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Hullabaloo


Friday, April 24, 2015

 
I'll bet you need this too...

by digby

It's been a long week, and I am in serious need of a cocktail or two.

And this:


Those are baby otters.  I've named them Bernie and Liz.

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Rubiomania may last a while

by digby

538 splashes cold water on Rubio's "surge" but offers some hopeful news for the hot Cuban-American hopeful's long term prospects:
What makes Rubio strong isn’t his polling surge, but that he is well-liked across the party apparatus. He pulls in conservatives with his voting record and moderates with his impressive 2010 Senate victory in Florida, a crucial battleground state.

This is all evident in non-horse-race polling. Rubio’s net favorability rating among Republicans is near the top of the field. The gap between Republicans who could see themselves voting for Rubio and those who couldn’t is among the field’s best, according to an average of CBS News surveys conducted this year
I have been saying for months that Rubio is the guy who makes the most sense for the GOP. Of course,   I could be wrong. It's based entirely on seat-of-the-pants intuition and very general observation of the political field. But I haven't changed my mind yet.

I don't know that he can win --- it's early days. But if I were a Republican strategist I'd tell the big money boys that he's the guy who looks like the best bet to beat Clinton. On paper at least. (I'd also tell Rubio to lose the smirk --- it worked for W but it's probably not a good idea to remind people of him.)


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Submission to the Panopticon

by digby

We've been writing here about the "stingray" technology and the local cops' use of it for a while.  But I was happily surprised to see the mainstream Vox take up the subject and with such a strong editorial viewpoint:
Did you know that law enforcement can track your cellphone with a fake cell tower? It's true — and devices that do this, known as stingrays, are at the center of a growing scandal.

The FBI has done everything it could to keep the existence and use of stingrays a secret. Local law enforcement agencies are forced to sign nondisclosure agreements before they can use the devices. The FBI claims that revealing details about how the gadgets work would tip off criminals and terrorists, rendering them less effective.

But in recent months, civil liberties groups have steadily chipped away at the secrecy of these devices. We've learned that they're used by dozens — and probably hundreds — of law enforcement agencies across the country, and that at least one agency has used them thousands of times.

Critics say the way these devices have been used violates the US Constitution, by tracking people's locations without judicial oversight. And the secrecy surrounding the devices also appears to be hampering efforts to prosecute violent criminals, as prosecutors have dropped key evidence rather than discuss how it was obtained.

The extreme secrecy surrounding these devices is out of step with the American tradition of open and accountable government. Americans have a right to know that law enforcement spying has proper judicial oversight. And this kind of oversight is impossible if even basic information about the technology is kept under wraps.
There is more info at the link. It would be really nice if the rest of the mainstream press showed similar concern. This is all of a piece in which new technology is created and then secretly deployed by the government where it inevitably leads to civil liberties abuses. After all, civil liberties exist for the express purpose of impeding the government's natural inclination to abuse the rights of its citizens, whether to further its own power or whether they believe it will "protect" innocents. Neither rationale is acceptable in a free society. After all, the government could "protect us" by using their powers to burst into every home at will to ensure that nobody is hiding anything but we would find that to be an odd way of defining "protection". Making things as easy as possible for police is not how we've arranged our society.

I suppose it's easy for people to believe that the NSA or the FBI are above such pettiness although it's very hard to see why considering their history. But for the sake of this argument we'll grant that. Can anyone in their right minds truly believe that local police are above corruption or error and should therefore be allowed to spy on citizens in secret with no safeguards? If you're willing to believe such fatuous nonsense then you probably deserve the police state in which you'll soon be living.

While many Americans may give the benefit of the doubt to police in a violent altercation they are unlikely to want to trust them with their own personal information. If they think it's fine then they ought to just give all their passwords out to law enforcement and willingly submit themselves to The Panopticon. I'm not up for that myself. I like being able to keep my private thoughts to myself. In fact, I can't imagine what life will be like when that's lost. It strikes me as a nightmare.

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Good for the daughter but not for the wife

by digby

I think we can all see the problem with this:



And other problems linger:
By more than two to one, men say that it is harder to be a man today compared with their father’s generation–and a number of the reasons focused on changes in their relationships with women.

This is just one of the insights from a recent Hart Research Associates poll for the Shriver Report Snapshot: An Insight Into the 21st Century Man. The online survey was conducted among 818 men 18 and older.

Eighty-five percent of men say they are clear in their role in society today, but 45% say it is harder to be a man today compared to their father’s generation, while just 20% say it is easier to be a man today (35% say it is no easier or harder). For those who say it is harder to be a man, a number of the most common reasons stem from changes in relationships with women, including that women are in a stronger position in the workplace and financially; men are taking on a greater share of household responsibilities; and more demands are being placed on men.

While the old mold in male-female relationships has been broken, it’s clear that the new shape has yet to set. Sixty-three percent of men say they are very comfortable living with or being married to a woman who works outside the home, and 51% are very comfortable with a female partner earning more money than they do. But 56% of men agree, generally speaking, that men are more concerned about making good impressions and earning the respect of other men than earning the respect of women. And while a majority are very comfortable with their female partner working outside the home, just 24% of men said they would be very comfortable being a stay-at-home dad and not working outside the home.

These blurred lines and conflicted feelings about relationships with women are present in another way. Men were asked to select from a list of 10 terms the two or three qualities they deem most important in a wife or female partner. From the same list, they were asked to identify the most important qualities in their daughter when she grows up. Intelligence topped the list for a wife or female partner at 72% and for a daughter at 81%. But the ranking of qualities on both lists diverge after this, sometimes with wide gaps. While 45% of men consider being attractive one of the most important qualities for their wife or female partner, just 11% said so for their daughter. Similarly, 34% specified being sweet as a key quality for a female partner, but just 19% said the same for a daughter. Conversely, men are much more likely to cite being independent (66% for daughter; 34% for wife/female partner) and strong (48% daughter, 28% wife/female partner) as most important qualities for a daughter...
It is clear to me that these blurred lines and conflicted feelings are not easily divided by demographics or ideological leanings either.

I just post this as a little FYI to illustrate that the issues around gender are very complicated and in the most intimate ways. As a good friend of mine pointed out the other day, women bear the additional burden of seeking equality not only in the public sphere but must often deal with oppressors who have no idea they are oppressors and with whom they share their private life as well. Let's just say that it's complicated for everyone and pretending that it isn't merely serves the status quo.




 
One man's religion is another man's ecstasy

by digby

Why not?
A Nashville swingers club has undergone a conversion — it says it's now a church — in order to win city approval so it can open next to a Christian school.

The story began last fall, when a fixture in downtown Nashville called The Social Club sold its building and purchased a new one in a run-down office park several miles to the east.

The new building is geographically isolated at the end of a dead-end street, but it is near the back of Goodpasture Christian School, a large private school serving pre-school through high school children.

It might have been years before school officials and parents learned what was going on inside The Social Club — its website says it is "a private club for the enjoyment of both men and women ... to engage in any sexual activity" — if someone had not sent anonymous letters to the school president and the local councilwoman. Both say the person who tipped them off claimed to be a concerned club member, although they don't know that for sure.

Parents and religious leaders were called on to pack the Metro Nashville Council chambers to support a zoning change to prevent the club from opening. That's when the club, which had spent $750,000 on the building and begun renovations, suddenly transformed into a church.

The United Fellowship Center's plans are nearly identical to those of The Social Club but with some different labels. The dance floor has become the sanctuary. Two rooms labeled "dungeon" are now "choir" and "handbells." Forty-nine small, private rooms remain, but most of them have become prayer rooms.

Larry Roberts is the attorney for the club-turned-church. He previously vowed to take the city to court. Now, he says, it's the city that will have to sue.

"The ball is in Metro's court ... We've now gotten a permit to meet as a church, and a church is something that cannot be defined under the U.S. Constitution," he said.

Roberts said church members will "meet and have fellowship" in the new building, but no sex will take place there. "If people have something else in mind, they will go somewhere else."

Several of those who opposed The Social Club say they are skeptical of the change.

And if the government refuses to acknowledge them as a church they can do what the Scientology leaders did and sue the individual government employees personally. Worked like a charm ...

