Saturday, July 03, 2010

Say Goodbye to Hollywood

by Distributorcap

I was watching a few old movies this past week and got inspired, since I cannot remember the last time I actually went to a movie theatre.

Some of my favorites - what did I leave out? (qualified as American films 1930-1970)


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Friday, July 02, 2010

Quote of the Day

By Creature

"Well, if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan." -- Republican National Committee Chairman and anti-war activist, Michael Steele.

I'm assuming he didn't clear this statement with President John McCain first.

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Pork and politics, Harry Reid and the NRA

According to RedState's Erick Erickson -- while it pains me to link to him, I must concede that he does have good connections on the right -- the National Rifle Association (NRA) may endorse Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over Republican challenger Sharron Angle in Nevada's Senate race.

But why? Is Sharron Angle too crazy even for the crazy gun nuts at the NRA? Is that it?


While the NRA's exemption from the Disclose Act may be part of it, the real reason may be all about pork:

It turns out, Reid secured a $61 million earmark for a gun range in Clark County, Nevada.

NRA members were recently treated to a three-page spread in the American Rifleman about a visit to Nevada by Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox to "thank" Reid for the earmark. The article even includes a cliché picture of Reid cutting a ribbon with a gigantic pair of scissors. (Every good porker has his own giant pair of gold earmark scissors.) More here.

Here is a video of the event from Reid's youtube site.

At 3:25, you can hear LaPierre touting Reid's record on guns saying, "I also want to thank you, Senator, for your support every day for the Second Amendment and for the rights of American gun owners."

The American Rifleman article also commends Reid's Second Amendment record noting, "His dedication to this project is just one of the ways Sen. Reid has demonstrated his support for gun owners and the Second Amendment."

What's more, according to The Weekly Standard, "[t]he NRA is frightened by the possibility that Harry Reid would be replaced by an anti-gun Democrat as majority leader. 'Truthfully, the two individuals vying for majority leader should Harry Reid lose are the two most rabidly anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment senators in Washington, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin,' Cox said. 'Does that give concern to NRA members and gun owners all over America? Absolutely, it does.'"

The Standard reports that the NRA hasn't yet "decided on an endorsement," but clearly the organization realizes that Reid can do a lot more for it than Angle ever could and that it's not so bad to have a pro-gun Democrat in charge. Cox exaggerates about Schumer and Durbin -- really, they're more "rabidly anti-gun" than anyone else in the Senate? -- but he's right that Reid is better for the NRA and its members than the likely alternatives.

All of which should be a reminder to Democrats that Harry Reid, however much they may want him to beat Angle, isn't exactly the most admirable guy around. I understand that you have to be solidly pro-gun to win a state-wide race in Nevada, if not to win there at all, but Reid isn't just that, he also seems to be the NRA's main Democrat in Washington, a powerful senator who is obviously more than willing to use his influence to help and protect the NRA.

Politics can be ugly, to be sure, and sometimes you have to make deals with the devil. And Reid is nothing if not politically savvy. But at what point is enough enough? Well, maybe Reid hasn't crossed the line just yet. As Erickson notes:

Reid has not supported the Second Amendment "every day." Or ever.

Reid has a lifetime rating of "F" from Gun Owners of America (who Ron Paul once called "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington"). GOA is actively supporting the 100% pro-gun Republican nominee, Sharron Angle, in her campaign to unseat Harry Reid.

Indeed, Reid has a "longstanding hostility to guns and the Second Amendment."

The truth is somewhere in between. Reid is generally pro-gun, but he's not a pro-gun extremist like Angle, Paul, and the GOA -- and Erickson himself, of course. In that world, the NRA isn't pure enough, and isn't extremist enough in its opposition to any and all gun control, even if it understands Washington well enough to take a more nuanced, and more rationally self-interested, view of the Nevada Senate race.

Go ahead and vote for Reid in November, but, with the NRA at his side, endorsement or no, you might still want to hold your nose.

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Waterboarding is torture except when the U.S. government says it isn't and The New York Times and other major newspapers obediently stop calling it torture

I'm a day late getting to this -- thanks, Canada Day! -- but an extremely important study was released the other day showing that the mainstream media, including large outlets like The New York Times, essentially caved in to the government, that is, to the Bush-Cheney administration, when it came to reporting on waterboarding as torture:

Is waterboarding torture? If you picked up a major U.S. newspaper before 2004, the answer would likely be yes, according to a new Harvard University study.

But in the post-9/11 world, when the practice of immobilizing and virtually drowning detainees became a politically charged issue, that straightforward definition grew murky. The study, conducted by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, examined coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and found a noticeable shift in language concerning waterboarding.

"From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture," the study noted. But the study found that things changed in the years when "war on terror" became part of the American lexicon.

The New York Times defined waterboarding as torture, or effectively implied that it was, 81.5 percent of the time in articles until 2004, the study found. But during 2002-2008 — when the George W. Bush White House made a concerted effort to normalize harsh interrogation methods for use on terror detainees — the Times "called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles." That’s 1.4 percent of the time.

The study also noted a disparity in how newspapers defined waterboarding when the United States employed the practice versus its use by other nations — in the latter instance, newspapers more readily called the practice torture.

