Monday, April 28, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

40 Maps

Click here for "40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World."

At the bottom, there are some interesting links to follow. I found this picture:

Which looks impossible, but it's true -- backed up by this video:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hooray For Digby!

"What Digby said" is a popular phrase in left-wing blogs as shorthand meaning "See Digby's blog, Hullabaloo, for a concise, incisive explanation of [whatever the subject under discussion]." She's one of the best, up there with such stalwarts as Atrios, Charlie Pierce at Esquire, and Driftglass. Anyway, she was recently honored by being awarded the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis. I referenced Bill in Portland, Maine, in my last post; here's what he has to say later in that same article:
CHEERS to "the blogging godmother to a generation of new voices." The online political hippie world is exploding with glee this morning, thanks to the news that "Digby" will need to clear a space on her mantel for her Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis. The Hillmans are awarded for "investigative reporting and deep storytelling in service of the common good," and they've been around for 64 years. For her part, Digby (aka Heather Parton) took the news with bemused grace:
"Who would have thought that could ever happen when I started this ugly little blog 11 years ago? I couldn't have seen it coming, that's for sure. [M]any, many thanks to the generous readers who have supported this blog all these years. That support is what allowed me to stay independent and do this on my own terms which is a very precious and unusual gift in this life. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this thrilling day possible for me."
Congratulations, Digby, and thanks for Hullabaloo.

Molly Ivins On Inequality, 1992

Over at Crooks & Liars, Bill in Portland, Maine, who writes the regular front-page feature "Cheers and Jeers," is a big fan (as am I) of the late Molly Ivins, a Texas journalist and author who came to my attention when she repeatedly skewered Bush & Co. back in the early 2000s. Bill frequently quotes from Molly's work in a "Molly Ivins Moment," and this is today's:
During the past two years, we have gotten several studies of the economic impact of the eighties, all of them grim. The latest studies show that 60 percent of the wealth created in the decade went to the richest 1 percent of Americans. An additional 14 percent of the wealth went to the richest two percent. And yet another 20 percent of the new wealth went to those in the richest 20 percent, leaving 6 percent of the new wealth to be spread among the remaining 80 percent of Americans.
[Vice President Dan Quayle] says the answer is two-parent families, but according to a study done by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, based on Census Bureau data through 1989, two-parent families are having to run harder than ever just to stay in place. Their income in inflation-adjusted dollars rose 8 percent between 1979 and 1989. That includes all income levels. It was a rate of growth one half of that in the seventies, one fourth of that in the sixties, and one fifth of that in the fifties. ---May, 1992
Wow! There have been a number of articles in the last few days trumpeting the demise of the U.S. middle class, which has been surpassed by a number of other countries ("We're number five! We're number five!"), and I've seen several right-wingers who have blamed this situation on Obama, as if it has only happened recently. In addition, Thomas Piketty's blockbuster new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is focusing a lot of attention on economic equality in the U.S. -- and thank you, Paul Krugman.

Of course, the hollowing-out of the American middle class started during the Reagan years, with his policies of privatization, deregulation, trickle-down ("voodoo") economics; things improved greatly under Clinton, but W. accelerated the decline. But it's fascinating that Molly Ivins had nailed this phenomenon as far back as 1992.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Busy Intersection

Time-lapse photography, Meskel Square, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I think even Cairo was a little better than this. And at night most people drive with no headlights; they think it conserves battery power, so they have only the streetlights for visibility. I got into a taxi once in Cairo that had its doors tied on with rope. Good fun! (I didn't notice the pedestrians in the video until near the end; lots of luck, guys.)

Here's Cairo traffic at night:

Here's another one, easier-to-watch video of Cairo daytime traffic:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Murphy Brown Forecasts Today's Political Scene

I never watched Murphy Brown, but here (h/t Driftglass) is a clip from that program showing a cowardly congressman, Stuart Brown, appearing on Brown's news program where he feels terrible but nevertheless reads from an outrageous script prepared by his right-wing backers. At the time, it was just a good joke; today, it turns out, it was a pretty accurate prediction of the bought-and-paid-for government of Citizens United and McCutcheon:

