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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Eight months ago this happened

by digby

Hard to believe:

WASHINGTON — A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

Just a little friendly reminder ... Carry on.
That time Bill Cosby blamed rape on rap music

by digby

Back in 2005, I was appalled by Cosby's judgmental blatherings about the failing of black culture on Meet the Press one morning. When I went back to look at the transcript, this came up:

MR. COSBY: But you see, when youth does that, you have to understand that youth—these are, these are kids, they, they don’t have the responsibilities that, that we have. They don’t have to have a job. They don’t have to support a family. They don’t have to buy insurance. They—so they’re, they’re free-forming and they’re freewheeling.

It’s the people who make these records. It’s the, it’s the guy in the boardroom. I have another friend of mine who said to me, “I, I write rap lyrics.” He said, “And I went to a man”—I mean, “I went to work, and the guy said, the executive said to me, ‘I want lyrics about rape. Rape is good.’” He said, “And I looked at the guy, and I said, ‘You’re talking about my mother.’ And the guy said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to write it, then I’ll get somebody else who will.’” But, see, all these things, this dopamine-raising level.

The whole interview was pretty awful. Sometimes I wonder if Cosby took quaaludes himself before he went on TV.

All American torture #yeswedothattoo

by digby

This piece about the years long torture regime in Chicago --- and the fight for reparations for those who had suffered under it:
The 20-year reign of police torture that was orchestrated by Commander Jon Burge—and implicated former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a myriad of high ranking police and prosecutorial officials—has haunted Chicago for decades. In These Times has covered Burge and the movement to achieve a modicum of justice for his victims very closely over the years (you can read our past coverage here, here, here, here, and here). Finally, on May 6, 2015, in response to a movement that has spanned a generation, the Chicago City Council formally recognized this sordid history by passing historic legislation that provides reparations to the survivors of police torture in Chicago.

The achievement was monumental. And given that [June 26 was] the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, it seems like an apt time to reflect on the history of this movement—and how it won.
It's a great piece, highly recommended.

But remember. They still torture:
The four men were split up and placed in small, separate rooms that were the size of office cubicles. It was a steamy summer day, and Wright was sweating profusely at Homan; he believes the police either turned the heat on, or turned the air conditioning off, to sweat him out. “When we first got in there it was room-temperature, and before he [a Chicago police officer] left, he was like, ‘It’s gon’ get a little hot in here,’” says Hutcherson, now 29.

For six hours, a sweaty Wright sat zip-tied to a bench with no access to a restroom, a telephone or water. “They strapped me — like across, kind of — to a bench, and my hands were strapped on both sides of me,” he says. “I can’t even scratch my face.” When Wright first arrived at Homan, he was left alone for a while in the hot room. Wright asked the police if he could call his mother, but instead, various police officers came “in and out. They were badgering me with questions. ‘Tell me about this murder!’” one officer shouted. Wright provided his interrogator with false information and names, with the hope of making it stop. He told me he was “trying to get out of the situation and give them something they wanted.”

Meanwhile, Hutcherson — also shackled to a bench — was being interrogated in another room. “He [a Chicago police officer] gets up, walking toward me,” Hutcherson alleges. “I already know what’s finna happen. I brace myself, and he hit me a little bit and then take his foot and stepped on my groin.” According to Hutcherson, the officer struck him two or three times in the face before kicking his penis.
Siska has known about the goings-on at Homan “since about the mid- to late-2000s.” Siska also said that most of those detained at Homan are poor, black and brown people suspected of street crimes. When I asked why reporters haven’t covered the abuses allegedly occurring there, Siska replied with a slight chuckle, “That’s the million dollar question. The problem is a lot of reporters agree with the police perspective.”

There are no white terrorists

by digby

... because we're good and they're evil, apparently:

Only 41 percent of American adults believe the shooter at Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, S.C. should be charged with terrorism, according to a CNN and ORC International poll. 
The shooter, Dylann Roof, killed nine African-American church goers last month in an attack that targeted a community based on their race. Roof’s wrote in his manifesto before committing the crime:

I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.

Despite his motivations, the majority of Americans polled said that the act should not be considered terrorism. Another picture emerges however if the poll is broken down by race, with 55 percent of black Americans believing that Roof’s actions deserve the terrorism label as opposed to just 37 percent of white Americans.

The fact that black Americans were the subject of the attacks and that the attacker was white will have resonated strongly with those respective communities. “People of color felt more affected and victimized by it. To them it was an act of terror which can then be seen as terrorism, where as white people saw it as an act of racial discrimination,” Dr. Priscilla Dass-Brailsford, Chair of the International Psychology program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Washington, D.C. and an adjunct at Georgetown University, told ThinkProgress by phone.

Even the head of the FBI didn't see Charleston as a political act which is why treating "terrorism" as a special crime, the way we do, with all the resources devoted to it, the civil liberties exemptions and longer sentences is such a crock.

Some Senators are questioning this:
A handful of Senate Democrats are pushing for hearings on domestic terrorism following last month’s shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

“We urge you to hold hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the threat posed by domestic terrorism and homegrown hate groups. In the past, mass violence in our country has been explained away as an act of insanity to be treated as a mental health issue. What we saw in South Carolina is about hate, and it is about evil,” the six senators wrote to Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-IA). The group of senators include Patrick Leahy (VT), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee; Dick Durbin (IL); Richard Blumenthal (CT); Dianne Feinstein (CA); Chris Coons (DE) and Al Franken (MN).
As long as the huge majority of white people in this country cannot even contemplate the idea that white people might be terrorists, I doubt this will go anywhere.

There is another way to deal with this, of course. We could dial back all the terror-mongering and call these events "crimes", whatever the motivations, the way we used to. That would hamper our ability to fearmonger about Muslims coming to kill us all in our beds and make it more difficult to throw the constitution out the window whenever we choose, but it is one solution.


Greece and the European Project: What's Next?

by Gaius Publius

The State Department's Victoria Nuland explains to Greek President Tsipras that there are certain lines he won't be permitted to cross.

When it comes to coverage of the Greek crisis, there's no better source than Naked Capitalism. I'm going to quote from three recent (post-election) pieces hosted there, along with my own comments.

First, for the overview, something written by Joseph Stiglitz summarizes the situation going into the election perfectly. As quoted here, Stiglitz writes this about Greece (my emphasis everywhere):

Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy

The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.

Fast recap: After the crash of 2008, the government of Greece found itself increasingly unable to pay the interest on its debt. A crisis occurred in 2010 and again in 2012. A great deal of that debt was held outside the country and in private hands (think German and French banks, hedge funds, and the like).

The reasons for this inability to repay are many, only a few of which were the fault of the Greeks themselves. The worst of the Greek internal problems is the corruption of the Greek elite class, who have made tax evasion an art form. After the recession, the country went increasingly into recession and then depression, the economy shrank, and government revenues became insufficient to meet all demands on it. Various Greek governments have sought loans from the European "troika" as defined above, and those loans were granted, but with many cruel strings.

In a triangular arrangement, the troika would insure that the Greeks had enough money not to default on bankers and hedge funds (etc.), but in exchange the Greeks had to agree to "run a primary surplus" (have more revenue than expenses), cut spending drastically, including on social services and pensions, and sell off private property, like their airports.

Doing this allowed the troika — an assembly of European public elites very much allied with private elites like the aforementioned bankers — to accomplish two goals:

  • Bail out all at-risk bankers and other investors with public money, so no big investor loses on a loan.

