Thursday, April 30, 2015

Put Up Or... Be A U.S. Senator





Charlies Peters, in a post which devastates critics of Senator Elizabeth Warren, writes

Within the Republican centers of power, "Criminal justice reform" does not exist as an actual issue. It exists as dumbshow in an attempt to convince minority voters that the Republican party is on their side. If the Republican party really were interested in actually reforming the criminal justice system in this country, it would have gotten behind then-Senator Jim Webb's attempt to do that during his one term in the Senate. Instead, it filibustered even the possibility of a commission to study the problem. When either the REDEEM Act or the Smarter Sentencing Act come to a vote, then I'll take the point.

Warren, Peters notes, would strongly support these reform measures, but that given the perspective on Wall Street of Booker (whom he says may be a "Wall Street sublet") and his GOP allies, it is slightly ridiculous to suggest the New Jersey senator is more of, or more effective as, a progressive than the Massachusetts senator.

"When either the REDEEM Act or the Smarter Sentencing Act come to a vote, then I'll take the point," Peters vows. However, it is not beyond the realm of possibility than one or the other will, given that neither is particularly confronts entrenched interests and it would be difficult for conservatives to gin up opposition to two fairly innocuous pieces of legislation.

I will take the point when either of two other possible reform measures comes to a vote. A press release from Utah Senator Mike Lee maintains "The Smarter Sentencing Act is a commonsense solution which will "give judges the flexibility and discretion they need to impose stiff sentences on the most serious drug lords and cartel bosses, while enabling nonviolent offenders to return more quickly to their families and communities."

Simpler, though, would be legalizing the possession of marijuana not clearly intended for distribution or, failing that, reclassifying the drug from the category of Schedule 1, where it sits with the likes of heroin and LSD,  which thus are "considered the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence."  While (or because) sensible, either move would provoke the ire of the right, which would be uncomfortable to Senator Lee (of Utah) or to GOP presidential aspirant Rand Paul or to Ted Cruz (declared GOP candidate), co-sponsors with Democratic Senators Durbin, Leahy, and Booker of the Smart Sentencing Act. Must not allow that to happen.

If real law enforcement or criminal justice reform is to take place, eggs must be cracked, not unlike in making an omelet.  Police culture is one place to start and might include considering, as the Philadelphia Inquirer's Craig McCoy reports,

In Philadelphia, police call it a "nickel ride."

In Chicago, police call it a "joyride."

In Baltimore, investigators are exploring whether Freddie Gray may have been fatally injured - his spine nearly severed - when he was subjected to what police there call a "rough ride."

Whatever the name, the practice of throwing prisoners into the back of police wagons, 

unbelted, and then subjecting them to high-speed stops and starts is an aptly named form of street justice that has been secretly administered for many years in many cities.

For rogue police, it is a way to injure suspects - literally without laying a hand on them - and with a guarantee that there are no witnesses.

"Nickel rides seem to be a fairly common practice throughout the country, especially in major cities," Philadelphia lawyer Thomas Gibbons said.

Gibbons represented a stonemason whose neck was broken after Philadelphia police put him in the back of a police wagon - unbelted. The city paid $490,000 last year to settle the man's lawsuit.

After The Inquirer published a story focusing on his experience and those of three others who alleged the same abuse, the Philadelphia Police Department last year launched a review of how it transports prisoners.

That report is due imminently. Yet, whatever the outcome in Philadelphia, it appears this sort of thing does go on in many jurisdictions.

But the federal government can take major strides to end it.  Washington subsidizes law enforcement in many cities and states with Homeland Security grants, Justice Department grants, and the military surplus program.   If the bipartisan gang reportedly gung-ho on reform wants to start somewhere, it can sponsor legislation prohibiting any money to be sent from the federal government to any city- or to any state which includes such a city- which cannot accurately certify that its law enforcement authorities avoids such tactics.

There would be an additional, more subtle, benefit to drawing attention to this tactic.  Realization would grow that blacks suffer disproportionately when police get out of hand. Yet, as illustrated by the photo below of a man who was awarded $490,000 because his neck was broken during transport by police, whites are not immune. Such clarity has been long been lacking.









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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Skirting Responsibility





"What do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?"

In the days before hypersensitivity ruled the land, that was the punch line of this, and analogous, jokes. (I'm waiting for the day when our exquisite sensitivity is matched by careful consideration of the instances in which sensitivity is warranted, and not.)  In most analyses, neither the joke nor the term "kemosabe" is racist, but the line has gone by the wayside despite being applicable to many situations.

And so it was that President Obama responded to the riot(s) in Baltimore with a statement (prompted by a question) that was fair and balanced.  The violent protest, he noted, "is not a statement. It’s people -- a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals." Still, he cautioned,  there are "thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way." Further,

if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; they’ve got parents -- often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves -- can't do right by their kids; if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.

The President omitted at least two causes.  Parents often can't do right by their kids because, with insufficient sex education and access to reproductive services (and other factors), there simply may be too many youngsters in the family for adequate child rearing.  Nor did the President mention a lack of jobs or of jobs which pay adequately. That may seem a petty complaint until one hears Obama say

Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we're going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training, and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities trying to attract new businesses in.

Positive change, as the President realizes, is unlikely, though a President who has given greater priority to deficit reduction than to ameliorating social ills has exacerbated the problem. Moreover, in citing school "reform" and "job" training, Obama threatens to make the situation far worse..

Through Obama's presidency, he has pushed charter schools, attractive to the private interests which make a killing off them, but less attractive to the public school system, itself in danger of being killed off by this destructive "reform."  And training for jobs which don't exist is not merely an inefficient lack of resources, but gives false hope to many individuals which, combined with other problems in the ghetto (yes, ghettos still exist; we simply are not allowed to acknowledge them anymore), is no prescription for peace and calm in the streets.

Instead, President Obama aggressively pushes the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But the TPP, the Economic Policy Institute finds, will reduce employment and wages as it "cause(s) substantial reshuffling of domestic production away from labor-intensive import-competing sectors" which "will clearly inflict damage on large groups (probably the majority) of American workers."















The Tonto of the "kemosabe" joke would have understood how the President went off the rails when he added

But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant -- and that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. 

One of the classic dodges is "society" or "our society" and in this case it is unclear to whom or what the President is referring. When he charges that "we (don't) really want to solve the problem," Obama is obligated to tell us who "we" is, to call out the culprit.   He is the President responsible for a massive bureaucracy and for setting the tone of American government. Of Congress, he merely says he is "under no illusion we're going to get massive investments in our communities."   Choosing not to specify "Republicans" or "conservatives" or "members of Congress from rural districts," Obama is pandering to the media and to those Americans who choose to write off the entire political establishment, to conclude "they're all the same."

