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Monday, December 22, 2014

Rolling boxcars

by digby

... and still at the table

I just wanted to check in and thank all of you who've contributed to the holiday fundraiser so far and send out a special thanks to those of you who have taken out subscriptions over the years. Some of you have been loyal subscribers for quite a long time and I sincerely appreciate it.  With the collapse of online advertising the last few years it's that revenue stream that's partially taken its place.

I also wanted to point out that if some of you are still ordering from Amazon online, if you go through my portal over there on the left column anything you buy there kicks a few pennies back this way.  It all adds up!

Anyway, thanks again to all of you who've participated so far. I'm very grateful. On January 1 it will be my 12th anniversary writing this blog,  if you can believe that.  Holy guacamole ...

If you like to help me keep it going you can contribute here:

I happen to have the founders right here ...

by digby

Well, Juan Cole does.  In this post he foundersplains to the torture apologists why they are wrong when they say the constitution allows it:
The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightenment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction. 
Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices.

Thomas Jefferson excitedly wrote back to John Jay from Paris in 1788:
“On the 8th, a bed of justice was held at Versailles, wherein were enregistered the six ordinances which had been passed in Council, on the 1st of May, and which I now send you. . . . By these ordinances, 1, the criminal law is reformed . . . by substitution of an oath, instead of torture on the question préalable , which is used after condemnation, to make the prisoner discover his accomplices; (the torture abolished in 1780, was on the question préparatoire, previous to judgment, in order to make the prisoner accuse himself;) by allowing counsel to the prisoner for this defence; obligating the judges to specify in their judgments the offence for which he is condemned; and respiting execution a month, except in the case of sedition. This reformation is unquestionably good and within the ordinary legislative powers of the crown. That it should remain to be made at this day, proves that the monarch is the last person in his kingdom, who yields to the progress of philanthropy and civilization.”
Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort.

The torture deployed by the US government in the Bush-Cheney era resembles that used in what the French called the “question préalable.” They were being asked to reveal accomplices and any further plots possibly being planned by those accomplices. The French crown would have argued before 1788 that for reasons of public security it was desirable to make the convicted criminal reveal his associates in crime, just as Bush-Cheney argued that the al-Qaeda murderers must be tortured into giving up confederates. But Jefferson was unpersuaded by such an argument. In fact, he felt that the king had gone on making it long past the time when rational persons were persuaded by it.

Bush-Cheney, in fact, look much more like pre-Enlightentment absolute monarchs in their theory of government. Louis XIV may not have said “I am the state,” but his prerogatives were vast, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Bush-Cheney, our very own sun kings, connived at creating a class of human beings to whom they could do as they pleased.

When the 5th amendment says of the accused person “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” the word “compelled” is referring to the previous practice of judicial torture of the accused. Accused persons who “take the fifth” are thus exercising a right not to be tortured by the government into confessing to something they may or may not have done.

Likewise, the 8th Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” is intended to forbid post-sentencing torture. 
The 8th Amendment was pushed for by Patrick Henry and George Mason precisely because they were afraid that the English move away from torture might be reversed by a Federal government that ruled in the manner of continental governments.

Patrick Henry wrote,
“What has distinguished our ancestors?–That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of the civil law, in preference to that of the common law. They may introduce the practice of France, Spain, and Germany.”
It was objected in the debate over the Bill of Rights that it could be ignored. George Mason thought that was a stupid reason not to enact it:
“Mr. Nicholas: . . . But the gentleman says that, by this Constitution, they have power to make laws to define crimes and prescribe punishments; and that, consequently, we are not free from torture. . . . If we had no security against torture but our declaration of rights, we might be tortured to-morrow; for it has been repeatedly infringed and disregarded.
Mr. George Mason replied that the worthy gentleman was mistaken in his assertion that the bill of rights did not prohibit torture; for that one clause expressly provided that no man can give evidence against himself; and that the worthy gentleman must know that, in those countries where torture is used, evidence was extorted from the criminal himself. Another clause of the bill of rights provided that no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted; therefore, torture was included in the prohibition.” 
It was the insistence of Founding Fathers such as George Mason and Patrick Henry that resulted in the Bill of Rights being passed to constrain the otherwise absolute power of the Federal government. And one of their primary concerns was to abolish torture.

