Tuesday, March 31, 2015

And The Answer Is "Yes"





Leave it to The Nation, in this case Zoe Carpenter, to ask the question begging to be answered "More broadly, does it matter that the right is using criminal-justice reform to legitimize its broader anti-government ideology?"

Appearing at the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform last Thursday were such luminaries as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), liberal/progressive activist and former Obama Administration employee Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, the general counsel of Koch Industries, and the CEO of FreedomWorks.  Carpenter

asked Gingrich whether he thought that any savings from shrinking prisons should be reinvested in education and other policies to reduce poverty. “A certain amount of this money has to be re-allocated particularly in the mental-health area, but also, frankly, in the retraining of people who were first time offenders,” he said. “If there’s surplus after that, I think it’ll go to reduce the deficit or to reduce debt.”

Gingrich did not say money could be re-allocated to the mental health area, but in the mental health area (perhaps for privatization).  Re-training first-time offenders would be particularly effective were there jobs to re-train them for.  And so Carpenter got her answer about the right's interest in legitimizing its anti-government ideology.  University of Pennsylvania political scientist Marie Gottschalk observes

Today’s left/right kumbaya moment on criminal justice reform rests partly on what I call the pathologies of deficit politics. Hitching the movement against mass incarceration to the purported fiscal burden of the carceral state helps reinforce the premise that eliminating government deficits and government debt should be the top national priority.

She notes the many states which "have eliminated or reduced programs for prisoners, cut back on correctional health care, and even slashed food services" and explains

If you care about reentry and about keeping people out of prison in the first place, there’s no public policy that you should support more strongly now than Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion gives states huge infusions of federal money to expand mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and medical care for many of the people who are most likely to end up in prison. It also allows states and localities to shift a significant portion of their correctional health care costs to the federal tab.

But while slashing social services plays a critical role in fostering delinquency and crime, high rates of incarceration- which enrage Gottschalk and virtually all criminal-justice reformers- are maintained via privatization.   As of 2013, nearly two-thirds of private prison contracts contained a "lockup" provision (illustration below from In The Public Interest), in which quotas assure that the state will maintain a particular level of capacity or its taxpayers ante up the difference.    The number of private correctional facilities is not declining and privatization is growing.





Private prisons subsist, as the ACLU had found, by "cutting corners at the expense of public safety and prison security." Conditions of squalor and assault are more common than in public facilities and there is little or no incentive for rehabilitation of inmates.  

You won't hear any of that from Newt Gingrich, of course. And you won't hear it from another reformer, "Grover Norquist," whose career has been dedicated to shrinking government to a size enabling it to be "drowned in a bathtub"  and who has charged "Democrats only support (criminal justice reform) because all their relatives are in prison."  You won't hear it either from one of the liberal/progressive reformers, Cory Booker, who once called attacks on private equity "nauseating," even while serving as a surrogate for the re-election of Barack Obama, one of private equity's (tepid) critics.

Because improvements at the margin are possible, the sound and fury of reformers may not signify nothing.  But as long as Repubs continue to press for cutting budgets at the expense of the poor and for privatization of virtually everything, the sound and fury will signify very little.




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Monday, March 30, 2015

"He's Crazy For Cream Cheese." It Gets Even Funnier Than That.




The New Yorker has published an essay by Lena Dunham entitled "Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz" with the introduction "Do the following statements refer to (a) my dog or (b) Jewish boyfriend?"

Read it and you may observe it is less anti-Semitic than inane, or equally anti-Semitic and inane. A testament to the Girls' star's inability to maintain a train of thought, the 35 statements range from the insignificant "His best friend is named Archie" to the highly significant ".... he expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life, and anything less than that makes him whiny and distant," from the self-indulgent "I have more Instagram followers than he does" to the  pithy and humorous "He has an obsession with bellhops that is troubling to me."

As Dunham (photo by AP/Richard Shotwell) defender Anna Silman notes, Dunham has been severely criticized on Twitter and in a statement by the Anti-Defamation League for promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes.  Silman says that she herself is "a Jewish person," which evidently justifies her belief that the piece is not anti-Semitic and qualifies her to discern how Americans from coast-to-coast will interpret the actress' remarks.

Dunham herself identifies as "very culturally Jewish," meaning she.... what, anyway?  Certainly, that implies that she is not religious, hardly an earth-shattering revelation.  Whatever else it means is unknown, except that it does give her an opportunity to repeat stereotypes about Jewish males, propagate others, and hope she is defended by people comforted that she identifies as "culturally Jewish."  

The phrase itself is a misnomer. As David Javerbaum speaking as God explains,  "Breaking news from Mt. Sinai. Judaism is a religion. The millions of allusions to me in every single text and commentary and ritual of the past 3,000 years probably should have been a giveaway."

(Religious/religion is, admittedly, a word shunned by most people these days. Evangelical Christians don't like to identify themselves in that manner, in part because they foolishly believe it implies adherence to ritual for the sake of ritual. The other folks don't like it because they think declaring themselves as non-religious will get them blackballed from the people who avoid describing themselves as religious. And so it goes.)

Silman's defense of Dunham turns on her argument that

making fun of one’s own people is a time-honored part of the Jewish comic tradition. Jewish comics often turn within their own culture for material — just look at Jon Stewart, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Jerry Seinfeld, and the many, many other comedians whose humor involves riffs on their own Jewishness (one has only to think about the classic Seinfeld episode, about the dentist who Jerry accuses of converting to Judaism “for the jokes”).

Indeed, much of humor in general relies on self-deprecation. The best comedy comes from a place of introspection, joking about oneself rather than joking about others. Jewish comics — Dunham included — are allowed to make jokes about being Jewish that non-Jews could never make, because they come from an intimate and specific understanding of their own culture.

Except this is not Dunham's culture. The piece is not "Dog or Jew? A Quiz?" or "Dog or Jewish Woman? A Quiz?"  It is "Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz?"  This is not about people like her but about Jewish men; less broadly, her Jewish boyfriend. Imagine the firestorm, largely justified, which would come upon a man writing an essay entitled: "Bitch or Jewish Girlfriend? A Quiz?"

But Silman is not alone in her disingenousness or to be charitable, failure to comprehend. New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick stated to Mediaite

The Jewish-comic tradition is rich with the mockery of, and playing with, stereotypes. Anyone who has ever heard Lenny Bruce or Larry David or Sarah Silverman or who has read ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ knows that. Lena Dunham, who is Jewish and hugely talented, is a comic voice working in that vein. Richard Pryor and Chris Rock do the same about black stereotypes; Amy Schumer does it with women and gender. I don’t mind if one reader or another didn’t find the piece funny. People can differ on that. But considering all the real hatred and tragedy in the world, the people getting exercised about the so-called anti-Semitism of this comic piece, like those who railed at Philip Roth a generation or two ago, are, with respect, howling in the wrong direction.