This whole thing is a reminder that "religious liberty" is a double edged sword and that keeping the church and state in their separate spheres, with the secular state being the governing institution in public life. It's always been a delicate balance but we have recently seen some scams and some intrusions on our civic life that are making all this risky --- for religion as much as secular society. The social conservatives should be careful how much they push this.

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Tryouts for billionaires

by digby

I wrote about the "donor primary" for Salon this morning:
As it stands today, the top candidate for leading man is the babyfaced Marco Rubio, who seems to be doing a much better job of finessing the GOPs immigration quagmire than Walker. Being Latino himself certainly doesn’t hurt, but as my colleague Elias Isquith pointed out yesterday, his slipperiness on the issue is actually quite impressive:

After putting together a big, bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 — which passed the Senate only to die ignominiously in the House — Rubio has spent more than a year disowning his sole legislative accomplishment and urging heartbroken Tea Partiers to forgive him for his sins. His dalliance with “amnesty” didn’t mean anything; he promises he’ll “secure the border” first, if only they’ll give him the chance and take him back.

The whole incident was embarrassing and led to his being “unceremoniously defenestrated,” as BuzzFeed puts it, from the rarefied air of the 2016 elite. But now there’s reason to wonder if what looked like a blunder was really part of a larger scheme — or at least that’s what Rubio wants donors (and the BuzzFeed-reading political class) to think. Rubio’s onetime support of comprehensive reform, BuzzFeed reports, “has proved to be a substantial draw within the GOP money crowd.”
And I’d guess there are a few gay Republican billionaires to whom he’d be happy to whisper his personal tolerance for marriage equality too. You can’t let Cruz corner the market, after all. Rubio would also certainly be one guy you could depend upon for a hawkish foreign policy, which seems to be a must among these super-rich puppet masters.

And what would you know, mega-donor Sheldon Adelson is smitten:
In recent weeks, Adelson, who spent $100 million on the 2012 campaign and could easily match that figure in 2016, has told friends that he views the Florida senator, whose hawkish defense views and unwavering support for Israel align with his own, as a fresh face who is “the future of the Republican Party.” He has also said that Rubio’s Cuban heritage and youth would give the party a strong opportunity to expand its brand and win the White House…

Since entering the Senate in 2011, Rubio has met privately with the mogul on a half-dozen occasions. In recent months, he‘s been calling Adelson about once every two weeks, providing him with meticulous updates on his nascent campaign. During a recent trip to New York City, Rubio took time out of his busy schedule to speak by phone with the megadonor.

Rubio really is a GOP dreamboat, isn’t he? He even calls when he’s on the road!

Our world is run by billionaires more openly than ever before and big money in politics is going to be a huge story in this campaign. And both sides will be answering lots of questions about it.



 

Don't fear the Reapers

by Tom Sullivan

General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

But who's counting? As Digby pointed out last night, there is a lot less precision to these "precision" drone strikes than meets the monitors of drone pilots at Creech Air Force Base. The government can't even keep count of how many Americans they've killed. The Guardian reports:

The targets of the deadly drone strikes that killed two hostages and two suspected American members of al-Qaida were “al-Qaida compounds” rather than specific terrorist suspects, the White House disclosed on Thursday.

The lack of specificity suggests that despite a much-publicized 2013 policy change by Barack Obama restricting drone killings by, among other things, requiring “near certainty that the terrorist target is present”, the US continues to launch lethal operations without the necessity of knowing who specifically it seeks to kill, a practice that has come to be known as a “signature strike”.

How certain is "near certainty"?

Human-rights observers see little indication, two years after Obama’s speech, that the US meets its own stated standards on preventing civilian casualties in counter-terrorism operations. Reprieve, looking at US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, concluded last year that the US killed nearly 1,150 people while targeting 41 individuals.
What's infuriating about these stories is the boilerplate "fog of war" excuses given after the fact. As if, after the Reaper has lingered over a potential target for hours (or days) while the CIA cross-checks its sketchy intelligence, everything just happened so fast.

Can't wait for these beasties to be lingering over your rooftops, can ya?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

 
Four not Two

by digby

Why am I seeing headlines all day about the US admitting to killing two Americans in drones strikes back in January? It was four Americans:

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in January accidentally killed two innocent hostages, including one American.

Multiple U.S. officials told CNN the hostages, Warren Weinstein, an American, and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed by a U.S. military drone that targeted the al Qaeda compound.

"As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni," Obama said Thursday morning in the White House briefing room, where he apologized on behalf of the U.S. government.

The White House also disclosed Thursday that two Americans, both al Qaeda operatives, were also killed in U.S. counterterrorism operations in the same region.

Al Qaeda leader Ahmed Farouq, who was an American citizen and deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, was also killed in the operation that killed the two innocent hostages.

Adam Gadahn, another American in the senior ranks of al Qaeda, was also killed by U.S. forces in the region, "likely in a separate" counterterrorism operation, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Thursday.

It's terrible that the two hostages were killed, obviously. But it's probably important to note that they were killed in the process of purposefully targeting and killing another American. Something which we did to yet another American in a separate strike.

I guess this is all just normal stuff now. If your government wants to kill you when you're abroad they can do it and nobody will raise a stink. If they accidentally kill you then there's a problem. Good to know.

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"Safeguards at every step of the process...?"

by digby

So Loretta Lynch was confirmed. I guess that's one legislative roadblock that's been removed. Huzzah. But confess I have mixed emotions considering her record as a federal prosecutor on stuff like this:
Referring to the federal government’s forfeiture regime as “an important tool” in fighting crime, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch staunchly defended the concept of civil asset forfeiture during the first day of her confirmation hearings.

After Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) questioned the “fundamental fairness” of Americans having their property taken by the government without any proof (or often even suspicion) of criminal wrongdoing, Lynch asserted that there are “safeguards at every step of the process” to protect innocent people, “certainly implemented by [her] office … as well as an opportunity to be heard.”

Even setting aside the litany of federal civil asset forfeiture abuses that have come to light recently across the country, Lynch’s reference to her own office’s handling of civil forfeiture is particularly concerning.

Lynch is currently the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and her office, despite its safeguards, is responsible for one of the more publicized and questionable uses of the asset forfeiture program. In May of 2012 the Hirsch brothers, joint owners of Bi-County Distributors in Long Island, had their entire bank account drained by the Internal Revenue Service working in conjunction with Lynch’s office. Many of Bi-County’s customers paid in cash, and when the brothers made several deposits under $10,000, federal agents accused them of “structuring” their deposits in order to avoid the reporting requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act. Without so much as a criminal charge, the federal government emptied the account, totaling $446,651.11.

For more than two years, and in defiance of the 60-day deadline for the initiation of proceedings included in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, Lynch’s office simply sat on the money while the Hirsch brothers survived off the goodwill their business had engendered with its vendors over the decades.

That case, which was handled by the Institute for Justice, finally ended just days ago when Lynch’s office quietly returned the money, having found no evidence of any wrongdoing. The Hirsch brothers and their business survived, but just how many law-abiding small businesses can afford to give the government a 33-month, interest-free loan of nearly half a million dollars?

Asset forfeiture should be a crime, not a law enforcement tool. And if they persist in using it as a law enforcement tool "mistakes" like this should result in the forfeiture of someone's job and restitution. These are real human beings whose lives have been upended, not statistics on a spreadsheet somewhere. That explanation was lame. Let's hope Lynch shows a little bit more concern for civil liberties in her new job.

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And here I thought Ted Cruz was one guy you could count on ...

by digby

Cruz is in New York, slumming with gay billionaires:

Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican presidential candidate, has positioned himself as a strong opponent to same-sex marriage, urging pastors nationwide to preach in support of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, which he said was “ordained by God.”

But on Wednesday night, at a reception for him at the Manhattan apartment of two prominent gay hoteliers, the Texas senator struck quite a different tone.

During the gathering, according to two attendees, Mr. Cruz said he would have no problem if one of his daughters was gay. He did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying only that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states.

The dinner and “fireside chat” for about a dozen people with Mr. Cruz and his wife, Heidi, was at the Central Park South penthouse of Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, longtime business partners who were once a couple and who have been pioneers in the gay hospitality industry.
[...]
Mr. Cruz has honed his reputation as a grass-roots firebrand, and was strongly supportive of the Indiana religion law that was recently blasted as discriminatory by gay rights activists. When the law was attacked by major businesses like Walmart, he criticized the “Fortune 500’s radical gay marriage agenda.”


