Sunday, June 30, 2013

If Perception Were Reality, It Wouldn't Be Perception

On  Real Time Friday night, Bill Maher carried the torch (video, below) for the right to vote.   He began by arguing that individuals such as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich are "worst racists" than Paula Deen and practice "real racism." He went on to refer to a piece by 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Eric Posner in which the Judge noted that Chief Justice Roberts in his majority opinion struck down Section IV of the Voting Rights Act on the basis of "the principle of equal sovereignty." Posner described that as "a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard (because) there is no such principle."

Noting that Posner stated "the opinion rests on air," Maher remaarked "In other words, Justice Roberts just pulled [it] out of his ass."    Conservative commentator Horace Cooper responded in part

There is no just Voting Rights Act enforcement law that doesn’t single out places like Chicago and Philadelphia for voter fraud.   By the way, the people that are losing their rights in Philadelphia and Chicago tend to be overwhelmingly Black, and Democrat. It’s not about race, it’s about it not serving the political needs of the administration to go after those ‘Blue state’ jurisdictions. It’s much better to go after the ‘Red states.

The Chief Justice has nothing on Horace Cooper for pulling things out of his ass.   Whether extensive voting fraud exists is arguable, and a complicated proposition.  But Cooper- as with most Republicans- refers to voter fraud, typically in big cities with large minority populations. That simply does not exist.   In 2007 The New York Times reported

Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.

Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.

In Miami, an assistant United States attorney said many cases there involved what were apparently mistakes by immigrants, not fraud.

In Wisconsin, where prosecutors have lost almost twice as many cases as they won, charges were brought against voters who filled out more than one registration form and felons seemingly unaware that they were barred from voting.

But Republicans are less interested in whether significant voter fraud exists than in maintaining the fiction among the voting public that it does.  It is a central tenet of free market, conservative thought:  if it sells, it's legitimate.  This was illustrated last week by a quarrel between Red State proprietor Eric Erickson and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman about the Acela Express.  Digby summarizes the exchange:

The rest of America is nervous about where their next meal and paycheck are coming from, how they are going to afford to bail their kids out of crumbling schools, and the price of a gallon of milk and loaf of bread that keep going up though Ben Bernanke tells them there is no inflation. 
Paul Krugman drops some Bureau of Labor Statistics data to show that the price of milk and bread haven't actually gone up at all. And asks:

So, how does Erickson know that the prices of bread and milk are soaring? Has he been carefully keeping track? Or is it just fake populism, an attempt to sound like Everyman while actually just whining? 
UPDATE (9:43 a.m.): Erickson emails POLITICO:

Paul uses a chart to try to disprove the reality that Americans with small kids actually experience at the grocery store. His problem is he thinks I'm attacking the Democrats and wants to defend them, when the criticism is broader and bipartisan. And if he hung around moms and dads with kids more often he'd hear a lot more real world complaining about bread, milk, and other grocery item prices going up while paychecks are staying the same. Not everything is academic or chartable and sometimes the accuracy of the chart isn't as real to people as the perception they have that their grocery store bills are getting more expensive though their shopping habits haven't changed. 

And later adds... 

Seriously, Paul's point is correct, but it is an issue of perception of people versus the reality of his chart.  He can certainly go tell people milk prices haven't gone up, but good luck getting them to believe him. 
UPDATE (12:59 p.m.): Krugman responds on his blog: "Ok, this is awesome":... 

Erickson’s response is, hey, it isn’t true, but people feel that it’s true... Notice, by the way, the implication that I don’t appreciate the problems real people (who don’t eat quiche or ride the Acela) are facing; actually, I do, but those problems are lack of jobs and stagnant wages, not rising prices. And if you want to solve problems, getting the nature of those problems right matters. 

But then, only elitists want to solve problems; true men of the people just vent, and what matters is perception, not truth.

In the world of the right's communication machine, perception trumps truth and there is no penalty for a blogger who makes up things about inflation, a pundit who misleads people about voter fraud, or a Supreme Court Justice who creates a constitutional principle out of thin air.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Guy Is Good!

Shortly after the presidential election of 2008, the evidently prescient Peter Baker of The New York Times wrote

Practically everyone wants to claim Mr. Obama these days. African-Americans, obviously, but also Hispanic-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Muslim-Americans and even white Americans purging feelings of racial guilt. The youth, the netroots, the bipartisan consensus builders, the East Coast elites, the Hollywood crowd. Liberals, centrists and even some conservatives who see Reaganesque qualities. The British, the Germans and other foreigners disaffected with Bush’s America.

“I am like a Rorschach test,” Mr. Obama noted at one point during the campaign. “Even if people find me disappointing ultimately, they might gain something.”

The Rorschach part may fade with the end of the campaign but the test part is here. Reconciling all those different impressions of who Mr. Obama is and what he stands for may prove as defining a challenge as fixing the economy.

It's more than four-and-a-half years later, and figuring out who Mr. Obama is and what he stands for still is elusive.   And for many people who ought to know better, he remains a political Rohrshach test, about whom individual perceptions vary widely.

The President addressed the Keystone XL pipeline controversy in his recent speech on carbon pollution by stating

And by the way, it’s certainly got to be about more than just building one pipeline. Now — (applause) — I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build the pipeline, the Keystone pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.

But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests.

EJ Dickson noted in Salon "Both opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline interpreted this statement differently: some said this meant the project would be nixed, while others interpreted it as purposefully nebulous, with the term “significantly exacerbate” giving the president substantial wiggle room to approve the project." Bill Mckibben, head of the environmental group which has led the opposition to the pipeline, argued If that’s the standard — and it’s a good one — there’s no way the pipeline can be approved.  It clearly helps open up this huge pool of carbon to further exploitation."

McKibben clearly is impressed that the President has put the full weight of his office behind a policy that he will act "in our nation's interests."  That's not even "in the best interest of the nation," by the way; rather, "in our nation's interests," which may include the interests of the purveyors of non-renewable energy ("interests" as in "special interests").

Call that nit-picking, if you will.  But Barack Obama is even more than most politicians very careful how he words anything and everything.   The grammatically awkward "in our nation's interests" is no accident, unlike what might happen if the pipeline is built.  Further, Obama may decide to claim that, as pertains to approving Keystone XL, there has in fact been a "finding that doing so would" be wise.  Brad Plumer explains

Back in March, the State Department issued a draft environmental impact statement finding that Keystone XL wouldn’t lead to significantly more carbon pollution than would otherwise be the case. The State Department’s argument was that, if the pipeline gets blocked, oil-sands producers will just find other routes to ship their product, such as by rail. So the extra emissions will happen regardless. (Other groups, including the EPA, have disputed this analysis.)

While Obama's clever wording on the project has misled McKibben and others, a rhetorical flush elsewhere in his speech has excited some progressives.   The President stated

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. (Applause.) Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. (Applause.) Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. 

In response, Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress', wrote "In short, become climate hawks, become single issue voters on the issue. Invest in clean energy, divest from dirty energy." Even Chris Hayes, MSNBC's finest anchorperson and along with Rachel Maddow the network's host least likely to be hypnotized by Barack Obama, was moved, tweeting "'Invest, divest' is the most crypto-radical line the President has ever uttered."

Gentlemen, gentlemen.  Where in the sentences "invest" and "divest" or in the paragraph in which it appears does President Obama say what people should invest in or divest of?   Characteristically, it is President Rorschach giving a nod and a wink to the insider crowd, telling it what it wants to hear: "I am with you." At the same time, he commits to nothing and offends no one or no interest.    Moreover, he gets extra points from the left for knocking the "flat earth society" and admonishing it to stop "sticking your head in the sand."  It feels so good to have the President of the United States, in patronizing mode, remind those in the know that we're so much smarter than the people who disagree with us.