    Stiglitz: "We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece."
  • Advance the privatizing "neo-liberal project" in which everything owned by any country should be converted into a source of private profit (think Shock Doctrine in New Orleans and the privatization of the public school system).

    Stiglitz: "Many European leaders want to see the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate."

For Western neo-liberal elites, that's a win-win. The only way this plan would fail is if Greece failed to knuckle under. Greece tried to knuckle under, but it hurt so much that they elected a "leftist," anti-austerity government, and the elites took offense (thus Stiglitz's analysis of the troika response as an attack on Greek democracy). The new leftist government also tried to knuckle under, but the demands became too great (and the government too wishy-washy).

So a referendum on the latest austerity offer was called, the Greek people rejected it 61%–39%, and here we are. The remaining choices are to default on the debt or to borrow on terms less punitive. In case of a default on some or all of it — in the business world, that's called a "restructuring via bankruptcy," but morality-neutral language applies only to corporate behavior — the Greek depression will continue, Greece may leave the E.U., and it seems increasingly likely that the drachma will return, perhaps first in an intermediate form, such as government IOUs.

Again, here we are. It's post-referendum, Greek banks are still closed as of last report, and ATMs are running out of money to dispense. For a look at the state of the Greece economy just prior to the referendum, Naked Capitalism offers this report. It's painful reading.

What comes next? Hard-hearted Germans and regime-changing Americans? Could well be.

Eurozone Leaders May Further Harden Their Hard Hearts

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism on the way European (and German) elites are handling this rejection:

[D]espite the responses of media outlets and many pundits that the Eurocrats will have to beeat a retreat and offer Greece concessions, it’s not clear that this event strengthens the Greek government’s hand with its counterparties. Remember, Tsipras enjoyed popularity ratings of as high as 80% and has always retained majority support in polls. And it’s all too easy to forget that “the creditors” are not Merkel, Hollande, Lagarde and Draghi. The biggest group of “creditors” are taxpayers of the 18 other countries of the Eurozone. The ugly design of the Eurozone means that the sort of relief that Greece wants most, a reduction in the face amount of its debt (as opposed to the sort of reduction they’ve gotten, which is in economic value, via reductions in interest rates and extensions of maturities) puts the interest of those voters directly at odds with those in Greece. Our understanding is that a reduction in principal amount, under the perverse budgetary and accounting rules of the Eurozone, would result in those losses showing up as losses for budget purposes, now. They would need to be funded by increased taxes. Thus a reduction in austerity for Greece, via a debt writeoff, simply transfers austerity from Greece to other countries. It’s not hard to see why they won’t go for that. And Eurozone rules require unanimous decisions.

Even though the ruling coalition had said it wanted to restart negotiations immediately upon getting a “no” vote, the lenders have asked Greece to send a new proposal, apparently deeming the one it submitted on June 30 to be out of date. It’s doubtful anything will happen before the Eurogroup meeting tomorrow [July 7].

The remarks from European leaders have been mixed.Among those mixed responses, Smith notes these. First, from Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem:
I take note of the outcome of the Greek referendum. This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece.

For recovery of the Greek economy, difficult measures and reforms are inevitable. We will now wait for the initiatives of the Greek authorities.

And via the Financial Times, this from a high German government official:
Sigmar Gabriel, deputy German chancellor, said Mr Tsipras had “torn down the last bridges on which Greece and Europe could have moved towards a compromise”.

“With the rejection of the rules of the eurozone … negotiations about a programme worth billions are barely conceivable,” he told Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Shorter Eurozone: "The beatings will continue..." Good luck with that. The meetings will also continue, in what looks like a month of failed incremental half steps that nevertheless march to the sea.

And the American Reaction? Failed State or Vladimir Putin

Obama's U.S. government has been noticeably quiet as this plays out, but with Putin on their minds, you have to know they have thoughts. Smith on what some of those thoughts might be:
Nuland’s Nemesis: Will Greece Be Destroyed to Save Her From Russia, Like Ukraine?

Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have been far more quiet than you’d expect given their attentiveness to the needs of the investing classes and the threat that protracted wrangling with Greece might pose to that. Of course, they might believe that Draghi’s bazooka is more effective than Hank Paulson’s proved to be in the runup to the final phase of the financial crisis. But John Helmer indicates below that the Greek referendum has intensified the Administration’s interest in regime change in Greece. He confirms what we’d noticed, that Putin has been quite pointedly avoided being seen as meddling in Greece now; he can always pick up any pieces later. Also note that the anti-Greek government interests have connections to Hillary Clinton.
 The rest of Smith's piece is an essay by John Helmer, "the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties" (full credits at the link). He starts:
A putsch in Athens to save allied Greece from enemy Russia is in preparation by the US and Germany, with backing from the non-taxpayers of Greece – the Greek oligarchs, Anglo-Greek shipowners, and the Greek Church.
You really want to read that twice. He's not speculating, but asserting. Then he continues:
At the highest and lowest level of Greek government, and from Thessaloniki to Milvorni, all Greeks understand what is happening. Yesterday they voted overwhelmingly to resist. According to a high political figure in Athens, a 40-year veteran, “what is actually happening is a slow process of regime change.”

Until Sunday afternoon it was a close-run thing. The Yes and No votes were equally balanced, and the margin between them razor thin. At the start of the morning, Rupert Murdoch’s London Times claimed “Greek security forces have drawn up a secret plan to deploy the army alongside special riot police to contain possible civil unrest after today’s referendum on the country’s future in Europe. Codenamed Nemesis, it makes provision for troops to patrol large cities if there is widespread and prolonged public disorder. Details of the plan emerged as polls showed the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps neck and neck.” Greek officers don’t speak to the Murdoch press; British and US government agents do.

“It was neck to neck until 3 pm,” reports the political veteran in Athens, “then the young started voting.”

Can the outcome — the 61% to 39% referendum vote, with a 22% margin for Οχι (No) which the New York Times calls “shocking” and a “victory [that] settled little” – defeat Operation Nemesis? Will the new Axis – the Americans and the Germans – attack again, as the Germans did after the first Greek Οχι of October 28, 1940, defeated the Italian invasion?
The U.S., via the State Department's Victoria Nuland, has been deeply involved, according to Helmer, both with Operation Nemesis and with warning off Tsipras. Helmer again:
What Nuland [photo at top] was doing with her hands is in the small print of the release. She told Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) not to break ranks with the NATO allies against Russia. “Because of the increasing rounds of aggression in eastern Ukraine” she reportedly said the US is “very gratified that we’ve had solidarity between the EU and the U.S., and that Greece has played its role in helping to build consensus.”

Nuland also warned Tsipras not to default on its debts to Germany, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Tsipras was told “to make a good deal with the institutions”. The referendum Tsipras called on June 27 was a surprise for Nuland. The nemesis in Operation Nemesis is the retribution planned for that display of Greek hubris.
All of this loops the Greek story into the Ukraine story, which most people still don't realize isn't just about Putin, though that makes a convenient (and cartoonish) Us vs. The Villain cautionary tale. It's about continuing the ... yes, neo-liberal project ... deeper into eastern Europe.

There's much more at the Naked Capitalism link, and it makes fascinating reading. Also, there's more about Victoria Nuland and her apparent revelations about U.S. meddling in Ukraine as well. Here's one relatively staid write-up; the google has many more.

