Friday, February 28, 2014

Cuomo On The Same Path As The Master

In his recent expose of the New Jersey governor (shown below, distastefully exposed), the New Republic's Alex MacGillis revealed Christie's fervent efforts to avoid being identified with any Republicans in the Democratic state, recognizing that it might reduce his upcoming winning margin to, say, 20 points.  He notes

As Election Day neared, you could be forgiven for mistaking Christie for a Democrat. State Republicans were frozen out; candidates were told not to include his name or picture on their literature. “We didn’t get the support,” says George Wagoner, a losing Assembly candidate. Meanwhile, the weight of the Democratic machine swung behind the Republican governor.

More than 50 Democratic elected officials endorsed Christie, including Brian Stack (who was hit with a $68,725 fine in July for failing to properly disclose campaign spending) and Joe D. (who also has a large fine looming). In photos and media appearances, Christie kept showing up smiling alongside Sweeney and other prominent Democrats. Norcross didn’t formally endorse Christie, but he made his approval clear. At one event, Norcross said he’d recently seen a man in a “Chris Christie: too big to fail” t-shirt. He told Christie: “You’re not too big to fail—you’re too good and too important to fail us.” 

Susanne Craig and Thomas Kaplan in The New York Times describe the similar tactics being employed by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who

actually has a friendly working relationship with many Senate Republicans. He and those senators have been at odds on social issues, but he has relied on their backing for his fiscal agenda, which has focused on issues of great importance to Republicans, like restraining government spending and cutting taxes.

The governor’s private conversations, and other communications made through intermediaries, were described by senior officials in both parties who have heard from Mr. Cuomo recently. Nearly all insisted on anonymity to avoid antagonizing him.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Melissa DeRosa, said, “This story is nothing more than political gossip from people with obvious motives.” She declined to elaborate.

The Republicans now control the Senate in a coalition with a small group of breakaway Democrats. Mr. Cuomo has expressed concern before about the main caucus of Democratic senators, citing the “dysfunction” and chaos that defined their time in the majority in 2009 and 2010, and has conspicuously remained on the sidelines as the two parties have battled for control.

Any effort now by the governor to aid Republicans in their fight to retain control of the Senate would be fraught with the risk that he could antagonize politicians in his own party, whose support he will need for major initiatives, including his budget, which is now being hashed out in Albany.

“The governor prides himself in being the master triangulator,” a senior Democratic operative said. “This is not going to help his cause as we try and try to get the budget done.”

In Mr. Cuomo’s conversations with Republicans, officials say, the governor has specifically warned that he would campaign hard against Mr. Astorino, painting him as a hard-line conservative — by highlighting his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion rights and strict gun laws approved last year.

That type of aggressive campaign, Mr. Cuomo has cautioned, would hurt all Republicans, causing collateral damage to the re-election campaigns of some Republican state senators, whose party is clinging to power and cannot afford to lose many seats.

“He’s told me that if Astorino runs, he is going to pound the hell out of him and talk about guns and gays, and it won’t be pretty and will hurt all of us,” said a Republican senator who asked not to be named.

With less than nine months until Election Day, Mr. Astorino is the only Republican officeholder who appears to be seriously considering a bid for governor, and causing second-guessing in the Republican ranks could enhance Mr. Cuomo’s advantage.

In addition to offering his commentary on Mr. Astorino, Mr. Cuomo has also tried to woo Republican donors and others who might be inclined to support a Republican. Last month, and on Monday, the governor talked up his record to business leaders at the Harvard Club in Manhattan. Kenneth G. Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, gave his imprimatur to the Monday event.

Kenneth G. Langone? Where have we heard about him? In 2011,

On November 1, more than 100 wealthy political donors, including former New York Stock Exchange CEO Dick Grasso, streamed into the luxurious Conrad Suite at the Waldorf-Astoria on Manhattan's Park Avenue for a lunchtime fundraiser. The event was a smashing success, raising six figures for Mitt Romney—three times what had been expected. Save for the candidate himself, no one could have been more pleased than Ken Langone, the legendary investment banker who had organized the fundraiser and who, armed with a fat Rolodex and the pugnacity of a by-the-bootstraps billionaire, wants nothing more than to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.

Annoyed that the New York governor now is trying to elect Republicans, Digby remarks

Andrew Cuomo is a shoo-in to win no matter who the Republicans nominate. And he has come right out and said that he doesn't want to have to run against a real social conservative because a campaign around gay rights or abortion might make Democrats vote for other Democrats than just him. And that would mean he wouldn't have all those nice Republicans to help him cut "deals" to screw Democrats.

This is nothing new for the ostensibly Democratic governor. Two years ago, Janell Ross of The Huffington Post had reported

In a deal done in the dead of night last week, New York became the latest state to drastically overhaul its pension plan against the wishes of its public employees. After months of political arm-twisting, the state legislature passed on Thursday a slate of measures expected to save the state $80 billion over 30 years while cutting retirement payments guaranteed to state workers.

Similarly, in 2011 Governor Christie- with support from Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, and some other Democrats undercut contractual agreements by cutting the pension of public employees.  According to a union complaint, they were "suspending pension adjustments, increasing employees’ contributions, underfunding pensions and delegating to pension committees an 'unrestrained authority to reduce pension and change eligibility requirements.'"

In her piece, Ross had explained

Public pensions are taking the blame for a much larger set of financial decisions, said Brian McDonnell, legislative and political director for AFSCME-NY, a public sector workers union that represents about 420,000 workers in the state. The state legislature has put local governments in a difficult financial position that pension reforms will not address, he said.

Last year, the New York legislature limited property taxes -- a key source of revenue for cities and counties -- to increases of no more than 2 percent each year. New York, like many states, also slashed the money it sends to municipalities.

Cuomo then stood behind an income tax plan that will pull less money out of rich households this year, said McDonnell. 

Limiting annual local property tax increases to 2% and slashing municipal aid.  Where could Cuomo have gotten that idea?  In 2010

Gov. Chris Christie signed the 2 percent cap on local property tax hikes into law with overwhelming support from state Senate and Assembly Democrats. The measure — which allows exceptions for debt payments, health and pension costs for municipal employees and spending for emergencies — aims to suppress the state’s rapidly growing property tax increases.

Nevertheless, net property taxes have increased significantly under Governor Christie, in part because he slashed state aid to municipalities.

Cuomo and Christie both are determined to achieve conservative ends, enhancing the power of the wealthy, by aligning themselves with allies of the opposite party. It's a media- pleasing, self-serving strategy of earning bipartisan bonafides by working against your own party.

Craig and Kaplan write

One official said the governor had indicated he would refrain from such a polarizing campaign if the Republicans ran a candidate who in his view was more moderate. But no such moderate Republican has yet stepped forward as a serious alternative to Mr. Astorino.

Some Republicans say that in making a case against Mr. Astorino, Mr. Cuomo is also trying to undermine a potential challenger. Mr. Astorino, they say, has built a reputation for fiscal belt-tightening in wealthy Westchester, where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans two to one — roughly the same as the electorate statewide.

Democrats portrayed Mr. Astorino as a right-wing Tea Party extremist last year, but he campaigned on holding down taxes and easily defeated his Democratic opponent. “Andrew Cuomo is being a bully,” said Edward F. Cox, the state’s Republican Party chairman. “His attempts to derail Rob Astorino’s candidacy show just how worried he must be.”

