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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Schmaht as a whip

by digby


Here's a similar blast from the past:

Sometimes I think Fox News is an elaborate practical joke.

The Brooks and Marcus Maui Wowie comedy hour

by digby

Over on Salon today I wrote about the Brooks and Marcus Maui Wowie comedy hour on Meet the Press this past week-end:

You’ll recall that last January, as the Colorado legalization took effect, both Marcus and Brooks wrote screeds denouncing the nasty practice after admitting that they too had partaken of the devil’s temptation themselves with apparently little effect. Brooks famously opened his piece with this fond recollection:
For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.
Then he warned everyone that it’s a very, very bad thing to do, and unless you want to end up a wealthy newspaper columnist someday, you should never touch the stuff.

Marcus, meanwhile, clutched her pearls over the inevitable brain damage — after admitting that she also had passed a joint or two in her time:
On balance, society will not be better off with another legal mind-altering substance. In particular, our kids will not be better off with another legal mind-altering substance.
Stephen Colbert, for his part, agreed with Brooks’ and Marcus’ perspectives:
Well said! Kids don’t need another mind-altering substance. It’ll screw with their Adderal. And like her friend David Brooks, Marcus admits to being more than just friends with her roommate Mary Jane, saying “I have done my share of inhaling. Next time I’m out in Colorado, I expect I’ll check out some Bubba Kush, why not?”

Why not? Other than the column you just wrote? I applaud Marcus and Brooks for taking a firm stand against legalizing the pot they smoked. I assume they’re going to turn themselves into the police now and serve their time. Hopefully that will keep them from ever smoking again. Because they might get high and write something really confusing.

One would have thought that would have put a kibosh on their involvement with this issue, if nothing else out of sheer embarrassment. But it didn’t.

Read on I go on to discuss the fact that Ruth marcus is peddling some bogus studies about IQ losses out of what she calls "mommy concern", ignoring the fact that we have just been through a massive experiment in pot use in which includes over a hundred million guinea pigs.

I have wondered if there was going to be any real backlash at this point or if we'd really crossed the rubicon on marijuana. I think the jury's still out. The scolds and anti-pleasure police have been a bit sleepy on the issue in recent years (most of them are probably stoned) so it's hard to know if they have any pep left in them to battle this back. But it's clear that marcus and Brooks aren't going to get anywhere with this ridiculous approach. It's ludicrous.


QOTD: Rush talking about sex again

by digby

Here he's discussing a Washington Examiner story that blow the lid off of Sandra Fluke's campaign for office in which they expose the fact that she has given her campaign money.This is, apparently, a sign of ... well something. The article doesn't spell out what's wrong with it, especially considering the fact that her Republican opponent has loaned his campaign money.

Be that as it may, this gave old Rush a chance toweigh in on something that cost him dearly in the past but which he just can't seem to stay away from. He recounts Fluke's testimony (in his own mendacious way) and then says this:

"Three thousand a year for this?" We found out it cost nine dollars a month over-the-counter, said, "Whoa, how much of this is going on?" And we started raising questions. Why in the world should this be something all the rest of us should pay for? Particularly when, if you don't want to get pregnant, there's a certain thing you just don't do. It has consequences and if that's what you want to avoid... And then I was chastened because I sounded like I was somebody who was against sex, and I'm not against sex, but I also don't think contraception and all that should be part of Obamacare.

Can somebody, could just one group of people accept responsibility for their lives in this country? Cannot one group do it? Can just one person say they're not gonna feed off the public? Can one person just stand up and say, "You know what? I'm gonna live on what I provide myself." Apparently not, apparently everybody seems to want everybody else to pay for what they want. Well, this irritated me, and it resulted in characterizations which required an explanation and an apology."

Poor lil' guy. He's just so misunderstood.

But again, the idea here is that women should just "close their legs." You need to factor birth control into your recreation budget, apparently, and if you don't have a lot of money you need to instruct your husband or boyfriend that you can't "afford" sex this month and he needs to masturbate instead. Because that's the way responsible people behave when it comes to sex.

By the way, this is a former drug addict who abused his prescriptions so badly he made himself deaf. And he also uses Viagra, which is covered by his insurance. And that's because it's covered by all insurance. Erections, you see, are a necessary part of life even for elderly men like Rush who are not simply doing it for procreative purposes. Maybe he should just close his legs.
"Freedom of speech is fine but by God you don't do it publicly"

by digby

So, singer John Legend made a patriotic plea for the Israeli government to treat the United States' Secretary of State with more respect:
Here's the patriotic right's answer:
What a lovely guy.  It reminds me of the good old days, only then they took the opposite tack and told people to shut up if they criticized the government.  Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think they were partisan hacks who want to shut up anyone who doesn't agree with them.
By the way, in case you didn't know it, this popular right wing meme was created by Cercei Lannister (aka Laura Ingraham) in her book called "Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America" which predated the Dixie Chicks controversy.  The people issuing the death threats got it from her toxic screed. As did Podhoretz.


Venturing into the minefield

by digby

I think this story in Salon about the Satanist strategy is a great way to challenge the Hobby Lobby ruling, although I have very little doubt that the most it will do is expose the utter hypocrisy of the "religious freedom" folks. But that's not nothin':
[S]atanists are now using the Supreme Court’s sweeping Hobby Lobby decision to challenge coercive mandatory counseling laws by requesting a religious exemption for satanists (and non-satanists).

“While we feel we have a strong case for an exemption regardless of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact,” Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucian Greaves said in a Monday statement. ”This was made clear when they allowed Hobby Lobby to claim certain contraceptives were abortifacients, when in fact they are not. Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state­ mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them.”

...The Hobby Lobby decision granted 90 percent of the corporations in the United States a kind of religious personhood under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So now the government can’t require Hobby Lobby or any corporation to include comprehensive contraceptive coverage in its employer health plan if that coverage violates the corporation’s religious beliefs.

Because medicine and scientific fact are the tenets of satanists’ faith, then medically inaccurate and coercive counseling laws present a substantial burden, according to Greaves. This is pretty much what Ruth Bader Ginsburg was talking about in her dissent when she said the justices had “ventured into a minefield.”

I'm fairly sure that one of the reasons for the establishment clause was that the founders were wise enough to know that government and religion becoming entwined was a pathway to hell. (Just look at Europe 500 years ago --- or Iraq today.)

Germany gets almost 1/3 of its energy from renewable sources. Why not us?

by David Atkins

The United States could easily be doing this. But we aren't.

Germany is now producing 28.5 percent of its energy—nearly a third—with solar, wind, hydro, and biomass. In 2000, renewables accounted for just 6 percent of its power consumption.

This is further proof that Germany is, essentially, the world leader in renewable energy. No other country has demonstrated such a dedicated, accelerated drive toward transitioning to clean power—in Germany's case, away from nuclear to solar and wind. It has done so by intensely incentivizing private and commercial solar, aggressively pursuing wind power contracts, and, yes, by raising, slightly, the cost of energy in the process.

