Friday, December 2, 2011

Why Naomi Wolf's Response to my Critique Is Largely Unresponsive

Naomi Wolf responded to my criticism of her recent work on the Occupy crack-downs today, here.

Hate to belabor this*, but I have a few comments about her response which you can read here.

*No I don't. I suffer from this sometimes debilitating illness.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Naomi Wolf’s ‘Shocking Truth’ About the ‘Occupy Crackdowns’ Is Anything But True

There has been a flurry of speculation surrounding various reports suggesting that a “coordinated,” nationwide crack-down on the Occupy Movement is underway. The problem with these stories lies in the fact that the word “coordinated” is too vague to offer any analytic value.

The difference between local officials talking to each other — or federal law enforcement agencies advising them on what they see as “best practices” for evicting local occupations — and some unseen hand directing, incentivizing or coercing municipalities to do so when they would not otherwise be so inclined is not a minor one. It’s not a matter of semantics or a distinction without difference. As I wrote recently, “if federal authorities were ordering cities to crack down on their local occupations in a concerted effort to wipe out a movement that has spread like wildfire across the country, that would indeed be a huge, and hugely troubling story. In the United States, policing protests is a local matter, and law enforcement agencies must remain accountable for their actions to local officials. Local government’s autonomy in this regard is an important principle.”

But there has not been a single report offered by any media outlet suggesting that anyone – federal officials or police organizations – is directing or in any way exerting pressure on cities to crack down on their occupations. Instead, there have been a lot of dark ruminations that such an effort is underway – notably by Naomi Wolf in an error-filled blog-post and a somewhat bizarre column for The Guardian in which Wolf takes an enormous leap away from any known facts to suggest that Congress is ordering cities to smash the Occupy Movement in order to preserve their own economic privilege.

Before digging into Wolf’s claims, let’s review what has actually been reported.

1. Five major occupations were evicted in different cities in a span of less than a week. Although they didn’t follow the same pattern, there were similarities in the tactics employed by these different municipalities.

2. A police membership organization called the Police Executive Research Forum, PERF, organized two conference calls between local law enforcement officials to share information on OWS, including, presumably, how best to evict them.

3. The US Conference of Mayors organized two conference calls between various city officials to discuss the same issues.

4. The Examiner, quoting an anonymous source in the Justice Department, reported that DHS and the FBI were sharing information and advice with local law enforcement agencies. But the source stated quite clearly that “while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.”

5. Chris Hayes reported that a lobbying firm had offered a plan to the American Bankers Association to vilify and marginalize the Occupy Movement. The ABA insisted that it hadn’t acted on the proposal.

6. DHS vehicles were reportedly spotted near at least one eviction.

Among the “advice” reportedly disseminated by DHS was that cities should demonize their occupations by highlighting health and safety violations, and evict them without warning in the dead of night. As a supporter of the Occupy Movement and a civil libertarian, I find that offensive and inappropriate – DHS should be worried about terrorism, not political dissent.

But missing here is any suggestion that cities are being compelled to crack down on their Occupations in any way – mayors of all of the municipalities that evicted camps in recent weeks had made it very clear that they were going to do so. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan held three press conferences urging people to leave Frank Ogawa Plaza and promising that they would be removed by force if they didn’t comply. Local officials have an agenda, but it is not a hidden agenda, and thus not a particularly shocking story.

I don’t find it in the least bit surprising that law enforcement officials communicate with each other, and such communication is in no way an assault on local communities’ autonomy. Every day professionals dealing with similar issues get on conference calls, send messages to list-servs or otherwise talk shop – it’s just part of our “interconnected world.”

Having established a baseline of reality, let’s turn to Wolf’s claims.

Here’s how she opens her blog-post:
Now is the time to get cops on board with the OWS movement — especially now that Alternet has broken the story that municipal police are being pushed around by a shadowy private policing consultancy affiliated with DHS. If you study any closing society decent people get handed monstrous orders and are forced to comply, and right now municipal police are being forced to comply with brutal orders from this corporate police consultancy, by economic pressure.
AlterNet has “broken” no such story – nobody has. We have asked Wolf to retract this claim, but as of this writing, it still remains on her site several days later.

PERF is not “shadowy” – they are quite happy to talk to the media and recently sent a spokesperson to appear on Democracy, Now! PERF is a membership organization without any actual police powers. It can’t “order” anybody to do anything and has no means to apply “economic pressure.” Its only “affiliation” with DHS is that PERF’s Executive Director, Chuck Wexler, also sits on a DHS “advisory board” (along with a dozen police chiefs, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton).

PERF organizes conference calls among police officials to discuss areas of common concern. Last year, it held a conference call among police chiefs who were worried that Arizona’s harsh immigration law, SB 1070, would drive a wedge between law enforcement agencies and the immigrant communities they are supposed to protect and serve. Fox “News” ran a story at the time alleging that PERF was some sort of far-left police organization and therefore illegitimate. Now we’re getting a similar story from progressives, which is discouraging.

Having basically invented a tale of arm-twisting at the national level – of a “shadowy” police organization affiliated with DHS issuing “brutal orders” to hapless mayors – Wolf then leaps even further afield with her Guardian column, in which she adds the dark accusation that Congress is involved, and is ordering this national crackdown to preserve a grift from which law-makers are profiting. The headline of the piece is “The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy,” but there is nothing truthful about what follows.

Here, we should pause to add another credible report to our factual baseline. CBS recently ran a report showing that members of Congress were using information that wasn’t available to the public to make tidy profits on the stock market. It’s insider-trading when ordinary citizens do it, but a loophole in the law makes it perfectly legal – if wholly corrupt on its face – for legislators to engage in the exact same practices.

This is extremely troubling, but wholly unrelated to Occupy Wall Street unless one engages in the kind of intellectual contortionism Wolf attempts. Indeed, the Guardianpiece borders on incoherence as it is, in the literal sense, a series of non-sequiturs – unrelated claims that simply do not follow one another.

She opens by recounting some of the more outrageous examples of police violence in recent weeks. Then she adds, “just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened.” Did we have the picture or were we asking a lot of questions? Either way, what follows should address this in some way. But it doesn’t:
The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests.
This is a disturbing story pertaining specifically to New York. It's a non-sequitur here.

Wolf then offers some more tales of protesters facing police violence. She then cites Chris Hayes’ report as some sort of evidence that these crackdowns weren’t the result of local decisions.
Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.
This is just sad. The memo Hayes unearthed was drafted on November 24, more than a week after the evictions of camps in Zuccotti Park, Oakland, Denver, Salt Lake City and Portland. There was no “message coordination” of any kind – it was a proposal that was reportedly rejected. It wasn’t produced by or sent to any organ of government – it was a memo by scummy lobbyists looking for a pay-check from the banking lobby.