"Invest" and "divest" is a meaningless gesture from the first black President and former community organizer whom we always have assumed is with us and no doubt a progressive. Then, confident he has retained his base, he continues to govern from the center-right.

That is his prerogative. And it is the prerogative of those on our side always to have faith that Barack Obama will, once he is able, just as soon as the far right lets him, show his good side.   But when he finally approves construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, let us for a change not blame it on those those "tea partiers" we sophisticates alternately slam as evil or ignorant.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Whose Ox Is Gored

It has been quite a week, with four heralded Supreme Court decisions; a defeat (however temporary) for opponents of women, uh, er, reproductive rights, in Texas; and passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. Senate.  And those are only the marquee events, thereby excluding news of classified information leaked by the C.I.A. to CNN's Barbara Starr, who has dutifully served the government's interest while the self-righteous call for the head of Edward Snowden or of Glenn Greenwald.

NBC's Pete Williams' said of one of the two gay-friendly Court rulings

The interesting thing here is that the court has said that DOMA is unconstitutional as a matter of equal protection -- meaning that it's discriminatory. Now, the importance of that is, if the Supreme Court had struck it down on a narrower basis -- by saying for example that the federal government doesn't have the power to determine what a marriage is, that's a matter for the states -- that would have been a very narrow ruling.

"This is a very broad ruling. If the Supreme Court is saying here that the federal government can't make distinctions between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in terms of what marriages the federal government will recognize, then this is an opinion that can be used by proponents of same-sex marriage to attack laws in other states."

Some on the left, including Steve Benen, are almost giddy.  On The Maddow Blog, Benen exults "Anti-gay activists seemed apoplectic this morning, and I'm afraid I have some bad news for them: for the right, it won't get better."

Don't pop the champagne.  While for pro-gay activists (the mirror image of "anti-gay activists"), the DOMA decision and that invalidating California Prop 8 were indeed very good news, the political tea leaves are otherwise for American society generally.  Steve M., though pleased about the Prop 8 and DOMA decisions, is left

wondering why we're moving forward on gay equality, and possibly on the cause of undocumented immigrants, while poor people, unemployed people, people who've fought with banks over their mortgages, non-whites who want to vote, union workers, abortion rights supporters, and a host of other worthy groups are regularly being kicked in the teeth, sometimes (see: yesterday) by the very same Supreme Court that ruled today.

When I consider the possibility that the difference is that powerful economic interests don't lose anything from gay equality, I think: but why does there seem to be progress on immigration? Well, the party the powerful like best, the GOP, allegedly can't win the White House without Hispanic votes. But, then, why are abortion rights under attack in just about every state where Republicans are in charge? Why do Republicans still think a hard-line stance on abortion has no political downside? And why don't they seem to feel that way anymore about gay rights? How did gay rights get decoupled from abortion as part of the traditional-values wedge-issue package that always kept Middle American whites voting for the party most unabashed in its defense of the plutocracy?

He offers a novel explanation, that support for abortion rights, the rights of blacks, the poor, unemployed, and unionized are "subject to fatigue."  Perhaps, he suggests, they are "too associated with the hated '60s and '70s," unlike "the causes of gay people and immigrants (which) seem someone new to Middle America, which is sick of hearing about all that other stuff."

That probably is a factor, but not the primary one.  A sizable number of Americans still opposes same-sex marriage, and it appears many (if not most Americans) still would like to throw immigrants under that proverbial bus.  And support for abortion rights remains among the populace about as strong as is opposition.

Back in September, Christine Adams, a professor of history at St. Mary's College of Maryland, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Baltimore Sun

Even when times are good, a woman who faces multiple unwanted pregnancies during her child-bearing years has little time to appreciate the security that a burgeoning economy with good jobs promises. There is no factor that more strongly correlates with rising educational attainment and economic advancement among women than the new availability of birth control in the 1960s, along with access to safe and legal abortion since the 1960s and 1970s. For most women, contraception is our greatest health concern and expense during our childbearing years. Again, what is more "real" than that?...

As Georgetown ethicist Rebecca Kukla points out, we do not want our bodies "understood solely in terms of reproductive function." But we cannot enjoy the same rights as other individuals — called men — without the ability to control when and if we bear children, and without the medical care that makes that possible. Without that control over our own bodies, we are no longer genuine rights-bearing individuals.

Women's health care, access to contraception, and abortion rights thus are most accurately viewed as not solely a cultural issue (or "social issue" in the misleading vernacular) but as an economic and social issue.  While Repub legislators throughout the country are setting up roadblocks to reproductive freedom, a host of prominent conservative Republicans, including Dick Cheney, Senator Rob Portman, or Ted Olson (possibly as responsible as almost anyone for making George W. Bush president)- the winning litigant in Prop 8- and Grover Norquist publicly support same-sex marriage.

Among factors advancing the cause of gay rights while other progressive causes falter, Steve M. considers "the possibility that the difference is that powerful economic interests don't lose anything from gay equality."   No speculation necessary.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Woman Stellar In Texas, A Man Failing On CNN

In Texas, there is a new star.  On CNN, there is someone far less impressive.    Becca Aronson reports in the Texas Tribune

The nation watched on Tuesday — and into Wednesday — as Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and hundreds of impassioned reproductive rights advocates stalled proceedings and ultimately defeated controversial abortion legislation in a storm of screams and shouts as the clock struck midnight.

“I am overwhelmed, honestly,” Davis said after standing for nearly 13 hours to filibuster Senate Bill 5, the abortion legislation. The outpouring of support from protesters at the Capitol and across the nation, she said, “shows the determination and spirit of Texas women and people who care about Texas women."

Some have called the abortion restrictions proposed in SB 5 the toughest in the nation. The bill would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required physicians to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of an abortion facility, required abortions — even drug-induced ones — to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers and required doctors to administer drugs that induce abortion in person.

It wasn't bad enough that Governor Rick Perry had called a special session in part to run roughshod over Roe v. Wade by banning abortions midway through the second trimester. "Even after being defeated," Aronson writes, "Republican senators made a last-ditch effort to approve SB 5, voting 19-10, but by then the clock had ticked past midnight. Under the terms of the state Constitution, the special session had ended, and the bill could not be signed, enrolled or sent to the governor."

Later in the morning, CNN's morning show featured this exchange between their co-hosts:

KATE BOLDUAN (CO-HOST): This fight clearly not over yet…

(Chris) CUOMO: All that energy to avoid the vote. Why not spend the time trying to compromise and figure out the bill in the first place?

BOLDUAN: Well, and they can just bring bring it back up in another special session.

CUOMO: Odd politics at work
Oh, yeah, compromise- that would have worked.   Davis was not allowed to sit, eat, drink, use the bathroom, nor even lean on her desk.  Nor was she allowed to stray off the topic, as defined by the legislature's Repubs.    One individual commenting on a New York Times article maintains that legislators flagged Davis, in separate instances, for talking about Planned Parenthood funding in Texas and about medically unnecessary ultrasounds- which are required by the proposed law.  When a Democratic colleague helped Davis adjust a back brace necessitated by the 11-12 hours she stood, the Republicans had had enough, and ended the filibuster.

As the video below indicates, that resulted in the huge and impassioned pro-choice viewers in the gallery erupting in roars, which apparently took the proceedings past the midnight deadline.   The legislator passed the bill, but later acknowledged it was tardy.  Except that it probably wasn't, for Governor Perry has announced he is convening on Monday a second special session to pass the anti-choice bill, an effort expected to be successful.

