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Friday, August 29, 2014

They all look alike

by digby

That's right, all Americans look like Americans. Since Americans look like everyone.

This story from Gawker is about an interection between the conservative Governor of Georgia and a latina who asked him a question:
Deal addressed a variety of topics, including immigration, during a question and answer session sponsored by the UGA College Republicans Tuesday night.
"There's a fundamental problem that can only be resolved at the Congressional level and that is to deal with the issue of children, and I presume you probably fit the category, children who were brought here," said Deal who was looking toward Lizbeth Miranda, a Hispanic student who was standing up with others asking questions.

"I'm not an illegal immigrant. I'm not," said Miranda. "I don't know why you would have thought that I was undocumented. Was it because I look Hispanic?"

The governor replied: "I apologize if I insulted you. I did not intend to."
Miranda and her colleagues in the school's Undocumented Students Alliance found Deal's assumption offensive, though judging from the boos she received, College Republicans in attendance were more offended by her reaction.

Those college Republicans undoubtedly assumed she was an "illegal" too. As they undoubtedly assume all Hispanics are "illegals" or, in any case, not Real Americans regardless of their citizenship.

This illustrates the problem for Republicans on this issue. To most Latinos, whether they hold American citizenship or not, demonizing the DREAM kids and all the other immigrants who are merely trying to eke out a living so they can feed their families (particularly when these haters claim that people from south of the border "destroy our way of life) is a sure sign that they too are seen in similar fashion.

But what are these Republicans going to do? They have a base full of people who are fearful xenophobes and are being egged on by the conservative industrial complex for profit. They're stuck.


"A Fierce Minimalist"

by digby

I think Peter Beinert has this right. Obama isn't a hawk or a dove and he does have a strategy and a worldview:
On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.
I'm a dove so I disagree with his drone war. It's hard to see that it's done much good and, as with most wars, it's done a lot of harm. But I'm with him on the minimalism when it comes to unleashing the military and firmly believe that our alleged humanitarianism is only rarely truly motivated by humanitarianism and almost always makes things worse. I think it's very smart for a global military empire to take a minimalist approach to war. Seriously, it should be the default position.

There are threats in the world to be sure. There's a true sense of global instability right now. But the world's most powerful military injecting its ultra-violence into the situation is hardly guaranteed to make a positive difference. And the costs are huge. Beinert lays out all the critiques, particularly by liberals who believe that a minimalist approach allows these situations to fester when earlier engagement might prevent them from hurtling out of control. But also explains why Obama might disagree with that. And again, I agree with Obama (if this is what he thinks.)
Obama would probably respond that when it comes to stopping jihadist terrorism from taking root by ensuring representative government, territorial integrity, and national unity in countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, an ounce of prevention isn’t nearly enough. The effort costs billions of dollars and a whole lot of American troops. Even then, it might fail because given America’s track record, analogies that portray Washington as a doctor with a sophisticated and empathetic understanding of its Middle Eastern patients are way too benign. Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan could certainly have used preventative care in the Obama years. But America’s prophylactic efforts might have involved leeches, not aspirin. As Richard Holbrooke learned the hard way during his time as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, America’s national-security bureaucracy isn’t geared toward diplomacy and economic development. It’s mostly designed to blow things up.
It would be a very good idea to change that. But that's a very tall order. The American national security establishment (aka our Imperial Bureaucracy) has been in place for over half a century, growing stronger and stronger by the decade to the point at which it is now unassailable. I'm all for changing that. Ideas on how to proceed are welcome.

Beinert's article goes on to explain how politics enters into this and thinks Obama is reflecting the country's mood with this approach. He points out that, so far, the GOP presidential hopefuls haven't gone all Cheney on us, which means that Obama still has his finger on the pulse. Maybe. I have a sneaking suspicion that we might be emerging from that post-Iraq, recessionary malaise and could be looking for some action. I hope not. But when I see the Democratic Party accusing their rivals of being isolationists in the "Blame America First" crowd I get worried. War can be a marvelous distraction from other problems.

Memo from the Department of Duh

by digby

Surely this didn't just occur to them:
A House Republican-led investigation of the 2012 terrorist attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, will extend well into next year, and possibly beyond, raising concerns among Democrats that Republicans are trying to damage Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential prospects.
Some of us have known this for years. Literally:
...they didn't drag out Toensing and DeGenova by accident. And that's because this is only marginally about Obama's second term.

I've got one word that explains it: Hillary.

These people are Clinton character assassination specialists. And the right sees Benghazi as a Clinton scandal. Just watch Fox news for any half hour slot in a 24 hour period and it will come up. It's already become a punchline --- and a mantra.
Trumped up Clinton scandals are of a particular variety that are likely to make a comeback when Hillary Clinton runs again. I've written a lot about that too over the years. I call them "smell-test" scandals which are these long, drawn-out investigations in which details are dribbled out over time to give the impression of wrong-doing simply by the length and number of inquiries. When you add up the details they inevitably amount to nothing but that's not the point. The point is to create an atmosphere of scandal, a "feeling" that all this smoke must add up to something. (And there's always the hope that Monica Lewinsky  -- or something like her -- will turn up to explode the whole thing into a real scandal.)

They've tried this with Obama and the IRS scandal and Solyndra and a few others and it doesn't seem to work with him. (They're settling now on the "tyrannical despot" approach.) But with the Clinton and her long history in politics, it's inevitable that they would dust off this scandal manual. It will be interesting to see if she handles it any differently than former president Clinton did. He fended them off one by one, but there was always a feeling that he was somehow energized by that challenge. I'm not sure that's true of Hillary.

QOTD: DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson

by digby

At present, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are unaware if any specific credible threat to the U.S homeland from ISIL.  Plainly, however, violent extremists who support ISIL have demonstrated the intent and capability to target American citizens overseas. And ISIL constitutes an active and serious threat within the region.
Somebody go throw a bucket of ice water on Huckleberry Graham's head ---- to stop him from running around in circles screaming "they're coming to kill us, ohmygod we're all going to die!!!" It would appear that ISIL and its friends are busy right now wreaking havoc on the people in its neighborhood and aren't planning to invade South Carolina to commit atrocities on God fearing Christians over the labor day week-end.

RIP public higher ed

by digby

This quote from Janet Napolitano, now head of the University of California system, is via Ed Kilgore:

[I]t is troubling to consider that at some point in the last six years, 41 state legislatures in the United States slashed funding for their public universities and colleges.

Sadly, funding remains constrained for public higher education, despite an economy that slowly grows more robust. Only 14 states have re-invested in higher education at levels equal to or above their pre-recession levels. Last year, 20 states actually cut more funding from their public universities and colleges.
Kilgore comments:

... the deep cuts in higher ed funding by state legislatures that occurred nearly everywhere during the Great Recession haven’t been fully restored much of anywhere, despite radically improved state fiscal climates.

The skyrocketing public college and university tuitions we’ve all become accustomed to seeing are the direct result of this reduced state support. And it’s worth remembering that no matter how much progress we make in controlling college costs (and student debt levels) through various reforms won’t much matter if state legislatures perpetually pocket the savings and disinvest in higher ed.
Libertarian paradise here we come. Higher education will only be for those who can afford to pay huge sums or are willing to indenture themselves for decades. (And I'm sure the for-profit fly-by-nights will continue to sucker low income students into going into crippling debt.)

It sounds like perfect preparation for the new servant economy.

"Concerned" that Obama does nuance

by digby

Congressman Mike Rogers is "concerned":
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers did not mince words Thursday, slamming President Barack Obama for an “odd” news conference during which the president said, “We do not have a strategy” to deter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“It was an odd press conference at the very best, but to have a press conference to say we don’t have a strategy was really shocking given the severity of the threat. That’s what’s so concerning to me,” Rogers (R-Mich.) told Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
Right. What you want is a president pounding on the podium insisting "I'm the decider! I'll decide because I've decided!" Or something like that.