Wolf then continues to throw everything she can get her hands on at the wall in the hope that something sticks…

I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response. 
That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted. 
The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening. 
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act…. 
No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors. 
When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.
I have probably interviewed 50-75 participants in the Occupy Movement, at multiple camps in the Bay Area, and heard all sorts of proposals and “demands” for healing our economy. But I have never heard any Occupier call for “draft[ing] laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.”

This seems to be the heart of her argument – Congress critters have a nice little rip-off going, they feel threatened by the Occupy Movement’s efforts to bring greater transparency to government, and as a result, they are “ordering” a nation-wide crack-down. But this central claim is based on emails she supposedly got from readers that seem pretty divergent from what the rest of us are hearing.

Wolf has that problem covered, however. Because even if the Occupiers don’t know that this is high on their list of demands, the police informants who have infiltrated the movement are able to discern their agenda even before the protesters have come up with it…
Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process… [is] two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

Wolf then offers a classic example of trying to shoe-horn reality into a theory with no factual basis. She set out to write a column indicting Congress for a nationwide crack-down that hasn’t actually been unearthed and, in order to do so, she needs to hopelessly muddle the chain of command…
For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).
DHS is a cabinet-level executive branch agency. It does not “report” to Homeland Security Chair Peter King in some kind of chain-of-command – in fact, it doesn’t “report” to Congress at all except for a handful of official reports required by law. King can hold hearings and call DHS officials to testify before his committee, but he has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the agency.

The allegation is that DHS offered local cities advise on evicting their local camps. I don’t know what she means by “freelance” in this context, but that is the kind of action, like thousands of actions DHS initiates each and every day, that wouldn’t require any sort of high-level sign-off. DHS was created in part to facilitate greater communication and intelligence-sharing between federal and local law enforcement agencies – advising local authorities is one of its defining roles.

But it’s the next paragraph that actually makes one’s head hurt…
In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.
Got that? That DHS took part in those conference calls (a claim that confuses two separate stories, as it hasn’t been alleged that DHS had anything to do with the calls organized by the US Conference of Mayors) shows that “Congressional overseers with the blessing of the White House” told DHS to “authorize” mayors to order their police to crack-down.

This is little more than gibberish – policing protesters is a local matter and no mayor in the country requires federal “authorization” of any kind, by any agency, to order their cops to evict an occupation.

Wolf wraps up with a feverish flourish…
So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.
When you don’t “connect” wholly disparate “dots,” what you get is far less dramatic. Mayors in a handful of cities, responding to local political pressures, decided to break up their local occupations — decisions that were announced to the press well in advance — and were advised as to how best to do so.

One doesn’t have to like that fact to recognize that it’s hardly shocking, and anything but a sinister assault on local communities’ autonomy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

This is what the meeting's about

It's about a proposal by Councilmember Nadel:
Recommendation: Conduct a Public Hearing, Discussion Regarding Activities Of "Occupy Oakland" At Frank H. Ogawa Plaza And Other Areas Of The City, Including Without Limitation, Demonstrations, Assembly, Overnight Stays, Encampment And City Protocols, And Policies And Possible Action Including The Following Proposed Resolution: 1) Resolution Supporting The Occupy Wall Street Protest Movement, Declaring That City Continues To Unequivocally Embrace The First Amendment To The United States Constitution And The City's Duty To Uphold The People's Right To Peaceful Assembly And Urging Mayor Jean Quan To Collaborate With Occupy Oakland To Develop Measures And Procedures To Ensure Safety Of The Protestors, Their Supporters, City Employees And The Greater Public

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Advice to an Inspiring Writer

I get email:

I understand you're extremely busy person, but I wanted to know if you have any advice for an inspiring writer. How is the best way to have my writing published either in a magazine or journal? I am an admirer of the written word was told write well by people at my job and by professors while I was in graduate school. I have many ideas and want to share them on a larger forum.

Something tells me I don't have the next Taibbi here, but here's my advice:

Write, write, write, and then write some more. Also, rewrite. And read stuff aloud to make sure it's smooth.

When you have something you like, and you think it's really polished, then submit, submit, submit -- send it everywhere. When you're not well known, most of your submissions will be ignored.

But don't give up. Submit to places that won't pay. The idea is to get some stuff published so that you can establish yourself. My first piece was published by Common Dreams.

Also, when sending notes to editors, make sure there are no errors. You're an "aspiring" writer, not an "inspiring" writer (although you may be inspiring too).

Hope that helps.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Abusing the Laffer Curve

If you can get a lot of people to repeat the same specious claim often enough, it effectively becomes “true.” Here’s an example. The Right can’t admit that their tax cuts will bust the budget and still claim to be good fiscal stewards. So, instead, they try to dazzle us with magical thinking: cutting taxes, they say, actually brings more money into the government’s coffers! See, they don’t want to slash and burn popular government programs—their tax cuts will raise more cash to fund ’em!

In 2007, Time magazine’s Justin Fox sampled some Republican opinions on this interesting dynamic and concluded, “If there’s one thing that Republican politicians agree on, it’s that slashing taxes brings the government more money.”

“You cut taxes, and the tax revenues increase,” President Bush said in a speech last year. Keeping taxes low, Vice President Dick Cheney explained in a recent interview, “does produce more revenue for the Federal Government.” Presidential candidate John McCain declared in March that “tax cuts . . . as we all know, increase revenues.” His rival Rudy Giuliani couldn’t agree more. “I know that reducing taxes produces more revenues,” he intones in a new TV ad.

The spin is premised on an egregious distortion of “Laffer’s curve,” the conservative media’s favorite economic theorem. The idea, first scribbled on a cocktail napkin by economist George Laffer (at least, according to lore), is pretty simple. It holds that you can raise income taxes to a degree, but when the top tax rate exceeds a certain point, people will go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid paying the piper that the government will actually end up collecting less revenue.

The thing about Laffer’s curve is that it makes perfect sense in theory, but it completely defies reason in practice, at least in the context of modern America. Most economists agree with Laffer’s argument that there is a point of revenue “maximization,” after which hiking rates will lead to fewer tax dollars coming in. If you were to tax income at a rate of 100 percent, it wouldn’t make much sense for anyone to go to work—at least not on the books.

The hot air hisses out of the balloon when politicians and pundits use the theory to advocate tax cuts in the United States, which is among the more lightly taxed countries in the developed world. The fallacy is simple: top personal and business tax rates have decreased for years, and there’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that we’re anywhere close to being above Laffer’s curve today. And if you’re below the curve when you cut taxes, you’re not going to generate that surge of new income.