So you have a state GOP the past two years feverishly slashing women's health care, a special session or two called to enact legislation clearly unconstitutional, a parliamentary procedure rigged against supporters of choice, and a well-paid news network personality saying Democrats ought to compromise.

That is, inadvertently and oddly, giving insufficient credit to the craftiness of Repub legislators.  While  most of their popular base sees no reason to compromise with those they consider abettors of mass murder, their donor base sees reproductive freedom as the threat it is to established power arrangements.  That makes what appears to some observers as extremism almost a win-win for the Repub legislators in Texas (and other conservative states).   The pro-choice contingent prevailed (though perhaps only temporarily), not by an appeal to the supremacy of the United States Constitution, but only when the crowd erupted, though Democrats will not admit their side committed the cardinal sin of "bullying" and Republicans will not admit they were weak enough to be bullied.

And in comes Chris Cuomo asking "why not spend the time trying to compromise?"  That makes him either a fool or a shill.  I vote the former, but your mileage will vary.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Two Thousand Years Later, History Repeats Itself

16 Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house.19 And this woman's son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast.21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”27 Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 28 And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that athe wisdom of God was in him to do justice.  (1Kings 3:16-28, ESV)

The five most conservative judges on the Supreme Court, at other times claiming to be supporters of judicial restraint, earlier today in effect struck down (text of ruling, here) the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The New York Times explains

The majority held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and since updated by Congress, was unconstitutional. The section includes a formula that determines which states must receive pre-approval.

The court did not strike down Section 5, which allows the federal government to require pre-approval. But without Section 4, which determines which states would need to receive clearance, Section 5 is largely without significance — unless Congress chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

And of course this Congress, which unless it is considering an amendment-laden labyrinthic immigration bill promising to make an improving situation much worse, is highly unlikely to approve anything... particularly if it makes it easier for minorities to vote. As Justice Ginsberg noted in the dissenting opinion

the record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as at­tempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions.

But it really isn't necessary to hear from Justice Ginsberg to understand that this is an absurd decision.  The Court did not act on Section 5, thus leaving it in place, but as Huffington Post legal expert Ryan J. Reilly and Mike Sacks note

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” and said it “took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act” back in 2009. “Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

Congress, the court ruled, “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”

Congress enacts a law, renews it four times- the last in July, 2006.  And precisely because Congress was satisfied with the legislation and did not alter Section 4, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court says the court "leaves us no choice but to declare" it unconstitutional.    Congress likes it; we can't have that.  A better case of judicial activism would be hard to find.

And it's a textbook case of something additional- judicial cowardice, something Roberts is not unfamiliar with.  In choosing to uphold the Affordable Care Act, Roberts torturously argued that the health care mandate was constitutional not under the Commerce Clause but under Congress' right to tax.  He thus eroded the Commerce Clause, a key to progressive legislation, while keeping the Court out of election year politics and thus preserving its elite stature.

So instead of simply striking down the Voting Rights Act and thereby risking being widely considered insensitive to civil rights, the Court invalidates a key section and tosses a hot potato back to the legislative branch, which already had made clear its satisfaction with the law. But while Repubs have been willing to compromise on immigration because they fear extinction by demography, they have little incentive to agree to resurrect Section 4, which, by making more difficult the effort of states to stymie voting by blacks, has caused them serious electoral headaches.

King Solomon could have done the same as the Court's majority did today.  He could have sliced the baby in half.  But that would have been gutless- and King Solomon was not gutless.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Keep Moving, Folks. No Ethnic Consideration Here

Sy Mukherjee of Think Progress sets out to refute Senator Bob Sessions (R-GA), who on Face the Nation Sunday stated

Bob, Hispanics are here today by the millions. They’re working in the $20,000-$40,000 income level. Their wages will be impacted adversely. Their ability to get a job and retirement benefits and health care benefits. Somebody needs to speak up for them. And I really believe that the numbers in the bill, the lack of enforcement effectiveness in the bill, puts us in a position where it will impact all Americans that are out there working today adversely, and the C.B.O. has said, that the Federal Reserve in Atlanta has said that. Harvard economists have said that. There’s little doubt about that. And so I think we appeal to — we move away from ethnic politics and we try to appeal to all people based on what’s best for America and for them.

Mukherjee quotes The Hamilton Project alleging  “immigrants create average wage increases of between 0.1 percent and 0.6 percent for American workers.”

"Immigrants create," claims the Hamilton Project, though the figures clearly were not derived from an analysis of the pending comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  That would create additional H-1B visas, though the average number of jobs created in STEM in one year already  is exceeded by the number of H-1B visas granted annually. The idea that passage would result in wage increases for American workers in jobs requiring a great deal, a moderate amount, or little education is highly speculative and counter-intuitive.

When the unabashedly globalist Hamilton Project was launched in early 2010, Politico's Ben Smith noted "along with Rubin and Altman, other key Clinton Wall Street allies, including New York bankers Steven Rattner and Blair Effron, serve on the Hamilton Project's Advisory Council. (The council also includes two Wall Street supporters of Sen. Barack Obama, Mark Gallogly and Eric Mindich.)"   It appears to be a group which is geared in part to advance the interests of Wall Street and of Barack Obama, who lauded the group at its launch when he stated

We all know that the coming baby boomers’ retirement will only add to the challenges that we face in this new era. Unfortunately, while the world has changed around us, Washington has been remarkably slow to adapt twenty-first century solutions for a twenty-first century economy. As so many of us have seen, both sides of the political spectrum have tended to cling to outdated policies and tired ideologies instead of coalescing around what actually works.

Oh, yes, those annoying baby-boomers again, the men (and mostly women) who refuse to die and make things easy on the rest of us who are cool with the global, "twenty-first century economy."  Still, we can adjust, the idea goes, by discarding "outdated policies and tired ideologies"- perhaps like Social Security, Medicare, and middle-class wages.

But Mukherjee appears particularly exorcised about Sessions' suggestion that ethnic politics infuses the haste to enact immigration legislation and that "we appeal to — we move away from ethnic politics."   The blogger charges "Sessions’ claim that reforming America’s immigration system is 'ethnic politics' doesn’t add up, considering the broad-based support for immigration reform across the racial spectrum."

Responses to questions about immigration reform are determined by what specifically is queried and how it is queried.  That goes doubly for questions about a bill that is 1,075 pages long and which one group contends weighs 24 pounds.  But even if most people fully knowledgeable about a bill many Senators are not and were as supportive as Mukherjee imagines, there would still be no legislation to consider were it not for the authors of the bill, the Gang of Eight.   And one of them, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) maintained eight days ago on Meet the Press

[If]f we don’t pass immigration reform, if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016.   We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who we run in my view.

And yesterday, Graham said on Fox News

If (immigration reform) fails, and (if) we are blamed for its failure, our party is in trouble with Hispanics. Not because we're conservative, but because of the rhetoric and the way we've handled this issue."

The Hispanic community is very close to our values but we have driven them away over this issue.

Uh, well, it is not "very close to our values"- but never mind.     This is no back-bencher but Lindsey Graham, without whom there may have been no bill awaiting a Senate vote, saying: Get it off the table.  A demographic death spiral.  Get back in good graces with the Hispanic community. If immigration reform fails and we are blamed for its failure our party is in trouble with Hispanics.

If this is not support based on ethnic politics, what could be?

