather her own nest. I hope the proof emerges quickly, if that's the case. But Villager handwringing over how it doesn't really matter if it's true or not because "it's out there" and it "exposes her character", is cheap and shallow journalistic masturbation. What these scandals inevitably reveal is the character of the American press corps more than anything else.

Update: Andrea Mitchell said this morning that  it turns out that Colin Powell did the same thing but it was different because this all feeds into a "narrative" that the Clintons are secretive.

Chris Cillizza agreed that it plays into the notion that the Clintons "operate under their own set of rules" and are "very political" and are surrounded by "enablers." Also too it was different for Powell because he wasn't a "defacto nominee".

Ruth Marcus agreed that this all feeds into the pre-existing narrative.

Update II: The new MSNBC straight news show with Thomas Roberts teases the story and announces that they are featuring the Artist who painted the "shadow of Monica Lewinsky's blue dress" in the official Bill Clinton portrait.

Shoot me now.

Update III: Michael Tomasky did some actual journalism:

It looks bad for Hillary Clinton—again. This New York Times story alleging that she might have violated federal rules by using a personal email account instead of an official government one for her communications seems to raise all the old questions about Clintonian corner-cutting and is sure to make Democrats flail their arms and cry, “Oh God, this again?”

But let’s hold on a second. A close reading of the Times piece reveals one potential big hole in the case. I’m not saying the Times is wrong here. It’s still a foggy situation. I am, however, saying this: You have to know how to read these things, and if you do know how to read them, there’s a big question here that could—potentially—exonerate Clinton to some or maybe even a considerable extent.

The article says that there were “new” regulations that Clinton was supposed to abide by. It notes that one past secretary of state, Colin Powell, who served from 2001 to 2005, sometimes used his personal email account “before the new regulations went into effect.”

So, a key question would seem to be this: When did the new regulations go into effect? If 2007 or 2008, then Clinton would appear to be in direct violation of them, depending on what precisely they said. If later, it gets a little murkier.

Oddly, the Times article doesn’t say. It doesn’t pin the new regs down to a specific date or even year.

Now, I know enough about reporting to know how this works. If you’ve got an airtight case, then you lay it all out there. You include the date. Indeed you emphasize the date, you put it high up in your story. The fact that it’s not in there is a little fishy.

Well, this might be the explanation: The new regs apparently weren’t fully implemented by State until a year and half after Clinton left State.

Here’s the timeline: Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013. Back in 2011, President Obama had signed a memorandum directing the update of federal records management. But the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) didn’t issue the relevant guidance, declaring that email records of senior government officials are permanent federal records, until August 2013. Then, in September 2013, NARA issued guidance on personal email use.

Not that it matters. "It's out there." And besides, it's "feeding the narrative". Waddaya gonna do?

As Tomasky adds:

[T]his seems like a good time to remember another pattern of behavior: namely, that of the Times. I remember clear as a bell reading that initial Jeff Gerth story on Whitewater back in March 1992. It seemed devastating. It took many millions of dollars and many years and many phony allegations before important parts of Gerth’s reporting were debunked. But they were. The Clintons did nothing wrong on Whitewater except to be naïve enough to let themselves by chiseled by Jim McDougal.

If they had done something wrong, with all the prosecutorial firepower thrown at them by a prosecutor (Ken Starr) who clearly hated them, don’t you think they’d have been indicted? Of course they would have been. But Starr couldn’t turn anything up on Whitewater and was about to close down his investigation empty-handed until he got wind of a gal named Monica.

So that’s a pattern too. The Times, for those with short memories, has never loved the Clintons. Remember Howell Raines and his ceaseless, thundering editorials against them. And today, it smells like the Times may have been rolled by the Republican staff of the Benghazi panel. And hey, great work by them and Chairman Trey Gowdy to use the nation’s leading liberal newspaper in this way.

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