Monday, April 14, 2014

American Imperium

Crooks & Liars' Open Thread on Sunday night, April 13, 2014, has several eye-opening posts about American empire. The first is by, and it references an article at AlterNet by Nicolas J.S. Davies entitled "America's Coup Machine: Destroying Democracy Since 1953," with the subheading "U.S. efforts to overthrow foreign governments leave the world less peaceful, less just and less hopeful." It places the history of American global meddling in the context of the current unrest in Crimea and the Ukraine. American-backed coups and interference in the governments of countries around the world since the end of World War II is well known, of course, but it's a bit of a shock to see them listed:
To place the coup in Ukraine in historical context, this is at least the 80th time the United States has organized a coup or a failed coup in a foreign country since 1953. That was when President Eisenhower discovered in Iran that the CIA could overthrow elected governments who refused to sacrifice the future of their people to Western commercial and geopolitical interests. Most U.S. coups have led to severe repression, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, corruption, extreme poverty and inequality, and prolonged setbacks for the democratic aspirations of people in the countries affected. The plutocratic and ultra-conservative nature of the forces the U.S. has brought to power in Ukraine make it unlikely to be an exception.
Noam Chomsky calls William Blum's classic, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, "Far and away the best book on the topic." If you're looking for historical context for what you are reading or watching on TV about the coup in Ukraine, Killing Hope will provide it. The title has never been more apt as we watch the hopes of people from all regions of Ukraine being sacrificed on the same altar as those of people in Iran (1953); Guatemala(1954); Thailand (1957); Laos (1958-60); the Congo (1960); Turkey (1960, 1971 & 1980); Ecuador (1961 & 1963); South Vietnam (1963); Brazil (1964); the Dominican Republic (1963); Argentina (1963); Honduras (1963 & 2009); Iraq (1963 & 2003); Bolivia (1964, 1971 & 1980); Indonesia (1965); Ghana (1966); Greece (1967); Panama (1968 & 1989); Cambodia (1970); Chile (1973); Bangladesh (1975); Pakistan (1977); Grenada (1983); Mauritania (1984); Guinea (1984); Burkina Faso (1987); Paraguay (1989); Haiti (1991 & 2004); Russia (1993); Uganda (1996);and Libya (2011). This list does not include a roughly equal number of failed coups, nor coups in Africa and elsewhere in which a U.S. role is suspected but unproven.
The disquieting reality of the world we live in is that American efforts to destroy democracy, even as it pretends to champion it, have left the world less peaceful, less just and less hopeful. When Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, at the height of the genocidal American war on Iraq, he devoted much of his acceptance speech to an analysis of this dichotomy. He said of the U.S., "It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis… Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be, but it is also very clever."
The article outlines how the U.S. goes about its covert interference:
1) Creating and strengthening opposition forces - examples - post-World War II Italy, in concert with the Catholic Church; Chile from 1958 to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, and the eventual takeover by Pinochet in 1973; and an outline of interference in the Ukraine starting with independence in 1991, the Orange Revolution in 2004, and beyond;

2) Violent street demonstrations: in Tehran in 1953, in Haiti in 2004, and in the Ukraine in 2014;

3) The coup d'etat - Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, and the Ukraine in 2014.
The U.S. coup machine has also been at work in Venezuela, where it already failed once in 2002. Raul Capote, a former Cuban double agent who worked with the CIA in Cuba and Venezuela, recently described its long-term project to build right-wing opposition movements among upper- and middle-class students in Venezuelan universities, which are now bearing fruit in increasingly violent street protests and vigilantism. Thirty-six people have been killed, including six police officers and at least 5 opposition protesters. The protests began exactly a month after municipal elections in December, in which the government won the popular vote by almost 10%, far more than the 1.5% margin in the presidential election last April. As in Chile in 1973, electoral success by an elected government is often the cue for the CIA to step up its efforts, moving beyond propaganda and right-wing politics to violence in the streets, and the popularity of the Venezuelan government seems to have provoked precisely that reaction.
The article finishes with a summary of the role of the Western media in propagandizing and spinning U.S. interference:
Another feature of U.S. coups is the role of the Western media in publicizing official cover stories and suppressing factual journalism. This role has also been consistent since 1953, but it has evolved as corporate media have consolidated their monopoly power. By their very nature, coups are secret operations and U.S. media are prohibited from revealing "national security" secrets about them, such as the names of CIA officers involved. By only reporting official cover stories, they become unwitting co conspirators in the critical propaganda component of these operations. But the U.S. corporate media have turned vice into virtue, relishing their role in the demonization of America's chosen enemies and cheerleading U.S. efforts to do them in. They brush U.S. responsibility for violence and chaos under the carpet, and sympathetically present U.S. policy as a well-meaning effort to respond to the irrational and dangerous behavior of others.
The article maintains that the role of the Western media is not to provide facts, but to act "as the propaganda arm of an expansionist political and economic system":
In that light, they are doing a brilliant job on Ukraine as they did on Iraq, suppressing any mention of the U.S. role in the coup and pivoting swiftly away from the unfolding crisis in post-coup Ukraine to focus entirely on attacking President Putin for reclaiming Crimea.
In the second of the Crooks & Liars posts in Sunday night's open thread, MountainMan23 responds to with a link to a 1933 article entitled "I Was A Gangster For Capitalism" by U.S. Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death was the most-decorated soldier in Marine Corps history. Butler's Wikipedia entry includes the following:
In 1933, he became involved in a controversy known as the Business Plot, when he told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Butler selected to lead a march of veterans to become dictator, similar to other Fascist regimes at that time.
The Wikipedia article continues:
In 1935, Butler wrote a book titled War Is a Racket, where he described and criticized the workings of the United States in its foreign actions and wars, such as those he was a part of, including the American corporations and other imperialist motivations behind them.
The Crooks & Liars posting quotes Butler:
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
MountainMan23 makes an interesting addendum to his post:
Chomsky tells a bit a history from the immediate end of WW2 I was not aware of. He discusses the partisan (anti-nazi) movements throughout Europe, and says they were relatively weak in the north and west, but in the south (Greece and Italy) they were very strong, so strong that the US and UK smashed them when the Allies "liberated" Greece and Italy. Why? Because the partisans had taken over the factories and were running them without the ruling class as overseers, and neither the US nor the UK were about to let that situation continue. In other words, the US and the UK accomplished what the Nazis could not.
Finally in this series of Crooks & Liars postings is one by Derek_Trevor with a link to an article entitled "35 countries where the U.S. has supported fascists, drug lords and terrorists. As the situation in Ukraine continues to fester, a handy history guide — from A (Argentina) to Z (Zaire)." Again, while many people have a vague sense of the extent of U.S. interference in global affairs, it's shocking to see them listed together: Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, France (yes, France, in concert with Corsican gangsters in Marseille, and the French Connection), Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Korea, Laos, Libya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Panama, the Philippines, Syria, Uruguay, Yugoslavia, Zaire.