The 5th and the 8th amendments thus together forbid torture on the “question préparatoire” pre-trial confession under duress) and the question préalable (post-conviction torture).

That the Founding Fathers were against torture is not in question.
To me this is obviously correct just on an instinctual level. Freedom, liberty, justice individual rights, due process etc, etc.  Justice Scalia, however, takes issue with it, dancing on the head of a pin to say that the constitution only prohibits using torture as punishment not as a tool to extract confessions of information:
The interviewer asked, for example, what the U.S. Constitution says about torture. “We have laws against torture,” Scalia replied. “The Constitution says nothing whatever about torture. It speaks of punishment; ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments are forbidden.”

“So torture is forbidden, in that case?” the host asked. “If it’s imposed as a punishment, yes,” Scalia responded. “If you condemn someone who has committed a crime to be tortured, that would be unconstitutional.”

When the interview sought clarification, asking about interrogations, Scalia interrupted mid-question. Here’s his response in its entirety:

“We have never held that that’s contrary to the Constitution. And I don’t know what provision of the Constitution that would, that would contravene.

“Listen, I think it is very facile for people to say, ‘Oh, torture is terrible.’ You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. You think it’s an easy question? You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person? I don’t think that’s so clear at all.

“And once again, it’s this sort of self-righteousness of European liberals who answer that question so readily and so easily. It’s not that easy a question.”

When the host noted that American liberals tend to agree with European liberals on the issue, Scalia added, “And American liberals too. Yes. But the Europeans are more self-righteous, I think.”

So the famous "originalist" thinks the founders were infallible except when they failed to understand that a question is hard. Good to know. (And yes, this Supreme Court justice has based his understanding of this issue entirely on "Jack Bauer's" dilemmas. A fictional character.)

I don't worship the founders by any means. But they did understand the propensity of government to abuse its police power. Even Supreme Court justices can fall prey to it.

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Hateful talk in glass houses

by digby

Apparently it's not ok to say you hate Republicans. Good to know. University of Michigan professor Susan Douglas wrote an article for In These Times in which she wrote straight up, “I hate Republicans. I can't stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal 'personhood'." And then she quoted those studies that show that the conservative psychology is, shall we say, a bit rigid.

It's not a nice column, let's say that right up front. Hate is a very aggressive word. Like, for instance, it's very aggressive when right wing activist Eric Erickson says that John Boehner hates the American people:
Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)hates your guts, people. You are neither a lobbyist nor a cigarette so you have no use to him except on one day in November every other year.

But what is so striking here is how many Republicans were willing to lie to you, tell you they would stop the President, and now are giving you the middle finger.
Now it's true that he didn't say he hates Republicans, just John Boehner. So perhaps that's ok.

Anyway, the professor's column turned into a full-fledged campus war:
By noontime Thursday, the article appeared to have been removed from the In These Times website without explanation. After further inspection, the article appeared to have been relocated under a new URL and with a different headline: “We Can’t All Just Get Along.” 
The column sparked outrage among conservative and free-speech groups on campus.
I know that liberal groups on campus do this all the time.  I'm not one who thinks it's a great idea. I hate right wing ideology and think it's having a pernicious effect on our culture and our politics. But banning speech never works out well.  And campuses especially are supposed to be places where a frank exchange of ideas take place. I respect the other side of that and understand all the reasons why people believe that members of the public need to be protected from certain kinds of speech. I am just of the school that worries what happens when the other side decides to do the same. The cloak of authoritarianism fits conservatism so much more comfortably.

