Saturday, May 15, 2010

This is reality

By Mustang Bobby

There's a great moment in the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial when Elliott is trying to help E.T. get back to his home planet by taking him back to the woods where his mother ship will land. One of his friends says, "Can't they just beam him up?" Elliott retorts, "This is reality, Greg!"

For some reason I was reminded of that when I read this post by Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog:

[...] while I'd like a president (and subordinates and appointees of that president) to be principled progressives rather than eager-to-please seekers of common ground, I prefer eager-to-please semi-progressive seekers of common ground to the sociopaths of the GOP, who'd happily burn this country to the ground if it meant they'd be the lords of what smoking embers remained. So I'll continue to voice objections to what displeases me about the Obama administration, but I'm not forgetting who the real enemy is. I'm not going to attack Elena Kagan using GOP frames, as Jane Hamsher does. I'm not going to declare this administration indistinguishable from the Bush administration, as Glenn Greenwald so often seems to do.


Part of my frustration with Firebagging in general is that progressives simply lack the muscle to drag not just the administration but Congress and the country all that far to the left by sheer force of will, and Firebaggers don't seem to understand that. Unlike the teabaggers, we don't have a multimedia news organization at our disposal that's endlessly fed money by hit Hollywood movies. We haven't had a Wurlitzer in operation for thirty years persuading the mainstream press that attention must be paid to us because we're the really really authentic Americans. Our propagandists don't dominate AM radio on every square mile of U.S. territory. We haven't even begun the work of persuading -- not hectoring, but persuading -- heartland swing voters that our ideas aren't scary, aren't hostile to American values, and in fact are in sync with their values. We certainly haven't persuaded enough to heartland voters to make heartland members of the House and Senate sit up and take notice, the way they carefully notice whether they're protecting their right flanks.

We've got a lot of work to do to get our message across. We're not going to get there by regularly joining right-wingers in Obama pile-ons.

Aside from the fact that the GOP and the tea partiers have a built-in and well-run support mechanism, they have the luxury of being out of power. They're not a majority in the House and the Senate and they don't have a president in the White House. Therefore they can let the loons on the fringe get all the attention and air-time because it provides entertainment without consequences other than showing up on Fox News at all hours and Keith Olbermann's "Worst Persons" segment. They are enabled by producers on Sunday morning chat shows where people like Liz Cheney and Michele Bachmann get air time. They can attend rallies with people carrying firearms and issuing not-so-veiled threats against the life of elected officials, and they can carry on about wanting their country back without having to explain what exactly is that they lost or stand up to the scrutiny of proposing to keep the government out of our lives while insisting on getting their Medicare checks and demanding that feds show up the next day after an oil spill. It's easy to be pure and puritanical when there are no consequences.

Perhaps it's because the Democrats are so unused to being in charge, but I actually think it comes down to the fact that they are willing to govern rather than rule. They're willing to openly admit that someone on the other side might have a good idea. That really irritates the purists. (It's a trait that runs on both sides, but the GOP is more than likely to have amnesia when they're reminded that Ronald Reagan did work with Democrats, he raised taxes, he expanded the government, and he ballooned the deficit.) But when you actually have to run the zoo, you have to make choices and compromises. Reality has a funny way of making even the most doctrinaire see that just making demands doesn't get the work done. Nor does the threat of taking your toys and going home. All that does is end the game. (If you're serious about mounting a primary challenge to President Obama in 2012, remember how well that worked for President Ted Kennedy in 1980 when he overthrew Jimmy Carter and went on to beat Ronald Reagan.)

So, as Steve M says, feel free to grumble about the Obama administration when they mess up; I have never held back when I didn't like what they're doing. But subverting what little power they have doesn't help. Unless you actually like the idea of Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty in the Oval Office, come up with a plan to make the case for moving us to the left that doesn't involve self-destruction and delusion.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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A station wagon full of nuns

You would think by now, most same people wouldn't be surprised by the gems that come out of Pat Buchanan's mouth. Yesterday good old grumpy Uncle Pat proved that he still has one more sparkling commentary in him that is both purely disgusting and insanely moronic at the same time. In his latest piece of "deep thought," Pat (on his blog) writes the following (barf bags supplied upon request):

Indeed, of the last seven justices nominated by Democrats JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, one was black, Marshall; one was Puerto Rican, Sonia Sotomayor. The other five were Jews: Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.

Is this the Democrats' idea of diversity?

Pat, your thoughtful words have proven once again you have an uncanny ability to explain the nuances of diversity. Let's put some Pat-math to all your insight. Using a simple algorithm, the above list comes to (excuse me for the language) 5 kikes, a spic and a nigger. With all this hard work Pat, you are being awarded the prestigious James Watt Memorial Medal for Diversity. For not since Mr. Watt uttered the line "...a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple" as Secretary of the Interior under St. Ronnie, has anyone come close to describing the nuances of "government for the people." Despite the fact that the Democratic choices are one woman over, a little heavy on the Jews and missing the cripple, your foresight into the inner workings of how the Democrats practice diversity are (like hand grenades and horseshoes), close enough for the win.

Pat then drivels on about the religion of the Supreme Court nominations from his hero (and employer, and anti-Semite) Richard Nixon through Bush the Younger.

George W. Bush chose John Roberts, a Catholic; Harriet Miers, the first Evangelical Christian of our era; and Sam Alito, the second Italian Catholic.

Racism has to be hard-wired in some people. Like most other hard-right conservative brainless wonders (Sarah Palin and her belief in the divine right of this as a Christian nation, quickly comes to mind), Pat probably hasn't taken a look at the parts of the Constitution that they want to pretend do not exist - like Article VI: religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This wasn't Pat's first step into the dogshit of conservative hate mongering. Earlier in the week Pat was very proud of his knowledge that women who play softball are of a certain ilk.

