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Friday, March 27, 2015

Proud to be an American where at last I know I'm free

by digby

I'm going to guess they actually believe that makes sense.

Time for an adult beverage, folks...


A big run on Rambo costumes down at the border

by digby

This piece in Mother Jones about the GOP candidates making pilgrimages to the border reminded me of this picture of Rick Perry during last year's so-called border crisis:

What is it with Republicans and costumes anyway? They just love to play dress up.

If you're afraid to fly you could be a terrorist

by digby

The Intercept has a post up about the "signs" a traveler might be a terrorist TSA agents are trained to look for:
Fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms. Add one point each. Arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture, two points.

These are just a few of the suspicious signs that the Transportation Security Administration directs its officers to look out for — and score — in airport travelers, according to a confidential TSA document obtained exclusively by The Intercept.

The checklist is part of TSA’s controversial program to identify potential terrorists based on behaviors that it thinks indicate stress or deception — known as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT. The program employs specially trained officers, known as Behavior Detection Officers, to watch and interact with passengers going through screening.

The document listing the criteria, known as the “Spot Referral Report,” is not classified, but it has been closely held by TSA and has not been previously released. A copy was provided to The Intercept by a source concerned about the quality of the program.

The checklist ranges from the mind-numbingly obvious, like “appears to be in disguise,” which is worth three points, to the downright dubious, like a bobbing Adam’s apple. Many indicators, like “trembling” and “arriving late for flight,” appear to confirm allegations that the program picks out signs and emotions that are common to many people who fly.

Most of those would seem to also indicate someone who is nervous about flying --- for any number of reasons. There must be millions of people who get flying anxiety that mirrors those behaviors. I know I do. I've become a white knuckle flyer in recent years and I'm sure I manifest a lot of those behaviors.I guess I don't fit other aspects of the profile so I don't get unduly scrutinized (although my bag gets manually searched every single time after it comes through the machine and my hands are often scanned for chemical residue. But I think that's just random.)

I do know that you cannot complain about the screening --- or even talk about it --- without arousing suspicion. My husband was detained and aggressively grilled when he told a woman in the line who was complaining that she should just do what the TSA says to do because they have a lot of power. Apparently, that was seen as some sort of insult --- which presumably also indicates a terrorist frame of mind. After all, who else but a terrorist wouldn't understand that a loyal citizen not only does exactly what he is told but he does it because he believes in the inherent decency and pureness of heart of those who are protecting us?
Since its introduction in 2007, the SPOT program has attracted controversy for the lack of science supporting it. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office found that there was no evidence to back up the idea that “behavioral indicators … can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security.” After analyzing hundreds of scientific studies, the GAO concluded that “the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.”

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found in 2013 that TSA had failed to evaluate SPOT, and “cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion.”

Despite those concerns, TSA has trained and deployed thousands of Behavior Detection Officers, and the program has cost more than $900 million since it began in 2007, according to the GAO.
But it does have this going for it:
One former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who asked not to be identified, said that SPOT indicators are used by law enforcement to justify pulling aside anyone officers find suspicious, rather than acting as an actual checklist for specific indicators. “The SPOT sheet was designed in such a way that virtually every passenger will exhibit multiple ‘behaviors’ that can be assigned a SPOT sheet value,” the former manager said.

The signs of deception and fear “are ridiculous,” the source continued. “These are just ‘catch all’ behaviors to justify BDO interaction with a passenger. A license to harass.”
Feature, not bug. That's the sort of thing that's always useful for law enforcement. Just in case. That whole probable cause thing is such a drag.

Nice little democracy you have there ...

by digby

Just don't call this blackmail.That would be illegal:
Big Wall Street banks are so upset with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party's tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

I happen to have found a video recording of that meeting:

Seriously, this is truly disgusting. They don't even try to hide it. They just put this out there as a blatant threat.

It would be nice if the Democrats would get incensed by such obvious strong-arm tactics and tell them to go fuck themselves. There are plenty of other places to find money and if they play their cards right they might even be able to leverage some of the populist anger for real to fight these bullyboy gangsters.

I won't hold my breath.

Oh, and by the way, someone should inform the press that the alleged Tea party populists don't seem to be stepping up on this one. All we hear from the Villagers is that they are just as populist and against big banks and bailouts as the left wing of the Democratic Party is. And yet, oddly, they don't seem to be pressuring their representatives on this the way they pressure them on stuff like immigration or abortion. In fact, there isn't even one Republican in congress who seems to give a damn. Why do you suppose that is?


Institutional racism for dummies

by digby

Good lord:

The University of Oklahoma says it has determined that fraternity members learned a racist chant at a national event organized by Sigma Alpha Epsilon four years ago — and it wants to know what the leaders are doing about it.

OU President David Boren is expected to announce the results of the school's investigation into the episode at 1 p.m. ET Friday, but revealed some findings in a letter to the frat's executive director.

"The chant was learned by local chapter members while attending a national leadership cruise sponsored by by the national SAE organizations four years ago," Boren wrote.

"While there is no indication that the chant was part of the formal teaching of the national organization, it does appear that the chant was widely known and informally shared amongst members on the leadership cruise."
I find it very hard to fathom how this could happen in 2015. Not one of these frat boys on the cruise or elsewhere stepped up to say it was disgusting? Really? There were no black people there? Would you just stand there? Or join in? I wouldn't.  In fact, I never did, even when I was young and this sort of thing was out in the open. But you'd think that in this day and age nobody would stand for it.

I knew that racism still existed in our society, of course. In fact, I used to write a lot about it long before Obama was elected and got flack for my position from people who insisted that I was pounding an old, out of date drum. But this really crude stuff in a large group of young people is something I thought had pretty much disappeared. Clearly not.

Hey look! An issue!

by digby

This got 42 votes in the Senate.

It sounds like something a presidential candidate might want to run on.
TPP To Be Declassified "Four Years After Entry into Force"

by Gaius Publius

We've been writing lately about TPP and the new leaked chapter dealing with extra-judicial "trade courts." These would allow any corporation to sue any foreign government for lost future profit due to, for example, regulation, or "buy local" programs, or ... anything really that would cost them money. For example, did you know that much of our fish is literally processed by slaves (my emphasis)?
A year-long AP investigation reveals the global fish market feeds off a robust slave fishing trade benefitting everyone involved except the slaves, who are reportedly kept in cages and whipped with toxic fish when they get tired. Sounds pretty bad!

So how does the free-labor fish get into your cat food and onto your dinner table? The AP managed to get inside one fishing operation, where the slaves—usually Burmese citizens—are forced to live in cages on a "tiny tropical island" in Indonesia called Benjina. Despite days spent catching food, they are not allowed to eat the fish, for it is apparently deemed too valuable for them.
This is a perfect example. If a country that processed fish in this way were to sign TPP — and Indonesia is considering it — their fish processing corporations could sue any TPP-signing government that banned slave-labor seafood. Would the corporations win? That's for the TPP "trade court" (not the national court) to decide. But if the nation being sued were small enough (poor enough), it might not even mount a defense. And if a large nation's government were wealth-captured enough, they might not either.

This is what extra-judicial "trade courts" — "tribunals" that operate outside any nations legal system — do; this is what they make taxpayers in every signing nation liable for. There are "trade courts" already; NAFTA and CAFTA have them, for example, as well as a great many bilateral (two-country) trade agreements.