This isn't an important issue in itself. In fact, it's rather silly on both sides. Certainly saying you "hate Republicans" is a broad brush, but she was writing in a polemic style that by its nature paints with a broad brush. Still, it's a rather obvious point and perhaps not worth a full-fledged campus protest.

But nothing beats this lugubrious hand-wringing from right wing, which has made a full-fledged fetish out of liberal hating:

“The University of Michigan is a respected public institution, funded by taxpayers, and this type of bullying must be addressed by President Mark Schlissel,” Mr. Schostak continued. “I am calling on Lon Johnson, Gary Peters, Gretchen Whitmer, Tim Greimel and all Democratic officials to join in condemning this disgraceful dialogue by calling for Professor Susan J. Douglas’ resignation. By endorsing the hatred of an opposing political party, Douglas has made Republican students feel vulnerable and intimidated.”
Dear me. It's very hard not to see this as some kind of satire. Consider this famous manual from Republican Revolutionary leader Newt Gingrich:
As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that "language matters." In the video "We are a Majority," Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt."

That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.

Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

abuse of power
anti- (issue): flag, family, child, jobs
"compassion" is not enough
criminal rights
failure (fail)
permissive attitude
punish (poor ...)
red tape
status quo
urgent (cy)
(His personal favorite was "sick".) How about this?
Scientist, strategist or mystery man, Finkelstein has orchestrated stunning upset victories for many of his clients including Sens. D'Amato and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), and New York's Republican Gov. George Pataki. His unseen hand also helped Benjamin Netanyahu oust Shimon Perez in the Israeli elections earlier this year.

Finkelstein's signature style emerges through the ads he creates. Two recent adds brand Democrats as liberals: "Call liberal Paul Wellstone. Tell him it's wrong to spend billions more on welfare," one ad states.

"That's liberal," says another. "That's Jack Reed. That's wrong. Call liberal Jack Reed and tell him his record on welfare is just too liberal for you."

"That's the Finkelstein formula: just brand somebody a liberal, use the word over and over again, engage in that kind of name-calling," said Democratic consultant Mark Mellman.

Maybe Republicans could spare us the crocodile tears about mean language and "vulnerable" Republicans. After the years they spent degrading their opponents with language like that as well as screaming "murderer!" at pregnant girls and women seeking abortions, calling gays depraved, immigrants cockroaches, African Americans "welfare queens" etc, etc.

I'm all for young Republicans being more sensitive to the language people use to describe others that their predecessors. But they need to clean up the mess in their own glass house before they have any standing to chastise someone else for saying they "hate" Republicans. Talk about chutzpah.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is appreciated.

Update: FYI
Erick Erickson also says President Obama hates America.

This post will stay at the top of the page for a while.  Please scroll down for newer material.

Guns, cops and freedom

by digby

It's annual holiday fundraiser time! Your support is very much appreciated.

I've been writing a lot about guns lately (haven't we all?) and find that it brings in more angry right wing commentary than anything else I write. This piece I wrote for Salon last spring brought in the most hateful comments and emails I've ever received in all these years of writing on the internet. I couldn't be more proud ...
Imagine you’re sitting in a restaurant and a loud group of armed men come through the door. They are ostentatiously displaying their weapons, making sure that everyone notices them. Would you feel safe or would you feel in danger? Would you feel comfortable confronting them? If you owned the restaurant could you ask them to leave? These are questions that are facing more and more Americans in their everyday lives as “open carry” enthusiasts descend on public places ostensibly for the sole purpose of exercising their constitutional right to do it. It just makes them feel good, apparently.

For instance, in the wake of the new Georgia law that pretty much makes it legal to carry deadly weapons at all times in all places, parents were alarmed when an armed man showed up at the park where their kids were playing little league baseball and waved his gun around shouting, “Look at my gun!” and “There’s nothing you can do about it.” The police were called and when they arrived they found the man had broken no laws and was perfectly within his rights to do what he did. That was small consolation to the parents, however. Common sense tells anyone that a man waving a gun around in public is dangerous so the parents had no choice but to leave the park. Freedom for the man with the gun trumps freedom for the parents of kids who feel endangered by him.