Perhaps President Obama is saying every American bears that responsibility. That would be poppycock, but at least demonstrate some intestinal fortitude. Were he have done that, we could debate whether the responsibility does in fact lie with: your one friend who has lost his job and cannot find another because he has reached the ancient age of 40+; your cousin who cannot support her family on her minimum wage income at McDonalds; or your neighbors whose house is in foreclosure because of some NINJA loan a 'too big to fail' bank suckered them into.

Presumably, Barack Obama does believe each of us should be as accountable for the country's plight as his cabinet, the Speaker of the House, bank executives, or himself.  In one strange sense he would be right: your friend, relative, and neighbor have done about as much as he has to tackle the problems displayed in Baltimore.




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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ted Cruz Has Finally Gone Too Far






Who says Republicans don't have a conscience?

Gay hotelier  Ian Reisner, who with Matt Weiderpass hosted a dinner party in New York City, NY last week, for Ted Cruz, wants you to know he's sorry.  He has written on his Facebook page

I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days. I made a terrible mistake. I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand al of his postiions on gay rigths. I've spent the past 2 hours reviewing videos of Cruz' statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and agrey. I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of  our friends, family, allies, customers, and employees. I will try my best to make up for my poor judgement. 
Again, I am deeply sorry.

You bet he and Weiderpass (who later issued a weaker apology) are sorry, given that a boycott has arisen on Facebook.  Evidently, neither Reiser nor Weiderpass is familiar with the Internet, which would have informed them that the Texas Republican, ten other GOP Senators and one GOP Representative, in February re-introduced the State Marriage Defense Act. That would allow each state to determine for itself whether to prohibit same-sex marriage and require the federal government to defer to state law to determine whether a couple is married under federal law.

Leaving the matter up to the states- as if the Civil War had never occurred or had been won by the Confederacy- has become the fallback position for politicians opposing same-sex marriage. Additionally, as the Dallas News reported, while campaigning in Iowa on April Fools' Day Cruz

reiterated his vow to press for a constitutional amendment that would clarify the power of state legislatures to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. If the high court does legalize gay marriage nationwide, he added, he would prod Congress to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over the issue, a rarely invoked legislative tool.

So Reisner is "shocked and angry" now that he has learned of Ted Cruz's views on marriage. However, he and Weiderpass apparently are not shocked and angry that Cruz, who has forgotten President Reagan sent arms to Iran in violation of the Boland Amendment, once claimed "This president of the United States is the first president we've ever had who thinks he can choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore."

Even now, neither guy is concerned that Cruz has charged "global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers," or opposes a woman's right to choose (unless her life is at stake), or has advocated a flat tax because the bottom 90% having only as much wealth as the top .1% (graph below from Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman) is inadequate.

Standing up for the inalienable right to own assault weapons or threatening to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act or was just fine with Republicans Reisner and Weiderpass. The Texas senator was inspiring until they found out that he doesn't believe individuals like themselves should have the right to marry each other- or, rather, that their support would cut into their bottom line.

Their candidate has been fairly hostile toward women in terrible crisis, the poor and middle class, the uninsured, victims of gun violence, and the planet itself.   Finally, they have noticed that he doesn't much care for people like themselves, either.  Time to act.

A couple of great guys.







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Monday, April 27, 2015

An Uneasy Alliance Likely To Become More Uneasy





Say it ain't so, Joe (video below from the original, by Murray Head; beneath that, by Roger Daltrey because... because Roger Daltrey).   Or, rather, say it ain't so, Anthony.













Think Progress' Ian Millhiser reminds us

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four cases consolidated under the name Obergefell v. Hodges. By the end of June, the Court is widely expected to hand down a decision declaring that anti-gay marriage discrimination violates the Constitution. Indeed, this outcome is so widely expected that one of the Court’s conservatives, Justice Clarence Thomas, complained in February that his colleagues are signaling that marriage equality is coming.

Probably- but that depends on Chief Justice Roberts' Supreme Court actually taking a stand. Kimberly Strassel suggested a different scenario on Sunday's Face The Nation when she speculated

So I think one of the interesting things here is how is the court going to rule. They're going to want very much for it to be a state's right. It's a question that I don't think by the way that that is still out of the realm of possibility. People are talking about Anthony Kennedy being the final deciding vote on this. And he has been very sympathetic to gay marriage in past decisions. But he's also a big fan of states' rights. And there are two questions that the court is looking at. One is, is there a constitutional right to this? But the second one is is there the 14th Amendment, does it require states to recognize gay marriages from out of states? And there is a scenario you could see in which they ruled no on the first question, and yes in the second.

Strassel is a Wall Street Journal columnist so solace may be taken in her usually being wrong. But it's not inconceivable that the Court will rule that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage but that if the voters (or its proxy, the legislature) of your state decide there will be no same-sex marriage, they still will have to recognize the marriage of two women or of two men who move to your state. They thus would be entitled to a right (or privilege, as the Court would have inferred) that life-long residents of your state would not be entitled to.

That would not only be grossly unfair but would make the current chaos of differing state laws look like a model of clarity and stability.   But it's possible because a decision along those lines would have Justice Kennedy's fingerprints all over it and, Millhiser notes

As any law student who has struggled through Kennedy’s gay rights opinions can tell you, they are not models of clarity. They ooze with flowery language and passages that seem at odds with other parts of the same opinion. And they lack coherence with decades of Supreme Court precedent. Kennedy’s opinions do not so much revise legal doctrine as they skip through the wilderness of constitutional law, blithely ignoring the paths laid by more thoughtful travelers.

But if Justice Thomas months is prescient, we will see what the modern Repub Party is all about.

In an enlightening discussion on a recent episode of All In, Chris Hayes states that the Republicans' "bacon will be saved" assuming such a ruling. Robert Costa, however, notes

There are two theories out there when I speak to top Republican strategists. One, is this Supreme Court decision going to be a grenade, ignite the Republican primary and set off a cultural war- competition to go further to the right- or is it battled, people are opposed to it and move on.

Seemingly, Bobby Jindal does not want to move on. At the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Summit Saturday, the National Review reports, he exclaimed

Here’s my message for Hollywood and the media elite. The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America... 

“We saw corporate America team up with the radical left to come after our religious liberty rights,” he said, referring to Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s fight against gay rights groups after he signed a religious freedom law last month. “They might as well save their breath, because corporate America is not gonna bully the governor of Louisiana!”

Governor Jindal may back off his controversial charge, for it is the elephant in the room, the 800 pound gorilla. The donor base of the GOP for decades merely has put up with the popular base, needing the latter's votes to put corporate-friendly politicians into office.  Whenever the people began questioning the guys with deep pockets, the latter could always "abortion!" and the cultural warriors would be satisfied for awhile.

Costa pointed out "the donor base feels great" about the likelihood of  a gay-favorable vote in the Court, a sentiment most conservative voters recognize but are reluctant to acknowledge publicly, sometimes even privately.  It isn't easy to come to grips with the realization that you've been duped all along- or at least your electoral allies don't have the same values you do.