For his Time article, Justin Fox followed up with a survey of what people who understand basic math were saying about this bit of conservative spin:
If there’s one thing that economists agree on, it’s that these claims are false. We’re not talking just ivory-tower lefties. Virtually every economics Ph.D. who has worked in a prominent role in the Bush Administration acknowledges that the tax cuts enacted during the past six years have not paid for themselves—and were never intended to. Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2005, even devotes a section of his best-selling economics textbook to debunking the claim that tax cuts increase revenues.
Andrew Samwick, now at Dartmouth, was the chief economist on Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers during that period. But in 2007, after Bush had claimed yet again that it’s “a fact that our tax cuts have fueled robust economic growth and record revenues,” Samwick responded with a plea to the Bush administration to stop making that claim. In an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote, “You are smart people. . . . You know that the tax cuts have not fueled record revenues. You know what it takes to establish causality. You know that the first order effect of cutting taxes is to lower tax revenues."

Yet pointing out that simple truth is anathema in conservative circles. In 2007, Megan McCardle, then an up-and-coming libertarian writer with the Atlantic Monthly, wrote about the editorial higher-ups of an unnamed “conservative publication” spiking a book review she’d written because she hadn’t toed the party line. “Even while otherwise expressing my vast displeasure with the (liberal) economic notions of the book I was reviewing,” she wrote, the editors killed the piece “because I said that the Laffer Curve didn’t apply at American levels of taxation.” She added, “This isn’t me looking for an alternative explanation for the spiking of a bad review: the literary editor accepted it, edited it, and then three hours later told me it couldn’t be published because it violated their editorial line on taxation.”

Monday, February 28, 2011

USA Today Lies with Statistics; Falsely Claims Public Employee Pay is Higher than in Private Sector

Forget about whether you're liberal or conservative, pro-union or anti. A simple question: in either the public or the private sector, would you not expect a college grad who has worked his or her job for 4 years to be paid significantly more than someone with a high school diploma who's had his or her gig for 2 years?

And if the college grad were in fact paid more, would that be unfair somehow? Would it be cause for jealousy and resentment? Apparently, USA Today thinks so.

The tabloid lies with statistics through the first 7 paragraphs of this 8-paragraph "analysis." Here's the lede:
Wisconsin is one of 41 states where public employees earn higher average pay and benefits than private workers in the same state, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Still, the compensation of Wisconsin's government workers ranks below the national average for public employees and has increased only slightly since 2000.
Graphs 3 and 4:
The analysis of government data found that public employee compensation has grown faster than the earnings of private workers since 2000. Primary cause: the rising value of benefits.
They could have mentioned that 37 percent of public workers belong to a union, versus 7 percent in the private sector, but that's just a quibble.
Wisconsin is typical. State, city and school district workers earned an average of $50,774 in wages and benefits in 2009, about $1,800 more than in the private sector. The state ranked 33rd in public employee compensation among the states and Washington, D.C. It had ranked 20th in 2000.
And very careful readers only get a dose of reality -- a limited one -- in the final graph:
Economist Jeffrey Keefe of the liberal Economic Policy Institute says the analysis is misleading because it doesn't reflect factors such as education that result in higher pay for public employees.
That's right, their analysis just compared average wages, and didn't adjust for different job requirements, age, education or experience. It's not misleading, it's entirely meaningless. Unless, of course, you think that high school grad with less experience should be paid the same.

As I wrote last year, Public sector workers have, on average, more experience and higher levels of education than their counterparts in the private sector (they are twice as likely to have a college degree). Economist John Schmitt found that when one controls for those factors -- comparing apples to apples --state and local employees earn almost 4 percent less than their brethren in corporate America. (Even accounting for their greater benefits, state and local employees still make less in total compensation than they would doing the same work in the private sector.)

The thing that I find so egregious about this is that the reporter, Dennis Cauchon, spoke with an economist who told him this, but didn't include any of the numbers I cite above. This is how people are being mislead to believe that public workers are the new welfare queens.

Here's an email for corrections and clarifications:, and here's an editorial feedback form. If you're sick of this kind of distortion passing itself off as unbiased journalism, let 'em know.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Only the Wealthiest Favor Stripping Workers' Collective Bargaining Rights

A poll conducted by Gallup earlier this week found that Americans opposed stripping public employees' of their right to negotiate with their employers by a margin of 2 to 1. It got a lot of play (as did Fox News reversing the results and reporting that 61 percent of the public favored the GOP's union-busting).

Today, Greg Sargent dug into the poll's internals, and came up with something worth noting:
It turns out that the only income group that favors Governor Scott Walker's proposal to roll back public employee bargaining rights are those who make over $90,000. 
As you know, Gallup released a poll earlier this week finding that 61 percent of Americans oppose Walker's plan, versus only 33 percent who are in favor. It turns out Gallup has crosstabs which give us an income breakdown of that finding, which the firm sent my way
* Among those who make less than $24,000 annually, 74 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 14 percent who favor it. 
* Among those who make $24,000 to $59,000, 63 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 33 percent who favor it. 
* Among those who make $60,000 to $89,000, 53 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 41 percent who favor it. 
* Among those who make $90,000 and up, 50 percent favor the proposal, versus 47 percent who oppose it.
This makes perfect sense for several reasons. Higher income workers have greater job security, better retirement and health benefits and their wages have been rising while most Americans' have not. In other words, they already have what a union secures for working people beneath them on the food chain.

Also, within that group are a good number of investors and, as I wrote yesterday, only through collective bargaining can workers end up with a free market wage. Without it, they end up being paid below what the market would bear and the difference gets pocketed by investors. As such, union-busting is a weapon of class warfare from above.

Having said that, the top income bracket in Gallup's cross-tabs only broke for the proposal 50-47.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vatican: Priests Have Been Raping Nuns to Avoid Hookers with HIV

Let us take a moment to recall Pope Benedict's view of what caused the Holocaust:
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a reductive vision of the person and his destiny.
It was a ballsy statement coming from a man who was once a member of the Hitler Youth and now leads the Catholic Church, but the argument is not uncommon. 'What is morality to a Godless atheist?' is a common refrain among 'radical clerics' of every faith.