So much, it would seem, for journalistic independence and integrity -- to the extent that the media had much left anyway. Given how the media establishment operates, after all, this is hardly all that surprising.

Andrew Sullivan is justifiably furious

But it is not an opinion that waterboarding is torture; it is a fact, recognized by everyone on the planet as such - and by the NYT in its news pages as such - for centuries. What we have here is an admission that the NYT did change its own established position to accommodate the Cheneyite right.

So their journalism is dictated by whatever any government says. In any dispute, their view is not: what is true? But: how can we preserve our access to the political right and not lose pro-torture readers? If you want a locus classicus for why the legacy media has collapsed, look no further.


This is not editing. It is surrender. It is not journalism; it is acquiescence to propaganda. It strikes me as much more egregious a failing than, say, the Jayson Blair scandal. Because it reaches to the very top, was a conscious decision and reveals the empty moral center in the most important newspaper in the country.

When historians look back and try to understand how the US came to be a country that legitimizes torture, the New York Times will be seen to have played an important role in euphemizing it, enabling it, and entrenching it. The evidence shows conclusively that there is not a shred of argument behind the dramatic shift in 2002 - just plain cowardice.

In my view, the people who made that decision should resign. They have revealed that they are nothing but straws in the wind - in a time when moral clarity and courage were most needed.

Extremely well put. And I agree.

For more, see Steve Benen and, of course, Glenn Greenwald, who had a fantastic post on Wednesday responding to the study. As he correctly points out, such "compliant behavior makes overtly state-controlled media unnecessary."

It's great, and essential to any liberal democracy, to have freedom of the press. But what if the press doesn't want to be free?

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Google to cover health benefit "tax" on same-sex employees

I've never heard of this odd little company called "Google," but I applaud it enthusiastically for supporting its same-sex employees:

[Yesterday], Google [began] covering a cost that gay and lesbian employees must pay when their partners receive domestic partner health benefits, largely to compensate them for an extra tax that heterosexual married couples do not pay. The increase [is] retroactive to the beginning of the year.


Google is not the first company to make up for the extra tax. At least a few large employers already do. But benefits experts say Google's move could inspire its Silicon Valley competitors to follow suit, because they compete for the same talent.

Under federal law, employer-provided health benefits for domestic partners are counted as taxable income, if the partner is not considered a dependent. The tax owed is based on the value of the partner's coverage paid by the employer.

On average, employees with domestic partners will pay about $1,069 more a year in taxes than a married employee with the same coverage, according to a 2007 report by M. V. Lee Badgett, director of the Williams Institute, a research group that studies sexual orientation policy issues.

So Google is essentially going to cover those costs, putting same-sex couples on an even footing with heterosexual employees whose spouses and families receive health benefits.

Google is only doing what's right, given the injustice of federal law. The struggle continues to legalize same-sex marriage, but, in the meantime, this is just the sort of thing that needs to be done to ensure, as far as possible, that gay and lesbian couple are treated fairly.

As for Google, I've just discovered that it's actually a fairly large and well-known company, and that a lot of people use its services. Huh. Well then. Who knew? You learn something new every day out here on the information superhighway, don't you?

To support what Google is doing for its same-sex employees, I shall now go and check out the company's so-called "search engine." It sounds like a wild ride. Have any of you used it before?

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Candidate for worst human being in the world: Mel Gibson

It's hardly breaking news that Mel Gibson is a racist, anti-Semitic thug, among other things, but now we have another piece of evidence to add to the ever-growing pile:

In one of the most explosive, racist and vile outbursts by a celebrity ever caught on tape, Mel Gibson told the mother of his love child that the way she was dressed would get her "raped by a pack of n***ers," has learned exclusively.

It's a shocking and blockbuster development in the couple's bitter legal battle, and Mel's disgusting words are on audio tape. His racist, misogynist statement is one of the secrets lurking in his war with his former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. has heard the tape, which also includes Mel telling Oksana he will burn down her home.



I just realized we haven't done a new entry in this series in some time. In fact, this is just the third. Mel joins Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson.

Which is pretty much the right company for him.


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UI extension fails again in Senate

By Creature

I'm starting to think Ben Nelson wants his party to fail. Life must have been easier for this turncoat when the Dems were not in control. Bush tax cuts, anyone?

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Canada Day 2010

Happy Birthday, Canada!!!

We're 143 years old today.

To all my Canadian friends and family, have a safe and happy day. And to everyone else, to all of you from around the world, take a bit of time today to think of us. This is pretty wonderful country.

I posted this clip three years ago and I'll post it again. It's one of the most stirring renditions of our national anthem I've ever heard, sung by the fans at Edmonton's Rexall Place before Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference playoff series between the Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks on May 23, 2006 (the Oilers won the series in five games before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the finals, 4-3).

It was also stirring when, during the round-robin men's curling match between Canada (skipped by the great Kevin Martin) and Great Britain (skipped by David Murdoch) at the Vancouver Olympics this year, the crowd broke into O Canada. It was a great match in Draw 8, on Saturday evening, February 8, the best match of the tournament. Even though it wasn't a match to decide a medal, it was incredibly tense, not least because of the rivalry that had developed between these two rinks over the past few years, and not least because both rinks are so good. Britain stole one in the 8th to take a 6-5 lead, but Martin led Canada back with some incredible shots, picking up two in the 10th to win 7-6. Canada went on to win the gold, undefeated. Britain lost a tiebreaker to Sweden and finished 5th, well below where it belonged.