Jindal's notion would be cataclysmic if it gets out. Consequently, it will be largely ignored. But even if it is, a Supreme Court ruling wiping out laws prohibiting same-sex marriage might (notwithstanding Hayes' prediction) set off a battle within the Republican Party. And if it doesn't, and the presidential candidates and congressional leaders "move on," we'll finally have definitive proof that Big Money controls the GOP lock, stock, and barrel





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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Because "Quality Of Life" Is So Precise





Senator Cory Booker, with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul the leading congressional advocates of prison reform, writes

we have emerged as the global leader in a race that no nation would want to even be a contender in. While our country is home to only 5% of the world's total population, we are home to 25% of the world's prison population. And nearly three fourths of this population is comprised of nonviolent offenders.

Most of the prisoners, Booker maintains, are "nonviolent" and he observes

Americans of color are disproportionately burdened by the failures of our justice system. There are more black men in prison or under state or federal supervision today than there were enslaved in 1850. And while African Americans make up only 13.6% of the total U.S. population, they make up a whopping 40.2% of the U.S. prison population.

Booker used the term "nonviolent offenders," although whether that means they are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses or instead nonviolent individuals is unclear.In either case, the New Jersey senator, whose suggestions for improvement of the criminal justice system are arguable, need look no further than his own state for procedures to reform.

Two years ago, the police department of one of New Jersey's largest cities- and its most crime-ridden and poor- was disbanded and replaced by the Camden County Police Department Metro Division. Old contracts, with their pesky pension pension and salary requirements, were eliminated, with some of the City officers  rehired for the new, county-run, department afforded far greater resources than the old. (Although costs were cited as the main factor in the changeover, it did not escape the attention of everyone that the boss of Camden County, Democrat George Norcross, is the second most powerful figure in New Jersey politics, eclipsed only by Republican governor Chris Christie, with whom he has had a cozy relationship.)

There are far more officers and civilians assigned to the new Department than to the previous and crime has declined, even more than nationally (in which it is still high common compared to other countries, pie chart below.)  But as Senator Booker may be vaguely aware and Michael Boren of the Philadelphia Inquirer now has reported

since that shift in May 2013, the number of excessive-force complaints has nearly doubled, from 35 after the takeover that year to 65 in 2014 — the most in the state. Even the combined total of Newark and Jersey City — the state’s largest cities, which have hundreds more officers — was below Camden’s.

Interviews with those who filed the complaints and others reveal a pattern of stops, often for minor offenses, that rapidly escalate. Some individuals stopped have ended up in the hospital.

An analysis of four incidents for which The Inquirer interviewed those detained and reviewed hospital and police reports reveals a pattern in which stops usually made for minor infractions rapidly escalate. Three of the four individuals involved either filed complaints of excessive force or initiated related claims.

At least a dozen other individuals also have filed suits or tort claims against the county, alleging that its officers used excessive force or arrested them without just cause.

In such cases, the county Prosecutor's Office investigates to determine whether a crime seems to have been committed and if (when) it finds it likely has not, the PD itself determines whether departmental rules have been broken. However, in something of a parallel to the blue wall of silence, the procedure appears to have a flaw or two:

Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson says excessive-force complaints account for a tiny fraction — fewer than 1 percent — of the thousands of arrests each year. The American Civil Liberties Union is struck by another statistic: zero. That’s how many excessive-force complaints authorities in Camden have upheld against officers in recent years.

The Justice Department is not investigating the department but the ACLU, which will be requesting data on police stops in Camden the past two years, will find

While the new force has won plaudits from residents for tamping down serious crime, some are irked by stops for petty offenses such as loitering and riding a bicycle without a bell. The number of tickets written for such offenses has risen to its highest level in years.

Authorities defend such aggressive policing, for the Inquirer notes "police say their 'quality of life' stops help net serious criminals."

That sounds like the highly questionable "broken windows" approach, in play when Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was stopped by a police officer for walking in the middle of the street and was shot dead in the altercation which ensued.   Going largely unnoticed are less dramatic incidents, such as when the left foot of Shalla Ballance's son

was disfigured when a Camden police cruiser ran over it as he ran from the pursuing car in April 2014. Doctors at Cooper called the injury “foot degloving,” because so much skin was ripped off. Police said the car hit him after he slipped.

Saadiq Ballance, then 16, needed surgery. He was charged with resisting arrest and loitering to commit a drug offense, the latter of which his mother said was dropped.

Saadiq Ballance said that police came up as he played cards outside with friends at night and that he ran because he heard screeching tires from a car he could not see and feared someone was about to be shot.

Yet when his mother took the case to a lawyer, she said he told her: “You most likely won’t win.”

“For him to feel it was a losing battle,” Shaila Ballance said, “it just kind of discouraged me.”

It's easy to be discouraged by disfigurement when resisting arrest for an offense later dropped.  But it should draw attention to one of the greatest outrages of the criminal justice system, prodigious arrests for misdemeanor offenses.   Three years ago, law professor Alexandra Natapoff explained

Especially for large classes of urban policing offenses, such as loitering, trespassing, and disorderly conduct, convictions can easily occur without any evidence that the defendant actually committed a crime. To understand why, we need to go back to the beginning of the misdemeanor process: the initial arrest. Arrests require probable cause; there must be enough evidence to make it likely that the defendant actually “did it.” But police routinely arrest urban residents—particularly young black men—for other reasons, like clearing a street corner or establishing a police presence in a high-crime neighborhood.

For example, as former Baltimore cop and now-sociology professor Peter Moskos describes in his book Cop in the Hood, Baltimore police warn people to move on and arrest them for loitering when they don’t. The problem is that the crime of loitering is defined as “interfering, impeding, or hindering the free passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic after receiving a warning.” A person who merely fails to move when ordered to move by a police officer is not actually guilty, but thousands of arrests occur in Baltimore on this basis every year. The same is reportedly true in New York.

Once police arrest someone, it is up to prosecutors to decide whether or not to charge the person with a crime. The system depends heavily on prosecutors to decline cases that lack evidence. But prosecutors often fail to screen misdemeanors precisely because they are seen as insignificant, and instead charge all petty arrestees on whatever basis the police arrested them. Studies in Iowa, New York, and North Carolina reveal that prosecutors declined only 3 or 4 percent of petty offenses. In jurisdictions like these, 96 percent of arrests convert automatically into criminal charges.

Once charged, misdemeanor suspects have little choice but to plead guilty. As the NACDL study revealed, many of these suspects will not get lawyers, and courts rush cases through in order to clear crowded dockets. Jailed defendants may plead just to go home. As a result, a person arrested for a so-called urban disorder offense is likely to get charged with it and to plead guilty to it, even if there was no real evidence in the first place.

This dynamic represents a breakdown in basic principles of justice. First, arrests are permitted to convert directly into criminal convictions without scrutiny of the facts by prosecutors or defense attorneys. Police are not supposed to decide who gets convicted. That’s what trials and plea bargaining are for. Moreover, where arrests themselves are generated not by evidence of crime but by other law enforcement tactics like order maintenance and street sweeps, the resulting convictions lack an evidentiary basis. That’s a fancy way of saying that defendants are innocent.