The Hillary Clinton Connection

Yves Smith noted in her introduction to this piece that there was a Hillary Clinton connection. Near the bottom, after working through the myriad of corporate- and billionaire-funded think tanks (funding which comes from much of the real wealth of Greece, its predatory shipping billionaires), he notes this:
[Robert] Kaplan’s think-tank in Washington [Center for New American Security] reports that its funding comes from well-known military equipment suppliers, US oil companies, the governments of Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore; NATO; the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force; plus George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Chief executive of CNAS is Michele Flournoy, a founder of the think-tank which is serving as her platform to run for the next Secretary of Defense, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election next year. Flournoy is one of the drafters of a recent plan for the US to escalate arms and troop reinforcements in Ukraine and along the Russian frontier with the Baltic states. Here’s her plan for “What the United States and NATO Must Do” . For more on Flournoy, read this.
I personally have no trouble assigning Hillary Clinton, whatever else her virtues, to an inner circle of the "privatizing neo-liberal project," as previously noted here and here and here. Victoria Nuland is a State Department warrior when it comes to advancing that project, and CNAS is as well. For CNAS, the ties to the military-industrial complex are clear, implying military means — "boots on the ground," though preferably boots filled with other nations' soldiers.

Watch the name of that think tank — CNAS. It's come up before and will do again, especially if Clinton is elected president. Also, watch for the name Michele Flournoy. If she does become Secretary of Defense, she'll be sold as the "first woman Secretary of Defense" so you can cheer her on through confirmation.

Bottom Line — Remaking the World

There are two ways to look at the bottom line noted above. First, from the point of view of the Western ruling classes, the high-level servants of the neo-liberal project, the "war" in Greece is a war they feel they can win (by forcing regime change in the face of crushing economic chaos), or at least drive to a stalemate. I suspect they feel good, on the march, that they continue to remake the world. That's certainly the tone coming from the European elites quoted above, like Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Sigmar Gabriel.

But from the point of view of the Greeks and the resistance to Shock Docrine-style neo-liberal takeover, it's possible that the "standstill" in Greece will widen cracks in the glued-together European Union that will break apart Europe itself. That will remake the world.

As David Dayen, generally not given to editorials, put it in a piece called "The end of Europe as we know it":
[In the Euro or Drachma decision] I put myself firmly on Team Drachma ...

Eurozone nations don’t want to really stick together. The northern countries (read Germany) don’t want to pay for whom they regard as lazy, profligate southern countries; conversely, the southern countries don’t want to take dictation on their national policies. So the wars never really ended, they just transferred to the economic sphere, substituting bombs with bonds.

A No vote, therefore, reveals to European citizens an escape hatch, a way out of a terribly misbegotten currency union. The euro would no longer be irreversible.
I recently wrote that TPP was the biggest hot story in the country, and Greece was the biggest cold story. The cold story in Greece has just warmed up.



One can only hope

by Tom Sullivan

In his post-Greek referendum analysis, Howard Fineman sees echoes of the past:

It’s a new echo on a global scale of the politics of a much earlier, but in some ways remarkably similar, era in the U.S. As the U.S. became a continental economy in the late 19th century, with vast new hordes of wealth built in railroads, coal, electricity and communications, a political backlash arose. The new “money power” was judged too big and uncontrollable: an engine not of prosperity, but of inequality and corruption. The backlash launched America's Progressive movement, which among other reforms pushed laws to rein in the power of big corporations in the interests of ordinary people.

Now that the planet’s economies have essentially become one, and the world’s top dozen banks control $30 trillion in assets, the callous demands of a new and even larger “money power” is starting to spark a worldwide backlash.

The International Monetary Fund, writes Fineman, has become since its founding "something akin to a collection agency" for private banks. Still, it is not clear yet whether the backlash Fineman sees is real or apparent.

The corruption of democracy by this system (or perhaps the subjugation of democracy to it) is beginning to filter into the public consciousness. When TV stations in Georgia start doing investigations of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), opinion is beginning to move. The ugliness of this system is becoming ever more apparent to the public at large.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Fasten your seatbelts

by digby

Ian Millhiser says the Roberts Court is looking for redemption:
Something very unusual happened at the nation’s highest Court this year. The justices adjourned for their summer vacation and liberals were left feeling pretty good about the just-completed Supreme Court term. Marriage discrimination is dead, and Obamacare is alive. America’s civil rights laws were left largely intact, and state election laws were not cast into turmoil.

As we’ve explained, many of these outcomes most likely stem from conservative overreach — litigants looking to disrupt progressive legislation brought long shot cases because they were encouraged by the Roberts Court’s record of conservatism and decided to “press their luck.”

In any event, it is unlikely that liberals will feel the same way about the next Supreme Court term as they do about this recently completed one. Based on two major cases that the Court has already agreed to hear, and a third that is likely to be added to the Court’s docket this fall, next term is shaping up to be a much more conventional term rife with longtime conservative boogie men waiting to be slain by the Court’s right flank.

The cases have to do with abortion rights, affirmative action and unions. If those cases are decided by the conservatives it will not be a good year for liberals. On the other hand, it will "clarify" certain things before the election for some very important liberal constituencies.


Scott Walker deploys a moldy old trick

by digby

Walkers wife Tonette Walker was asked about gay marriage:

Gay marriage in particular is an issue where the family has clear differences. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage, Walker put out a statement calling that a “grave mistake” and called for a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban it if it’s the will of the voters.

And as Tonette Walker reveals, her sons Matt and Alex weren’t terribly happy about their father’s statements.

She explains, “That was a hard one. Our sons were disappointed… I was torn. I have children who are very passionate [in favor of same-sex marriage], and Scott was on his side very passionate.”

This was a method deployed successfully by Republicans for years when their wives would tell the press that they differed from their husbands on some thorny social issue thus allowing them to have it both ways. It's cheap.

Walker, however, had better be carefu.l He needs the Christian Right very badly and I don't know if they're going to fall for it this time. They're feeling insecure. It helps that he's gone full wingnut on abortion, which is their true north, but he shouldn't get too cute. They're watching his every move.


QOTD: Krugman

by digby

He's said it many times before, but it's never been more apt than right now:
The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding.
That's austerity in a nutshell.

Seal up the border "north, south, east and west"

by digby

So, from what I'm gathering on the news channels, the fact an undocumented immigrant criminal allegedly killed a stranger for no reason means that we can close the book on this debate (He says it was an accident but you can't believe anything those people say...) It's done. Donald Trump was rightWe'll just send all the undocumented immigrants back to Mexico (or wherever --- does it matter?) and then we won't have any more murders. So that's good.

Here's Dr. Ben Carson on the subject:

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson chalked the uproar over Donald Trump‘s controversial comments on Mexicans and illegal immigration to political correctness gone mad.

“It’s the P.C. police out in force,” Carson told the Caller’s Alex Pappas. “They want to make very clear that this is a topic you’re not supposed to bring up.”

“It will be interesting to see what their reaction is to the shooting in San Francisco,” Carson said, in reference to the murder of a San Francisco woman by a man in the country illegally, despite having seven felony convictions to his name.

“What we really need to be talking about is how do we take care of our illegal immigration problem,” he said. “I’ve talked about that extensively. And the key thing is we have to secure all our borders—north, south, east and west.”

We will build a wall all around us! It will be a thousand feet tall, rising from the Pacific and the Atlantic and it will keep us safe forever!

Oh wait. What about the nuclear bombs? I know, we can build Star Wars silos in the thousand feet wall to shoot down anything that looks dangerous, including nuclear bombs! That's the ticket!

Then we will all live happily ever after.