A couple years ago, Germany broke a record when, for a day, its wind and solar plants generated enough clean power to meet half the country's energy needs. This year, it broke a new one when they whipped up enough power to meet 75 percent of demand. That's three-fourths of a nation, running on clean energy.
This despite the fact that we get far more sunshine than Germany (Fox News correspondents notwithstanding.)

On a geopolitical level, Germany is also doing its part to reduce Vladimir Putin's power over Europe by reducing its dependency on Russian natural gas. And, of course, there are the climate change impacts.

With our enormous deserts and wind-swept coasts and plains, there is just no reason at all for America not to be getting most of its energy from renewable sources. It's simple stubbornness and greed.

Christian charity

by digby

When they say you're supposed to keep your legs closed, they mean it:
In a phone interview with RH Reality Check, Allen, now 32, said she was stunned when her supervisor at the Hobby Lobby store in Flowood, Mississippi, told her she would be terminated for taking unpaid time off to have her baby.

Allen had been hired as a part-time cashier in late July 2010. Shortly after starting the job, she learned she was four months’ pregnant with her third child. Because she had not been working for very long, Allen did not qualify for leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which is what she said the Oklahoma City-based chain offers for maternity leave. Nervous, Allen went to her supervisor.

“I asked her would I lose my job due to me being four months and only having five months before I have my child. She told me ‘no,’” Allen said. “I felt like everything was OK. I had talked to my boss, and she let me know that everything would be OK. I would still have my job.”

But five months later, when the time came to take her leave of absence, Allen says her supervisor told her she would be terminated but could reapply later on. She says she tried to come back to work three weeks after her child was born, to no avail.

“I was like, I can’t get fired,” Allen recalls. “She can’t terminate me because I have to go have my child. I started asking everybody on the job, ‘Can they do this?’ And even the assistant manager who had just got hired [said,] ‘No, that’s not right.’”

Hobby Lobby did not respond to multiple requests to tell its side of the story or to answer questions about its maternity leave and other company policies.

When Allen applied for unemployment benefits, she says Hobby Lobby’s corporate office gave the unemployment agency a false version of events, claiming she could have taken off personal leave but chose not to. In the end, Allen says she won her claim for unemployment benefits, but she felt she had been wrongly discriminated based on the fact that she was pregnant. In February 2012 she sued Hobby Lobby, but her lawsuit was swiftly dropped because, like most—if not all—Hobby Lobby employees, Allen had signed away her rights to sue the company.

Though the multibillion-dollar, nearly 600-store chain took its legal claim against the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court when it didn’t want to honor the health insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act, the company forbids its employees from seeking justice in the court of law.

It's not about the sweet little babies. It's about controlling the woman. These hyper conservatives also care about the bottom line. That's where the confluence of concern is among these people: money and control:

One thing that sets apart Hobby Lobby’s arbitration policy from most corporations is its allowance for Christian-influenced arbitration. The mutual arbitration agreement Allen signed gives employees the option of choosing to find an arbitrator either through the nonprofit American Arbitration Association (AAA)—the largest dispute-resolution service provider in the United States—or the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC).

The latter is run by a Billings, Montana-based nonprofit called Peacemaker Ministries and administers “Christian conciliation,” which is a form of religious arbitration described on its website as “a process for reconciling people and resolving disputes out of court in a biblical manner.” It’s a type of conflict resolution geared toward churches and Christian organizations. (Jewish and Muslim organizations use similar types of religious arbitration to handle disputes.)

Among the principles that drive Peacemaker Ministries is the idea that:
Generally, Christians are not free to sue other Christians, at least not until they have exhausted the process that Jesus sets forth in Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. God instructs Christians to resolve their disputes within the church itself, with the assistance of other Christians if necessary
Isn't that convenient?


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Getting the job done for the good of Rick Perry's costume

by digby

What a deal
"House Republicans plan to vote Thursday on a bill that would provide less than a fifth of the funding the president requested to address the ongoing border crisis. After more than 57,500 unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally since October, President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion to care for them, speed up deportation proceedings and attempt to deter illegal immigration. Senate Democrats proposed a $2.7 billion package. But the House GOP plan went from an expected $1.5 billion as of a week ago to less than $1 billion on Friday. On Tuesday, House Republicans announced the funding had been pared down even further to a $659 million package that was introduced on Tuesday. 'I think we should do something before we go home, and we're working to get there,' House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters after meeting with Republican members.

Two-thirds of the bill's funding would go toward border security, such as dispatching National Guard troops to the border, while one-third of the money is meant to provide humanitarian assistance.
So, one fifth of the request was granted. And two thirds of that will essentially be on behalf Rick Perry's presidential campaign. That sounds like a big win for the wingnuts to me.

They may only control one house of congress but they know how to get the job done. For themselves. In this case, they'll spend just enough money to allow themselves the privilege of saying they did something while actually paying for some silly "enforcement" that benefits them politically and keeps the "crisis" going. All in a day's work.

Oh, and they're making sure those "illegals" get the tough love that's coming to them. It's all good.

Isn't this special?

by digby
The Jewish Federation of Seattle demanded a representative of the National Rifle Association step down Monday, after video claiming to show him comparing a statewide initiative increasing background checks for gun purchases to Nazi Germany surfaced online.

The video, first posted by Horsesass.com, purports to record Brian Judy, an NRA liason, speaking at an event last week in Silverdale against I-594.

The comments veer towards Seattle entrepeneur Nick Hanauer, a major supporter and financial contributor to the I-594 campaign, and his Jewish faith.

"He's put half-a-million dollars towards this policy," the video stated, "The same policy that led to his family getting run out of Germany by the Nazis.

"It's like, any Jewish people I meet who are anti-gun, I think, 'are you serious,'" the recording continued, "(Nazis) registered guns and then they took them. Why did you have to flee this country in the first place? Hello, is anybody home?"
Uhm, well, "fleeing the country" is a rather odd way of describing it don't you think?

And this stale old trope is misleading at best, a steaming pile of excrement at worst:
So did Hitler and the Nazis really take away Germans' guns, making the Holocaust unavoidable? This argument is superficially true at best, as University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explained in a 2004 paper (PDF) on Nazi Germany's impact on the American culture wars. As World War I drew to a close, the new Weimar Republic government banned nearly all private gun ownership to comply with the Treaty of Versailles and mandated that all guns and ammunition "be surrendered immediately." The law was loosened in 1928, and gun permits were granted to citizens "of undoubted reliability" (in the law's words) but not "persons who are itinerant like Gypsies." In 1938, under Nazi rule, gun laws became significantly more relaxed. Rifle and shotgun possession were deregulated, and gun access for hunters, Nazi Party members, and government officials was expanded. The legal age to own a gun was lowered. Jews, however, were prohibited from owning firearms and other dangerous weapons.

"But guns didn't play a particularly important part in any event," says Robert Spitzer, who chairs SUNY-Cortland's political science department and has extensively researched gun control politics. Gun ownership in Germany after World War I, even among Nazi Party members, was never widespread enough for a serious civilian resistance to the Nazis to have been anything more than a Tarantino revenge fantasy. If Jews had been better armed, Spitzer says, it would only have hastened their demise. Gun policy "wasn't the defining moment that marked the beginning of the end for Jewish people in Germany. It was because they were persecuted, were deprived of all of their rights, and they were a minority group."