You can find the O Canada clip here -- CTV, the host broadcaster, apparently doesn't allow it to be embedded, which is a shame. It was one of the most glorious moments of the Olympics.

Still with the Olympics, if you missed it, check out this wonderful video essay by Stephen Brunt, our finest sportswriter and commentator (writing for The Globe and Mail and appearing regularly on radio and TV), on what the Olympics meant to Canada. (It's introduced by Brian Williams, the main studio host for CTV.) It's brilliant, it's magnificent, it's beautiful, it's moving, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's still right on even now, months later. And, amazingly, it was done before our historic gold-medal men's hockey win, the singular triumph that really brought this country together. (I originally posted the clip here, with additional commentary.)

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Yobs, Yobs, Yobs

By Carl
The children in Congress are at it again:
Once again, the Congress is going to go on a break without having extended long term jobless benefits, as the Senate failed to get 60 votes last night on another plan from Democrats.

By my count, this is the third time that Senators will have gone on a vacation without an agreement on extending those jobless benefits - the first time was Easter, the second just before Memorial Day, and now before the July 4th break.
Clearly, it is far more important to take a vacation than to help 1.3 million Americans stay off welfare. Maybe the Senators could hire a few of their constitutents to flip burgers at the family barbecue. They can label it "job training" and pay for it with office earmarks. Win-win, as they say.
Add to this the latest ridiculous selfish trope the Teabaggers are throwing out with regards to unemployment benefits: that they actually create long-term joblessness.
Anyone who's been on unemployment for a length of time-- and believe me I have-- knows that the unemployment benefit barely pays for food and possibly rent. Maybe, especially if your landlord is sympathetic. It's based on a percentage of your income and is capped at a couple of hundred a week. That might not sound half bad: if you're making $20,000 a year, that published report of $500 a week is more than your salary.
But if you're making $20,000 a year, you won't be eligible for $500 a week. You're generally eligible for half your salary, or $190 a week. And the formula is determined by state. For example, in Arizona, the maximum benefit is $200 a week. One can only imagine what a minimum wage worker makes in unemployment.
None of this takes into consideration the fact that the worst part of being unemployed is the shame and embarrassment of being out oa f job. Most people want to work. Most people will settle for a decent job that pays a decent wage that they can feed their families with. Any lifestyle beyond that, including mortgages and debts, will fall by the wayside. 
I know when I was out of work for a couple of years (thanks, Bush family!) my attitude towards my creditors was, "Sorry about your damn luck for lending money to a loser." Now, I never walked away from a debt, but I knew if I had to, I could. It took a lot of the sting out of getting those letters and bills each month.
The GOP attitude seems to be, "well, someone is having fun on our dime, and it must stop." And yea, there's a few people out there, probably a higher percentage now than when the recession first hit, that are enjoying the dole. So?
You folks in Congress work three months out of the year, get your health insurance paid for, despite drawing a six figure salary, have a guaranteed pension plan in place, have healthclub privileges, get free cafeteria food, have expense accounts and that's just for starters with the LEGAL perks of being a Congresscritter! It seems to me the percentage of corrupt Representatives and Senators is a LOT higher than the percentage of folks on unemployment who might buy the occasional six pack to drown their sorrows!
Grow up, nut up, shut up, and butt out!  
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Smartest Republican of the Day: Bob Bennett

Utah Sen. Bob Bennett may have a bit of an axe to grind, and certainly has nothing to lose, given that his own party denied him a re-election bid by voting against him being its candidate this November -- yes, Utah Republicans are crazy enough to vote against an incumbent, a sitting senator, preferring someone even more conservative and even more of a partisan, but such is the way things are these teabagging days -- but give him credit for telling the truth about the GOP:

As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas.

He went on:

Indeed, if you raise specific ideas and solutions, as I've tried to do on health care with [Oregon Democratic Sen.] Ron Wyden, you are attacked with the same vigor as we've seen in American politics all the way back to slavery and polygamy; you are attacked as being a wimp, insufficiently pure, and unreliable.

Well, yes. That's exactly how it is.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Politics as total war" and the state of American conservatism

This, from Andrew Sullivan, is a fantastic overview of how the right is conducting itself these days:

When Andrew Breitbart offers $100,000 for a private email list-serv archive, essentially all bets are off. Every blogger or writer who has ever offered an opinion is now on warning: your opponents will not just argue against you, they will do all they can to ransack your private life, cull your email in-tray, and use whatever material they have to unleash the moronic hounds of today's right-wing base.

Yes, the Economist was right. This is not about transparency, or hypocrisy. It's about power. And when you are Andrew Breitbart, power is all that matters. There is not a whit of thoughtfulness about this, not an iota of pretense that it might actually advance the conversation about how to deal with, say, a world still perilously close to a second Great Depression, a government that is bankrupt, two wars that have been or are being lost, an energy crisis that is also threatening our planet's ecosystem, and a media increasingly incapable of holding the powerful accountable.