The Clinton Rules from the inside

by digby

I can hardly believe my eyes, but here is political reporter Jonathan Allen validating what some of us have been saying for a couple of decades in this piece called Confessions of a Clinton reporter: The media's 5 unspoken rules for covering Hillary

1) Everything, no matter how ludicrous-sounding, is worthy of a full investigation by federal agencies, Congress, the "vast right-wing conspiracy," and mainstream media outlets

2) Every allegation, no matter how ludicrous, is believable until it can be proven completely and utterly false. And even then, it keeps a life of its own in the conservative media world.

3) The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise.

4) Everything is newsworthy because the Clintons are the equivalent of America's royal family

5) Everything she does is fake and calculated for maximum political benefit

There's a whole lot to it and he helpfully documents many examples that prove his point, but it comes down to this:
The Clinton rules are driven by reporters' and editors' desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family's political empire. At least in that way, Republicans and the media have a common interest.

I wrote about this recently at Salon in this piece, characterizing their obsession as Ahab-like. It started out as payback for Watergate back in the day.  And then it just took on a life of its own.

This piece shows that at least some members of the press have an awareness of this dynamic. I don't know if it will make them question themselves.


Who's your debtor?

by digby

I thought this was an interesting tweet yesterday:

This interview with Thomas Piketty puts it all in perspective:

DIE ZEIT: Should we Germans be happy that even the French government is aligned with the German dogma of austerity?

Thomas Piketty: Absolutely not. This is neither a reason for France, nor Germany, and especially not for Europe, to be happy. I am much more afraid that the conservatives, especially in Germany, are about to destroy Europe and the European idea, all because of their shocking ignorance of history.

ZEIT: But we Germans have already reckoned with our own history.

Piketty: But not when it comes to repaying debts! Germany’s past, in this respect, should be of great significance to today’s Germans. Look at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted. The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem. There have been many ways to repay debts, and not just one, which is what Berlin and Paris would have the Greeks believe.

“Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.”
ZEIT: But shouldn’t they repay their debts?

Piketty: My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.

ZEIT: But surely we can’t draw the conclusion that we can do no better today?

Piketty: When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.

ZEIT: Are you trying to depict states that don’t pay back their debts as winners?

Piketty: Germany is just such a state. But wait: history shows us two ways for an indebted state to leave delinquency. One was demonstrated by the British Empire in the 19th century after its expensive wars with Napoleon. It is the slow method that is now being recommended to Greece. The Empire repaid its debts through strict budgetary discipline. This worked, but it took an extremely long time. For over 100 years, the British gave up two to three percent of their economy to repay its debts, which was more than they spent on schools and education. That didn’t have to happen, and it shouldn’t happen today. The second method is much faster. Germany proved it in the 20th century. Essentially, it consists of three components: inflation, a special tax on private wealth, and debt relief.

ZEIT: So you’re telling us that the German Wirtschaftswunder [“economic miracle”] was based on the same kind of debt relief that we deny Greece today?

Piketty: Exactly. After the war ended in 1945, Germany’s debt amounted to over 200% of its GDP. Ten years later, little of that remained: public debt was less than 20% of GDP. Around the same time, France managed a similarly artful turnaround. We never would have managed this unbelievably fast reduction in debt through the fiscal discipline that we today recommend to Greece. Instead, both of our states employed the second method with the three components that I mentioned, including debt relief. Think about the London Debt Agreement of 1953, where 60% of German foreign debt was cancelled and its internal debts were restructured.

“We need a conference on all of Europe’s debts, just like after World War II. A restructuring of all debt, not just in Greece but in several European countries, is inevitable.”
ZEIT: That happened because people recognized that the high reparations demanded of Germany after World War I were one of the causes of the Second World War. People wanted to forgive Germany’s sins this time!

Piketty: Nonsense! This had nothing to do with moral clarity; it was a rational political and economic decision. They correctly recognized that, after large crises that created huge debt loads, at some point people need to look toward the future. We cannot demand that new generations must pay for decades for the mistakes of their parents. The Greeks have, without a doubt, made big mistakes. Until 2009, the government in Athens forged its books. But despite this, the younger generation of Greeks carries no more responsibility for the mistakes of its elders than the younger generation of Germans did in the 1950s and 1960s. We need to look ahead. Europe was founded on debt forgiveness and investment in the future. Not on the idea of endless penance. We need to remember this.

ZEIT: The end of the Second World War was a breakdown of civilization. Europe was a killing field. Today is different.

Piketty: To deny the historical parallels to the postwar period would be wrong. Let’s think about the financial crisis of 2008/2009. This wasn’t just any crisis. It was the biggest financial crisis since 1929. So the comparison is quite valid. This is equally true for the Greek economy: between 2009 and 2015, its GDP has fallen by 25%. This is comparable to the recessions in Germany and France between 1929 and 1935.

ZEIT: Many Germans believe that the Greeks still have not recognized their mistakes and want to continue their free-spending ways.

Piketty: If we had told you Germans in the 1950s that you have not properly recognized your failures, you would still be repaying your debts. Luckily, we were more intelligent than that.

ZEIT: The German Minister of Finance, on the other hand, seems to believe that a Greek exit from the Eurozone could foster greater unity within Europe.

Piketty: If we start kicking states out, then the crisis of confidence in which the Eurozone finds itself today will only worsen. Financial markets will immediately turn on the next country. This would be the beginning of a long, drawn-out period of agony, in whose grasp we risk sacrificing Europe’s social model, its democracy, indeed its civilization on the altar of a conservative, irrational austerity policy.

ZEIT: Do you believe that we Germans aren’t generous enough?

Piketty: What are you talking about? Generous? Currently, Germany is profiting from Greece as it extends loans at comparatively high interest rates.

ZEIT: What solution would you suggest for this crisis?

Piketty: We need a conference on all of Europe’s debts, just like after World War II. A restructuring of all debt, not just in Greece but in several European countries, is inevitable. Just now, we’ve lost six months in the completely intransparent negotiations with Athens. The Eurogroup’s notion that Greece will reach a budgetary surplus of 4% of GDP and will pay back its debts within 30 to 40 years is still on the table. Allegedly, they will reach one percent surplus in 2015, then two percent in 2016, and three and a half percent in 2017. Completely ridiculous! This will never happen. Yet we keep postponing the necessary debate until the cows come home.

ZEIT: And what would happen after the major debt cuts?

Piketty: A new European institution would be required to determine the maximum allowable budget deficit in order to prevent the regrowth of debt. For example, this could be a commmittee in the European Parliament consisting of legislators from national parliaments. Budgetary decisions should not be off-limits to legislatures. To undermine European democracy, which is what Germany is doing today by insisting that states remain in penury under mechanisms that Berlin itself is muscling through, is a grievous mistake.

“If we had told you Germans in the 1950s that you have not properly recognized your failures, you would still be repaying your debts. Luckily, we were more intelligent than that.”
ZEIT: Your president, François Hollande, recently failed to criticize the fiscal pact.

Piketty: This does not improve anything. If, in past years, decisions in Europe had been reached in more democratic ways, the current austerity policy in Europe would be less strict.

ZEIT: But no political party in France is participating. National sovereignty is considered holy.

Piketty: Indeed, in Germany many more people are entertaining thoughts of reestablishing European democracy, in contrast to France with its countless believers in sovereignty. What’s more, our president still portrays himself as a prisoner of the failed 2005 referendum on a European Constitution, which failed in France. François Hollande does not understand that a lot has changed because of the financial crisis. We have to overcome our own national egoism.

ZEIT: What sort of national egoism do you see in Germany?