It is a good thing for a president to be thoughtful and to show the world that he's being thoughtful. The US is a massive, military superpower and that can be threatening. Much better to have leadership that doesn't sound as if it's eager to drop bombs or invade at a moments notice and that it's taking all sides into account.

President Obama is a lot of things but he isn't stupid. I find it hard to believe that he didn't say they were working out a strategy as part of a diplomatic move as they're working with allies in the region. I know it's hard for hawks to understand this because they spend their entire lives trying to prove their manhood, but sometimes it's better not to rush in and take charge of every situation. Sometimes it makes more sense to give others the chance to step up. It tends to give them a different stake in the outcome and possibly allows them to not feel as if they are a vassal of the United States. (Which is undoubtedly why Mike Rogers doesn't like it.)

Pennsylvania takes up Medicare expansion, drives another nail in the anti-ACA coffin

by David Atkins

It looks like 500,000 more Americans are about to get healthcare thanks to the ACA. Greg Sargent has the details:

In another sign that the politics of Obamacare continue to shift, the Medicaid expansion is now all but certain to come to another big state whose Republican governor had previously resisted it: Pennsylvania.

The federal government has approved Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s application for the state’s own version of the Medicaid expansion, without a handful of the conditions Corbett had hoped to impose, Dem sources tell me.

Corbett just announced that he will accept the expansion that has been offered, perhaps with some last-minute changes — expanding coverage and subsidies to as many as half a million people.

This comes after months of jockeying between Corbett and the federal government. Corbett had pushed for a version of the expansion that would have imposed various conditions designed to make it more palatable to conservatives and to achieve political distance from Obamacare — while simultaneously taking all that federal money. Among them: Using the cash to pay for private coverage for the poor.
This is a big deal not only for the future of the ACA but also for Pennsylvania politics. The GOP has been wanting to make gains in the Keystone State for a long time now. Another half a million voters who get healthcare through the ACA puts another big crimp in that plan.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Perlstein and Parton chewing the fat about Reagan and the 70s

by digby

You can hear it at Virtually Speaking, here.

It was fun!

Also too: Buy the book!

From the schmaht as a whip file: GOP adopts the "women are stupid sluts" strategy.

by digby

North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis is, like all Republicans, having some problems attracting women voters. So he's decided to talk to them as if they are 6 years old and patronize that silly lady Senator he's running against as a feather-head who can't add numbers. I'm sure it's going to be very effective for him:

Personally, I think he missed a great opportunity to call her a slut and tell her to close her legs. That strategy works like a charm.

BTW: it's his math that's questionable ...
"But then, they always blame America first"

by digby

Hey, do any of you oldies remember this speech from 1984?
They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do - they didn't blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians - they blamed the United States instead.

But then, somehow, they always blame America first.

When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States.

But then, they always blame America first.

When Marxist dictators shoot their way to power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don't blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies, they blame United States policies of 100 years ago.

But then, they always blame America first.

The American people know better.

They know that Ronald Reagan and the United States didn't cause Marxist dictatorship in Nicaragua, or the repression in Poland, or the brutal new offensives in Afghanistan, or the destruction of the Korean airliner, or the new attacks on religious and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, or the jamming of western broadcasts, or the denial of Jewish emigration, or the brutal imprisonment of Anatoly Shcharansky and Ida Nudel, or the obscene treatment of Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, or the re-Stalinization of the Soviet Union.

The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause.

They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self- criticism and self-denigration.

He wrote: "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."

With the election of Ronald Reagan, the American people declared to the world that we have the necessary energy and conviction to defend ourselves, and that we have as well a deep commitment to peace.

And now, the American people, proud of our country, proud of our freedom, proud of ourselves, will reject the San Francisco Democrats and send Ronald Reagan back to the White House.
That was OG Neocon Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the 1984 Republican Convention.

Here's the Democratic National Committee today on Rand Paul:
"This week he's blaming the Obama Administration for another nation's civil war. That type of 'blame America' rhetoric may win Paul accolades at a conference of isolationists but it does nothing to improve our standing in the world," DNC spokesman Michael Czin said in a statement. "In fact, Paul's proposals would make America less safe and less secure.

Simply put, if Rand Paul had a foreign policy slogan, it would be — The Rand Paul Doctrine: Blame America. Retreat from the World."
They couldn't call him a "San Francisco" liberal since he's from Kentucky. But they could have added something about the Aqua Buddha to make it clear that he's really a long haired hippie freak at heart.

I get that they have to counter Paul's rhetoric. And I happen to think he's a hypocritical liar on these issues and spitting into the wind if he believe that Republicans are going to go back to the days of Robert Taft any time soon. They are hawks through and through. But the Democratic Party using the infamous words of Jeanne Kirkpatrick (in exactly the same way she used them)to attack Rand Paul from the right is likely to backfire if it implies that the Democratic Party believes that pacifists and a so-called "convention of isolationists" are unpatriotic. It's not as if there are many of them in the GOP. But there are a lot of anti-war voters in the Democratic Party. Why alienate your own base by implying that their apprehension about America's intervention abroad over the past few years is un-American?

It's not as though "blaming America" is an unreasonable thing to do. Indeed, it's a necessary thing to do --- when America is to blame. How about this news report from 2007, in which the US Senate complied a study that showed American leadership knew that intervention in Iraq could have disastrous consequences for the region:
In a move sure to raise even more questions about the decision to go to war with Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will on Friday release selected portions of pre-war intelligence in which the CIA warned the administration of the risk and consequences of a conflict in the Middle East.

Among other things, the 40-page Senate report reveals that two intelligence assessments before the war accurately predicted that toppling Saddam could lead to a dangerous period of internal violence and provide a boost to terrorists. But those warnings were seemingly ignored.

In January 2003, two months before the invasion, the intelligence community's think tank — the National Intelligence Council — issued an assessment warning that after Saddam was toppled, there was “a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other and that rogue Saddam loyalists would wage guerilla warfare either by themselves or in alliance with terrorists.”

It also warned that “many angry young recruits” would fuel the rank of Islamic extremists and "Iraqi political culture is so embued with mores (opposed) to the democratic experience … that it may resist the most rigorous and prolonged democratic tutorials."

None of those warnings were reflected in the administration's predictions about the war.

In fact, Vice President Cheney stated the day before the war, “Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

A second assessment weeks before the invasion warned that the war also could be “exploited by terrorists and extremists outside Iraq.”
And then this:
Fighting a civil war is the way that some societies build a state, and it is hard to imagine how there could have been a smooth transition from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Still, the United States has clearly helped to create the conditions for Iraq’s descent into civil war.

Two failures are worth noting. First, a large literature on contentious politics has shown that violent opposition groups gain legitimacy and public support when the state uses indiscriminate violence or abuses civilians. This is precisely what has happened in Iraq, with recent reports of civilian abuses by the coalition.

Second, civil war studies have shown that insurgencies grow into large wars when insurgents receive external assistance. The American-led coalition simply has not had the manpower to quarantine those Iraqis who have reportedly received assistance from neighboring countries and international terrorist entities.

So yeah, Rand Paul may be a jerk but he's right about one thing; the US is perfectly capable of creating another nation's civil war. We did it in Iraq. And the resultant spillover of violence and radicalism is the cause of many of the problems we're facing today.