After the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, open carry advocates decided it was a good idea to descend upon Starbucks stores around the country, even in Newtown where a couple dozen armed demonstrators showed up, to make their political point. There were no incidents. Why would there be? When an armed citizen decides to exercise his right to bear arms, it would be reckless to exercise your right to free speech if you disagreed with them. But it did cause the CEO of Starbucks to ask very politely if these gun proliferation supporters would kindly not use his stores as the site of their future “statements.” He didn’t ban them from the practice, however. His reason? He didn’t want to put his employees in the position of having to confront armed customers to tell them to leave. Sure, Starbucks might have the “right” to ban guns on private property in theory, but in practice no boss can tell his workers that they must try to evict someone who is carrying a deadly weapon.

Just last week open carry proponents decided to have one of their “demonstrations” by going into a Jack in the Box en masse, scaring the employees so badly that they hid in the walk-in freezer. The so-called demonstrators seemed confused by the response of police who assumed there was an armed robbery in progress and dispatched a phalanx of cops.
“We’re not breaking the laws,” Haros said. “We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to alarm anybody. We’re doing this because it’s our constitutional right.” 
Haros, who believes openly carrying firearms helps police, said citizens should know that the demonstrations will continue. 
“It’s just for safety purposes,” Haros said. “Officers can’t be there at all times. We understand that. They can only do so much.”

So this fine fellow believes he is doing this to protect the public. And while they don’t wear uniforms so you can’t identify them, have no specialized training in the law, are not bound by police protocols or answer to the authority of the democratic system of government of the people, they have taken it upon themselves to look after all of us because the police are busy. (And presumably, unless you are wearing a hoodie and they think you look suspicious, you probably won’t get shot dead by mistake.) We used to have a name for this. It was called vigilantism. One can only hope that when a “bad guy” really does show up at your Jack in the Box or Starbucks and one of these self-appointed John Waynes decides to draw his weapon you’ll be as lucky as the innocent civilian who narrowly escaped being killed in error at the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.

You can see why they think that’s freedom. It is. For them. The rest of us just have to be very polite, keep our voices down and back away very slowly, saying, “Yes sir, whatever you say, sir,” and let them have their way.

That piece made the gun activists very, very angry. And I have to assume it was because it hit too close to home. (And in fairness, it garnered a lot of positive reaction from people as well.)

If you think this kind of writing is a useful part of our public conversation I hope you'll consider throwing a couple of bucks into the kitty so that I can keep doing it. Your donations are what make it possible for me to be able to support myself by writing and I'm very grateful for it.



It's annual holiday fundraiser time! Your support is very much appreciated.


Fables of freedom

by Tom Sullivan

Bill Moyers' guest, historian Steve Fraser, deconstructs how the second Gilded Age differs from the first. Then, people banded together and rose up to challenge their newfound serfdom. But these are "acquiescent times," says Fraser. We live in a fable of capitalism as "a democracy of the audacious who will make it on their own, while in fact most of the people are headed in the opposite direction."

There is way too much in this conversation to unpack this morning. Fraser's key obstacle to our exiting the second Gilded Age? Capitalism and freedom have become so conflated that we lack the language to question the current system and to explore alternatives.

BILL MOYERS: You talk about the vocal right. And there's a powerful movement that seems to like the way the country is going. That seems to think this is the way it ought to be and that Occupy Wall Street and Steve Fraser, and others, they just represent the malcontents of a system that is really working for them.

STEVE FRASER: Yes. It is the consummate all embracing expression of the triumph of the free market ideology as the synonym for freedom. In other words, it used to be you could talk about freedom and the free market as distinct notions. Now, and for some time, since the age of Reagan began free market capitalism and freedom are conflated. They are completely married to each other. And we have, as a culture, bought into that idea. It's part of what I mean when I say the attenuating of any alternatives.