Worried only that his strategy of the 1% might falter if too many members of his own party are elected.  Still, there is an ironic twist to Cox's statement.   The description of  Cuomo as a "bully" actually may be the main difference between the New York governor and Christopher J. Christie because the latter, MacGillis explains, isn't only

a bully. It's that his political career is built on a rotten foundation. Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state- powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass.he has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies. All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it.

Now only a novice, Andrew Cuomo has a long way to go to match the master of manipulation in New Jersey.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Death By Marijuana

It's comforting to know the role of keeping the streets of America safe are in good hands. Although he apologized the next day,

"The first day of legalization, that's when Colorado experienced 37 deaths that day from overdose on marijuana," said Annapolis, Md., police chief Michael Pristoop while testifying against legislation to decriminalize cannabis in Maryland, according to the Capital Gazette. "I remember the first day it was decriminalized there were 37 deaths."

Pristoop was quickly corrected by state Sen. Jamie Raskin, the Gazette notes, who pointed out that the statistic was from the satirical newspaper The Daily Currant. "If it was a misquote, then I'll stand behind the mistake," Pristoop said. "But I'm holding on to information I was provided."

Raskin told The Huffington Post everyone in the chamber dropped their notebooks when Pristoop brought up the argument.

"It makes sense this would be the first article to leap to his attention, because there's no data out there to support his position," he said. "This is marijuana prohibition's last stand, citing a hoax article from the Internet."

Appropriately incredulous, Digby responds

But how could a police chief think such a thing is possible? 

Obviously, the man is completely out of touch if he was willing to believe that pot could kill people at all. He's downright stupid if he thought that it was reasonable that it killed 37 people in one day. The day it became legal.

Wrong! Pot can kill!  The proof is

A coroner in Great Britain ruled that a British woman died from a marijuana overdose, The Telegraph reported Thursday...

Gemma Moss, a mother of three, was found dead in her Bournemouth, England home on Oct. 29, 2012. There was half a joint under Moss' body, along with a wrapper containing pot leaves in her bag, The Telegraph reported. 

But Hussein did say Moss' blood had high levels of cannabis, a class B drug in Great Britain.

"The level of cannabinoids in the blood were 0.1 to 0.15 milligrams per liter, this is considered as moderate to heavy cannabis use," Hussein said, The Telegraph reported.

With these facts at hand the coroner, Sheriff Payne, concluded that pot was to blame.

"The post mortem could find no natural cause for her death. With the balance of probability that it is more likely than not that she died from the effects of cannabis," Payne said according to The Telegraph. 

Moss became the first British woman to die from marijuana.  Or not, because

... several medical officials dismiss the coroner's ruling as unlikely.

"In 40 years I have never come across deaths from cannabis alone," said David Raynes, from the National Drug Prevention Alliance, The Telegraph reported. "There have been cases where it has been combined with other drugs or alcohol."

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the New York Daily News that medical research proves death from marijuana is impossible.

"You would need to literally consume a third of your body weight in marijuana," Tvert said. 

Maybe these guys are wrong and England finally has a death from marijuana.  Back in the USA, as noted in a recent editorial in the Detroit News

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 there were 38,329 fatal drug overdoses in the United States.

That’s about 100 deaths per day, and more than double the number of fatal overdoses suffered in 1999.

Of those, 3,094 people died from heroin overdoses.

But more shockingly, 60 percent of those deaths — or 22,134 — were due to abuse of pharmaceutical drugs. And of those, 75 percent of deaths were due to an overdose of prescription opioid painkillers.

Preceding these deaths has been a drastic rise in consumption. The CDC says sales of prescription painkillers per capita has quadrupled since 1999, with enough prescription drugs prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month.

In parts of Michigan, the prescription drug overdose death rate was eight and a half times higher in 2010 than in 1999, according to state data.

As prescriptions for painkillers rise, so does heroin abuse – and death from both.

One explanation is that highs from drugs like Vidocin and OxyContin — common prescription painkillers — are quite similar to the high one gets from heroin.

But heroin has become very cheap and very accessible, almost more so than prescription drugs. So when a user can’t get the prescription drugs, they jump back to heroin, and vice versa.

While the nation focuses on ways to prevent overdoses, and the emotional foundations of drug use, these statistics raise bigger questions about how America treats and legislates drug use.

Alcohol is a drug and is legal, yet there are almost 90,000 deaths per year in the country due to excessive use. Prescription medications – as noted above – are in the same boat.

So marijuana isn't the gateway drug anymore.  Now it's heroin or prescription drugs.

The editorial writers note "As the federal government continues to outlaw and criminalize non-lethal drugs such as marijuana, it simultaneously encourages the use and abuse of highly addictive, legal — and very lethal — prescription painkillers" (map from Centers for Disease Control).  That may be why President Obama's drug czar wants to keep marijuana illegal and end the drug war, which makes a lot of sense when the facts are ignored.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore. As DOMA is upended, states overturn same-sex marriage bans, and courts unanimously side with gay rights advocates, there are states which not only are holdouts but in which legislators are trying to go much, much farther. Besides the aforementioned Kansas, as of 2/21/14 there were  Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah.

And of course, Arizona, where Republican Governor Jan Brewer must decide by Saturday morning to veto (as is likely) ostensibly anti-gay legislation or it will go into effect (photo from Matt Connolly of Mother Jones).

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman on Monday remarked that a similar bill in Georgia "was filed and is being pushed solely because that's what all the cool conservative kids are doing, and because it sends a message of defiance to those who believe that gay Americans ought to be treated the same as everybody else." But that is only the means to gin up public support, especially among evangelical Christians, who should to be exorcised that under terms of the legislation, all manner of discrimination would be legal, including a Muslim cabdriver who refuses to drive a customer to a bar. Before these bills came to light, Amanda Marcotte described a strong sense of victimization among conservative Christians:

A kid who was disciplined for fighting is turned, in the Christian myth machine, into a kid who was punished for quietly praying to himself. A track athlete is disqualified for disrespecting a teacher, but the Christian media says it was because he thanked God. A Southern Baptist website is blocked for accidentally distributing malware, but in the hands of the conservative press, it’s oppression. They need to be victimized.

This has spurred Repub legislators eager to feed on the cult of victimization to achieve more commercial and nefarious objectives.  Salon's Emmet Rensin, while conceding it is "less shiny an object than legally-sanctioned bigotry," notes the Arizona the fact sheet for Arizona 1062 "expands the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity."  He explains

That means that the right to refuse service to potential clients on religious grounds wouldn’t be newly granted to ostensibly secular businesses on non-profits, but rather that such entities are “protected” under the old First Amendment because they – like individuals – are “people."

Had they wanted, lawmakers could have gone the other route to enshrine the corporate right to bigotry. They could have created a new legal shield for businesses, explicitly granting them an expanded interpretation of the “right to refuse service to anyone."

But that’s not what they did. Rather, they used the framework of First Amendment religious freedom to justify the right to refuse service, and specifically referred to “people” as the beneficiaries of this new “protection”. They chose that course because in doing so, it allows this bill to achieve a second, more insidious goal under cover of the headline-grabbing license to discriminate.