Gun enthusiasts often mention that the Soviet Union restricted access to guns in 1929 after Joseph Stalin rose to power. But to suggest that a better armed Russian populace would have overthrown the Bolsheviks is also too simplistic, says Spitzer. "To answer the question of the relationship between guns and the revolutions in those nations is to study the comparative politics and comparative history of those nations," he explains. "It takes some analysis to break this down and explain it, and that's often not amenable to a sound bite or a headline."
It's not amenable to idiots.

"I'm not a spy, I'm a journalist"

by digby

My piece for Salon today discusses this new survey from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU about government encroachments on freedom of the press and the the lawyer-client relationship. It's a chilling report:
Civil libertarians of all political stripes should be deeply concerned about this comprehensive new survey of national security and intelligence lawyers and journalists from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. Professionals in both these areas report a shocking decline in their ability to function properly in their constitutionally protected areas of concern. G. Alex Sinha, the author of the report warns that “The work of journalists and lawyers is central to our democracy. When their work suffers, so do we.”

Human Rights Watch and the ACLU interviewed more than 50 journalists from outlets throughout American media and found a high level of insecurity and anxiety among them. They report that journalists are having to adopt extreme, clandestine measures to protect sources, such as complicated encryption, burner phones and being forced to meet exclusively in person. One prominent reporter was said to be representative of the feelings of many when he explained that, “I don’t want the government to force me to act like a spy. I’m not a spy; I’m a journalist.”
Read on. This is becoming a very serious problem and one that partisan of all sides should be able to agree upon. When you have government actors who see leaking of government misconduct as the equivalent of a property crime, something has gone very, very wrong. That "property" belongs to the people. They seem to have forgotten that.

There's money in it

by digby

Who could have ever predicted that No Labels was just another wingnut welfare operation? Elias Isquith writes:

The No Labels dream is coming up on its fourth birthday, and in that time the group has made exactly zero progress towards its goal of untangling gridlock in D.C. It’s actually worse now than it was in 2010, in spite of No Labels’ frequent calls for bipartisan seating for legislators at the State of the Union address.

What is has succeeded in doing, however, is becoming exactly the sort of scummy, insider-D.C. institution that pretty much everyone expected it would be. Yahoo! News’ Meredith Shiner has all the ugly details on how No Labels doesn’t really do anything except raise money for No Labels:

Much of the group’s budget goes toward sustaining or promoting itself. According to No Labels’ confidential document, the group employed 22 paid staffers and eight consultants as of May. Of its projected $4.5 million budget for 2014, only 4 percent — or $180,000 — of spending was slotted for “Congressional Relations.” By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising.

What do they have to show for all this money raised and spent on themselves? “Even in its own May document, No Labels claimed only one legislative victory: a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote.” The group’s list of “accomplishments” is a depressing read, consisting largely of favorable press clips, members of Congress wearing No Labels pins to various functions, and the fact that “No Labels’ hashtag #FixNotFight was a trending topic on Twitter during the 2013 State of the Union address.”

Ahhh, the ongoing dream of a "radical centrist" revolution. For some reason it always ends up doing absolutely nothing except make money for the people who sell it to the 1% as an answer to keeping the rabble in line.

I'd think the 1% was a bunch of suckers, but since they are so outrageously wealthy that the amount of money the spread around on this nonsense is nothing more than chump change to them, it's actually a good investment. To them, anything to keep the status quo is a win.

QOTD: "what is this civil war you speak of?"edition

by digby
“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”
That's a candidate for the US Senate talking, a loon by the name of Joni Ernst from Iowa. She'll make a nice tag team with Ted Cruz if she wins.

States cannot nullify federal laws, of course.

In embracing the concept of nullification, Ernst harkens back to a discredited theory that the Constitution is a compact and states are free to void federal laws that they dislike. This view was widely promoted by John Calhoun, the great Southern advocate of slavery, prior to the Civil War and was touted by segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, the idea was purged of its most racist overtones and fringe elements of the right adopted it as an argument against Obamacare, gun control, and other federal regulations.

As Erwin Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional law scholar and Dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School, told The Daily Beast, nullification is expressly forbidden under Article VI of the Constitution. “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof… shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Chemerinsky also noted that the Supreme Court had dealt with this issue as recently as 1958, when in Cooper v. Aaron, a unanimous decision signed by every justice on the court, it was made clear that states could not nullify federal laws or Supreme Court decisions.
This nonsense will never end.


This is what happens when you elect a Republican. Don't elect a Republican.

by David Atkins

San Diego recently had a hard-fought mayoral election after Mayor Filner resigned in disgrace. The Republican won, though the city's demographics are slowly shifting in the other direction.

This is the result:

Mayor Kevin Faulconer says he plans to veto the City Council's decision to incrementally increase the minimum wage in San Diego to $11.50 an hour.

The City Council voted 6-3 Monday to give final approval to the ordinance. Although Faulconer was expected to veto the idea, this is the first time he has voiced his intention.

The ordinance, which was initially approved 6-3 two weeks ago on first reading but required a follow-up vote, also mandates that employers offer five paid sick days to workers each year.

None of the council members changed their votes from before -- Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf were the dissenters.

Council President Todd Gloria said the ordinance would raise up San Diegans "in a meaningful and responsible way." The lowest-paid workers and economy as a whole will benefit, he said.

"Through the passage of this ordinance, this council is standing up and demonstrating that we value honest work and fair pay," Gloria said. "I urge the mayor to sign it into law and to stand with us against any effort to repeal it."

The measure now goes to Mayor Kevin Faulconer's desk.
Any individual Democratic politician may be a terrible person. That comes with the territory of having human beings hold elected office.

But as horrible a person as Bob Filner is, if he were still in office today San Diegans would be on their way to an $11.50/hour minimum wage.

Kevin Faulconer may or may not be a decent human being in his private life. But it hardly matters, does it? Either people's lives are better because you're a policy maker, or they aren't.

When you elect a Republican, people's lives get worse. It doesn't matter how they treat others in their personal lives.


Monday, July 28, 2014

A tiny bit of sense on the right is met with incredulity on Fox

by digby

You don't even want to know what the Fox News gasbags thought of this today:
In a comments that seemed to surprise some of his fellow panelists, Fox News contributor and conservative columnist George Will said Sunday that the U.S. should welcome the unaccompanied minors surging across the southern border, fleeing violence in their home countries, reported Raw Story.

“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school, and get a job, and become American,’” Mr. Will said on Fox News, according to Raw Story.

He added, “The idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.”
Fox News host Chris Wallace challenged Mr. Will, Raw Story reported, saying, “Why should we be dealing with Central America’s problem? We can’t import the problem. They’ve got to deal with it there, and our border has to mean something.”
Mr. Will countered that the U.S. should handle the problem because it is capable of doing so.

“We’ve handled what [American poet] Emma Lazarus called the ‘wretched refuse of your teeming shore’ a long time ago, and a lot more people than this,” Mr. Will said, according to Raw Story.