Meanwhile, the GOP leaders, having done all they can to destroy a presidency by obstructing everything and anything he might do or have done to address the crippling problems bequeathed him by his predecessor, are now also waging a scorched earth battle to prevent the working poor from having any real access to affordable health insurance.

This is what the right now is: no solutions, just anger, paranoia, insecurity and partisan hatred. 

I quote Andrew's entire post -- it's that good.

He's right on the mark here, on everything. If there's one thing he understands, as a conservative himself (in a non-American sort of way), it's conservatism (and those who call themselves conservatives). (Just look at his ongoing deconstruction of Sarah Palin -- a brilliant effort.)

I have certainly disagreed with Andrew in the past, many times and on many issues, but it's this sort of acute, big-picture analysis that makes him an essential voice in the blogosphere, and a must-read.

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Quote of the Day

By Creature

"If a congressperson finds him or herself voting against extending unemployment insurance during a severe economic crisis then I think they have hit a wall and should ask themselves (and their constituents should ask them) on what basis can they possibly define themselves as Democrats. In fact, I can't see on what basis they even call themselves human beings." -- Digby

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Snuff said

By Mustang Bobby.

House Minority Leader John Boehner sat down with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and said that the plan to regulate Wall Street was like "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."

Boehner criticized the financial regulatory overhaul compromise reached last week between House and Senate negotiators as an overreaction to the financial crisis that triggered the recession. The bill would tighten restrictions on lending, create a consumer protection agency with broad oversight power and give the government an orderly way to dissolve the largest financial institutions if they run out of money.

"This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Boehner said. What's most needed is more transparency and better enforcement by regulators, he said.

So he thinks that the worst financial crisis in eighty years was insignificant? Really? What would it take to constitute a real financial crisis? A collapse of the proportion of Germany after World War I where a million marks could buy you a loaf of bread?

Perhaps his dismissal of what happened to millions of jobs and the collapse of the real estate market is based on the fact that it was a Republican who was in charge when it happened and that the loose financial regulations that allowed it to happen were written by Republicans. Had it happened during the term of a Democrat, you can be sure that Mr. Boehner would be calling it the Worst Catastrophe in the world.

He also opined that the Democrats in Washington were "snuffing out the America I grew up in." As Keith Olbermann observed, growing up the 1950's as Mr. Boehner did meant segregated schools, Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegenation laws, political assassinations, jail time for being gay, and polio. And the Edsel. Does Mr. Boehner really want to bring those things back?

He followed that with the claim that there's "a political rebellion brewing, and I don't think we've seen anything like it since 1776." By this he means, I suppose, those cranky white people who marched on Washington with the funny hats and the racist pictures of President Obama, or the bigmouths on Fox News and talk radio who basically want the government to stop interfering in their lives but then commandeer the boats to clean up the oil spill that was caused by President Obama picking on that nice BP and hey, don't be late with my Social Security check! Is he kidding? I've seen angrier crowds when the manager was ten minutes late opening the doors at a Wal-Mart.

If Mr. Boehner thinks this is a political rebellion on the scale of 1776, I guess he forgot about that little thing called "The Civil War." I know it was 150 years ago, but it was in all the papers. But then, given Mr. Boehner's odd sense of historical proportion concerning the current economic situation, the war that killed millions of Americans and basically redefined the country was nothing more than just a battle between two ants.

I also find it disturbing that Mr. Boehner, along with a number of other Republicans, are cavalierly tossing around death and killing metaphors to describe the Democrats; they're "snuffing out America," or candidates talking freely about "taking out" their opposition through Second Amendment remedies or "gathering your armies," not to mention the ubiquitous Hitler and Holocaust imagery that pops into the campaign ads from Alabama to Alaska. I realize all campaigns go overboard, but where the Democrats were mean to George W. Bush and called him names, these folks are skating a little to close to dangerous. There's a difference between snark and death threats.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)


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Just how crazy is Sharron Angle? (3)

Read this exchange from a radio interview Angle did back in January:

MANDERS: Is there any reason at all for an abortion?

ANGLE: Not in my book.

MANDERS: So, in other words, rape and incest would not be something?

ANGLE: You know, I'm a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.

On the face of it, so what? Angle's a pro-life extremist who allows for no exceptions whatsoever. That's crazy, from policy and women's rights perspectives, but not, you know Sharron Angle crazy.

But wait. What's with this divine "plan" of which she speaks? Ah, now we're getting somewhere. As Digby explains:

The truth is that she is being more consistent than most allegedly "pro-life" people. If you genuinely think that abortion is murder then you can't justify "killing" the blastocyst or fetus just because of the way it was conceived.

On the other hand, Angle seems to see conception by rape and incest as something God purposefully directed and so the results of which are something the birthing vessel must embrace. That's a very disturbing point of view no matter where you come out on the issue.

Disturbing indeed, and "rather terrifying," as Steve Benen puts it. But, then, so is Sharron Angle, a completely ridiculous figure were it not for the fact that she's the Republican candidate in a major national election -- and so must be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, when you're being raped, including incest, just remember that it's all part of Sharron Angle's God's plan. I'm sure that'll make everything feel right.

What an utterly insane, despicable woman she is.

(You can find the first two parts of this ongoing series here and here.)