Interactive Feature | Who Is Running for President (and Who’s Not)? At least a dozen Republicans and a handful of Democrats have expressed an interest in running for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
So the juxtaposition of Mr. Cruz being the guest of honor at a home owned by two of the most visible gay businessmen in New York City was striking. Mr. Cruz was on a fund-raising tour of New York City, although the dinner was not a fund-raiser.

Mr. Cruz also told the group that the businessman Peter Thiel, an openly gay investor, is a close friend of his, Mr. Sporn said. Mr. Thiel has been a generous contributor to Mr. Cruz’s campaigns.

I get why some rich gay people would be Republicans. They are clearly rich first and gay second. But why any of them would support a nutcase like Ted Cruz is beyond me.

Cruz, of course, is just saying whatever he needs to say in the moment in hopes of landing a billionaire or two. Every candidate in this post-Citizens United world will need at least one in his pocket. (That's what we call "the donor primary".) It's not a problem for someone like Ted Cruz to do this, however, because his voters all know that he really truly hates gay people and they are happy for him to take their money to use against them. Now if he starts talking in public about gay rights, they'll have something to say about it. For now though I'd suspect they figure he's being pretty savvy.


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Teachable moments in militarized America

by digby

If you follow the right wing at all you've seen the hysterical handwringing this week over a melodramatic piece in the National Review which purports to expose a story of police intimidation and harassment of average conservative supporters of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Let's just say the story is a little bit more complicated than that. I wrote about it for Salon this morning:

Fast forward to this new piece in the National Review, which is being breathlessly discussed in conservative circles as if it were the right wing’s version of the Pentagon Papers. It’s the story of jack-booted thugs raiding the homes of Republican activists all over Wisconsin, using such a degree of shock and awe that the subjects have mistaken the authorities for criminal home invaders. The star of this dramatic tale is a woman named Cindy Archer, whom the National Review article describes as “one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the ‘Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, [which] limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions.” The article goes on to characterize her and the other victims of the raids (who are only identified by pseudonyms) simply as “conservatives,” giving the impression that they are being targeted solely on that basis:
For dozens of conservatives, the years since Scott Walker’s first election as governor of Wisconsin transformed the state — known for pro-football championships, good cheese, and a population with a reputation for being unfailingly polite — into a place where conservatives have faced early-morning raids, multi-year secretive criminal investigations, slanderous and selective leaks to sympathetic media, and intrusive electronic snooping. Yes, Wisconsin, the cradle of the progressive movement and home of the “Wisconsin idea” — the marriage of state governments and state universities to govern through technocratic reform — was giving birth to a new progressive idea, the use of law enforcement as a political instrument, as a weapon to attempt to undo election results, shame opponents, and ruin lives.

It’s obviously impossible to know any details about the pseudonymous conservatives since we don’t know their names. But Cindy Archer wasn’t just a conservative citizen volunteering her time for cause. Back in 2011, when the story of the raid was first reported, the Wisconsin State Journal said she was an official who had worked with Walker as county executive and followed him to the capital.

Read on. These people weren't just nice volunteers handing out leaflets. They were high level aides to Scott Walker.

But I agree with these right wingers (even Rush!) who say the authorities shouldn't be pounding on doors at 6:45 in the morning and storming people's houses, yelling and screaming and confiscating their stuff. Why they always have to use these strongarm tactics is beyond me. They easily could have knocked politely, showed her the subpoena and basically dealt with her like a human being.

But then that's not how they do things anymore. They act as if everyone is a terrorist from small time suspected drug dealer to people out on traffic warrants to government bureaucrats. Often they get the wrong house and more than we want to admit actually shoot innocent people in the confusion and melee they cause with their military tactics. But since most of the time they aren't nice white conservative Republicans people on the right side of the dial usually take the jaded line that they must be guilty of something or the cops wouldn't be doing it.

Maybe this is a teachable moment. Never say I'm not an optimist.

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QOTD: Charlie Pierce

by digby

This is just one little piece of an excellent post:

As best I can trace the lines of the conspiracy as it is taking shape, some of the countries and patrons of the Clinton Global Initiative may also have paid Bill Clinton the big money to talk to them. There's a bit of innuendo to the effect that the Clintons may have been commingling Initiative money with their own. However, if Bill's piling up $100 mil just for talking, and the man loves to talk, then they hardly seem to have to raid the cookie jar. But the basic thrust is that these countries and patrons one day may seek the favors of President Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The multiple avenues through which the Clintons and their causes have accepted financial support have provided a variety of ways for wealthy interests in the United States and abroad to build friendly relations with a potential future president.

You're kidding. Wealthy interests might use their wealth to "build friendly relations" with politicians? In 2015? Has anyone told Anthony Kennedy? He might plotz.

(This, by the way, is Clinton Rule No. 2 -- what is business as usual for every politician since Cato is a work of dark magic when practiced by either Clinton.)

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What's Wrong with the Wyden-Hatch Fast Track Bill — The Specifics

by Gaius Publius

When we first reported on the introduction of Fast Track legislation — the bill that makes it possible for Obama and corporate Congress men and women to pass TPP, the next NAFTA-style "trade" agreement, by neutering Congress' role in the process — we said that the new bill was being analyzed.

That analysis is done, and the results are in. This version of Fast Track is worse than the last version, a bill which failed to pass Congress in 2014. Here are the specifics (pdf) via Lori Wallach at Public Citizen, the go-to person for "trade" analysis. I'm going to focus on the main problems so you're not overwhelmed with detail. Your take-aways:
  • What was bad in the prior agreement is worse, despite Wyden's intervention.
     
  • Every attempt in the bill to make TPP conform to mandated worker, environmental and currency protections is unenforceable.
Note that the bill failed to attract a single Democratic co-sponsor in the House. This is not a bipartisan bill; it's a Wyden-plus-Republicans bill, at least so far. Wallach starts (my emphasis everywhere):
The trade authority bill introduced today would revive the controversial Fast Track procedures to which which nearly all U.S. House of Representatives Democrats and a sizable bloc of House Republicans already have announced opposition. Most of the text of this bill replicates word-for-word the text of the 2014 Fast Track bill, which itself replicated much of the 2002 Fast Track bill. Public Citizen calls on Congress to again oppose the outdated, anti-democratic Fast Track authority as a first step to replacing decades of “trade” policy that has led to the loss of millions of middle-class jobs and the rollback of critical public interest safeguards.

In the past 21 years, Fast Track authority has been authorized only once by Congress – from 2002 to 2007. In 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives voted down Fast Track for President Bill Clinton, with 71 GOP members joining 171 House Democrats.
Click through in the first paragraph to see the extent of the declared opposition in Congress. There is considerable undeclared opposition as well, hidden in the "not sure" statements of members, especially Republicans.

Now some of what's wrong. (For a side-by-side comparison of this Fast Track bill with the failed last one, click here; it's enlightening. Hardly anything changed.)

Fast Track Grants "Trade Authority" to the Next President As Well

Wallach, from the Public Citizen press release:
Today’s bill explicitly grandfathers in Fast Track coverage for the almost-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and would extend Fast Track procedures for three to six years. ...

“Congress is being asked to delegate away its constitutional trade authority over the TPP, even after the administration ignored bicameral, bipartisan demands about the agreement’s terms, and then also grant blank-check authority to whomever may be the next president for any agreements he or she may pursue,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
Not a small issue for a Republican-dominated Congress facing Hillary Clinton as the likely next Democratic nominee.

The Bill Makes Congress' Declared "Negotiating Objectives" Unenforceable

Wallach:
The trade authority proposal does not require negotiators to actually meet Congress’ negotiating objectives in order to obtain the Fast Track privileges, making the bill’s negotiating objectives entirely unenforceable. ...