Women's softball has been associated with lesbians and being gay for a long time. That's sort a signal like two men sunbathing together on a beach or something like that. The immediate implication is that they're gay.

And only last summer, when Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the bench by Presidnet Obama, Pat brought this previously unknown fact of history to life:

White men were 100% of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks.

An empty mind is truly the playground for people like Pat.

While Pat is railing on about the Supreme Court now being 33% Jewish (and 33% women, and 33% from New York - two other facts that must make his blood boil), he doesn't seem to care that the other 6 justices are all Catholic. That is 67% of the court in a country that is 25% Catholic. I call that diversity. However Pat should be relieved to know that 44% of the SCOTUS is comprised of scary activist wingnut morons -- Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia -- about the same as the make-up of the country today. (What is very troubling is the fact 100% of the Supreme Court is tied to Harvard or Yale).

Maybe if Congress uses the Kagan hearings as the latest incarnation of the Inquisition, Pat would be a bit less ornery. While it is not for me to say if there are too many Jews, Catholics, softball players, New Yorkers or Coca-Cola drinkers on the Supreme Court, I will say there are way too many people like Pat Buchanan on the planet.

As for the station wagon full of nuns, when Archie Bunker gets into a car accident and "hurts" his back, he thinks he can sue and collect. Archie searches the phone book for the best Jewish lawyer and hires the firm of Rabinowitz, Rabinowitz and Rabinowitz. At first he protests when he gets one of the "gentile" lawyers in the firm. When he finally gets one of the Rabinowitzes, the elderly lawyer refuses the case because but there is a "station wagon full of nuns" that will prove Archie is lying about what happened.

I guess to the right, the Supreme Court needs to be Archie Bunker's station wagon full of nuns.

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Emperor McCain

Via HuffPo. For the original ad, see here.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

A party of easily manipulated cowards

I mean the Democratic Party, of course, or at least the Democrats on Capitol Hill. Republicans can push them around by calling them soft on terrorism, but it goes even further than that, as we saw yesterday:

House Democrats had to scrap their only substantive bill of the week Thursday after Republicans won a procedural vote that substantively altered the legislation with an anti-porn clause.

Democrats had labeled their COMPETES Act -- a bill to increase investments in science, research and training programs -- as their latest jobs bill. It was the only non-suspension bill Democrats brought up all week.

But the Republican motion to recommit the bill -- a parliamentary tactic that gives the minority one final chance to amend legislation -- contained language prohibiting federal funds from going "to salaries to those officially disciplined for violations regarding the viewing, downloading, or exchanging of pornography, including child pornography, on a federal computer or while performing official government duties."

That provision scared dozens of Democrats into voting with Republicans to approve the motion to recommit. After it became clear the GOP motion was going to pass, dozens of additional Democrats changed their votes from "no" to "yes." In the end, 121 Democrats voted with Republicans -- only four fewer than the number of Democrats who voted with their party.

But because of additional changes contained in the motion, Democrats decided to pull the bill from consideration immediately following the passage of the motion to recommit.

This shows not just that, as Steve Benen noted, Republicans aren't at all "serious about lawmaking and public policy" but that Democrats are pretty much a bunch of cowards. Of course, no one wants federal funds going to people who have been "disciplined" for "viewing, downloading, or exchanging" child pornography (although pornography generally is broader and less easily defined, suggesting that application of the law could possibly be subject to abuse), but the obvious purpose of the Republican motion was not to keep federal funding from those people but to block the Democrats' legislation. And the Democrats, terrified that they would be labelled pro-porn (and pro-child porn) by Republicans this fall, caved.

I know what Democrats are like, and I've come to expect this sort of thing, but it amazes me that a party with a popular president in the White House and huge majorities in both houses of Congress is so fucking pathetic, not least at a time when they actually have a chance to do some good for the country. It's infuriating.

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True Colours

By Capt Fogg

"I support Arizona's law as amended, and if the federal government fails to secure our borders and solve the problem of illegal immigration, I would support a similar law for Florida,''

said Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, the GOP front runner for Governor of Florida. The law he supports of course, is the one that gives Arizona the unconstitutional power to enforce Federal Immigration Law, bypass the Bill of rights and that makes it a crime for non-whites or people with accents or "foreign looking" faces not to carry papers and furnish them on demand.

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Sucks to be Arizona 2

Baby steps...

It will take a lot more to isolate Arizona over its draconian anti-immigrant law, but the boycott is still just in its early stages and these are very promising developments.

For more on the boycott, see here.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: James Inhofe (for thinking that America's men and women in uniform are a bunch of anti-gay bigots like himself)

This time it's not for calling global warming a hoax, or for denying that there was ever torture at Gitmo, or just generally for being a dangerous idiot, but rather for saying this about gays in the military:

For those of us -- and I'm one of them -- who have gone through the military, gone through basic training, and you stop and think -- it just doesn't make any sense. Second of all, it's just not working. You have women, men, then you have a third group to deal with, and they're not equipped to do that.

And you know -- you hear the stories all the time. A military guy -- I happen to be Army, and Army and Marines always feel that when we're out there, we're not doing it for the flag or the country; we're doing it for the guy in the next foxhole. And that would dramatically change that.

Not equipped to do what? I'm sure there's extensive anti-gay bigotry in the military, as there is elsewhere in society, but, for the most part (if, unlike Inhofe, I may think well of America's military), these are courageous men and women who are risking their lives to defend their country. If they're equipped to deal with the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm sure they're equipped to deal with those of a different sexual orientation in their own ranks.