The good news for the DNC is that some really fine people agree with them. Like yet another OG Neocon, Eliot Abrams, who's been pushing for war in the Middle East for decades:
"Senator Paul simply has the facts wrong. He published his article in The Wall Street Journal but apparently doesn’t read it himself, or he’d have seen last Saturday’s article there detailing how the Assad regime abetted the rise of ISIS. Those who argued for intervening to strengthen nationalist Syrian rebels have been proved quite right, for as they have weakened ISIS has grown stronger. In fact we’ve done in Syria exactly what Rand Paul always wants to do–nothing–and we see the result. It’s the steady growth of a murderous, barbarous terrorist group that now threatens even the homeland.”
(Apparently it's ok to "blame America first" when its government decides not to go to war. It's only once it starts beating the war drums that good patriots have to zip their lips and wave the flag.)

This is going to be a tough path for the Democratic Party as it seeks to balance the various strains running through its coalition on this subject. They've got the peace oriented left which is a big faction in the Party, the interventionists like Hillary Clinton and the liberal pragmatists (for lack of a better term) like Obama. It's never easy for the party as an institution to juggle all that in a coherent fashion. But for heaven's sake, taking the position of the hard core right is a very odd way to go about it.

It's not as if the DNC criticizing Rand Paul as an isolationist is going to cost him any Republican votes. They hate his guts. And they are much more clever about aligning him with people and ideas that will further marginalize him in their party. Here's Jennifer Rubin on Paul's op-ed:
At times, Paul sounds like the thought bubble over Obama’s head. Indeed, they share a common determination to avoid reality. In their world, the Iraq war was never won. The withdrawal of forces with no stay-behind troops was the right thing to do. And the real danger is the United States doing something effective.

Sometimes it is hard to tell Obama and Paul apart. Consider this: “History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.” Obama or Rand Paul?
In case you were wondering, it was Obama. Is he part of the "Blame America" crowd now too?

The only people's minds this "he's a Blame America first isolationist" charge might change are ... young Democrats. And it will change them in favor of Rand Paul. Why in the world would the DNC want to do a thing like that?

And in another piece of good news ...

by digby

That worked out well:
Weeks of fighting escalated in Libya this weekend as anti-government fighters secured control of the country’s main airport in the capital, Tripoli.

A group of pro-government fighters from the western city of Zintan had controlled the airport since the 2011 fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But on Saturday, a coalition of Islamist fighters from the city of Misrata called "Operation Dawn" pushed that group out.

It’s been just a little over three years since the Zintanis and Islamist fighters battled side by side against Gaddafi forces. Yet today, the two groups -- along with smaller supporting militias -- are locked in a vicious fight for economic and political control, pushing the country closer to the brink of collapse. Libya is falling apart, and this is why it matters:

Libya now has 2 parliaments and 2 prime ministers.
The government and the army are too weak to impose order.
Regional powers are adding fuel to the fire.
Life for many Libyan civilians is worsening.
Read the article to see the details behind those 4 points. It's a huge mess.

It's not America's fault. But there's a lesson this about the idea that our "intervention" was going to be, on balance, a good thing for the country. It's gone from despotism to chaos, as often happens in these cases. And contrary to what one might think, chaos isn't freedom.

You can't help but feel some despair at this point. It looks as though we're in for a long period of unstable unrest in the region and that's dangerous. And there's not a whole lot the US can do about it.

SCOTUS has your back

by Tom Sullivan

No, not your back, innocent victim of law enforcement gone wrong. They've got law enforcement's back. You're on your own. The dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, Erwin Chemerinsky, explains. There's not only immunity for cities for the misconduct of their employees -- for, say, wrongful death or prosecutorial misconduct -- but immunity for officials themselves against personal lawsuits, and “qualified immunity” for officials unless “every reasonable official” would have known the conduct in question was unlawful. Such as shooting Michael Brown in the head, assuming that was excessive or not self defense.
The Supreme Court has used this doctrine in recent years to deny damages to an eighth-grade girl who was strip-searched by school officials on suspicion that she had prescription-strength ibuprofen. It has also used it to deny damages to a man who, under a material-witness warrant, was held in a maximum-security prison for 16 days and on supervised release for 14 months, even though the government had no intention of using him as a material witness or even probable cause to arrest him. In each instance, the court stressed that the government officer could not be held liable, even though the Constitution had clearly been violated.
Perhaps like me, you've noticed a spate of videos surfacing in which a prone suspect is beaten or repeatedly tased as police mechanically scream "Stop resisting!" Or repeatedly yell "Stop going for my gun!" at a suspect with his hands up (as in this video). Make of that what you will. The Supreme Court, it seems, will not.

But in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri and an Ohio Walmart patron shopping for a pellet rifle (both men black), one has to wonder whether we as a country haven't created the conditions for these types of tragedies. In the wake of 9/11, Vice-President Cheney advised America that our response might take us to "the dark side." He would know.

And with the post-9/11 deployment of military gear and chemical weapons against civilian protesters across the country, are we as a culture encouraging -- recommending -- their use? The famous Stanford Prison and the Milgram experiments showed how, when ordinary people are placed in a position of authority in an environment that encourages wielding imperious power, authoritarian tendencies surface where they might have remained latent. Not to deny the personal culpability of those deserving the accountability Cheney, et. al. have avoided, but given the commonalities in these police shootings and other violent encounters, we might consider whether, America having gazed "long into an abyss" is seeing the abyss gaze back.

Not to mention how, as I hear, black men are calling into radio talk shows complaining they cannot even enjoy driving the cars they worked hard to earn because of being regularly stopped by police in which the first words police utter are "Where are the drugs?" Or producer Charles Belk on his way to the Emmys this week being detained in Beverly Hills for six hours as a suspect in a bank holdup because, “Hey, I was ‘tall,’ ‘bald,’ a ‘male’ and ‘black,’ so I fit the description.”
Charlie Pierce at Esquire:
And there still will be people who will claim not to "understand" why black people dread the approach of the police.
... because it's not about race because it's never about race.
America needs to stop staring into the abyss and spend some time staring into the mirror.

Tell Harry Reid to move the Death in Custody Reporting Act

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon yesterday about the odd fact that we don't have a national database of police involve shootings and deaths at the hands of authorities.  It seems like a useful bit of information:
The shooting of teenager Michael Brown has focused the nation (again) on the dangers faced by young, unarmed black men walking the streets of America. The sight of paramilitary police with guns pointed at peaceful protesters in a suburban town in the Midwest also got our attention. And as we wait for the legal system to determine if officer Darren Wilson will be held liable for the shooting, new questions are rising to the surface about the issue of officer-involved shootings in general. How often does this happen? How are these issues normally handled by prosecutors and the courts? And surprisingly, there is almost no way of knowing how often American citizens are killed at the hands of the authorities.
And check this out:
In 2000 Congress passed a bill called the Death in Custody Reporting Act with bipartisan support. According to its primary sponsor, Rep. Bobby Scott, it was designed to provide oversight over law enforcement during detention, arrest and imprisonment. Unfortunately, it expired in 2006 and despite Scott’s best efforts it hasn’t been renewed. It passed the House in 2009 and 2011 with overwhelming bipartisan support but went nowhere in the Senate each time. In 2011 it was actually sent to the full Senate but ran out of time before it was considered. It passed the House again in December of 2013, once more with bipartisan support. (How often does that happen in this Congress?) Since then it’s been sitting in the Senate where it seems to be waiting to die once again. If it doesn’t pass by the time Congress adjourns this fall it will have to start all over again.

The House (the House!)passed this bill. The Democratic Senate needs to pass it too and the president needs to sign it. And they need to do it now.

The NAACP sent out this action alert to its members on this last week. Click here to see the language if you'd care to join in.

Give 'em an inch

by digby

Emily Bazelon in Slate points out that the new rules allowing corporations and institutions that are not strictly religious to opt out of providing birth control on religious grounds by simply writing a little note to the federal government isn't going to stop the assault on the contraception mandate.