Today's bill would empower the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for a trade pact, determine an agreement’s contents through the negotiating process, and then sign and enter into an agreement – all before Congress voted to approve a trade pact’s contents, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ negotiating objectives [as promised in the Fast Track bill.]
Under this Fast Track bill, this president and the next one can sign any agreement she or he wishes with anyone she or he wishes, containing any provisions she or he wishes, regardless of what Congress declares as its "negotiating objectives." Then that trade bill would come before Congress for an up-or-down vote. The bill would also:
Require votes in both the House and Senate within 90 days, forbidding any amendments and limiting debate to 20 hours, whether or not Congress’ negotiating objectives were met.
More:
The Hatch bill includes several negotiating objectives not found in the 2002 Fast Track authority, most of which were also in the 2014 bill. However, the Fast Track process that the legislation would re-establish ensures that these negotiating objectives are entirely unenforceable. Whether or not Congress’ negotiating objectives are met, the president could sign a pact before Congress approves it and obtain a yes or no vote in 90 days.
Is the unenforceability of these "objectives" an accident or a feature? From Obama's point of view (and Hillary Clinton's?) it has to be a feature, since it enshrines executive power. One doesn't usually neuter your opponents in a knock-down drag-out fight by accident. That tends to be the goal.

Keep this in mind — nothing any progressive cares about will be allowed in a Fast-Tracked trade bill. When some corporate Democrat talks about how this Fast Track bill puts requirements on the administration in areas like environmental protection, labor practices (including union-busting and even -murdering), and currency manipulation, just say, "Read the language; isn't gonna happen." Those "requirements" do not have to be met under this law.

About Currency Manipulation "Rules"

Wallach says that even if the currency manipulation requirements were enforceable (and they're not), that enforcement would change nothing.
Some of the Hatch bill negotiating objectives advertised as “new” are in fact identical to what was in the 2014 bill and were referenced in the 2002 Fast Track. For example, the 2002 Fast Track included currency measures: “seek to establish consultative mechanisms among parties to trade agreements to examine the trade consequences of significant and unanticipated currency movements and to scrutinize whether a foreign government engaged in a pattern of manipulating its currency to promote a competitive advantage in international trade.” (19 USC 3802(c)(12)) The so-called “new” text in the Hatch bill repeats word-for-word what was in the 2014 Fast Track bill: “The principal negotiating objective of the United States with respect to currency practices is that parties to a trade agreement with the United States avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other parties to the agreement, such as through cooperative mechanisms, enforceable rules, reporting, monitoring, transparency, or other means, as appropriate.”
Parties to the agreement should "avoid" manipulating exchange rates? As Wallach points out:
Even if Congress had the power to ensure that this negotiating objective was met, the language of this negotiating objective itself does not require enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation to be included in the TPP or other deals obtaining Fast Track treatment. Despite the requests from bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress that enforceable currency manipulation disciplines be included in the TPP, the Hatch negotiating objective lists “enforceable rules” as just one approach among several non-binding options for the TPP and other Fast Tracked deals.
Not much currency protection there, but again, if CEOs want to make a ton of money manufacturing in and trading with China and its subsidiaries in TPP countries, they have to play ball the Chinese way. So despite "tough" language, that currency manipulation is here until the Chinese, and only they, decide to change their policy. It's the cost of doing business there — a cost, I'll add, only the consumer pays. The profit goes straight to the CEO class bottom line.

One more point about that currency manipulation — there's talk that even the administration won't risk a confrontation on that score. One method of retaliation would be for the Chinese to not show up for the next Treasury auction, throwing a big wrench into U.S. interest rates. This is a complex subject — is the existence of Chinese-bought, zero-interest-paying U.S. Treasury bonds a form of ownership (by the Chinese) or a form of tribute paid by the Chinese to the U.S.?

Consider that last point carefully. David Graeber makes it in his great book, Debt: The First Five Thousand Years. One way ancient emperors ruled the provinces (and ripped them off) was to force them to buy his debt. In the ancient world, that was called "tribute."

As long as the U.S. holds the eventual military cards, "tribute" is likely what the U.S. sees when it sees foreign purchase of its bonds. My suggestion: Start to worry when that military balance shifts. My other suggestion: None of that shift will occur before climate change starts to devastate and deconstruct both nations. At that point, currency manipulation will be moot, to say the least. The Chinese won't be worried about exchange rates if the North China Plain, its too-far-south, too-close-to-sea-level "breadbasket," is starting to flood.

Improved Transparency with Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track? The Opposite.

Many are going to tout the bill's increase in transparency, meaning people will actually get to read the TPP treaty before it's signed. But, according to Wallach:
Provisions that are being touted as improving transparency, by empowering the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to develop standards for staff access to negotiating texts, would in fact provide a statutory basis for the unacceptable practice of requiring congressional staff to have security clearances to view any draft trade pact text and would fail to match even the level of transparency seen during the Bush administration’s trade negotiations. A close read of a new provision requiring USTR to post a trade agreement text on its website 60 days before signing reveals that this timing would be 30 days after the agreement was initialed and the text locked, meaning the text would only become public after it was too late for the public or Congress to demand changes.
I've had concerns that under Fast Track, even members of Congress may not see a full treaty before voting on it. I've had that concern answered; according to one member of Congress in a recent conference call, he would have access. I wasn't able to ask the follow-up question: "Would his staff also see the treaty?" I think the answer is above.

Look at it this way. The treaty is toxic in its language. Members of Congress can only read it in "reading rooms" without taking notes. If staff can see it at all, they have to have appropriate security clearances — because the treaty is being classified as a national security document. When Obama lobbied members of Congress recently about passing Fast Track and TPP, he threatened them that if they talked about what they heard in the meeting, they'd be charged with a crime:
As the Obama administration gives House Democrats a hard sell on a major controversial trade pact this week, it will be doing so under severe conditions: Any member of Congress who shares information with the public from a Wednesday briefing could be prosecuted for a crime.
In that atmosphere, and with treaty language that toxic, why would any administration allow copies to float through the halls of Congress? There are 435 House members and 100 senators. Let's say each has two staff members who would be assigned to read this treaty. You're now looking at between 535 and over 1000 copies on Capitol Hill. You'd have to assume that one of those copies goes to the press, and then, for Obama, it's game over.

Bottom line on transparency — isn't going to happen. If Obama wanted transparency, we wouldn't be looking to Wikileaks for our only copies.


The very very wealthy, eating the world (source)

What About the New "Human Rights" Negotiating Objective?

The Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill contains new language about "human rights," but if you read this far, you know how effective that is likely to be. Wallach:
Today’s bill includes a new negotiating objective related to human rights: “to promote respect for internationally recognized human rights.” But since the bill does not alter the fundamental Fast Track process, the president still would be able to unilaterally pick countries with serious human rights abuses as trade negotiating partners, initiate negotiations with them, conclude negotiations, and sign and enter into the trade agreement with the governments committing the abuses, with no opportunity for Congress to require the president to do otherwise.
Again, unenforceable is the feature, not the bug.

The "Exit Ramp" from Fast Track? Worse Than the Exit Ramp in the Last Fast Track

Proponents of the Wyden-negotiated "exit ramp" — by which the Fast Track process can be ended — assure us that there's way for Congress to take back its power. Not only is that not true, but it's a "feature" of this Fast Track bill that's even worse than the 1988 Fast Track bill. Wallach again:
Instead of establishing a new “exit ramp,” the bill literally replicates the same impossible conditions from past Fast Track bills that make the “procedural disapproval” mechanism to remove an agreement from Fast Track unusable. A resolution to do so must be approved by both the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees and then be passed by both chambers within 60 days. The bill’s only new feature in this respect is a new “consultation and compliance” procedure that would only be usable after an agreement was already signed and entered into, at which point changes to the pact could be made only if all other negotiating parties agreed to reopen negotiations and then agreed to the changes (likely after extracting further concessions from the United States). That process would require approval by 60 Senators to take a pact off of Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority “no” vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement. In contrast, the 1988 Fast Track empowered either the House Ways and Means or the Senate Finance committees to vote by simple majority to remove a pact from Fast Track consideration, with no additional floor votes required. And, such a disapproval action was authorized before a president could sign and enter into a trade agreement.
So the new exit ramp requires approval by the appropriate Senate and House committees and passage on the floor of both chambers — all of this only after the treaty was signed by all parties, thus requiring that negotiations be reopened on a signed-by-all-parties treaty. What are the odds of that?