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bipartisanship Is Not Compromise

Mickey Kaus, a conservative Democrat whose blogging on The Daily Caller website has pertained primarily to comprehensive immigration reform, contends

Schumer, Durbin & Co. have offered a deal to Corker, Hoeven, and conservatives. In essence, it’s this: You’ll immediately legalize 11 M immigrants who are unlawfully in the country. They’ll get work permits renewable ad infinitum–we call it “provisional,” but basically they’re in. Yes, we know that in 1986 we passed an amnesty and promised enforcement that never happened, but this time we promise to … militarize the Southern border! Hire 20,000 new agents! That’s the ticket. Double the Border Patrol! Spend $20 billion. Quadruple the budget.  Drones in the sky–triple the number of drones. Drones! Sensors on the ground!  700 miles of fence! 100% use of E-Verify! ”I don’t know what more to do, short of just shooting people,” says Gang of 8-er Lindsey Graham.

Just try and collect.

Nothing this Congress does, remember, can prevent future Congresses from reneging on the back end of this “legalize first” deal. Budget considerations alone will mean the advertised ”surge” won’t be sustained–as Obama’s earlier 1,500 man National Guard surge wasn’t sustained.  Future lawmakers will be looking around for “offsetting” spending cuts and that bloated 40,000 man border patrol will stick out like a nail that wants to be hammered. Plus, once Democrats have eaten their meal  illegal immigrants have their legalization in hand, Democrats will lose 80% of their motivation to make good on the law’s elaborate promises. They’re already unhappy with the back end of the deal–Sen. Leahy calls it “a Christmas wish list for Halliburton.”  Meanwhile, militarizing the border is drawing immediate protests. Business interests–especially farmers–can be expected to oppose the requirement that they use a computerized system to check new hires. There will be little to stop these forces–the ones that have blocked enforcement until now–except some Republican pols saying “But … but you pwomised!”

The money quote:  Nothing this Congress does, remember, can prevent future Congresses from reneging on the back end of this "legalize first" deal.  But that door swings both ways.   If a future Congress is not bound by continuing the "surge" of border control agents, increased number of drones, and expansion of a border fence, it also is not bound by the requirement to allow illegal immigrants to gain permanent legal status in ten years nor citizenship three years after.

And that is one of the dirty little secrets of this "bipartisan" bill crafted by the bipartisan Gang of Eight.   Few of the details take effect immediately.   The Washington Examiner's Byron York, in fact, maintains

the Hoever-Corker amendment includes a provision that has been in the bill from the start, which says that if litigation or some unspecified act of God delays implementation of the new security measures, immigrants will be given permanent status in ten years no matter what. Of course most observers expect the bill to spark lots of litigation — for example, there will be lawsuits claiming that immigrants should be eligible for federal benefits — and it’s entirely possible that litigation could tie up at least parts of the bill for years. So the catchall clause, still in the bill after the Hoeven-Corker amendment, guarantees that immigrants will win permanent status in the long run.

This is one way in which the anti-reformer crowd, if the bill were to pass, could get shafted. But so could the pro-reform contingent.   If a future Congress (both of whose houses may be controlled by Republicans) and President (who may be a Repub) yank the citizenship provision, millions of illegal immigrants, their numbers perhaps swollen by promises of this legislation, will be in limbo.  They will be competing for jobs with native-born Americans but without the opportunity to become citizens, thus lacking bargaining power in the marketplace.  Citing budget constraints, a GOP-controlled legislative or executive branch may threaten cuts in the social safety net while agreeing to bypass them if the path for citizenship is removed.

That would be a lose-lose for America, though a win-win for some businesses, large and small, eager to take advantage of a large labor pool, much of which would be at their mercy.  Comprehensive immigration reform is no compromise and will prove to be no compromise, bipartisan or not, but will grossly favor one side or another.

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They Used To Call It Big Brother

It's not only leakers anymore.  R. Scott Oswald, criticizing the leak of classified information by Edward Snowden, defends the Obama presidency as "a friend to whistleblowers."

But as Edward Gosztola points out in Firedoglake, this Administration now has charged under the Espionage Act eight individuals with leaking information, five more than all previous Administrations combined.  Now we learn from McClatchy that in October 2011 President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the Insider Threat program.  The program, Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay report, "formalizes broad practices that the intelligence agencies have followed for years to detect security threats and extends them to agencies that aren’t involved in national security policy but can access classified networks. Across the government, new policies are being developed."  Summarizing the documents McClatchy obtained, they write

As part of the initiative, Obama ordered greater protection for whistleblowers who use the proper internal channels to report official waste, fraud and abuse, but that’s hardly comforting to some national security experts and current and former U.S. officials. They worry that the Insider Threat Program won’t just discourage whistleblowing but will have other grave consequences for the public’s right to know and national security.

The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

The anti-leak policy of the Defense Department spells out a zero-tolerance policy. Security managers, it says, “must” reprimand or revoke the security clearances – a career-killing penalty – of workers who commit a single severe infraction or multiple lesser breaches “as an unavoidable negative personnel action.”

Employees must turn themselves and others in for failing to report breaches. “Penalize clearly identifiable failures to report security infractions and violations, including any lack of self-reporting,” the strategic plan says.

Criticizing Snowden, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has said “There are already strong protections in place for true whistle blowers — they can take their concerns to a variety of inspectors general and ombudsmen throughout the Intelligence Community, and they can talk to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees."  However, Taylor and Landay note,

There are numerous cases, however, of government workers who say they’ve been forced to go public because they’ve suffered retaliation after trying to complain about waste, fraud and abuse through internal channels or to Congress. Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA official, was indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act after he disclosed millions of dollars in waste to a journalist. He’d tried for years to alert his superiors and Congress. The administration eventually dropped the charges against him.

Even the first Muslim elected to Congress and co-chairperson of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is unwilling to take Obama on.   Speaking the other day at a relatively safe venue, described here as "a downtown food truck social" at Netroots Nation, he argued

The problem is the law.  I don’t blame the Obama administration. They’re doing the full extent of what the law allows. The problem is that the law allows too much. You can’t just look at people’s stuff if they have no ideological connections to illegal activity. This may be one of those situations were those of us on both sides of the aisle who have concerns can get together.

But the Insider Threat program is unprecedented, not even hatched inside the brains of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Alberto Gonzalez.   And while Ellison might contend "the law is the law," interpretations of the law, whether a President wishes to stretch its limits, the discretion it enables, and the fervor with which the Chief Executive wants to pursue that discretion vary.   Consequently

Obama in November approved “minimum standards” giving departments and agencies considerable leeway in developing their insider threat programs, leading to a potential hodgepodge of interpretations. He instructed them to not only root out leakers but people who might be prone to “violent acts against the government or the nation” and “potential espionage.”

The Pentagon established its own sweeping definition of an insider threat as an employee with a clearance who “wittingly or unwittingly” harms “national security interests” through “unauthorized disclosure, data modification, espionage, terrorism, or kinetic actions resulting in loss or degradation of resources or capabilities.”

“An argument can be made that the rape of military personnel represents an insider threat. Nobody has a model of what this insider threat stuff is supposed to look like,” said the senior Pentagon official, explaining that inside the Defense Department “there are a lot of chiefs with their own agendas but no leadership.”

The Department of Education, meanwhile, informs employees that co-workers going through “certain life experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” Those experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include “stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the organization.”

That is what passes for leadership in this Administration.  Less than five years ago, the Biden-Obama transition team white paper on Ethics included

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

Will Bunch observes

OK, so I think so far we've already established here that President Obama lied, massively. Now the only question is whether he and his transition team were lying when they published that over four years ago, or are they lying now as they take their war on whistleblowers and an aggressive free press to levels that are starting to rival Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Just Don't Blame The Company

They will always find a way to defend corporate America, won't they?