STEVE FRASER: ... there's a philosopher who said that language is the house of being. It's where we live. And if you're living in a language that's been denuded of some of its key furniture like certain concepts like that, you're homeless. You have no way, you have no way to challenge even when you're faced with wholesale larceny. I mean on the part of the major banking institutions. I mean what -- let's call a spade a spade. These were thieves. And yet the we lack the kind of linguistic wherewithal, which is much more, it's spiritual, to confront it.

Thanks a lot, Milton.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

With a secret service elf in tow

by digby

Ho, ho, ho ...

Some of the commentary about him being the greatest living president is a bit much though. Let's not get carried away. Playing Santa for a day doesn't change anything.  But it is a nice thing to do.  Good for him.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Learning from Gitmo

by digby

The "9 Travesties Of Justice In 2014 That Would Be Totally Unbelievable If They Weren’t True' from Think Progress are all horrible and you must read about each one of them to fully understand why some of us are convinced that the US needs to shut the hell up about how great we are.

But this one struck me as particularly interesting:

Mississippi defendants have been jailed for a year without ever being charged.

There is an epidemic of individuals in the United States jailed for extended periods of time before they’ve been convicted of anything. Many of them are stuck behind bars because they can’t afford bail, in a system that in too many jurisdictions punishes defendants simply for being poor, not because they are considered at risk of fleeing pending trial.

But mostly, we at least assume that after a few days or a few weeks, if a jail is going to keep holding them, they are charged with something. Not so in Scott County, Mississippi, according to a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union this year. Octavious Burks had been in jail for ten months at the time of the lawsuit, on an arrest of attempted robbery with bail set at $30,000. But he had never been charged with anything. He had never been appointed a lawyer. And, by the account of the ACLU, he had twice before been held in jail for periods of 18 months and 16 months, before being released without ever having been convicted of anything.

Joshua Bassett hadn’t been indicted either. He’d been in jail for 9 months with bail set at $100,000, after an arrest for grand larceny and possession of methamphetamine. And he didn’t have a lawyer. But Scott County Senior Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon said he will not appoint Bassett a lawyer until he is formally indicted.

“This is indefinite detention, pure and simple,” said Brandon Buskey, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “The county has tossed these people into a legal black hole.”
Huh. I wonder why anyone in America would ever think that indefinite detention and tossing people into a legal black hole is ok?

The idea that human rights don't apply to people we call terrorists was always a way to open the door to saying that human rights don't apply to people we call criminals. If human rights are subject to arbitrary exceptions there's no reason that logic wouldn't apply to the American justice system.  But don't worry.  They always know who the bad guys and the good guys are so justice will always be served.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

When the authorities get hysterical they make themselves and everyone else less safe

by digby

A little blast from the past via Media Matters:
Claiming to be acting under the bloody "banner of Liberty and Truth," Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda, entered CiCi's Pizza in Las Vegas on Sunday right before noon and executed two local policemen on their lunch break. Authorities say Jerad approached one officer while he was refilling his soda cup and shot him in the head from behind, before he and Amanda opened fire on his partner.

While patrons scrambled to safety, one of the shooters reportedly shouted that the "revolution" had begun. The duo then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, and covered them with cloth that featured the "Don't tread on me" Gadsden flag, which has recently been adopted as a symbol of the tea party movement. The couple also left a swastika on one of the officers.

Six days earlier, the right-wing shooter had posted a manifesto of sorts on Facebook where he announced "we must prepare for war." Jerad Miller, who traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch this spring to join the militia protests against the federal government, declared that in order to "To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed."

The Facebook rant was just one of many clues about the shooters' radical political leanings. Jerad Miller "left behind social media postings that show his concerns over Benghazi, chemtrails, gun control laws, and the government's treatment of rancher Cliven Bundy," Raw Story reported. (One of the viral images Miller shared online carried the caption, "Jeez, it's no wonder liberalism's regarded as a mental disorder.") The shooter had talked to his neighbor about his "desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers," according to NBC News.