The article concludes with mention of the notorious School of the Americas:
Major Joe Blair was the director of instruction at the U.S. School of the Americas (SOA) from 1986 to 1989. He described the training he oversaw at SOA as the following: The doctrine that was taught was that if you want information you use physical abuse, false imprisonment, threats to family members, and killing. If you can’t get the information you want, if you can’t get that person to shut up or stop what they’re doing, you assassinate them—and you assassinate them with one of your death squads.”
The stock response of U.S. officials to the exposure of the systematic crimes I’ve described is that such things may have occurred at certain times in the past but that they in no way reflect long-term or ongoing U.S. policy. The School of the Americas was moved from the Panama Canal Zone to Fort Benning, Georgia, and replaced by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. But Joe Blair has something to say about that too. Testifying at a trial of SOA Watch protesters in 2002, he said, There are no substantive changes besides the name. They teach the identical courses that I taught, and changed the course names and use the same manuals.”
A huge amount of human suffering could be alleviated and global problems solved if the United States would make a genuine commitment to human rights and the rule of law, as opposed to one it only applies cynically and opportunistically to its enemies, but never to itself or its allies.
If you follow the links, that one thread on Crooks & Liars presents hours of absorbing reading.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mack The Knife (With A Twist)

Mack the Knife like you've never imagined:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What The Koch Brothers Want

Click here for an article by Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont. The Kochs are not rookies to politics: in 1980, David Koch was on the Libertarian party's slate of candidates; he was running for election as vice-president. Bernie Sanders gives us the party platform of the 1980 Libertarian party. It's a prescription for a terribly dystopian, dog-eat-dog country.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Colbert Replaces Letterman - Rush Is Unhappy!

Colbert gets Letterman's late-night slot -- and Rush doesn't like it one little bit! It'll be interesting to see how O'Reilly reacts. He attacked Colbert just a couple of days ago:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mann & Ornstein: "The Republicans Are The Problem"

Click here for an excellent article from 2012 by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein in The Washington Post entitled "Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem." It starts:
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.
It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
Mann and Ornstein are not rabid partisans: They belong to that vanishing breed of centrist Republicans, a growing number of whom have the feeling that their party has deserted them. According to WaPo, Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. (According to Wikipedia, Brookings is one of the oldest and most influential of political think tanks, while AEI is conservative.) Pinning the greatest share of blame on Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, they claim:
Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.
And Republicans continue to jump ship:
Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the Truthout Web site.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wow! Read This!

No "Click here" this time: This deserves to be quoted verbatim.

Okay, I've copied it, but it's going to take a lot of work to duplicate the punctuation in the article, and my copy-and-paste doesn't preserve the -- copious -- links that verify the author's claims. So click here for the article itself, "An Open Letter To Conservatives," by Russell King.