Actually, it is disingenuous to say "they" without clarifying who "they" is.  In this case it's Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes who, according to Media Matters

is attacking "the liberal, anti-South media" for unfairly "trying to crucify Paula Deen" over her admission in a court deposition that she's used racial epithets.

Todd Starnes, who also hosts a Fox News Radio segment, wrote on his Facebook page that the "liberal, anti-South media is trying to crucify Paula Deen. They accuse her of using a derogatory word to describe a black person. Paula admitted she used the word -- back in the 1980s - when a black guy walked into the bank, stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to hand over the cash. The national media failed to mention that part of the story. I'll give credit to the Associated Press for telling the full story."

Starnes also defended Deen via Twitter, writing: "The mainstream media hates Paula Deen [...] I think it's because most of them don't eat meat."

There is a lot we don't know about the Paula Deen saga, not surprising given that the initial report giving rise to the scandal appeared in The National Enquirer, which never will be confused with The New York Times.  That same New York Times, however, paints a picture of a slightly disreputable individual who in January 2012

announced she had Type 2 diabetes on the same day she endorsed the diabetes drug Victoza and a lucrative collaboration with Novo Nordisk, the drug’s manufacturer. Because she had built her career on a no-holds-barred approach to sugar and fat (creating recipes like a cheeseburger patty sandwiched between two doughnuts and a Better than Sex cake made with cake mix, pudding mix, and heavy cream), she was roundly criticized for encouraging an unhealthy diet for others, hiding her illness and then trying to profit from it.

Exploitation of her fans for financial profit apparently didn't faze The Food Network, on which Deen for most of her eleven years has been a major draw.   Now, however, the network has announced it will

not renew Ms. Deen’s contract when it expired at the end of June. Ms. Deen has faced a volley of criticism this week over her remarks in a deposition for a discrimination lawsuit by a former employee. In the document, she admitted she had used racial epithets, tolerated racist jokes and condoned pornography in the workplace.

It appears that the greatest portion of the uproar has resulted from Deen's use of the "n word," especially in a conversation with her husband following an incident in which, she testified, "a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head."  Consequently, she stated in response to a follow-up question from the plaintiff's lawyer, "I didn't feel real favorable towards him."  She since has apologized, by video, thrice.

Though Deen paints "the media" with a broad brush, it does appear that liberal bloggers are insufficiently outraged by the incident which gave rise to Deen's use of the epithet.  For instance, Roxanne Gay in Salon comments

Deen went on to explain that she used the word to describe a man who put a gun to her head during a holdup at the bank where she worked, as if this should justify the epithet. As Deen noted, she wasn’t feeling “real favorable towards him.” That’s fair enough. No one would feel favorable toward a man holding a gun to their head. But one sin, however more grave, should not justify another.

But we have no evidence Deen attempted to justify her terminology, only to explain it.  And "that's fair enough" isn't enough.   Had Deen disarmed the offender and used the weapon on him after he had raised his arms in surrender, that would be a "sin" which "should not justify another."  Short of that, her response- after the incident- to nearly having her head blown off was less racist than restrained.

Still, it is unsurprising that the Food Network, owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, would choose to cut ties with the cook/chef.   (Her program this morning reportedly was pre-empted.)  Unsurprising, but wrong. Scripps, which last reported quarterly earnings of $108 million, chose not to endure the fallout which would have come their way for re-upping Deen, a pang of conscience the company lacked when their star was shilling for a drug company. Nevertheless, in defending Deen, Starnes did not criticize the enterprise, which has chosen not to re-sign her but instead a "mainstream media" which has no such power.

So Paula Deen will not be on the Food Network but will reappear, on television or otherwise, and reap more millions of dollars, as disgraced celebrities usually do.    Her release will not end her career and she is not a classic victim.  But the emphasis on remarks she has made, most in years past, reveals a classic case of misplaced priorities.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Afflicting The Comfortable

Don't blame Geraldo Rivera, though he was tasteless, nasty, and inaccurate. After Michael Hastings' fatal car crash (presumably accident) he tweeted "Reporter Michael Hastings KI tragic car wreck Condolences to familyBut hard to forget he destroyed career of 1 of our best fighting generals."  At least Rivera noticed the news item.

In a profile three years ago of the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, Hastings noted  the General had ridiculed Vice-President Biden and described Obama as "uncomfortable and intimidated" in a meeting with top military officials.  In a move I supported, McChrystal's commander-in-chief removed the general, whom Defense Secretary Gates observed "made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgement," from his position.  He was replaced by General David Petraeus, after which the allied war effort in Afghanistan deteriorated, an event I did not anticipate, though consistent with the Teflon General's failure in Iraq and subsequent failure as head of the C.I.A.

Rivera, though, was not late to the party.  When Obama removed McChrystal, the Fox News commentator remarked (thankfully, before the era of Twitter domination), "the General’s resignation should have been refused by the President" and criticized the Rolling Stone reporter.

Hastings, however, was not responsible for progress of the war effort.  Nor was he responsible even for the departure of General McChrsytal.  The General made the remarks of his own free will and his resignation was requested by a president whom, we have increasingly found, has few restraints on his behavior, the Fourth Amendment notwithstanding.   But Hastings ought to be remembered in part, as Barrett Brown wrote when the McChrsytal flap emerged, as the journalist who

was for a time Newsweek’s Baghdad correspondent. In 2008, that mediocre publication assigned him to cover our republic’s most recent and ridiculous electoral contest, and as a consequence the fellow got an insider’s view of how terribly destructive is the manner in which this country covers its most important decisions. This sentiment is widespread among the more observant media professionals, who generally do not act on it out of concern for their own careers. In contrast, Hastings quit Newsweek and wrote a damning exposé about what he had seen and experienced during his stint. During a time in which many journalists thought of little more than how they would attain security for themselves, Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again.

Instead, he seems at this point neither to be remembered, nor mourned, by many at all.  On Wednesday, for instance, The Philadelphia Inquirer, in its decline still a better daily than the vast majority in the nation, honored this great investigative reporter with an L.A. Times article it printed in the far, upper right hand corner of page A16.   The following morning, an article appearing just below the fold on page one and accompanied by a picture immediately above the fold blared "James Gandolfini, a star rooted in N.J."  (Not insignificantly, this reaction ensued even though Gandolfini hailed from a part of the state which includes few subscribers to the newspaper.)

The piece dominated the first page.  Thankfully, on Friday, the front page gave way to an article about the New Jersey budget and one about the precipitous drop in the stock market, though we did learn, in a piece far larger than the one on Thursday about Hastings, that Brad Pitt commented "I admire Jimmy as a ferocious actor, a gentle soul, and a genuinely funny man."   Nothing further about the guy who spoke truth to power unlike virtually anyone since the early days of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, now a splendid hack.

The Inquirer's response was typical.   On Thursday, Chris Matthews featured on Hardball (transcript, here) two segments dedicated to lionizing Gandofini, not including opening remarks in which he labeled the late actor among a number of "American icons."   Nothing on whats-his-name.   Salon- Salon!-  included on Thursday five posts about Gandolfini and one about Hastings.

The disconnect was most evident in Matthews' introduction, in which he identified as icons Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, who dominated baseball when baseball thoroughly dominated American sports; Elvis Presley, undoubtedly the most influential performer in the history of American music; and John Kennedy, about whom Matthews wrote a book and whom (perhaps as another fabulously wealthy Irish-American Catholic) he worships as he does no other.  He may be forgiven that.