Anyhoo ...
The Catholic Church in Rome made the extraordinary admission yesterday that it is aware priests from at least 23 countries have been sexually abusing nuns. 
The Catholic Church in Rome made the extraordinary admission yesterday that it is aware priests from at least 23 countries have been sexually abusing nuns. 
Most of the abuse has occurred in Africa, where priests vowed to celibacy, who previously sought out prostitutes, have preyed on nuns to avoid contracting the Aids virus. 
Confidential Vatican reports obtained by the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly magazine in the US, have revealed that members of the Catholic clergy have been exploiting their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favours from nuns, particularly those from the Third World who are more likely to be culturally conditioned to be subservient to men. 
The reports, some of which are recent and some of which have been in circulation for at least seven years, said that such priests had demanded sex in exchange for favours, such as certification to work in a given diocese. 
In extreme instances, the priests had made nuns pregnant and then encouraged them to have abortions.
I don't get how they could be so sleazily predatory without the moral relativism.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Craziest Wingnut in America Wants to Criminalize Unauthorized Vaginal Bleeding

With the rise of the Tea Partiers, there's intense competition for the title of Craziest Wingnut Holding Public Office.

But Georgia state rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, has to be considered the top contender. He was the one who proposed a law that would require rape and sexual assault victims -- but not the victims of any other crimes -- to be called "accusers" unless there was a conviction in their cases.

Then Franklin introduced a bill that would do away with drivers' licenses, arguing that they “are a throw back to oppressive times.” As CBS reported:
In his bill, Franklin states, "free people have a common law and constitutional right to travel on the roads and highways that are provided by their government for that purpose. Licensing of drivers cannot be required of free people, because taking on the restrictions of a license requires the surrender of an inalienable right."
(More details on both measures here.)

Now Lindsay Beyerstein brings us word of Franklin's latest:
A Georgia Representative has introduced a bill to investigate all unsupervised miscarriages as crime scenes. Don't believe me? Here's the relevant language from HB 1, downloadable from legislature's website: 
When a spontaneous fetal death required to be reported by this Code section occurs without medical attendance at or immediately after the delivery or when inquiry is required by Article 2 of Chapter 16 of Title 45, the ‘Georgia Death Investigation Act,’ the proper investigating official shall investigate the cause of fetal death and shall prepare and file the report within 30 days[...]
Beyerstein adds that the bill "is radical even by the standards of people who think fertilized ova are people." That's an understatement -- according to MoJo, "Both miscarriages and abortions would be potentially punishable by death."

One has to conclude that Bobby Franklin doesn't need a challenger so much as a decent shrink.

Cross-posted at AlterNet and Dirty Hippies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Note to Tea-Baggers: Public Workers Aren't Demanding Anything from the "Taxpayers"

A common refrain from people wishing to destroy public employees' unions is that their workers are 'demanding more from the tax-payers.' It's a testament to how confused the Right is about the role of government.

Public employees are not demanding anything from "the taxpayer." They are workers demanding fair wages from their bosses.

We live in a democracy, and tax-payers get to participate by voting. If, for example, one doesn't like our public education system, one can vote for a representative who shares his or her view on the subject.

However, a sizable majority of Americans do want a decent public school system. It's a democracy, so we'll have public schools. That's the end of the role of the tax-payer in this story.

Now, our schools need to hire teachers, and those teachers are workers, and our school system is their employer. They're not making any demands on the tax-payer -- the tax-payers role was deciding to have public education in the first place. And the same can be said of garbage collection, law enforcement or anything else the public sector does.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Blast from the Past: George Bush Bragged About Diplomatic Success With Blood-Stained Libyan Despot Muammar Gaddafi

I think you really have to give the right some credit for sheer Chutzpah. Just 7 short years after George W. Bush normalized relations with the Libyan regime, over the strong opposition of Barack Obama, some conservatives actually have the nerve to revise that very recent history and claim the reverse to be true (causing even Debbie Schussel, of all people, to cry 'foul').

Anyway, I dug this bit out of Bush's 2004 State of the Union speech:
Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. Colonel Qadhafi correctly judged that his country would be better off, and far more secure, without weapons of mass murder. Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible -- and no one can now doubt the word of America.
Yup, diplomacy was great with the eminently-reasonable colonel Gaddafi, but didn't result in Saddam Hussein handing over the weapons that he had destroyed a decade earlier.

And ever since that time, "no one can doubt the word of America."

Details from the State Department's background notes -- and you might note that all of this happened prior to January of 2009:
The U.S. terminated the applicability of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to Libya and President Bush signed an Executive Order on September 20, 2004 terminating the national emergency with respect to Libya and ending IEEPA-based economic sanctions. This action had the effect of unblocking assets blocked under the Executive Order sanctions. Restrictions on cargo aviation and third-party code-sharing have been lifted, as have restrictions on passenger aviation. Certain export controls remain in place. 
U.S. diplomatic personnel reopened the U.S. Interest Section in Tripoli on February 8, 2004. The mission was upgraded to a U.S. Liaison Office on June 28, 2004, and to a full embassy on May 31, 2006. The establishment in 2005 of an American School in Tripoli demonstrates the increased presence of Americans in Libya, and the continuing normalization of bilateral relations. Libya re-established its diplomatic presence in Washington with the opening of an Interest Section on July 8, 2004, which was subsequently upgraded to a Liaison Office in December 2004 and to a full embassy on May 31, 2006.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Correction: It's a Ginned-Up "Crisis," but Scott Walker Isn't Entirely to Blame for Wisconsin's Budget Gap

It's been widely reported that Scott Walker inherited a $120 million budget surplus, and then promptly created a budget deficit in order to break the backs of Wisconsin's public employees' unions. On Friday, I quoted Ezra Klein of the Washington Postexplaining that Walker had " signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit."

Politifact did an analysis of this issue which shows that Walker in fact inherited a manageable, long-term budget gap and then spun it as an imminent crisis that must be addressed this year.

The reports stem from a a Jan. 31, 2011 memo prepared by Robert Lang, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, that was picked up by the Associated Press and a number of other outlets. It does state that Wisconsin was on course for a surplus this year, which the media reported that in good faith. The issue is what Politifact refers to as the memo's "fine print."
[It] outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.
The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall.
None of this changes the fact that Walker dishonestly portrayed his union-busting bill as a budget fix. The provision stripping state workers' right to negotiate for better benefits wouldn't take effect until their existing contracts expire, meaning that it would have zero impact on the state's bottom line in the immediate future. The savings from shifting more pension and health-care costs onto workers -- which the unions have already agreed to -- would amount to just $30 million. Finally, an uncontroversial provision in the bill would restructure the state's outstanding debt, saving $160 million -- more than enough to close the gap this year.
Politifact adds:
To be sure, the projected shortfall is a modest one by the standards of the last decade, which saw a $600 million repair bill one year as the economy and national tax collections slumped.

Walker's Own Statement Proves that His Assault on Public Employees Has Nothing to do with Wisconsin's Budget Shortfall

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has a long history trying to break public sector unions. But last week, as the Milwaukee Business Times reported, he insisted that "his bill was strictly based on the need to cut the budget and was not based on any political agenda." Indeed, the bill was introduced by the governor as an "emergency measure... needed to balance the state budget and give government the tools to manage during economic crisis."