Not that Inhofe gets that, of course. He obviously doesn't understand homosexuality, or sexuality at all, as he seems to think that, under fire in a foxhole, a gay soldier would ignore matters of life and death in order to try to sodomize, or be sodomized by, his comrades. This is a common homophobic fear, and it is a reflection of a deep and abiding ignorance. It's just like the anti-gay bigot who doesn't want to be in a common shower with a gay man because that gay man must obviously want to fuck him. The implication is that gay men (if not also lesbians) just can't control themselves, as well as that the bigot himself must be so fantastically desirable as to induce raging hard-ons in every gay man within a one-mile radius.

Now, I've never been in a foxhole, thankfully, but let's say I was in one with a couple of female soldiers, one who looks like Michelle Branch and one who looks like Vanessa Carlton (both of whom I find unbelievably attractive). Even if we weren't under fire, I don't think I'd let my desire get the better of me. And, under fire, I'd obviously have other things on my mind. Would I not want to fight for my comrades, male or female? Of course not. I'd fight for them, and for myself, no matter what. In other words, I'd be a professional, and, yes, I'd do what needed to be done, or so I like to think. But let me be even clear. Just because I harbour desire for a woman doesn't necessarily mean I want to fuck her, and certainly doesn't mean I can't control myself. Again, not that Inhofe gets any of this.

Inhofe no doubt considers himself an unconditional supporter of the military, but his comments are nothing if not deeply insulting to America's men and women in uniform. Regardless of what he thinks of gays and their apparently uncontrollable urges, his point is that straight soldiers won't fight for their gay comrades simply because of their sexual orientation. He might as well have said that male solders won't fight for their female comrades simply because of their sex or that Christian soldiers won't fight for their Jewish comrades simply because of their religion or that white soldiers won't fight for their black comrades simply because of their race. It's pretty much the same thing, with an added fear of sodomy.

Excuse me if I think a whole lot better of America's men and women in uniform.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Guns and airports

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced a bill Thursday that would make it illegal for people to carry firearms into commercial airports throughout the country.

The measure would prohibit people from carrying guns into areas outside of the screening checkpoints at airports, including the airport lobby, baggage claim area and ticket counters. It would not alter laws that allow licensed gun carriers to check unloaded guns in a locked case in their baggage.

"In the post-9/11 world, it simply defies common sense that it would be legal to carry a gun into an airport," Lautenberg said in a statement. "Our airports face threats every day and allowing someone to walk into a major airport with a loaded gun is a recipe for disaster."

Um, yeah. Seems obvious. But what's amazing to me is that there isn't already a law banning guns at airports. Especially post-9/11.

How fucked up is that?

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Ditat Deus

By Capt. Fogg

God enriches: it's the state motto of Arizona. To some it surely suggests that the rich are the chosen of God and the poor and struggling? Your papers please.

My hypocrisy alarm has burned itself to a cinder over the last few days simply from the stench coming from our self-styled Libertarian friends from Arizona who have just given far more power to the State government than the Constitution allows and reduced constitutional protection from the power of law enforcement provided by that constitution -- a step away from Libertarian principles that even the notorious Glenn Beck balks at.

Anyway, if God has enriched Arizona in any way, the government of that stolen state has done a great deal to cheapen its claim to being a part of a free country and to impoverish its moral status as well. Perhaps taking a clue from the Texas school board's redaction of American history, Arizona has decided that no courses taught in its schools may give students the impression that they belong to a persecuted minority.

That's right, the Navaho have always had it easy, no one ever gave a black man a hard time and the state itself was never taken by force. It's now official.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Sucks to be Arizona

The beloved Phoenix Suns, now in the NBA's Western Conference finals (and the team I'm now rooting for, mainly because of Steve Nash), don't much care for their state's draconian anti-immigrant law, and, understandably, much of the rest of the country is turning away from Arizona, with the state's tourism industry suffering the brunt:

Arizona took another hit Wednesday as Republicans cast a vote for the home of their 2012 convention. Phoenix made the short list but lost out to Tampa.

It was little surprise to tourism officials in Arizona. Since the state passed the nation's toughest immigration law three weeks ago, its meeting and events business has fallen drastically.

Hispanic civil rights groups are boycotting Arizona and urging others to do the same. Officials at the National Council of La Raza, one of the groups driving the boycott, had privately asked the RNC not to meet in Phoenix.

The city risks losing as much as $90 million in hotel and convention business over the next five years because of the controversy, according to city estimates released Wednesday. The state's hotel and lodging association has counted 23 canceled meetings for a loss of between $6 and $10 million. On Wednesday, Los Angeles became the largest city to join the boycott.

And it gets worse for Arizona. Consider the extent of L.A.'s boycott, which, the L.A. Times reports, includes a ban on "most city travel to Arizona and future contracts with companies in that state."

Hopefully the boycott with continue to grow. (Some) Arizonans may deserve better, but the state deserves to be isolated.


Meanwhile, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a new law banning the teaching of ethnic studies courses at state-funded schools. I've never been a big fan of these courses, particularly at the university level, as I agree that they can be divisive and counter-productive, but this goes way too far. And it's yet another law specifically targeting Hispanics.

Arizona may not be Nazi Germany, but it's turning into a reprehensible little shithole of bigotry before our very eyes.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Habs win! Habs win! Habs win!


After an up-and-down season, I didn't exactly have high hopes for the Canadiens heading into the playoffs. Surely the high-flying Capitals would trounce them. Washington vanquished in seven, surely the Stanley Cup champion Penguins would put an end to their Cinderella run.

Not so fast.

Missing Andrei Markov, their top defencemen (and one of the best in the league) and possibly their best player (outside of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been largely brilliant in the playoffs thus far), the Habs, my team since I was a small child growing up in Montreal, jumped out to a huge 4-0 lead, silencing the crowd and putting an obviously nervous Pittsburgh squad on their heels. The Penguins put on the pressure, however, and scored twice to make it 4-2 after two. And it looked at that point, with Pittsburgh coming on strong, that the next goal would mean the win. And it was the Habs who scored. Brian Gionta knocked in Montreal's fifth goal exactly halfway through the third, assisted by Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri, who scored the team's third goal and now has 12 so far in the playoffs.