But Matthews selects as icons also Bruce Springsteen, who ought not to qualify; and Madonna, for whom the label is obscene. Gandolfini apparently gave, as the Inquirer's David Hiltbrand write, a "compellling portrayal of Tony Soprano, the basso profundo characer with the falsetto name (who) was arguably the most influential and indelible dramatic turn since Marlon Brando played Stanley Kowalski..." He was a good man and great and popular actor.

But he was an actor, thus someone who entertained people by excelling at pretending to be something he wasn't.  Michael Hastings, to the contrary, was one of only a few journalists or writers who even tried to unmask pretenders, and he excelled at it.  The lack of attention to his death and his work suggests those public officials and military brass who wield enormous power with little scrutiny will continue to do so.  

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pro-Constitution, Except When Not

It has been approximately four years and five months now since the right wing discovered the United States Constitution.  To most liberals, it always was the law of the land; conservatives awaited, for some reason, till early 2009.    In October, 2010 Andrew Romano in The Daily Beast described an appearance the previous month before conservative activists at the annual Values Voters Summit by the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate from Delaware.  There,

The Founders’ masterpiece, O’Donnell said, isn’t just a legal document; it’s a “covenant” based on “divine principles.” For decades, she continued, the agents of “anti-Americanism” who dominate “the D.C. cocktail crowd” have disrespected the hallowed document. But now, finally, in the “darker days” of the Obama administration, “the Constitution is making a comeback.” Like the “chosen people of Israel,” who “cycle[d] through periods of blessing and suffering,” the Tea Party has rediscovered America’s version of “the Hebrew Scriptures” and led the country into “a season of constitutional repentance.” Going forward, O’Donnell declared, Republicans must champion the “American values” enshrined in our sacred text. “There are more of us than there are of them,” she concluded.

By now, O’Donnell’s rhetoric should sound familiar. In part that’s because her fellow Tea Party patriots—Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the guy at the rally in the tricorn hat—also refer to the Constitution as if it were a holy instruction manual that was lost, but now, thanks to them, is found.

Worship by the right of the Constitution has abated, but nevertheless remains fairly strong.  Last month, John D'Amico noted that the previous month

... 20 House Republicans, along with staffers from nearly 40 congressional offices attended the first meeting of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus. The three premises behind the Caucus, according to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who emceed the event, are “we’re taxed enough, we spend less than we take in, and we follow the Constitution.” This purported devotion to the founding documents echoes the themes reverberated at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March, where Sarah Palin and former Rick Santorum declared that the Declaration of Independence has given America “a set of principles and values” — and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) urged his party to respect the individual “by going forward to the classical and timeless ideas enshrined in our Constitution.”

Surely, then, congressional Republicans would not want to propose, push, and pass a bill unconstitutional on its face. Or maybe they would.  Last week, the all-male House Judiciary Committee voted out of committee HR 1797, which would ban all abortion post-20 weeks fertilization, or 22 weeks gestation.  Twelve of thirteen Democrats voted against the proposal while twenty of twenty-three (three not voting) Republicans voted in favor after addition of an amendment sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) which would make an exception for victims of rape or incest.  It then passed the House on a largely party-line vote.

The bill is named the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" by Republicans fantasizing that the fetus feels pain at 20 weeks, a claim eviscerated by Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check. Republicans obviously are averse to science, as demonstrated by their unwillingness to accept the reality of  climate change, characterized by Sean Hannity's recent declaration "it's a crock of s_ _ _" (class act, that guy). Still, if Repub claims about the Constitution were sincere, the belief that a fetus feels pain at that stage would be a necessary, but not sufficient, prerequisite to legislation banning abortion then or beyond.

In its landmark ruling some 40 years ago, the Supreme Court concluded that the state's interest in the second trimester of pregnancy was limited to protecting the health of the mother.  Intervention in the woman's decision from 20 to 24-25 weeks on the basis of perception (accurate or not) of fetal pain, then, would run counter to Roe. In the third trimester, the state can regulate or ban abortion as long as the life or the health of the mother would not be endangered.  Banning the procedure completely after the 20th week would run afoul of the requirement that the state even in the third trimester cannot act to ban abortions which would harm the health of the woman.

The GOP's newest effort to end reproductive freedom is a ghastly piece of legislation medically and constitutionally. If passed by the House, it would not be approved by the Senate.  If passed by the Senate, it would not be signed by the President.  If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, it still would be unconstitutional.  Some rank-and-file conservatives are aware of that; all Repub legislators are.  Blame not, therefore, the amorphous "tea party" but members of Congress who should- and in many cases do- know better.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Five Years Late

Prosecutor.  Member, state House of Representatives.   State auditor.  United States Senator.

And in January of 2008, with such a breadth of political and fiscal experience, Claire McCaskill of Missouri endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President, though she

called Clinton "a smart woman...a strong leader" and acknowledged that she had faced strong pressure from her women's group allies to support the former first lady, or at least stay neutral. But she added, it's"important we look forward" and said of her decision, "I feel very strongly about it." The senator said it was her 18-year-old daughter, an Obama supporter, who ultimately urged her off the fence.

Back then, the Senator exclaimed

A lot of people talk about his ability to give a great speech. And there’s no question that he is truly gifted by God with an ability to speak to people in a way that touches them.  To me, that is the whip cream in the cherry. To me, this is a man who has incredible intellectual heft, he’s a very smart guy with a wide soul who is not afraid to figure out a new and different way to tackle problems.

That "new and different way to tackle problems" apparently referred to the continuation of the bank bailout, No Child Left Behind, drone attacks and spying on the American people.  Even President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, fails on this count, having built on a plan earlier proposed by the Heritage Foundation and bearing a resemblance to the health care program implemented in Massachusetts by Governor Mitt Romney.

Four years ago, McCaskill believed Barack Obama was God's chosen candidate.  But apparently taking cues from her daughter was too deliberative a process.  On Saturday, the Washington Post reported

Sen. Claire McCaskill endorsed an outside political group encouraging Hillary Rodham Clinton to run for president in 2016, saying it was important for Democrats to build a groundswell of support for the former secretary of state.

The Missouri Democrat’s support of the Ready for Hillary PAC on Tuesday marked the first time a member of Congress has endorsed the group. The organization does not have official ties to the former first lady, but it’s trying to lay the foundation for another Clinton campaign.

It is now 38-39 months before the Democratic National Convention and over 32 months before the Missouri primary is tentatively scheduled to take place.  And Claire McCaskill has decided that the likes of Andrew Cuomo, Martin O'Malley, and Mark Warner are not worthy to succeed such a glorious president as Barack Obama.  Nor does Joe Biden, the individual selected by the man who sent a tingle up McCaskill's leg in 2008, quite measure up.

It's too late for Claire McCaskill to rectify the mistake she made in 2008, endorsing a seemingly liberal Senator who became a center-right president and betrayed the principles of his supporters while craving the approval of Republicans.  And that is unlikely her motivation for endorsing a candidate who is not yet even a candidate, for there is a similarity to her decision in 2008.

As in her endorsement of Senator Obama, she has made a sexy choice without apparent regard for what the individual stands for.  One- but apparently not Senator McCaskill- may wonder what Hillary Clinton believes about comprehensive immigration reform, availability of the morning after pill, the FISA court, stimulus spending for an under-achieving economy, the drug war, destruction of Medicare, Medicaid, and public education by "reformers" tax incentives for corporations bringing jobs back from abroad, dissolving huge financial institutions, agriculture policy (especially in light of a potential reduction in food stamps), or even U.S. intervention in Syria.  We don't know, because the former Secretary of State is not yet a candidate.  Nor is it likely that the Missouri senator know, either.