Piketty: I think that Germany was greatly shaped by its reunification. It was long feared that it would lead to economic stagnation. But then reunification turned out to be a great success thanks to a functioning social safety net and an intact industrial sector. Meanwhile, Germany has become so proud of its success that it dispenses lectures to all other countries. This is a little infantile. Of course, I understand how important the successful reunification was to the personal history of Chancellor Angela Merkel. But now Germany has to rethink things. Otherwise, its position on the debt crisis will be a grave danger to Europe.

ZEIT: What advice do you have for the Chancellor?

Piketty: Those who want to chase Greece out of the Eurozone today will end up on the trash heap of history. If the Chancellor wants to secure her place in the history books, just like [Helmut] Kohl did during reunification, then she must forge a solution to the Greek question, including a debt conference where we can start with a clean slate. But with renewed, much stronger fiscal discipline.

Who is this Economic Deity Who Starves Babies?

by Spocko

Today listen, watch and read how people talking about "The Economy"

Bernie Sanders
@SenSanders I applaud the people of Greece for saying NO to more austerity for the poor, children, sick and elderly. pic.twitter.com/hoAwRDy6gl

There will be billions of bits spilled today talking about Greece and "The Economy" it's nice to see someone put people in the picture.

As my friend  Anat Shenker-Osorio says in her book, "Don't Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy."

The economy is not a force of nature. It's not the tide that raises all yachts. It is not like a tidal wave where humans can't do anything to stop it or change it.

The economy is not a deity who demands we starve our elderly and kill babies in order to be pleased.

Do we humans serve The Deity Economy or does the economy serve humans?
(I'm tempted to quote the Twilight Zone, "It's a cookbook!" )

It is not a Deity demanding more forced austerity. It's people making those demands. And it's not about people tightening their belts more. People have been hanging themselves from those austerity belts,

Do Natural People Have any Power over Corporate People?

In the second episode of Mr. Robot, Elliot the protagonist talks about  "The invisible hand that guides us all."  He knows how people are being hurt by "Evil Corp" and wants to lash out at the system.  But given the scope of the problem the hero wonders, "What's the point?"

He has to decide to act or not. And then how far to go.

The hero sees how his actions, or lack of them, will have a direct impact on him and his happiness. Does he ignore the human suffering in front of him or keep ignoring it to keep himself happy?

He might tell himself that he needs the human suffering to happen, "for the greater good," but he knows it's really his greater good first.

Will he hurt individuals who are not the guilty parties, in order to fulfill his mission of wiping out debt, and punishing Evil Corp? Is there a guiding principle to his attempts to make change where he keeps the lives of humans foremost?

All This Economy Talk Makes Me Thirsty

Today I walked by the University of Chicago the Booth School of Business the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

I also spotted this quote for Kevin Murphy. I know nothing about him except what is on this sign. "Economics is about applying some pretty basic principles to a range of areas and trying to inject a little creativity."

 I thought that was an interesting comment.  So, to echo Bernie Sanders, I ask, "What are the principles being applied?"

Part of a sense of powerless comes from how the situation is presented to us. If I see the economy as a force of nature or deity then who am I to hold back the ocean? Who am I to defy God?

If you have been fundamentally changed by the economic crisis, as I have been, it's hard to look at the world the same way. I remember the rage, the fear and the powerlessness.

I see people living their life here in Chicago as if there is a tomorrow and they might have work next week. That's nice, I'm happy for them.

  But I also remember the long cloud that, though no fault of our own, hung over the economy in our country.  I still felt responsible. Maybe I didn't worship The Economy right. Or I didn't batten down my hatches enough. Probably not enough bootstrap pulling on my part.

Yes, I have a bias about who the economy should serve. I put myself in the shoes of the Greek people. I would say I've walked a mile in their shoes, but I think they use the metric system over there.

Sanders is reminding us that God didn't create "The Economy" it was just some men in an office building somewhere. And that means that men and women can change The Economy too. They don't have to change the laws of nature either. Just the laws of men.


Grexit: The Iceland Cometh

by Tom Sullivan

The final tally was a 61-39 landslide for the No's. The Wall Street Journal and other outlets called the Greek referendum "divisive." Like Bush's 2000 win was a mandate.

All I could think of all day was Iceland. A big middle finger to creditors. Throw a few bankers in jail. It was as bracing as Iceland's winters. Less than a decade later, Iceland is doing fine, thank you, said President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson in 2013:

“Why are the banks considered to be the holy churches of the modern economy? Why are private banks not like airlines and telecommunication companies and allowed to go bankrupt if they have been run in an irresponsible way? The theory that you have to bail out banks is a theory that you allow bankers enjoy for their own profit, their success, and then let ordinary people bear their failure through taxes and austerity. People in enlightened democracies are not going to accept that in the long run.”

But Greece is not Iceland, as the Washington Post noted on Saturday – even as the authors' prediction on the vote went awry on Sunday:

The stakes are high. They are perhaps higher for Greece than they were for Iceland. While at the time the cost of accepting the repayment terms was quantifiable for Icelanders (calculated as approximately $17,000 per person), there’s no easy way to know what voting either way will mean for Greeks. The choices being put to them are costly either way and, sadly, Greece’s economic woes seem unlikely to be resolved anytime soon — even if voters say yes in the referendum. Icelanders said no to their creditors and seem now, four years later, on a sure enough economic footing again that they deliberately withdrew the application for EU membership they submitted in the midst of the Icesave crisis. Yet Greece faces a much larger, longer economic battle, even if it yields to the current bailout conditions.

Well, Greek democracy stood up to the central bank technocrats. Democracy — governance by the people — is so inconvenient for "Merkantilism" that way. The bankers, thus, have behaved like loan shark enforcers with Greece. So in a performance worthy of a Republican presidential debate, the Troika demanded the poors of Europe pay their debts in a way they wouldn't expect big banks to. Almost as if they learned that from watching Wall Street banks insist homeowners with underwater mortgages keep paying, while the banks themselves received bailouts. For me, but not for thee. Gotta keep the poors and their democracy in line or they get uppity, like Iceland, dontcha know.

Early moves in Asian markets do not indicate any panic, according to the Financial Times.

This morning, Paul Krugman responds to what the financial press (naturally) describes as a "Greek tragedy." He writes that Europe actually dodged a bullet:

Of course, that’s not the way the creditors would have you see it. Their story, echoed by many in the business press, is that the failure of their attempt to bully Greece into acquiescence was a triumph of irrationality and irresponsibility over sound technocratic advice.

But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding.

Greek voters' answer to another round of bleeding was a big middle finger.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A beautiful obituary for for Little Treasure

by digby

And it's in The Economist.(???)  Go figure:

AS SOON as she was born, Tama-chan (“Little Treasure”) knew she was divine. Most cats presume it; she was sure of it. Her immediate situation—whelped by a stray in the workers’ waiting room at Kishi station, on a rural railway line in western Japan—did not augur brightly. But as soon as her eyes opened, she saw what she was. Rolling languorously on her back, she admired her white underside; delicately twisting her neck to wash, she noted the black and brown bars on her back. She was a tortoiseshell, or a calico cat to Americans. They had been four in the litter; only she carried the propitious marks.

Tortoiseshells had long been prized in Japan. In another age she would probably have been a temple cat, leading a contemplative life among maple and ginkgo trees, killing mice and, in exchange, earning the regard of monks and pilgrims. Tales were legion of poor priests or shopkeepers who had shared their few scraps with the likes of her and had, in return, found riches. Or she might have been a ship’s cat, since tortoiseshells had the power to keep away the ghosts of the drowned, whose invisible bodies filled the sea and whose flailing, imploring hands were the white crests of the waves. But Tama, being modern, preferred trains.