By contrast the 1988 Fast Track bill provided a less stringent "exit" from Fast Track via a simple vote of the relevant committees only, and before the treaty was signed. Wyden sold himself for this? It was apparently the sticking point for him.

What Is "Free Trade" Really? Unrestricted Capital Flow

I won't go long into this here, but in essence "free trade" means one thing to most of us and another thing to people with money. For us, "free trade" is about exchange of goods. Not for those with almost all the money in the world. For them, "free trade" is and always has been this:

"Free trade" means "unrestricted capital flow." It's the right of money to flow anywhere it wants, seeking any profit it can, unrestricted by any government, and then flow back out again on a whim.

Before FDR, this is what "liberalism" meant; it's why people like the infamous free-market economist Friedrich Hayek are considered "classic liberal economists." FDR so changed the definition of "liberal," in fact — by allowing a place for government in the management of the economy — that it led people like Hayek to object that the name had been misappropriated:
In 1977, Hayek was critical of the Lib-Lab pact, in which the British Liberal Party agreed to keep the British Labour government in office. Writing to The Times, Hayek said, "May one who has devoted a large part of his life to the study of the history and the principles of liberalism point out that a party that keeps a socialist government in power has lost all title to the name 'Liberal'. Certainly no liberal can in future vote 'Liberal'".
This "free market" stuff has been with us for centuries in the West, and it's always about capital and the rights of capital to be free of government. Guess whom that benefits? If you said "capitalists and the politicians who serve them," you'd be right. You can't have a predatory Industrial Revolution without that kind of "philosophy" in place as a cover story.

Needless to say, the cover story is still in place. Welcome to the world of TPP.

GP

(A version of this piece first appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)

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Headline 'o the Day: Mea culpa edition

by digby


It's a great piece.

A few weeks after 9/11, Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian-born pilot, was arrested at his home near London’s Heathrow airport. He was alleged to have trained several of the 9/11 pilots during the time he had been a flight instructor in Arizona, from 1997 to 2000. The incriminating evidence included the fact that several pages of his flight log were missing during the period of time he was alleged to have trained one of hijackers. I was among the journalistic mob that staked out his house and interviewed his neighbors, and I wrote several articles about his arrest and the efforts by the Bush Administration to extradite him, relying on evidence gathered by the FBI.

I wince as I read them now. The articles appeared under the rubric “A National Challenged,” and their clear import of was that the FBI had a strong case linking him to the 9/11 attacks. A British court subsequently found that Raissi had been falsely accused—the pages were "missing" due to the negligence of law enforcement officials—and ordered that he be paid compensation. 
The Raissi story is illustrative of how the media reported the “war on terror,” emphasizing national security over civil liberties. Editors behaved like politicians—they worried about putting the resources in places to cover the next terrorist attack, while paying scant attention to lives ruined by the erosion of civil liberties. When law enforcement officials, whether in Washington or New York, said they were worried that terrorists might use helicopters or crop dusters, it was a front-page story. The horror stories of individuals falsely accused of being a terrorist were buried inside the paper, if reported at all.

With the ruins of the World Trade Center still smoldering, Attorney General John Ashcroft told a congressional committee that a mosque in Brooklyn was funneling money to al Qaeda. It was the lead story in the New York Times. It turned out to be wrong, as the reporter, Eric Lichtblau, would later note, with remarkable candor and admirable journalistic integrity. Lichtblau understood why: “We in the media were no doubt swept up in that same national mood of fear and outrage,” he wrote in Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice.

I would just say this. The press's behavior after 9/11 was egregious and terribly dangerous. But it was only the latest in a series of egregious examples of pack journalism. They get "swept up" by all kinds of things, most of which, thank goodness, do not result in disastrous military invasions. Whether it's juicy tabloid scandal coverage or puerile mean girl clubbiness or lockstep pro-government conformity, when you sense that febrile excitement coming over the media be skeptical, even when it's something with which you have some sympathy. The truth gets lost, innocent people are put through the wringer, false narratives get built, cynicism is reinforced and nobody who did it ever pays since it's a collective crime in which we all partake in the end. All you can do is try to keep your own head straight. And it's not easy.


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There's Nothing Funnier Than Someone With No Sense of Humor 

by tristero

Whilst at Princeton - that traditional NJ breeding ground for populist defenders of the poor, tired, huddled masses, Ted Cruz was known as a highly skilled debater (I'll forgo the obvious, over-used joke here to describe Teddy's level of rhetorical mastery). Many spectacular examples of his utterly humorless personality are given, but this one got me rotflmao, as it so epitomizes not only Teds, but the rest of the extreme right's troubled relationship with reality:
When an Amherst team argued at a tournament in 1989 that Ricky Ricardo should have let Lucy work, Mr. Cruz said, in an incensed voice: “Well, guess what, I’m Cuban! And no self-respecting Cuban man of the era would let his wife work.”
 For those younger readers who may not know, this refers to a famous TV comedy originally called I Love Lucy when it first aired in 1951. In the show, Ricky Ricardo is a charismatic, but somewhat stiff Cuban band leader living in New York. His red-headed wife Lucy (you could tell she had red hair even in black and white) was a force of nature, constantly at the center of hilarious mayhem. Sadly, I really can't tell you much more about the show itself without ruining some of the most sublime moments in the history of American theater. Watch it. And watch it again.

Although Ted Cruz doesn't seem to realize this, you probably guessed something rather important: Ricky and Lucy Ricardo never existed. That's right: they are fictional characters. And Ted Cruz, defending the conservative adage that women shouldn't work and belong at home defended an entirely bogus example with an entirely bogus assertion. Because what makes this genuinely hilarious is that there is actually some reality afoot.

"Ricky Ricardo" was played by none other than the very real Desi Arnaz, a famous Cuban bandleader - and, in fact, a brilliant musician (despite a lot of cheesy music he performed on the show). Lucy Ricardo was played by Lucille Ball, one of the greatest comedians - hell, actors -  of the 20th century.

And in real life, contra Ted Cruz, Desi and Lucy were a married working couple, working on the show together. In fact, Desi owed his job on the show to Lucy, who insisted that the network hire her husband. (Theirs was a troubled marriage, but that's another story; suffice it say that Arnaz's notion of a "self-respecting" Cuban man did not include faithfulness to his wife).

In other words, a very famous and accomplished Cuban man "of the era" and his wife worked very hard to create an indelible, immortal fictional relationship premised on the quite delible and dying fiction that wives of famous and accomplished men don't work. And they succeeded so well that the hapless, humorless Ted Cruz mistook it for reality.

There's more. By all means, read the whole article.
 

The selling of "Hillary fraud"

by Tom Sullivan

With Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, you knew the "Clinton Rumors" would be back with a vengeance. Along with the chain emails from your dad. David Mikkelson has been collecting them at Snopes.com since the 1990s:

As he did in 2007, Mikkelson has seen a recent uptick in interest in Clinton rumors. The popular one recently was that Clinton was fired from the Watergate investigation. "It's everything that people want to believe of her," Mikkelson said -- "she's a liar, she's corrupt, she's unethical -- all in one piece." It is also important to note: This rumor is false.

Somebody once said they'll keep doing this stuff as long as they think it works.

A few days ago we had a media blitz over Clinton Cash written by Peter Schweizer, a former Bush speechwriter and Breitbart.com contributor. The pattern is familiar:

Schweizer explains he cannot prove the allegations, leaving that up to investigative journalists and possibly law enforcement. “Short of someone involved coming forward to give sworn testimony, we don’t know what might or might not have been said in private conversations, the exact nature of the transition, or why people in power make the decision they do,” he writes. Later, he concludes, “We cannot ultimately know what goes on in their minds and ultimately provide the links between the money they took and the benefits that subsequently accrued to themselves, their friends, and their associates.”

So then, nothing. Yet again.

This morning at the New York Times we have "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation as Russians Pressed for Control of Uranium Company" about Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra. You remember the Times. From the run-up to the Iraq invasion? Or maybe Judith Miller?

Bullshit sells. America buys. ("Oh, McFly, your shoe's untied.")

Just yesterday, Michael Tomasky blasted:

While I’m at it with the irony quotes, I might as well drape some around that adjective “investigative” too. The Times, it seems, has decided to debase itself by following the breadcrumbs dropped by this former adviser to Sarah Palin because Schweizer devotes a chapter to Giustra and Kazakhstan, which the Times reported on back in 2008, and the Times plans to follow up on that.