Five years ago, Claire McCaskill opted for the guy who could "make history" (and to whom God singularly gave the gift of eloquence).  Now, she apparently lusts for election of the first female President.  Hopefully, if Mrs. Clinton runs, is nominated, and is elected, that presidency will turn out far better than this one has.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Citizens, Eventually, Maybe

It's Tuesday and, as a day that ends in a "y," time for a new position from Marco Rubio on immigration reform.  Editorializing online, the invarably right and generally wrong National Review has Rubio pegged:

It is painful to watch Marco Rubio’s maneuverings on immigration. He is refusing to say whether he will vote “yes” on his own Gang of Eight bill after spending months drafting, defending, and helping shepherd it to the floor. He has supposedly discovered that the enforcement provisions are inadequate, although he has done countless interviews touting that the bill contains the “toughest immigration-enforcement measures in the history of United States” (which is what his website still says). At the same time, Rubio declares the bill 95–96 percent perfect.

Immigration reform is for Marco Rubio all about Marco Rubio, not unlike everything else to Marco Rubio, the man about whom it may be said "there is no there there."   Noticing the NR item, the invariably correct Joan Walsh recognizes "In the end, Rubio’s worst sin may not be backing immigration reform, but angling around it so blatantly that he winds up looking wishy-washy, not resolute – an image that won’t go away even if the bill does."  Few tears will be shed by the likes of Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush.

But for a few other Republicans, immigration reform is about getting as many individuals as possible, working for as little as possible, into the workforce.   David Nakamura and Sandhya Somashekhar of The Washington Post report

This month, Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) blamed a standoff over health-care benefits for his decision to drop out of bipartisan talks with seven colleagues who were negotiating a House alternative to the Senate immigration proposal. That has forced House leaders to proceed with a series of smaller-scale proposals next week in lieu of a sweeping agreement.

“When I joined the group, I was told that the aliens would have to pay for their own health care,” Labrador told Fox News. “Now that has changed. And I can’t agree to all of the exceptions.”

Someone forgot to give this dog of a congressman, Raul Labrador, the memo reading "As we manipulate our message to entice Hispanics to vote for us, it would be wise not to refer to immigrants as 'aliens.'  Especially, legal aliens- uh, er, immigrants."  (And just to emphasize the otherness of Hispanics, it's a nice touch for Labrador to add "the" aliens.)  But as Bloomberg View editors editorialized

legalizing immigrants without providing access to health care will give employers an incentive to hire immigrants over American citizens. The Affordable Care Act requires employers with 50 or more employees either to provide health insurance or pay a penalty as high as $3,000 per uninsured worker. Employers could avoid doing either by hiring immigrants that are excluded from the program.

For the Repub donor class, however, that feature is no bug, but asset.  So, too, is the effort of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, whose

most prominent measure would eliminate a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while lifting a cap on guest workers, Senate aides familiar with the proposals told The Hill. Under that amendment, to be introduced this week, employers who demonstrate need would be provided with immigrant workers while the workers themselves would have to apply for permanent residency and citizenship according to the policies of their native countries.

This being the Age of Obama, however, establishment Democrats are scurrying on to the me-too bandwagon.  Amid GOP concerns that illegal immigrants might be able to get health care without overloading hospital emergency rooms, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi- a "San Francisco Democrat," no less- last month adamantly declared "We have said since Day One . . . that undocumented people will not have access to subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. Any thought that we want to do something different than that is simply not true. It is a bottom line. No need to even discuss it.”

Besides encouraging employers to hire immigrants at low wages and without benefits, the Bloomberg View people note

excluding immigrants will weaken the new health-care system, which is predicated on bringing healthy young people into the insurance market, both to balance the risk pool and to reduce expensive (and publicly funded) emergency care. If that economic logic holds for citizens and legal residents, it should also apply to undocumented immigrants. (Actuarial tables don’t care about your immigration status.)

To Republicans, having voted in the House of Representatives 737 (minus 700) times to repeal Obamacare, undermining the Affordable Care Act in a comprehensive immigration bill would reap serious benefits.  Though to Barack Obama (and some congressional Democrats), it probably would not be mush of a positive, neither would it be a negative.President Obama can lay claim- as his acolytes remind us- to having been the first Democrat to pass ("achieve" may prove a stretch) health care reform.   Now, his legacy may be enhanced by having enacted immigration reform, whatever its impact on the American labor market or on the ostensible goals of the health care reform his supporters cite as a component of that wondrous legacy.  

The Post reporters write "Republicans are now attempting to use President Obama’s landmark health-care law to derail his top second-term initiative — a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration system."   If the Republicans prove able to put a dent in the Affordable Care Act, flood the labor market with additional entrants, and give their nod to something called "immigration reform," Obama would benefit with a legacy featuring an undermined "landmark health-care" law and "a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system" pleasing to the corporate class.  Champagne all around.

Priscilla Huang, policy director for the nonpartisan Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, says “If we want them to become citizens and fully integrated into their communities and our country, we should really treat them as such."   But even under terms of the bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, forged by the Gang of Eight, overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and on alternate days by Marco Rubio, immigrants must wait 13 years to become citizens, during which period a GOP Congress and/or President could enact legislation invalidating the citizenship provision.

What a novel, quaint idea- having immigrants expeditiously become fully integrated into their communities and our country!  It is, though, one which evidently has escaped the interest of congressional Republicans, Speaker Pelosi, or President Obamination.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

When They Start Talking, Hold Onto Your Wallet

Every good liberal, at one time or another, is required to acknowledge that he/she must acknowledge the sincerity of pro-life advocates and try to find some common ground.

That is fine as far as it goes, as long as we recognize that for most in the anti-abortion rights movement, the position is one of life and death and therefore non-negotiable.  So we can recognize that the supporters of the pro-life position are earnest while we follow the advice of one of their heroes:  trust, but verify.

When Charlene Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, appeared on Up with Steve Kornacki on MSNBC on Saturday morning, she threw as much organic feces against the wall as possible, hoping something would stick.  It was hard to keep up with her dissembling, but worth the effort, I think.

While Americans generally have supported the right to an abortion under some conditions, opposition to public financing of the procedure remains strong.  Hence, it's critical for pro-life activists to implant the idea that taxpayers foot the bill for all manner of abortions.  As the video below indicates, Yoest states "when you talk about your tax dollars going to the abortion industry" and "even these people, they don't want to see their tax dollars going for abortion."  But by virtue of the Hyde Amendment, annually added to appropriations bills, federal funds can be used to pay for only those abortions in which pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or in which the physical life of the woman is endangered.

"We have the most radical abortion policies in the world," Yoest maintains, "right up there with North Korea, China, and Canada."  While the U.S.A. has more liberal abortion policies than most of the world, there are several nations- according to Wikipedia, 35- with similarly tolerant approaches.   They do, as Yoest claims, include North Korea and China- but also (sarcasm ahead) nations with such brutal regimes as in Cape Verde, France, Mongolia, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and yes, that god-forsaken land, Canada.

Common wisdom has it that young people are turning against abortion rights, as reflected in Yoest's contention "young people today are more pro-life than their parents."  Fortunately, she was corrected by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who noted that while "Generation X" is more pro-life," Generation Y" is more pro-choice.

Yoest claims also Plan B "has life-ending properties."   But according to Mayo Clinic staff, side effects- which usually last only a few days- of the morning after pill may include nausea or vomiting; dizziness; fatigue; headache; breast tenderness; bleeding between periods of heavier menstrual bleeding; lower abdominal pain or cramps; and diarrhea.  