Why? The First Amendment rationale was no doubt employed in part to better protect the legislation against legal challenge. A less Constitutionally grounded effort to the same end would more easily fall afoul of strict scrutiny. But it’s larger than that. For decades, conservatives have been advancing the notion that the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights apply not just to “people” in the ordinary sense of the world, but to less traditionally conceived persons, including corporations.

The apex of that effort came in 2010, with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. By a 5-4 margin, the court declared that corporations were entitled to the same free speech protections as individuals, overturning decades of precedent.

While far less flashy, the personhood provision in SB 1062 was designed to further this effort, granting legal entities another first amendment freedom in the form of religious liberty.

It's just another conservative con, in which "the wedding-cake scenario, where an employee at a bakery or a photographer is asked to provide services to a same-sex couple celebrating a wedding" outrages and becomes the stuff of legend. Rensin concludes SB 1062 needs to be fought "because it’s cartoonishly bigoted, of course, but also because it’s a small step in a long effort to redefine the kind of people this country is for at the expense of those it’s long been of and by."

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hindsight Limited

When he was asked about running for president, Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana responded, "My honest answer is I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2016."

An even more honest answer would have been: "I don't even know what stupid thing I'm going to say next." The Associated Press reports

The nation's governors emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday claiming harmony, only to immediately break into an on-camera partisan feud in front of the West Wing.

Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal lashed out first, saying if Obama were serious about growing the economy he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline project and take other executive actions.

Instead, Jindal said, Obama "seems to be waving the white flag of surrender" on the economy by focusing on raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, up from $7.25. "The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that," Jindal said.

Jindal's statements were the kind that Republicans often make on television appearances or at partisan events, but don't usually come from potential presidential candidates standing yards from the Oval Office. Other governors had been instead expressing wide agreement and appreciation for the president's time. As Jindal spoke, some of his colleagues began shaking their heads, and Hawaii Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie began audibly mumbling to others around him.

Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy took over the microphone from Jindal and responded sharply, "Wait a second, until a few moments ago we were going down a pretty cooperative road. So let me just say that we don't all agree that moving Canadian oil through the United States is necessarily the best thing for the United States economy."

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association and supports Keystone, earlier said she asked Obama when the administration would decide whether to allow it and he told her there would be an answer in the next couple months.

Malloy said Jindal's "white flag statement" was the most partisan of their weekend conference and that many governors support a minimum wage increase.

"What the heck was a reference to white flag when it comes to people making $404 a week?" Malloy snapped. "I mean, that's the most insane statement I've ever heard."

Jindal did not the back down.

"If that's the most partisan thing he's heard all weekend, I want to make sure he hears a more partisan statement," the Louisiana governor responded. "I think we can grow the economy more if we would delay more of these Obamacare mandates."

But Malloy was already walking away from the news conference. He called Jindal a "cheap shot artist" as he departed the White House grounds.

The public dispute came after Obama appealed to the governors for their help to advance his economic policies that stand little chance of winning passage on Capitol Hill.

Obama's economy, Jindal claimed, "is now the minimum wage economy."  Too many people having to accept the minimum wage- so let's cut it.

Of course,Obama's economy isn't the minimum wage economy as he has steered us, however unevenly and slowly, out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Although overly simplistic, it would be more accurate to call the Reagan economy the minimum wage economy.  (Republicans complain Democrats blame everything on George W. Bush. I'm not.) As the graphs (from Modeled Behavior) below indicate, employee compensation as a percentage of real income has plummeted; real household incomes have soared for the top 1% while they have stagnated for the middle 60% and bottom 20%; real income of individuals of the 1% has exploded while that of the middle and lowest quintiles has lagged.

Linking to these graphs, Will Bunch remarks "It's no accident that today when you see a chart of income inequality in America, it starts in 1980, the year that Reagan was elected to his first term."  But it's worse than that. Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) was elected in 1980 but did not take office until (January) 1981; a close look at these charts and the others suggest that the major decline did not begin until 1981!

 Reagan, Bunch recalls, "unleashed the hounds of American greed" and

His steep reduction in top income rates sparked the huge gaps between CEO pay and what the average worker makes, his crushing of the air traffic controllers unionlaunched an era of declining fortunes for blue-collar workers, his deregulation of the savings and loan industry was a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle, and his similar laizzez-faire attitude toward Wall Street inspired some great movies but marked the dawn of an era of insider trading and swindles that went largely unchecked until it finally took America to the brink in 2008.

Governor Malloy could have pointed out that the decline of the USA- if the poor and the middle class matter- began with President Reagan, though then he would have been chided for partisanship.  But it wouldn't have mattered. In the ABC news report of the incident, Jonathan Karl begins "it started as a Kumbaya moment of bi-partisanship"; then, Bobby Jindal "stepped to the microphones," said "the president and the White House seems (sic) to be waving the white flag of surrender," after which Dan Mallow stated Jindal's comments "just ended up being the partisan statement we heard all weekend."  In his telling, they were equally at fault, the Republican governor who accused the President of the USA of "surrender" and the Democratic governor who called this out for rank partisanship.

Ten years ago, we were reminded

The 1980s saw pervasive racial discrimination by banks, real estate agents and landlords, unmonitored by the Reagan administration. Community groups uncovered blatant redlining by banks using federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act information. But Reagan’s HUD and justice departments failed to prosecute or sanction banks that violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in lending. During that time, of the 40,000 applications from banks requesting permission to expand their operations, Reagan’s bank regulators denied only eight of them on grounds of violating CRA regulations.

By the end of Reagan’s term in office federal assistance to local governments was cut 60 percent. Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. The only “urban” program that survived the cuts was federal aid for highways – which primarily benefited suburbs, not cities.

These cutbacks had a disastrous effect on cities with high levels of poverty and limited property tax bases, many of which depended on federal aid. In 1980 federal dollars accounted for 22 percent of big city budgets. By the end of Reagan’s second term, federal aid was only 6 percent.

The consequences were devastating to urban schools and libraries, municipal hospitals and clinics, and sanitation, police and fire departments – many of which had to shut their doors.

Amnesia may be a curse. But not if you're a Repub interested in the Oval Office, it sometimes is too tempting to resist.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Somewhat Exceptional

The results from the winter Olympics in Sochi are in and.... we're number 2!

This does not have the same panache as "we're number 1," the standard chant at Republican national conventions as "USA! USA!"  Still, our athletic prowess is exceptional, compared to that in other fields. The map below is from Reporters Without Borders via Mashable? (perhaps somewhere someone is writing Main Street Liberal?), who reports

Based on its pursuit and prosecution of whistleblowers and information leakers, the U.S. dropped 13 positions, landing at 46th — between Romania and Haiti — on the "World Press Freedom Index of 2014." Reporters Without Borders, a global advocacy group based in France, compiles the report each year based on an examination of factors (.pdf) such as violence, media independence and transparency during the previous calendar year.

The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed," the 2014 report reads.

The U.S. government was chastened in the report for its handling of two information leakers, Chelsea Manning, born Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. Manning, a former private in the U.S. Army, received a 35-year prison sentence in August for providing WikiLeaks with thousands of secret logs chronicling the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to other documents.