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In 21st-century Japan the mystic power of her breed was still invoked everywhere. Children wore tortoiseshell charms as amulets to keep them well. Nervous students cramming for exams put pictures of cats much like her on their bedroom walls. Most ubiquitous of all, the Maneki-neko, or beckoning cat (almost always a tortoiseshell), waved outside shops, restaurants and gambling parlours to draw customers in. These plastic cats stared rudely at one and all, where she appraised people with a green-eyed and sleepy gaze; their paws sawed up and down, where she made a virtue of curled immobility. In betting places they held up big gold coins to show they could bring good fortune. With a combination of punctuality, divinity and good manners, she achieved the same.

She was trained young by her mother, Miiko, outside the grocer’s shop by Kishi station. They would laze there in the sun to bewitch passers-by into suddenly needing a bag of rice or a bottle of mirin, and in exchange the grocer, Toshiko Koyama, gave them food. The bargain seemed a good one; the grocer prospered. Tama, too, grew sleeker as she improved her powers.

From there, it was only natural that she should save Kishi station. The little halt sat on a line, nine miles long and with 12 somnolent stops, between Wakayama City and Kishigawa. By 2006 it was losing 500m yen ($4m) a year. It should have been closed, but the customers said no; so it was sold to the Wakayama Electric Railway, which laid off the last man at Kishi to try to save some money. Mr Koyama became informal station-keeper, and the next year Tama was appointed stationmaster.

A train with whiskers
She kept strict hours: 9am to 5pm on weekdays, with only Sundays off. In exchange she was given a stationmaster’s cap in her own size, always worn at a jaunty starlet angle; a stationmaster’s badge; as much tinned tuna as she could nibble at; and eventually her own office, with basket and litter-tray, in an old ticket booth. The work was not demanding; if it had been, she would have disdained to take the job. But by snoozing most of the day on the ticket barrier, or rubbing against the legs of passengers as they arrived, she increased traffic on the branch line by 10% in her first year. People would travel just to be greeted by her smooth and lucky purr.

As the years passed more and more people came to the station, and rode on the train, because of her. Tourists flocked from all over Japan. The president of the WER thought she had probably injected more than a billion yen into the local economy. In 2009 a special bewhiskered cat-train, the Tama-densha, began to run on the line, covered with cartoons of her and with her image all over the seats. The next year the station was rebuilt in the shape of her head, with dormer windows for her eyes, and a café opened up with her portrait iced on cupcakes. A shop offered Tama bags, notebooks, key-fobs and figurines.

She took all this with equanimity. According to the Japanese principle of promotion by seniority, she rose effortlessly to super-stationmaster and honorary division chief. She was made an operating officer of the WER in recognition of her contribution to profits, the first female to be so honoured, and then became company vice-president. Each step was accompanied by gatherings of her devotees, presentations of certificates and extra stripes on her cap. Coolly tolerant, she allowed herself to be dressed in a velvet cloak with lace and white plumes, and to be hoisted in the air by jubilant WER executives.

At her funeral, attended by thousands at the station, the president of the railway company announced that she would be honoured as a goddess and buried in a Shinto shrine. Honour where honour was due. Meanwhile, her deputy Nitama (“Tama the Second”) assumed her duties at the station; and the Tama-densha ambled on down the line, joined now by the Toy Train and the Strawberry Train, as her worshippers in suits continued to follow the moneymaking path pointed out by the beckoning cat of Kishi, Tama the Divine.

I am a cat worshipper myself, so this has special resonance ...


A kickstarter for the penguin

by digby

This is necessary:

It's This Modern World's 25th anniversary -- and I want to celebrate by publishing a two-volume compilation of ALL THE CARTOONS!

Click over for the video.

He's always right:

QOTD: A bunch of founders

by digby

This is from a "Daily Kos Classic" (which I get in my email --- you can subscribe too.) I thought it was apropos:

“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”
- George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia (1789)

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.”
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr (1787)

"In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind.”
- Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (1771)

“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.”
- Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791)

“Congress has no power to make any religious establishments.”
- Roger Sherman, Congress (1789)

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack (1758)

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people build a wall of separation between Church & State."
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802)

"To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."
- Thomas Paine, The American Crisis No. V (1776)

“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
- Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779)

"Christian establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects."
- James Madison, letter to William Bradford, Jr. (1774)

"There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
- George Washington, address to Congress (1790)

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
- James Madison, General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (1785)

Agree with their sentiments or not, you simply cannot say that the founders thought they were explicitly founding a Christian nation.

Fair and balanced terrorism

by digby

Eric Boehlert wrote about Fox News' self-serving definition of what constitutes "terrorism" and what doesn't:

And Media Matters has also been shining a spotlight on the fact that not only does Fox News downplay homegrown acts of right-wing, anti-government and white supremacist violence, treating them as rogue, isolated events (if covering the events at all), they also hype beyond proportion and common sense attacks by Muslims in America.

That attack mode allows Fox to accuse President Obama of being “soft” on Islamic terror. (Obama’s administration is too “politically correct.”) It also lets Fox advocate for bugging mosques and eliminatingother Constitutional rights. Recall that it was on Fox that viewers were told, “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”

Right-wing violence? Fox News doesn’t recognize a clear and present danger.

That double standard was on display this week when Megyn Kelly devoted almost her entire Fox News program Wednesday night to an interview with Traci Johnson, who was attacked last year by a co-worker at Vaughan Foods processing plant in Moore, Oklahoma. The attacker was Alton Nolen who had been recently been fired over racial comments. Nolen then went home and retrieved a large kitchen knife. He returned to the workplace and began attacking his former co-workers. He beheaded one woman and injured Johnson before he was shot by a company official. Nolen later confessed to the attack.

Fox News immediately led the right-wing charge to declare the Vaughan Foods attack to be an act of ISIS-like terror. (Nolen was a recent convert to Islam.) Devoting an extraordinary amount of TV time to wildly hyping the crime, Fox hosts like Kelly and Sean Hannity created special programming to cover the story. (i.e. “Terror In The Heartland.”)

But in the end, law enforcement found no evidence that Alton’s killing was terror-related, and labeled the killing a workplace attack. Appearing on Fox News after the attack, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that, while Nolen “was looking at the extremist ideology,” “there is no evidence at this point that he was directed by a terrorist organization to do what he did or that that was the principle motivating factor.” The FBI also found no links to terrorism.

Yet there was Kelly this week – months after the crimes — speaking over ominous background music and once again suggesting the Moore, Oklahoma attack had been the product of “radicalized” terror. In other words, Fox has been reduced to creating incidents of Islamic terror in the United States, while at the same time Fox plays down glaring examples of deadly right-wing violence.

The steady pattern of those political attacks may be one reason the Department of Homeland Security this yearissued an intelligence report warning about the rising right-wing terror threat. Fox News immediately objected, with host Eric Bolling insisting there hadn’t been any recent examples of homegrown terror to justify the government’s warning. Co-host Greg Gutfeld agreed, claiming liberals can only name two far-right terrorist events ”over four decades.”


(He goes on list a whole bunch of them ...)

This is sick. But as I found out when I wrote this piece about right wing extremism, it is an article of faith on the right that "right wing terrorism/violence/extremism" is a myth perpetuated by liberals. You can see where they get that idea.

This is Fox News' Roger Ailes, not just Alex Jones or Michael Savage. They pretty much say that it doesn't exist but if it did it wouldn't be terrorism, it would be "patriotism."

Media narcissists

by digby

All over the twitter machine  and TV this morning members of the press are whining about Clinton using a rope line to keep the press from crowding her during a parade yesterday.  It's some kind of metaphor for how unapproachable she is and therefore, how much voters are going to reject her.