By Russell King: Dear Conservative Americans, The years have not been kind to you. I grew up in a profoundly Republican home so I can remember when you wore a very different face than the one we see now. You’ve lost me and you’ve lost most of America. Because I believe having responsible choices is important to democracy, I’d like to give you some advice and an invitation. First, the invitation: Come back to us. Now the advice. You’re going to have to come up with a platform that isn’t built on a foundation of cowardice: fear of people with colors, religions, cultures and sex lives that differ from yours; fear of reform in banking, health care, energy; fantasy fears of America being transformed into an Islamic nation, into social/commun/fasc-ism, into a disarmed populace put in internment camps; and more. But you have work to do even before you take on that task. Your party — the GOP — and the conservative end of the American political spectrum has become irresponsible and irrational. Worse, it’s tolerating, promoting and celebrating prejudice and hatred. Let me provide some expamples — by no means an exhaustive list — of where the Right as gotten itself stuck in a swamp of hypocrisy, hyperbole, historical inaccuracy and hatred. If you’re going to regain your stature as a party of rational, responsible people, you’ll have to start by draining this swamp: Hypocrisy You can’t flip out — and threaten impeachment – when Dems use a parlimentary procedure (deem and pass) that you used repeatedly (more than 35 times in just one session and more than 100 times in all!), that’s centuries old and which the courts have supported. Especially when your leaders admit it all. You can’t vote and scream against the stimulus package and then take credit for the good it’s done in your own district (happily handing out enormous checks representing money that you voted against is especially ugly) — 114 of you (at last count) did just that — and it’s even worse when you secretly beg for more. You can’t fight against your own ideas just because the Dem president endorses your proposal. You can’t call for a pay-as-you-go policy, and then vote against your own ideas. Are they “unlawful enemy combatants” or are they “prisoners of war” at Gitmo? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t carry on about the evils of government spending when your family has accepted more than a quarter-million dollars in government handouts. You can’t refuse to go to a scheduled meeting, to which you were invited, and then blame the Dems because they didn’t meet with you. You can’t rail against using teleprompters while using teleprompters. Repeatedly. You can’t rail against the bank bailouts when you supported them as they were happening. You can’t be for immigration reform, then against it . You can’t enjoy socialized medicine while condemning it. You can’t flip out when the black president puts his feet on the presidential desk when you were silent when the white presidents did the same. Bush. Ford. You can’t complain that the president hasn’t closed Gitmo yet when you’ve campaigned to keep Gitmo open. You can’t flip out when the black president bows to foreign dignitaries, as appropriate for their culture, when you were silent when the white presidents did the same. Bush. Nixon. Ike. You didn’t even make a peep when Bush held hands and kissed leaders of a countrys that’s not on “kissing terms” with the US. You can’t complain that the undies bomber was read his Miranda rights under Obama when the shoe bomber was read his Miranda rights under Bush and you remained silent. (And, no, Newt — the shoe bomber was not a US citizen either, so there is no difference.) You can’t attack the Dem president for not personally* publicly condemning a terrorist event for 72 hours when you said nothing about the Rep president waiting 6 days in an eerily similar incident (and, even then, he didn’t issue any condemnation). *The Obama administration did the day of the event. You can’t throw a hissy fit, sound alarms and cry that Obama freed Gitmo prisoners who later helped plan the Christmas Day undie bombing, when — in fact — only one former Gitmo detainee, released by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, helped to plan the failed attack. You can’t condemn blaming the Republican president for an attempted terror attack on his watch, then blame the Dem president for an attemted terror attack on his. You can’t mount a boycott against singers who say they’re ashamed of the president for starting a war, but remain silent when another singer says he’s ashamed of the president and falsely calls him a Moaist who makes him want to throw up and says he ought to be in jail. You can’t cry that the health care bill is too long, then cry that it’s too short. You can’t support the individual mandate for health insurance, then call it unconstitutional when Dems propose it and campaign against your own ideas. You can’t demand television coverage, then whine about it when you get it. Repeatedly. You can’t praise criminal trials in US courts for terror suspects under a Rep president, then call it “treasonous” under a Dem president. You can’t propose ideas to create jobs, and then work against them when the Dems put your ideas in a bill. You can’t be both pro-choice and anti-choice. You can’t damn someone for failing to pay $900 in taxes when you’ve paid nearly $20,000 in IRS fines. You can’t condemn criticizing the president when US troops are in harms way, then attack the president when US troops are in harms way , the only difference being the president’s party affiliation (and, by the way, armed conflict does NOT remove our right and our duty as Americans to speak up). You can’t be both for cap-and-trade policy and against it. You can’t vote to block debate on a bill, then bemoan the lack of ‘open debate’. If you push anti-gay legislation and make anti-gay speeches, you should probably take a pass on having gay sex, regardless of whether it’s 2004 or 2010. This is true, too, if you’re taking GOP money and giving anti-gay rants on CNN. Taking right-wing money and GOP favors to write anti-gay stories for news sites while working as a gay prostitute, doubles down on both the hypocrisy and the prostitution. This is especially true if you claim your anti-gay stand is God’s stand, too. When you chair the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, you can’t send sexy emails to 16-year-old boys (illegal anyway, but you made it hypocritical as well). You can’t criticize Dems for not doing something you didn’t do while you held power over the past 16 years, especially when the Dems have done more in one year than you did in 16. You can’t decry “name calling” when you’ve been the most consistent and outrageous at it. And the most vile. You can’t spend more than 40 years hating, cutting and trying to kill Medicare, and then pretend to be the defenders of Medicare You can’t praise the Congressional Budget Office when its analysis produces numbers that fit your political agenda, then claim it’s unreliable when it comes up with numbers that don’t. You can’t vote for X under a Republican president, then vote against X under a Democratic president. Either you support X or you don’t. And it makes it worse when you change your position merely for the sake obstructionism. You can’t call a reconcilliation out of bounds when you used it repeatedly. You can’t spend tax-payer money on ads against spending tax-payer money. You can’t condemn individual health insurance mandates in a Dem bill, when the madates were your idea. You can’t demand everyone listen to the generals when they say what fits your agenda, and then ignore them when they don’t. You can’t whine that it’s unfair when people accuse you of exploiting racism for political gain, when your party’s former leader admits you’ve been doing it for decades. You can’t portray yourself as fighting terrorists when you openly and passionately support terrorists. You can’t complain about a lack of bipartisanship when you’ve routinely obstructed for the sake of political gain — threatening to filibuster at least 100 pieces of