Unfortunately, that is not what Repub leaders have in mind when they shout "exceptional! exceptional!"  Dick Cheney, a more sophisticated, albeit less well-meaning war hawk than John McCain, has stated "I do not believe that Barack Obama believes that the U.S. is an exceptional nation, and the whole concept that the world is a safer place, a more peaceful place, when the U.S. is powerful, able to in fact project its will in various places around the world,"   ( It's so comforting to live in the world as it was when one was born.)

The good news, however, is that the USA is 102 places ahead of Russia in press freedom and only six places behind South Africa.  Even though President Obama has contributed to our low ranking, many Repubs will be cheered to learn that the USA is cracking the whip on those who would dare to keep us informed. And they will be even less exorcised that our nation has fallen behind in an area that has drawn the President's attention:

The United States, the country that invented the Internet, is falling dangerously behind in offering high-speed, affordable broadband service to businesses and consumers, according to technology experts and an array of recent studies.

In terms of Internet speed and cost, “ours seems completely out of whack with what we see in the rest of the world,” said Susan Crawford, a law professor at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, a former Obama administration technology adviser and a leading critic of American broadband...

The disagreement comes over how far behind the United States really is in what many people consider as basic a utility as water and electricity — and how much it will affect the nation’s technological competitiveness over the next decade. “There aren’t any countries ahead of us that have a comparable population distribution,” said Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who said that the United States was closing the gap.

But as the Obama administration warned in a report this year: “To create jobs and grow wages at home, and to compete in the global information economy, the delivery of fast, affordable and reliable broadband service to all corners of the United States must be a national imperative.”

The World Economic Forum ranked the United States 35th out of 148 countries in Internet bandwidth, a measure of available capacity in a country. Other studies rank the United States anywhere from 14th to 31st in average connection speed.

More significantly- though less surprisingly- the USA lags behind most of the developed world in income equality and mobility, as a chart (picked up by The Business Insider) from Miles Corak in 2013 found:

The good news is that the USA has greater mobility than Italy and the United Kingdom, and is 102 places ahead of Russia in press freedom and only six places behind South Africa.

At a fundraiser last September for Virginia Repub gubernatorial candidate Ken Cucinelli, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla)  warned "I would ask you to envision a world without an exceptional America."  It's starting to come into focus, Marco.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Legalization Dodge

"Greg Sargent," reads the short biography on The Washington Post site, "writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call 'opinionated reporting' from the left."

So what is Greg Sargent thinking?

In a recent blog, Sargent approvingly quotes liberal evangelical (evangelical liberal?) Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who unequivocally states "It has become abundantly clear that immigration reform is the moral test of our politics."  (Remember that, if you're a single mother trying to raise young children on minimum wage at McDonald's while the CEO pulls down $13.8 million, or if someone who has lost a loved one to cancer because of lack of health insurance.)

Presumably, Wallis and Sargent both believe that refusal to support comprehensive immigration reform constitutes immorality.  Sargent links to a post of his from last August in which he argued the very conservative Spencer Bacchus of Alabama "hits all the key notes,"  lauding the Representative for saying

“Almost 99 percent of ‘em are here for the same reasons that our ancestors came here. They’re here for a better life.”

“Y’all may think I’m copping out, but with my Christian faith, it’s hard for me to say that I’m gonna divide these families up.”

“Bring ‘em into our system. Give them legal status. They will pay Social Security. They’ll work hard.”

“I’ll tell you this, as your Congressman, I am not gonna separate families or send them back.”

Sargent maintained Bacchus is one of the few Republicans to have "offered up the conservative case for comprehensive immigration reform ."  Singling out illegal immigrants for working hard, Bacchus has in fact encapsulated conservative philosophy:  Some people work hard. The rest are lazy.

And Sargent's conservative heartthrob wants to "give them status."  An increasing number of Republicans has hinted at support for legalization, evidently as a means to avoid supporting the bill passed by the Senate, which would grant eventual citizenship.  In late January,The Washington Post reported

Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) released a list of Republican “principles” on immigration. The statement declared that there would be “no special path” to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but that, in general, they should be allowed to “live legally and without fear” in the United States if they meet a list of tough requirements and rules.

Boehner advocates the near impossible:  that otherwise illegal immigrants, denied citizenship, live without fear.  McDonalds showed how it's done:

A former McDonald’s franchisee will pay out a six-figure settlement after allegedly subjecting student guest workers to 25-hour shifts, substandard housing and repeated retaliatory threats. The settlement, announced Tuesday by the federal Department of Labor, includes $205,977 in damages and back pay to 291 workers, the majority of whom landed at McDonald’s under the State Department’s J-1 visa program for “cultural exchange.” Fifteen of those workers drew international attention and support after mounting a surprise strike last March.

“The conditions at this McDonald’s were not the exception, but rather an extreme version of the rule,” charged National Guestworker Alliance director Saket Soni, whose group spearheaded the strike. Local DOL director Al Gristina alleged in a statement that franchisee Andy Cheung’s company Cheung Enterprises “willfully took advantage of vulnerable student workers living and working in our country under the J-1 visa program.” Andy Cheung and McDonald’s did not respond to requests for comment.

As I’ve reported, the McDonald’s workers first walked off the job March 6. “We are afraid,” guest worker Jorge Victor Rios told me before going on strike. “But we are trying to overcome our fear.” Rios and his comrades at central Pennsylvania McDonald’s locations accused Cheung of rampant and ongoing abuse: Schedules of as little as a handful of hours a week (despite paying $3,000 on the promise of full-time work), or as many as 25 hours straight, without any overtime pay. Cramped housing including bunkbeds in their boss’ basement, for which they paid him rent that could rival a meager week’s pay. And threats ranging from curtailed hours to deportation, for offenses ranging from reporting abuse to refusing a last-minute order to come to work.

“Nothing that they told me is true, because everything is a lie,” striker Luis Fernando Suarez told me last year. Suarez said his so-called cultural exchange had been “like an ugly face of the United States … I didn’t feel safe.”

With backing from the National Guestworker Alliance – the non-union labor group behind guest worker strikes in the Hershey’s and Wal-Mart supply chains – the McDonald’s strikers picketed McDonald’s stores in several cities, rallied outside the McDonald’s CEO’s office and home in Chicago, and then mounted a June “Global Day of Action” after returning to their home countries. McDonald’s’ only public concessions came early in the campaign: Minutes after a March 14 protest at a Times Square store, the corporation announced that Cheung had “agreed to leave the McDonald’s system.” The corporation did not accede to NGA’s other demands, including new organizing protections, disclosures about its use of guest workers, and full-time work for U.S. workers whose conditions the J-1 students argued they were being used to drive down. But Soni argued that Cheung’s settlement with the Labor Department vindicated the workers’ courage: “If the workers didn’t go on strike, I don’t think any of this would have come out.”

Spencer Bacchus gushes "they'll work hard" about illegal immigrants, distinguishing them from native born (white and black) workers and legal immigrants.  They worked hard at McDonald's, too, because of "threats ranging from curtailed hours to deportation."  And so it goes without citizenship.