Let's just say they treated Will like a dotty old auntie who simply didn't know what he was saying. Dana Perino said she admired him for "speaking his mind" but added that it's easy for someone standing on the sidelines to have such opinions. It's different when you have to be elected. (She neglected to add "by selfish assholes ...") The rest of the panel just yelled "get in line!!!" you're "illegal" as if sending refugee kids back to their violent cities to be tortured and/or killed to "wait their turn" makes any sense.

Both Will and Brit Hume have made this argument now and the rest of the younger Fox crew looks at them like they've sprouted a second head. They honestly have no experience with people being decent toward anyone who isn't part of their little club. It's literally unimaginable to them.

Corrupt bargain

by digby

Some very smart people in DC have told me in the past that the real problem in DC is this, far more than partisanship, congressional gridlock or inept and incapacitated elected officials:
The revolving door is turning quickly in 2014, with more than 220 Capitol Hill staffers leaving their jobs to become registered lobbyists in the first six months of the year, according to a new report.

Legistorm, an organization that compiles and analyzes congressional data, reported that the number of departures to K Street in 2014 is on pace to exceed the last election year of 2012, when about 329 staffers left to go lobby.

Headhunters said a number of factors explain the jump, including a “brain drain” of ambitious aides who are frustrated by the legislative gridlock.

“I think they're seeing the reality of Congress today and the inability to get things done, which leads them to seek other alternatives — which, by the way, includes less hours and higher pay,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group.

“People work on the Hill because they truly believe they can make a difference, and they join the legislative branch to do so. However, I think there is a lot of frustration with the inability to get things done that is driving people away from this mission,” he added.
That's a nice cover story.  But the truth for most of them is that they're cashing in the chips they won over time after the lobbyists visited their offices and told them what a "bright future" they had and handed them their card saying to look them up when they decided to leave government service. I think we can all see the implicit bribe in that can't you?

Center right? Hardly. Just take a look at the polls...

by David Atkins

Joshua Sager has one of the better poll compilations lately proving that Americans really do prefer more progressive policies. It's pretty stunning when assembled in one place. Here's just a bit of the economics front:

According to Gallup polling, 59 percent of Americans think that U.S. wealth “should be more evenly distributed” among a larger percentage of the people while only 33 percent thought that the current “distribution is fair.” While this is down from the 2008 modern high point, where 68 percent of Americans supported more redistribution, the public opinion of redistribution has held a stable majority, if not super-majority, for decades.

The fact that such a large number of Americans believes that the distribution of wealth is currently too skewed toward the wealthy is made far more relevant by the fact that they don’t actually know just how skewed the wealth distribution has become. As explained by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, Americans think that the current distribution of wealth is far more equal (middle bar graph) than it actually is (top bar graph) — in short, they recognize the problem, but lack an understanding as to just how bad it has become.

According to Pew Research, 69 percent of Americans oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, even in order to cut the deficit, while only 23 percent support such cuts. Additionally, 59 percent oppose cuts on programs assisting the poor in order to address the deficit, while only 33 percent support such austerity.

A multitude of polls have indicated that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy, depending upon how the question is worded and the polling venue — this indicates that a majority of Americans support increasing taxes on top-earners in order to reduce the deficit.

According to Quinnipiac Polling, 71 percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour, while only 27 percent oppose increasing the minimum wage.

According to Gallup Polling, 54 percent of Americans support labor unions, while only 39 percent disapprove of unions.

According to Gallup Polling, 37 percent of Americans think that we spend too much on defense, while only 28 percent think that we spend too little.

During the fight over letting jobless benefits expire, Quinnipiac Polling found that 58 percent of Americans supported extending benefits by at least three months, while only 37 percent of Americans supported letting benefits expire.
The key challenge, of course, is that a lot of that broad support evaporates when Republicans start turning people's prejudices against their own self-interest. It's the oldest story in American politics.

But that's why current demographic shifts are so important. That game is getting harder and harder for Republicans to play and still remain a viable national party.

ICYMI: Palin serves up the red meat

by digby

You really have to see the video to believe it, but this write up gives a fair overview:

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin ripped President Obama on Saturday, saying in order to "save the Republic" Americans must "have the guts to talk about impeachment."

Palin bashed Obama on a variety of topics, including immigration and veterans services during a speech before the 2014 Western Conservative Summit in downtown Denver.

"These days you hear all of these politicians, they denounce Barack Obama, saying he's a lawless imperial and ignores court orders and changes laws by fiat and refuses to enforce laws he just doesn't like," she said.

"That's true. But the question is, "Hey politicians, what are you going to do about it?' " Palin said, as the crowd in the Hyatt Regency ballroom roared.

The former governor of Alaska, Palin rose to prominence in 2008 when Sen. John McCain of Arizona tapped her as his running mate on the GOP ticket. When talk-radio host Dan Caplis introduced Palin, he billed her as the most influential woman in the history of the Republican Party.

Line after line about Obama fired up the crowd.

"If Obama won't do his job and enforce the borders, then it's not immigration, it's invasion," she said.

"We're not going to dethrone God and substitute him with someone who wants to play God," she also said.
I think Dave Neiwert said it best:
Did Sarah Palin get into Aunty Peggy Noonan's jar of Magic Dolphin Pills before her speech in Denver this week?

It does have that slightly slurry quality that so defines Noonan which is a change for Palin who has been rather crisply incoherent in the past if nothing else. But the crowd loved it. As much as we don't want to admit it, she really does speak for a large number of people in this country.

Also too, Sarah now has her own online pay-TV network. What is they say about suckers born every minute?


Contra Sam Harris 

by tristero

PZ Myers says it. Condemning Israel for its outrageous actions in no way translates into an endorsement of obscene atrocities committed by Hamas. There is no one standing on moral high ground in this and Harris is very, very wrong.
Don't count your populist chickens

by digby

Yes, these are the kind of people we can count on to join us in a populist revolution:
Fox News' morning program questioned a Texas official about providing emergency services to undocumented migrants, asking whether 911 calls from immigrants must be answered "even though for the most part, when you get there, you realize they're not even American citizens."

On July 23, Fox & Friends centered a discussion on how undocumented immigrants in Brooks County, Texas are "bombarding" the police department with 911 calls. Host Brian Kilmeade set up an interview with the Texas county's chief deputy by claiming that "illegal immigrants are learning the hard way there's a deadly cost to crossing the border." Kilmeade suggested Brooks County emergency response services might be strained because, "not only are they understaffed and lacking resources, now they've got to deal with illegal immigrants who have no business being here."

As an example, the program aired two emergency calls from Spanish speakers each identified on-screen as "Immigrant." In the first, a distressed male requests emergency assistance for his cousin, whom the man described as "turning blue." Another call featured a man and woman explaining to the 911 operator that they have not had access to water in three days.