Dunham, who has one Jewish and one Protestant parent, at least has recognized that characterizing herself as "very culturally Jewish" is "the biggest cliche for a Jewish woman to say."  Javerbaum asks "Canst thou imagine being introduced to a 'cultural Christian' or a 'cultural Muslim'?"    But insofar as Dunham is Jewish, reinforcing stereotypes encourages acceptance of those stereotypes by individuals not as culturally sophisticated as Silman, Remnick, and their colleagues. Not everyone is in on the joke.

Nonetheless, Lena Dunham need not be terribly worried that her boyfriend is Jewish, or a dog, or whatever. Of more pressing concern ought to be "When I go out of town on a business trip, he sleeps with a pair of my underwear."









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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Easily Offended







You have to feel sorry for executives in the securities industry.  Reuters reports

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party's tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

Charles Peters wastes no tears, commenting

My god, what a prodigious bluff. Also, my god, what towering arrogance? These guys own half the world and have enough money to buy the other half, and they're threatening the party still most likely to control the White House because they don't like the Senator Professor's tone? Her tone? Sherrod Brown's tone? These are guys who should be worried about the tone of the guard who's calling them down to breakfast at Danbury and they're concerned about the tenderness of their Savile Row'd fee-fees? Honkies, please.

The whining on Wall Street comes on top of a report from a new Institute for Policy Studies report by Sarah Anderson that finds, according to Mother Jones (chart from Institute for Policy Studies)

The average bonus for one of New York City's 167,800 employees in the securities industry came out to $172,860—on top of an average salary of nearly $200,000. On the other side of the equation were about one million people working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 






There is a time to call someone's bluff, and Warren seems to understand that time is now.  In an e-mail sent to the Huffington Post, the Massachusetts senator typed

They want a showy way to tell Democrats across the country to be scared of speaking out, to be timid about standing up, and to stay away from fighting for what’s right.... I’m not going to stop talking about the unprecedented grasp that Citigroup has on our government’s economic policymaking apparatus ... And I’m not going to pretend the work of financial reform is done, when the so-called 'too big to fail' banks are even bigger now than they were in 2008.

Or as Peters recognizes

This is a fight the Democratic party must have, if it's going to be worth a damn as a political entity. If some Democratic politicians line up on the wrong side, and they go down, so be it. The rest of the country has sacrificed enough for the plague-ridden benefits of its investor class.





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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cinematic Foreign Policy






Desperate for a puff interview to prove his foreign policy bonafides, Scott Walker appeared on Hugh Hewitt's radio program on Wednesday. and this exchange took place:

SW:.... Think about how screwed up that is. I remember the movie in the 80s, Trading Places…
HH: Right.

SW: …you know, with Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy, it’s like Iran and Israel are trading places in the sequel. In the eyes of this president, our ally is supposed to be Israel. Our adversary has been historically Iran. And yet this administration completely does it the other way around. We need to call radical Islamic terrorism for what it is, and a commander-in-chief who’s willing to act.

Joan Walsh comments "No word on which nation is Aykroyd and which is Murphy; hoping other reporters will follow up. (If Walker finds that metaphor doesn’t work, he can play around with 'Freaky Friday.')"  Charles Pierce finds "Personally, I don't think Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reminds me of Denholm Elliott but, then again, I am not the geopolitical whiz kid that the Talleyrand of Wauwatosa is." As he reduces the Middle East to a movie (photo of Akyroyd and Murphy from Trading Places, and of Scott Walker, from AP/Mark Humphrey), Walker's take on the region is ludicrously simplistic and misleading. Speaking to Rachel Maddow on Thursday, NBC's Richard Engel explained

The U.S. in Iraq -- we`ll just take Iraq. The U.S. right now is helping this mission in Tikrit, which is being backed by the militias, and as you said they are potentially going to boycott that operation, but the U.S. is backing the operation led by the militias. That`s in Iraq.

In Syria, the U.S. is fighting against Iran and is an enemy of Iran, which supports Hezbollah and supports the government of Bashar Assad. But in Syria, the U.S. is also fighting with Iran against ISIS.

So, in Iraq, we are against Iran -- sorry -- it`s even confusing for me and I`ve done this for 20 years. In Iraq, we are fighting with Iran. In Syria, we are fighting both with and against Iran. And in Yemen now, we are backing Saudi Arabia and Egypt and this other coalition, which is 
taking a strong stance against Iran.

But we say we`re not going to get deeply involved we are just going to kinds of assist with some intelligence, while at the same time huge negotiations, profoundly important negotiations are underway in Switzerland with Iran.

One only hopes Governor Walker is trying to dumb down foreign policy for primary voters and that he really understands there are more than two nation,s in the world's most turbulent region, which are involved in hostiities.  We can start out asking him about Sunnis and Shiites, Hutsis and Wahabbis. At least it would give him an opportunity once again to tell us how he can beat ISIS because he beat down the unions in Wisconsin.





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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Deceptive At Its Core




Amanda Marcotte informs us that in Arizona

anti-choicers, backed by one particularly vocal doctor named George Delgado, are claiming that you can "reverse" medication abortions. A woman having a medication abortion takes two pill doses, one of mifepristone and then another of misoprostol. Proponents of "abortion reversal" would like you to believe it's common for women to take the first dose and become wracked with guilt, desperate to save her pregnancy. To help these women, Delgado gives the woman progesterone shots, supposedly in an effort to reverse the effects of the mifepristone. 

The problem is it's almost certainly quackery. Mifepristone is not enough on its own to terminate a pregnancy some of the time, so you're not "reversing" the abortion so much as interrupting the process before it's complete. The progesterone shots reverse nothing—they are medically unnecessary theater, designed to portray anti-choicers as conquering heroes rescuing pregnant maidens from the clutches of abortionists. There's no evidence of much demand from women to interrupt their abortions, and in the rare circumstances that someone is seized by regret, all she needs to do is contact her regular doctor about stopping the pills. 

Forcing doctors to "inform" patients about an intervention that isn't medically useful and isn't really in demand serves no other purpose but to inject anti-choice histrionics into what is already a stressful situation for many patients. You should be able to get through an abortion without having to indulge a right-wing delusion.

Marcotte avoids the low-hanging fruti, not linking this scheme to right-wing delusions about abortion. Instead, she notes the bill, awaiting the signature of Arizona's Repub governor (Doug Ducey, below), and

its fresh interpretation of the word reverse is part of a larger trend of right-wingers attempting to restrict free speech and remold the English language in their image. In Florida, Department of Environmental Protection employees have complained about orders to excise the phrases climate change and global warming from their speeches. There's also been a movement, complete with bills in Texas and Florida, to ban doctors from discussing gun safety with patients. Some postmodern academic could have a field day with these attempts to rewrite reality to fit conservative fantasies. 