But a close reading of the governor's own press release announcing the measure shows just how misleading that claim really is.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Joe Klein: Either Clueless About the Wisconsin Uprising or Simply Shilling for the Union-Busters

Time's Joe Klein has written an offensively dishonest column attacking Wisconsin's public employees. Every paragraph is packed with the kind of knee-jerk contempt for working people that's become endemic in our mainstream discourse -- it's truly eye-opening.

Allow me to begin where Klein proves that he is either wildly ignorant of what's actually at stake in this fight, or is willfully misleading his readers. (I don't pretend to know which.)
... it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker's basic requests are modest ones--asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions' abilities to negotiate work rules--and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time.
If you have been led to believe that this is what the battle is about, please check out my piece on AlterNet's front page. Walker's "basic requests" include seizing control of the state's Medicaid funding, stripping state workers of the right to negotiate the details of their benefits package and capping the wages they can gain in negotiations. He offered this bill only after being informed that he didn't have the power to simply decertify the unions outright.

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square Show Solidarity with Wisconsin Workers' Uprising

They say a picture's worth a thousand words...

Thanks to Zach Farley for the pic.

During the past 3 months, we've seen mass protests against varied injustices in Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Britain, Djibouti, Egypt, Greece, Haiti, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Wisconsin and Yemen.

Did I forget any?

Friday, February 18, 2011

9 Things You Need to Know About the Uprising in Wisconsin

What's happening in Wisconsin is not complicated. At the beginning of this year, the state was on course to end 2011 with a budget surplus of $120 million dollars. As Ezra Klein explained, newly elected GOP Governor Scott Walker then " signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit."

Walker then used the deficit he created as a premise to assault his state's public employees using a law cooked up by a right-wing advocacy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC likes to fly beneath the radar, but I described the organization in a 2005 article as "the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money."

This has nothing to do with the state's fiscal picture, and everything to do with destroying the last bastion of unionism in the American economy: public employees.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Woman Targeted in FBI Raid on "Anonymous" Hackers' Group Tells her Tale

The FBI is apparently quite serious about prosecuting the hackers' group known only as Anonymous for a string of attacks it launched on companies that severed ties with Wikileaks.

Gawker has an interview with a 19 year-old California woman who was the target of one of the FBI's raids.

In it, we learn that:

* The FBI thinks Anonymous is a traditional, hierarchical enterprise, and are trying, perhaps futilely, to "cut the head off the snake."

* They have the idea that the group's members all have Guy Fawkes masks in their closets.

* It's not a good idea to call your little sister a revolutionary, because you never know when the FBI will raid your house at 6 am and take it seriously.

* Her father's really pissed.

Well worth the read, which is here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Gipper Goes to CPAC

Here is a giant cake in the shape of a bust of Ronald Reagan. It's at CPAC!

And note the spelling of the word "Berlin" on the little Berlin Wall that accents this monstrosity.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Married GOPer Talked "Family Values" While Trying to Hook Up on Craig's List

It's almost axiomatic that the more frequently a social conservative talks a about promoting "family values," the more likely he or she is to stray from those values, and the only question is whether they're just having a plain old vanilla affair with a member of the opposite sex or go for diapers, auto-asphyxiation in wet-suits or raw-dogging male prostitutes while high on meth.

Sadly, at least as far as our Schadenfreude needs go, the taste's of the latest (alleged) member of this club run pretty vanilla.

Rep. Christopher Lee is a married Republican congressman serving the 26th District of New York. But when he trolls Craigslist's "Women Seeking Men" forum, he's Christopher Lee, "divorced" "lobbyist" and "fit fun classy guy." One object of his flirtation told us her story. 
On the morning of Friday, January 14, a single 34-year-old woman put an ad in the "Women for Men" section of Craigslist personals. "Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?" she asked, inviting "financially & emotionally secure" men to reply.
By email, Lee identified himself as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist and sent a PG picture to the woman from the ad. (In fact, Lee is married and has one son with his wife. He's also 46.)
None of this would even be of interest, of course, except for the fact that, as Maureen O'Connor notes, the Rep's "support for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and vote to reject federal abortion funding suggests a certain comfort with publicly scrutinizing others' sex lives."

Anyway, the Congressman says his email account must have been hacked, to which Occam replied, 'maybe, but I'm guessing that you just got busted trawling for some strange on Craigslist.'

Update: Lee, via twitter: "I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately.” Surprising -- did nobody tell him that It's OK If You're a Republican?

Ron Paul Invites Neo-Confederate to Testify About Federal Reserve Before Congress

Ron Paul has long dodged allegations that he (or at least his staffers) has connections to white supremacists. (I have expressed some reason to be skeptical about this notion, but at the very least he's extremely careless in terms of whom he chooses to associate with.)

Anyway, that makes this little exchange, flagged by Oliver Willis, all the more interesting:
The ranking Democrat on a House panel overseeing the Federal Reserve on Wednesday accused a witness invited by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) of being affiliated with a “hate group.” 
The first meeting of the House Financial Services Committee’s subcommittee on domestic monetary policy had a tense moment when Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) questioned the background of Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo. 
Clay went after DiLorenzo, an economic professor at Loyola University invited to testify by Paul, for his connections with the League of the South, which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “neo-Confederate” group. The league identifies DiLorenzo as an “affiliated scholar” of its League of the South Institute for the Study of Southern Culture and History. 
“After reviewing your work and the so-called message you employ, I still do not understand you being invited to testify today on the unemployment situation,” Clay said. “But I do know that I have no questions for you.”
Oliver adds some background:
The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The league believes the “godly” nation it wants to form should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities. Originally founded by a group that included many Southern university professors, the group lost its Ph.D.s as it became more explicitly racist. The league denounces the federal government and northern and coastal states as part of “the Empire,” a materialist and anti-religious society.
Maybe the GOP should re-brand itself as the Confederate Party.

Hackers Reveal BofA's Strategy Against Wikileaks: Disinformation, Intimidation and Sabotage

Bank of America has long insisted that it's not sweating the exposure of its internal operations that Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange promised in interviews last year, an exposure that just might bring the financial giant to its knees (or not -- nobody on the outside knows what Wikileaks is holding).

But internal emails from a cyber-security firm paint a very different picture. BofA officials were sufficiently worried about the potential revelations to have a law-firm it retained develop a plan to discredit and disrupt Wikileaks through a variety of nefarious means.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fox News Crew Severely Beaten by Mubarak's Thugs in Cairo reports:
FOX News Channel's veteran foreign correspondent Greg Palkot and his camerman Olaf Wiig have suffered severe injuries in Cairo while covering the unrest in the Egypt capital. Palkot was badly beaten and Wiig has a possible broken jaw after attacked by pro-Hosni Mubarak supporters yesterday. Both were hospitalized overnight.
Fox, out of concern for their crew's safety, didn't report the incident until their crew was released from the hospital. also notes that Wiig was taken hostage for two weeks in the Gaza strip in 2007.