After murdering two police officers, Miller and his wife, carrying large duffle bags, set upon a nearby WalMart, killed a shopper who attempted to confront the couple with his concealed handgun, exchanged gunfire with law enforcement, and then died in an apparent suicide pact.

The politically motivated ambush represents just the latest in a long line of recent far-right, anti-government acts of violence in America. From neo-Nazi killers, to a string of women's health clinic bombings and assaults, as well as bloody assaults on law enforcement from anti-government insurrectionists, acts of right-wing extreme violence continue to terrorize victims in the U.S.

In fact, the deadly, and premeditated, gun rampage in Las Vegas came just two days after Dennis Marx, member of the "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement, tried to lay siege to a courthouse outside of Atlanta. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don't believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement "a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement."

Arriving outside the courthouse in a silver SUV, Marx immediately opened fire on law enforcement, shooting a deputy twice in the leg, before being shot and killed by police, capping a wild three-minute gun battle. The shooter came supplied with an assault weapon, "homemade and commercial explosive devices," as well as "a gas mask; two handguns; zip ties and two bulletproof vests," according to the Associated Press.

Media Matters goes on to chronicle the of lack of coverage on Fox News. They pretty much blandly reported it without any context or commentary.

And what did the Las Vegas police say? Did they blame the Bundy protests? Did former politicians take to twitter and lay the deaths of their fellow officers at the hands of Republican politicians who showed solidarity with the armed, anti-government protesters at the Bundy ranch?

Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said the Millers had ideology shared by "militia and white supremacists," including the belief that law enforcement was the "oppressor."

Police believe the shootings were an isolated act, not part of a broader conspiracy to target law enforcement, McMahill said.
And just consider what these cops had been dealing with:
Metro Police officers who were on the front lines of a recent showdown near the Bundy ranch in Bunkerville say they feared for their lives.

At least some of the militia members who pointed weapons at police officers during the confrontation may have wanted a violent outcome and tried to incite one.

In exclusive interviews with the 8 News NOW I-Team, officers who were on the scene shared their thoughts and fears, and they say it is not over.

"These guys with rifles, keep them calm," was Clark County Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo's request to one of Bundy's sons the day of the confrontation.

Lombardo's top priority was to prevent a spark that might set off a bloody firefight.

"There was a possibility of somebody just having an accidental discharge causing a blood bath, because the individuals that were showing up, the militia quote unquote, were armed to the teeth," Lombardo said.

On one side, armed federal rangers and agents, on the other, a huge crowd of angry militia members and in the middle, 30 Metro officers, exposed and vulnerable, aware that if the shooting began, some of them would die.

"You are standing there going, 'I just hope it doesn't hurt when it comes. That it's quick,' and it was real for us. It was real," Sgt. Tom Jenkins said.

I think you can see my point here. Last night a man executed two police officers in New York and then turned his gun on himself.  In contrast to the professional response of the Las Vegas police in a very similar situation, the instant reaction from people like George Pataki and police representatives was to blame the Eric Garner protests and Mayor DeBlasio personally for showing sympathy for them. On CNN yesterday the commentary was outrageous. This exchange took place in the first few minutes after Martin Savidge broke the news:

SAVIDGE: I want to bring in Harry Houck, he's a former New York police officer. And first of all, I guess, we should express our condolences to the police force and definitely the families of the officers. Harry, you must hear something. What is being said from fellow officers? Is this a random incident or something else?

HARRY HOUCK, FORMER NEW YORK POLICE OFFICER: Well, you know, what I'm hearing from my contacts is that the shooter had killed himself and that he was wanted in Baltimore for another killing and when he was in Baltimore, he had said that he was going to go up to New York and kill a cop and apparently he got his wish. And what really has me upset is all these demonstrations that we've been having here all been predicated on lies. No justice, no peace. We have two dead police officers. And I guess Al Sharpton got what he wanted.

SAVIDGE: Your feeling is, of course, that the protest in some way incited this man to do what he did.