legislation in one session, far more than any other since the procedural tactic was invented — and admitted it. Some admissions are unintentional, others are made proudly. This is especially true when the bill is the result of decades of compromise between the two parties and is filled with your own ideas. You can’t question the loyalty of Department of Justice lawyers when you didn’t object when your own Republican president appointed them. You can’t preach and try to legislate “Family Values” when you: take nude hot tub dips with teenagers (and pay them hush money); cheat on your wife with a secret lover and lie about it to the world; cheat with a staffer’s wife (and pay them off with a new job); pay hookers for sex while wearing a diaper and cheating on your wife; or just enjoying an old fashioned non-kinky cheating on your wife; try to have gay sex in a public toilet; authorize the rape of children in Iraqi prisons to coherce their parents into providing information; seek, look at or have sex with children; replace a guy who cheats on his wife with a guy who cheats on his pregnant wife with his wife’s mother; Hyperbole You really need to disassociate with those among you who: assert that people making a quarter-million dollars a year can barely make ends meet or that $1 million “isn’t a lot of money”; say that “Comrade” Obama is a “Bolshevik” who is “taking cues from Lenin”; ignore the many times your buddies use a term that offends you and complain only when a Dem says it; liken political opponents to murderers, rapists, and “this Muslim guy” that “offed his wife’s head”; say Obama “wants his plan to fail…so that he can make the case for bank nationalization and vindicate his dream of a socialist economy”; equate putting the good of the people ahead of your personal fortunes with terrorism; smear an entire major religion with the actions of a few fanatics; say that the president wants to “annihilate us”; compare health care reform with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a Bolshevik plot , the attack on 9/11, or reviving the ghosts of communist dictators; equate our disease-fighting stem cell research with “what the Nazis did”; call a bill passed by the majority of both houses of Congress, by members of Congress each elected by a majority in their districts, as “the end of representative government”; shout “baby killer” at a member of Congress on the floor of the House, especially one who so fought against abortion rights that he nearly killed health care reform (in fact, a little decorum, a little respect for our national institutions and the people and the values they represent, would be refreshing — cut out the shouting, the swearing and the obscenities); prove your machismo by claiming your going to “crash a party” to which you’re officially invited; claim that Obama is pushing America’s “submission to Shariah”; question the patriotism of people upholding cherished American values and the rule of law; claim the president is making us less safe without a hint of evidence; call a majority vote the “tyranny of the minority,” even if you meant to call it tyranny of the majority — it’s democracy, not tyranny; call the president’s support of a criminal trial for a terror suspect “treasonous” (especially when supported the same thing when the president shared your party); call the Pope the anti-Christ; assert that the constitutionally mandated census is an attempt to enslave us; accuse opponents of being backed by Arab slave-drivers or being drunk and suicidal; equate family planing with eugenics or Nazism; accuse the president of changing the missile defense program’s logo to match his campaign logo and reflect what you say is his secret Muslim identity; accuse political opponents of being totalitarians, socialists, communists, fascists, Marxists; terrorist sympathizers, McCarthy-like, Nazis or drug pushers; and advocate a traitorous act like seccession, violent revolution , military coup or civil war (just so we’re clear: sedition is a bad thing). History If you’re going to use words like socialism, communism and fascism, you must have at least a basic understanding of what those words mean (hint: they’re NOT synonymous!) You can’t cut a leading Founding Father out the history books because you’ve decided you don’t like his ideas. You cant repeatedly assert that the president refuses to say the word “terrorism” or say we’re at war with terror when we have an awful lot of videotape showing him repeatedly assailing terrorism and using those exact words. If you’re going to invoke the names of historical figures, it does not serve you well to whitewash them. Especially this one. You can’t just pretend historical events didn’t happen in an effort to make a political opponent look dishonest or to make your side look better. Especially these events. (And, no, repeating it doesn’t make it less of a lie.) You can’t say things that are simply and demonstrably false: health care reform will not push people out of their private insurance and into a government-run program ; health care reform (which contains a good many of your ideas and very few from the Left) is a long way from “socialist utopia”; is not “reparations”; and does not create “death panels”. Hatred You have to condemn those among you who: call members of Congress n*gger and f*ggot when they disagree with them on policy; elected leaders who say “I’m a proud racist”; state that America has been built by white people; say that poor people are poor because they’re rotten people, call them “parasitic garbage” or say they shouldn’t be allowed to vote; call women bitches and prostitutes just because you don’t like their politics ( re - pea -ted - ly ); assert that the women who are serving our nation in uniform are hookers; mock and celebrate the death of a grandmother because you disagree with her son’s politics; declare that those who disagree with them are shown by that disagreement to be not just “Marxist radicals” but also monsters and a deadly disease killing the nation (this would fit in the hyperbole and history categories, too); joke about blindness; advocate euthanizing the wives of your political opponents; taunt people with incurable, life-threatening diseases — especially if you do it on a syndicated broadcast; equate gay love with bestiality — involving horses or dogs or turtles or ducks — or polygamy, child molestation, pedophilia; casually assume that only white males look “like a real American”; assert presidential power to torture a child by having his testacles crushed in front of his parents to get them to talk, order the massacre of a civilian village and launch a nuclear attack without the consent of Congress; attack children whose mothers have died; call people racists without producing a shred of evidence that they said or done something that would even smell like racism — same for invoking racially charged “dog whistle” words (repeatedly); condemn the one thing that every major religion agrees on; complain that we no longer employ the tactics we once used to disenfranchise millions of Americans because of their race; blame the victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks for their suffering and losses; celebrate violence , joke about violence, prepare for violence or use violent imagery, “fun” political violence, hints of violence, threats of violence (this one is rather explicit), suggestions of violence or actual violence (and, really, suggesting anal rape wth a hot piece of metal is beyond the pale); and incite insurrection telling people to get their guns ready for a “bloody battle” with the president of the United States. Oh, and I’m not alone: One of your most respected and decorated leaders agrees with me. So, dear conservatives, get to work. Drain the swamp of the conspiracy nuts, the bald-faced liars undeterred by demonstrable facts, the overt hypocrisy and the hatred. Then offer us a calm, responsible, grownup agenda based on your values and your vision for America. We may or may not agree with your values and vision, but we’ll certainly welcome you back to the American mainstream with open arms. We need you.