Police are not supposed to decide who gets convicted.  Much of the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system depends upon the discretion of police officers. Once arrested for a disorderly persons offense, the accused will, as Natapoff describes, virtually always be found guilty (whether or not he is guilty) which in the long term severely erodes police-community relations. If arrested for an indictable offense, the ham sandwich will be indicted, which usually results in a conviction, unless the defendant is sufficiently wealthy to afford a private attorney.

Corey Booker and Rand Paul, respectively a neo-liberal wunderkind and a right-wing libertarian, are chock full of ideas, of varying merit.  But until they deal with the grand jury system and police culture- which will require a great deal of courage- they are merely tinkering around the edges.






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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Now He Perks Up






Finally, President Obama has had enough- he's not going to take it anymore! This advocacy for the middle, and working, classes has to end. Therefore, in his typically low-key fashion, on Tuesday, President Obama claimed "I love Elizabeth. We're allies on a whole host of issues, but she's wrong on this... When you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong."

You'd hardly expect the cheerleader for the jobs-destroying Trans-Pacific Partnership to concede the Senator is "right on this."  Still, it was a little disconcerting when Barack on Thursday whined

The one that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a ‘secret’ deal. Every single one of the critics who I hear saying, ‘this is a secret deal,’ or send out emails to their fundraising base saying they’re working to prevent this secret deal, can walk over today and read the text of the agreement. There’s nothing secret about it.

If "the truth shall set you free," Barack stands chained in a 4' x 8' cell.  Too polite to call him a liar, Charlie Pierce comments

In fact, there's been a lot that's secret about it ever since the negotiations began. It was negotiated behind closed doors, and for reasons that benefited nobody except large corporations and the politicians, dictators, and provincial satraps who do their bidding. (The fact we know much of anything at all is because the good folks at WikiLeaks threw some of the treaty out into the world, which is hardly a proof that the TPP isn't a "secret" deal. WikiLeaks doesn't do a lot of work with stuff that's in the public domain.) 

On Friday, Barack added to his earlier remarks

Every single one of the critics saying this is a secret deal, or send out e-mails to their fundraising base that they're working to stop a secret deal, could walk over and see the text of the agreement. When I just keep on hearing people repeating this notion that it's secret -- I gotta say, it's dishonest. And it's a little concerning when I see friends of mine resorting to those sort of tactics.

Of course, it's not secret- not to the people who really count to Barack. Jim Hightower explains

Top executives, lawyers, and lobbyists of 500-some major corporations who serve on 16 Industry Trade Advisory Committees do have access to the secret texts and to the negotiators themselves. They get to review and amend official proposals, submit their own drafts, and generally look after their own very special interests.

Practicing his stand-up routine, Barack maintained "The notion that corporate America is going to be able to use this provision to eliminate our financial regulations and our food safety regulations and our consumer regulations -- that's just bunk, It's not true."

That would not be so funny had the Senate Finance Committee (which ended up approving the fast track bill) not voted on two measures, approving one and defeating the other). They were aimed at deterring currency manipulation and the Administration so concerned about financial regulations opposed both. At the White House Correspondence Dinners, the President kills with his jokes. When ostensibly serious, he's even better.

Finally, flush with a deal which is a veritable wish list for multi-national corporations, Barack turns into a tough guy, discovering his inner Incredible Hulk (below). An exasperated Sherrod Brown of Ohio, according to the Huffington Post, called it "maddening" and

told reporters that the Obama administration was putting on a full-court press unlike anything Democrats have ever seen in his presidency in order to win the authority to fast track enormous trade deals.

"I think if you could get my colleagues to be honest, on the Democratic side, with you -- and I think you can mostly -- they will say they've been talked to, approached, lobbied and maybe cajoled by more cabinet members on this issue than any issue since Barack Obama's been president," Brown said...

"I wish they put the same effort into minimum wage. I wish they put the same effort into Medicare at 55. I wish they put the same effort into some consumer strengthening on Dodd-Frank," Brown said.

Evidently, Barack would have, were he interested in truly universal health care or regulating the financial sector. Alas, we finally have found out who the real Barack Obama is, and it's not pretty.









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Friday, April 24, 2015

He Knows Which Side The Bread Is Buttered On. But He Doesn't Like Bread.





This donor primary," Digby observes

is likely to get a little bit frantic with all the candidates jockeying for the role of the Republican party’s leading man. Will it be the Wisconsin cheesecake Scott Walker, the Texas beefcake Ted Cruz or the spicy Cuban manwich Marco Rubio? And don’t forget the rest of the chorus line. There’s the B-Actor Jeb Bush who could turn in a credible, if not transcendent, performance, or the Wild Arkansas Preacher Mike Huckabee, along with a whole crew of character actors who could be in a position to step up if they are given the chance. It’s wide open. If nothing else the contest should be wildly entertaining for the rest of us.

Wildly entertaining it will be, and wide open among the three leading contenders. Scott Walker, as the candidate most energized by demonizing workers, and Marco Rubio (now making headway with Sheldon Adelson) are starting to round up the big donors. It will be no problem (and already has not been) for John Ellis Bush in part because, as Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins wrote two months ago

When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching equality for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay.

To an extent that would have been unthinkable in past elections, one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has stocked his inner circle with advisers who are vocal proponents of gay rights. And while the Bush camp says his platform will not be shaped by his lieutenants’ personal beliefs, many in the monied, moderate, corporate wing of the GOP — including pragmatic donors, secular politicos, and other members of the establishment — are cheering the early hires as a sign that Bush will position himself as the gay-friendly Republican in the 2016 field.

Bush obviously needs to walk the gay rights tightrope, with the nod and wink to wealthy gay donors while repeating the "religious conscience" mantra to the GOP popular base, hoping all along that the donor base recognizes his support for rights begins and ends with marriage- and might not include even that.

While Bush, Rubio, and Walker are fully committed to being the next President (though only the Florida senator thus far has announced), it is doubtful that all of the Repub aspirants are determined to obtain the Party's nomination, let alone win a general election.  Charlie Pierce is not the only pundit highly skeptical of Carly Fiorina, "a spectacularly failed business executive (and) a spectacularly failed senatorial candidate," who is set to declare on May 4.

And then there is the curious case of Mike Huckabee.  Ironically,  Salon's Simon Maloy singles out the former Arkansas governor as "at best" a "scam artist" and" at worst" "monster." To the contrary: Huckabee is at worst, even more extremist than most of the prospective GOP field; at best, more earnest than most, perhaps all, of the possible candidates.

"The biggest gap," Chris Hayes has noted, between the donor base and the GOP public "is on marriage equality." Rubio contends (video commentary, below) he would attend a gay wedding. and Bush maintains marriage should be "a local decision."  If the former governor isn't slippery enough, we have Walker (video beneath the other) admitting "I and our family have already had a family member who’s had a reception. I haven’t been at a wedding...for someone I love, we've been at a  reception."  Pierce responds "Is he only in it for the open bar and the bratwurst? Stay tuned."