HOUCK: Oh, there's no doubt about it. Everybody is talking about killing a cop. You got to take a cop out for Eric Garner. This is -- this is why this person was motivated to do this. There's no doubt in my mind. I was a detective for 27 years and, believe me, that was definitely in this man's mind.
That went on for hours. And this is what's been going on on Fox, in case you were wondering.

I get that the police are under pressure by the public in the wake of all these shootings of unarmed black men. But what a bunch of hysterical, immature people they are demonstrating themselves to be in reaction, particularly in contrast to the way the Las Vegas police dealt with a similar situation. (I won't even bring up the racial elephant in the room --- that should be obvious to anyone looking at the difference in these two stories.) But no matter what, being able to take pressure is in the job description of a police officer and this public acting out by petulantly demanding apologies from  football players and turning their backs on politicians is more evidence to everyone with any sense that way too many police are frighteningly unprofessional. I'm sure they don't like the criticism they get. Nobody does. But if what they're looking for is respect, this is hardly the way to go about it.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Sam Brownback's supply-side snake oil continues to fail miserably

by David Atkins

Judging by the last election, Kansas just can't get enough of this type of failure:

The new Kansas jobs numbers were released Friday morning, bringing horrible news to state taxpayers and Gov. Sam Brownback.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the total number of nonfarm jobs in Kansas fell by 4,100 in November.

Kansas’ disturbing experience was at odds with how much of the rest of the country did. A total of 37 other states gained in employment in November, while only 13 others, including Kansas, dropped.

Missouri boosted employment by 4,500 in November, for instance, while Oklahoma gained 3,400 jobs. Two other neighbors, Nebraska and Colorado, were among the job losers, though not close to the number shredded in Kansas.

What’s this all mean?

The figures show it’s going to be even tougher for Brownback — after pushing through excessive income tax cuts — to make up for the hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenues from those reductions. They took effect in 2013.

The Kansas Legislature and Brownback already knew they were going to have a rough time figuring out how to slash a staggering $648 million from the next fiscal year’s projected budget of just over $6 billion. That work starts in January.

But if Kansas is not creating lots of new jobs — which the tax cuts were supposed to help do — the state budget could be in even bigger trouble than is now recognized.
Supply-side economics is a proven failure. It simply does not work as advertised. Deficits increase, jobs decrease, and the only people who do better are the very rich.

But some good may come of Kansas' suffering. They can serve as an object lesson to the rest of the country about just what happens when you let conservatives have their way with the economy. It's an unmitigated disaster.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Your little darlings are their cash cows

by Tom Sullivan

Nicholas Kristof provides an opening this morning to spend more time discussing education with his celebration of Conor Bohan, founder of a college scholarship program for Haitian students: the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP).
“Education works,” Bohan said simply. “Good education works for everybody, everywhere. It worked for you, for me, and it works for Haitians.”
It's a noble effort. But it's the attack on public education in this country that gets under my skin. Kristof explains why:
Over time, I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves — whether in America or abroad. Yet, as a nation, we underinvest in education, both domestically and overseas. So, in this holiday season, I’d suggest a moment to raise a glass and celebrate those who spread the transformative gift of education.
A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!
Education corrodes extremism is a pretty concise explanation for why Wall Street has joined forces with the religious right in this country in a cynical effort to undermine public education under the rubric of "choice." For the Big Money Boyz, the "education market is ripe for disruption." Education reform is about mining public education and transferring as much as possible of that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars to the investor class by expanding charter schools. For the religious right, it's about shielding their kids from knowledge they perceive as in conflict with their religious views. Like other fundamentalists, they want to keep modernism at bay. Because freedom. And because they resent having their tax dollars fund public education and not their religious schools.

Whether you're James Dobson, Charles Koch, or the Taliban, education corrodes extremism, and we can't have that.