We'll see if the right-wingers who shamelessly delighted in the pummeling of CNN's Anderson Cooper express more sympathy for a Fox news crew.

Here's video:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jimmy Carter Target of Malicious Lawsuit for Authoring Palestine: Peace not Apartheid

Jimmy Carter has long been the target of what MJ Rosenberg calls "the Status Quo Lobby" (he's right to deny them the "pro-Israel" label).

Now an enterprising attorney has filed a class-action suit against the former president -- and publisher Simon and Shuster -- that can only be seen as an ideologically-driven nuisance lawsuit.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wing-Nuts: Children of Undocumented Immigrants Can't Be Prosecuted for Crimes

It's fun to take what passes for an "argument" on the far right to its logical conclusion. The exercise tends to show just how fallacious their claims really are.

Consider efforts to strip citizenship from the children of undocumented immigrants. You may like it, or you may hate it, but a simple objective truth is that the principle is not only enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, it's also a "super-precedent" -- a legal doctrine that has been tested and affirmed in a long series of Supreme Court cases.

Be Very Afraid!

The WaPo tells me that "lawmakers want more security on northern border" -- you know, because we're no pissing away enough cash militarizing the Southern one. 

They're scared for good reason:
A new government report says that less than 1 percent of the 4,000-mile U.S.-Canada border is considered under the operational control of U.S. border officials.
Seriously, folks, Al Qaeda could smuggle across some Poutine of Mass Destruction. Could happen.

Shocking-but-True: I Will Now Defend the Media

Steve Benen is a guy who's generally right, but I think he's off target with this one:
Four federal district courts have heard challenges testing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Two judges concluded the law is legally permissible, two came to the opposite conclusion. 
He then takes a look at how the media reported these decisions and concludes:
The coverage discrepancy is overwhelming. One of the two pro-reform rulings didn't even make the Washington Post's A section at all. In literally every instance, the Republican-friendly rulings generated more coverage, with better placement, and longer stories than the rulings preferred by Democrats.A court upholding a law passed by Congress is simply not as big of a story as a court overturning a law passed by the legislature. 
The problem here is that a court upholding a law passed by Congress is simply not as significant a story as a court overturning a law passed by the legislature. The courts are supposed to defer to Congress in any close call. It's called judicial restraint.

Man bites dog is legitimately a bigger story than dog bites man, and I think that, rather than the typical bias towards Republican ideas, is what's going on here.

Wingnuts Propose Mandate for Gun Ownership; End Up Supporting Health-Care Reform

Taegan Goddard's on wingnut watch:
"Five South Dakota lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require any adult 21 or older to buy a firearm "sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense," the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.
The bill would give people six months to acquire a firearm -- "suitable to their temperament, physical capacity, and preference" -- after turning 21.
Rep. Hal Wick (R) "is sponsoring the bill and knows it will be killed. But he said he is introducing it to prove a point that the federal health care reform mandate passed last year is unconstitutional."
These people are so confused.

As I wrote last week, what they're proposing was in fact the law of the land in the early days of the republic.

In 1792, none other than George Washington signed the Uniform Militia Act, a law requiring every white male citizen to purchase a whole basket of items – “a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein” – from private companies.

Many of the Founders served in the 2nd Congress, yet no Constitutional issues were raised at the time.

Conservatives have dismissed the relevance of that law to the current health-care debate because it was passed under the auspices of the Constitution's militia clauses, not, like the ACA, under the Commerce Clause.

So along comes these yahoos to show, yet again, that they haven't the slightest grasp of either American history or what the Constitution does and does not permit the government to do. Because either mandating that citizens buy a gun is irrelevant to today's debate as it doesn't fall under the Commerce Clause, or, if the opposite is true, it discredits their whole argument against the insurance reforms.

How Not To Say Dumb Things About Egypt

Sarthanapalos' Guide on How Not to Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt (ht: Angry Black Lady) is all worthwhile, but I'd be happy if the pundits wrapped their respective heads around just this one item:
The Muslim Brotherhood is not on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. It renounced violence in the 1970s and has no active militia.
Of course people like Frank Gaffney and Pam Geller are going to freak out at the prospect of scary Mooslims exerting some influence over their own societies. Fish swim, birds fly, and unhinged Islamophobes vilify Islam with false, or stunningly simplistic narratives.

But it is dismaying just how prone the media are to accept these arguments -- the pump of paranoia is well primed. It's not surprising, mind you, just dismaying.

On CNN yesterday, Anderson Cooper (I think) actually asked Fareed Zacharia whether Egypt may be following the course of the Iranian Revolution.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Neocon Zombies Never Die

Paul Campos at LGM:
Obama invites Elliot Abrams and Robert Kagan to the White House
To discuss what “we” should do about “our” Egypt problem.
The good folks at Commentary are in ecstasy.
These lunatics can never fuck up the world enough to make the denizens of the Beltway stop taking them seriously.

The AP's Mendacious Jihad Against Social Security Continues

Following last week's wildly dishonest editorial-passing-as-a-news-story from the Associated Press, we get this, courtesy of Dean Baker:
A headline of an AP article (featured on Yahoo's website) told readers that: "Social Security posting $600B deficit over 10 years." Actually, the Social Security program is projected to run a surplus in every year of the next decade, adding more than $1.3 trillion to its trust fund, as people with access to the Social Security Trustees Report know.
The story was written by Stephen Olhemacher, who penned last week's op-ed. He's also a repeat offender when it comes to carrying water for the Corporate Right, as I noted over the weekend.

This is simple: the "deficit" described by the AP represents the difference between the tax revenues that will be collected over the next decade and the dollars that will be paid out in benefits over that period.

What they're not including is the interest that will be earned on $2.5 trillion in T-Bills sitting in the Social Security Trust Fund (which came in at 5.1 percent in 2008, and 4.8 percent in 2009). That interest means that the fund will continue to grow for years after current benefit payments exceed current tax receipts -- it's projected to reach $4.2 trillion in a decade.

You've got to be pretty dishonest to omit (or underplay) that in your reporting, but that now appears to be a pattern with Ohlemacher and the AP.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

GOPer: Mubarak's Our Bastard

It was inevitable that those democracy-loving neocons would turn into the most cynical of realists the second democracy-promotion broke out in an allied country led by an authoritarian regime, and they certainly haven't disappointed.