Four Years Into the Agreement, Its Text Will Remain Secret

Here's page two of the WikiLeaks PDF — page one of the original (source here) — which specifies document handling and declassification (click to enlarge):

To put this another way, the document is so "sensitive" — so toxic — that its authors don't want it released to the public until four years after TPP is already in force. That's toxic. And its authors are right; this is really poisonous stuff — poisonous to nations that sign it; poisonous to the passage of the deal.

I'll say again — the only people who want this deal are global billionaires, the mega-corporations they control, and the politicians who serve their interests. Why else keep the text and other details secret from the citizens of every nation considering it?

Elizabeth Warren on "Investor-State Dispute Settlement"

The legal phrase for what this chapter covers — the right of companies to sue countries for "lost" profit" — is "investor-state dispute settlement" (ISDS). ISDS documents like this one establish "tribunals" where companies (and only them) can sue government entities (and only them). Here's Elizabeth Warren on how bad that idea is:

Warren's examples are stunning:
"A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage."

"A Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster."

"A Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czech Republic didn't bail out a bank that the Dutch company partially owned."
I discussed this at greater length here, and included a look at the damage done by the recent KORUS (Korea–U.S.) trade agreement. As usual, that one too promised "more jobs, bigger trade surplus," a promise that was, quelle surprise, 180 degrees wrong.

TPP — like NAFTA, this time with jobs. You've heard that song before. Just say No.

Democrat Ron Wyden & TPP

Right now, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) holds the key to Fast Track and TPP. If it can't get out of the Finance Committee (he's the Ranking Member), it can't get to the floor. If Wyden won't support it, Senate corporatists will find it hard to break a filibuster, which is promised.

But if Wyden says Yes to Fast Track and TPP, it's likely to head to the House for a vote there. And we know Obama's just dying to sign it; a TPP-friendly industry trade publication quotes Sen. Orrin Hatch calling this an Obama "legacy" item (subscription required):
In remarks to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the Finance chairman [Sen. Orrin Hatch] said President Obama desperately needs a “legacy” issue. The two trade deals that the Administration is negotiating – the TPP and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – could be that legacy.
Ron Wyden's contact information:

Senator Ron Wyden
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C., 20510
tel (202) 224-5244
fax (202) 228-2717

As the commenter at the link, Lambert Strether, notes, "a letter is better than a phone call, a phone call is better than email."

I'll make one more suggestion regarding Mr. Wyden. This could prove an electoral problem for him. He's getting a lot of pressure from MoveOn, DFA and labor. Let's make sure he feels it, with a challenge to his job. One courted primary challenger was Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, but he's reportedly uninclined to challenge Wyden this time.

Nevertheless, Wyden needs a primary, in my view for even pursuing what's called "a path to yes" as hard as he's pursuing it. He's asking for changes to Fast Track legislation at the margins only, and Obama is pushing Orrin Hatch, chair of the committee of which Wyden is Ranking Member, to say yes to Wyden and get this thing done.

In other words, Wyden is already complicit, already a problem. Punish him now, or after it's too later to change his behavior, after he's already pulled the trigger on TPP and gone home? If you live in Oregon — I know many of you do — and especially if you're a MoveOn or DFA member, you can do three things:
  1. Help find Wyden a primary challenger.
  2. Tell Wyden you're helping find a primary challenger.
  3. And if you have the nerve, tell him you'll withhold your vote even if he makes it out of the primary.
Nothing frightens some people like the loss of a high-profile job, which means that pressure can go both ways. Be sure to tell him — You're doing what we're doing now, since he's doing what he's doing now. By negotiating a "path to yes," he's already over the progressive line, working to take back progressive territory.

Ron Wyden is a member of Senate "class 3" — his next election is in 2016. He'll probably tell you then, "Because Republicans!" Tell him No, Democratic Senate or not. Again, pressure can go both ways, and there does need to be a price for very bad deeds. As most of us see it, enabling TPP is a very bad deed indeed. Like NAFTA has done, TPP will do its damage when your grandparents are dead and your children have children of their own.

Say no to TPP today by saying no to Ron Wyden today. And tell him you're doing it.



Never created a job?

by Tom Sullivan

Again this morning, Paul Krugman knocks down some of the right's cherished beliefs about its economic theories:

At a deeper level, modern conservative ideology utterly depends on the proposition that conservatives, and only they, possess the secret key to prosperity. As a result, you often have politicians on the right making claims like this one, from Senator Rand Paul: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.”

Actually, if creating “millions of jobs” means adding two million or more jobs in a given year, we’ve done that 13 times since Reagan left office: eight times under Bill Clinton, twice under George W. Bush, and three times, so far, under Barack Obama. But who’s counting?

After the president fact-checked his critics in Cleveland last week, Susan Crabtree of the Washington Examiner, appearing on "The Last Word," tried to tamp down his taking credit for unemployment falling to 5.5 percent, citing 30 million people who have dropped out of the workforce. Eugene Robinson would have none of it, pointing out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics figure is the "standard way that we have measured unemployment for many, many decades." When the game is not going your way, you don't get to move the goalposts. (IOKIYAR)

Krugman continues:

As a number of observers have pointed out, however, for big businesses to admit that government policies can create jobs would be to devalue one of their favorite political arguments — the claim that to achieve prosperity politicians must preserve business confidence, among other things, by refraining from any criticism of what businesspeople do.

Under "the confidence con," any criticism of these "sensitive souls" will prompt Job Creators to take their investments and go home. But there is another free-market dogma not heard much anymore, one voiced by former RNC chair Michael Steele in 2009: "Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job." Yet during the 2012 debate over whether the sequester would hurt the defense industry, the goalposts moved again. But worry not. Like Ah-nold, "never created a job" will be back.

Imagine a self-serving, industry-funded Sunday talk show ad:

One million workers in this country owe their cars, their homes, their kids’ education, and their steady paychecks to the private-sector, free-market entrepreneurs of the American defense industry.

The Defense Industry — meeting demand for fine consumer products like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the fuel-efficient M1 Abrams tank, Tomahawk cruise missiles, the new Zumwalt class guided missile destroyer, and the Hellfire-equipped Predator drone. Predator — for when you really want to reach out and touch someone.

Free Market Capitalism — because government never created a job.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

They are so worth it

by digby

The other day I wrote about the fact that Wall Streeters were lamenting that their bonuses only rose 2% this past year. Tough times.

Mother Jones puts it into proper perspective:

Yes, yes, I know that one Wall Street trader is worth a million minimum wage workers in this world. Unlike the contribution of  say, the nannies who raise their kids or the servants who feed them and clean their home, their contribution to this world is worth every penny and more of that 28.5 billion dollars. Indeed, they actually get a lot more. Remember, that's just their bonus. And I think we can assume their money is making a lot of money too.

Why? Because they're woooorth it.

Better than a bumper sticker

by digby

This makes sense. As a Republican he's beholden to Big Energy and is likely to cause even bigger problems in the middle east than already exist. And he's well ... Ted Cruz, so the homage to the Onion is perfect.

And anyway I've always thought Cruz looked like a sad eyed Pagliacci. A tear drop is perfect. And his voters can show their loyalty simply by embellishing their existing adornments:

*Kidding, kidding.  Prisoners can't vote.