Kilmeade asked the deputy, "So those calls, you have to respond to, even though for the most part, when you get there you realize, they're not even American citizens?"
I think we've determined that most of the right wing believes that only Americans deserve to live, just as a general principle. And even then, if they don't have adequate insurance or are part of the 47% of parasites who fail to pay enough taxes to derive any benefits (unless you happen to be a white, conservative Real American 47percenter who deserves her benefits) then you probably don't deserve to live either.

There is simply no way that people with these beliefs will ever join left wing populists. No matter how much they may hate the big banks and bailouts, they hate the "other" more. And that "other" includes liberals like you and me.

The sky has been falling since 1990

by digby

So today the projections of the financial health of the Medicare system are slated to be released.  And you can expect the usual shrill reaction to the "news" that it's going to go broke and we're all going to die, die,die!

When that happens, consider this, courtesy Mike the Mad Biologist:

What a long strange trip it's been

by digby

The New York Times, 10 years ago today:
With a rallying cry from one of its bright young hopes, a roar from its old liberal lion and a loving endorsement from the candidate's own outspoken wife, the Democratic Party offered up John Kerry on Tuesday night as a worthy heir to the patriots of the past, ready and able to unite a nation bitterly divided by the policies and politics of the Bush administration.

''There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America,'' said Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for the Senate from Illinois, the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan and the party's choice to deliver the keynote address.

For all the talk of a red and blue America divided by party, Mr. Obama said, ''We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.''
I was as thrilled by that speech as anyone. It sounded so good during those years of conservative intimidation to think that the country wasn't totally dominated by Bush voters. And it wasn't. But a whole lot of people heard Obama declare that the country was really one country with shared values and political beliefs --- and that just isn't true. It never has been.

Rick Perlstein pointed out the error in that formulation a long time ago citing the Great Communicator as the example of how this sort of appeal can be done to advance your agenda while appealing to people across the aisle. (By the way, it includes making some of your enemies furious ...)
Reagan didn't praise FDR. He stole from him. As in, "This generation has a rendez vous with destiny." We should steal from Reagan too. As in: "There is no left and right. Only up or down." He would then use that intro to frame some outrageously right-wing notion as "common sense." We should do the same for left-wing ideas.

Also, use Reagan to mess with righties' heads. As in: I agree we need a Reaganite foreign policy. When Reagan realized we were caught in the crossfire of a religious civil war in Lebanon, he got the hell out. He would have done the same thing in Iraq. The rule isn't "never say anything nice about Reagan." It's "use Reagan for progressive ends."

That's quite different from the Red state/Blue state formulation Obama used. His formulation might have illustrated the nice progressive value of diversity, but it failed to advance progressive politics beyond that. And he carried that concept all the way through 2008 and beyond. As Perlstein pointed out in this article after the 2010 debacle:
Ronald Reagan scored a comfortable victory in 1980, promising a new day in Washington and the nation. Then Reaganomics ran into brick wall. Unemployment—7.4 percent at the beginning of his term—was heading toward 10 percent by the summer of 1982. The gross domestic product declined 1.8 percent. On Election Day, voters punished him by taking 27 House seats from his Republican Party, including most of the ones gained in 1980. That gave the Democrats a 269–166 seat advantage—far greater than the 51-seat advantage Republicans enjoy today.

The day after that woeful election, Reagan’s aides sent him into a press conference with defensive talking points. He tore them up. “We’re very pleased with the results,” he said, claiming that the GOP had “beat the odds” for off-year elections (he went back to 1928 to make the claim). “Wasn’t he in worse shape for 1984?” he was asked. “I don’t think so at all,” he replied. Hadn’t it been a historically uncivil campaign? He agreed—because of all the opposition did to “frighten voters.”

Barack Obama gave a press conference the day after his “shellacking” too. The contrast to Reagan couldn’t have been more stark. Ignoring the fact that the electorate had pretty much been switching their party preference every two years since 1992, he conceded the loss as an epochal sea change. “I did some talking,” he said of his meeting with Republican leaders the night before, “but mostly I did a lot of listening.” When asked about jobs, he talked about the deficit. He then boasted that when it came to what was essential to recovery, he really didn’t have essential principles at all: the answers were not to be “found in any one particular philosophy or ideology.”
Reality does bite and Reagan wouldn't have been able to sustain that position if the economy hadn't been improving, but he understood that the only way forward politically was to assert the rightness of his policies and philosophy. It was a gamble, but then it was a gamble either way.

Both Obama and Reagan won their re-elections, likely due to the improving economy as much as anything else. But Reagan had instilled a bedrock belief in a very large number of people that the conservative philosophy was the key to success. I don't think President Obama can say the same thing.

*And yes, the economic fundamentals argue something very different. This is a matter of politics in which leaders develop a sense of trust in their ideological approach with the public. It doesn't last forever, of course. As I said, reality bites. But the momentum can carry you quite a long way and a whole lot can be accomplished in its wake.

Centrist reactions to inequality are potentially even worse than the ones on the far right

by David Atkins

Yesterday at the Washington Monthly I wrote about the four main American reactions to record income inequality, and how they play off one another.

After talking about the standard progressive response, I highlighted the centrists and the far right:

Those in the neoliberal/center-left camp do believe that modern inequality is a problem, but that this too shall pass and we can trudge along as usual after a recovery. They expect that middle-class incomes will surely pick up again in due time and everything will be mostly back to normal after the “black swan” event on Wall Street as long as asset prices continue to rise. This is delusional thinking, but extremely commonplace—particularly among wealthier liberals.

The biggest reason for the bitter and sharp divides within the left is that progressives are exasperated with the center-left folks who are desperate to keep status quo going. They’re trying to put more juice in the asset-inflation machine, praying that if we just send enough kids to college in STEM fields and keep the Dow Jones and housing markets frothy enough, we can keep the jobs engine humming. It’s not going to happen.

Then you have the center-right. They take rational market theory as an article of faith, believing with religious fervor that if the labor and capital markets are allowed to act unimpeded, then both labor and capital will find a comfortable, fair and balanced price. No amount of evidence can convince them that both human life and dignity are priced incredibly cheap on the open market, or that that late 19th century was not, in fact, the model of a moral or economically functional society.

Both the center-left and the center-right share the belief that at some level the edges of the system should be polished and softened to cushion the most unfortunate. But neither is comfortable with larger alterations to the balance between corporate and government power.

Finally, there is the far right. These are the True Believers: the ones who not only buy into the center-right line, but also the raw Objectivism of Ayn Rand and Fox News that says that the only economic injustice in society is the one being perpetrated by the government itself, taking money from the “deserving” and giving it to the “undeserving.” In this view, the only inequality that matters to them is redistributive taxation to “others” in society. But the far right, being mostly made up of poorer and middle-class voters, does have the saving grace of at least grasping that something is fundamentally broken in the economy, and they’re willing to take drastic measures to fix it.

This is the problem: on the center left and center right are mostly well-to-do people who have no personal incentive to alter the status quo. Whether out of genuine belief or raw self-interest, they don’t think that much needs to change, and they believe that things will be back to normal soon. After all, things tend to be going pretty smoothly for them, and there don’t seem to be any pitchforks on the horizon—yet.

Then you have the great apathetic mass of Americans, growing larger every day, who have given up believing that any change in government policy will have any effect.