And that was that. Halak was excellent the rest of the way, the defence, which has been dealing with injuries, including to shutdown stalwart Hal Gill, solidified, and the Habs went on to an amazing 5-2 victory, another Game 7 win on the road against one of the top teams in the East.

And now it's off to the Eastern Conference finals against either Boston or Philadelphia, who have come back from 3-0 down to tie the series up at three.

Montreal is celebrating tonight, the streets teeming with cheering fans. Myself, I'm just ecstatic. This has been an unexpected run, with victories over two supposedly dominant teams, but the Habs certainly have a chance to beat either team in the next round. They may even be the favourite.

The run may end, and likely will, if not against Boston or Philadelphia then certainly against the winner of the Western Conference finals, either San Jose or Chicago, two really strong teams, but there's no use worrying about that now. The greatest franchise in the history of sports has made it to the NHL's final four. I'll succumb to anxiety once the next round gets under way, but, for now, let's just enjoy the ride.

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And you think your commute is bad...

Photo from the G&M: "Indonesian men struggle to board a packed commuter train at a station in Jakarta, Indonesia."

On a far less amusing note, here's another Indonesia-related photo from the G&M: "A jobless mother holds her child as she offers to be a car jockey in a main street in Jakarta. Many unemployed Indonesians find work as car jockeys, for which they are paid around 15,000 rupiah to be car passengers, allowing the driver to use a lane dedicated to cars carrying three or more passengers."

No, this is certainly not the best of all possible worlds.

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Don't cry for BP

Poor BP. They caused the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, even if Cheney and his pals deserve much of the blame, and they've already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up (not that it's going all that well, mind you). Makes you wonder... can it afford it? Of course it can. It's a freakin' oil giant:

On Monday, BP said it spent $350 million in the first 20 days of the spill response, about $17.5 million a day. It has paid 295 of the 4,700 claims received, for a total of $3.5 million. By contrast, in the first quarter of the year, the London-based oil giant's profits averaged $93 million a day.

The amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico has been estimated at 5,000 to 25,000 barrels a day. In the first quarter, BP produced 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day worldwide -- and it received $71.86 for every barrel. 

Via Think Progress.

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Drill until we drop

By Capt. Fogg

Perhaps a society such as ours has as finite a lifespan as the individuals it's composed of and I think I'm seeing the kind of memory loss and dementia in the American public that we associate with extreme old age. The aged body sometimes can't absorb sustenance very well and neither can the American public assimilate the things that make a capable and dynamic Democracy possible. a large part of our population, for instance, seems to think that the huge environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico means that we need to do more of what made it happen and in the same careless, unregulated way. Presumably a number of those live far inland and don't like seafood or care that the Earth is becoming less livable because these are still the "end times," but not all of them. Some just think that as long as their immediate, short term needs are met, the rest of the world can go to hell, and so it goes.

A recent poll shows that despite the total lack of evidence and the extreme unlikeliness of the scenario, nine or ten percent of Americans do believe Limbaugh's idiotic proposition that it was the "enviros" behind the drilling platform explosion, but the scary part is that 22% are "unsure." Amongst self-identified Conservatives, the number jumps to 44% who believe it was sabotage by liberals. The evidence to the contrary is out there, the evidence for it isn't out there, so either 31% are unable to assimilate it by reason of dementia or have no interest in the survival of the USA as we think we know it -- or like many elderly people, they've given up and are simply wandering in a senile, paranoid daze of denialism looking for their lost youth and vigor.

"Perhaps most surprisingly 21% of voters said the spill made them more likely to support offshore drilling,"

said Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen. 55% of Americans polled after the disaster began, still supported offshore drilling, according to the same poll.

Am I pushing this too far? Is this really only more of what America has been doing since its beginning? We are, after all a nation that is happy to continue its war on drugs and embargoes on foreign countries that cause more harm than good; a nation that has had to struggle tooth and nail to overcome our vicious habits. Most of all we're a nation that always waits for a calamity before doing anything. What I'm afraid of is that this time the calamity we're waiting for won't come until we're a nation incapable of taking care of ourselves but a nation with a huge Army.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Narcissism: Obama, Kagan, and the Court

I haven't weighed in on the Kagan nomination yet, but, as I digest it more and more I'm growing less and less happy with it -- not that I was ever that happy with it to begin with.

I tend to agree with Dahlia Lithwick that, for the most part, Kagan appears to be largely "inscrutable." We just don't know much, let alone enough, about her:

So we've begun another round in the judicial confirmation game of "my trace DNA evidence is better than yours." A letter Kagan co-authored in 2005 condemning a court-stripping proposal for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay will hearten the left. Her statement at her 2009 confirmation hearing that the president could detain enemy combatants without trial will make liberals very nervous. Kagan's refusal to find a right to same sex-marriage in the Constitution may provide some small comfort to conservatives. But the fact that she was strongly and vocally opposed to military recruitment at Harvard Law School until the courts forced her to rescind her policy suggests a willingness to fight for liberal causes. We will debate the ambiguous evidence of Kagan's views on executive power for weeks without knowing much of anything.

This, I think, gives Kagan the benefit of the doubt -- because she's so inscrutable, we can't make much of an informed judgement as to her worthiness for the Supreme Court.

But that's not good enough. This was an opportunity for Obama to nominate a strong liberal/progressive man or woman, a strong liberal/progressive presence to rival Scalia's, a leader on the Court for potentially decades to come. Instead, he played it safe and picked a friend and confidante, and, as Ezra Klein finds, someone just like himself:

When Obama announced Kagan's nomination, he praised "her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints; her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, 'of understanding before disagreeing'; her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder." This sentence echoes countless assessments of Obama himself.