Forgiving Rand

by digby

This piece about how libertarianism's only true home being on the right came to mind this morning when I read this article by Paul Waldman about Rand Paul's rather convenient new position on military spending. In the original piece, the author contends that at one time he and all his libertrian friends were caught up in Obamamania, believing that he was going to be an economic moderate and an isolationist protector of civil liberties. (And considering that he was opposed by the warmongering hawk John McCain, you can see why at least a few of them might have leaned Obama's way.) But he was betrayed by all that Keynesian Obamacaring and then found out about drones and so he realized that the GOP is his one true home. Sure, theocrats might want to impose their religious rules on everyone but they are willing to let states and local governments do the imposing rather than the feds so they're not all that bad. And sure they all might be bloodthirsty warmongers and authoritarians but since there are some Democrats who are too it all comes out in the wash. And anyway, Rand Paul is a Republican and he definitely doesn't support all that excessive military spending and foreign wars and all that.

Or does he?
The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.
Paul Waldman suggests he has to do this in order to compete for the presidential nomination because Republicans are warmongers and he's right. But he thinks it could also be a problem for him because it makes him look like a hypocrite to his followers. And it should. But I'm going to guess this won't worry the Paulites all that much. They are, after all, mostly young white guys who deep down in their hearts think military spending isn't really the problem, it's the government spending on losers, both foreign and domestic, who aren't "self-sufficient" young white guys and imposing regulations that might impinge on their God-given freedom to exploit and pillage that pisses them off. The war business is unpleasant but it isn't a deal breaker. If it were, they wouldn't vote for the party that makes a fetish of them.

Scott Walker is a genius

by digby

A foreign policy savant at least:
Walker: I remember the movie in the 80s, Trading Places…

Hewitt: Right.

Walker: …you know, with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, it’s like Iran and Israel are trading places in the sequel. In the eyes of this president, our ally is supposed to be Israel. Our adversary has been historically Iran. And yet this administration completely does it the other way around. We need to call radical Islamic terrorism for what it is, and a commander-in-chief who’s willing to act.
Joan Walsh quips:
No word on which nation is Aykroyd and which is Murphy; hoping other reporters will follow up. (If Walker finds that metaphor doesn’t work, he can play around with “Freaky Friday.”)
Walsh's whole piece is worth reading. Honestly I cannot figure out why so many smart people think Walker is a formidable political talent. He's a typical GOP shallow, banal doofus without any of the macho swagger of Bush or the charisma of Reagan. You've got to have something and I cannot for the life of me see what it is he's supposed to have.

Bull in a china shop

by digby

Here's some good news:
Three major Shiite militia groups pulled out of the fight against the Islamic State in Tikrit on Thursday, immediately depriving the Iraqi government of thousands of their fighters on the ground even as American warplanes readied for an expected second day of airstrikes there.

The militia groups, some of which had Iranian advisers with them until recently, pulled out of the Tikrit fight in protest of the American military airstrikes, which began late Wednesday night, insisting that the Americans were not needed to defeat the extremists in Tikrit.

A fourth Shiite militia group said it would remain in the battle in Tikrit, but vowed to attack foreign members of the American-led coalition, raising the possibility that it might turn anti-aircraft fire against American planes from what had been Iraqi fighting positions.

American military leaders were likely to welcome the withdrawal of the Shiite groups, so long as enough Iraqi fighters remain to keep the pressure on the Islamic State’s holdouts. Before starting the airstrikes, American officials demanded that Iranian officials and the militias closest to them to stand aside, and had expressed concerns about sectarian abuses in areas controlled by the Shiite militias.

Defense Minister Khalid al-Obaidi of Iraq, center, visited the Al Rashid Air Base on Thursday near Baghdad. Credit Khalid al-Mousily/Reuters
But too great or abrupt a withdrawal by militia forces, analysts said, could complicate the entire Iraqi counteroffensive. Even with the militias involved, officials said the current pro-government force would not be large enough to help take Mosul back from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Together, the four Shiite groups that were pulling out represent more than a third of the 30,000 fighters on the government side in the offensive against the Islamic State, analysts said.

“We don’t trust the American-led coalition in combating ISIS,” said Naeem al-Uboudi, the spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the three groups which said they would withdraw from the front line around Tikrit. “In the past they have targeted our security forces and dropped aid to ISIS by mistake,” he said.

It's very hard to know what this all means --- it's awfully confusing. But then, that's the point. It's very convenient for the Americans to say it's what they wanted all along. And maybe it's even true. Who can tell? But there can be little doubt that a good part of the time America is a bull in a china shop in the middle of these very complicated tribal and religious cross currents and alliances. We are not magic and we don't have super-powers even though we are a super power. The immense hubris of the hawks makes us very vulnerable to mistakes. Like the Iraq war, for instance. Just look at what that has wrought.

War of the Worlds

by digby

I have written for years that the right wing was so terrified of Muslim terrorists that they had literally confused them with invading space aliens. But maybe they aren't the only ones.

Emptywheel noted this strange passage in the recently released FBI report on post 9/11 changes:
The Review Commission recognizes that national security threats to the United States have multiplied, and become increasingly complex and more globally dispersed in the past decade. Hostile states and transnational networks—including cyber hackers and organized syndicates, space-system intruders, WMD proliferators, narcotics and human traffickers, and other organized criminals—are operating against American interests across national borders, and within the United States. [my emphasis]
My God, it's bad enough that all these people are out there operating against our interests. Now, we find out that "space-system intruders" hate America too.

Klaatu barada nikto, my friends.

*And yes, I'm sure they didn't mean this to imply that space aliens are threatening America. It's just one of those stupid opaque law enforcement terms. But as Emptywheel points out the report is so full of silly jargon and shrill fear-mongering that anyone can be forgiven for feeling that we are under siege from super-villains of every possible stripe.

New Leaked TPP Chapter; Worse Than the Last Leaked Version

by Gaius Publius

There's a new leaked chapter from the TPP draft agreement, thanks to WikiLeaks, and it confirms our worst fears. From a press release by Lori Wallach at Public Citizen (my emphasis):
TPP Leak Reveals Extraordinary New Powers for Thousands of Foreign Firms to Challenge U.S. Policies and Demand Taxpayer Compensation

Unveiling of Parallel Legal System for Foreign Corporations Will Fuel TPP Controversy, Further Complicate Obama’s Push for Fast Track

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) Investment Chapter, leaked today, reveals how the pact would make it easier for U.S. firms to offshore American jobs to low-wage countries while newly empowering thousands of foreign firms to seek cash compensation from U.S. taxpayers by challenging U.S. government actions, laws and court rulings before unaccountable foreign tribunals. After five years of secretive TPP negotiations, the text – leaked by WikiLeaks –proves that growing concerns about the controversial “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) system that the TPP would extend are well justified, Public Citizen said.

Enactment of the leaked chapter would increase U.S. ISDS liability to an unprecedented degree by newly empowering about 9,000 foreign-owned firms from Japan and other TPP nations operating in the United States to launch cases against the government over policies that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms. To date, the United States has faced few ISDS attacks because past ISDS-enforced pacts have almost exclusively been with developing nations whose firms have few investments here.