This economy does not need additional job applicants- especially those who, lacking citizenship, are easily exploited.  But additional jobs, down 851,000 from seven years ago (according to the chart below from the St. Louis Fed via The Economic Populist). are critical, a point typically ignored by Republicans and some progressives with little faith in the American worker.  Spencer Bacchus and the like-minded want to "bring 'em into our system" of low wages, no benefits, and total subservience to employers, creating a two-tier system for workers and lowering wage rates throughout the American economy.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting The Rope Ready. Natasha Lennard Approves.

Natasha Lennard of Salon is enervated by a story in TMZ which, she notes, reads

George Zimmerman fled Miami after someone threatened there was a huge bounty on his head.

Zimmerman taped an interview last Tuesday with Univision and Fusion, and then took his girlfriend, her kid and his brother to the beach.  While they were catching some rays, people noticed him, started harassing him, and then someone shouted out George had a $10,000 bounty on his head.

We're told it freaked him out and they all retreated to the hotel, but the crowd followed them.

Security swept their room to make sure no one tampered with their stuff and then stood guard throughout the day and night.  We're told Zimmerman did his CNN interview early the next morning and then beat it ... literally fleeing Miami.

In a Salon piece in early October, Lennard recognized

of the 1,348 executions that have taken place in the US since the death penalty restarted in 1976, more than half originated in only 2 percent of counties.

Given these statistics, any juridical claims (the very claims that ended a 1972 Supreme Court death penalty ban in the U.S.) that executions are determined in a fair and equitable fashion are laughable.
Application of the death penalty (which is prohibited in many places) does vary radically among jurisdictions, and Lennard appeared committed to the rule of law.

Less than five months later, Salon's assistant editor has changed her tune.  Now she comments

George Zimmerman reportedly received a small taste of vigilante justice on a recent beach trip in Miami. According to reports on (ever reliable news site) TMZ, Trayvon Martin’s killer was run off a beach when he was recognized by an angry crowd. Zimmerman, who had been in Miami to film a series of interviews and garner yet more undeserved platforms in the public eye, swiftly left the city following the incident. My hope is that the Miami mob set a precedent for how to treat Zimmerman henceforth.

Lennard's remark advocating vigilante justice does not justify even the qualification that the 'stand your ground concept' is seriously flawed, a point which may have been too taxing for Lennard to make.  She might have criticized the disturbing action of the Florida legislature to enact stand your ground, but instead suggested that "an angry mob" compensate for the decision of the jury in Sanford.

On its face, her remarks are reprehensible.  But they're worse: the TMZ article which Lennard quoted and to which she linked maintained the intimidation probably constituted no idle threat. The video on the TMZ site includes the statement "By next week we're looking forward to getting $1 million for the capture of George Zimmerman. We're going to force our government to do their job properly and if they don't, we will."

That sounds a lot like a bounty, the "vigilante justice" Lennard recommends.  It also bears similarity to a practice once all-too-common in the American south, something a blogger at a great news website should have noticed.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Working The Room

Even- especially- after admitting to what he termed a "glib" remark, Barack Obama remains the smartest person in the room, if not in Washington, D.C.

According to ABC News, while in Waukesha (is there a better sounding name for a town?), Wisconsin lauding vocational education and highlighting the administration's review of job training programs:

But I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree," he continued, to some audience laughter. "Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree. I love art history. So I don't want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. I'm just saying, you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education, as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.

University of Texas art history instructor Ann Collins Johns, however, was not amused and sent the President an e-mail in which, reported CNN,

"We really work hard on teaching students…who come in and take an art history survey class how to think, read and write critically, because that's what you do with art,” she wrote. “It's not just looking at a pretty picture. You have to call upon all of your resources to come up with some sort of interpretation."

She also attempted to “dispel the notion that [art history] is elitist.”

“Increasingly the discipline is much more global. We really teach the arts to a wide range of students with a wide range of backgrounds, and we are teaching the arts of Africa, Asia, South America, Central America and we have a global outlook and that tends to change the whole field."

She received an e-mail from the correspondence supervisor at the White House which included a scan of a handwritten note signed "Sincerely, Barack Obama."  The President wrote

Let me apologize for my off the cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed. So please pass on my apology for the glib remark to the entire department, and understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career.

Obama was smart enough- as are virtually all politicians- to label his comments an "apology."  Further,  he demonstrated enough insight to recognize his remark as "glib."  That alone might qualify the response as an apology while, as wise politicians know to do, he defended himself, maintaining he was "making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history."  Shorter Obama: "you missed my point, Ms. Collins."

"As it so happens," the President was slick enough to note, "art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of job in my life that I might otherwise have missed."   Apparently, art history is to Mr. Obama intended to keep younger people entertained until they need to get focused on real life.   After all, "it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life."   Just a wonderful thing when they're sitting on the student green at Pleasantville U. contemplating something or another.

Dr. Collins pointed to the diversity of students in the field, as well as the effort to expose those students to culture beyond the U.S.A., things which the first black President- who spent a few of his formative years growing up in Asia- generally finds valuable.  Instead, art history can give one "a great deal of joy."

Johns was genuinely pleased at receiving the note- not everyone receives a letter personally signed by the President of the United States, and Johns proceeded to post it on Facebook. She defended the President, as so many Democrats/liberals have been maneuvered into doing, by pointing to his extremist critics.  "He's trying to be entertaining and everybody jumps on his case," she stated, suggesting that the President is right because his opponents are so wrong.

Still, the U.T. lecturer tried to dispel the notion that her field of study is elitist.  Instead, Barack Obama did his little bit to reinforce it as elitist.  And is it possible for anyone to be any more patronizing?

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Never Argue With A Crystal Ball

She's absolutely right, you know:

I deeply admire and respect Hillary Clinton. I think she is a great intellect with great fortitude. I think she was a strong secretary of state and a hardworking and effective senator.  But I have come to a difficult realization: I don’t want Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016. I hope she does not run, she is not the right person for this moment.

Back in 2008, when all my peers were jumping on the Barack Obama bandwagon, I backed Clinton. The country was reeling from a disastrous eight years under President George W. Bush. We were desperate for competence after his incompetence; for respect for government after his disdain. We needed, in my view, a capable hand. She was well positioned to manage the end of two wars and to regain the international respect that had been lost during the Bush presidency. Clinton was a fantastic fit for that moment but that moment has passed.

Now, we are in a moment of existential crisis as a country. As we recover slowly from the Great Recession, we’ve discovered that we don’t much like what we see. Only 28% of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction. Some 67% are dissatisfied with the wealth distribution in this country. And as corporate profits soar to new heights, working folks get the shaft sharing in virtually none of the gains of the recovery.  In fact, 95% of the income gains over the recovery years have gone to the top 1% of income earners.
It is clear now that we have two economies: one for a thin slice of educated elite and one for everyone else. That is the moment we are in now. So I ask you, does Hillary Clinton sound to you like the right person for this moment?

In a time when corporations have hijacked our politics enabling them to reap all the profit without feeling any compunction to do right by their workers, is someone who sat on the rabidly anti-union board of Walmart for six years the right person to restore worker’s rights?

In a time when we are still reeling from a global financial disaster brought on by foolhardy bank deregulation, is someone who recently took $400,000 to give two speeches at Goldman Sachsthe person we need to wrest control of the asylum back from the banking inmates?

Keep in mind that at those paid speeches, Clinton wasn’t giving tough love to these masters of the universe. On the contrary, she said that “the banker-bashing…was unproductive and indeed foolish.”Of course, it was her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who did much of the deregulating that got us into trouble including ending the Glass-Steagall prohibitions on mixing traditional banking with speculative investment banking.