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On the backs of taxpayers

By Creature

Daniel Indiviglio [via Ezra]:

[The FinReg] Conference reconvened due to the protests from centrists Republicans in the Senate who didn't like the idea of taxing the big banks and hedge funds. Instead, taxpayers will pay for the regulation, since any TARP money unspent was supposed to go towards paying down the deficit.

And, in the NYT today, a little reminder of what our Treasury Secretary was up to at his old job:

The documents also indicate that regulators [Timmy!] ignored recommendations from their own advisers to force the banks to accept losses on their A.I.G. deals and instead paid the banks in full for the contracts. That decision, say critics of the A.I.G. bailout, has cost taxpayers billions of extra dollars in payments to the banks.

The banks escape. The people pay. Same old. Same old.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Michele Bachmann (again!)

Yes, she continues to add to her already impressive resume of insanity. Consider what she said yesterday about the G20:

Aren't we supposed to be about the United States and making sure that our economy can be the greatest in the world. If you look at the G20, what they're trying to do is bind together the world’s economies. Look how that played out in the European Union when they bound all of those nations economies together and one of the smallest economies, Greece, when they got into trouble, that one little nation is bringing down the entire EU. Well, President Obama is trying to bind the United States into a global economy where all of our nations come together in a global economy. I don't want the United States to be in a global economy where, where our economic future is bound to that of Zimbabwe. I can't, we can't necessarily trust the decisions that are being made financially in other countries.

Of course, no one is talking about economic harmonization, or about a single world economy run by some elite cabal. Even the G20's commitment to deficit reduction is voluntary.

But it seems silly to respond in any way to Bachmann. Does she really not understand that not just the G20 but the entire international community is deeply interconnected economically? Does she really not realize that there was a "global economy" long before Obama became president? Or that some of America's most ardent advocates of deregulated multi-national industry and international trade were the three most recent Republican presidents, Reagan and the two Bushes?

Probably not. She has a long history of delusion and paranoia, after all, always talking up various conspiracies designed to destroy American sovereignty.

I suppose none of this is crazy in her "reality," but that "reality" bears no resemblance to the reality the rest of us inhabit.

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Please, Lord...I Ask For So Little

By Carl
But could you please let this come true?

Washington • Republican leaders have not ruled out filibustering to block Elena Kagan from ascending to the Supreme Court, a last-ditch effort that could throw the Senate into turmoil in an already tempestuous year.

“We’re hoping that a filibuster is not necessary, but I think the examination did not go well today,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Judiciary Committee Republican, told The Salt Lake Tribune midway through Kagan’s second day of confirmation hearings.

From your slimy racist anti-Semitic mouth to God's ear, Senator.

By filibustering a perfectly innocuous nominee to the Supreme Court, one who has demonstrated time and again during the hearings the patience to put up with the moronic and mind-numbing idiocies demonstrated by conservatives, and then presenting a formidable case for her arguments, Kagan has shown she can clearly work with moral and intellectual turpitudes like Clarence Thomas and Antonin "Never Met A Bribe I Didn't Like" Scalia.

Of course, a filibuster won't happen, to be sure. There are not 41 Senators on the Red side of the aisle who would dare oppose a nominee to the Supreme Court ahead of a Congressional election in which many will be asked why they chose to block that perfectly nice lady from New York when the voted to let Sotomayor be seated. Even Orrin Hatch, who believe it or not is actually a voice of reason these days, thinks it's unlikely.

One exchange did annoy me, however. When Sessions called Kagan out on the recruiting ban Harvard University had in place with respect to the military (far more of which has been made than reality calls for, I should add), he mentioned that her actions prevented a prime "recruiting season".

Now, I'm confused: since when is Harvard Law School fertile ground for any military recruitment, if in fact it is part of the "Eastern liberal elite" that conservatives harp about like it was a thorn in their feeble paws?

I would have called Sessions on that, and glared mightily at him, daring him to reconcile his stupidity.

But I digress. It looks like Kagan will be confirmed and soon.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Bad polling: Daily Kos, Research 2000, and media credibility

As you may have heard already, it seems that Research 2000, the polling firm that has conducted a "State of the Nation" poll for Daily Kos, was, to be blunt, full of shit, according to some statisticians who looked into its work. As Markos Moulitsas himself put it, explaining what happened:

We contracted with Research 2000 to conduct polling and to provide us with the results of their surveys. Based on the report of the statisticians, it's clear that we did not get what we paid for. We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don't know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can't trust it. Meanwhile, Research 2000 has refused to offer any explanation.

While the investigation didn't look at all of Research 2000 polling conducted for us, fact is I no longer have any confidence in any of it, and neither should anyone else. I ask that all poll tracking sites remove any Research 2000 polls commissioned by us from their databases. I hereby renounce any post we've written based exclusively on Research 2000 polling.

Not good. But, much to his credit, Markos isn't trying to hide anything -- see the post linked/quoted above as well as this one, which looks at what the statisticians uncovered in significant detail -- and, once he learned of the problem, he immediately took action.