The leak reveals that the TPP would replicate the ISDS language found in past U.S. agreements under which tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to foreign investors attacking land use rules; water, energy and timber policies; health, safety and environmental protections; financial stability policies and more. And while the Obama administration has sought to quell growing concerns about the ISDS threat with claims that past pacts’ problems would be remedied in the TPP, the leaked text does not include new safeguards relative to past U.S. ISDS-enforced pacts. Indeed, this version of the text, which shows very few remaining areas of disagreement, eliminates various safeguard proposals that were included in a 2012 leaked TPP Investment Chapter text
Stop here and reread that last bolded sentence. The leaked version is worse than the last leaked version of the same chapter, the one dealing with the corporate-only right-to-sue. Wallach again:
“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “This leak is a disaster for the corporate lobbyists and administration officials trying to persuade Congress to delegate Fast Track authority to railroad the TPP through Congress.” 
Dear Barack Obama: If you think TPP is such a good deal, refute this leak on its merits. (The same goes for you, self-styled "Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.")

Back to Wallach:
Even before today’s leak, U.S. law professors and those in other TPP nations, the U.S. National Conference of State Legislatures, the Cato Institute and numerous members of Congress and civil society groups have announced opposition to the ISDS system, which would elevate individual foreign firms to the same status as sovereign governments and empower them to privately enforce a public treaty by skirting domestic courts and “suing” governments before extrajudicial tribunals. The tribunals are staffed by private lawyers who are not accountable to any electorate, system of legal precedent or meaningful conflict of interest rules. Their rulings cannot be appealed on the merits. Many ISDS lawyers rotate between roles – serving both as “judges” and suing governments for corporations, creating an inherent conflict of interest.

The TPP’s expansion of the ISDS system would come amid a surge in ISDS cases against public interest policies that has led other countries, such as South Africa and Indonesia, to begin to revoke their ISDS-enforced treaties. While ISDS agreements have existed since the 1960s, just 50 known ISDS cases were launched worldwide in the regime’s first three decades combined. In contrast, foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013. Recent cases include Eli Lilly’s attack on Canada’s cost-saving medicine patent system, Philip Morris’ attack on Australia’s public health policies regulating tobacco, Lone Pine’s attack on a fracking moratorium in Canada, Chevron’s attack on an Ecuadorian court ruling ordering payment for mass toxic contamination in the Amazon and Vattenfall’s attack on Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power.

“By definition, only multinational corporations could benefit from this parallel legal system, which empowers them to skirt domestic courts and laws, and go to tribunals staffed by highly paid corporate lawyers, where they grab unlimited payments of our tax dollars because they don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms follow,” Wallach said.

Public Citizen’s analysis of the leaked text is available here....
Click through for more, especially to read the leaked text itself. I know I'm going to. In the meantime, have I mentioned that Obama Legacy Library project lately?

Obama’s Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 1). Like Star Fleet Academy, but with corporate funding.




Why aren't these con men in jail?

By Tom Sullivan

"The lack of prosecutions, quite frankly, does not indicate a lack of evidence," Richard Bowen told Bloomberg's "Market Makers" last week. The former Citigroup Chief Underwriter for Consumer Lending has testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission but contends that evidence he provided never made it to the Department of Justice for further investigation and prosecution.

A lengthy article on Bowen in New Economic Perspectives outlines some of what the whistle blower might have provided. Furthermore, that the FCIC, DOJ, and the SEC might not (or might not want to) understand how the accounting control fraud "recipe" at the heart of the financial crisis actually worked. Once you explain how the "sure thing" at the heart of the recipe works, writes William Black, "jurors understand quickly that the officers were acting in a manner that makes no sense for honest bankers but is optimal for officers leading frauds."

Matt Taibbi (citing Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism) looks at corruption in the Private Equity business, and the seeming indifference of Andrew Bowden, the SEC's Director of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. A study "found that over half of the companies they looked at were guilty of ripping off their clients" using hidden fees. Bowden mentioned the discovery in a speech within the last year. Since then ... crickets:

By this month, Bowden had achieved a complete 180, telling a conference of PE professionals that their business was just "the greatest."

This is Bowden on March 5th, on a panel for PE and Venture Capital issues at Stanford. Check out how he pooh-poohs the fact that his SEC has seen "some misconduct," before he goes on to grovel before his audience:

Is a slightly less worshipful attitude too much to ask from people charged with oversight? Taibbi asks.

Apparently, yes.

(h/t MS)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mean Tweets

by digby

This is pretty good:

I'm not sure Boehner is really in the joke, but then that's what makes it funny ...
Ted Cruz, bro-country boy

by digby

I wrote a piece for Salon today about Ted Cruz and country music:
So Texas firebrand Ted Cruz explained that 9/11 changed him so much that he lost his former taste in music and found another He said:
Music is interesting. I grew up listening to classic rock. And I’ll tell you sort of an odd story: My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music — collectively — the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people. And ever since 2001, I listen to country music. But I’m an odd country music fan because I didn’t listen to it prior to 2001.
I’m going to guess he figures Mike Huckabee has the Nugent vote all sewn up.

He “intellectually finds it very curious” that on 9/11 he didn’t like how rock responded? What is that supposed to mean? Apparently when they held all those concerts and fundraisers like the Concert for New York City he thought they were trashing America. Sure, the Dixie Chicks were famous for saying that they were ashamed George Bush was from Texas during the run up to the Iraq war, but they’re as country as they come. (And I think we can be fairly confident that Cruz endorsed the abusive treatment they received from radio stations for saying it. President Bush certainly did.)

But I’m hard-pressed to think of any rockers, classic or otherwise, who were disrespectful in the aftermath of 9/11. Certainly it wasn’t Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney or Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac or literally dozens of other rock and pop artists who penned heartfelt songs about the event. But then Cruz undoubtedly didn’t want to hear poetic songs about loss and pain. He wanted songs of revenge and killing, like Toby Keith’s famous anthem, “The Angry American” which featured the kind of language that gets Cruz and his voters very, very excited.

Read on. I talk about "bro-country" and strange happenings at Keith Urban concerts and Nixon wearing black socks and wingtips on the beach ...

QOTD: Cruz

by digby

Think Progress
“Global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.
This whole line of attack is very clever because it's so headache inducing. It shouldn't be, but it is. The reality is clear on this:
“Modern scientists follow the evidence-based scientific method that Galileo pioneered. Skeptics who oppose scientific findings that threaten their world view are far closer to Galileo’s belief-based critics in the Catholic Church"
Cruz goes on to say that he knows he's correct because "he follows the science." This is just a lie but it confuses matters just enough to leave you scratching your head and saying "wait a minute, the science says ..." And that's when he brings up the heretic example as if the small handful of scientists who disagree with the consensus are the the brave Galileos bucking the Church. Except the scientific consensus isn 't the Council of Trent, it's science, the very thing he says he follows. (Here comes the headache ...)

And anyway, Galileo was branded a heretic not because he refused to "listen to the science" but because the theologians were committed to believing this:
[T]o check unbridled spirits, [the Holy Council] decrees that no one relying on his own judgement shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which the holy mother Church... has held or holds...
They believed the earth was the center of the universe and that was that.

And the flat earthers had nothing to do with anything. He just wants to pretend that his people are the scientists and .... the scientists are the priests and it fits nicely with their overall anti-science wingnut worldview that says science is superstition and superstition is science.