Here’s why this new rule isn’t going to end the lawsuits anytime soon: Little Sisters and the others don’t want a new mechanism for alerting the government so a TPA can provide birth control. “The government has never offered a reason why it needed to coerce the Little Sisters and others to be a part of its contraceptive delivery system, nor any reason why it chose to treat the Little Sisters as less deserving of religious liberty than houses of worship,” Daniel Blomberg, a lawyer for the Becket Fund, which represents Little Sisters, emailed me. “It is disappointing that the government continues to treat religious ministries as not religious enough to deserve the same exemption it gives houses of worship.”
This brings us to the real crux of the issue, which Hobby Lobby and all the other litigation has so far obscured: The government wants the employees at the heart of these cases to get the contraception coverage everyone else’s employees get, through their employment. The religious employers do not.

In fact, it's worse than that. It's not about religious employers. It's about any employers being mandated to offer this coverage --- to offer any coverage. It's just one incremental step in a long term strategy to create a legal structure for corporations and other organizations to "opt out" of participating in government mandated programs on the basis of "conscience."

Bazelon outlines how wily this plan really is --- so wily they punk'd the female justices of the Supreme Court:

In its Hobby Lobby ruling in June, the Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the government’s goal was a perfectly acceptable one—easily reached, with a little rewriting of the rules. In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito appeared to see Form 700 as a good compromise. TPAs could arrange for contraceptive coverage, Alito said, “without imposing any cost-sharing requirements on the eligible organization.” This was all very soothing. Alito went so far as to make the government’s stance, in insisting that Hobby Lobby cover birth control for its employees directly, seem a little silly. If the officials at HHS who came up with Form 700 had figured out an accommodation for the religious nonprofit groups, why not offer to extend it to private companies like Hobby Lobby?

But there was a catch. “We do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with RFRA”—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1990s law that’s the basis for all of these religion-based challenges to paying for birth control—“for purposes of all religious claims,” Alito wrote. A week later, the court walked through this conveniently open door. Wheaton College, which is Christian, didn’t want to sign Form 700, and in another interim but telling order, the court said it didn’t have to. No wonder all the other religious groups and “privately held” companies want the same deal.

In the Wheaton College case, Sotomayor (plus Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) raised hell. In an unusual act of all-female solidarity, the three justices said the court’s order siding with Wheaton “undermines confidence in this institution” because it contradicts the promise the majority made in Hobby Lobby. To me, it looks like some justices thought they’d reached a nice compromise for the religious objectors in Hobby Lobby, only to find that others weren’t along for the ride.
Ooops. Sorry ladies. We were just kidding.

An that means that this new order from the administration is unlikely to stand.

I'm going to guess that this will end up like the Hyde Amendment. It also made no sense when it was enacted, and Democrats tried for years to stop its yearly re-authorization --- until they finally gave up and we had President Obama proclaiming that it was a "tradition" to make sure poor women did not have insurance coverage for abortion and negotiated the possibility away permanently in the ACA.

The social conservatives never give up until they get their way on these women's issues. It's fundamental to their cause. The fight has now expanded from abortion to birth control which is now a subject of controversy despite the fact that nearly 100% of women in the nation have used it (which makes nearly 100% of women "sluts" according to right wing haters.) And if there's one thing the history of the past few decades of legislative battles has taught us it's that when push comes to shove, the Democrats will use "controversial" women's rights as a bargaining chip and tell the ladies they'll have to take one for the team.

It's pretty to think that these latest polling numbers which show Republicans suffering electorally because of their inability to appeal to women will make the Democrats stiffen their spines and recognize that they have to dig in their heels on this. And I suspect they will --- as long as it doesn't mean they have to compromise on something else they care about. Women's issues are always on the table.

h/t to DC
Rand Paul and libertarians won't save the Millennial vote for Republicans

by David Atkins

In the last couple of years there's been a concerted pushback on the notion that Millennial voters will be reliably Democratic in the future. The argument generally centers on the idea that 1) Millennials tend to be disturbingly libertarian/conservative on some economic issues, and 2) since white Millennials are almost as likely to be conservative on those and a few social issues as their elders, it's more about race than about age.

There are problems with both of those arguments: yes, Millennials lean libertarian/conservative when asked vague questions about government spending, regulation and deficits--but that's not surprising given the awful, empty rhetoric on these fronts spouted across all spectra of American politics. But when you actually delve into the weeds of each and every given policy position, from single-payer healthcare to immigration reform to the minimum wage, Millennials really are more liberal even on economics than than their forebears.

Moreover, social issues don't just wave themselves away. The Republican Party knows it needs to moderate itself on social issues in order to have a future with women, younger and minority voters. But its base simply won't allow it to do that.

Finally, the fact that Millennials are less white than previous generations isn't a "yeah, but" thing. It's part of the point of the emerging Democratic majority. First off, we know that white Millennials are significantly more liberal than their older counterparts by anywhere from 5 to 10 percentage points. 54% of white Millennials still disapprove of Barack Obama, but those numbers are at over 60% in every other generational category. 59% of white voters cast ballots for Mitt Romney, and he still lost. The oldest of the Millennial generation, depending on how you define it, are now in their late twenties or early thirties. Even if a bare majority of Millennial whites do lean conservative on a few issues, that's still awful news for Republicans, who either need to make up huge ground with minority groups or increase their share of the white vote by large numbers in a browning population.

Another hypothesis out there is that hip new libertarians in the Republican coalition will save the younger vote. That's wrong, too.

Alan Abramowitz at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball looks at the numbers and concludes:

An analysis of data from the 2012 American National Election Study raises serious doubts about the claim that a candidate with libertarian views would have strong appeal to younger voters. In fact, the data indicate that younger voters tend to hold relatively liberal views on social welfare as well as cultural issues. Only a small minority of voters under the age of 30 can be classified as libertarians. Moreover, both younger and older Americans who hold libertarian views already vote overwhelmingly for Republican candidates, so nominating a candidate with a libertarian philosophy would be unlikely to gain many votes for the GOP.


Our results thus far indicate that younger voters would not be especially attracted to a candidate holding libertarian views. Moreover, the results displayed in Table 3 show that the vast majority of young libertarians in 2012 were already voting for Republican candidates: 76% of younger libertarians, along with 82% of older libertarians, reported voting for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. In addition, young libertarians overwhelmingly identified with the Republican Party and favored Republican House and Senate candidates by wide margins. Among libertarians under the age of 30, those who identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party outnumbered those who identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party by 74% to 17%. Of these young libertarians, 75% reported voting for a Republican House candidate in 2012 and 81% reported voting for a Republican Senate candidate.


Based on these results, nominating libertarian candidates would be unlikely to improve the Republican Party’s performance among younger voters because these voters are much more likely to be liberals than libertarians and because the vast majority of those who do hold libertarian views already identify with the Republican Party and vote for Republican candidates. In order to increase their party’s appeal to younger Americans, Republicans would need to nominate candidates who are considerably more liberal on both economic and cultural issues than the party’s recent presidential nominees or the vast majority of its current congressional candidates.

One of the most important reasons why the libertarian philosophy holds little appeal for most younger voters is that a disproportionate share of voters under the age of 30 are nonwhite. According to the 2012 ANES, nonwhites made up 40% of voters under the age of 30 compared with 25% of voters age 30 and older. Moreover, the nonwhite share of younger voters is almost certain to increase over the next several election cycles based on the racial composition of the age cohorts that will be entering the electorate in the future.