Here's a hint:  nobody gives a damn about the press having access to her.  In fact, people probably don't blame her for avoiding them. Because, I hate to remind them, nobody likes them:

And they're sinking fast. Perhaps some of that is because they persist in thinking the story is about them.
George Packer Strikes Again 

by tristero

There's bullshit, and then there's Packershit, defined as the pompous and knowingly phony assertion of false equivalence:
But the collective discontent hasn’t gone away — far from it. It’s still with us like a chronic disease: the sense that the country has fundamentally betrayed its promise (freedom, equality, a fair chance, the American dream) and that the political system is too broken to offer hope. Some political careers — Elizabeth Warren’s, Rand Paul’s — have been made from the disease, while others have succumbed to it. Next year’s election will be won by the nominee who can speak most convincingly to this public unhappiness while preventing his or her party from being torn apart by its extremists.
Elizabeth Warren is an extremist? The way Rand Paul is, with his proclivity for white supremacists?

And Packer surely knows that what he wrote is complete and utter nonsense. The problem with his  ambition to be known as a "Very Serious Person" who is above the fray and prepared to find a middle ground is that it fails to take into account how majorly bonkers national Republicans are today. Thus, Packer can, and does, privilege incredibly bad ideas, providing them a status of intellectual probity they don't deserve. Disagree with Warren all you like, but her ideas nevertheless remain entirely within the realm of reasonable discourse. Paul doesn't, nor do his associations.

Proof once again that being able to sling sentences together with skill - which Packer can undeniably do - does not a responsible commentator make.

How is this still a thing?

by Tom Sullivan

In Texas, they still think the Obama is planning to invade. Jade Helm 15 is coming. In Bastrop, Texas, some fear martial law and a white apocalypse. Using a variant of Fox News' "some say" the county GOP chair tells the New York Times, “in the minds of some, he was raised by communists and mentored by terrorists.” Former mayor Terry Orr explains:

“People think the government is just not on the side of the white guy,” Orr said.

The current Bastrop mayor, Kenneth Kesselus, who also supports Jade Helm, agrees. Kesselus said the distrust is due in part to a sense that “things aren’t as good as they used to be,” especially economically. “The middle class is getting squeezed and they’ve got to take it out on somebody, and Obama is a great target.”

Others in town see the paranoia as "the logical outcome" (if the word even applies) of a political climate where "the state’s Republican leaders have eagerly stoked distrust of the federal government, and especially of Obama."

But also, the memory of a defeated people runs deep.

Politico's Michael Lind looks at how much America's sense of its own exceptionalism is the South's, and not in a good way. Poverty, lack of social mobility, and racial polarization are more pervasive there. And violence:

Southern violence also goes a long way toward explaining the exceptional violence of the United States in general compared to otherwise similar countries. The pre-modern “culture of honor” continues to exist to a greater degree in the South. White Southerners are more likely than white northerners to respond to insults with increased testosterone and aggression, according to social scientists. According to the FBI in 2012, the South as a region, containing only a quarter of the population, accounted for 40.9 percent of U.S. violent crime.

That's a statistic to widen your sleepy eyes. Lind continues:

Compared to other Americans, Southerners disproportionately support sanctioned violence in all of its forms, from military intervention abroad to capital punishment to corporal punishment of children. According to Gallup, Southern households have a far higher rate of gun ownership (38 percent) than households in the East (21 percent), Midwest (29 percent) or West (27 percent).

In part, the southern cavalier never came to terms with the South's defeat and the blow to his sense of natural superiority, not just over former slaves, but over Yankees. Old times there may not be forgotten, but some things must not be mentioned.

Civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson wants to erect markers commemorating those who died in nearly 4,000 lynchings (primarily of blacks, but also of other minorities and immigrants) across America between the end of Reconstruction and 1950. In Germany, they use dialogue to come to terms with the Holocaust, but when it comes to the horrors of "systematic domestic terrorism" in America, Stevenson says, "We don't want to talk about it; we don't even want to think about it." The L.A. Times explains:

So far, the lynching marker project has been slow going. While there has been some support, Stevenson has also met with what he calls "low-level hostile, menacing resistance."

"What do you want?" one writer asked him, as Stevenson recalls it. "I'll tell you what you should get: A .357 beside the head."

Bill Rambo, director of the Confederate Memorial Park and Museum, which hangs the flag on I-65, says Southerners are proud of the banner. As for the markers, he said many whites were lynched, too: "Who's talking about them?"


Saturday, July 04, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies

Celebrating independence: Top 10 Indie Films

By Dennis Hartley

With Independence Day upon us, I thought I’d share my top ten favorite indie films. You’ll notice that I went ahead and used “favorite” as a qualifier (instead of “greatest”) because I realized going in that there are as many differing views of what constitutes an “indie” as there are fingerprints (“What?! Not one Cassavetes on your list? No Altman?! Hartley, your critic’s license is revoked!”) The most obvious explanation for the lack of a consensus would the simple fact that independent productions have been around for as long as cinema itself. Citizen Kane was an indie…as was Plan 9 from Outer Space; one is considered by many as the greatest film ever made, the other is considered by many as the worst (I rest my case). Is a film “independent” because it is made outside the system, or because it feels outside the box? We now live in an age when major studios have an “independent” division, churning out self-consciously “quirky” formula product like so much hipster catnip. Who’s to say? So here’s the list…in non-ranking alphabetical order:

Badlands- With only 6 feature-length projects over 40 years, reclusive writer-director Terrence Malick surely takes the prize as America's Most Enigmatic Filmmaker. Still, if he had altogether vanished following this astonishing 1973 debut, his place in cinema history would still be assured. Nothing about Badlands betrays its modest budget, or suggests that there is anyone less than a fully-formed artist at the helm. Set on the South Dakota prairies, the tale centers on a 20-something ne'er do well (Martin Sheen, in full-Denim James Dean mode) who smooth talks naive high school-aged Holly (Sissy Spacek) into his orbit. Her widowed father (Warren Oates) does not approve of the relationship; after a heated argument the sociopathic Kit shoots him and goes on the lam with the oddly dispassionate Holly (the story is based on real-life spree killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate). Malick took the "true crime" genre into a whole new realm of poetic allegory. Disturbing subject matter, to be sure, but beautifully acted, magnificently shot (Tak Fujimoto's "magic hour" cinematography almost counts as a third leading character of the narrative) and one of the best American films of the 1970s.

Killer's Kiss- It’s been fashionable over the years for critics and film historians to marginalize Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 noir as a “lesser” or “experimental” work by the director, but I beg to differ. The most common criticism leveled at the film is that it has a weak narrative. On this point, I tend to agree; it’s an original story and screenplay by Kubrick, who was a screenwriting neophyte at the time. Hence, the dialog is a bit stilted. But when you consider other elements that go into “classic” noir, like mood, atmosphere and the expressionistic use of light and shadow, Killer’s Kiss has all that in spades, and is one of the better noirs of the 1950s. There are two things I find fascinating about this film. First, I marvel at how ‘contemporary’ it looks; somehow it doesn’t feel as dated as most films of the era (perhaps indicating how forward-thinking Kubrick was in terms of technique). This is due in part to the naturalistic location photography, which serves as a time capsule of New York City’s street life circa 1955. Second, this was a privately financed indie, so Kubrick (who served as director, writer, photographer and editor) was not beholden to any studio expectations. Hence, he was free to play around a bit with filmmaking conventions of the time (several scenes are eerily prescient of future work).