Finally, you have the politically engaged on either side who understand that the status quo really isn’t working. The far right ignorantly thinks it’s all government’s fault. The progressive left gets the scope the problem and the nature of the necessary solutions, but has almost no voice at the moment.
The centrists are almost a bigger problem than the far right, which at least understands that something is seriously wrong that time alone won't fix. Ironically, on this issue the far right isn't actually the biggest impediment to real action.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Feeling the darkness

by digby

Oh my God:
The deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history is happening right now. And now the Liberian government has confirmed that a senior doctor working to fight the disease, Samuel Brisbane, has died, the Associated Press reports. That makes him the first Liberian doctor to die of Ebola in the current outbreak.

In addition, an American doctor has been infected. Keith Brantly, a 33-year-old working for American aid organization Samaritan's Purse, has been treated and is in stable condition, according to USA Today.

This news comes just days after an announcement that the top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone, Sheik Umar Khan, had been infected.

Brisbane's death is an unfortunate blow in a long battle that doesn't look like it's slowing down.
Sigh. This is where I am at this moment:

The VSP Paul Ryan slaps a new brand on a stale old trope

by digby

So I guess nobody's supposed to notice that the Very Serious Paul Ryan's "new" plan is simply regurgitated stale right wing talking points going back 50 years?
Ryan appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" to discuss his newly released poverty proposal, which involves consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs -- including food stamps and housing vouchers -- into one program coordinated on a state-by-state basis.

Host David Gregory asked the representative to speak to comments he made in January of 2013, in which Ryan said the country struggles with "more and more able-bodied people" becoming "dependent on the government." Gregory said Ryan didn't sound like he had much "sympathy" for impoverished Americans.

"We don't want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty," Ryan said, pitching his poverty proposal that he says will allow for a customized approach to each individual's needs.

"The federal government's approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work," Ryan said. "Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential."

Thanks Paul. That's quite a unique observation. I wonder why nobody's thought of it before now. (And kudos to David Gregory for calling him on this moldy old line of argument. Oh wait. He didn't.)

Seriously, I cannot fathom why anyone would think this represents a break in hardcore wingnut thinking. It's literally been their standard argument for decades ever since Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous report about African American culture:
In his report, officially titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” Moynihan claimed that African-American family values produced too many fatherless households and nurtured what he called a “tangle of pathology,” a self-perpetuating, self-defeating cultural flaw responsible for persistently high rates of poverty and violent crime. Conservative columnists and politicians seized on the report, promulgated by a liberal in Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, as official evidence that African-American culture was dangerously pathological. Civil rights leaders saw it as an attempt to blame the black community for systemic problems of racial discrimination. A wide spectrum of academic researchers criticized the report, finding errors and mistaken statistical logic; it was a hasty analysis wrapped in provocative rhetoric. Over the next decade, more evidence was brought forth that challenged Moynihan’s data and assumptions (and Lewis’). By the late 1970s, the premise that poor people have a distinctive culture that causes them to fail seemed to have been rejected.

Reagan’s election in 1980, however, rehabilitated the culture of poverty concept by invoking images of welfare queens and the supposed dangers of a dependent underclass. In 1984, Charles Murray, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a popular book called “Losing Ground,” which claimed harmful social programs and bad behavior by the poor were the main causes of the growing poverty of the era. Liberal academics countered that unemployment in deindustrialized urban areas was the main cause of poverty, though some of their cohort also conceded Moynihan’s original premise, arguing that economic failure partly resulted from ineffective parenting within the underclass. Once again, cause and effect were up for grabs, and conservatives (then, as now) opted for the appealing explanation that poor people cause their own problems.

In his interview with Bennett, Ryan cited Murray approvingly, a reference that intensified the charges of racism levied against him. Murray is a co-author of “The Bell Curve,” published in 1994, which controversially posited a genetic link between race and IQ. His 2008 book, “Coming Apart,” argued that the white lower classes were largely abandoning marriage and family fidelity, that they too have been infected with the tangle of pathology.
Ryan wants to "help" the poor the same way conservative have always wanted to help them --- by giving them the "tough love" of making their lives even worse than they already are. If they want "help" they can go to a church and pray to their God and maybe they'll get a sandwich.

What is this attorney client privilege you speak of?

by digby

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

An incarcerated former Pennsylvania state senator got into further trouble in 2011 when prosecutors seized his prison emails. In Georgia, officials built a contempt case against a man already in federal prison in part by using emails between him and his lawyers obtained in 2011. And in Austin, Tex., defense lawyers have accused members of law enforcement of recording attorney-client calls from jails, then using that information to tighten their cases.
Isn't that special? And guess what their excuse is? You won't believe it:
[Judge] Dora L. Irizarry, ruled against the government last month, barring it “from looking at any of the attorney-client emails, period.”

She seemed to take particular offense at an argument by a prosecutor, F. Turner Buford, who suggested that prosecutors merely wanted to avoid the expense and hassle of having to separate attorney-client emails from other emails sent via Trulincs. The government was not otherwise interested in the contents of those messages, he said.
It's too expensive. They're just trying to save the taxpayer's money, dontcha know:
Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient...

Dr. Ahmed’s case includes 50,000 pages of documents so far, including “Medicare claim data and patient information that we need Dr. Ahmed’s assistance to understand,” Mr. Fodeman wrote. Especially since he is acting as a public defender in this case — meaning the government pays him at $125 per hour — Mr. Fodeman argued that having to arrange an in-person visit or unmonitored phone call for every small question on the case was a waste of money and time.
There seems to be a real shift in people's perceptions of our legal system. There used to be a common understanding that everyone deserved a fair trial and that defense lawyers were a necessary part of the system. We're now seeing attorneys being denied confirmation to government posts on the basis of who they have represented and those who are running for office are being attacked for the same reason. Some have even done time for what would have been considered minor infractions in the past because they are representing a convicted terrorist. Now we see that prosecutors are commonly reading privileged communications between accused criminals and their lawyers. And according to the article, despite the reaction of the judge in the excerpt above, plenty of other judges are a-ok with that.

I guess we just don't have enough people in prison so we need to rig the system even more:

Stretch's gotcha

by digby

Greg Mitchell does the honors:
Transcript of predictably weak "Meet the Press" David Gregory interview with Netanyahu today. The Israeli leader lies flat out about maybe Hamas rockets wrecking that UN school (see below). He claims Israel not targeted "a single civilian" and anyway there are "plenty of places" they can flee to.

This is standard stuff. But Gregory then commits one of the worst journalistic ethical lapses of recent weeks. After letting Netanyahu claim, again, that Israel may be blameless in the school massacre, he brings on UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness--and blindsides him by showing a tape just released within the hour by Israel allegedly showing a Hamas rocket being fired from the grounds of a UN school. Yet Gregory says NBC has not "verified" that it's accurate--and admits that Gunness cannot view and has never seen seen it. Yet asks Gunness to respond! Gunness naturally protests the unfairness--and then the segment quickly ends.
And the video he's showing is completely vague and unverifiable to anyone just looking at it anyway --- some black and white blurred images of something that looks like a projectile coming out of what what appears to be some kind of checkerboard pattern. (And yet I'm pretty sure I saw some aluminum tubes and some yellow cake stashed down in the lefthand corner...)