Obama is cool. He makes a show of processing the other side's viewpoint. He's more interested in the fruits of consensus than the clarification of conflict.


Understanding this is the key to understanding the Kagan pick: Obama's theory of negotiations is that extending an open hand makes it easier for people to see if the other side has made a fist. It both increases the likelihood of a deal and increases your chances of winning the PR war if a deal falls apart.

This is a theory that frustrates many liberals who want to see a more confrontational tone from the president, but it's core to Obama's theory of winning a negotiation. And the need to win negotiations is core to Obama's -- and everyone's -- theory of the Supreme Court.


That said, it's not clear that majorities are dependent on an individual justice's skill at negotiation.

I appreciate Obama's political skill, and his penchant for consensus-building (and, where there is no give from the other side, his willingness, as we saw with health-care reform, to go it alone), even as his method frustrates me, even as I find his "theory" wanting, largely because the other side is rarely if ever willing to play along. But what works or what may work in the political arena, trying to build majorities, or super-majorities, on Capitol Hill, may not be what works in the secluded chambers of the Supreme Court, where the key is to win Justice Kennedy's vote, and it's not at all clear to me that what the deadlocked Court needs is someone like Obama.

This is not to say that Kagan would be a wholly unsuccessful judge. Assuming she's confirmed, she may well win some decisions for the liberal side. And she may well turn out to be a reliable liberal/progressive voice on the Court, whatever her disturbingly Bush/Cheney/Obama-like views on the unitary executive. But why go with such a safe pick, someone whom liberals/progressives are right to distrust but who, given her apparent ability to win over conservatives and her lack of much of a record, should be easily confirmed as hardly the sort of left-wing radical some on the right claim she is?

Democrats haven't exactly been able to appoint all that many Supreme Court justices in recent decades. Of the current nine, only three were appointed by Democrats: Ginsburg and Breyer by Clinton and Sotomayor by Obama. Is Kagan really the best Obama could have done? Surely not.

She may well be, as Jeffrey Rosen puts it, much like Klein, "the ideal Obama jurist," but that's what worries me. I'm still an Obama supporter, but I, like so many on the left, expected much more from him, or at least, given reasonable expectations of his potential, hoped for much more, and demand more from him now. No, benefits of the doubt are no longer to be given, neither to Obama nor to his nominees, but I will certainly support Kagan's nomination, for what else are we to do but to state our objections before giving our support, lest we end up siding with the right-wing extremists who are sure to assault her nomination with the usual viciousness? But that doesn't mean we need to be happy about it.

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Prime Minister Cameron

As you've already heard, I'm sure, Gordon Brown resigned yesterday, opening the door for Conservative David Cameron to be Britain's new prime minister, with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats agreeing to a coalition deal that will give them five Cabinet spots, including Clegg as Cameron's deputy.

The BBC has some of the coalition details here.

While a Labour-led left-of-center coalition was a possibility, Brown just didn't have much legitimacy to govern, I think, or rather public perception of legitimacy, and a non-Brown coalition would have been weak, insecure, and short-lived. Indeed, as I suggested yesterday, the best thing for Labour, in the long run, was to admit defeat and regroup under a new leader and a new regime that leaves the Blair-Brown years behind.

It will be interesting to see how the Tory-LibDem coalition works out. The LibDems, after all, while a nominally liberal party that could be centrist, often run to the left of Labour, particularly in Scotland, and they seem to have given up a great deal for the sake of power, including their preference that the U.K. adopt a proportional representation electoral system for elections to Westminster. (The Tories have agreed to a referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which is decidedly not a PR system -- and which, ironically enough, could benefit Labour.) In addition, the LibDems have signed on with a governing party that will pursue right-wing economic, military, and immigration policies.

Selling out obviously comes at a price. Enjoy your brush with power, Clegg.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mainesanity: Pine Tree State GOP taken over by Tea Party wackos

I like Maine. I really do. It's lovely, along the coast -- you know, U.S. Route 1, Kennebunkport, Bar Harbor. It can be quite stunning.

And while it's a state that elects Republicans to Washington -- Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- its Republicanism is generally quite moderate. Even the Kennebunkport-based Bushies were fairly moderate, at least compared to the right-wing extremists who currently hold sway in the Republican Party.

Enter the Teabaggers, however. As Mike Tipping of Maine Politics reports (via Chait, and see also the CSM):

An overwhelming majority of delegates to the Maine Republican convention [Saturday night] voted to scrap the the proposed party platform and replace it with a document created by a group of Tea Party activists.

The official platform for the Republican Party of Maine is now a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords and outright conspiracy theories.

The document calls for the elimination of the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve, demands an investigation of "collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth," suggests the adoption of "Austrian Economics," declares that "'Freedom of Religion' does not mean 'freedom from religion'" (which I guess makes atheism illegal), insists that "healthcare is not a right," calls for the abrogation of the "UN Treaty on Rights of the Child" and the "Law Of The Sea Treaty" and declares that we must resist "efforts to create a one world government."

It also contains favorable mentions of both the Tea Party and Ron Paul. You can read the whole thing here.

That's certifiably, bat-shit-crazy insane. Like, even more insane than Palin, out there with Beck and Bachmann and the Birthers and the various delusional paranoids of the far right.

And it's in Maine! That's even more insane. (But click on the link above and watch the video. It would appear that Maine's Tea Party GOP is one of the least diverse groups in America. I realize that Maine isn't exactly the most demographically diverse state, but this is ridiculous.)

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 Republican Party! Enjoy!