Huckabee, though, will not be at the reception, for the open bar, the bratwurst, or for show. He contends  

If the courts rule that people have a civil right not only to be a homosexual but a civil right to have a homosexual marriage, then a homosexual couple coming to a pastor who believes in biblical marriage who says ‘I can’t perform that wedding’ will now be breaking the law. Let me make clear: It’s not just saying, ‘I’m sorry you have a preference.’ No, you will be breaking the law subject to civil, for sure, and possibly criminal penalties for violating the law, depending on how the law is written in communities, states and in the nation.

The man from Hope never has claimed to be a lawyer and never should attempt to be one. According to Politico's Nick Gass, he also "said that the government is telling chaplains that they cannot help people 'seek assistance' for a 'homosexual lifestyle' and to 'put their Bibles away, no longer pray in Jesus’ name.'" He has crossed into the point of no return.

Someone did not get the memo.   John Ellis Bush got it, opposing same-sex marriage while urging "respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments." Adopting the "gay and lesbian" and "lifetime commitments" lexicon no doubt reassured those donors Bush has been courting.

Scott Walker got it, threading the marriage equality needle by noting he might be asked to attend a marriage of "someone I love," love being a fairly uncontroversial concept. Even Ted Cruz played it safe, largely punting on the issue.

Gass writes that Huckabee told Politico "that opponents of gay marriage are 'pariahs”' among the 'ruling class' and donors. He also noted that 'supposedly conservative donors and conservative office holders are running away from the issue.'" Mike Huckabee knows the score- he just doesn't want to play the game.



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Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Game They Will Not Play




In January, the American Family Association issued a news release which- in the unlikely event it would be successful- would give opponents of same-sex marriage a fighting chance when the matter hits the High Court this summer. In part, it read (italics the organization's)




In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will hear the issue, American Family Association (AFA,www.afa.net) says Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg should recuse themselves from making any same-sex marriage decisions because they have both conducted same-sex marriage ceremonies.

“Both of these justices’ personal and private actions that actively endorse gay marriage clearly indicate how they would vote on same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “Congress has directed that federal judicial officers must disqualify themselves from hearing cases in specified circumstances. Both Kagan and Ginsburg have not only been partial to same-sex marriage but they have also proven themselves to be activists in favor of it. In order to ensure the Court’s integrity and impartiality, both should recuse themselves from same-sex marriage cases. Congress has an obligation to Americans to see that members of the Supreme Court are held to the highest standards of integrity. The law demands it, and the people deserve it"....

Kagan performed a September 21, 2014, same-sex marriage ceremony for her former law clerk and his partner in Maryland. And Ginsburg performed a same-sex marriage ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., in August 2013.

*********************************************************************************

Bill O'Reilly emphatically agrees. However, the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, as did the State of Maryland in November, 2012. It is not unprecedented for Supreme Court justices to perform wedding ceremonies and the ceremonies cited by the AFA were as legal as opposite-sex marriages. Ian Millhiser persuasively argues

If mere participation in a legal institution was grounds for recusal, then it would be difficult to find judges or justices who weren’t recused from many cases. The speed limit in the state of Colorado, for example, is 75 mph, while other states have lower speed limits. Yet, if a litigant were to challenge one of these lower speed limits in court, a judge would not be required to recuse themselves simply because they once drove on Colorado’s roads and took advantage of its higher speed limits.

It's not only that Kagan and Ginsburg have done nothing wrong.  From 1976 to 1979 Clarence Thomas was a lawyer for Monsanto Corporation and as an Associate Justice has taken substantial money- as gifts or speaking engagements- from organizations advocating the interests of agribusiness.  Yet (or maybe therefore) he still sat when the US Supreme Court decided Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms in 2010 and Bowman v. Monsanto Co. in 2013.

Moreover, shortly before the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, in June 2012 Elizabeth Flock of US News & World Report explained that Justice Thomas' wife Ginni

has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, and she has certainly made money off of that criticism. In 2009, she founded the Tea Party nonprofit lobbying group Liberty Central, which lobbied against the law. There, she made a salary of $120,000, according to the group's 2010 tax filing.

A startup donation to Liberty Central to the tune of $500,000 came from Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate investor, Republican donor, and friend of Justice Thomas, Politico reported in 2011. Crow declined to comment to the New York Times about whether he was the source of the money.

Ginni Thomas later stepped down as CEO and president of Liberty Central, but started Liberty Consulting in 2010, which also did anti-healthcare reform lobbying, according to the liberal site Mother Jones.

And in January 2011, it came to light that Justice Thomas had "inadvertently" left out information about his wife's employment over the last 13 years—where her earnings added up to as much as $1.6 million, the Huffington Post reported.

One of her former employers: the Heritage Foundation, where Ginni Thomas made hundreds of thousands of dollars between 2003 and 2007, according to a letter from Thomas to the Committee on Financial Disclosure. The foundation has also been a vocal opponent of the healthcare reform law.

That's (relatively) small potatoes, admittedly. Monsanto won both its cases overwhelmingly and the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA,  though it rejected its Medicaid provision. Of far more consequence, however, was Bush v. Gore (1st cartoon from slideshare.net, 2nd from Ann Telnaes), handed down a little over 14 years ago. Most famously, then- Chief Justice Rehnquist and Associate Justice O'Connor had stated their intention to step down if the Republican became President.

More significantly, however, Ginni Thomas- yes, she again- was at the time working at the Heritage Foundation drawing up a list of potential appointees in a Bush Administration. And Justice Scalia's son Eugene was employed at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, one of whose partners was Theodore Olson, lead attorney for the former Texas governor in the Supreme Court litigation.  and later Solicitor General in the Bush Administration. (Scalia's son John worked for the firm representing the ticket in the Florida courts.)

When it really counted- when the presidency of the United States and the integrity of the electoral process were at stake- Repub justices decided personal interests came before morality and ethics. Being Democrats, Kagan and Ginsburg probably would recuse themselves were there an actual conflict.  But there isn't, and they won't.













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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R





Poor Chris Christie.  Last week, he held several events in New Hampshire. This week, he already has "done lunch" with a St. Louis financier, a Repub donor and August Busch, the former chairperson of Anheuser-Busch, as well as addressing the 45th annual Conference on the Americas in Washington.

The guy who whines "my wife and I, who are not wealthy by current standards..." (because it's hard to get by on an adjusted gross income which falls just south of $600,000) still thinks he has a chance to have a chance to be the GOP presidential nominee.   But while he travels around the country to try to prove to GOP donors that he hates unions, workers, and the middle class more than does Scott Walker (formidable competition, there), New Jersey still is feeling the effects of having a singularly ineffective governor.   David Sirota (with charts from International Business Times/Hanna Sender), who should be famous for more than having known the late Murray Goldberg, writes

It was 2010, and Christie had just installed a longtime private equity executive, Robert Grady, to manage the state's pension money. Grady promoted a plan to put more of those funds into riskier investments managed by Wall Street firms. Though this would entail higher fees, Grady said the strategy would "maximize returns while appropriately managing risk."