We know that the deniers are acting like the Inquisition and that Galileo would be on the side of the climate change scientists. But Cruz knows that by framing this ridiculous argument as if the denialists are Galileo and the scientists are the Church, his confused right wing followers can not only feel they are martyrs to the cause but that they are the ones bucking the superstitious hierarchy. They like that.

And yes, I know you have a full-blown migraine by now, so go take an aspirin. Just wait until some partisan talking heads try to "debate" this on cable news. You'll need a fistfull of aspirin  --- and very large scotch to wash it down.

Watch your wallet

by digby

Speaker Boehner is so uncharacteristically enthusiastic about a bipartisan "reform" of Medicare you really have to wonder why:.

And look at all these accolades from far right wingnuts:
A major deal struck between House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to overhaul Medicare appeared to win President Barack Obama's endorsement on Wednesday.

"As we speak Congress is working to fix the Medicare-physician payment system. I've got my pen ready to sign a good bipartisan bill, which would be really exciting," he said in a speech about Obamacare at the White House. "I love when Congress passes bipartisan bills that I can sign. It's always very encouraging."

The presidential endorsement could sway enough Senate Democrats, who have emerged as a potential obstacle, to support the agreement.

"We're just looking at it now," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said moments before Obama's remarks Wednesday. "We'll see where we come out."

The deal would end the perennial "doc fix" problem by replacing a formula that imposes steep annual cuts to Medicare physician payments. The package would also cut Medicare benefits for higher-income seniors and reduce spending on supplemental "Medigap" plans. It would extend the Children's Health Insurance Program for two years.

If the legislation passes both chambers, it would amount to the most sweeping health care overhaul since Obamacare.

Republicans sure love it:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI):

“Many of us have worked for a long time to repeal this flawed formula and replace it with a more patient-centered system. Now we have a chance to get it done. This package is the best opportunity to turn the page on years of short-term fixes so that we can finally make the reforms we need to strengthen Medicare for our seniors. This is real patient-centered reform—done in a bipartisan way—and I urge all of my colleagues to support it.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA):

“For years, the SGR has distorted Medicare’s finances and the federal budget. We’re now very close to permanently replacing it and passing some real Medicare reforms that will have a lasting impact. There’s a lot for conservatives to like here.”

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX):

“It’s historic: fundamental structural changes in Medicare not sold on the back of a tax increase.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):

“This legislation will provide actual, structural entitlement reform by changing the way healthcare providers are paid. Everyone agrees that healthcare reimbursement should encourage quality and coordination of care, rather than volume. This legislation is the right move in that direction. It is a win-win-win for seniors, your local healthcare providers, and hard-working taxpayers.”

Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (R-IN):

“For the first time, real structural reforms that ensure access to quality care for seniors and help us protect the Medicare promise are within our grasp. Let’s build upon the unprecedented progress of last Congress, and solve this problem once and for all."

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY):

“This is the type of substantive and cost-saving reform the American people elected us to enact. Repealing and replacing the SGR is a milestone achievement that will reduce long-term costs, increase quality of care and implement structural changes to Medicare.”

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY):

“Now is the time to finally leave the flawed SGR formula in the past, and begin working on real reforms to our health care system that will improve care for seniors while putting the Medicare program on more sound fiscal footing.”

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC):

“It’s time we in Congress do our job and show leadership by enacting permanent legislation to repeal and replace the flawed SGR formula. … Continually kicking the can down the road is only perpetuating Washington’s spending problem, while yet another SGR deadline quickly approaches.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX):

“The first concrete step in saving Medicare is solving the way it pays local doctors for treating our seniors. … Congress and the President could continue to duck the issue. They can simply ‘kick the can down the road’ by extending the current damaging doctor payment system for another year or two — as they have an astounding 15 times already. Or they can come together and pass a permanent solution now that encourages doctors to see Medicare patients and rewards them for providing quality care at affordable cost.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX):

“I think it's good. We need some of the structural entitlement reform. That's a good thing. … I know how hard this is. Our seniors are having more and more difficulty getting doctors because Medicare doesn't reimburse, and doctors are dropping Medicare.”

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA):

“These are two huge improvements that would drive costs down and actually, in the long-run, improve care and access to care. This is a long-term solution for doctors who are having their patients really destroyed. ... This is a huge advance.”

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX):

“We must find a way to get it done, and will. ... The art of getting it done is in everyone's interest. ... I view it as a must-pass piece of legislation.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R–MI):

“We can see the light at the end of the SGR tunnel—finally. Our bipartisan product begins the task of strengthening Medicare over the long term. This responsible legislative package reflects years of bipartisan work, is a good deal for seniors, and a good deal for children too. It’s time to put a stop once and for all to the repeated SGR crises and start to put Medicare on a stronger path forward for our seniors."

They really care. So what's the catch? McJoan at Daily Kos spells it out:

The existence of a bipartisan permanent fix, coming out of the insane Republican House is remarkable. Also remarkable is the expectation that it will pass.

A floor vote is planned for Thursday, House leadership aides said, after the top Democrat and Republican successfully resolved concerns about abortion language.

"It is all shaping up very well on both sides," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner.

Ah, but that "abortion language" is the kicker, and it's the reason that it is much less certain that the plan will pass the Senate. The nature of the "doc fix," a must-pass bill because it has two powerful constituencies—seniors and the medical community, means that it will be a magnet for other things. They can't resist tacking on a bunch of sweeteners, and those sweeteners end up being poison. That's the case here, when $7.2 billion for community health centers was added. That's great. Community health centers need to be funded. The problem is that Republicans insisted on anti-abortion Hyde amendment language being added to that funding, despite the fact that community health centers generally don't provide abortion and an executive action signed by President Obama when Obamacare passed makes doubly sure no federal funds will be used for abortion in these clinics.

House Democrats argue that it's okay to include the language because of those facts—it makes no difference. But the same argument could be turned against them—the anti-abortion language need not be included at all and is absolutely unnecessary. In fact, adding it—as Senate Democrats say—brings us that much closer to codifying the abortion ban in the law, as opposed to tacking it on as an amendment on spending bills. Accepting it means losing even more ground on choice, which so far Senate Democrats aren't willing to do.

Republicans are obviously ecstatic that they get to tell their constituents that they were able to stab abortion rights in the back. After all, they have to make sure doctors are being paid under Medicare or their grey haired constituents would have a fit. And a couple of years of funding for some poor kids and a few health centers that don't deal with lady parts makes them feel good about themselves. But down the road this codification of the abortion ban will come back to haunt them, probably when some Supreme Court case cites this big bipartisan vote as proof that the country has evolved on the issue of abortion and agrees that it should be banned.

They are, as usual, playing the long game.

"They smell blood in the water"

by digby

They just don't like Jeb. And why would they? They put their heart and soul into Poppy and then Junior and look where it left them ...
The leaders of evangelical and other socially conservative groups say they do not believe that Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida — whom they already view as the preferred candidate of the Republican Party’s establishment — would fight for the issues they care most about: opposing same-sex marriage, holding the line on an immigration overhaul and rolling back abortion rights.

The efforts to coalesce behind an alternative candidate — in frequent calls, teleconferences and meetings involving a range of organizations, many of them with overlapping memberships — are premised on two articles of conservative faith: Republicans did not win the White House in the past two elections because their nominees were too moderate and failed to excite the party’s base. And a conservative alternative failed to win the nomination each time because grass-roots voters did not unite behind a single champion in the primary fight.