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Tyrant on Twitter: Hugo Chavez takes to social networking

As the proprietor of this blog, and generally as a blogger who has made a tiny bit of a name for himself, I find myself on a lot of mailing lists. Some are fine (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's and Rep. Steny Hoyer's, for example), some annoy me (most of the conservative/Republican ones), and some are just downright amusing (if not in a funny way) -- such as that of the "Embassy of the Bolivarian Republican of Venezuela to the U.S.," which, as you might expect, bombards me with bombastic pro-Chavez propaganda.

I suppose I'm on that mailing list because I've written extensively on Chavez, though hardly in a friendly way. I prefer to call him "The Tyrant of Caracas." (See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Yes, it's pretty clear I loathe him.)

Anyway, whatever. I usually ignore the e-mails, but it's helpful, I suppose, to get the propaganda straight from the source, via a diplomatic channel in Washington.

What I learned yesterday is that Chavez is a big hit on Twitter:

Just two weeks after joining Twitter, President Hugo Chavez has become Venezuela's most followed user of the online social network, with over 265,000 followers as of Monday, May 10. He is also amongst the only heads of state that is using the network to directly engage with followers, both in Venezuela and around the world.

President Chavez joined Twitter on April 28, and within 12 hours had gained more than 45,000 followers. Since then, his Twitter account – @chavezcandanga – has gained followers at a rate sometimes exceeding 1,000 per hour. It is estimated that within the first month of use, President Chavez will gain one million followers.

While his first tweets were merely informational, on May 3 he began responding directly to other Twitter users, a practice replicated by virtually none of the other heads of state that use the service. (His first response was to a Mexican girl, to whom he wished a happy birthday to her sister.) He has also taken to responding to tweets during presidential addresses and speeches.

His is certainly a dictatorship with a smiley face. And while he may be popular on Twitter, it's apparent that social networking does not discriminate against tyranny. Hitler no doubt would have been bigger than Ashton Kutcher.

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"The score is four / And next time more”

By J. Thomas Duffy

This news broke yesterday, and it is big ...

I mean BIG!

Here's the background, in the event you were born after the 1970's;

The Kent State shootings – also known as the May 4 massacre or Kent State massacre – [2][3][4] occurred at Kent State University in the city of Kent, Ohio, and involved the shooting of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.[5]

Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.[6][7]

Now, here's the blockbuster news;

New analysis of 40-year-old recording of Kent State shootings reveals that Ohio Guard was given an order to prepare to fire

The Ohio National Guardsmen who fired on students and antiwar protesters at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 were given an order to prepare to shoot, according to a new analysis of a 40-year-old audio tape of the event.

"Guard!" says a male voice on the recording, which two forensic audio experts enhanced and evaluated at the request of The Plain Dealer. Several seconds pass. Then, "All right, prepare to fire!"

"Get down!" someone shouts urgently, presumably in the crowd. Finally, "Guard! . . . " followed two seconds later by a long, booming volley of gunshots. The entire spoken sequence lasts 17 seconds.

Why is this a big deal?

The previously undetected command could begin to explain the central mystery of the Kent State tragedy - why 28 Guardsmen pivoted in unison atop Blanket Hill, raised their rifles and pistols and fired 67 times, killing four students and wounding nine others in an act that galvanized sentiment against the Vietnam War.

The order indicates that the gunshots were not spontaneous, or in response to sniper fire, as some have suggested over the years.

I was not-yet 15-years-old when this went down, the tipping point, after the blizzard of nightly news footage of the carnage in Viet Nam, and the handful of older guys from the neighborhood that came home in body bags.

Now, our government was shooting at us.

For, merely, expressing our 1st Amendment rights.

Digby, on her blog Hullabaloo, has a great post up, in which she quotes from the book 'Nixonland', showing, chillingly, the parallels between the red-faced, crew-cut conservatives, the ones who bought, at retail price, the tainted American Dream, the ones who in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings chanted "The score is four / And next time more”, and today's political climate;

The country eventually disengaged from Vietnam. But that was only one skirmish in our ongoing tribal struggle --- it still rages today. History can now record what really happened that day at Kent State. But I think we can assume from the Nixonland excerpt that whether or not the Guardsmen shot under orders was never really the issue anyway.

The funny thing is that the same Real Americans who believed the protesters deserved it would join the tea parties today and complain mightily about government overreach. In fact, many of them probably have.

(Susie Madrak, over on Crooks and Liars, has a post with video, and audio)

And, there is still pain;

In Pittsburgh, Doris Krause has been waiting 40 years to find out who killed her daughter Allison, and why. Now 84 and widowed, she said Friday the presence of the prepare-to-fire order doesn't surprise her.

"It had to be," she said. "There's no other way they could have turned in unison without a command. There's no other way they could fire at the same time."

She is frustrated, though, that the recording can't identify the person who gave the order. "I wish there was better proof," Krause said. "We have to find a man with enough courage to admit what happened.

"I'm an old lady," she said, "and before I leave this earth, I'd like to find out who said what is on that tape."

"Courage to admit what happened ..."

Hopefully, it won't take another 40-years to find that out.

Crosby Stills Nash Young Teach Your Children - Iraq

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Al Gore on the Climate Crisis

If you only read one thing today -- other than this blog, of course, and the blogs of my great contributors -- this should be it: Al Gore's "The Crisis Comes Ashore" at The New Republic. It reminds me once again why, to me, Al Gore is the world's greatest political figure, and certainly the political figure I admire most. If I could pick one person to be president of the United States, or even leader of the world, he'd be it.

Make sure to read the whole thing, but here's a key passage:

It is understandable that the administration will be focused on the immediate crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. But this is a consciousness-shifting event. It is one of those clarifying moments that brings a rare opportunity to take the longer view. Unless we change our present course soon, the future of human civilization will be in dire jeopardy. Just as we feel a sense of urgency in demanding that this ongoing oil spill be stopped, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency in demanding that the much larger and more dangerous ongoing emissions of global warming pollution must also be stopped to make the world safe from the climate crisis that is building all around us.