Four years later, New Jersey has secured only half the promised results. The state has sent more pension money to big-name Wall Street firms like Blackstone, Third Point, Omega Advisors, Elliott Associates and Grady's old firm, The Carlyle Group. Additionally, the amount of fees the state pays financial managers has more than tripled since Christie assumed office. New Jersey is now one of America’s largest investors in hedge funds.

The “maximized returns” have yet to materialize.

Between fiscal year 2011 and 2014, the state’s pension trailed the median returns for similarly sized public pension systems throughout the country, according to data from the financial analysis firm, Wilshire Associates. That below-median performance has cost New Jersey taxpayers billions in unrealized gains and has left the pension system on shaky ground. Meanwhile, New Jersey is now paying a quarter-billion dollars in additional annual fees to Wall Street firms -- many of whose employees have financially supported Republican groups backing Christie’s reelection campaign.

This scheme was seen as dubious even when introduced. Sirota continues

Those who originally opposed the state's shifting of pension funds into hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, real estate and other “alternative investments” see the below-average returns as no accident but an inevitable byproduct of the strategy: The Christie administration has effectively taken money from retired state workers and delivered the cash to Wall Street money managers.

“All the leading players on the [New Jersey State Investment Council] were from the alternative universe and all of their decisions were driven by a political agenda and an investment ideology which had no relationship to facts on the ground. And the facts were that you simply couldn’t justify these investments on the basis of what they cost in fees to generate a dollar of new returns,” Jim Marketti, one of the few State Investment Council members to vote against the Christie administration’s transfer of pension money into alternative investments, told International Business Times. In 2011, Marketti warned the council that such investments would be “a roller coaster ride on which only the Wall Street professionals and insiders are the winners.”





Chris Christie knows where his bread is buttered. Anything but stupid, the governor knows how to leverage his influence. Sirota finds

As previously reported by IBTimes, campaign finance records show that employees and others affiliated with firms managing New Jersey pension money made $167,000 worth of donations to New Jersey Republicans since 2009. Employees of those firms have also donated more than $11 million to the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee. Christie is the chairman of the RGA and both organizations spent heavily to support his 2013 reelection campaign.

It's pretty slick, but evidently the governor is playing fast-and-loose with the law, given that

Despite federal and state pay-to-play rules restricting campaign contributions from employees of firms doing business with public pension funds, many of the donations were made around the time that pension investment contracts were awarded by Grady's State Investment Council. At least one of thosecontracts went to a venture capital firm after one of the firm’s partners made a $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey Republican Party. That sequence of transactions is now under investigation by New Jersey officials.





State workers (and women in need of preventive care) aren't the only people getting the shaft from Governor Christie. Now

NJ Transit wants to boost bus and rail fares by an average of 9 percent, starting Oct. 1, and eliminate some routes beginning in September, the agency said Monday.

The moves are designed to close a $60 million budget gap, the statewide transit agency said.

Fares were increased five years ago.  

 In 1988, Anthony Kennedy joined the Supreme Court; the St. Louis Cardinals became the Phoenix (now Arizona) Cardinals; the first night game was played in Wrigley Field; the awful ET was released to home video; Hussein won the Boston Marathon (look it up- April 18) Pan Am Flight 103 was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland; Michael Dukakis was tragically filmed in a tank. That was the year in which the gas tax was last raised in the state, which has the second lowest gas tax in the nation. As a result, transit riders have been called upon to repair New jersey's broken Transportation fund.  Thus

Since 2002, there have been four fare increases," said Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign senior New Jersey analyst. "Meanwhile, a key source of revenue to replenish the TTF, the gas tax, has not been increased in 27 years. NJ's transportation funding structure is unsustainable and broken. It needs a solution now."

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, criticized Gov. Chris Christie's administration about the TTF, relying on borrowing and a decline in support for NJT operating expenses from the general fund for NJT operating expenses.

It's essentially a shell game being run by Chris Christie- and the  results were predictable. A year ago, Mark Magyar of NJ Spotlight explained

Despite his promise to increase pay-as-you-go financing for the Transportation Trust Fund, Gov. Chris Christie has relied so heavily on debt for four years that the program will run out of borrowing capacity a year early, leaving the Christie administration without the funding it needs to pay for highway, bridge, and mass transit construction fifteen months from now.

Christie, who complained during his budget speech about the rising cost of debt payments, not only increased transportation debt by $1 billion more than expected during his first four budgets, but also borrowed money at above-market interest rates in order to generate an extra $250 million in up-front bond premium payments to replace New Jersey Turnpike toll money he used to balance his budget.

Really, calling this character a "bully" is too kind. Far from the truth-teller he still is portrayed as in some centrist and center-right circles, Christie has run his administration first to pander to the moneybags in the Repub Party, and secondarily to the anti-tax fervor in the base. Early on, he eliminated the millionaires' tax and has subsequently consistently cut services while giving handouts to corporations as fast at a dizzying pace.  The sooner John Ellis Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio finish him off as a presidential contender, the better off his constituents will be.







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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Whatever It Is, It's Not Courage





It was bad enough when Joe Scarborough on his "Morning Joe" on April 20  said " I wonder whether Chris Christie’s problems have put him in position where he has to go for broke and do what all the other candidates are not doing — and that is tell the truth about our fiscal house."  Recognizing the lack of substance of the governor's proposal,  Charles  Pierce five days earlier had noticed

The really hilarious part is that Christie is pitching his personal form of granny-starving as a boon to younger Americans, because what is a more obvious solution to the problem of unemployed American youth than to propose a policy that guarantees that American workers will stay on the job until they are nearly 70, and that only works if you assume that every human-resources department in the country will be raptured off to cost-cutting heaven and not notice the line of septuagenarians working on the factory floor? 

Following the display of ignorance by the program's host, Nicole Wallace (video below) made matters worse when she commented "I hate the term finding his voice, but he knows his voice and he knows his mind, He’s already helping the race by being the adult in the room. Entitlement reform is a huge issue. It’s not the sexiest issue. But New Hampshire voters can handle the straight talk.”  Pierce, five days earlier, had written

Bold! Again! There is something entirely sick about the desire among our political elites to make the lives of the poor and elderly worse so as to demonstrate how important and serious those elites are. There is a consensus here that exists some place outside the world in which most people live.