Greed Is Good - Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross

Dog eat dog -- may the best dog win.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

British Press Tracks U.S. Mass Shootings

Click here for an article in The Telegraph entitled "Mass shootings in America: the year since Sandy Hook":
Twenty-three mass shootings have occurred in the US in the year since the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, leaving more than 100 dead across 17 states.

Caterpillar Avoids $2.4 Billion In Taxes - Rand Paul Approves

Click here for an article in the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal by Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press, entitled "Rand Paul: Award Caterpillar for tax savings," in which Paul congratulates Caterpillar (revenue last year, $56 billion) for its canny business ways:
Caterpillar has avoided paying $2.4 billion in U.S. taxes since 2000 by shifting profits to a wholly-controlled affiliate in Switzerland, according to a report released by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate investigations subcommittee.
Paul, R-Ky., questioned why the subcommittee was even holding the hearing. "I think rather than having an inquisition, we should probably bring Caterpillar here and give them an award," Paul said. "You know, they've been in business for over 100 years. It's not easy to stay in business."
Paul said Caterpillar and its accountants have an obligation to shareholders to minimize their taxes. "It is a requirement that you try to minimize your costs," Paul said. "So rather than chastising Caterpillar we should be complimenting them."
According to a report from the committee:
Caterpillar paid PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP $55 million to develop the tax strategy. Under the strategy, Caterpillar transferred the rights to profits from its parts business to a wholly-controlled Swiss affiliate called CSARL, even though no employees or business activities were moved to Switzerland
This is reminiscent of the comments by "Smokey Joe" Barton (R-Texas) at a hearing on the disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As reported in a piece on
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce, said that the relief fund that President Barack Obama had forced the company to create was, in essence, a "slush fund."
“It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion dollar shakedown,” Barton said during opening remarks at a hearing today at which BP CEO Tony Hayward will testify.