However, the left also attempts to restrict if not (and probably not) free speech, at least free expression, such as in the case of Aayan Hirsi Ali and Bill Maher.   Neither are our hands clean with regard to manipulation of the language, substituting "marriage equality" for same-sex marriage; "undocumented workers" for illegal immigrants; and "people of color" for... for whatever it's supposed to mean, which is whatever is convenient.

Abortion, though, is a separate case, one in which the "right-wing delusion" cited by Marcotte reaches full flower.  In this case, it was reversal of the procedure but  NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia some time back listed eight lies commonly told by crisis pregnancy centers.  The three most often promulgated in recent years may be that abortion causes breast cancer; abortion makes women severely depressed; and the fetus/baby can feel pain at an early stage of the pregnancy.

No, no, and very likely not until at least the 24th week of pregnancy.   Still, if the Arizona bill becomes law and such legislation spreads out among the states, enough women may be subjected to enough stress that abortion may finally induce the depression and sense of regret that anti-choice advocates claim that it does.  Mission, then, accomplished.









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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slut Is Not A Racial Term




It's a typical weekday at Salon and already there are eleven posts and at least, Digby's takedown of faux country music fan Ted Cruz, which is spectacular. Another, however, is spectacularly wrongheaded.

You probably remember Philadelphian Mo'ne Davis, the remarkable 13 or 14-year old who was a star pitcher at last year's Little League World Series.  She is back in the news, and not only because The Disney Channel is making a movie about her experience.  Bloomsburg (Pa.) University first baseman Joey Casselberry on Friday night tweeted (emphasis his) "Disney is making a movie about Mo'ne Davis? WHAT A JOKE? That slut got rocked by Nevada."  (Castleberry promptly apologized and Davis has sent to the University a letter generously recommending he be reinstated.)

"It goes without saying," Brittney Cooper notes, "that she’s a better person than Casselberry. But she should not have to be" because

For starters, he meant what he said. One doesn’t slip up and mistakenly call a young teen girl a slut. Second, it bothers me that she sounds almost apologetic about how much others have to see her on television. Girls in our culture are taught that they should never take up too much space, that they should be seen (and look real pretty), but not heard. And Black girls in our culture are damn near invisible, whether in regards to their triumphs or their struggles.

Lest we think this inappropriate sexual shaming of Black girls is an isolated incident, let us not forget that in 2013, The Onion “jokingly” referred to then 9-year old actress Quvenzhan√© Wallis, as a “c*nt” in reference to her Oscar nomination that year for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Cooper ought to have indicated something, anything, in the student's tweet indicating that he was thinking about race in any manner- or that he would not have tweeted the same had she been of any other ethnicity.  Though girls for too long were "taught that they should never take up too much space, that they should be seen (and look real pretty) but not heard," most of that thankfully has passed. That is particularly true in the university culture (fraternities aside), in which Casselberry studies (and until recently, played baseball).

But it gets worse. Cooper continues

Such language is nothing short of vile and reprehensible. And it raises the question of why young white people have such a prurient fascination with young Black girls? Mo’ne Davis is 13. Quevenzhan√© Wallis is 11. One is a baseball player. The other is an actress. Why are they being characterized in sexual terms at any level?

The fact that Black girl artists and athletes are understood only in terms of a sexuality that they may not even have begun to articulate for themselves should concern us. That their sexuality is already being publicly circumscribed by white men (and the anonymous Onion tweeter) in dirty and shameful terms is appalling.

The reason "young white people have such a prurient fascination with young Black girls" is that young males have a prurient interest with young girls.  They do tend to have great sexual interest- usually in the opposite sex- and generally with young females rather than old females.  (Were young men routinely interested in old women, that would be a different story... and probably a more interesting one.)   It is also hard to believe, for nearly everyone but Cooper, that young black males have significantly less interest in black girls than do young white males.

Davis is several years younger than Casselberry (photo below of both from Clem Murray of philly.com). Contrary to Cooper's implication, he probably was not sexually aroused by Davis, but rather using an offensive, sexist term promiscuously (okay- indiscriminately).  I don't know; Cooper hasn't asked, her mind having already been made up.

Brittney Cooper's assumption that the first baseman's loathsome tweet is due to "racialized sexism" or "sexualized racism" is nearly as rash as the tweet itself,. But it is not out of character, given that jumping to conclusions, rushing to ascribe racial motives uncritically, is not unusual for her. As a writer, she is entitled to bizarre leaps of logic.  However, Cooper also teaches Women's and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, a situation New Jersey's state university would be wise to contemplate.







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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Selective Justice






The Wall Street Journal reminds us

The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.

Still, according to "a senior U.S. official briefed on" the news, "it is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy.”   It seems that

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.

The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

It is one thing for Israel to spy on the USA to enhance its own security; it's quite another to take those secrets and undermine this nation's effort to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But lest you conclude that the American government will turn a nearly blind eye toward this outrage because Israel is involved, consider

Petraeus gave mistress Paula Broadwell – author of his biography, “All In” – access to eight “black books” that collectively contained classified information from his time leading military efforts in Afghanistan. He then lied about doing so to FBI investigators.

The books included “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and [Petraeus’] discussions with the President of the United States of America," the court documents say.

The books also contained "national defense information, including Top Secret//SCI and code word information,” the documents state.

For that, General David Petraeus got two years probation, something less onerous than a slap on the wrist for someone who endangered national security and then obstructed justice by lying about it.

(Before Petraeus' rear end was kissed with the plea deal, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) argued the former general had "suffered enough" because “He lost his job as CIA director because of it. I mean, how much do you want to punish somebody?"

Next up: a guy from south-central L.A. gets arrested for burglary, loses his job, stays in jail for 10 months because he cannot raise bail, and loses his wife and children. Feinstein demands that he be released from jail, given the key to the city and awarded 1,000 shares of Apple stock- tax-free, preferably. After all, he has "suffered enough.")

The Guardian's Trevor Timm wants us to

Compare that to the actions of Chelsea Manning, who is serving 35 years for leaking classified information. As Ellsberg noted: “Chelsea Manning had access to SCI every day… where she worked in Iraq. She chose to disclose none of it, nothing higher than Secret”.

Or there’s John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer, who passed on to an investigator the names of two covert agents whose names were also never published. He received thirty months in jail and a felony conviction 2013. (As CIA director, Petreaus praised Kiriakou’s conviction just days before lying to the FBI about his own leak.) And Ellsberg himself faced 115 years for his leaks: “The Pentagon Papers I disclosed were all Top Secret. I’d been cleared for SCI too, but disclosed none of it, unlike Petraeus.”

Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, was also just convicted of leaking classified information to New York Times journalist James Risen last month, “having first revealed it to Congress, as I did”, according to Ellsberg. Sterling was convicted of felony counts under the Espionage Act, and faces sentencing at the end of April. Ellsberg says Sterling’s “violations of security regulations were in no way more serious than what Petraeus has now admitted to”, and that, while it’s too late to do anything about his conviction, the judge should take the Petraeus plea bargain into account at his sentencing.

And then there is Edward Snowden, who leaked not to his love bunny but to the American people (photo below from US News not of the real Edwin Snowden, Barack Obama, or of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, trying to offer Snowden a passport in February 2014). But then he is neither Bibi Netanyahu nor Mr. Wonderful, General David Petraeus, who brought us victory in Afghanistan and Iraq and similarly transformed the Central Intelligence Agency.








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Monday, March 23, 2015

From The Playbook






Few others have said it better than Tom Frank, who in his seminal work What's the Matter with Kansas? noted

American conservatism depends for its continued dominance and even for its very existence on people never making certain mental connections about the world, connections that until recently were treated as obvious or self-evident everywhere on the planet. For example, the connection between mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore without reservation. Or between the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust- which forces they praise in the most exalted terms...

Behold the political alignment that Kansas is pioneering for us all. The corporate world- for reasons having a  great deal to do with its corporateness- blankets the nation with a cultural style designed offend and to pretend-subvert: sassy teens in Skechers flout the Man; bigoted churchgoing moms don't tolerate their daughters' cool liberated friends; hipsters dressed in T-shirsts reading "FCUK" snicker at the suits who just don't get it. It's meant to be offensive, and Kansas is duly offended. the state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year. Kansas aches for revenge. Kansas gloats when celebrities say stupid things; it cheers when movie stars go to jail. And when two female rock stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the  heads of the liberal elite. Kansas comes running to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those rock stars' taxes.

Kansas has been pioneering for us all in domestic issues, the interplay between economics and culture. But a similar thing is now taking place in the foreign arena, with conservative Repubs blowing smoke up out... well, you know.

Appearing Sunday (video below) on CNN's State of the Union,  Senator John McCain advised President Obama

The President should get over it. Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President It's time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of ISIS and Iranian movement throughout the region which is threatening the very fabric of the region. The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign. If every politician were held to everything they say during a campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion. This is one of the most Orwellian situations I have ever observed.





Put aside that, as Digby observes, McCain probably doesn't understand what "Orwellian" means. Lay aside that Bibi Netanyahu has demonstrated that he is not our friend, both in openly defying the President of the United States and the view of at least the last three Presidents that a two-state solution is the only viable option in the Middle East.

Ignore even the obvious hilarity of John McCain lecturing Barack Obama on the matter of temper tantrums. After Netanyahu's speech to Congress, an obviously emotionally distraught Obama remonstrated "I did get a chance to look at the transcript and as far as I can tell there was nothing new." And following the Prime Minister's surprisingly large electoral plurality, Obama told the Huffington Post

We continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, Given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible....

We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership. So that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.

The man is simply out of control!

John McCain criticizing Barack Obama for a temper tantrum is analogous to him knocking Representative Barbara Lee of California for being a warmonger; or Scott Walker rapping Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown for being anti-union; or John Ellis Bush condemning Elizabeth Warren for ignoring the interests of the middle class and rejecting populism. It is flat-out bizarre- more likely, mendacious.

The real issue is that, like conservatives who rail against abortion, same-sex marriage, and paint liberals as fans of Sodom and Gomorrah, McCain doesn't really mean it.  Borger (beginning at aproximately 1:43) asks

But you called the President's response to Bibi Netanyahu a temper tantrum. Why is it a temper tantrum if Netanyahu ostensibly rejects during his campaign the very basis for decades of American policy heading towards some kind of peace process. Should the President sort of pay no attention to that?

McCain, who had excoriated Obama for a temper tantrum, replied "I think the President maybe shouldn't like it," after which he went on about ISIS and Iran.

This wasn't Scott Walker, single-minded in his hatred of unions, John Ellis Bush fascinated by all things Bush, or Ted Cruz, who knows little about anything. This was war hero, reliable hawk, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John McCain slamming Obama and then, in one definitive remark, agreeing with the President. Whether their criticism is intended to reassure the voting base or the voting base of their party, conservatives are at it again, with McCain, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and other Republicans chastising President Obama, with only the rare Gohmert suggesting a concrete change to policy.  It's all theater, sound and fury signifying only that they will say anything, whip up any fury or frenzy, to defeat Democrats.




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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oligarchy Awaits




At an appearance (which seems to be a town hall meeting, video below) in South Carolina on St. Patrick's Day, John Ellis Bush responded to a question about the minimum wage by stating

We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure – I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, ‘Yea, everybody’s wages should be up.’ And in the case of Wal-Mart they have raised wages because of supply and demand and that’s good....








A few months ago, Paul Krugman addressed the decision by the iconic purveyor of substandard, Chinese products by explaining

The retailer’s wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to the Great Compression, albeit in a much weaker form. Walmart is under political pressure over wages so low that a substantial number of employees are on food stamps and Medicaid. Meanwhile, workers are gaining clout thanks to an improving labor market, reflected in increasing willingness to quit bad jobs.

But the myth that the market works by the invisible hand and for the benefit of all must be maintained, in part to sustain the income inequality that has been growing in the nation the past 40 years.  

It's all about the corporation.  John Ellis Bush opposes a federal minimum wage ("I think state minimum wages are fine"), which would be exposed as a truly preposterous point of view, were it not for the media's insistence that Bush is the one Serious Candidate (now that another oligarch, Christopher J. Christie, has fallen by the wayside.... with a thud.)  But Wal-Mart raising its minimum wage is good because corporations simply cannot do bad in the mind of a right-winger without conviction. (Analogous is the annual wailing of Bill O'Reilly against "the war on Christmas," which he tries to convince us is transpiring without any encouragement from the business sector.)

This perspective has been displayed by John Ellis Bush also when it comes to sex.  Earlier this year, he commented

I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue – including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.

Same-sex marriage does not encumber the corporate sector, one reason it has made tremendous headway in the courts. It is also why Bush accepts its inevitability while supporting the privilege of businesses to deny service to gay people. According to the Washington Blade ("America's Leading Gay News Source"), Thursday he was (and note the reference to "marriage equality") on the steps of the Georgia statehouse contending

I don’t know about the law, but religious freedom is a serious issue, and it’s increasingly so, and I think people that act on their conscience shouldn’t be discriminated against, for sure,  There should be protections, and so, as it relates to marriage equality — and that may change, the Supreme Court may change that. That automatically then shifts the focus to people of conscience, and, I don’t know, have their faith make — they want to act on their faith, and may not be able to be employed for example.