The UN guy was justifiably upset. He had just gone through a lengthy explanation of how the UN is operating in Gaza and what they are trying to accomplish and Gregory basically says "whatever ... that's nice ... now EXPLAIN THIS!!!"

I tweeted this after he said it:

Graph 'o the Day

by digby

That's a lot of sluts who should have kept their legs closed. Literally millions of them.

Take That, F. Scott Fitzgerald! 

by tristero

Fitzgerald once said, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."

Not so fast.  Some new, fascinating research suggests that actually, genetically, rich and poor aren't so different after all.
According to a study released this week by geneticists at Cornell University, substantial evidence indicates that rich people and poor people—disparate populations long thought to be entirely unrelated—may have once shared a single common ancestor. “After conducting careful DNA analysis, our research team was taken aback to discover that the wealthy and the working class actually have a considerable number of genetic similarities,” said study co-author Kenneth Chang, adding that despite the disparity between the modern-day affluent and low earners in terms of behavior, appearance, and lifestyle, numerous genetic markers revealed that their predecessors may have once lived beside one another without any noticeable differences. 
I know, it does sound incredible, almost like a fake news story, but it is hard to argue with a news source as credible as The Onion.

However, if poor and rich once actually did live side by side with few noticeable differences - it is clear from the article that Dr. Chang is merely speculating and has no empirical data - that was a very long time ago. Today, when rich and poor share an apartment building, we deem it not only socially acceptable but essential for there to be separate entrances.

Conservatives should be able to get behind a universal basic income, too

by David Atkins

Yesterday at the Washington Monthly I riffed on my own Hullabaloo bit from Friday on universal basic income, but more importantly on Max Ehrenfreund's at the Washington Post to explore the potential bipartisan appeal of UBI:

This is one of the beautiful things about universal basic income: it has legitimate cross-partisan appeal, even if it seems wacky at first glance to centrists (who are often the very last people to recognize a good policy idea when they see one.)

To a conservative, a direct money grant is an opportunity to shed cumbersome government bureaucracy, consolidating a number of overlapping needs-based targeted grants with a single, universal, simplified program that costs far less to administer.

To those of a more futurist and progressive slant like myself, the basic universal income is an answer to the problems of globalization, mechanization, deskilling and flattening of the labor force. While there have certainly been myriad political decisions made to further the interests of the very wealthy over those of the middle class, there has also been a “natural” workforce shift in which a large number of jobs that used to be done by humans are either done by machine, or have simply become redundant with the advent on online business models, or have been replaced with much cheaper labor abroad.

Part of this is natural technological churn that has been with us since the industrial revolution. But the advent of both the Internet and smart machines combined with the rapid pace of globalization make the current mechanization phenomenon different from those that have come before. A huge number of manufacturing jobs are already gone as we already know. Service jobs are following on their heels both due to online business models and mechanized replacement: self-driving cars will put cabbies, truck drivers and the entire auto sales industry out of business; chain restaurants are already taking orders using tablets; etc.

Soon enough the white collar jobs will follow as big data analysis sees everyone from stock analysts to diagnosticians replaced with programs that can do their jobs better than any human.

There just aren’t going to be enough jobs to go around. That doesn’t mean there isn’t enough productive work to be done, whether it be in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, implementing an Apollo program for green energy and conservation, or just giving people the freedom to be creative, build businesses, and follow their dreams without fear of ruin. But the old model of capital ownership grudgingly needing human labor at a decent price in order to take surplus value and profit off of that labor isn’t going to work anymore for the majority of people.
We're going to get there, or we hit some sort of history-changing technological singularity, or society breaks down. Or some combination of the above.

It would be nice if we could move the process along a bit faster and stop spending so much time defending the systemically unsustainable and morally untenable status quo.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

[Dennis is off this week and we decided to re-run this post from last year as the Syria crisis was in the news in consideration of current events. plus ça change ... digby]

Child's guide to war: a film troika

By Dennis Hartley

Have you heard the reasons why?
(Yeah, we've heard it all before)
But have you seen the nation cry?
(Yeah, we've seen it all before)

-From "War Weary World" by The Call

(*sigh*) So the boys are rattling their sabers yet again, and America girds its collective loins for possible involvement in Syraqistan or wherever (different day, same old shit). Most disturbing to me about this whole affair is how that endlessly-looped footage of gassed children is being used as a war mongering tool by our own government and an ever-compliant MSM. Yes, it's horrible beyond words and a reprehensible act by any standards, but I seem to recall a brief and shining moment in this country when such imagery was processed as deterrence to conflict and a call for diplomacy, rather than a base and puerile incitement for vengeance (are American bombs any more discriminate?).

But perhaps I'm the one being childish, what with my naive pacifist wishes and hippy-dippy poster dreams. It's a complicated world, and I'm just a simple farmer. A person of the land. The common clay of the American West. You know...a moron. That's why I'm just the movie guy around these parts. That being said, I believe there's something that the following movies, or more specifically their young protagonists can teach us about such matters. And so I'm spotlighting three essential films that offer an immediate ground-level view of the effects of war, filtered through the eyes of innocents, uncluttered by any political machinations or jingoist agendas. Hey, feel free to invite your favorite war hawk over for dinner and a movie. Just make sure that they are taking notes:
Grave of the Fireflies- For many years, the term 'anime' conjured up visions of saucer-eyed cartoon characters in colorful, action-packed fantasy-adventures (generally targeting younger audiences). However, sometime around the mid-80s, the paradigm shifted when Japanese production houses like Studio Ghibli began to find international success with more eclectic, character-driven fare. One particularly transcendent example is writer-director Isao Takahata's 1988 drama, Grave of the Fireflies. While it is animated, and its protagonists are children, it is not necessarily a children's film; its unflinching approach and anti-war subtext puts it in a league with Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero and Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood. The story (based on Akiyuki Nosaka's novel) takes place in Kobe in 1945, and concerns the travails of a teenage boy named Seita (voiced by Tsutomo Tatsumi) and his little sister Setsuko (voiced by Ayano Shiraishi), who are orphaned when their mother perishes during an Allied firebombing raid. After brief lodgings with a less-than-hospitable aunt, the siblings have to fend for themselves. Do not expect a Hollywood ending (I wouldn't recommend showing this to children under 12). One commonality between Grave of the Fireflies and the aforementioned Rossellini film that begs reflection is the fact that Japan and Germany were primary aggressor nations in WW2. An obvious commonality, but precisely my point: The pain and suffering of innocents caught in the crossfire doesn't know from borders or ideology.