My concern is that this whole episode will discredit not just Daily Kos, and not just liberal blogs generally, but any independent/alternative media outlet. The media establishment, particularly in the political world, is already deeply suspicious of, threatened by, and antagonistic towards, non-establishment outlets. In some cases, such suspicion is justified. Certainly not all bloggers, for example, are credible sources of information or thoughtful purveyors of opinion. But the "mainstream" media have their own problems with credibility and thoughtfulness, of course, and, to me, it is essential that the media landscape includes not just establishment outlets (many with a corporate agenda) but alternative voices from across the spectrum. And those alternative voices can be just as essential to political discourse as, say, MSNBC or The Washington Post. And they can be, and must be, just as credible, too.

In this case, Daily Kos may be blamed for publishing fraudulent poll results. The message would be that such alternative voices simply cannot be trusted. Even if they are not blinded by ideology, they are just amateurish. As Markos notes, though, "Research 2000 had a good reputation in political circles," and its clients included a number of "mainstream" media outlets, including network TV affiliates and major newspapers. Josh Marshall, calling the story a "bombshell," concurs: "R2K didn't start out as Kos's pollster. They've been around for some time and had developed a pretty solid reputation."

Which is to say, it wasn't necessarily Kos's fault, and the fraud didn't necessarily happen because Daily Kos, or Markos himself, wanted the results to fit any sort of left-wing agenda. Again, Markos is taking action, with a lawsuit to be filed, and that speaks to the seriousness with which this problem is being addressed. I assume that some on the right (but thankfully not thoughtful conservatives like Ed Morrissey), and perhaps also in the media establishment, will try to turn this against Kos, taking predictable shots, as well as against liberal blogs and independent/alternative media generally, but it seems to me that Markos is being admirably responsible, and responsive, in making sure that his site, an essential destination in the blogosphere (and not just for those on the left), is as credible as possible.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mothers of Invention

By Distributorcap

I can't help myself I'm addicted to a life of material
It's some kind of joke, I'm obsessively opposed to the typical
All we care about is, runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles
Give me something I wanna be, retro glamour,
Hollywood yes we live for the

Fame - Doin' it for the
Fame - Cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous
Fame - Doin' it for the
Fame - Cuz we got a taste for champagne and endless fortune

Lady Gaga

Today on one of the morning cable chat fests, there was a whole discussion on why the USA is losing its preeminence as an economic power and innovator. The poor hosts were bemoaning the loss of this country's edge in technology, science and manufacturing, and were just amazed that other nation's were challenging our lofty position. These same brainiacs also had a very simple answer to fix the problem - Americans just need to regain that pioneering spirit that built this nation and become more creative. In other words - Just do it - yeah US!

I didn't realize fixing the nation's economic woes and loss of jobs was something as easy as clicking your slide rule three times and saying "there's no place like America."

What these very well paid talking heads (who probably couldn't tell a florence flask from Florence Henderson) failed to bring up during their lament on the state of American ingenuity is that our lack of innovation, creativity and scientific leadership is a deeply endemic problem that cannot be fixed by a bunch of suggestions or changes in policy. Our plunge in to the abyss of stagnancy has been years in the making. And this drop off the cliff is constantly being reinforced by long-term neglect to our education system, the rise and loud voice of evangelical religious dogma (which generally hates science), an obsessive fixation on money, a youth culture which values fame above everything else and the media's need to sell soap as opposed to selling development.

Can anyone name a single show on cable or broadcast that dedicates itself to "glamourizing" invention, patents, scientific breakthroughs or the betterment of society? We have plenty of programs that extol the virtues of making money, that show how to become wealthy enough to retire at 25, that demonstrate the value of voting people out of a house or island, that teach us you can dance your way to fame, and that allow maniacs on the air which damn scientists to hell for believing in evolution or climate change.

All the drive to keep America as the world's leader in research, science and technology seems to have ended when the last Apollo spacecraft left the moon in 1972. We replaced our brains with a bunch of lunar rocks. Sure we have developed and created thousands of inventions and products that are the best in their respective fields, but the big, bold push to the next level of innovation has take a back seat to the next big, bold get rich quick financial derivative.

We enjoy making money much more than making things. We love to buying those things, but making them (and dreaming them up) has been sourced out to "other societies." After all, who wants to get their $50 manicure dirty or be forced to wear Lee Press-on nails.

Thirty years ago, a conscience decision was made by the ruling elite (read Ronald Reagan) that education was not going to be a priority in this country. Cutting taxes and teaching our kids that they deserved something for nothing replaced basic accounting and ethics. A whole generation grew up thinking that you had to make money and become famous - or else you were nothing. Complementing the Reagan doctrine were mass market shows like Dallas and Dynasty - where everyone had a endless supply of money, worse beautiful clothing and seemed to never work a real job. At least Ward Cleaver wore a plain suit and went to the office to work. Alexis Carrington went to the office and had catfights with Crystal over Blake.

Millions watched every week. Very few people were in their basements worrying about the potential of an oil-dependent economy.

By the time our "other" education President and administration was installed in 2000, kids (and the public) had been ingrained that if you didn't make a fast buck, it wasn't worth the effort. At the same time, religious dogma began to creep into the education system. Many of those "teachers" (with full encouragement from the administration and tacit approval by the media) began to demonize real science and inventive thinking as heresy. Add to that the exaltation of shows like American Idol - and you had the perfect recipe for laziness.