The libertarian philosophy of limited government holds very little appeal to nonwhite voters in general, and it holds even less appeal to younger nonwhite voters. Only 4% of nonwhite voters under the age of 30 were classified as libertarians compared with 23% of white voters under the age of 30. In contrast, 69% of younger nonwhite voters were classified as consistent or moderate liberals compared with 49% of younger white voters. These results suggest that the limited appeal of libertarian ideas to younger voters is likely to diminish further over time as the nonwhite share of this age group continues to grow.
Basically, the GOP is still in a very difficult position. Rand Paul won't help them, and younger whites won't save them, either.


Give A Kid An Uzi? Views Differ 

by tristero

Can we all agree that letting a 9-year old fire an Uzi is a really nutty idea?

Actually, no we can't:
A Nevada gun range today defended having children fire automatic weapons despite the fatal accident at a nearby shooting range that occurred when a 9-year-old girl was unable to control the powerful recoil of an Uzi she was shooting.
Firing an automatic weapon teaches children the difference between their video games and the real thing, Bill Regenhardt, spokesman for The Range 702, told ABC News.
"It's an eye opener for them to see the difference: this is not a toy, this is not a plastic Wii gun. It's heavy, you have to really be mindful of what it does... A lot of times it's an eye opener for the parents as well," Regenhardt said.
For the most part, Regenhardt says that after their first time with automatic weapons, children get hooked.
"The reaction is, 'I'd like to do this again, I'd really like to do this again,'" he said. From there, they encourage the children to take classes.
Granted, there are a lot of individuals in our species, and statistically it makes sense that a small fraction of them will be both bats hit bonkers and unspeakably amoral opportunists, like the person quoted above). What makes no sense at all is that this madness is reported as if it were just one more point of view without even a token quote from anyone in the reality-based community.

The problems's not that people are crazy; some people always are. It's that crazy people - Tea Partiers, creationists, and people who give  9 year olds weapons of mass destruction to play with -  are treated by the media as if their opinions are sane.

UDATE: Sigh.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lol 'o the day

by digby

Third time's a charm?

by digby

After the 2012 election a friend of mine insisted that the likely GOP nominee in 2016 would be .... Mitt Romney.  He said it was simply because he knew how to do it. I thought he was nuts.

Maybe not so nuts after all :
The day after Mitt Romney opened the door to another possible presidential run, a new poll shows he has a huge lead among likely 2016 Iowa Republican caucus voters.

According to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday, 35 percent of likely GOP caucus voters would vote for the 2012 GOP nominee in 2016. When Romney’s name was added to the pool, no other candidate received double-digit votes.

The survey comes as rumors have begun to swirl about a potential Romney bid for president in 2016. After months of insisting that he will not run again, the former Massachusetts governor on Tuesday acknowledged that “circumstances can change.”

Why not? It's not as if they have anyone better ...
Dispatch from torture nation: Cattle prod edition

by digby

Another citizen killed with a taser.  For being too tired to walk:
A Georgia man died after police shocked him with a Taser as many as 13 times because he said he was too tired to walk due to a foot chase, his attorney said this week.

At a press conference on Tuesday, attorney Chris Stewart said that police records showed that East Point officers had discharged their Tasers 13 times to make Gregory Towns, who was handcuffed, get up and walk.

“This is a direct violation of their own rules,” Stewart explained, according to WSB-TV. “You cannot use a Taser to escort or prod a subject.”

“They used their Tasers as a cattle prod on Mr. Towns.”

Stewart said that he pieced together what led up to Towns’ April 11 death using official city records and eyewitness accounts.

“He wasn’t cursing. He wasn’t being abusive. He was saying, ‘I’m tired,’” the attorney pointed out.

Taser logs showed that Sgt. Marcus Eberhart fired his Taser 10 times, and officer Howard Weems pulled the trigger three times. However, the logs did not indicate how many times the Taser made contact with Towns.

In all, records indicated a total shock time of 47 seconds. Stewart called the situation “indefensible.”

Autopsy results obtained by WSB-TV showed that Towns’ death was ruled a homicide because the Taser shocks — combined with physical activity and heart disease — contributed to his death.
Not that this has elicited even the slightest reconsideration of the use of these torture devices:
But Police Benevolent Association lawyers representing Weems continued to insist that the officer’s actions did not cause Towns to die.

Attorney Dale Preiser issued a statement saying that the “use of drive stun to gain compliance is permitted under federal and Georgia law.”
I don't think that's been fully litigated actually. And sadly, I'm fairly sure that when it is, the result will not be good. (Read this op-ed by constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky in today's NY Times to see why I say that.)

Do we, as a nation, believe it's a good idea to allow torture to gain compliance? Because that's what this is.

Should selling a cigarette be a capital offense?

by digby

Quinnipiac polled New Yorkers on the question of policing for low level crimes. Apparently, most people are in favor of cops rousting people for small offenses. For instance:

If someone is selling loose cigarettes illegally on a street corner in their neighborhood, 50 percent of voters want police to stop that activity, even if it means making an arrest, while 41 percent say police should ignore this activity. Hispanic voters say 53 - 43 percent that police should act. White voters are divided as 48 percent want police to act and 44 percent say ignore. Among black voters, 47 percent say police should act and 40 percent say police should ignore it.

"It's different where you live from what you see in the media. Overall, black New Yorkers are negative about cops citywide. White voters are positive. But looking at cops in their own neighborhood, the support turns positive among black voters and heavily positive among whites," said Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Maurice Carroll.

"Does it improve the quality of life in your neighborhood when police arrest someone for a low-level offense, or does it increase neighborhood tensions? New Yorkers decide for quality of life," Carroll added.

If a person tells police he/she is not going to allow police to arrest him/her, 58 percent of New York City voters, including 45 percent of black voters, say police should use whatever force is necessary to arrest that person, while 16 percent of voters, including 23 percent of black voters, say police should walk away.

"Hardly anyone thinks the cops should back off if someone resists arrest. Use whatever force is necessary to make the arrest, voters say, echoing what Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton both have emphasized," Carroll said. Eric Garner Case

There is no excuse for how police acted in the death of Eric Garner, 68 percent of voters say, while 24 percent say police action was understandable. Seeing no excuse are 52 percent of white voters, 90 percent of black voters and 71 percent of Hispanic voters.

If they believe that the police should have arrested him for suspicion of selling loose cigarettes and he resisted that arrest, I wonder what they think the cops should have done differently? Obviously, they believe the police officer shouldn't have used an illegal choke-hold. But how would they have had the cops take this man into custody?

I would guess most people think he should have been tasered. I wonder how many of them know that tasers routinely kill people too?. (On the other hand, tasers are so much funnier than choke holds they're probably worth it...)

The question has to be asked: is it ever worth it to kill someone over misdemeanor crimes like the sale of loose cigarettes? Or jaywalking? That's what's happening with this "broken windows" policy. It sounds great in theory --- until you ask yourself how it's going to be enforced. At best, a whole lot of people are going to wind up being harassed by police and wind up in the criminal justice system over small bore offenses. (And I think you know which groups are more likely to be targeted.) At worst, you'll have police using torture devices and/or deadly force to do it.

There are other approaches that can work.

Bullets, burgers and batshit crazy

by digby

You undoubtedly already heard about this, but I just have to register my horror:
An instructor who was shot by a 9-year-old girl who fired an Uzi at a northwestern Arizona shooting range died Monday night at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. 
The girl fired the weapon at the outdoor range that caters to heavy tourism traffic along U.S. Highway 93 between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon Skywalk. 
Highway signage and Internet advertising beckons visitors to stop in, fire a machine gun and enjoy a meal at the Bullets and Burgers enterprise at the Last Stop, about 25 miles south of Las Vegas. 
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said the accidental shooting occurred about 10 a.m. 
Spokeswoman Trish Carter said the girl, who was vacationing from New Jersey with her parents, was standing next to the instructor at the time. 
Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe described a video taken of the accident as “ghastly.” His office released a short video of the girl taking her first few shots. 
He said the girl safely and successfully fired the 9 mm weapon several times when it was set in the “single-shot” mode. 
He said the weapon was put into the “fully-automatic” mode before the girl fired again with the instructor standing off to her left. The weapon recoiled and drifted left as the girl squeezed off an undetermined number of rounds as she maintained possession but lost control of the Uzi as it raised up above her head. 
“The guy just dropped,” McCabe said of shooting instructor Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, who suffered at least one gunshot to the head.