Bush reportedly added "People have a right to do that, just as we need to be respectful for people who are in long-term committed relationships. Sorting that out is important.”

Here is a way to sort it out: if you're holding yourself out as serving the public, you have no right to discriminate, whatever the reason.  There is no passage in either the Old Testament or the New Testament endorsing the privilege of refusal to serve someone on the basis of religion, gender, sexual preference, or ethnicity.  A right to refuse because of religious perspective- or, as it's re-branded, "conscience"- is tantalizingly easily abused.  It also arguably would run afoul of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

It is, though, a very tempting stance for a Repub presidential candidate.  Take the high road toward same-sex couples, recognizing their interest in "making lifetime commitments to each other," and accept the plaudits of the mainstream media for being one of the few "moderate" or reasonable Republicans. At the same time, throw open the door to all manner of discrimination, against gay people and others, as long as "faith" is claimed. That is an important part of the wish list of the business sector, consumers be damned.  For a candidate who brags he "hit the lottery" because of his (extraordinarily wealthy) parents, it's a good fit.



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Friday, March 20, 2015

True Says It's Not True





The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education believes Jeremiah Jonas Luther George True,  a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, has a legitimate case because, as quoted by BuzzFeed's Katie J.M. Baker

Banning a student from a course simply because he expressed views on a topic of classroom discussion that some disagree with or are made uncomfortable by is generally inappropriate.  A college campus is precisely the place for students to grapple with ideas and develop critical thinking skills, often by challenging prevailing wisdom and subjecting their assumptions to rigorous testing.

When at the small, private liberal arts college (photo below from Wikimedia Commons/Makaristos)

Jeremiah True wouldn’t stop talking about his controversial opinions on sexual assault in his required freshman humanities course, his professor banned him from the discussion segment of the class for the remainder of the semester.

The 19-year-old told BuzzFeed News that his professor, Pancho Savery, warned him repeatedly that his views made his classmates uncomfortable before he told him in a March 14 email that he was no longer welcome to participate in the “conference” section of his Humanities 110 lecture-seminar class.

“Please know that this was a difficult decision for me to make and one that I have never made before; nevertheless, in light of the serious stress you have caused your classmates, I feel that I have no other choice,” Savery wrote in the email, obtained by BuzzFeed News.

True, whose Facebook page says he studies “How to Annoy People” at Reed, takes pride in challenging his classmates’ opinions.

“I know many people aren’t comfortable with taking the stances I do, but I’m not a sheep,” he said.

True said he sparred with classmates over discussion topics related to ancient Greece and Rome, such as the “patriarchal” belief that logic is more important than emotion and his analysis of Lucretia’s rape. But it was his questioning of the widely shared and often debated statistic that 1 in 5 women in college are sexually assaulted — it doesn’t serve “actual rape victims” to “overinflate” numbers, he said — and his rejection of the term “rape culture” that led to him being banned, he said.

“I am critical of the idea of a rape culture because it does not exist,” he wrote in a lengthy email to Savery explaining his perspectives that he has also posted online. “We live in a society that hates rape, but also hasn’t optimized the best way to handle rape. Changing the legal definition of rape is a slippery slope. If sexual assault becomes qualified as rape, what happens next? What else can we legally redefine to become rape? Why would we want to inflate the numbers of rape in our society?”....

Savery, who declined to comment to BuzzFeed News, wrote in his email to True that he had discussed whether to ban True from class with another professor before making his decision.

“There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape,” Savery wrote to True. “The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes. I, as conference leader, have to do what is best for the well-being of the entire class, and I am therefore banning you from conference for the remainder of the semester.”

The First Amendment does not apply to private colleges and

Savery said it was too late for True to transfer to another conference but that True could still get credit for the course by completing the last paper and the final exam, and that he was welcome to discuss the remainder of the semester’s readings with Savery in his office.

True told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t feel he had belittled or “incited violence” against any sexual assault survivors who may have been in class.

“I simply questioned the statistics,” he said. “I understand [Savery] has to take care of his students, but I have to take care of my education.”

At Reed, which asks students to govern themselves using an “honor principle” that applies to all aspects of student life, professors are allowed by faculty code to use their own discretion to dismiss a student from class for “serious misconduct” if they consult with the student’s adviser first. (True said Savery was his adviser.) Reed spokesperson Kevin Myers said this was the first “instructor dismissal” he had heard of in his eight years working for the college and that administrators were investigating whether True was removed for appropriate reasons.

“For over 100 years, Reed has been very committed to free speech and diverse viewpoints, and maintaining an environment in which people can live and learn and work and express themselves honorably,” Myers said.

There is heightened sensitivity about sexual assault on college campuses these days because, as BuzzFeed notes,

More than 90 colleges are currently under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual violence cases. Sexual assault on campus has become a hot-button issue both in Washington, where the White House launched a task force and senators have introduced bipartisan legislation, and on campuses like Reed, which roughly 1,500 students attend. For activists nationwide, the crackdown on campus sexual assault is long overdue. But other politicians and commentators have accused schools under pressure of suppressing free speech and mistreating accused students.

Reed’s own policies have been the object of scrutiny for years. Despite its small size, Reed’s students reported the most sex crimes of all colleges and universities in the state of Oregon during 2010–2012 and ranked third in the number of reported assaults per 1,000 students in the country in 2012.

“Reed is a private institution that often drops the ball in its responses to sexual misconduct, but this is an excellent example of a professor taking initiative to take care of his students,” senior Rosie Dempsey told BuzzFeed News. “Of course, we are an institution that encourages dissent and active discussion, but there is a difference between stimulating discussion through opposition and making other students feel unsafe.”






Buzzfeed quoted two female students, one who stated "It’s really nice to know that my school supports survivors and listens when they say they don’t feel safe. Rape culture is indisputable and [True’s] words and actions are deeply upsetting." The other maintained True began to express his views "more openly and aggressively" and "continued to argue with people who had expressed to him that they felt unsafe and uncomfortable. He said rape culture didn’t exist, but I feel like I live rape culture every day.”

Those remarks strike at the heart of True's dispute.  In an open letter to the college as part of a change.org petition, JJLGT (photo below from his Facebook page) linked to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the FBI's uniform crime statistics for 2013, Time magazine, and elsewhere "to much of the research that I have performed during the course of my stay here at Reed He is determined to counter the oft-referenced, misleading, and ultimately useless "1 in 5" statistic for campus sexual assault and adds

I am critical of the idea of a rape culture because it does not exist. We live in a society that hates rape, but also hasn't optimized the best way to handle rape. Changing the legal definition of rape is a slippery slope. If Sexual assault becomes qualified as rape, what happens next? What else can we legally redefine to become rape? Why would we want to inflate the numbers of rape in our society? Why would we define someone who was groped at an SU dance as a rape victim when just a couple of blocks away, there is an actual, forcible penetrative rape occurring that will actually mentally scar a person for life? Why are we treating someone as a rape victim when they haven't been raped? A groping is not rape, nor should it be redefined to become rape. Rape is traumatic. Sexual assaults (such as groping) can be traumatic, but they are not an invalidation of a person's identity. They do not force someone to open themselves up to violent intrusion and brutal, psychological damage. They are not crimes which women feel afraid to report because they fear backlash and victim blaming. We need to change the system, not change the definition of crime. We have limited resources available to rape victims, and hysteria is not the solution to dealing with the very real problem of rape in our society.