More to the point though, in a time when we badly need to be inspired, rallied, and made to believe that America can once again be true to the American dream, we desperately need someone who is mission driven. We need someone who is clearly passionate, who is living and breathing and feeling in their bones the plight of the worker and the middle class, and who is unafraid to stand up to the Wall Street titans. That person is not Hillary Clinton. It is Elizabeth Warren.

Warren is, for good reason, the public official most feared by Wall Street. Since coming to the Senate, she has aggressively questioned banking regulators on why Wall Street banks were not being vigorously prosecuted. She’s argued for expanding Social Security, for increasing the minimum wage, for using the infrastructure of the post office to provide basic banking services to the poor. Most recently, she pressed the Obama administration to nominate more judges who come from a background in public interest work rather than from big corporations. She’s been fearless, determined, and relentlessly true to her roots as an advocate for the middle and working classes.

Some argue that Warren is too liberal to get elected. To me, this analysis is both shallow and cowardly. The causes that Warren champions from consumer protections to expanding Social Security to increasing the minimum wage are quite popular. I would be proud to back Warren in a battle over the real future of the middle class, the working class, and the American Dream. I would be delighted to have that argument any day. And if I believed that Clinton was ready for that fight, I’d be all in.

I just don’t think that’s where Clinton’s heart is though. I think she is safe, careful, constantly evaluating her positions, drawn to the center, wherever that happens to be at the time. To be clear, I would back Clinton with all my heart against any Republican, and I would even support her over most Democrats. But she is much less than ideal.

Despite all her talents, Clinton is not the woman to address the deep inequality, corporate political capture, and middle class rot afflicting our country. So although I deeply admire and respect Secretary Clinton, I must say: Don’t run Hillary. Don’t run.

That was MSNBC's Krystal Ball who, true to her name, last week was not predicting Hillary Clinton won't run, only that the party and the nation would be better off if she doesn't.  Unfortunately, there is little chance that Elizabeth Warren will run for the nomination in 2016- and in an ironic twist, a run probably is even less likely if the presumptive nominee, Mrs. Clinton, enters the race as expected.

But compare what we do know about Senator Warren (videos below) from what we do know about former Senator and Secretary of State Clinton.  With bank regulators on out-of-court financial settlements:

On GOP efforts to end the Affordable Care Act and shut down government:

On student loan debt:

Questioning regulators on illegal foreclosures:

On reviving Glass-Steagall, from The Young Turks:

By contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton has never been someone known to be a stand-up woman. Consider Michael Tomasky's remarks ten weeks after the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya:

Let’s start at the beginning. What did Rice have to do with the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack? In all likelihood, absolutely nothing. Consular security is a State Department matter. The U.N. ambassador has no authority over such questions. If the matter of security in Benghazi was ever the subject of a principals-level meeting of the top national-security team, then maybe she was privy to a discussion. But it’s certainly not her decision. The only outpost whose security she’s responsible for is the one in Turtle Bay.

For a while one heard conservatives ask, well, if this wasn’t her gig, then why did the administration send her out there on those Sunday shows Sept. 16? It didn’t prove much, this question, one way or the other, but it was a fair enough point. This past Sunday, The New York Times’ reporting answered it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have been the one to do those shows, and she was asked first, but she said no.

So it would be especially revealing to determine what Hillary Clinton thinks of the idea of reinstating Glass-Steagall, especially because that was accomplished upon the signature of President William Jefferson Clinton. The sins of the husband should never be visited upon the wife (as Senator Paul will learn).    But determining whether Mrs. Clinton is bold enough to endorse that critical policy prescription would be a good test of her fitness to be president in a party with giants like Warren and this guy.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Covering Governor Corrupt

Could this have been your first clue, Bill?  Karl Rove remarked on GOP TV (video, below)

There will be reasons why conservatives will have disagreements with Chris Christie. I don’t think the tea party is going to seize upon Fort Lee and the George Washington Bridge as their defining difference with Christie. In fact, I think his handling of this, being straightforward and taking action. Saying I’m responsible, firing people probably gives him some street cred with tea party Republicans who say, that’s what we want in a president.

Practically all of Chris Christie's administration is being investigated and a major honcho of his party still believes he is a strong presidential candidate.  That is only one reason Bill Maher was grossly misguided when on his blog he maintained

It's Valentine's Day, and I cannot go on any longer living a lie. MSNBC...we need to talk. 

Whatever we had is not working any more. You're obviously interested in another man: Chris Christie. You're obsessed with him. So I wanted you to hear it from me first. I'm going to start seeing other news organizations. I'll miss what we had. It was a rocket ship ride. We were both passionate flaming liberals and we didn't care what the world thought of us. It was a glorious time. We finished each other's Sarah Palin jokes. But now we never talk about any of the things we used to talk about: global warming, gun control, poverty... All because Chris Christie came along and put you under his spell. 

Look at yourself. You're turning into Fox News. Bridgegate has become your Benghazi, and this isn't easy to say, but you and I are no longer on the same news cycle. Sure, you read me the results of a recent Gallup poll, but you never really ask me how I'm feeling. It's not you, it's... Chris Christie. 

You've stopped leaning forward. Look, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little lanes of traffic don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. You're a young news channel. You'll meet other viewers. It's for the best. You can focus on your career. And we can still be friends. We'll always have Obamacare. 

Here's looking at you, kid.

The second clue could have been that Bridgegate is part of a pattern, exemplifying how Chris Christie has conducted business for a long time.   He amassed power and influence, and built a fictional narrative around himself, through selective enforcement of the law (going after the comparatively small fry and stroking the powerful) and a media anxious to build up a federal prosecutor.  In his far-reaching article for The New Republic, Alex MacGillis explains that as U.S. Attorney, Christie's

office had knocked out a swath of New Jersey’s biggest Democratic power brokers and weakened their organizations in crucial parts of the state. But that meant the bosses left standing had only grown stronger. 

In In 2002, an insurance firm in Mt. Laurel received an unexpected e-mail from a man named George Norcross. Congratulations, Norcross told the firm: It had won a big contract for the Delaware River Port Authority, which oversees four bridges in the Philadelphia area. The e-mail was unexpected because the firm hadn’t bid for the job. But there was no need for thanks. The company was simply expected to send Norcross’s insurance company $410,000 over the next few years, as a “finder’s fee.”

This is how things work in the world of George Norcross III. Officially, he is the supremely wealthy chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, one of the largest insurance firms in the nation; the chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden; and, as of last year, the majority owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Unofficially, he is the most powerful man in New Jersey never to have held elected office. Close observers of state politics have estimated that more than 50 elected officials in South Jersey owe their positions to Norcross (including his brother, a state senator). Much of the money he raises for candidates comes from people and companies eager to secure government work or development deals, as documented over the years by his local paper, the Courier-Post, among others. Norcross’s own firm holds sway over New Jersey’s large municipal insurance market. (He declined to comment for this article.) “George is probably the smartest politician we have now in the state of New Jersey,” says former Republican State Senator John Bennett. “He knows where the power is and goes to the power. Whether that power is a Republican or Democrat.”