This latest example, via Think Progress, is ... unhelpful, to say the least:
Now, yet another high-profile Republican is disparaging the protest movement and openly siding with Egypt’s dictator. In a statement posted on his website last night, GOP Conference Chair Rep. Thaddeus McCotter wrote that “the Egyptian demonstrations are not the equivalent of Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution” and that “America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform.” He even went as far as to say that “freedom’s radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt” with the demonstrations ...

Worth 1,000 Words

An Arabic-speaking friend translates the text: "From this day there is no government -- I am the government."

Update: And yet another Arabic-speaker tells me that based on the comments left at the site that originally posted the pic, this may not have been taken in Egypt. Oh well -- it's a good picture either way.

HT: Ali Gharib via email.

Finally, a Judge Promises an Independent Investigation into the Crimes of 9/11

Yes, I tricked you into reading about Latin America:
SANTIAGO, Chile - Chilean judicial officials vowed Thursday to investigate the death of President Salvador Allende for the first time, 37 years after the socialist leader was found shot through the head with a machine-gun during a withering attack on the presidential palace.
Allende died during the Sept. 11, 1973, coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who governed as a dictator until March 11, 1990, and died in 2006. Authorities have never before opened a criminal probe of Allende's death, which many believe to have been a suicide.

AP's Wildly Dishonest "Report" on Social Security Was Penned by a Repeat Offender

Here's Monica Potts over at Tapped:
Associate Press reporter Stephen Ohlemacher has a dour piece about Social Security. I'll leave it to AlterNet's Joshua Holland to describe what's wrong with the piece, but I just wanted to point out that Ohlemacher is the same reporter who wrote an awful piece in April about how so many Americans don'tpay taxes. That piece was so problematic because, though it asserted that a two-child family with a mortgage making less than the median income was unlikely to pay any taxes, it ignored the fact that a great deal of that came from temporary tax breaks that were part of the stimulus. At the time, I didn't think there was a particular bias Ohlemacher had, just a bias as to who he talks to.
Update: I realize now that I wrote about that awful report as well.

Wake Me Up When the Next Civil War Begins

The pace at which the Tea Parties' armchair Constitutional scholars are introducing blatantly un-Constitutional legislation is quite impressive.

Here's Ian Millhiser over at Think Progress with a run-down of what should be called Virginia's 'We Never Fought a Civil War Over This Crap Act':
In response to the landmark Affordable Care Act, numerous right-wing state lawmakers have introduced unconstitutional bills attempting to nullify this federal law. Earlier this week, however, the Virginia House of Delegates went even further, passing a sweeping nullification bill that directly conflicts with numerous Supreme Court decisions:

U.S. Has Greater Inequality than Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen

That's according to a post over at Naked Capitalism (which you should book-mark or add to your RSS feed if you haven't already):
Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni protesters all say that inequality is one of the main reasons they’re protesting.
However, the U.S. actually has much greater inequality than in any of those countries.
Specifically, the “Gini Coefficient” – the figure economists use to measure inequality – is higher in the U.S.

Gini Coefficients are like golf – the lower the score, the better (i.e. the more equality).
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45.
In contrast:
  • Tunisia is ranked the 62nd most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of 40.
  • Yemen is ranked 76th most unequal, with a Gini Coefficient of 37.7.
  • And Egypt is ranked as the 90th most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of around 34.4.

Note to Sarah Palin: Your Miraculous Free-Market Donuts Wouldn't Exist Without Public Dollars

Here's Benen, with the recap of Palin's 'WTF' moment:
You know what we need is 'a spudnut moment.' And here's where I'm going with this, Greta.... Well, the spudnut shop in Richland, Washington -- it's a bakery, it's a little coffee shop that's so successful, 60-some years, generation to generation, a family-owned business not looking for government to bail them out and to make their decisions for them. It's just hard-working, patriotic Americans in this shop.
"We need more spudnut moments in America. And I wish that President Obama would understand, in that heartland of America, what it is that really results in the solutions that we need to get this economy back on the right track. It's a shop like that.
And here comes reality to mug the Alaska Quitbull, courtesy of one of Digby's readers:
Palin's quirky invocation of the "Spudnut Shop" here in Richland Washington as an example of American "can-doism" is far more ironic than you and most of your readers likely realize. 
The fact is, the town of Richland was literally built by the federal government as a part of the Manhattan Project. All of the houses that surround the Spudnut shop were built by the Army. To this day, the only employer in Richland of any consequence is the Department of Energy and the contractors that work on DoE contracts at the Hanford site, just north of Richland. As a result, virtually all of the Spudnut shop's customers are paid by tax dollars. Those that aren't are retirees, drawing government pensions and social security. 
Were it not for government spending, the Spudnut shop would be bankrupt in a week.
And one of Andrew Sullivan's readers weighs in as well:
The Spudnut shop Palin speaks of is half a mile from my house in Richland, WA and it's really good (the secret is potato flour in the batter). She may not realize that the federal government buys most of those doughnuts: the annual budget for cleanup of the nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation is more than $2 billion, employing about 11,000 workers, and spudnuts are the pastry of choice at meetings there.
Yes, those public sector workers getting laid off left and right buy donuts, as well as other goods and services that keep private firms like Spudnuts in potato flour.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Wingnut Constitutional Scholar Screws the Pooch

As I argue over at AlterNet today, "Conservatives have come to use the Constitution as a crutch, avoiding debates on the merits of various proposals by asserting, with a broad wave of the hand, that whatever the policy in question may be, it's all illegitimate."

Here's a fine example, courtesy of Think Progress:
In an interview with Streetsblog Capitol Hill, one radical conservative has declared yet another common public good to be unconstitutional: bike paths. In an interview about federal transporation issues, Streetsblog asked Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) about supporting legislation that would support things like bike trails. Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the transportation committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because you have us mandating bike paths, you don’t want either.”
And the punchline:
STREETSBLOG: But you’re OK with mandating highways?
HUNTER: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.
No, I don't even have a clue what he's talking about, but that's OK because the Constitution!

Charles Krauthammer's Wacky Small Government Delusions

The Hammer sums up the prevailing-but-utterly-false conventional wisdom of the Right:
The November election sent a clear message to Washington: less government, less debt, less spending.
A tip of the hat to Steve Benen, who provided this reality-check with a bit of help from the folks at Gallup:
Last week, Gallup asked respondents to say whether they "favor or oppose cutting government spending" in a variety of areas. A majority opposed cuts to everything -- literally, everything -- except foreign aid. A 52% majority even opposed cuts to funding for the arts. A whopping 67% opposes cuts to education -- which happens to be one of the main targets for congressional Republicans.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, 58 percent of eligible voters simply sat out the mid-terms entirely. So "the message" most voters sent is that they didn't trust the two major parties to solve any of the problems facing the nation, which is quite perceptive of them.