Skeptical of True, Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams writes 

If you want to challenge the undeniably less than rock solid “one in five” statistic, you’ve got a fine case, and I’ll defend your right to make it. Further, if you want to say things on Facebook, it shouldn’t influence your participation in a specific class. And I absolutely don’t believe colleges should become so overly concerned about potentially difficult subjects and ideas they are afraid to approach them. But is this truly a case of a male with an unpopular opinion being shut down because of his beliefs? Or is it about a possibly disruptive student creating an environment that was not productive for the rest of the class? 

Aside from the actual students, none of us was in the class and therefore it's impossible to answer either of Williams' questions. Even if we were in the class, we might not answer her questions accurately, given that our responses would be subject to interpretation, our differing observations and preconceived notions.  Without knowing precisely- or nearly precisely- how this transpired in and out of class, it's nearly impossible to know exactly how the matter should have been handled.  Still....

While "unjustified accusations" or "ideological bias" would have been a less gender-charged term than "hysteria," True is correct. Sexual assault and rape are not synonymous but the terms frequently are used interchangeably.  If there is no difference between sexual assault and rape, the former phrase, cold and clinical, should be dropped in favor of "rape," an act which everyone understands and abhors (except, in the latter case, rapists). The tip-off, however, is that if the two acts were identical, we have a far, far greater problem than even the students critical of True believe- or could imagine. (There would then be broad and rampant hysteria, all of it justified.)

Additionally, there is no "rape culture." Or perhaps there is- we can't know because "rape culture" is not defined, and is perhaps undefinable. A "culture" (like a "war on...") can be whatever we say it is, which renders the concept worthless.  What we do know, of course, is that attributing the problem- or much of it- to a culture redirects blame from the offender, deflecting attention from the individual responsible for the act of sexual violence.  Although not the focus of his defense, True quotes RAINN's argument

While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.

(Then all the people said "Amen.")

Both the President and the Vice-President have trotted out the dubious 1-in-5 statistic. Biden has an excuse because as the Senator who introduced the Violence Against Women Act (which addressed domestic violence) ultimately enacted in the early '90s, he is committed to the cause of preventing violence against women. But President Obama, who aside from his family is committed to nothing, has no such excuse.







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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Man Who Won't Go Away






The Playboy interview of Dick Cheney begins

Dick Cheney likes lattes. Seated in his favorite brown-leather chair in the sunlit study of his home in McLean, Virginia, the former vice president of the United States can toss back two of the warm java blasts in an hour. They come from a stainless-steel machine in the kitchen and a slender, mustachioed housekeeper named Gus, who serves them in custom-ordered white Starbucks cups outfitted with cardboard Starbucks sleeves.

Digby comments "Why would anyone want to pretend they're drinking Starbucks when they're drinking a latte made in their own kitchen?"  Personally, I wonder why Dick needs a pool boy to serve the lattes. In either case, Digby is right to conclude "should be fun."

And the fun begins almost immediately, when the former vice-president contends

I think with respect to the situation in Iraq, his precipitous withdrawal and refusal to leave any stay-behind forces, to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis, was a huge mistake; we are paying a price for it now.... 

I don’t think he ever bought into the notion that we’re at war, in terms of a war on terrorism; I think he always wanted to treat it as a law-enforcement problem. 

Those drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia must be the President's version of the Miranda warning.  Admittedly, President Obama did not sign a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad. But George W. Bush did- and it required all USA soldiers to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. In the press conference announcing the pact, President Bush maintained it

provides American troops and Defense Department officials with authorizations and protections to continue supporting Iraq's democracy once the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. This agreement respects the sovereignty and the authority of Iraq's democracy. The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq -- a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge.

Bush imagined that in the withdrawal it would lead to, "we are leaving the next President with a stable foundation for the future, and an approach that can enjoy broad bipartisan support at home."

Declaring victory in a war- or success of a surge- does not make it so.  The Obama Administration balked at signing its own agreement because American soldiers were specifically denied legal immunity by the Iraqi government.

Cheney follows the Iraq myth with another myth, referring to Obama's "apology tour, when he went to Cairo in the summer of 2009."  When Mitt Romney attacked Obama during campaign '08, it wasn't true, as CNN's Fact Check, factcheck.org, and Politifact all concluded. It is no more true now, and restating a myth doesn't make it any more accurate.

During this imagined apology tour, President Obama- according to Cheney- "said the U.S. overreacted to the events of 9/11."  Bush's V.P., Charles Krauthammer, and others believe the USA did not overreact to the events of 9/11. But that does not make it so, and we don't have to consider the debacle of the Iraq War and the upsurge in terrorist activity it spurred to know we overreacted.

Cheney himself should know best. After the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, he camped out for weeks a few miles north of Camp David at what has become known in American lore as the "undisclosed location." It is nothing of the sort, but rather in a complex of buildings ("Site R") inside Raven Rock Mountain Complex at Raven Rock Military Reservation in Liberty Township, Adams County (near Blue Ridge Summit in Franklin County, Pa.) in south-central Pennsylvania, a few miles north of Camp David, Maryland (location below).  Yet, the Vice-President's location was strictly confidential at the time because... well, because we surely did not overreact to the events of 9/11.





The Playboy interview is worthwhile if only to get a glimpse of the humor exhibited by the former Vice-President when he claims

I came to town in 1968, and I have never seen people I have known in some cases for a quarter of a century—foreign leaders, especially in the Middle East—who are so terribly frustrated, angry, frightened. “Whatever happened to the United States?” There’s a conviction they can’t count on us, that our word doesn’t mean anything.

So says the man who asserted Sadaam Hussein has "reconstituted nuclear weapons;" that, though we knew otherwise, 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met with an Iraqi spy in Prague; and that American forces "will be greeted as liberators" by Iraqis.

On a positive note, Dick Cheney has remained consistent, weaving the same old fabrications into a narrative that long ago was proven false.