This time, social conservatives vow, will be different. They plan to unify behind an anti-establishment candidate by this summer or early fall, with the expectation that they will be able to overcome the presumed fund-raising advantage of the Republican elite by exerting their own influence through right-wing talk radio and social media, and by mobilizing an army of like-minded small donors.

“Conservatives smell blood in the water,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who has participated in the vetting. “They feel they’ve got the best shot to deny the establishment a place.”

Ms. Conway said the candidates seen as having potential to energize the party’s right wing would be invited to make their case before national groups of social conservatives in the coming weeks and months.
Also too, they've gotta make a buck:
Richard Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail pioneer, said he was involved in the effort to rally behind a candidate so “we won’t go into this season divided six or eight different ways.”
More power to them. Primaries are designed for the party rank and file to decide who the party nominates. Sure, the "donor primary" is awfully important. But it's really just the modern version of the men in smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear. If those plutocrats and party insiders want to take control completely, they're going to have to cut out the voters entirely. And frankly, I won't be surprised to see them do that. Especially if these grassroots conservatives have any luck in organizing themselves around someone the Big Money Boyz don't find acceptable and they win. Remember, the true conservative position on all this is that "those who own the country ought to govern it."

Let's face it, they're just better at everything

by digby

The good news today is that the Supreme Court ruled that UPS has an obligation not to treat pregnant workers like crap. (Or something like that.)

The bad news continues to be this:
Even though nine out of 10 nurses are women, men in the profession earn higher salaries, and the pay gap has remained constant over the past quarter century, a study finds.

The typical salary gap has consistently been about $5,000 even after adjusting for factors such as experience, education, work hours, clinical specialty, and marital and parental status, according to a report in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

"Nursing is the largest female dominated profession so you would think that if any profession could have women achieve equal pay, it would be nursing," said lead study author Ulrike Muench from the University of California, San Francisco.

Muench and colleagues used two large U.S. data sets to examine earnings over time. One, the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, provided responses from nearly 88,000 participants from 1988 to 2008. The other, the American Community Survey, offered responses from nearly 206,000 registered nurses from 2001 to 2013.

Every year, each of the data sets found men earned more than women; the unadjusted pay gap ranged from $10,243 to $11,306 in one survey and from $9,163 to $9,961 in the other.

There was a gap for hospital nurses, $3,783, and an even bigger one, $7,678, for nurses in outpatient settings.

Men out-earned women in every specialty except orthopedics, with the gap ranging from $3,792 in chronic care to $17,290 for nurse anesthetists.
The standard explanation, and also offered in the article, is that women don't deserve the same pay because they insist on slacking off when they give birth. Either that or they're just bad at getting what they want. (And who's fault is that, amirite?)

This is obviously wrong. Sure nursing may have been an exclusively female profession for years and is still dominated by women. But clearly, it wasn't until men joined the profession that it started getting done properly. Just as all those Wall Street traders are harder and smarter workers than nuclear physicists, so too men are harder and smarter workers than women. It's called meritocracy. And lord knows our meritocratic system works perfectly.


Dear Smart People Charged with Influencing Idiots, How's Your Fiction?

by Spocko



This is the kind of entertaining, cynical comedy that makes me nod my head in agreement. You might too.

You see, I'm a liberal smart person who wants to be seen as smarter than I am.

I see myself doing activities or working on activities like those listed at  :54 seconds, and wondering if I, and they, have zero influence.

I see myself, or friends, doing jobs like the ones described at 1:53.

I don't like thinking or feeling I have zero influence. It feels like a Simpson's clip. "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably, the lesson is, never try."

There is the part of me, and I'm betting a bunch of you, that needs to have hope.

The success using our "smart people ways" are much greater than zero. For example, the FCC Net Neutrality vote.

The cynical will say, "Well, that action only happened because the rich people wanted it to happen." That was the line I heard after the FCC Net Neutrality vote.
That opinion doesn't take into account the cumulative and supporting effects of all the actions. It also misses another huge important strategic move:

Figure out how to use rich people and companies who want some of the same things you want

It reminded me of how I went about de-funding right-wing talk radio.
I convinced rich people (advertisers) that they didn't want to associate their brands with the violent, sexist, racist, and bigoted comments coming out of talk radio.

How did that happen? Through passionate emails, letters, blogging, tweets and phone calls.

Who did it? People like my friend James Madison (not his real name), Angelo with @stopbeck and all the wonderful people who work on #stoprush.

This was NOT a Zero Influence action. It has had 100's of million of dollars of influence on some companies bottom lines. That is a big fraking deal.

But, but Spocko, Rush is still on the air!  Glenn Beck got booted off of Fox News, but he's still on radio! They are still making money from other sources! They still have Influence!

Yes, but they are now diminished in a way that pisses rich conservative people off. And that is always fun.

Now the rich have to pay for their propaganda more directly. They loved the idea that their propaganda was influential AND made them money. They liked to rub that line in the faces of liberals, 'Ha, ha! Our radio propaganda MAKES money!"

At this point I usually remind people that Rupert Murdoch's New York Post loses about 110 million dollars a year. Every. Single. Year. Also, think tanks don't turn a profit. They beg for donor money Every. Single. Year.

Yet they sell a product. Ideas and Metaphors about how they want the world to work.

Which leads me to the other kind of influence the we wield that cynical smart people like to dismiss.  Language, Metaphors and Fiction.

I thought this example of the influence of fiction was an interesting one:
It's from The Take Away, John Hockenberry's new NPR show. It is about the "soft power" of fictional TV on North Korea.

If I'm one of those "smart people" who is charged with influencing idiots or smart people, I'd look to fiction.

Ideas, values and culture in fiction are some of America's biggest exports. We are soaking in so many common ideas and values that we don't really see them anymore.  As they say, "Fish don't discover water."

 I want to look at how we talk about the economy and torture.  The interesting thing is that when we change how we talk about things in our fiction, it can change how we talk about things in our non-fiction.

Looking at the media coverage of the budget and torture, I've noticed how people are carefully choosing the language, metaphors and stories they use to talk about these areas, in both fiction and non-fiction.  

I'd like to have some influence in this area, we can make changes. Hopefully greater than zero. It's very possible. We did it before and we can do it again.

Tomorrow: National Budgets. Which Fiction Does the Media Like and Why.

Millionaires just get no respect these days. Billionaires take it all.

by digby

The Washington Post reports on the very sad plight of a group of wealthy former bundlers who just aren't rich enough to garner the attention from politicians that billionaires do:
“They are only going to people who are multi-multi-millionaires and billionaires and raising big money first,” said Neese, who founded a successful employment agency. “Most of the people I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and saying, ‘You know, we just don’t count anymore.’ ”

It’s the lament of the rich who are not quite rich enough for 2016.

Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking. Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?

Many fundraisers, once treated like royalty because of their extensive donor networks,are left pining for their lost prestige. Can they still have impact in a world where Jeb Bush asks big donors to please not give more than $1 million to his super PAC right now? Will they ever be in the inner circle again?