Compare that to the side effects of aspirin, available for a few cents to anyone of any age at your local drugstore, supermarket, or convenience store, which (according to may include: upset stomach, heartburn; drowsiness; headache; black, bloody, or tarry stools; coughing up blood or vomit that looks like coffee grounds; severe nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain; fever lasting longer than 3 days; swelling, or pain lasting loner than 10 days; or hearing problems, ringing in your ears.

But isn't that fairly characteristic of the pro-life movement?  There are possible side effects from the Plan B contraceptive, but less than from most drugs.   A woman who gets an abortion may suffer afterward from depression- but is less likely to do so than a woman who has delivered a baby.  And a woman may die from a legal abortion, but is less likely to do so than a woman whose baby is delivered.  And a pro-life activist may argue from facts and sound reason- but is at least as likely to shuffle from the bottom of the deck.

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Unstated Assumption

It's not the only "pro-life" organization, but it is a heavy hitter.

On Saturday, MSNBC's Up with Steve Kornacki featured three pro-choice and one pro-life advocate, the latter Charlene Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.   Although AUL is, as described by Wikipedia, a public interest law firm and advocacy group, Yoest (who holds a Ph.D. in Politics) appears not to be an attorney but a former adviser to Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign who was a vice-president in communications for the Family Research Council.

Yoest was likely an effective v.p. in communications, for the spin was as adroitly expressed as it was divorced from reality.

In the first (video below) of two segments, Yoest trotted out what has become a classic of pro-life mythology.  She asked "Is she (the pregnant woman) being told of the ramifications of how abortion harms women, the data that is out there now, that is undisputable (sic) about how abortion harms women and the long term effects of abortion?"

Wikipedia lists as one form of propaganda "unstated assumption," the tactic which "forgoes explicitly communicating the propaganda's purpose and instead states ideas derived from it. This technique is used when a propaganda's main idea lacks credibility, and thus when mentioned directly will result in the audience recognizing its fallacy and nullifying the propaganda."  Yoest will not tell us what these "ramifications" and "long term effects" of an abortion are.  We are to assume there must be a horrible impact because she seems exorcised that this information is being withheld from women.  Fortunately, this is not accurate because, as the American Cancer Society website notes

In February 2003, the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) held a workshop of more than 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. The experts reviewed human and animal studies that looked at the link between pregnancy and breast cancer risk, including studies of induced and spontaneous abortions. Some of their findings were:

Breast cancer risk is increased for a short time after a full-term pregnancy (that is, a pregnancy that results in the birth of a living child).

Induced abortion is not linked to an increase in breast cancer risk.

Spontaneous abortion is not linked to an increase in breast cancer risk.

The level of scientific evidence for these findings was considered to be “well established” (the highest level).

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Gynecologic Practice also reviewed the available evidence in 2003 and again in 2009. ACOG published its most recent findings in June 2009. At that time, the Committee said, “Early studies of the relationship between prior induced abortion and breast cancer risk were methodologically flawed. More rigorous recent studies demonstrate no causal relationship between induced abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk.”

In 2004, the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, based out of Oxford University in England, put together the results from 53 separate studies done in 16 different countries. These studies included about 83,000 women with breast cancer. After combining and reviewing the results from these studies, the researchers concluded that “the totality of worldwide epidemiological evidence indicates that pregnancies ending as either spontaneous or induced abortions do not have adverse effects on women’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.” These experts did not find that abortions (either induced or spontaneous) cause a higher breast cancer risk.

Time reported that a study by Danish researchers published in the winter of 2010-2011 and published in the New Journal Journal of Medicine found

The researchers relied on a national registry that tracks the medical histories of citizens, including the 365,550 teens and women who had an abortion or delivered their first child between 1995 and 2007. In the 12 years under consideration, 84,620 had an abortion and more than three times that — 280,930 women — had a baby.

Using the registry statistics, researchers were able to analyze the rate of mental-health visits before and after abortion and delivery. The women in the study did not have a history of psychiatric problems that merited a hospital stay. (More on Why are Anorexics More Likely to Have Unplanned Pregnancies and Abortions?)

Interestingly, women who decided on abortion had more psychiatric disorders than women who gave birth; data shows they tend to come from lower-income households and have higher rates of accidental pregnancy.

Yet their rate of mental-health visits budged only slightly post-abortion: 1% had sought psychiatric help nine months before the abortion while 1.5% did so afterwards.

The research did not consider the psychological impact on women who terminate a pregnancy relatively late in their pregnancies, due to fetal anomalies, for example. It looked only at first-trimester abortions since abortion is illegal in Denmark after 12 weeks.

What did raise the rate of psychiatric problems? Babies. Within a year after first-time mothers gave birth, seven per 1,000 women were treated for mental-health issues, in comparison to four per 1,000 before baby.

Although postpartum depression was common, "The results of the Danish study — which were partially supported by grants from a foundation that backs abortion rights — corroborate a 2008 review by the American Psychological Association that found no link between mental-health problems and abortion."

But as Joshua Lang explains in The New York Times, most studies compare women who have had abortions with those who carried to term.  Lang summarizes the recent work of Diana Greene Foster, a demographer and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC-San Francisco, who compared women who chose an abortion to those who sought, but were denied, one.  We read

Foster saw that most abortion studies failed to acknowledge that women seeking abortions are likely to have mixed emotions — regret, anger, happiness, relief. They also often failed to separate the reaction to pregnancy from the reaction to the abortion. She has designed her study to do both, relying on a series of questions and periodic interviews, and initial results, to be published in the fall, show that the emotion that predominates right after an abortion is relief.

When she looked at more objective measures of mental health over time — rates of depression and anxiety — she also found no correlation between having an abortion and increased symptoms. In a working paper based on her study, Foster notes that “women’s depression and anxiety symptoms either remained steady or decreased over the two-year period after receiving an abortion,” and that in fact, “initial and subsequent levels of depressive symptoms were similar” between those who received an abortion and those who were turned away. Turnaways did, however, suffer from higher levels of anxiety, but six months out, there were no appreciable differences between the two groups.

Where the turnaways had more significant negative outcomes was in their physical health and economic stability. Because new mothers are eligible for government programs, Foster thought that they might have better health over time. But women in the turnaway group suffered more ill effects, including higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain (though Foster cannot say whether turnaways face greater risk from pregnancy than an average woman). Even “later abortions are significantly safer than childbirth,” she says, “and we see that through lower complications and low incidence of chronic conditions.” (In the National Right to Life’s five-part response to preliminary findings of Foster’s study, which were presented at the American Public Health Association conference last year, the group noted that the ill effects of abortion — future miscarriage, breast cancer, infertility — may become apparent only later. Reputable research does not support such claims.)

Economically, the results are even more striking. Adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups, women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later. Having a child is expensive, and many mothers have trouble holding down a job while caring for an infant. Had the turnaways not had access to public assistance for women with newborns, Foster says, they would have experienced greater hardship.

During her appearance, Yoest did not emphasize the fetus, but instead posed as a defender of the pregnant woman.  Perhaps that was due to the liberal nature of Kondracke's audience or of the panel, consisting of political strategist L. Joy Williams, the Guardian's Ana Marie Cox, and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.  The three women did what they could to rebut Yoest's remarks and arguments, but, as will be shown in the next post (reviewing the second segment), they were coming fast and furious and are exposed as deceitful only when viewed in the light of facts.   Such, however, is the tactic of pro-life activists, an impressively self-righteous lot.

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Why This Comment?

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