U.S. Government Still Trying To Destabilize Cuba

Click here for an Associated Press article by By Desmond Butler, Jack Gillum, and Alberto Arce entitled "US secretly created 'Cuban Twitter' to stir unrest." At Daily Kos, Meteor Blades points out the hypocrisy of U.S./Cuba policy in an article entitled "Why is U.S. Policy toward Cuba so ridiculous?":
We have full diplomatic relations with communist Vietnam where nearly 60,000 Americans and several million Vietnamese died in a conflict that lasted (officially) from 1959-1975. We have full diplomatic with the Peoples Republic of China, which, at least officially is still communist although the system there now might better be called red capitalist. The U.S. has full diplomatic relations with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which, despite some decorative parliaments, are dictatorships with terrible human rights records. But, for more than half a century, no relations with Cuba. On the contrary.
The "Cuban Twitter" article explains how the chance acquisition of a half-million Cuban cellphone addresses prompted the idea to start a covert network that could contact these half-million addresses with text messages -- innocuous at first, to build a trusted network, then spreading messages to encourage "flash mob" government protests. In a nation where social media and the Internet are ruthlessly censored, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to create mischief and undermine the (Raul) Castro regime.

Charles Koch Whines About His Oppression By Those In Power

Click here for an article in Salon by Elias Asquith entitled "Charles Koch blasts “collectivists” in Wall Street Journal op-ed." In a piece entitled "True Believer" by Digby at Hullabaloo, in quotes from the article, Koch twice refers to "those in power":
The central belief and fatal conceit of the current administration is that you are incapable of running your own life, but those in power are capable of running it for you.
Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American.
Digby's comment:
It always amuses me to see billionaires talk about "those in power" as if it's someone other than themselves. I'd love to see Charles Koch have to spend a month in the life of a secretary who works in one of his offices. Then let's see what he thinks about "power" and "freedom" and who has it and who doesn't.

Elizabeth Warren on Increasing the Minimum Wage

Elizabeth Warren: a strong voice in the Senate for the disadvantaged. If only there were 99 more like her. (5 minutes, 14 seconds.)

H/T to Digby at Hullabaloo.

Missouri to Nullify Federal Gun Regulations

Click here for a post by John Amato at Crooks & Liars entitled "Missouri House Passes Bill Nullifying Federal Gun Laws."

The Republican-controlled House and Senate in Missouri have passed versions of a law that would nullify federal gun regulations in the state (the House vote was 110-41). Fortunately, it's a tempest in a teapot, akin to the federal House passing (yet again) a bill that would repeal Obamacare: the Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, vetoed a similar bill a year ago.

Nullification is an interesting concept. According to the Wikipedia entry for nullification:
Nullification, in United States constitutional history, is a legal theory that a state has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional. The theory of nullification has been rejected repeatedly and rarely legally upheld by the Federal courts.
The theory of nullification is based on a view that the States formed the Union by an agreement (or "compact") among the States, and that as creators of the federal government, the States have the final authority to determine the limits of the power of that government. Under this, the compact theory, the States and not the federal courts are the ultimate interpreters of the extent of the federal government's power. Under this theory, the States therefore may reject, or nullify, federal laws that the States believe are beyond the federal government's constitutional powers. The related idea of interposition is a theory that a state has the right and the duty to "interpose" itself when the federal government enacts laws that the state believes to be unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison set forth the theories of nullification and interposition in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in 1798. A more extreme assertion of state sovereignty is the related action of secession, by which a state terminates its political affiliation with the Union.
Courts at the state and federal level have generally rejected the constitutionality of nullification, including the Supreme Court.[2] The courts have decided that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the final power to interpret the Constitution. Therefore, according to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Supremacy Clause, the power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the states, and the states do not have the power to nullify federal laws.
Amato's article says:
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, allows residents to sue federal agents for enforcing past, present and future federal gun laws. It also would allow conceal carry permit holders to carry firearms openly, even in municipalities with ordinances banning this act. It would lower the minimum age to obtain a concealed carry permit to 19 from 21. School districts could designate school protection officers to carry firearms. Those volunteers would receive the same training as a police officer.