What on earth would possess anyone to put an Uzi in the hands of a 9 year old? It's beyond comprehension that we are so far down the gun fetish rabbit hole that people actually go someplace to eat burgers and watch their little children shoot automatic weapons as a form of entertainment.

Check out the Facebook page.

This country has gone completely, fucking nuts.


When austerity bites

by digby

In case you were wondering what went down in France that resulted in a dissolution of the government, this article should clear it up for you. Let's just say that it's a mess, mostly because the German government's continued insistence on austerity policies is destroying Europe's economy. The current discontent in France is, unsurprisingly, coming from the left --- as it should:

A beleaguered François Hollande may now be hoping for a tangible gesture of support from Merkel for having been such a staunch supporter of German austerity policy. Merkel may be too distracted by the troubles in Ukraine to help out in France, however. But it is hard to see how the open split in the French left can do anything but increase the pressure on Merkel to recognize that austerity has not achieved the desired results and may now be exerting a substantial drag on Germany’s hitherto unstoppable economic engine: German GDP declined by 0.2 percent last quarter. France’s parochial troubles may then be merely the latest indication that a deep-seated European crisis continues to simmer and may boil over at any moment.

It seems as though everything may boil over at any moment.

But hey, the rich are doing very well so it's all good, amirite?

Political malpractice at the top of the heap

by digby

Did you know that the head of the Democratic National Committee is against medical marijuana even though over 80% of her constituents, even the elderly (who could truly benefit), are for it? And did you know that when medical marijuana is on the ballot it's estimated that it can raise turnout by several percentage points which, in a midterm, is vital? It's all true.

Medical marijuana is on the ballot in Florida this November, largely backed by major Democrats who would like to see it legalized but also are trying to stop the psychotic weirdo Rick Scott from having another term to further wreck the state. And Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is opposed to it.

This is the equivalent of the head of the RNC coming out in favor of Obamacare in 2010.

Anyway, I wrote a lot more about it in Salon yesterday if you'd care to get into the gory details....
An even bigger alarm bell sounds on climate change

by David Atkins

It's almost as if it's really f'ing serious:

Humans risk causing irreversible and widespread damage to the planet unless there’s faster action to limit the fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change, according to a leaked draft United Nations report.

Global warming already is impacting “all continents and across the oceans,” and further pollution from heat-trapping gases will raise the likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” according to the document obtained by Bloomberg.

“Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in the draft.

The study is the most important document produced by the UN about global warming, summarizing hundreds of papers. It’s designed to present the best scientific and economic analysis to government leaders and policymakers worldwide. It feeds into the UN-led effort drawing in more than 190 nations for an agreement on limiting emissions.
Inequality and climate are the two defining issues of the 21st century, and they're related. Eventually everyone reading this will be dead. The ones who come after will judge us on how we handled, above all, these two issues.

So far we're not looking very impressive as a species.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fighting over scraps

by digby

What suckers:
Even KKK members summer in the Hamptons.

The Ku Klux Klan has been leaving recruitment pamphlets next to mailboxes and in driveways in Hampton Bays over the past few weeks.

The hate-filled leaflets include racist cartoons and caution recipients to “beware” of people looking to steal their jobs in the Suffolk County community, said the Southampton Town Police Department.
The flyers promote the Loyal White Knights, a North Carolina-based Klan group, which has recruited in other states, according to reports.

The Suffolk County hate crime unit has been notified, but distributing such leaflets is legal.
Robert Jones, grand dragon of the Loyal White Knights, said he didn’t know anything about the New York recruitment — but had an idea what it was about.

“Everybody’s fed up with immigration,” Jones told Newsday. “That’s why we have so many people from New York calling right now.”
The KKK knows what it's doing. Hampton Bays isn't filled with billionaires, Real Housewives and Kardashians. It's more of a working class town. And it's 25% Hispanic.

The racists apparently want to dominate the low-paid servant market. How perfect.


All pregnant women are fair game now

by digby

The anti-choice zealots Alabama have an interesting new protest strategy.  They are now harassing pregnant women who are going to the doctor simply for pre-natal care.  That's right, women who have chosen to bear children. Apparently, this is being done to protest a doctor who had something to do with a clinic at one time that maybe performed abortions but no longer is. Or something:
When Judge Myron Thompson issued an opinion that overturned Alabama’s TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law one week ago, his description of the struggles of abortion providers in Alabama’s hostile climate seemed like a rebuttal to the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down sidewalk “buffer zones.” For example, the opinion relates one doctor’s experience with the “non-violent” tactics of anti-choice activists:

Although she was not performing abortions herself, protestors came to her private practice and began to confront her pregnant patients, just as they had Dr. Palmer’s. Again, they held signs depicting third-trimester abortions. The local leader of the pro-life movement told Johnson that he would protest Dr. H1′s practice for as long as Dr. H1 continued to serve as covering physician for the clinic. Dr. H1 removed her children from their Catholic school due to the publicity surrounding her affiliation with the abortion clinic. She “had a mass exodus of patients from his practice.”

Here's that local leader of the pro-life movement:

He's quite the man of God. This is from an article about how a public school had to fence off its driveway to prevent these crazy loons from protesting a clinic across the street on its property. A clinic that doesn't perform abortions:

Prochoice activists became concerned when they noticed that their counterparts were blocking and annoying parents who were trying to pick up and drop off their children at the school. After reaching out to the city council, police, school board, zoning board, and finally the community outreach officers, a response arrived in the form of three orange plastic nets used to keep the school’s entrances clear of protesters.

“While we have no proof abortions are being done at (the AWWC),” writes Alabama Christian Coalition president James Henderson, ” we do have reason to believe one of their doctors has been doing abortions at various locations, including in Huntsville.” That is completely false: the doctor in question used to provide abortion services at the Madison Street clinic when it was open, but has not provided one abortion since it shut down.

The Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives (AWCRA) shut down a few months ago and has plans to reopen at the AWWC location, but has been waiting on a decision of the zoning board before moving forward. This Summer, Henderson began accusing the city of “not playing fair” towards his efforts to shut down the doctor’s business and prevent AWCRA from reopening.

Shameless, Henderson has made his group’s activities a primary justification for not allowing the clinic to open again in the new location.

This losing fight has apparently inspired Henderson to double-down on defamation. In recent months, he has begun making baseless accusations of violence against volunteer clinic escorts. He is also very proud of his group’s “success” at putting doctors out of business by harassing patients and staff, but none of his sermons or lectures ever express concern for the well-being of pregnant women who are trying to see their doctors and would just like to be left alone, thank you.

Americans don't seem to be as eager for war as some of their leaders are

by digby

Now you can see why so many of the hawks are hysterical about ISIS:

Most Americans felt the United States should intervene somehow in Iraq, although overwhelming numbers oppose any U.S. troops on the ground in support of the Baghdad government.

There was little disparity in the overall response among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Just 29 percent of adults felt the country should not get involved, even by sending humanitarian aid or weapons.

Thirty-one percent said the United States should provide humanitarian aid to refugees from the conflict areas and 21 percent said Washington should launch air strikes to support Iraqi government forces.