And that "mandate" that Krauthammer and his brethren take as a given is based on the votes of 21.6 percent of the eligible population who went for the GOP in 2010. Contrast that with 18.6 percent of those eligible to vote who "sent a message to Washington" favoring the Dems.

So, among the 41.6 percent who got off their butts and went to the polls, the GOP's spread was 3 percentage points: 21.6 to 18.6 percent.

New Column on the Republicans' Unpopular Health Care Mandate

I have a piece over at AlterNet looking at the health-care mandate.
That Republicans are relentlessly attacking the constitutionality of what had long been one of their signature ideas for reforming the health-care system -- the individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty – is a testament to just how far down the rabbit-hole our discourse has gone.
Check it out here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oops, That Was Fast

In the wake of Cablegate, the United States government has drafted a memo detailing strategies to prevent information from being leaked.

I know this, because the memo has been leaked.

HT: Barton Gellman via Twitter.

The Associated Press Packs a Bunch of Lies About Social Security into a News Report

The insidious ways that conservative narratives bleed into our mainstream economic discourse as objective truths is a dominant theme in my book, and this story by the Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher -- ostensibly a piece of reporting rather than opinion -- is one of the most egregious examples I've encountered.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Asian-American Pol Criticizes Limbaugh's Racism, Gets Rewarded with Racist Death Threat

Look, there's nothing wrong with right-wing maniacs spewing hyperbole about how liberals are a cancer eating away at the body politique from within, and it's downright uncivil for you to suggest otherwise.

Oppressive, even.

SF Examiner:

An apparent Rush Limbaugh fan faxed death threats to state Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday morning, according to the senator’s spokesman.
The threats to the San Francisco Democrat came more than a week after Yee asked Limbaugh for an apology for “mocking the Chinese language” and the country’s president on his popular conservative talk radio program, spokesman Adam Keigwin said.
Here, via sfist, is the sweet little note he received, in all it's glory:

Consider, too, just how stupid one has to be to fax a fucking death threat to a politician.

Kucinich Sues Over Brutal Attack by Errant Olive Pit

I love Dennis as much as the next guy, but readily concede that he is a bit of an odd duck.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich bought a sandwich from the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria in April 2008, and bit into it only to find an unpitted olive that cracked a tooth. This month, he sued the cafeteria for selling "dangerous" sandwiches.The complaint is pretty bare-boned: It claims that in April 2008, Kucinich purchased a "sandwich wrap" from the Longworth Cafeteria with an errant olive pit lurking within, and tragedy ensued.

Dennis Kucinich Sues Congressional Cafeteria Over Olive Pit

.... He's suing Restaurant Associates and three other companies involved in running and supplying the cafeteria for $150,000, claiming negligence and breach of implied warranty.

Americans (Including Some Who Might Surprise You) Are Losing Faith in All Major Institutions

At first blush, this seems like one of those opinion polls quantifying the obvious, but it's actually more interesting than getting confirmation of what we already knew.
Americans have grown less trusting of business in the past year, bucking a global trend of rising confidence in companies, governments and other institutions, according to data to be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Home Prices Are Dropping Again as the Markets Head Toward a Devastating "Double-Dip"

I have a quick column at AlterNet today looking at the state of the housing market. Short version: not good.

A taste:
According to analysts, the housing markets have taken a downward turn after rebounding during the first months of 2009. Home prices took a sharp hit in November, and have now declined for 4 straight months.

The American housing market now appears to be heading towards a painful “double dip.”The Case-Shiller index of housing values in 20 metropolitan areas -- the highly respected index that predicted the collapse of the housing bubble years before it crashed -- now stands just 3 percent higher than the trough set in April of 2009, and according to Standard and Poor's, the data suggest that “a double-dip could be confirmed before Spring.” It's already here for many cities.
Read the whole thing here.

We Face a Deep Crisis but the Word "Foreclosure" Didn't Appear in Obama's State of the Union Address

The word "foreclosure" -- and other words related to the housing crisis -- appeared neither in the president's speech, nor in the responses offered up by the GOP and the Very Silly Party (which you can read here).

Of course, pundits griping about how little attention was paid to their favorite issues during the annual SOTU pageant has long been a dull sport. This isn't like that. I'm not complaining about the president saying the wrong things about some domestic policy or ignoring the plight of the people of Tajikistan or wherever.

Friday, January 21, 2011

JP Morgan Profits When Americans Go on Food Stamps, but it Sends the Work to India

Michael at The Economic Collapse:
JP Morgan is the largest processor of food stamp benefits in the United States. JP Morgan has contracted to provide food stamp debit cards in 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. JP Morgan is paid for each case that it handles, so that means that the more Americans that go on food stamps, the more profits JP Morgan makes.
He cites ABC News:

JP Morgan is the only one today still operating public-assistance call centers overseas. The company refused to say which states had calls routed to India and which ones had calls stay domestically.

So they wrecked the economy, which sent poverty, joblessness and pain skyrocketing.

Now they get these tax dollars to service the destitute -- in addition to the hundreds of billions in free and easy money (and guarantees) that we threw at them with the bailouts.

And now they're taking that money and spending it on foreign labor.

But, of course, they also spent plenty on lobbying -- the lobbying that got them the deregulation that allowed them to wreck the economy in the first place, as well as those sweet bailouts and the trade agreements that facilitated offshoring jobs serving America's poor.

Got all that?

David Brooks Rewrites History to Claim Joe Lieberman Saved Clinton from Impeachment

It wasn't long ago that Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex, but David Brooks, the New York Times' cuddly Upper East Side-appropriate Neocon, offered this bizarre defense of Joe Lieberman:

Long before there was an Obamacare debate or the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, Lieberman played an important role in saving Bill Clinton from impeachment. As momentum for impeachment was growing, Lieberman gave a crucial speech on the Senate floor that scolded Clinton for his behavior but resolutely opposed removing him from office.

I know opinion columns aren't fact-checked, but Clinton's impeachment was just 12 short years ago. Surely someone at the New York Times recalls those heady days, no?

Even more ridiculous was the response of the Times' public editor to DougJ, who called the paper on its revisionism:

President Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives, but not in the Senate, where Mr. Lieberman represents the State of Connecticut.

I hope this helps your understanding.

The House impeaches a president, and the Senate tries him (or someday her). That's how it works. The Senate tried Clinton and found him not guilty on February 12, 1999.

Lieberman, whose speech regurgitated every right-wing talking-point on the scandal, didn't "save" Clinton -- he was one of more than 50 senators who voted against convicting the president, and that's it.