Hanging out with GOP presidential hopefuls at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire, Jim Newell reports

Another plank of Christie’s big plan is to reform Social Security disability benefits. There are too many working-age people out there falsely claiming disability and we need to get them back in the workforce. Grr! During his Q&A segment, a woman took issue with this part of the plan. She told him that she has a 24-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome and he can’t keep a job, so he really needs disability benefits. Christie assures her that her son’s case is legitimate and he has no intention of harming him

The woman, having secured a pledge from Christie to protect her son’s bennies, then asked Christie what he’s going to do about all the illegals immigrants coming to take our jobs. Near the end of his answer Christie acknowledged, in another one of his hard truths, that the 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country cannot be relied upon to all “self-deport.” (Poor Mitt Romney.) Was this the part where humanity’s truthiest truth-teller was going to go all-in for amnesty? Not quite. He merely suggested that leaders of both parties are going to have to come together to find a solution for that. The reason it hasn’t happened already, according to Christie, is that there’s been “no leadership from the White House.” You might think that pushing with its political might a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill would count as some kind of leadership on this issue, but apparently not. That’s just another hard truth from Chris Christie.

There is a difference between straight talk and pandering to Ken Langone, Pete Peterson, and investment bankers. There is, too, a difference between telling the truth and being unwilling to tell a mother with a disabled son that that he's targeting the young man's benefits. Some people call Chris Christie a bully. He should be thankful- that wins votes in a Repub primary. Cowardly is more like it.





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Monday, April 20, 2015

In A Short Line Of Heretics





Don't look for Mike Huckabee any time soon to advocate increasing Social Security benefits, cutting the age of eligibility for the program, or removing the cap on income taxable for Social Security. However

"I don't know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don't understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is," Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie's proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test. 

Huckabee said his response to such proposals is "not just no, it's you-know-what no."

"I'm not being just specifically critical of Christie but that's not a reform," he said. "That's not some kind of proposal that Republicans need to embrace because what we are really embracing at that point is we are embracing a government that lied to its people--that took money from its people under one pretense and then took it away at the time when they started wanting to actually get what they have paid for all these years."

Huckabee also said he wouldn't sign congressman Paul Ryan's plan to reform Medicare for Americans who are 55 years old and younger. "At 55, that still means if I started working, started paying in when I was 14, so for me that would be 51 years [sic] that I'd be paying in and suddenly you're telling me they're going to be changing the rules for you here."

Digby recognizes

This is very unusual for a Republican. They may not want to take that vote for cutting the program, especially since their base is very much among those who benefit from it, but they are never this unequivocal about it. It’s extremely rare for them not to issue any disclaimer about The Deficit and The Government Spending Too Much, etc, etc. To come right out and take the retirement age and means testing off the table — that actually is the “bold” and “authentic” breaking-with-conventional-wisdom for which the beltway media had already Christie all the credit.

Departing from conservative, neo-liberal, and Beltway wisdom on earned benefits is unusual, and laudable-  but not unprecedented- for Republicans. In the summer of 1998 William Saletan explained how in January of 1997 cultural warrior Gary

Bauer opened fire on the corporatists. In a New York Times op-ed, he argued that schemes to privatize Social Security would strip stay-at-home mothers of federally guaranteed benefits designed to reward them for raising children. "Why do we think the nation will be better off," Bauer asked, "by forcing workers to put their money into stock rather than, say, spending it on rearing children?"

 In April the next year, the Republican outlier spoke at the Harvard University Institute of Politics when

A student in the back of the room challenged Bauer to extend his critique of capitalism to domestic issues. He noted that Bauer had criticized advocates of Social Security privatization for undermining the nation's commitment to dependent spouses and children. Was there a "potential for realignment," the student asked, "between social conservatives and a more progressive strand of economic thinking?" Bauer smiled. "A lot of realignments are possible," he replied.

Unfortunately, Bauer never went much further, perhaps because shortly thereafter he embarked on a (inevitably doomed) effort to steal the GOP nomination for President. At the time, Bill Kristol found "The business wing of the party wants social conservatives to vote Republican, but doesn't like the idea that social conservatives might have ideas about foreign policy or tax policy. "

Kristol noted Ralph Reed "was willing to abide by that bargain. Gary isn't." Bauer economic advisor Jeff Bell added "Gary is testing the hypothesis that the pro-family movement is ready to break out. It's ready to have an economics and a foreign policy of its own."

It never was; the pro-family movement failed that test.  In retrospect, it wasn't at all surprising that "In 1995, when Bell and his colleagues presented their ideas to a Republican tax-reform commission, they found themselves outgunned by 'corporatists' who preferred tax breaks for businesses."

Saletan observed "Bauer's economic ideas flow from three principles: virtue, family, and human capital." Creating a PAC called the Campaign for Working Families, Bauer stated "I was trying to send a signal that this wouldn't be a PAC concerned about capital gains tax cuts as opposed to decent wages."

It isn't terribly surprising, either, that Mike Huckabee would be one of the two Repub presidential aspirants (the other: Lindsey Graham) to blow the whistle on Chris Christie's assault on the elderly. Bauer, whose primary causes were anti-gay rights and abortion, was nonetheless at least as interested in "decent wages" as capital gains tax cuts, unlike the GOP donor base and the vast majority of its elected officials and strategists.

Similarly, Huckabee, himself a cultural warrior who targets same-sex marriage and abortion, once referred to the Club for Growth (excerpts from its anti-Huckabee ads, below) as the Club for Greed and on a later date remarked

I kind of have a standing philosophy: If the Club for Growth hates you, I like you.

When they’re against a candidate, I’ve got to figure out — there must be a reason I will like that candidate, and most likely will go help them, because I’m just so disgusted and frustrated and tired of the mind-set of the Club for Growth.








Huckabee remains an anti-abortion extremist, ludicrously and offensively in November offensively maintaining “If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?” Asking Christians to accept same-sex marriage, he has said, is "like asking someone who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli."

The people who run the Repub Party like their candidates to oppose abortion. but not too strenuously, and they're even more uncomfortable with resistance to same-sex marriage.   (Their voters, likewise, are to oppose abortion, then move on quickly to complain about taxes on the wealthy and benefits for poor people.) They're not partial to anyone focused on virtue, family, and human capital, however they're defined.  As with the Beltway insider crowd, they're far more enthusiastic about candidates who want to undermine the social safety net.  Digby realizes

So, Chris Christie is probably very smart to be playing to the beltway crowd on this one. There’s nothing they love more than to see some loudmouth bully “tell it like it is” to most vulnerable people in our society. And, needless to say, he won’t be alone. The GOP was stung by Bush’s failure to cut the programs, and the Tea Party has not been willing to let them try it again as long as a Democrat is proposing it. Most of the other 2016 candidates are being careful, but it’s unlikely they won’t go along with a program like Paul Ryan’s latest, which is nothing more than warmed-over privatization. It’s in the Republican DNA.

Mike Huckabee, as he no doubt understands (whether or not he enters the race), will never be the GOP presidential nominee.. Even though his reason for opposing the conservative/neo-liberal anti-elderly consensus on earned benefits is less than rigorous, he is, almost as much as Gary Bauer in the last century, a man without a party.