I remember reading that Times story at the time and going, “Wow, that does look bad.” But then I also remember reading this Forbes (yes, Forbes!) debunking of the Times story, which was headlined “Clinton Commits No Foul in Kazakhstan Uranium Deal.” By the time I finished reading that piece (and please, click through and read it so that you are forearmed for the coming Times hit job), I was marveling to myself: Golly, that Times piece looked so awful at the time. But it turns out they just left out some facts, obscured some others, and without being technically inaccurate, managed to convey or imply that something skuzzy happened where it in fact hadn’t. How can a great newspaper do such a thing?

How indeed? But throw enough smoke bombs into newsrooms and people will believe there must be a fire. Maybe, might be, and possibly are the stock-in-trade of rumor mongering. It works. Look how well it has worked for Hans von Spakovsky & Co. in convincing the people of River City that they've got trouble with a a capital "V" that stands for voter fraud, and that he's just the guy to sell them a boys' band photo ID laws to fix it.

By the way, it was former president Bill Clinton who explained how this stuff works to The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart in August 2004:

STEWART: Is it – has it gotten to the point – do you believe that politics has gotten so dirty and so – that these kinds of tactics have become so prevalent – that this is the reason half the country doesn’t vote, or, this is the reason we don’t get, maybe, the officials that we deserve?
CLINTON: No, I think people do it because they think it works.
STEWART: That’s it. Simply a strategy?
CLINTON: Absolutely. And as soon as it doesn’t work, they’ll stop doing it. So I think Senator McCain, whom I admire very much, made a mistake not bashing the Bush campaign over the attacks on his service. They implied he betrayed the country when he was a POW and he made a huge mistake in not bashing them for that calling operation saying he’d adopted a black baby. It was blatantly racist. They’ll do this stuff as long as they think it works.

Judging by the headlines, it's still working. "Oh, McFly, your shoe's untied."


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 
"Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to..."

by digby

Can you guess who this is? You know him, I know you do:

That's Elian Gonzales.

*If you don't know who that is, you can read about it here. It was one of the weirdest mega-stories of the turn of the century. And there were a lot of them...

Here's one of the more famous of the column written about the case at the time:

Why Did They Do It?

Updated April 24, 2000 12:01 a.m. ET

By Peggy Noonan. Ms. Noonan, a Journal contributing editor, is author of "The Case Against Hillary Clinton" (Regan Books, 2000).

F om the beginning it was a story marked by the miraculous. It was a miracle a six-year-old boy survived the storm at sea and floated safely in an inner tube for two days and nights toward shore; a miracle that when he tired and began to slip, the dolphins who surrounded him like a contingent of angels pushed him upward; a miracle that a fisherman saw him bobbing in the shark-infested waters and scooped him aboard on the morning of Nov. 25, 1999, the day celebrated in America, the country his mother died bringing him to, as Thanksgiving.

And of course this Saturday, in the darkness, came the nightmare: the battering ram, the gas, the masks, the guns, the threats, the shattered glass and smashed statue of the Blessed Mother, the blanket thrown over the sobbing child's head as they tore him from the house like a hostage. And the last one in the house to hold him, trying desperately to protect him, was the fisherman who'd saved him from the sea -- which seemed fitting as it was Eastertide, the time that marks the sacrifice and resurrection of the Big Fisherman.

Holiest Time

It is interesting that this White House, which feared moving on Iraq during Ramadan, had no fear of moving on Americans during the holiest time of the Christian calendar. The mayor of Miami, Joe Carollo, blurted in shock, "They are atheists. They don't believe in God." Well, they certainly don't believe the fact that it was Easter was prohibitive of the use of force; they thought it a practical time to move. The quaint Catholics of Little Havana would be lulled into a feeling of safety; most of the country would be distracted by family get-togethers and feasts. It was, to the Clinton administration, a sensible time to break down doors.

Which really, once again, tells you a lot about who they are. But then their actions always have a saving obviousness: From Waco to the FBI files to the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory during impeachment to taking money from Chinese agents, through every scandal and corruption, they always tell you who they are by what they do. It's almost honest.

***
All weekend you could hear the calls to radio stations, to television, from commentators, from the 40% who are wounded, grieving and alive to the implications of what this act tells us about what is allowed in our country now. "This couldn't happen in America," they say, and "This isn't the America we know."

This is the America of Bill Clinton's cynicism and cowardice, and Janet Reno's desperate confusion about right and wrong, as she continues in her great schmaltzy dither to prove how sensitive she is, how concerned for the best interests of the child, as she sends in armed troops who point guns at the child sobbing in the closet. So removed from reality is she that she claims the famous picture of the agent pointing the gun at the fisherman and the child did not in fact show that.

The great unanswered question of course is: What was driving Mr. Clinton? What made him do such a thing? What accounts for his commitment in this case? Concern for the father? But such concern is wholly out of character for this president; he showed no such concern for parents at Waco or when he freed the Puerto Rican terrorists. Concern for his vision of the rule of law? But Mr. Clinton views the law as a thing to suit his purposes or a thing to get around.

Why did he do this thing? He will no doubt never say, a pliant press will never push him on it, and in any case if they did who would expect him to speak with candor and honesty? Absent the knowledge of what happened in this great public policy question, the mind inevitably wonders.

Was it fear of Fidel Castro -- fear that the dictator will unleash another flood of refugees, like the Mariel boatlift of 1980? Mr. Clinton would take that seriously, because he lost his gubernatorial election that year after he agreed to house some of the Cubans. In Bill Clinton's universe anything that ever hurt Bill Clinton is bad, and must not be repeated. But such a threat, if it was made, is not a child custody matter but a national security matter, and should be dealt with in national security terms.

Was it another threat from Havana? Was it normalization with Cuba -- Mr. Clinton's lust for a legacy, and Mr. Castro's insistence that the gift come at a price? If the price was a child, well, that's a price Mr. Clinton would likely pay. What is a mere child compared with this president's need to be considered important by history?

Was Mr. Clinton being blackmailed? The Starr report tells us of what the president said to Monica Lewinsky about their telephone sex: that there was reason to believe that they were monitored by a foreign intelligence service. Naturally the service would have taped the calls, to use in the blackmail of the president. Maybe it was Mr. Castro's intelligence service, or that of a Castro friend.

Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to. A great and searing tragedy has occurred, and none of us knows what drove it, or why the president did what he did. Maybe Congress will investigate. Maybe a few years from now we'll find out what really happened.

For now we're left with the famous photo, the picture of the agent pointing his gun at the sobbing child and fisherman, the one that is already as famous as the picture taken 30 Easters ago, during another tragedy, as a student cried over the prone body of a dead fellow student at Kent State. It is an inconvenient photo for the administration. One wonders if it will be reproduced, or forced down the memory hole.

We are left with Elian's courageous cousin, Marisleysis, who Easter morning told truth to power, an American citizen speaking to the nation about the actions of the American government. We are left with the hoarse-voiced fisherman, who continues trying to save the child. We are left wondering if there was a single federal law-enforcement official who, ordered to go in and put guns at the heads of children, said no. Was there a single agent or policeman who said, "I can't be part of this"? Are they all just following orders?

We are left wondering if Mr. Clinton will, once again, get what he seems to want. Having failed to become FDR over health care, or anything else for that matter, he will now "be" JFK, finishing the business of 1961 and the missile crisis. Maybe he will make a speech in Havana. One can imagine Strobe Talbot taking Walter Isaacson aside, and Time magazine reporting the words of a high State Department source: "In an odd way Elian helped us -- the intensity of the experience, the talks and negotiations, were the most intense byplay our two countries have had since JFK. The trauma brought us together."

What Reagan Would Do

And some of us, in our sadness, wonder what Ronald Reagan, our last great president, would have done. I think I know. The burden of proof would have been on the communists, not the Americans; he would have sent someone he trusted to the family and found out the facts; seeing the boy had bonded with the cousin he would have negotiated with Mr. Castro to get the father here, and given him whatever he could that would not harm our country. Mr. Reagan would not have dismissed the story of the dolphins as Christian kitsch, but seen it as possible evidence of the reasonable assumption that God's creatures had been commanded to protect one of God's children. And most important, the idea that he would fear Mr. Castro, that he would be afraid of a tired old tyrant in faded fatigues, would actually have made him laugh. Mr. Reagan would fear only what kind of country we would be if we took the little boy and threw him over the side, into the rough sea of history.