“A couple presidential elections ago, somebody who had raised, say, $100,000 for a candidate was viewed as a fairly valuable asset,” said Washington lobbyist Kenneth Kies. “Today, that looks like peanuts. People like me are probably looking around saying, ‘How can I do anything that even registers on the Richter scale?’ ”

Sexual favors? Offer to kill someone? There must be something.

This is so twisted you have no choice but to laugh. These people are feeling slighted because they aren't rich enough to gain the attention of politicians. Welcome to the world the rest of us inhabit, friends. But perhaps they need to ask themselves why they are treating these people as if they're royalty or demi-Gods in the first place. This is supposed to be a democracy and politicians are supposed to be seeking the approval of the citizens. Instead we have citizens seeking approval from the politicians and the politicians seeking approval from the ultra-wealthy. Something isn't quite right.

Still, you have to feel sorry for them for this terrible loss of status. It's gotta hurt to be a millionaire member of the upper five percent, used to being treated with deference by the servant class (the rest of us) and suddenly find yourself tossed aside as just another useless poor person. The answer to this dilemma --- the answer they would certainly give to any of the sad middle class and working class people who would ask this question is --- must be to "work harder" and become a billionaire themselves. Isn't it the case that rising to the top is just a matter of having a good work ethic? And if you fail, it's because you just don't put the kind of effort into it that billionaires do? That's what I always heard anyway.

Come on, millionaires, buck up. Anyone can become a billionaire if they really try. This is America. You only have yourself to blame if you just don't have enough money to make a politician care what you have to say.



Your daily apocalypse

by Tom Sullivan

Rush Limbaugh's popularity during the Clinton administration prompted some restaurants to create "Rush Rooms" where you could listen to el Rushbo piped in over speakers while you washed down your burger and onion rings with iced tea. Two Minutes Hate that lasted for hours. A daily dose of outrage to get the juices flowing.

In an interview at Salon, historian Rick Perlstein looks at how other conservative hucksters such as Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck peddle outrage and miracle cures. The practice has its roots in evangelical culture and in Richard Viguerie's mass marketing:

What he ended up mastering was a rhetorical style which is very familiar to viewers of Fox News, in which the apocalypse is right around the corner, and his innovation was to intimate that you could help stop it with a, y’know, $5, $10, $50 donation. His business model, as was very soon discovered, was taking 95 percent to sometimes even more than 100 percent of the take for his own purposes and profit and giving in only a minuscule percentage of the proceeds to the ostensible beneficiary, whether it was a fund that supposedly helped FBI officers injured in the line of duty or sending Bibles to Africa or supporting something like the National Conservative Political Action Committee.

Perlstein responds to Huckabee’s diabetes ad:

Let’s not forget 1988, when Pat Robertson won the New Hampshire primary. A lot of this stuff comes from Evangelical culture, which is a culture of witness, so the hawking of miracles is absolutely baked into the cake. Someone like Pat Robertson was followed by a figure like Pat Buchanan or any number of candidates in the last two or three Republican primary seasons, who make a lot of noise by doing decently well in early polls but then fade out once the seasoned pros take over and the money becomes preeminent.

If this historical pattern holds, Mike Huckabee, if he does well early, will flame out before the second or third inning but I see no impediment whatsoever for him to be disqualified by the conservative rank-and-file, simply because this stuff has been going on without much complaint since the 1970s. This is part of the hustle, right? If Huckabee can claim to have been victimized because of his activities, he can always claim it’s the conspiracy of the liberal elites… and then it’s off to the races.

Like Flannery O'Connor's bible salesman, except selling reverse mortgages and diet pills via multilevel marketing.

"Aren't you," she murmured, "aren't you good country people?"

What's infuriating is that now everybody's getting in on the daily apocalypse style. This DCCC appeal came in from Nancy Pelosi last night:

Thomas -- I don’t have much time:

The House is voting TOMORROW on the Republican budget.

Paul Ryan, blah, blah, blah ...

That’s why I’m coming to you. We need to raise $80,000 more before the vote tomorrow to show our Democratic strength.

Are you ready to fight back with me before it’s too late?

Hang on tight to your wooden legs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The twisted mind of a duck caller

by digby

Here's a little glimpse into the thoughts of America's most popular Christian patriarch:
“I’ll make a bet with you,” Robertson said. “Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters.

Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him.

And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him.

And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”

Robertson kept going:

“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? 
But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”

“If it happened to them,” Robertson continued, “they probably would say, ‘something about this just ain’t right.”
I don't think that sociopathic little homily says what he thinks it says.

Hysterical Huckleberry Quote 'O the Day

by digby

"The language used by the chief of staff of the president of the United States is exactly what Hamas uses. Today, the chief of staff of the president of the United States used language that has been reserved for terrorist organizations."

Oh my God! What did he say?

Speaking at J Street's annual conference, McDonough said that "an occupation that has lasted more than 50 years must end," adding that Palestinians should be able to govern themselves.

And then he screamed "Allahu Akbar" which was really disconcerting.

Huck continued:

"Is your country occupying the West Bank, or are you there to make sure the West Bank doesn't turn into Gaza? The chief of the staff of the president of the United States is looking at a world completely different than the one I am viewing."

Graham warned Obama that, if his administration does not block anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, "Congress will recalculate how we relate to the United Nations."

"All I can say is, when I thought it couldn't get worse, it has," Graham said, referring to McDonough's speech.

"Wake up and change your policies before you set the whole world on fire. Please watch your language. ... You're making everything worse, and now, you've added fuel to the fire."

Runferyerlives!!! Everybody's trying to kill us!!!!THE WORLD IS ON FIIIIYAH!!!!


An official act of racism

by digby

I'm horrified by the death penalty for many reasons. It's simply immoral to premeditatedly kill people who are in the custody of authorities and are no threat to anyone. When the system that put them there is capricious, unequal and unjust it's even worse. I will never understand how people can consider it a civilized act to murder someone who is shackled and unarmed.

But the absolutely most horrific aspect of capital punishment in America is the way it is used as an official, governmental act of racism. In the name of all of us:
IN APRIL 2005, nearly eight years after Kenneth Fults was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murdering his neighbor Cathy Bounds in Spalding County, Georgia, one of the trial jurors made a startling admission under oath: He'd voted for the death penalty, he said, because "that's what that nigger deserved."

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given the circumstances—a black man admitting to the murder of a white woman in the deep South—that some white jurors might secretly harbor racist views. The surprising part was that this juror, Thomas Buffington, came right out and said it. And what should have been the most surprising development of all (alas, it wasn't) came this past August, when a federal appeals court, presented with ample evidence, refused to consider how racism might have affected Fults' fate.

In fact, state and federal courts have routinely avoided the evidence and consequences of racism in the criminal-justice system. (See "5 Death Penalty Cases Tainted by Racism.") Consider one of the most famous examples, the 1987 Supreme Court case of McCleskey v. Kemp, in which lawyers for Warren McCleskey, a black man sentenced to death for killing a white police officer, presented statistics from more than 2,000 Georgia murder cases. The data demonstrated a clear bias against black defendants whose victims were white: When both killer and victim were black, only 1 percent of the cases resulted in a death sentence. When the killer was black and the victim white, 22 percent were sentenced to death—more than seven times the rate for when the races were reversed.
It's sick. Jim Crow may have ended and a whole lot of our fellow citizens are better off, but its racist intentions just moved to a new space behind prison walls.