One reason that Norcross is so good at working the machine is that he was born into it. His father, George Norcross Jr.—“Big George”—was a much-loved union chieftain, and he would bring “Young George” along to meetings around the state with governors, state legislators, and CEOs. Young George would go on to drop out of college—Rutgers wasn’t teaching him anything about politics he didn’t already know—and start selling insurance out of a basement office. In 1989, after Big George was snubbed for a spot on the New Jersey Racing Commission, Norcross entered politics, motivated by a specific grudge against the legislator who’d stiffed his father and a more generalized resentment over the slighting of South Jersey. Thanks to Big George’s lessons and his own hyper-confidence, it wasn’t long before he gained control of Camden’s Democratic organization and set his sights on the rest of South Jersey. Today, Norcross is silver-haired and impeccably dressed and runs his operation out of well-appointed boardrooms. He is only foul-mouthed in private.

One Jersey Democrat described to me the first time he experienced the Norcross treatment. Not long after this politician announced his candidacy, he was summoned to a meeting with the man himself. Norcross was all magnanimity. “He said, ‘You don’t need to do anything. I’ll raise all the money. You just go out there and meet people,’ ” the candidate recalled. 

There was no need for Norcross to spell out the rest of the arrangement: The fate of those who cross him is well known. When Bennett dared to oppose state financing for the arena of a minor-league hockey team Norcross co-owned, Norcross got in a shoving match with him at the State House. In the following months, a stream of critical stories about Bennett appeared in a paper edited by a Norcross friend, contributing to Bennett’s 2003 reelection loss. “He does everything in his power to go after you,” Bennett told me, almost admiringly. “He said, ‘I’m going to get you,’ and then he gets you.” 

On numerous occasions, Norcross’s operation has come under legal scrutiny—from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), state investigators, and the FBI. The cases are labyrinthine, but they all involve some dubious overlap of his many public and private interests. One case in particular threatened to get real traction. In the early 2000s, several New Jersey attorneys general investigated whether he had pressured a Palmyra councilman to fire a city solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, who wasn’t cooperating with the machine. Wiretaps offered a rare glimpse of a man completely convinced of his power. “[Rosenberg] is history and he is done, and anything I can do to crush his ass, I wanna do cause I think he’s just a, just an evil fuck,” Norcross said. In another conversation, referring to then-top Jersey Democrats, he declared, “I’m not going to tell you this to insult you, but in the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Not because they like me, but because they have no choice.” While discussing plans to remove a rival, he exclaimed: “Make him a fucking judge, and get rid of him!”

In February 2003, Norcross met Christie for a steak dinner at Panico’s in New Brunswick. It was, to put it mildly, highly unorthodox for a U.S. attorney to sit down with a political boss who was the subject of state and SEC attention. But Christie brushed off the criticisms. “I’m very careful with who I would go out with,” he said. “If I’m looking at somebody, I’d try to stay away from them.”

That, to the skeptics, was just the issue. His corruption squad was scrutinizing dozens of lower-profile figures, all the way down to an Asbury Park councilman charged for getting his driveway paved for free. Why wasn’t he looking at Norcross? And didn’t he realize that he might have to in future? Sure enough, the following year the state attorney general referred the Palmyra case to Christie’s office. 

Two years later, Christie issued a scathing six-page letter announcing that he would not bring any charges against Norcross. It was a remarkable document. Not only did Christie openly declare a controversial figure to be home free, but he accused the state prosecutors of bungling the case so badly that they may have been shielding Norcross. “The allegation of some bad motive on the part of the state prosecutors is very unusual,” says Andrew Lourie, a former chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice. 

High-ranking legal sources in the state view the letter as the ultimate Machiavellian maneuver. They agree that there may not have been a strong case to bring against Norcross in the Palmyra case after so much time had lapsed. But by publicly accusing his state counterparts of protecting Norcross, Christie was inoculating himself against accusations of favoritism. One of the former attorneys general who’d handled the case, John Farmer, who went on to become senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and is now dean of Rutgers Law School, told me: “The statements and insinuations contained in that letter were, as I said at the time, utter nonsense. The passage of time has only magnified their essential absurdity.”

The roots of Christie's deceit go back even further. When he was a candidate for county Freeholder in Morris County, NJ, the campaign ran on the last weekend before the primary an ad against the incumbent Republican he was challenging. It accused the opponent and his fellow prosecutors with being under federal investigation, which the prosecutor assured the incumbent was inaccurate. Though Christie later was successfully sued for defamation, there was no time to respond to the false allegation before the election, which Christie won.   Class act, even then- well before he became Governor and began to use Hurricane Sandy money from the federal government as a political slush fund. And before his lieutenants tried to blackmail the Hoboken, NJ mayor over Hurricane Sandy aid into approving a redevelopment plan to benefit a developer represented by the Samson Group, the firm of Port Authority and Christie appointee David Samson (as diagrammed below by MSNBC).

Further, Maher's analogy to Benghazi falls short. Fox's obsession with the Libyan city isn't reprehensible because of the scope of the issue or severity of the incident in which four Americans were killed.  It's because the claims are inaccurate and the furor ginned up.   On the Sunday following the attack, National Security Advisor Susan Rice appeared on five news programs and on one of them, Meet the Press, explained

Well, let us– let me tell you the– the best information we have at present.  First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing.  And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.  But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.  What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.  They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya.  And it escalated into a much more violent episode.  Obviously, that’s– that’s our best judgment now.  We’ll await the results of the investigation.  And the president has been very clear–we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Rice was attacked by various Repubs, typically in the manner of South Carolina Representative Trey (don't call me Curt) Gowdy, who declared "This was never about a video! It was never spontaneous! This is terror, and I want to know why we were lied to."

Rice never denied that terrorism played a role and in late December The New York Times reported

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Rice's explanation, a mere five days after the assault, was largely accurate.  In four of the five appearances, Rice noted the FBI was investigating the event, and- in what Repubs typically view as a mortal sin- expressed uncertainty.  Much to the consternation of critics, she did not mention Al Qaeda, which now appears to have been uninvolved. She was largely right and implied a more thorough explanation was forthcoming.

One network is throwing stuff against the wall in an effort to wound the President or the likely Democratic presidential nominee and then-Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton).  The other has been revealing information unknown to the public while Fox largely ignores the issue and which much of the media, which still pines for a President Christie, has been downplaying.  MSNBC has been part of the latter, with Chris Matthews still pretending the whole thing was encouraged, planned, and executed by a bunch of dopes betraying their boss, the Governor.  

It's not about a bridge but an abuse of power by a leading presidential aspirant who had most of the country conned for several years. As Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer put it in her diary entry of 5-/17/03, "I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral. I thought he was something very different. This week I found out he's cut from the same corruption cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years."


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Monday, February 17, 2014

Welcoming Bullying

Back in August, Republican National Committee chairperson Reince Preibus threatened

to refuse to partner with CNN or NBC on any presidential primary debates if the two networks move ahead with plans for television projects on Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Reince Priebus, the chairman, said in letters to the two networks that he considered the projects to be a “thinly-veiled attempt at putting a thumb on the scales of the 2016 presidential election.”

NBC has said it plans to broadcast a mini-series about Mrs. Clinton with Diane Lane scheduled to portray the former first lady and secretary of state. CNN is planning a feature-length documentary about her as well.