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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Now, Let's Deny That Sacrament To Some People





"Bartender, a double Prestone, and see what the pundits in the backroom will have," periodically states one of America's most colorful bloggers, which is Piercian for "I feel like my head is going to explode."

The saying came to mind as I skimmed Ted Cruz's announcement at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia in March that he was running for President and found him declaring "imagine a president who says 'I will honor the Constitution, and under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.'"

Ignore the non sequitur that Iran being allowed to acquire, or prohibited from acquiring, a nuclear weapon has anything to do with the United States Constitution. Presumably, Cruz was talking about something like the Affordable Care Act, which he vowed for the 457th time he would abolish upon being elected President. Legislation that has granted millions of Americans health insurance, millions more preventive care, and blocked insurance companies from throwing sick people off their insurance presents a grave threat to the Republic.

But it was in that same speech Cruz declared "Instead of a federal government that works to undermine our values, imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life... and to uphold the sacrament of marriage."

Cruz was interrupted both after his reference (or what the activists rightly assume is a reference) to abortion and after his reference (or what the activists accurately believe is a reference) to same-sex marriage. Were the lights not guaranteed to evoke applause, one could only come to the conclusion that the senator from Texas is confused.

I am not referring to "the sanctity of  human life," which is broken when a woman's pregnancy is ended between fertilization and implantation, for it would be a little much to expect a conservative to admonish God (or even  nature) for ending human life, or its potential.  Rather, it's "to uphold the sacrament of marriage."

Cruz, who says "I’m Cuban, Irish and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist.” is the son of an outspoken evangelical pastor in Texas, and has proclaimed "We have never seen an administration with such hostility toward religious faith." Perhaps he ought to be less concerned with the faith of others and more concerned with his own, given that

The cornerstone of Reformation theology developed by Martin Luther, then adapted by John Calvin on its way to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, was the idea that human beings could not ourselves determine what God had marked as sure indicators of God’s grace in us. Rather, Luther argued that scripture alone (sola scriptura) pointed to what God has ordained as the holy rites essential to the salvation of every Christian—these being Baptism and Eucharist only.

If Ted Cruz believes, contrary to his (Protestant) faith, that marriage is a sacrament, he ought at least to acknowledge that he departs from his religion in that matter. So, too, should he not continue to con his followers by implying that same-sex marriage should be resisted because it is a sacrament. (Below, Cruz talks about the issue.)

The closest secular equivalent to a "sacrament" would be "fundamental right." According to Ted Olson (albeit not a disinterested observer), the United States Supreme Court has on 15 occasions found marriage to be a fundamental right- and it probably has thus claimed more often than that. Into this breach steps Senator Ted Cruz, who tells evangelical Christians marriage is a "sacrament" and that sanctioning same-sex marriage would be "rampant judicial activism. It will be lawlessness, it will be fundamentally illegitimate.”

(Of course, if it were not for Ted Olson, George W. Bush probably would not have been installed as President in the December, 2000/ January, 2001 coup. Heckuva job, Teddie.)

A law curtailing a fundamental right is to be subject to the "strict scrutiny" ssm bans cannot withstand and the US Supreme Court this summer probably will strike down all such state laws. It may do so on equal protection or on due process (citing "liberty interests") grounds or both, but it will be predicated on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment- of that United States Constitution Cruz believes President Obama is destroying but which Cruz says he "will honor."

If any Justice has a sense of irony (doubtful), he or she will note in the majority or concurring opinion that most same-sex marriage critics (however ludicrously) believe marriage to be a sacrament, perhaps even a God-given right. With friends like the Texas senator- and those of similar beliefs- gay marriage opponents need no enemies.












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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Laying The Groundwork For Plutocrats






Chris Christie is the perfect Republican. He won't get the nomination, especially with Scott Walker hating unions and workers as much as Christie does, Marco Rubio more experienced and just as hawkish on foreign policy, and John Ellis Bush ingratiating himself with the big money donors better than anyone possibly could. But he has seriously, and dangerously, advanced the conservative creed nonetheless.

It's not because of the $225 million settlement his administration has made with ExxonMobil, which had been sued by the State of New Jersey for polluting more than 1500 polluted acres in the northern region of the state.   It's not because he refused to make the contractually-required pension contribution, then even the payment required by legislation he enthusiastically supported.

It is not because he considers public school students "drug mules," nor that he calls medical marijuana, legal in New Jersey but resisted by the governor, "a front for legalization." It's not even because he has slashed social services in New Jersey while eliminating the millionaires' tax which helped pay for them. Nor is it because he falsely imprisoned Kaci Hickox or because he lusts for humongous gifts from nefarious characters.

Instead, Chris Christie is a splendid example of Repub mythmaking because of actions such as

Underneath the gleaming new tower on the north end of the boardwalk, Gov. Chris Christie (R) placed a bet that this down-on-its-luck city was about to turn around. Revel, a massive $2.4 billion casino willed to completion by Christie, was supposed to provide 5,000 “permanent” jobs and fuel a revitalization to the entire city.

“The completion of Revel and its opening is a turning point for Atlantic City and a clear sign that people once again have faith in the city’s ability to come back,” Christie said before the 2012 grand opening, which featured a performance by megastar BeyoncĂ©.

Two years later, the Revel is shuttered — wiping out thousands of jobs amid an economic implosion of the gambling industry here. Rather than serve as a shining example of Christie’s economic stewardship, Revel now stands as a 57-story example of failure in a city that has bedeviled New Jersey governors for decades. 

Paul Waldman at one time conducted a poll which revealed that most Americans- even after being told of the huge exemption- favored repeal of the estate tax.  Among the reasons, he theorized, that people who support higher taxes on the wealthy int theory want the estate tax ended is

Americans tend to think that no matter what their current situation, eventually, they're going to be rich. Most of us are wrong about that, but that's what we think. It's practically our patriotic duty to believe it. So most everyone thinks that this tax will apply to their estate upon their death, no matter how modest that estate might be at the moment.

Most individuals who earn  $30,000, $40,000, or even $120,000 per year realize their job isn't going to make them wealthy.  But somehow, sometime, lightning may strike.

And that's where gambling comes in.  An individual can strike it rich by gambling. It is the longest of long shots- probably slightly likelier than getting struck by lightning,  but it can happen.  Those Repubs who support legalized gambling do so primarily because they believe it increases revenues available to government, an institution which, at other times, they're opposed to. In the short term- the only term most mayors and governors are concerned about- it usually does, although it costs in the long run, after their term is over. They know, too,that their constituents are hoping, even praying, that their number will come up and send a lot of easy money their way.

And if they believe, contrary to the reality displayed in the table and the graph below (from John Cassidy in The New Yorker), that they can leapfrog their peers into the elite, they can support the kind of policies Chris Christie and his fellow travelers promote.
















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No Critic Of Sexual Harassment

Nikki Haley has no reason to be "incredibly proud of the women who have come forward." But Donald Trump has plenty of reaso...