It is a brilliant articulation of the need for concerted international action to combat global warming, as well as a firm rebuttal to the industry-funded anti-climate propaganda that threatens "our ability to understand and trust the conclusions reached by the most elaborate and impressive scientific assessment in the history of our civilization."

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The Great McCain Sellout of 2010 (cont'd)

Rightly, conservatives aren't buying this shit. Conservatives like Hot Air's Allahpundit:

I don't know what to say, guys. I'm genuinely speechless. Pandering is one thing, shameless careerist pandering is something else, and then there's John "Goddamned Fence" McCain marching along the border in a badass Navy baseball cap looking like he could choke out a coyote with his bare hands. And you know what? If he thought he'd get a few points' bounce from it, I bet he'd do it too. How long before he's spotted on the trail wearing a "Viva Los 1070" t-shirt?

At this point, McCain will apparently do anything and say anything in his pathetic attempt to make himself over as a die-hard right-wing conservative. Remember, he now says he was never a maverick, in direct contradiction of the historical record.

I never bought into the whole "maverick" thing. It was always so very faux, so very manufactured. For the most part, he's always been a loyal conservative Republican, a few mavericky positions notwithstanding. I even respected his admirable position on immigration, which, for a Republican, was generally quite fair and sensible, not to mention humane.

But now? Well, just take a look at the ad. It's embarrassingly appalling.

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Brown out, but what now?

It had to happen.

British PM Gordon Brown has announced that he will step down as Labour leader by September, once a new leader (and PM?) is chosen. All to facilitate a desired Labour-LibDem coalition (with the backing of the smaller progressive parties), all to keep David Cameron and the Tories out of power -- given that LibDem leader Nick Clegg doesn't much care for Brown and is much more likely to strike a deal knowing that Brown will be gone.

As Chris Bowers notes at Open Left, this broad coalition would have a narrow majority of 328 seats. Would it last? Surely not, and I wonder if it wouldn't be best for Labour to let it go, to let Cameron either govern with a minority or to force another election (if no government is formed by later this month), and to regroup under a new leader while Cameron imposes tough spending cuts, pushes the Tories hidden right-wing agenda, and proves to be a failure. That's a risk, but it may be a risk worth taking for the long-term well-being both of the party and of the country.

I realize that it's hard to give up power, and I understand why Brown and Labour want to hold onto it. But at what cost? The LibDems, who are demanding a great deal in return for their votes, want electoral reform, and specifically a proportional representation system that would benefit themselves most of all. Now, whether you support PR or not (and I generally don't), what's clear is that PR wouldn't benefit Labour (unless it received a majority of the popular vote, which would be rather difficult to achieve under PR, it would forever be required to form coalition governments with the LibDems and/or other left-of-center parties, hampering its ability to govern effectively) and would, in my view, be bad for the country generally. And for what? For a few more months of power, or for another year or two, at most, of unstable government?

Anyway, coalition talks are underway. I just can't see a Tory-LibDem union, and non-Labour Brown seems to have the upper hand. Stay tuned.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Quote of the Day: Arnold Schwarzenegger on Arizona

The Governator was in top comedic form in his commencement address at Emory University in Atlanta today:

I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend. But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me. 

Now that, my friends, is funny, a poignant smackdown of Arizona's draconian new anti-immigrant law.

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This is why we need to keep newspapers around

By J. Thomas Duffy

I have been a newspaper junkie for much of my life.

Even very young, five, six-years-old, I would race up to my grandfather's corner store, and read the paper before school, going back-to-front, having to scope out, first, how my favorite sports team made out the night before.

There was so much stuff to be wondered by.

Aside from the hard news, and the Op-Ed Pages, newspapers are necessary for something much, much more;

Filler articles, and the local answer man, or advice giver.

These items are gold and a really good item makes trekking through the paper a most satisfying experience.

Today's 'The Boston Globe' has such an item.

It comes from the "Ask Dr. Knowledge" column (who is actually, a local Physics professor);

Why is drinking a milkshake through a straw harder than a soft drink?

Q - If I order a soft drink at a fast-food restaurant, I can drink it with a thin straw or a wide straw, with little difficulty either way. When it comes to a milkshake though, I can’t get anything at all through the narrow straw. Why?

A - The first thing to notice about the milkshake is that it’s viscous, which is the scientific way of saying that it’s sticky. Water is somewhat viscous, too, but much less so.


If you can just manage to suck up a milkshake through the wide straw, however, you would need 16 times the suction to get it up the narrower one at the same rate.

There is more detail Dr. Knowledge provides the benighted milkshake drinker, so check that out.

What marveled me was that there was someone out there, so stumped, so fraught with anxiety, so lost over the complexity of straws, parched, maybe jonesin' for a milkshake, and perpetually stymied by those darn straws, the straw being Lucy-and-the-football, that they wrote (perhaps emailed) the local newspapers' "Dr. Knowledge" in a quest to have their life reunited with the tasty ice-cream, milk and syrup libation.

And, I have to wonder, if, in the Doc's answer, the part about needing "16 times the suction", if he was, slyly, telling the questioner that, you gotta really suck, both, to drink the milkshake, and, to send in a question like that.

This is why we need to keep newspapers around.

Bonus Links

Michael Sokolove: What’s a Big City Without a Newspaper?

Will Bunch: Apple's tablet will NOT save journalism

Danny Sullivan: Google CEO Eric Schmidt On Newspapers & Journalism

Clay Shirky: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Onward Christian financiers

By Distributorcap

When the clock flipped into the year 2000, America was enjoying true prosperity. The economy was humming, the budget was balanced, the internet was hot as dot-com stocks were flying, and real estate was beginning its rise into the stratosphere. In fact, the biggest fear was that the entire computing structure of the US would go haywire as internal clocks in the CPUs and software would not be able to handle the change in the century digit. By the time 2001 rolled around, the dot-com stocks had collapsed and George Bush had been installed as Chief Defender of the Faith of Idiocy.