I wish I could understand how any judge could be so cold-blooded as the allow an execution under these circumstances. I know they care about making "the system" efficient and worry in the abstract about what will happen if they start tinkering too much with the machinery of death. But this machine is designed to snare the innocent along with the guilty and it seems to have a need for black bodies to fuel it. It's a machine that doesn't work properly and never will. It needs to be scrapped.

Bill Maher, the one true liberal?

by digby

My post for Salon today discusses some recent Bill Maher comments that truly are startling.  If he hadn't made such a fetish out of the Islamic fundamentalist threat one might just dismiss it as a case of lazy rhetoric.  But in the context of everything else he's been saying lately it's worth looking at:
When he is defending his sweeping condemnation of the Muslim religion, Bill Maher inevitably proclaims himself to be “the real liberal” implying that those who don’t see things his way are impure in some way. He’s said it numerous times on his show and in interviews such as the one he did here at Salon with Elias Isquith claiming that standing on liberal principles (as he defines them) even against people who are oppressed minorities is what makes him “the liberal in this debate.”
But how to explain his latest comments defending the comments of Benjamin Netanyahu in the final days of the Israeli election complaining, “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls, left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.” Maher said:
“I guess that is racist, in the strictest sense — he’s bringing race into the equation. But, first of all, like Reagan didn’t win races with racism? Or Nixon? Or Bush? Like they didn’t play the race card? Reagan opened his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, remember that? Remember Willie Horton?”
Real liberals don’t say that racism doesn’t work. It’s that it’s wrong. But he didn’t stop there:
“I heard a lot of commentators here say, it would been as if Mitt Romney, in 2012, on the eve of the election said, ‘black voters are coming out in droves to the polls. But I don’t know if that’s really a great analogy. I think that would be a good analogy if America was a country that was surrounded by 12 or 13 completely black nations who had militarily attacked us many times, including as recently as last year. Would we let them vote? I don’t know. When we were attacked by the Japanese, we didn’t just not let them vote, we rounded them up and put them in camps.”
I’ve got a better analogy for him. Not too long ago there was a nation run by white people, surrounded by “black nations” and filled with oppressed black citizens who were very hostile to it. It is called South Africa. And principled liberals didn’t think their system was such a great idea and they certainly defend the white South African overlords simply because they felt afraid of losing power. Ronald Reagan did, as did most right wingers. And so did the other Republicans who Maher mentions using racist language to get elected. Liberals, on the other hand, believed that black South Africans should have full citizenship. Certainly they thought trying to prevent black people from voting, whether over there or here, was a very illiberal thing to do. Liberals were on the right side of history on that one.

Interning the Japanese was an immoral blight on America’s record for which the nation apologized and made reparations. The president who signed that reparations bill was none other than Ronald Reagan. The internment happened more than 70 years ago during a period when open racism was a normal part of American society. Today, the only people who support such a horror are Maher’s right wing buddy Ann Coulter and her fellow travellers like Michelle Malkin.

Read on...

The good cops

by digby

This nice note came across my twitter feed last night and as a harsh critic of police tactics, I think it's important to make sure the other side gets out there too:
El Dorado Police Department Lieutenant Tim Baker and Sergeant Larry Arnold responded to a disturbance call. The homeless man was combative toward the officers, even throwing his bicycle. The man has a volatile history and his behavior could have escalated and caused injury to the officers or himself.

Instead, Sgt Arnold patiently calmed him down and Lt Baker helped him reattach his bicycle tire. 
Patrol Officer Mike Holton brought the man lunch, spent hours finding him a bed in a shelter in Wichita and then drove the man to the shelter.

None of these officers would have expected anyone to notice or thank them, but a citizen just happened to look out their window, see the interaction and snap these pictures.

I see this sort of thing frequently here in Santa Monica where the local police are often called upon to deal with a large homeless population. They are unfailingly polite and patient. (LAPD, not so much --- it must be a cultural thing.) The best cops are those who not only project authority but also have an understanding of psychology and a healthy dose of patience and empathy. It's not the job of a soldier. It's something more.

Update: and I can't let this post go by without showing this youtube again. It makes me laugh out loud every time I see it:

Huge White House Scandal!

by digby

Sure this happened in the Obama White House but it's so redolent of the travel office firing back in 1993 that you have to suspect that Hillary Clinton had something to do with it. She's been talking about emails regarding weddings and funerals after all. And who but a florist would be in the know about all that, amirite? Call the special prosecutor!
When White House chief pastry chef Bill Yosses left the executive mansion last summer, the president publicly mourned the loss of “the crust master’s” mysteriously addictive pies. And when the first family’s personal chef and pal, Sam Kass, left in December, Michelle Obama heaped praise on Kass’s “extraordinary legacy of progress” in an official White House statement.

But the recent exit of head florist Laura Dowling, who’d been in the job since 2009, has been a much quieter affair. So hush hush, in fact, that most outside of 1600 Penn knew nothing about it. There’s still no official comment on why Dowling is no longer at the White House, but according to a source with close ties to current residence staffers, she was escorted from the building on Friday Feb. 13.

The East Wing initially confirmed via a very brief e-mail that “Laura left her position earlier this year” but provided no further details. Later, the first lady’s office (not quoting the first lady specifically, mind you) sent this enhanced statement:

“As Chief Florist, Laura Dowling and her team treated guests of the White House to their beautiful floral arrangements. Ms. Dowling’s creations were always lively and colorful, reflecting not only the season but the unique and historic rooms which they graced. No two arrangements were ever the same and each one left guests with a lasting impression of the elegance and history of the People’s House. We are grateful for her contribution over the years and wish her well”

We also reached out to the Office of the Chief Usher, which oversees all residence staff. When we asked to speak with Dowling, the woman who answered the phone said, “She no longer works here.” And when asked if there was another head floral designer, she responded, “There really isn’t.”

Hours after we put in a call to Dowling’s Alexandria floral design shop, Intérieurs et Fleurs, she issued a statement via the law firm Sidley Austin.

“After almost 6 years as Chief Floral Designer at the White House, I have resigned in order to pursue exciting new opportunities and explore my passion for floral artistry and design. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be launching a new platform for my work as an author, speaker, instructor and design consultant that builds on the creative ideas and partnerships I’ve formed during my tenure there. It’s been such an honor to work at the White House and I will always be grateful for this incredible opportunity.”

“This absolutely comes from the top. The first lady has the final say,” explained Kate Andersen Brower, author of the upcoming book, “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House.” Andersen Brower first heard of Dowling’s departure from three former residence staffers.

The silence from the East Wing surrounding Dowling’s exit is in sharp contrast to the buzz of her hiring.

According to a former residence staffer, Dowling’s exit “surprised a lot of people.” But the White House’s staff, continued this source, was discouraged from “trying to come up with their own conclusions.” Rumors, of course, have been flying ever since.

“I’m not sure what the reason is,” continued our source. “But I can think of a few.”
As Jon Stewart would say, "Doo tellllll ...."

Ok, so the Clinton connection might be a bit thin, even for the Village. But obviously Michelle Obama was unhappy with the floral arrangements for some reason. So she fired the florist without so much as a by-your-leave or a fare-thee-well. Now why would that be, hmmmmm?

I have no idea and obviously neither does the journalist who wrote this but it would be irresponsible not to hint darkly at something.


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