Americans for all intents and purposes stopped wanting to lead, they wanted to rule.

Within a very short period of time (3o years is not that long a time) - America went from the world principal "idea" land - to a torpid and languishing nation living on it power and past. Instead of planning for a future, we lived for the moment. We borrowed (rather mortgaged the future) to fight wars, we developed products that made money, but didn't make life better. We wanted to be on American Idol more than we wanted to be on Jeopardy (even the questions on Jeopardy began to reflect the country at large - more about who shot JR?, and less about geography and science).

Unless we somehow turn this Titanic around and start teaching our youth that building the next economic platform has to benefit society as well as benefiting themselves, it is only a matter of time before China (and India and Brazil and Korea) pass us in terms of global leadership - maybe even militarily. The next great financial derivative may make a few of those MBA-types mega-wealthy, but it will do nothing to make this country wealthy. And unless the media starts making a concerted effort to focus on science, math, technology and innovation as opposed to credit default swaps or Lindsay Lohan's, their grieving over America's fall from king of the hill is nothing more than crocodile tears.

We also need to stop blaming everyone else for our failures and start owning up to the fact we have put ourselves into this position - and spending trillions in Afghanistan, cutting the capital gains tax and taking our anger out on illegal immigrants is not going to fix the mess. Only a complete revamping of the way we think of our society will.

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The set up for the low down

By Carl

You know that queasy feeling you got yesterday when you read this story? 

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities and states must abide by the 2nd Amendment, strengthening the rights of gun owners and opening courthouse doors nationwide for gun rights advocates to argue that restrictions on firearms are unconstitutional.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices said the right to have a handgun for self-defense is "fundamental from an American perspective [and] applies equally to the federal government and the states."

Embrace your nausea. There's more here than meets the eye.

Essentially, what the Court ruled is that Constitutional rights trump states' rights or een individual rights. "Libertarians" may mark this as a good thing, but I do not. See, the Second Amendment prescribes that, in order to ensure your God-given inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you have to buy a gun.

I'm betting that's not what the Founders intended. This might be the only enumerated right that requires a citizen to do something in order to enforce it. A truly libertarian position would be that an individual's right to privacy is far more important than the constitutionality of a manufactured good.

This is a glaring distinction that so-called "glibertarians" (e.g. people who read and masturbated to Ayn Rand books) fail to grasp and it's really a simple concept: no man is free if for that freedom he is requred to carry a weapon.

But hold that thought for another time. Here's the really scary part.

This decision opens the door for the Court to decide that individual state laws are unconstitutional. Should Roe V. Wade for example be overturned, there is no check on the Court to decide that New York's abortion law violates the Constitution. Or New Jersey's. Or California. Should a consitutional challenge to the gay marriage ban fail in SCOTUS, that would open the door to overturning Hawaiian law, Iowan law, and would also prevent any number of states from recognizing homosexual marriages.

It wouldn't stop there. Your state doesn't have a death penalty? Too bad. You might be forced to get in line with the totalitarians. Our laws would revert to the lowest common denominator of a moron state like Alabama or Mississippi.

Medical marijuana? Nope. Speed limit of 55? Gone, mostly because the federal government mandates it in exchange for highway funds, so all it will take is some yahoo from Montana to overturn that necessary and safer speed limit, and your state won't be able to do a thing about it. Property rights? Eminent domain will encroach and absorb as many properties as it deems necessary, because the SCOTUS has already ruled it's perfectly constitutional to appropriate your land and turn it over to a developer.

Are we sure we want to walk this path when it's taken so long and we've worked so hard to bring even a shred of progressivism to the nation?

(Cross-posted from Simply Left Behind.)

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How to avoid undermining our own Afghan strategy

Guest post by Peter Henne

Peter S. Henne is a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University.

Peter is pretty much a regular contributor now. This is his eighth guest post at The Reaction.


With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan looming, concrete steps that would facilitate stabilization of the country are in high demand. Two possibilities that have gained some traction are power-sharing with the Taliban and a strategy that breaks off moderate elements of the group. Pressure to speed up disengagement from Afghanistan may lead U.S. policymakers to grasp at any available options, including pursuing these policies simultaneously. While both have some chance of proving effective, they would be counter-productive if implemented together, something policymakers must keep in mind as they move forward with their plans.

Successful counterinsurgency requires a great amount of time and resources. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is running short on both. As a result, policymakers may aspire to something less than complete victory; that is, a classic counterinsurgency, which eliminates insurgents, develops infrastructure, and eventually stabilizes the country, might not be viable, and the U.S. could settle for second-best.

One second-best strategy is power-sharing with insurgents, which has arisen several times in debates over Afghanistan. Such a policy is seen as increasingly attractive to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has grown concerned about the stability of his rule. This approach makes sense in theory: it increases the benefits militants receive from working with the government even if the outcome is not completely in line with the government's wishes.

Power-sharing approaches are occasionally effective. There have been attempts to end ethnic strife by setting up a central government that is split among the combatants. And participation in an open political process may have a moderating effect, turning formerly radical militants into responsible actors. This partly constituted the U.S. strategy in Iraq, which involved reaching out to Sunni militants to bring them into the political process and give them a stake in the country's stability.