"Capital in the Twenty-First Century," by Thomas Pinketty

Click here for an article by Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post entitled How capitalism enriches the few rather than the many. Meyerson calls it "... the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’s 'General Theory.'"
Piketty’s chief conclusion is that, in most nations in most times, the interest on capital — income from investments and ownership — accumulates at a higher rate than that at which the overall economy is growing. In the largely preindustrial economies that Jane Austen and Honore de Balzac chronicled in their novels, he notes, the road to riches came through inheritance rather than even professional labor. The interest rate on property of all kinds was roughly 4 to 5 percent a year, while the overall economies of Britain and France were growing at a rate of just 1 percent (a figure Piketty derives by adding the nations’ population growth to their economic growth). Over time, this meant that the value of those nations’ capital rose to six or seven times their gross domestic product, and capital’s major owners — the richest 1 percent — controlled the lion’s share of their nation’s income and wealth.
The combination of two world wars and the Great Depression destroyed many European fortunes, while the Depression wreaked havoc on American fortunes. The reforms of the New Deal in the United States and of social democracy in Europe then boosted workers’ incomes on both continents and gave rise to a sizable propertied middle class. The rate of return on the property of the wealthy remained high, but the value of their property had been so diminished by the cataclysms of the first half of the century that their wealth was diminished.
Since 1980, however, their fortunes have swelled again — at the expense of everyone else. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher slashed taxes on wealth, workers lost the ability to bargain for wages and, crucially, the population growth of many nations ground nearly to a halt. Capital, again, was accumulating faster than the overall economies were growing. In the United States, Piketty shows, the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown so high — chiefly due to the linkage of top executive pay to share value, a form of capital — that they soon will create the greatest level of income inequality in the recorded history of any nation.
Which supports a pet theory of mine: that Reagan and Thatcher led a conservative movement that has ruined the world.

McCutcheon v. FEC

Click here for the Supreme Court ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC, which advances the conservative belief that corporations are people, and specifically strikes down the overall limit on political contributions. A 40-page opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, followed by a 5-page concurrence by Justice Thomas and a 30- page dissent by Justice Breyer.

Click here for The Court Follows the Money, by The New York Times Editorial Board:
In the court’s most significant campaign-finance ruling since Citizens United in 2010, five justices voted to eliminate sensible and long-established contribution limits to federal political campaigns. Listening to their reasoning, one could almost imagine that the case was simply about the freedom of speech in the context of elections.
But make no mistake, like other rulings by the Roberts court that have chipped away at campaign-finance regulations in recent years, the McCutcheon decision is less about free speech than about giving those few people with the most money the loudest voice in politics.
In a five-page dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed the view that the decision did not go far enough, and that all contribution limits as unconstitutional.

The article concludes:
As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, an individual donor will now be able to contribute as much as $3.6 million per election cycle (the sum of maximum donations to all national and state party committees and a party’s presidential and Congressional candidates). This money can then be funneled to specific campaigns through the use of joint fund-raising committees, effectively nullifying the per-candidate limit. Chief Justice Roberts blithely rejected such a scenario as “speculation,” and he ignored political reality by confining the meaning of corruption to instances of “quid pro quo,” or the direct exchange of money for political favors.
But the interest of Congress in preventing political corruption has long been “far broader” than merely forbidding bribery, as Justice Stephen Breyer argued in dissent. It includes an interest in controlling influence over and access to politicians.
And the per-candidate cap on its own, Justice Breyer wrote, is no more than “a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
The real losers in the McCutcheon case are the vast majority of average Americans without barrels of cash to dump on elections. Even the now-invalidated aggregate caps were extremely high, and only very few contributors ever reached them. In 2012, 1,715 donors gave the maximum to political party committees, and 591 gave the maximum to candidates.
Thanks to Wednesday’s decision, the interests of the very few wealthiest Americans — which differ significantly from those of most Americans — will now get even more outsize consideration by legislators. As former Senator Alan Simpson testified in an earlier campaign-finance case, “Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about — and quite possibly votes on — an issue?”
The court took pains to emphasize that the per-candidate limit remained intact, but that is a fig leaf when someone can write a check for millions to be used as party bosses see fit. Either way, it will not be long before the constitutionality of that limit, too, comes before the court.
When Chief Justice Roberts was named to the Supreme Court in 2005, he pledged to embody the “judicial restraint” so beloved, at least in name, by conservatives. Yet his court’s campaign-finance rulings have determinedly eaten away at the court’s own precedents and decades of anticorruption efforts by members of Congress who, unlike the justices, understand intimately how money in politics actually works.