But just 12 percent said Washington should fund and support a multi-national intervention, 11 percent said the United States should send Special Forces troops to support Baghdad, 10 percent said it should provide weapons to Iraqi troops and just 7 percent said U.S. troops should be sent.

McCain and Huckleberry have their work cut out for them. But in the end, if the decision is made it won't matter what the American people think. It never does ... (And, frankly, once the decision is made the American people will probably come around. They always do. For a while, anyway.)

There was also this:

Nearly two out of three Americans say governments should not pay ransom to terrorists in exchange for hostages, despite the posting of an Islamic State video last week depicting the beheading of a U.S. journalist, a Reuters-IPSOS Poll showed on Tuesday.

Sixty-two percent of adults surveyed said they agreed with U.S. and British policy of refusing to pay ransom, in response to a question about the killing of American journalist James Foley and the multimillion dollar ransom demanded by Islamic State militants for his release.

I get it. But I'm increasingly torn about whether or not this is a reasonable approach. This article headlined, "Did America’s policy on ransom contribute to James Foley’s killing?" by David Rohde, the New York Times reporter who escaped from the Taliban, is very disturbing. He discusses the fact that abductions have become big business for Islamic extremists as European governments have been paying big ransoms over the past few years. He also discusses how disheartening it is for Americans knowing that their government will not help them:

In the days and weeks ahead, the Foley family will speak for themselves about their ordeal. But the payment of ransoms and abduction of foreigners must emerge from the shadows. It must be publicly debated. American and European policymakers should be forced to answer for their actions.

Foley believed that his government would help him, according to his family. In a message that was not made public, Foley said that he believed so strongly that Washington would help that he refused to allow his fellow American captives to not believe in their government.

A consistent response to kidnapping by the U.S. and Europe is desperately needed. The current haphazard approach is failing.

That breaks my heart.

I don't know the answer to this. It's entirely possible that paying would encourage even more kidnapping and brutality. It's also possible that it would save lives --- lots of them if it kept us from military action in response to the horrors of executions such as James Foley's. And then there's the money --- obviously financing terrorists is never a good idea. On the other hand, helping recruit more terrorists isn't either.

It's a tough problem and I don't think Americans have fully thought it through. Rohde says the whole system is full of holes with some private interests stepping in from time to time and the Europeans serving as pass-through entities, all of which says that this is a police in need of review as Rohde says.

They're killing us

by digby

Conservative climate change deniers the world over are doing everything they can to destroy the planet. In Australia, they're shutting down the environmental NGOs:
Twelve months into the Abbott government, conservative forces, both in government and outside, are mounting a new push. It is the same ideology as before and it affects the whole NGO sector. But it is also more focused on silencing climate change debate and protecting corporations that are responsible for emissions and unsustainable practices.

Tracking the campaign against NGOs

The attacks on NGOs have intensified in recent months. Their timing suggests they are not random events.

The Liberal Party federal council in June unanimously recommends stripping NGOs of their ability to receive tax-deductible donations. Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic names the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Bob Brown Foundation and the Environmental Defenders’ Offices, accusing them of “untruthful, destructive attacks on legitimate business” and “political activism”.

In June, Coalition MP George Christensen, the member for Dawson in north Queensland, calls for a “cleansing” of the Department of Environment’s list of those organisations eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts. He singles out the Mackay Conservation Group, which is trying to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The group is challenging environment minister Greg Hunt’s approval of dredging at Abbot Point for a coal port.

At the end of the financial year, a number of reports emerge from the environment movement of NGOs being audited by the Tax Office and questioned by the Department of Environment about their right to receive tax-deductible donations.

In April, a review of competition law has the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, talking about repeal of Section 45DD of the Competition and Consumer Act. He wants to take away environmental NGO exemptions from its secondary boycott clauses. Its repeal would stop NGOs from campaigning against the environmental behaviour of companies. Colbeck says: “I think there is an appetite in the government for changing these laws”. He claims that the backbench rural committee and “quite a number of the ministry” want the competition review to take away the exemption. Later, some submissions (from the Australian Forest Products Association, for example) echo this proposed change. The review’s draft report is due in September.

In June, the Minerals Council of Australia releases a paper by IPA senior fellow Sinclair Davidson, entitled A Critique of the Coal Divestment Campaign. Davidson welcomes the Abbott government’s “announced plans” to remove the Section 45DD exemption “to provide a level playing field and hold environmental groups to the same standard as business”.

Davidson in his paper also claims that NGOs are breaking Section 1041E of the Corporations Act by encouraging individuals and organisations to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and their financiers.

In December, attorney-general George Brandis removes funding from the national legal network of Environmental Defenders Offices.

While not an environmental NGO, the national network of community legal centres is collateral damage and has also been targeted by Brandis. The centres' service agreements are changed to prevent them publicly suggesting legal reforms.

The May budget abolishes Grants to Voluntary Environment, Sustainability and Heritage Organisations. This grants scheme has been helping state conservation councils and their member groups, as well as hundreds of grassroots groups throughout the country, since 1973.

The Coalition moves to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. The NGO sector had hoped this relatively new body would improve accountability, as well as reduce government red tape. Its abolition would change the regulation of NGOs – a worrying prospect when the government is trying to silence their voices.

What in the world are these people thinking?

A large swathe of eastern Australia, including coastal regions from Coffs Harbour to Bundaberg, is in the midst of its driest year since the Federation Drought more than a century ago, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. 
The average rainfall over this entire region - stretching inland to Roma and St George - for the past 12 months has only been recorded lower once, in 1901-02, and the outlook continues to favour below-average rainfall until at least October.
Here's a reminder of the consequences --- which are happening with more and more frequency:

How Many Tanks Can We Take Back Before The Next Ferguson? 

by Spocko
I recently suggested that we noodle on some methods to de-militarize the police. I wanted to figure out methods that would actually have people look at publicly available communities' inventory of equipment and demand they get rid of unnecessary items and equipment that is not designed for a police force, but an occupying army.

D.C. national politicians finally weighed in on the topic and before you can say, "Rocket launchers for cops" the national media talked to all the usual players to explain why any effort for change will be blocked, shouted down, ignored or tabled-until the next event.

The New York Times' piece, In Washington, Second Thoughts on Arming Police, points out the problem and the standard D.C. "solution" in one paragraph.
Though violent crime is at its lowest level in a generation and terrorism, despite fears and continuing global threats, remains exceedingly rare on American soil, any effort to significantly cut police funding would be met with sharp opposition from local and state officials and many in Congress. Even if the political will to review the policies exists now, it is not clear whether it will remain when lawmakers return from vacation next month and see the midterm elections on the horizon.

Of course state and local officials will complain about losing government funding. (Maybe we should tell Republicans it's for ObamaCare so they reject it.) But since in many cases they aren't spending their own money, the Federal government has control over what they offer and the strings attached to the gear it gives them. The locals might complain, but if their level of funding for gear stays the same, they are likely to grouse less even if they don't get that tank they had their eye on.

Today I got a note from the Blue America PAC who told the story of how five weeks ago Alan Grayson tried to get an amendment passed to stop funding the extreme militarization of local police department. It told the sad story of how "45 Democrats voted with the GOP against a bill that would halt using federal taxpayer dollars to arm local police with rocket launchers, tanks, guided missiles, mines, torpedoes, ballistic missiles, toxicological agents, grenade launchers and even nuclear weapons!"

Now Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson is trying to put out a new bill to demilitarize local police in September. It will be watered down or forgotten, especially if the lobbyists spread the money around to Democrats and Republicans evenly. Plus, last time there was no pressure from the people "below" just pressure from the lobbyists "above." (I use the quotes to remind me that "the money" always believes their needs are above the people's. )

The right wants to slow things down and "get all the facts in" not because they want all the facts. They are happy to rush to judgement with fact-like rumors like the "orbital eye socket fracture" of the police officer. They need time to get the lobbyists in place while the fire in the community dies down. (BTW, when that is proved false can I call up the MSM and get the names of the two anonymous sources who lied to them? Don't you burn sources that lie to you?)