Last Night- A profoundly moving low-budget wonder from writer/director/star Don McKellar. The story focuses on several Toronto residents and how they choose to spend (what they know to be) their final 6 hours. You may recognize McKellar from his work with director Atom Egoyan. He must have been taking notes, because as a director, McKellar has inherited Egoyan's quiet, deliberate way of drawing you straight into the emotional core of his characters. Fantastic ensemble work from Sandra Oh, Genevieve Bujold, Callum Keith Rennie, Tracy Wright and a rare acting appearance by director David Cronenberg. Although generally somber in tone, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, funny in a wry, gallows-humor way (you know you're watching a Canadian version of the Apocalypse when the #4 song on the "Top 500 of All Time" is by... Burton Cummings!). The powerful final scene packs an almost indescribably emotional wallop.
Pink Flamingos- “Oh Babs! I’m starving to death. Hasn’t that egg man come yet?” If Baltimore filmmaker/true crime buff/self-styled czar of “bad taste” John Waters had completely ceased making films after this jaw-dropping 1972 entry, his place in the cult movie pantheon would still be assured. Waters’ favorite leading lady (and sometimes leading man) Divine was born to play Babs Johnson, who fights to retain her title of The Filthiest Person Alive against arch-nemesis Connie Marble (Mink Stole) and her skuzzy hubby. It’s a white trash smack down of the lowest order; shocking, sleazy, utterly depraved-and funny as hell. Animal lovers be warned-a chicken was definitely harmed during the making of the film (Waters insists that it was completely unintended, if that’s any consolation). If you are only familiar with Waters’ more recent work, and want to explore his truly indie “roots” I’d recommend watching this one first. If you can make it through without losing your lunch, consider yourself prepped for the rest of his oeuvre.

Powwow Highway- A Native American road movie from 1989 that eschews stereotypes and tells its story with an unusual blend of social and magical realism. Gary Farmer (who greatly resembles the young Jonathan Winters) plays Philbert, a hulking Cheyenne with a gentle soul who wolfs down cheeseburgers and chocolate malts with the countenance of a beatific Buddha. He has decided that it is time to “become a warrior” and leave the res on a vision quest to “gather power”. After choosing a “war pony” for his journey (a rusted-out beater that he trades for with a bag of weed), he sets off, only to be waylaid by his childhood friend (A. Martinez) an A.I.M. activist who needs a lift to Santa Fe to bail out his sister, framed by the Feds on a possession beef. Funny, poignant, uplifting and richly rewarding. Director Jonathan Wacks and screenwriters Janey Heaney and Jean Stawarz deserve kudos for keeping it real. Look for cameos from Wes Studi and Graham Greene.

Radio On - You know how you develop an inexplicable emotional attachment to certain films? This no-budget 1979 offering from writer-director Christopher Petit, shot in stark B&W is one such film for me. That being said, I should warn you that it is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, because it contains one of those episodic, virtually plotless "road trip" narratives that may cause drowsiness for some viewers after about 15 minutes. Yet, I feel compelled to revisit this one at least once a year. Go figure. A dour London DJ (David Beames), whose estranged brother has committed suicide, heads to Bristol to get his sibling's affairs in order and attempt to glean what drove him to such despair (while quite reminiscent of the setup for Get Carter, this is not a crime thriller...far from it). He has encounters with various characters, including a friendly German woman, a sociopathic British Army vet who served in Northern Ireland, and a rural gas-station attendant (a cameo by Sting) who kills time singing Eddie Cochran songs. But the "plot" doesn't matter. As the protagonist journeys across an England full of bleak yet perversely beautiful industrial landscapes in his boxy sedan, accompanied by a moody electronic score (mostly Kraftwerk and David Bowie) the film becomes hypnotic. A textbook example of how the cinema is capable of capturing and preserving the zeitgeist of an ephemeral moment (e.g. England on the cusp of the Thatcher era) like no other art form.

She's Gotta Have It- “Please baby please baby please baby please!” One of director Spike Lee’s earlier, funny films (his debut, actually). A sexy, hip, and fiercely independent young woman (Tracy Camilla Johns) juggles relationships with three men (who are all quite aware of each other’s existence). Lee steals his own movie by casting himself as the goofiest and most memorable of the three suitors- “Mars”, a hilarious trash-talking version of the classic Woody Allen nebbish. Lee milks maximum laughs from the huffing and puffing by the competing paramours, as they each jockey for the alpha position (and makes keen observations about sexist machismo and male vanity along the way). Spike’s dad Bill Lee composed a lovely jazz-pop score. Despite being a little rough around the edges (due to low budget constraints) it was still a groundbreaking film in the context of modern independent cinema, and an empowering milestone for an exciting new wave of talented African-American filmmakers who followed in its wake.

Sherman's March- Documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee is truly one of America’s hidden treasures. McElwee, a genteel Southern neurotic (think Woody Allen meets Tennessee Williams) has been documenting his personal life since the mid 70's and managed to turn all that footage into some of the most hilarious, moving and thought-provoking films that most people have never seen. Audiences weaned on the glut of "reality TV" of  recent years may wonder "what's the big deal about one more schmuck making glorified home movies?" but they would be missing an enriching glimpse into the human condition. Sherman’s March actually began as a project to retrace the Union general’s path of destruction through the South, but somehow ended up as rumination on the eternal human quest for love and acceptance, filtered through McElwee’s personal search for the perfect mate. Despite its daunting 3 hour length, I’ve found myself returning to this film for repeat viewings over the years, and enjoying it just as much as the first time I saw it. The unofficial "sequel", Time Indefinite, is worth your time as well.

Stranger Than Paradise - Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 debut firmly established his formula of long, static camera takes and deadpan observances on the inherent silliness of the human race. John Lurie is Willie, a brooding NYC slacker who spends most of his time hanging with his buddy Eddie (Richard Edson). Both suffer from terminal boredom, alleviated by constant bickering. Enter Eva (Eszter Balint), Willie’s teenaged cousin from Hungary, who shows up at his door (much to his chagrin). Eddie is intrigued, but the misanthropic Willie has no desire for a new roommate, blood relative or not, and Eva decides after a few days that she would probably find more welcoming accommodations with Aunt Lotte (delightfully played by Cecillia Stark), who lives in Cleveland. Flash forward one year, and we find Willie and Eddie still sitting around…still bickering. Eddie convinces Willie that a road trip to Cleveland might break them out of their rut. Willie grumpily agrees, and off they go to visit Aunt Lotte and cousin Eva. Much low-key hilarity ensues. Future film director Tom DiCillo did the fine black and white photography, evoking a strange beauty in the stark and wintry industrial flatness of Cleveland and its Lake Erie environs.

Word, Sound and Power- This 1980 documentary by Jeremiah Stein clocks in at just over an hour, but is about the best film anyone is ever likely to make about roots reggae music and Rastafarian culture. Barely screened upon its original theatrical run and long coveted by music geeks as a Holy Grail until its belated DVD release in 2008 (when I was finally able to loosen my death grip on the sacred, fuzzy VHS copy that I had taped off of USA’s Night Flight back in the early 80s), it’s a wonderful time capsule of a particularly fertile period for the Kingston music scene. Stein interviews key members of The Soul Syndicate Band, a group of prolific studio players who were sort of the Jamaican version of The Wrecking Crew (they backed Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, and Toots Hibbert, to name but a few). Beautifully photographed and edited, with outstanding live performances by the Syndicate. Musical highlights include “Mariwana”, “None Shall Escape the Judgment”, and a spirited acoustic version of “Harvest Uptown”.


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