He would have made a statement laying out the facts and ended it, "The boy stays, the dream endures, the American story continues. And if Mr. Castro doesn't like it, well, I'm afraid that's really too bad."

But then he was a man.

yeah ...
 
To hell with the dying "sad sacks"

by digby

I don't know how I missed this story from Sahil Kapur but it's a beaut. It's Senator Ron Johnson (vying for the title of dumbest senator) talking about the GOP's greatest fear if the Supremes over turn the subsidies in King vs Burwell:
JOHNSON: Unfortunately, President Obama's response to an adverse decision — in other words one that actually follows the law — would be really simple. Just a one-sentence bill allowing people’s subsidies to flow to federal exchanges and/or offer the governors, 'Hey, we know you got those federal exchanges. Just sign the bottom line. We’ll make those established by the state.' And of course, he'll have the ads all racked up with the individuals that have benefited from Obamacare on the backs of the American taxpayer. He'll have all those examples as well so...

WEBER: And the sad sack stories about who's dying from what and why they can’t get their coverage.

JOHNSON: Right.

WEBER: Oh yeah.

Right. He'll have all those examples of dying sad sacks who got their health insurance on the backs of Real Americans. Boo hoo hoo, amirite?

I love it when these guys put it right out there. He believes that the people who've received health care subsidies are a bunch of moochers who clearly don't deserve to have health insurance. Now, I'm sure he will say that TORT REFORM! will solve everything and we'll all be magically covered if only we can shop for policies in Malaysia or something, but his words give the whole thing away: "on the backs of the America taxpayer." Apparently this fool doesn't think that people who get subsidies pay taxes. They do, of course.

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He's not a gutless milksop, he's not!

by digby

Poor Rand Paul. For a guy who purports to believe in total personal responsibility he sure does whine a lot about how everyone is being unfair to him:
“The funny thing about it is that it’s kind of a sexist position to think that somehow women announcers are less capable to handle themselves than men,” Paul said when Conway praised his testy response to Savannah Guthrie’s questions about his changing foreign policy positions. “I don’t think that, but everybody that was complaining about it, thinking it had something to do with gender, basically that’s insulting to the people doing the questioning.”

“Really the problem is that we have a lot of media that are just so far on the left that we just don’t have any neutral questions,” Paul continued. “If you go on there as a Democrat, they laugh and yuck it up and talk about how great things are going, but it’s a little bit different when Republicans are on the national news.”
It's cute but unconvincing. The problem obviously isn't that the women were incapable of handling themselves. They handled themselves just fine. It was Rand who couldn't handle himself, "shushing" and angrily interrupting like somebody's embarrassed husband when he's caught in bed with the babysitter.

You can't blame him. Those nasty beyotches were asking him about his rank hypocrisy and inconsistent pandering on national security in light of his bogus reputation for integrity. He can't stand for that. Why, he'd look like a gutless milksop if he let them get away with it. And that would totally defeat the purpose of the pander.

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Scott Walker Neocon.  Neoconfederate, that is.

by digby

I wrote a little bit about Scott Walker's startling comments about curbing legal immigration for Salon this morning.  Among other things, I pointed out this:
It’s hard not to fall down laughing (or lose your lunch) over the most notorious union buster in America waxing on about protecting American jobs, but he’s the last person to understand the irony of his comments. But by taking a position against legal immigration, he’s just placed himself to the right of Ted Cruz on this issue. He’s out in Ben Carson land. Not to mention that he’s obliterated the last tattered shreds of a conservative argument to appeal to Hispanic and other ethnic groups: the idea that illegal immigration is unfair to legal immigrants who’ve been “waiting in line” to come to this country. Walker wants to close down the line altogether. Only the most hardcore neo-Confederates like Sessions want to go that far.

Igor Bobic in the Huffington Post explained the possible reasoning:
By aligning himself with an immigration hawk like Sessions, Walker may be hoping to placate conservatives wary over his previous support for a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants. Walker’s strategy is somewhat reminiscent of then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, faced with similar questions over his devotion to the conservative cause in 2011, memorably tacked far right of his GOP rivals by endorsing ‘self-deportation.’ Yet not even Romney, who lost the Latino vote to Obama by more than 40 percentage points in November 2012, supported curbing legal immigration, a concept at the core of what it means to be American.
A bunch of Republican senators were appalled when they heard about this. (They can count votes …) Talking Points Memo got them on the record:

Arizona Senator John McCain: “I think most statistics show that they fill part of the workforce that are much needed. We have, and I’m a living example of, the aging population. We need these people in the workforce legally.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch: “I basically think that’s poppycock. We know that when we graduate PhDs and master’s degrees and engineers, we don’t have enough of any of those. … The fact is you can always point to some negatives, but the positives are that we need an awful lot more STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] people. … Frankly a lot of us are for legal immigration and for solving this problem.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman: “We want legal immigration. … As a party we’ve always embraced immigrants coming here legally, following the rules. And it’s enriched our country immeasurably. It’s who we are. It’s the fabric of our success.”

Senate Republican Conference Chair John Thune: “I think if you talk to businesses in this country, they need workers. We have a workforce issue in this country and I know in my home state of South Dakota where the unemployment rate is 2.3 percent, they can’t find workers. So having a robust legal immigration process helps us fill jobs that otherwise wouldn’t be getting filled.”

But recall that Walker said explicitly that he’s working with Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions on this issue. And Jeff Sessions had a lot to say about this in his “IMMIGRATION HANDBOOK FOR THE NEW REPUBLICAN MAJORITY” dated January 2015. It’s a fascinating document and well worth reading. It is the perfect example of right-wing populism at its most traditionally xenophobic.

He sets forth an argument that income inequality is not a result of the tax structure or the concentrated power of wealth but rather the result of immigrants stealing the jobs of natural born Americans:
The last four decades have witnessed the following: a period of record, uncontrolled immigration to the United States; a dramatic rise in the number of persons receiving welfare; and a steep erosion in middle class wages.

But the only “immigration reforms” discussed in Washington are those pushed by interest groups who want to remove what few immigration controls are left in order to expand the record labor supply even further.

The principal economic dilemma of our time is the very large number of people who either are not working at all, or not earning a wage great enough to be financially independent. The surplus of available labor is compounded by the loss of manufacturing jobs due to global competition and reduced demand for workers due to automation. What sense does it make to continue legally importing millions of low-wage workers to fill jobs while sustaining millions of current residents on welfare?
He put it into philosophical and historical perspective:
We need make no apology in rejecting an extreme policy of sustained mass immigration, which the public repudiates and which the best economic evidence tells us undermines wage growth and economic mobility. Here again, the dialect operates in reverse: the “hardliners” are those who refuse even the most modest immigration controls on the heels of four decades of large-scale immigration flows (both legal and illegal), and increased pressures on working families.

Conservativism is by its nature at odds with the extreme, the untested, the ahistorical. The last large-scale flow of legal immigration (from approximately 1880–1920) was followed by a sustained slowdown that allowed wages to rise, assimilation to occur, and the middle class to emerge.
This is heady stuff for the base of the GOP. It’s very much the essence of the kind of right-wing populism we’ve seen in the past and there’s been interest in this idea within the party for a very long time. The usurpation of Eric Cantor was arguably the first shot across the bow of the Republican leadership on this issue for 2016. There’s little doubt that base agitation over immigration was one of the animating issues that led to his demise. If you listen to talk radio, the tone is still nearly hysterical. So there’s an audience for this message.
There's more at the link.  Once again I'm stunned at how impressed everyone is with Scott Walker. Unless he some kind of diabolical genius who's 15 moves ahead, he just seems to step in it over and over again.  But the question is, if the media love him does it even matter?

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Time to change the batteries on your BS detectors. You're going to need them.

by digby

This is called "throwing everything at the wall to see if something sticks". Also too: creating enough "smoke" that people naturally start to believe there must be something to the charges or all these accusations wouldn't be out there. The oldest GOP trick in the book.
Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash reportedly does not prove its speculative attacks on the Clintons and even relies on a hoax press release to support a claim, according to ThinkProgress.