Between now and when the Johnson bill comes up in September what can we do?
  1. Identifying which current military "assets" are potentially toxic liabilities, will bring bad PR and are lawsuits waiting to happen. (Start here at Muckrock)
  2. Get that information to the congress people. Remind them, "Your city could be the next Ferguson. Maybe ask for different gear this time or a trade for less military equipment."
I had relatives who were in the business of selling heavy equipment to police departments. The whole process was filled with huge egos and politics but at the time they bought what they felt was needed to serve the community. That changed after 9/11. From the same NY Times article:
But the rush to arm America’s police departments made oversight difficult. Grant programs overlapped. Money often flowed to state governments first before arriving in local police departments, making it hard to track. In 2009, auditors cited examples of state governments that could not verify what equipment local authorities had bought.
This was "free" money! It was a race to the government trough to get the coolest equipment. I know these people and their attitudes, especially those in the Midwest. They wanted their fair share of the terrorist fighting gear. Otherwise they felt cheated. "Why should the people in states that have actual terrorist threats get all the gear? We have needs too!"

What they won't admit is it was also about not wanting to tax their own community, especially since their tax base might have been hit by loss of manufacturing jobs or tax giveaways to big box stores.

They didn't want to "leave money on the table" so they made up crazy requests from the military equipment buffet list. When I was a child piling food on my plate my aunt would say, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach." Nobody told them just because they could get a tank didn't mean they should.  The also knew that if they got crazy military toys the government wasn't going to repossess them.

We will find we can't just take their tanks and rocket launchers away, even if we find the silliest of reasons they got them in the first place. But we should try, if only to hear the overreaching justifications and excuses.  By questioning them and forcing them to justify their gear, they will know the easy ride is over.

If the people start questioning the needs and the military stops offering the tanks for free, the days of asking for a tank when, you really need a truck are over.

These police forces won't want to lose face on losing equipment, so we suggest they trade them in for items to protect and serve the people, not to project force and shoot the people.

With pressure from the people "below" and a reworking of what is available from "above" we might get some change.

Train Train Train, Train the Fools
The federal government also did not typically insist that local authorities be trained on how and when to use its new equipment. In recent days, retired military officers have bristled at the sight of police officers in Missouri walking the streets with guns drawn, pointed at protesters.

Training is something everyone usually agrees on, so we use that as a common starting point. But I don't want tanks at all, doesn't having well trained cops with tanks make it seem okay? The problem is existing gear is still out there to deal with that we link the ability to get new gear to training for existing gear.

If they worry about losing an old toy or, getting a cut in funding for an old toy or not getting any new toys at all they will at submit to training. A huge part of that training is best practices like, "Don't use your tanks to run over protesters."

In the short term here is what I want them them to say, "We are happy to get trained on this, especially since the Federal government is paying. We don't want to be the next Ferguson or Oakland. Send us to class! Bring someone out to teach us!"

Finally, we demand policing training from people who know how to control crowds of citizens, not people used to suppressing potential terrorists.

Photo by enigmabadger Creative Commons license
Photo by Dane Erland Creative Commons license
Confusion reigns on the right about black people and guns

by digby

My piece for Salon yesterday was about the Black Panthers, Ronald Reagan and guns:
It may be apocryphal, but the story goes that in 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan agreed to sign a California gun control law that made it against the law to walk around in public with a loaded gun after he saw a Black Panther rally. If it’s true, it was probably this rally:


30 members of the open-carry group the Huey P. Newton gun club did march in the streets of Dallas earlier this week, armed with AR-15s, shotguns and rifles, chanting about Black Power. One of the marchers by the name of Drew X, with the New Black Panther Party, was quoted as saying, “If they don’t get these people under control with this police brutality and this abuse, this gonna be an international crisis.”

And this has the right wing very confused. A quick look around the Internet finds some perfunctory commentary supporting the group’s right to bear arms, but eventually people are pointing out the fact that one cannot be a “felon” and own guns. Finally they get down and dirty with assertions that the demonstrators must be bloods and crips and start whining that African-Americans are racist for mentioning that people of color are particularly at risk from police abuse. And then there are the hilarious jokes like this one: “If black people could get some marksmanship training it would really cut down on the number of innocents killed by stray bullets in certain neighborhoods.”

Read on. Let's just say that one of the revealing aspects of the whole Ferguson crisis is that the gun proliferation activists are shown to be far less concerned about fighting the government than they are about fighting "certain elements" they believe are endangering society. Just listen to Wayne LaPierre:
We don’t trust government, because government itself has proven unworthy of our trust. We trust ourselves and we trust what we know in our hearts to be right. We trust our freedom. In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want. We know in the world that surrounds us there are terrorists and there are home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, and rapers, and haters, and campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse our society that sustains us all.

They don't trust the government but it's not because the jackboots are coming to put them in FEMA camps. It's because they believe it's failed to protect them from the boogeyman. It's important to understand the difference.


But what happens when the programs get smarter?

by David Atkins

This "refutation" on Vox of the job mechanization is simultaneously troubling and hilarious:
Will automation take your job away? No, argues economist David Autor in a new paper presented at the Federal Reserve conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday. Instead, it'll just push you into a menial low-wage job.

That, at least, has been the recent past of technology's impact on the labor market, Autor suggests. We've seen what he calls "job polarization" where automation has increased the demand for highly skilled managers and creative types, plus the demand for low-paid food prep workers and such. He offers these two charts as evidence...

This chart shows that across a whole bunch of different European countries, we've seen high-wage jobs grow and low-wage jobs grow while middle-wage jobs shrink...

Autor says this more or less shows the importance of improving education. Someone who might once have been qualified for a pretty good secretarial job is nowadays only going to be qualified for a job at Chipotle, since modern technology reduces the need for secretaries. To save her from the dismal future of a burrito stomping on a human face forever, she needs to be trained up to the level where she can get a job as an app developer or devising burrito marketing campaigns.
OK, that may be true. Temporarily. But that's a little short-sighted, and a failure to recognize that technology isn't limited to taking middle-class jobs whatever they may be. It's just that middle-class jobs are the only ones that technology is currently equipped to take.

Blue-collar jobs have already been decimated by technology, and even the Chipotle burrito-rolling example used by the author isn't safe: if our lattes are being poured and our burritos rolled by humans in 20 years, it won't be because there aren't machines fully equipped to do those jobs better than humans, but because we as customers might get creeped out by it. But I wouldn't count on that.

More importantly, the author assumes that creative jobs will be protected from technological advance. Think again. Right now creative marketing is seen as a combination guesswork and genius, and folks like Malcolm Gladwell will point to examples of brilliant campaigns that caught fire due to human intuition and creatvity. Less noticed are the thousands of campaigns that simply fall flat, but people get paid lots of money to produce regardless.

Eventually it's going to be simple for a combination of basic marketing research and big data algorithms to go through every campaign for a similar product and turn out very functional and effective campaigns without the need for a bunch of big ad agency money. And the same goes for most other creative work.

Moreover, the trend will eventually flatten the value of creative work. If everyone becomes an app developer, suddenly the value of app development plummets. Today's "app developer" is yesterday's "web designer."

The programs are going to keep getting smarter. High-paying jobs are already being hurt by the internet-enabled flattening and by automation, and more and more industries are being flattened.

Pushing more STEM education simply puts a few more rats higher up on the mast of a sinking ship. It doesn't solve the underlying problem.


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