In a statement issued Monday, NBC News said, “NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment and has no involvement in this project.”...

In his letters to CNN and NBC, Mr. Priebus said he would seek a “binding vote” at the R.N.C.’s summer meeting this month. He said the vote would require the party not to partner with the networks on debates or to sanction debates that they hold.

Fast forward five months to when Politico in late January reported

The boycott of MSNBC might have ended, but Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says the network is still on “probation.”

“In their professed world of tolerance, they’re sure hitting on all eight cylinders of intolerance,” Priebus said Thursday of MSNBC while on Fox News’s “Hannity.”

Following a tweet by MSNBC’s account late Wednesday suggesting the Republican Party hates interracial marriages, Priebus sent a letter Thursday to MSNBC President Phil Griffin saying all staff members and surrogates would not appear on the network until there was an apology. The letter warned "Until you personally and publicly apologize, I have banned all RNC staff from appearing on, associating with, or booking any RNC surrogates on MSNBC. I have asked Republican surrogates and officials to follow our lead.”

Of course, the great progressive cable news network, MSNBC, stood by its employee and noted that the appearance of Republicans allows conservatives the opportunity to air their views in the marketplace of ideas (Republicans claim to love the "market."), allowing them to reach voters who otherwise might not be exposed to their perspective. Or less generously (but no less accurately) that the foundation of much of the modern Repub Party derived from dividing Americans on the basis of race. However,  no:

MSNBC President Phil Griffin apologized to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Thursday for a tweet suggesting conservatives “hate” interracial marriages and “dismissed” the staffer who authored it.

“The tweet last night was outrageous and unacceptable. We immediately acknowledged that it was offensive and wrong, apologized, and deleted it. We have dismissed the person responsible for the tweet,” Griffin wrote in a statement.

“I personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to everyone offended,” he continued. “At msnbc we believe in passionate, strong debate about the issues and we invite voices from all sides to participate. That will never change.”

And neither will Priebus, back with an online petition pleading "Keep the Clintons out of the White House... Again. The RNC claims

Bill and Hillary Clinton will say and do anything to win.

Personal accounts of their campaigns reveal excessive infighting, warring camps and ruthless politics. The Clinton Machine even has a political “hit-list.”

Scandals and controversies follow the Clintons — the ultimate Washington Establishment.

Send a clear message today: we don’t want the Clintons back in the White House.

If Phil Griffin expected his capitulation to Priebus to mollify the RNC chairman, it was in vain.  But the MSNBC chief probably is just as happy he emboldened Reince.   Two weeks ago The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur, former MSNBC host, lawyer, and graduate of the finest high school in America explained (video on the topic, below)

First, let me be clear that this is not intended for the hosts on MSNBC. It's management that's the issue. The way Phil Griffin has his hosts trot out for one apology after another is revolting. At least, he included himself in the genuflecting to the right-wing last time around. The whole display is pathetic.

Let's also be clear about another thing. Phil Griffin, who happens to be the head of MSNBC, is not a liberal or progressive. I worked at MSNBC, I talked to Phil Griffin many times, I know Phil Griffin. He is not remotely progressive. All he cares about is success in his own career. He even basically admitted in this recent interview that he would head a conservative network if it made more money. The idea that he represents progressives as he keeps groveling to conservatives is absurd and sickening.

First of all, the last two apologies were not at all necessary. Melissa Harris Perry called Mitt Romney's black grandson gorgeous (go back and check the tape). Yes, it would have been nice if someone on the set said, "God bless their hearts for being open minded in adopting someone outside of their race." This is about as minor an infraction as I could imagine. Instead we got a tearful apology that was hard to watch and hard to stomach.

Now, there was a tweet sent out about how some right-wingers might not like a biracial ad by Cheerios. Gee, I wonder why they might think that. Maybe it's because some right-wingers already had hateful things to say about that ad (yes, they don't represent all conservatives, but once again, this is the most minor infraction in television history). The MSNBC employee didn't make up that reaction -- it already existed online. How many times has Bill O'Reilly characterized all liberals as saying something based on what some readers in the Daily Kos or The Huffington Post comments section said? Only about a million times.

Maybe that person at MSNBC who sent the tweet got the idea from a recent ad that caused outrage on Fox News because it included a Muslim woman and her husband who is in the U.S. military. They said this ad was only blocks from the site of 9/11! That is 100 percent bigoted response from the right-wing to an ad that involves two people from different backgrounds. Bingo.

Maybe they would have gotten the idea that Republicans don't like biracial couples because ofa poll in the Republican primaries in the South where 21 percent of GOP primary voters in Alabama and 29 percent of the Mississippi GOP primary voters said that interracial marriage should be illegal.

Can anyone in America say with a straight face it is unclear which party in America is more racist? One of the parties had this thing called the Southern Strategy, where they decided being racist toward blacks would get more white voters in the South. Care to guess which party that was? If you're still unclear on that or completely ignorant, maybe the last two RNC chairs could help you because they both apologized for their party's blatantly racist strategy.

Hey, anyone know whether Roger Ailes has ever apologized for running a station that argues we should take away voter rights in a way that disproportionately affects minorities? That's happening right now and only a million times more important than any tweet. You can turn on Fox News almost any day and see some fictional story about voter fraud, the whole purpose of which is to limit voting by the poor, the elderly, college students and minorities. Any apologies about that?

How about an apology for the fear mongering and race baiting about the New Black Panther Party? How about an apology for white Santa? And white Jesus? How about an apology for a guest on Fox Business talking about executing his political opponents? Oh, maybe he was joking. What do you think would happen if Ed Schultz joked about executing some Christian fundamentalists? They would fire everyone at 30 Rock and schedule an implosion of the building by lunchtime.

And oh yeah, anyone remember who worked for Richard Nixon when they came up with the Southern Strategy? That's right, Roger frickin' Ailes. Has he ever apologized for that?

MSNBC doesn't get it. Fox News and the right-wing are using this to set up a false equivalency. Yes, the Republicans race bait. Yes, Karl Rove did a push poll in South Carolina in 2000 asking if people would change their vote if they knew John McCain had an illegitimate black daughter (he doesn't). Wait, who does Karl Rove work for again? Yes, Bill O'Reilly is amazed when he goes into a black restaurant and they act like regular human beings. Yes, the Republican Party got 2% of the black vote in the last election because of their obviously hostile stance against African-Americans. But wait someone at MSNBC tweeted something mildly inappropriate.

If MSNBC cared about not presenting liberals as sniveling cowards, they would never go through these debasing apologies one after another. But they don't care about that because the guy who runs the network doesn't give a damn about how progressives look, because he isn't one of them.

The best example ever of a candidate doing "anything to win"- though, in this case, fleecing his state's taxpayers of $12 million to run up the score- is the current chairperson of the Republican Governors Association.   If Reince Priebus knows of any election in which either Bill or Hillary Clinton did "anything to win," he should put up and shut up.  Otherwise, we are left with the classic example of a stolen election (from Issues TV):

Perhaps in an odd sort of way Reince Priebus and Phil Griffin, the latter heading cable's alleged "liberal" network are- in the famous phrase of former New Jersey governor Tom Kean- perfect together.

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