But the real estate market kept flying. During that year, Integrity Bank, opened their doors in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. The bank's philosophy (which in hindsight would blend nicely with the coming decade of Bush dogma) would be to transact business based on Christian principles and make a lot of money at the same time. The bank's charter and philosophy took the motto on American money “In God We Trust” literally. The bank gave customers free Bibles, and employees prayed together at meetings. Investors included Georgia politicians and the former CNN host Lou Dobbs.

The bank’s founder, Steven M. Skow, a Lutheran, said he would give away 10 percent of annual profits to churches and faith-based charities. In 2007, Mr. Skow donated $1.7 million. Mr. Skow said he would not discriminate against non-Christians. “We weren’t selling religion,” he said. “We just managed the bank on godly principles, like the golden rule.”

The gold sure ruled until their Golden Calf god turned out to be made of iron pyrite.

In August 2008, government regulators in Georgia shut down Integrity Bank just as the economy began to collapse in a sea of red ink and bad mortgages. Integrity bank was initially seen as just another failed lender that had fallen victim to the hard times of easy lending and overvalued the real estate. After all, these were good Christians who made some bad decisions.

When it was put into receivership on August 29th, 2008, Integrity had assets of $1.1 billion and deposits of $974. What was left on the balance sheet was sold to Regions Bank of Alabama. The failed Christian bank's five offices re-opened on Sept. 2 as branches of Regions. The FDIC estimated the bank lost up to $350 million on those $1.1 billion in assets, putting the red ink at a stunning 32%, one of the highest loss percentages in the last 40 years.

Onward Christian financiers.

On Friday, May 8, a federal indictment was unsealed. It accused two former vice presidents at the bank of hastening its downfall by selling fraudulent loans to a hotel developer in exchange for bribes.

From the The New York Times:

The two executives, Douglas Ballard and Joseph Todd Foster, were charged with conspiracy, insider trading and bank fraud, according to the indictment. Mr. Ballard was also charged with bribery. The developer, Guy Mitchell, who received $80 million in loans, was charged with conspiracy and bribery.

But in announcing the indictment, the United States attorney Sally Quillian Yates said Mr. Ballard and Mr. Foster had not lived up to the bank’s name or mission. “A number of banks have suffered from the plummeting real estate market, but this bank was robbed from the inside,” she said. 

To say the least.

Good Christian Mitchell pled not guilty at a federal courthouse in Atlanta. Good Christians - Ballard and Foster - have yet to turn themselves in and will probably be arraigned within a few days.

The soldiers for the good Christians were deployed quickly to defend these pious and moral citizens. Edward Garland, Mitchell's attorney said his client had been a law-abiding, profitable customer for the bank. “The collapse of the economy caused the bank failure, not his activity,” Mr. Garland said.

The indictment states Mitchell received the $80 million in loans from Integrity from 2004 to 2006. The holdings in the Mitchell portfolio include the upscale Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa in Sausalito, Calif., and the Royal Palm Hotel near Miami. The indictment goes on the state that he obtained the money under false pretenses and deposited nearly $20 million in a personal checking account. From this account his bought some very religious inspired items, like a private island in the Bahamas for $1.5 million.

The indictment also charges that Mitchell made few, if any, payments on the loans. Instead, it says, he took additional loans, and his debt ballooned. In return for lenient terms on the loan, Mitchell paid Ballard more than $230,000 in bribes. It also accuses the two good Christian bank executives of engaging in insider trading when they sold off their Integrity stock as the bank began to wallow in a sea of debt.

“After passing out $80 million to the developer like it was Monopoly money, both officers dumped their Integrity stock before the failed loans came to light,” Ms. Yates said. 

"We expect to show that he is completely innocent." stated defense lawyer Garland of Mitchell. He said "Mr. Mitchell was in compliance with banking regulations and merely used a central bank account for both personal and business expenses.” These words are right out of the most holy biblical text - the book of Hypocrisy.

Before the collapse of the bank, Integrity had launched its own internal investigation of the loans to Mitchell, since they were such a large part of the portfolio. The probe found that some of Integrity's good Christian, Bible-thumping executives lent more and more money to Mitchell, in order to boost their own collection plate. "By continuing to loan Mr. Mitchell money, large loan fees were generated for commissions to the loan officers, as well as loan dollar volume goals to justify larger year-end bonuses for executive management," the directors concluded in January 2008, according to minutes from a board meeting that were filed in the bankruptcy.

By the time the bank collapsed in 2008, Mitchell had several different loans from Integrity that added up to $83 million, or 127% of the bank's total capital of $65.3 million, according to court and regulatory filings. The loans were secured by the hotel, shopping centers, his home in Florida and co-signed by Jesus himself.

However, good Christian Mitchell had a sweetheart clause in his loans. Unlike almost any other borrower, Mitchell wasn't required to make payments on the loans out of his own pocket. Instead, each loan had interest reserves, or money set aside to cover payments until the projects started generating their own cash. In other words the loan was being paid back with money from the loan. Regulators have criticized the use of interest reserves as a payment mechanism, claiming its makes it difficult to detect troubled loans.

Founder Steven Skow, who left the bank in 2007, was not implicated in the indictment. He claimed he was a good Christian (and good Sergeant Schultz) and knew nothing about the activities in the indictment. He said he had lost $22 million in stock when the bank failed.

I guess this is a true test of faith for Mr. Skow, 22 million faiths in all.

By the way, the faith-based state of Georgia leads the nation in bank failures, with 38 banks having closed since 2007, according to the FDIC. Georgia has one of the nation's most underregulated banking system.

(Cross-posted from Distributorcap NY.)

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