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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Uncommon RedState Wisdom






The major problem faithfully conservative Leon H. Wolf of Red State sees with the Republican Party is that it too often makes common cause with Democrats. However, he knows his crime and punishment. On Sunday, he slammed "a particularly stupid bill that is being pushed by Texas State Rep. Jason Villalba which would, in essence, make it illegal for any person (other than media) to film cops while they are performing their duties from a distance of less than 25 feet (or 100 feet if you are legally carrying a concealed weapon, for some reason."

On Monday Wolf- who claims to have read all 102 pages of the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson (MO.) Police Department- wrote

The reflexive defense of the FPD by conservatives tends to come from two sources: the first is the belief among many conservatives that Officer Darren Wilson was telling the truth and that the witnesses and friends of Michael Brown were lying – and thus by extension, the DOJ is perceived to be taking the “Michael Brown side” and therefore is not credible. However, this particular source of distrust makes no sense as the DOJ likewise did not charge Officer Wilson in connection with the Michael Brown shooting. Thus, insofar as the credibility of a person is judged by whether they believe the spurious “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative, the DOJ comes down on the side of conservatives.

The second is the belief that the FPD was unfairly targeted by the DOJ as retribution for the fact that Officer Wilson was not indicted by the local authorities. Many conservatives I have spoken to are of the opinion that the FPD is no worse than any other police department and that they oppose the FPD being targeted simply because of the Michael Brown incident. I suppose this is probably true, but what I don’t understand is why that is seen as a feature, not a bug.

Wolf is "singularly unimpressed" by conservatives who reflexively distrust the investigation conducted by the DOJ because the department is headed by Eric Holder.  He also recognizes that, as the report indicates, blacks are disproportionately disadvantaged by practices of the Ferguson Police Department. But he seems also to realize that  most of the problems are not generated by racism or due to race per se, as when he acknowledges

One of the more infuriating sections of the report proves – again, through documentary evidence collected from the FPD – that the FPD and Municipal Court employees and clerks regularly and systematically intervene in the judicial process to have tickets and citations for their friends dismissed. Because the Ferguson PD is almost entirely white, and the Municipal Court employees are 100% white, this means as a matter of practicality that most of their friends are probably white, and this is seen in the fact that if you are white and live in Ferguson, you have over a 30% chance of getting a ticket “dismissed” through knowing somebody whereas if you are black your chances are virtually zero.

The problems go far beyond the issue of race, which is among the reasons few lessons from the investigation will be sufficiently learned. Wolf explains

If you read nothing else in the report, flip to page nine, roman numeral 3, and read that section. The results of this tremendous top-down pressure are astounding. Between the years of 2010 and 2014, revenues from fines and fees assessed by the Ferguson PD almost tripled, from $1.38M to over $3.0M. As a consequence, the portion of the city’s budget that was comprised by revenue from these fines increased from about 10% to about 25%. Each year the city has budgeted for these increases and clearly ordered the FPD to get them at any cost.

In this respect, at least, Ferguson is illustrated to be much worse than surrounding municipalities. Fines for trivial offenses like having tall grass at your home are much, much worse than surrounding localities...

Ferguson has no system in place to determine ability-to-pay with respect to municipal fines and offers no community service alternative for those who are unable to pay. As a result, the Ferguson municipal court and police system operates functionally as a debtor’s prison. Inability to pay fines, or missing a single payment on a payment plan, results in the immediate issuance of an arrest warrant – the crippling effects of which are seen in the sheer volume of these warrants that are issued. 

Recognition of fines and penalties as a system of revenue enhancement is not the only structural problem Wolf picks up in the DOJ report. which, he finds

describes the misuse and abuse of several municipal code sections that are blatantly facially overbroad under the constitution and serve no purpose other than to allow cops to arrest and fine the citizens of Ferguson for offenses that can only be described as “contempt of cop” violations. The DOJ brief is replete with instances of dozens of citations and arrests for violations of the City’s “Failure to Obey,” “Failure to Comply,” “Manner of Walking,” and “Resisting Arrest,” where, even according to the charging document, the charged conduct can only be described as making a police officer irritated. Numerous instances were recounted where citizens were arrested for “Failure to Obey” or “Failure to Comply” where the described order was facially illegal or in excess of legitimate police authority.

Thus it is that such problems, Wolf notes, "have their root in the first matter highlighted above- that many municipal police departments face increasing and unrelenting pressure from city hall to fill increasingly wide gaps in revenue with money from fines and citations."  Unfortunately, as a conservative he will not acknowledge that this emanates originally from this nation's tax phobia, a reality liberals, prone to attribute most things nefarious to race, are nearly as blind to.

Budget-based ordinances will not be re-examined in many municipalities, nor contempt of cop curtailed in many jurisdictions in a nation in which law enforcement personnel are increasingly put on a pedestal (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP photo).   Cory Booker, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and other politicians elevating their profile by addressing the penal system will look elsewhere and leave sacred cows unscathed.










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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Boardroom Liberalism At Work





In January's State of the Union address, it was "To give working families a fair shot, we still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest.  We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice."    

In his interview with Vox later that month, it was "In some ways we're now back to the position where we can focus on what is this longer-term trend, and that is a larger and larger share of wealth and income going to the very top, and the middle class or folks trying to get into the middle class feeling increasingly squeezed because their wages have stagnated. "

This month, it was criticizing Wisconsin Scott Walker by remarking "it’s inexcusable that, over the past several years, just when middle-class families and workers need that kind of security the most, there’s been a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government."

There is a once-popular acronym for this: ATNA.; all talk and no action. As the President pursues fast-track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Politico reports

 “It’s the difference between what we say and what we actually do,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. “Our problem with the president is, we agree with his agenda, but [trade] is not his agenda. This is the part that will get enacted.”

As another labor official put it: “He’s our best friend when it doesn’t matter.”

That brings to mind the old jingle from a bad beer: "when you say Budweiser, you've said it all." And when you say President Obama, that other labor official said it all.

It's virtually impossible to determine exactly what is in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact the USA is negotiating in secret with Canada, Australia, Japan, and eight other countries in the Pacific rim.. But in its analysis, Public Citizen explained

There is simply no reason for foreign investors to pursue claims against a nation outside of that nation’s judicial system, unless it is in an attempt to obtain greater rights than those provided under national law. Moreover, many of the TPP partners have strong domestic legal systems. For example, TPP partners New Zealand, Australia and Singapore are all ranked by the World Bank as performing at least as well as the United States with regard to control of corruption and adherence to rule of law. Yet in a manner that would enrage right and left alike, the private “investor-state” enforcement system included in the leaked TPP text would empower foreign investors and corporations to skirt domestic courts and laws and sue governments in foreign tribunals. There, they can demand cash compensation from domestic treasuries over domestic policies that they claim undermine their new investor rights and expected future profits. This establishes an alarming two-track system of justice that privileges foreign corporations in myriad ways relative to governments or domestic businesses. It also exposes signatory countries to vast liabilities, as foreign firms use foreign tribunals to raid public treasuries.