Son of Babylon- This heartbreaking Iraqi drama is set in 2003, just weeks after the fall of Saddam. It follows the arduous journey of a Kurdish boy named Ahmed (Yasser Talib) and his grandmother (Shazda Hussein) as they head for the last known location of Ahmed’s father, who disappeared during the first Gulf War. As they traverse the bleak, post-apocalyptic landscapes of Iraq’s bomb-cratered desert, a portrait emerges of a people struggling to keep mind and soul together, and to make sense of the horror and suffering precipitated by two wars and a harsh dictatorship. Director Mohamed Al Daradji  and co-screenwriter Jennifer Norridge deliver something conspicuously absent in the Iraq War(s) movies from Western directors in recent years-an honest and humanistic evaluation of the everyday people who inevitably get caught in the middle of such armed conflicts-not just in Iraq, but in any war, anywhere. While the film alludes to the regional and international politics involved, the narrative is constructed in such a way that at the end of day, whether Ahmed’s father was killed by American bomb sorties or Saddam gassing his own people is moot. That message is distilled in a small, compassionate gesture and a single line of dialogue. An Arabic-speaking woman, also searching for a missing loved one at a mass gravesite sets her own suffering aside to lay a comforting hand on the lamenting grandmother’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Kurdish," she says, "...but I can feel this woman’s pain and sadness.” One thing I can say (aside that this emotionally shattering film should be required viewing for heads of state, commanders-in-chief, generals, or anyone else wielding the power to wage war)…I don’t speak Kurdish, either.

Testament - Originally a PBS American Playhouse presentation, this film was released to theatres and garnered a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Jane Alexander (she lost to Shirley MacLaine). Director Lynne Littman takes a low key, deliberately paced approach, but pulls no punches. Alexander, her husband (William DeVane) and three kids live in sleepy Hamlin, California, where the afternoon cartoons are interrupted by a news flash that a number of nuclear explosions have occurred in New York. Then there is a flash of a whole different kind when nearby San Francisco (where DeVane has gone on a business trip) receives a direct strike. There is no exposition on the political climate that precipitates the attacks; a wise decision by the filmmakers because it helps us zero in on the essential humanistic message of the film. All of the post-nuke horrors ensue, but they are presented sans the histrionics and melodrama that informs many entries in the genre. The fact that the nightmarish scenario unfolds so deliberately, and amidst such everyday suburban banality, is what makes it all so frighteningly believable and difficult to shake off. As the children (and adults) of Hamlin succumb to the inevitable scourge of radiation sickness and steadily “disappear”, like the children of the ‘fairy tale’ Hamlin, you are left haunted by the final line of the school production of “The Pied Piper” glimpsed earlier in the film…“Your children are not dead. They will return when the world deserves them.”

Accomplices to the extreme

by digby

Norm Ornstein had a nice historical piece this week on the history of extreme elements becoming mainstream in political parties. His particular focus unsurprisingly, was on the current GOP and how it came to be so nutty. Those of us who have been covering this evolution in real time won't be surprised by his thesis but if it seems as if this just pops up overnight this is a good overview.

I would take issue with one thing however. He doesn't discuss the crucible of a partisan impeachment against the will of the people, much of it driven by the political and media establishment.  Neither does he point to the subsequent shock of the subsequent Supreme Court decision in election 2000 in which the press and the beltway institutions also enabled the right wing to get away with unprecedented undemocratic behavior. These are important moments that signaled a fundamental shift in norms.

He's right that the New Left in the 1960s and the party upheaval in the 1970s created much turmoil within the Democratic Party.  But it was hardly aided and abetted by the establishment, particularly the media, unless you want to say that someone like Walter Cronkite coming out against the war was a sign of extremism.  In fact, the morphing of right wing extremism into mainstream politics has been largely made possible by a media which decided very early on in the 60s revolution to identify with the "Silent Majority" and then allowed itself to be cowed by the relentless right wing propaganda campaign to vacuously portray them as liberal --- which they weren't. It culminated in the shameful performance of the 1990s and the nearly delirious approbation offered to George W. Bush, resulting in an insane war we'll be paying for for a long time.

None of this is to let Democrats off the hook for their irrational fear of hippies, which remains to this day. Neither does it absolve the Republicans for their extremism, which has building unabated for the last 50 years. But you cannot understand all this without looking at the behavior of the bipartisan political establishment and the press. They are accomplices.

Your disconcerting thought for the day

by digby

We got lucky:
Back in 2012, the Sun erupted with a powerful solar storm that just missed the Earth but was big enough to “knock modern civilization back to the 18th century,” NASA said.

The extreme space weather that tore through Earth’s orbit on July 23, 2012, was the most powerful in 150 years, according to a statement posted on the US space agency website Wednesday.

However, few Earthlings had any idea what was going on.

“If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire,” said Daniel Baker, professor of atmospheric and space physics at the University of Colorado.

Instead the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft, a solar observatory that is “almost ideally equipped to measure the parameters of such an event,” NASA said.

Scientists have analyzed the treasure trove of data it collected and concluded that it would have been comparable to the largest known space storm in 1859, known as the Carrington event.

It also would have been twice as bad as the 1989 solar storm that knocked out power across Quebec, scientists said.

“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” said Baker.

What middle class decline?

by digby

I'm not surprised by the fact that the middle class net worth has declined, but I confess that the scope of that decline is startling:

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 94 percent of the population had less wealth and 4 percent had more.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households.

For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets. But much of the gain for many typical households came from the rising value of their homes. Exclude that housing wealth and the picture is worse: Median net worth began to decline even earlier.

“The housing bubble basically hid a trend of declining financial wealth at the median that began in 2001,” said Fabian T. Pfeffer, the University of Michigan professor who is lead author of the Russell Sage Foundation study.

It's not housing. It's not the fallout from the financial crisis. So what is it?


Meanwhile, if there's one thing the keepers of the staus quo have going for them it's this:

Researchers at the University of Hannover in Germany propose a simpler reason: Voters don’t demand more redistribution because they don’t grasp how deep inequality is.

Using data from the International Social Survey Programme, in which respondents were asked to locate their relative income status on a scale of 1 to 10, Carina Engelhardt and Andreas Wagener built a measure of perceived inequality, defined as the gap between the median income, smack in the middle of the distribution, and the average income of the population.

Evidently, nobody has a clue: In every one of the 26 nations, most of them in the developed world, for which they collected data, people believe that the income gap is smaller than it really is. And using perceived rather than actual inequality, the median voter theory works much better: Where people believe inequality is worse, governments tend to redistribute more.

“If citizen-voters see an issue, politics has to respond – even if there is no issue,” they concluded. “Conversely, if a real problem is not salient with voters, it will probably not be pursued forcefully.”

This could go some distance toward explaining the American experience. People in the United States not only tolerate one of the widest income gaps in the developed world, but its government also ranks among the stingiest in terms of efforts at redressing the imbalance.

Unsurprisingly, Americans suffer from a pretty big perception gap. They think an American in the middle of the income distribution makes only 4 percent less than the national average, according to Ms. Engelhardt and Mr. Wagener’s research. In truth, the American in the middle makes 16 percent less.

Shhhhh. Don't tell anyone.

The good news is that there's almost no chance anyone in politics will seek to inform them of the truth so that they can vote their own self-interest. That would undoubtedly upset the "markets" and then all hell would break loose...


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