At the Education Opportunity Network, Jeff Bryant offers a detailed, year-end roundup of vulture capitalism's predations. It's been a big year for charter school scandals:
Here and there, stories emerged: a charter school trying to open up inside the walls of a gated community while a closed one continued to get over $2 million in taxpayer funds. Stories about charter operators being found guilty of embezzling thousands of taxpayer dollars turned into other stories about operators stealing even more thousands of dollars, which turned into even more stories about operators stealing over a million dollars.
While some charter schools schemed to steer huge percentages of their money away from instruction toward management salaries and property leases (to firms connected to the charter owners, of course), others worked the system to make sure fewer students with special needs were in their classrooms. Then the steady drip-drip from local news sources turned into a fire hose in May when a blockbuster report released by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy revealed, “Fraudulent charter operators in 15 states are responsible for losing, misusing, or wasting over $100 million in taxpayer money.”
The report, “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” combed through news stories, criminal records, and other documents to find hundreds of cases of charter school operators embezzling funds, using tax dollars to illegally support other, non-educational businesses, taking public dollars for services they didn’t provide, inflating their enrollment numbers to boost revenues, and putting children in potential danger by foregoing safety regulations or withholding service.
That's just a sampling.

As I keep saying about the new "education industry":
The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.
Your little darlings are their cash cows.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Night At The Movies

Dennis Hartley is off this week having his knee replaced. So I'm re-running this Christmas movie post from a few years back.

Somewhat naughty and not so nice

By Dennis Hartley

Not the Coca-Cola Santa: Rare Exports

It’s official. I now have a new favorite Christmas movie. John Carpenter’s The Thing meets Miracle on 34th St. in Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a wickedly clever Yule story that spices up the usual holiday family movie recipe by folding in generous dollops of sci-fi, horror, and Norse legend. The twist here is that our protagonist, a young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) not only believes that Santa Claus is, in fact, real, but that he is buried just beyond the back 40 of his dad’s reindeer ranch, where some American archeologists are excavating a mysterious promontory. After bizarre and troubling events begin to plague the sleepy hamlet where Pietari lives, it looks that Santa may have just been “resting”. And if this is the mythical Santa Pietari suspects, then he is more Balrog than eggnog…and is best left undisturbed.

The director also works a sly anti-consumerist polemic into his narrative. Pietra’s dad (Jorma Tommila) and his fellow reindeer hunters-who are more chagrinned that the saturnine Santa is threatening their livelihood by slaughtering all the reindeer than by the fact that he is also methodically kidnapping the village children and spiriting them away to an undisclosed location, manage to capture him, and then demand a “ransom” from the corporate weasel who, for his own nefarious reasons, is funding the archeological dig. In the meantime, a legion of Santa’s nasty little “helpers” are running amuck and wreaking havoc. Pietari, the only one keeping a cool head, just wants to enjoy a nice quiet Christmas with dad-even if he has to transform into a midget version of Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness to rescue the children (and save the farm, in a manner of speaking).

There’s nothing “cute” about this film, yet it’s by no means mean-spirited, either. It is an off-beat, darkly funny, and wholly original treat for moviegoers hungry for a fresh alternative to the 999th lifetime viewing of It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. Speaking as someone who lived for many years within a day’s drive of the Arctic Circle, the film also perfectly captures the stark beauty of midwinter in the far Northern Hemisphere; especially that uniquely dichotomous sense of both soothing tranquility and alien desolation that it can bring to one’s soul. And for god’s sake-let Santa rest in peace.

Holiday dispirited: Bad Santa Female TroubleThe RefThe Lion in WinterThe Rocking Horse WinnerMonty Python's Life Of BrianGo Trading PlacesNightmare Before ChristmasChristmas On MarsThe MatadorThe French ConnectionThe Curse of the Cat PeopleTokyo GodfathersLess Than ZeroIn Bruges Roger & MeSanta Claus Conquers the MartiansGremlins Elves ScroogedJack Frost (1997),You Better Watch OutSilent Night, Deadly NightBlack Christmas.

Previous posts with related themes:

What Would Jesus Buy?

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