This would take place under the pact's Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, which the Alliance for Justice finds would

allow foreign corporations to bring challenges to government actions they allege threaten their investments not in that nation’s courts, but before a panel of private arbitrators – many of whom, as the letter points out, “rotate between being arbitrators and bringing cases for corporations against governments.”  The proceedings often lack an appeals process.  ISDS has been used by companies challenging health, safety, environmental, and labor laws around the world.

But it should come as no surprise that such a deal- which includes patent protections likely to jack up the cost of prescription medication (photo below by Graham Turner for The Guardian)- sends little starbursts throughout Barack Obama's body. While describing last autumn the powerful role of Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett in the Administration, The New Republic's Noam Scheiber noted Obama's legacies

emanate from the worldview that Jarrett and Obama share—call it “boardroom liberalism.” It’s a worldview that’s steeped in social progressivism, in the values of tolerance and diversity. It takes as a given that government has a role to play in building infrastructure, regulating business, training workers, smoothing out the boom-bust cycles of the economy, providing for the poor and disadvantaged. But it is a view from on high—one that presumes a dominant role for large institutions like corporations and a wisdom on the part of elites. It believes that the world works best when these elites use their power magnanimously, not when they’re forced to share it. The picture of the boardroom liberal is a corporate CEO handing a refrigerator-sized check to the head of a charity at a celebrity golf tournament. All the better if they’re surrounded by minority children and struggling moms.

Notwithstanding his early career as a community organizer, Obama, like Jarrett, is fundamentally a man of the inside. It’s why he put a former Citigroup executive and Robert Rubin chief of staff named Michael Froman in charge of assembling his economic team in 2008, why he avoided a deep restructuring of Wall Street, why he abruptly junked the public option during the health care debate, why he so ruthlessly pursues leakers and the journalists who cultivate them. It explains why so many of his policy ideas—from jobs for the long-term unemployed to mentoring minority youth—rely on the largesse of corporations.

It is a view not only from on high, but completely inadequate to the challenges of a time when worker compensation lags as corporate compensation soars, unions decline while employee benefits are slashed, and consumer protections are undermined.  And if the view has its apex in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the neo-liberal and conservative dream of a servant society will be far closer to reality.





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If You Want A Theocracy, Don't Complain About Being Asked About It






Wikipedia informs us that The Daily Telegraph of London in 2010 ranked Erick Erickson as the 65th "most influential" USA conservative. That ranking is quite conservative, and probably he has moved up in the past 4-5 years.

As the proprietor of Red State, Erikson has become to conservative blogging what George Washington was to generals and Abe Lincoln to presidents.  What he says (as a radio talk show host) and writes is important.

Asked in February whether Barack Obama is a Christian, Repub presidential hopeful Scott Walker stated "I don’t know.  I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that, I’ve never asked him that.”

Republicans rushed to defend Walker's response, a slightly odd reaction given that the governor's spokesperson later that day contradicted Walker by stating "of course the Governor believes the President is a Christian."  Erickson responded to the controversy by penning (or rather, typing) a post entitled "All the President's Boot Lickers Still Pretend Obama is a Christian."   (Thoughtfulness is not well received in the conservative blogosphere. Erickson maintained

This is not just why Americans increasingly hate the media, it is also why Republican Presidential candidates should kick them, rhetorically, in the nuts at every opportunity. When some Presidential boot licker asks a Presidential candidate if he believes Barack Obama is a Christian, he should ask the boot licker why it is relevant to anything. After all, the constitution says there can be no religious test for office.

The most amazing thing about the bootlickers is that they think this stuff matters. 

Obviously, the inability or unwillingness of a presidential contender to acknowledge that this President is a Christian, when the latter has stated that he is and no president has claimed otherwise about himself, demonstrates that "this stuff matters," at least within the modern Republican Party.

There is another reason "this stuff matters." It matters because it's clearly important to the GOP popular base, or at least nearly all Repub pols believe it does.   Bill Moyers noted following the GOP's 2012 convention that the

party’s platform contains 10 references to God, 19 references to faith and the first reference to a “war on religion.” Citing what it calls the Obama administration’s “attempt to compel faith-related institutions, as well as believing individuals, to contravene their deeply held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding health services, traditional marriage, or abortion,” the platform accuses “liberal elites” of trying to “drive religious beliefs — and religious believers — out of the public square.”

It matters because of the perception of the American people.  In a country which Republicans claim was founded on "Judeo-Christian principles," in the autumn of 2014, respondents to a survey conducted by Alex Theodoridis were reluctant to concede the President is "Christian" or at least "spiritual."  Thirty-eight percent of Democrats chose "Muslim," "I don't know," or "atheist" rather than Christian or spiritual.  The corresponding figure for Independents was 75% and for Erickson's Party of Tolerance, 88%.





It turns out that Erickson is one of the 88%.  He argued

the Circle of Jerks who make up the political press.should be focusing on all the important stories they lament are being ignored, but instead they have to ask Republicans whether they believe in evolution and whether they believe President Obama is a Christian. He’s not, by the way.

Thoughtful, again.  Erickson did not offer up reasons to conclude Barack Obama is not a Christian though, to be sure, he would have no way of knowing, given that he believes "the political press should be focusing on all the important issues" rather than religion. Except that he believes Democrats should be about their religious views. Erickson never has claimed to be non-partisan.

The question posed to Walker  is not the "gotcha" question  Erickson believed it was.  The governor's answer should have been "of course I believe the President is a Christian" which, it turns out, was the statement his spokesperson, who is reportedly not running for president, knew to make.

It would work with all manner of public figures.  In 2013, Pope Francis was asked to reply to a series of questions posed by Dr. Eugenio Scalfari, described in this site as "an atheist commentator." His response was published in an Italian newspaper and included

First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.

Given that—and this is fundamental—God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. 

In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. 

The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.

Dr. Scalfari had reason to be pleased. Nonetheless, if asked if His Holiness believes that someone must believe in God in order to be saved or to receive God's forgiveness, a politician can simply and diplomatically state "of course he does," even though it is contrary to what the Pope stated. Such a response would invite no criticism or controversy, in part because it often is difficult to determine what a public (secular or sacred) official really believes. Walker does not have to think the President of the United States of America is a Christian in order to deflect a simple question.

Still, the governor did not himself know how to handle the question responsibly, nor did the nation's pre-eminent conservative blogger- however exorcised- know how to explain why a member of the United Church of Christ, heir to a reformed Christian tradition, is not a Christian.

And if I had five dollars for every pundit who has claimed, as did Erickson, "this is.... why Americans increasingly hate the media," I'd be wealthy enough to be a Republican. Well, no, I wouldn't.




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