Clinton Cash will be released on May 5, and media reports have already hyped the book's supposed revelations about connections between Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state, donations to the Clinton Foundation, and paid speeches given by the Clintons.

According to ThinkProgress, which obtained an advance copy of the book, "Schweizer makes clear that he does not intend to present a smoking gun":

Schweizer makes clear that he does not intend to present a smoking gun, despite the media speculation. The book relies heavily on timing, stitching together the dates of donations to the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton's speaking fees with actions by the State Department.

Schweizer explains he cannot prove the allegations, leaving that up to investigative journalists and possibly law enforcement. "Short of someone involved coming forward to give sworn testimony, we don't know what might or might not have been said in private conversations, the exact nature of the transition, or why people in power make the decision they do," he writes. Later, he concludes, "We cannot ultimately know what goes on in their minds and ultimately provide the links between the money they took and the benefits that subsequently accrued to themselves, their friends, and their associates."
ThinkProgress details several of Schweizer's claims, and highlights one major error already found in the book. According to the site, Schweizer at one point uses a press release to bolster one of his many speculative claims, citing it to suggest there may have been a link between a private company that was paying Bill Clinton for speeches (and which supposedly issued the press release) and a State Department report released when Hillary Clinton was secretary. However, ThinkProgress notes, the press release Schweizer cites was revealed as a hoax back in 2013.
The New York Times and the Washington Post should be ashamed for "partnering" with this con-artist. But hey, none of the journalists who "partnered" with the right wing oppo shops in the Whitewater bullshit and Travelgate bullshit and Vince Foster bullshit and "Al Gore invented the Internet" bullshit" and "Iraq has WMD and worked with al Qaeda" bullshit and Swift Boat Veterans for Bullshit bullshit ever paid a price for their bullshit coverage and they probably won't pay a price now.

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Does this strike anyone as a good idea?

by digby

Pamela Geller is no satirist:
A conservative firebrand said Tuesday she plans to paper at least 50 MTA buses with Islamophobic posters following a judge’s ruling the ads were protected by the First Amendment.

Manhattan Federal Court Judge John Koeltl wrote the MTA had improperly denied displaying Pamela Geller’s controversial posters featuring a picture of a menacing man with his face masked in a Middle Eastern scarf next to the quote, “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” The quote was attributed to “Hamas MTV” and included the tagline, “That's His Jihad. What's yours?”

Though the MTA had accepted other incendiary posters by Geller's American Freedom Defense Initiative, it declined last year to post the “Killing Jews” ad, saying it could provoke violence.

The judge disagreed.

“While the court is sensitive to the MTA’s security concerns, the defendants have not presented any objective evidence that the Killing Jews advertisement would be likely to incite imminent violence,” Koeltl wrote.

Geller hailed the ruling, and said she would pay for more posters to be displayed than she originally planned.

“Islamic supremacists and craven government bureaucrats are put on notice — sharia restrictions on free speech are unconstitutional and will not stand in these United States,” she said.

An MTA spokesman said “We are disappointed in the ruling and we are reviewing our options.”

I don't normally buy the "yelling fire in a crowded theatre" arguments. But this really seems ugly and dumb. What's the point of it except to provoke some kind of violence?  The good news is that New York is the most multi-cultural city in the world and will likely shrug this off as the Gelleresque for the absurdity it is. But you have to love the idea that the government works overtime spying on American Muslims for the smallest sign that a sad loner among them might say something fanatical (and then devise an elaborate sting to entrap them into doing it) while Pamela Geller can put terrorist recruiting posters up on buses perfectly legally.

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Who needs Tip 'n Ronnie?

by digby

Who needs Tip 'n Ronnie?

Jeb: I would say the best part of the Obama administration would be his continuance of the protections of the homeland using the big metadata programs, the NSA being enhanced. Advancing this — even though he never defends it, even though he never openly admits it, there has been a continuation of a very important service, which is the first obligation, I think of our national government is to keep us safe. And the technologies that now can be applied to make that so, while protecting civil liberties are there. And he’s not abandoned them, even though there was some indication that he might.

There's that bipartisan comity we've all been waiting for.

If there's one thing that people on both sides of the aisle agree upon it's that the government should spy on its own citizens for their own good. Warms your heart it does.

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Earth Day 2015 - Water

by Tom Sullivan

Today, Earth Day 2015, President Obama visits Everglades National Park to talk about climate change and the threat it poses to the water ecology of south Florida. On the first Earth Day in 1970, few Americans had even heard of ecology.

NPR's Melissa Block spoke with Evelyn Gaiser, an ecologist with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, about saltwater incursion into the Everglades. She'll be reminding the president the Everglades is not just home to birds, snakes, and alligators:

BLOCK: And along with preserving biodiversity, preserving wild space and habitat, of course also you're seeing a real threat to drinking water with what's going on in the Everglades, right?

GAISER: That's exactly right. So the people of Florida depend on that aquifer underneath the Everglades for their drinking water. And as we have insufficient freshwater moving into the Everglades, we see a depletion in the freshwater resources available to the growing population of South Florida.

On the Pacific coast, Californians struggle with an epic drought and reservoirs have all but dried up.

In Asia, Siberians have their own water problems. Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest (by volume) body of fresh water on the planet, is at its lowest level in 60 years. Precipitation has been less than expected, and still the Irkutskenergo hydroelectric plant on the Angara river – the lake's only outlet – keeps drawing down the level to generate power. Upstream, hydroelectric dams planned in Mongolia will further reduce the lake's water level. Fishermen are finding fish stocks decreasing, and in villages on the shores of the lake, wells are drying up.

The World Economic Forum believes that "the global water crisis is now the largest risk and greatest impact to our lives and our planet." Economically. But fear not. Where some see scarcity, others see opportunity. Take New Jersey's water. Multinational corporations can't wait to. Lucas Ropek writes at Americablog:

The Water Infrastructure Protection Act (WIPA), approved on February 5th, allows municipalities to sell their water facilities to private companies without public referendum. As part of Christie’s privatization task force agenda, WIPA aims to balance Jersey’s current budget crisis, while also fixing the state’s water facilities that ail from “emergent conditions,” or what the bill calls “serious risks to the integrity of drinking water and the environment.” The Protection Act has alarmed New Jersey communities and watchdog groups, however, who claim, as activist Jim Walsh has said, the bill allows "multinational corporations to profit off increased water rates with virtually no recourse for New Jersey residents."

When it comes to ensuring water supplies for fracking or development, small-government conservatives suddenly start talking like command-economy planners. They advocate regionalization and interconnectivity of water systems with "unallocated capacity to expand." All in the name of public health and protecting the environment, dontcha know.

And not just in New Jersey. Across the planet, the World Bank and multinational water companies such as American Water, Nestle, Suez, and Veolia are coming to rescue us from our profligate ways. Or are they?

Independent water advocates, from CAI to Anand’s group in India and others including the Focus on the Global South network, point to India today as evidence that privatized systems lead to underfunded infrastructure and unpredictable, often high prices. The IFC defends the private sector by claiming that these companies offer efficiency gains (PDF). But those gains come at the expense of lower-income households, advocates such as Naficy point out, as companies increase rates to subsidize their own profitability.

There’s a growing backlash against these projects. In 2000, headlines around the globe documented protests in Bolivia’s third-largest city in response to the privatization of the city’s municipal water supply and against the multinational water giant Bechtel, eventually pushing the company out of the country. The IFC’s own complaint mechanism reports that 40 percent of all global cases from last year were about water, even though water projects are only a small fraction of what the IFC funds. In 2013, CAI and 70 advocates from around the globe released an open letter (PDF) to the World Bank Group calling for “an end of all support for private water, beginning with IFC divestment from all equity positions in water corporations.”

But don't they see? The only prescription is more cowbell. Those Siberian socialists wouldn't be having these water supply problems if, as Veolia suggests, they just privatize the lake, monetize the water, exploit financial opportunities, externalize risks, optimize costs, enhance competitiveness, and price drinking water planetwide according to its "true cost," ensuring long-term profitability.

Problem solved!



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