The other strategy is disaggregating the militants. This would involve breaking off elements of the Taliban that are not devoted to the group's radical Islamist ideology. Disaggregation is premised on the belief that insurgent groups are not monolithic, with moderates present in even the most violent insurgency. There are always true-believers dedicated to the group’s mission and strongly influenced by its ideology, whether Islamist or Marxist. Many other insurgents, though, join for less principled reasons. Some see the insurgency as a chance to make money, or redress personal grievances. Others join for reasons that have nothing to do with the fighting, such as social pressure.

Terrorism experts like Marc Sageman argue that a similar dynamic exists in al Qaeda, with numerous members drawn to the group through social networks. And a strategy based on disaggregation proved effective in Iraq. Most Sunni militants were fighting for reasons unrelated to al Qaeda's global agenda, and were distressed with the brutality of the local al Qaeda franchise, al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States capitalized on this situation, reaching out to Iraqi Sunnis and encouraging them to fight against al Qaeda in Iraq. Disaggregation strategies thus arguably reduce a group's numbers and tip the balance of power towards moderates, undermining militants' strength.

These two approaches seem complementary. One could expect a strategy based on their combination to sap a group of its members, increase moderates' power, and decrease incentives to keep fighting. In reality, however, they would undermine each other and the broader mission.

The disconnect between the strategies can be understood by thinking in terms of costs and benefits. With the power-sharing strategy, the government increases the benefits of ceasing hostilities, which often involves some autonomy for insurgents. Yet, this also requires the government to avoid direct confrontation, leaving the insurgents' goals and structure intact. The disaggregation approach, in turn, increases the benefits for moderate insurgents who cease their struggle. This could occur by paying off insurgents or by putting pressure on true-believers and discouraging less committed members.

The problem should now be apparent. Power-sharing would benefit insurgents who stop fighting, which would translate into benefits for true believers who could claim victory. This would vindicate their approach to the conflict and weaken the hands of moderates, making any attempt to break them off from the group impossible. In the case of Afghanistan, it would grant the Taliban control of certain areas, keeping the true believers in power while undercutting moderates. This would give hard-liners in the Taliban an even stronger position than before, as they would no longer face opposition from the U.S. forces or intra-group competition.

As Obama weighs his options for what is intended to be the final stage of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the dissonance between these two approaches should be remembered. Despite U.S. assurances it would not negotiate with the worst of the militants, it would be all too easy to speed up U.S. withdrawal by buying off some militants and giving others a part in the political process. At best this approach would bring temporary stability; at worst, it would strengthen the most radical Taliban factions and prolong the misery of the Afghan people. Instead, disaggregation should be pursued without any power-sharing with the Taliban. This strategy has worked in the past, and would likely be effective in cutting the Taliban off from its potential support base. It will be neither easy nor perfect, but with a conflict like Afghanistan, it may be our best bet.

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Yesterday in SCOTUS

It was a mixed day, not surprising given the 4-4-1 divide (with Kennedy as the swing vote). The good news:

The US Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal by the Vatican in a landmark case that opens the way for priests in the United States to stand trial for pedophilia.

Allowing a federal appeals court ruling to stand, the decision means Vatican officials including theoretically Pope Benedict XVI could face questioning under oath related to a litany of child sex abuse cases.

The Supreme Court effectively confirmed the decision of an appellate court to lift the Vatican's immunity in the case of an alleged pedophile priest in the northwestern state of Oregon.

A public law school did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay students, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case, involving a clash between religious freedom and antidiscrimination principles, divided along familiar ideological lines, with the court's four more liberal members and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said it was constitutionally permissible for public institutions of higher education to require recognized student groups to accept all students who wished to participate in them.

The bad news:

The Second Amendment provides Americans a fundamental right to bear arms that cannot be violated by state and local governments, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates.

The 5 to 4 decision does not strike down any gun-control laws, nor does it elaborate on what kind of laws would offend the Constitution. One justice predicted that an "avalanche" of lawsuits would be filed across the country asking federal judges to define the boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the opinion for the court's dominant conservatives, said: "It is clear that the Framers... counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty."

For a deeper look at the gun-rights case, see Jack Balkin and Scott Lemieux. Unfortunately, it seems to have been the right decision, legally speaking, even if it won't mean much. As Balkin notes, "[t]he vast majority of states already have guarantees of a right to bear arms."

I would just add that the ongoing Second Amendment debate in the U.S. is ridiculous. Yes, Alito is right, the Framers added "the right to keep and bear arms" to the Constitution," and may have considered that right to be "fundamental," but basing public policy in 2010 on what the Framers thought was important in 1787, right after a bloody war of independence and when the country was young and insecure, is simply the wrong way to go about addressing contemporary issues and problems. As Melissa McEwan puts it:

And that's still relevant 200 years later, despite the fact that the Framers, as ingenuous as they were, did not envision a country of 300 million+ people where almost everyone is literate and almost every adult can vote. Nor did they imagine handguns, which didn't fucking exist.

For more, see Echidne (linked by Melissa), whose anger and frustration I share (even if they the issue isn't as immediate for me, as I live in Canada, which has, compared to the U.S., strong gun laws in place):

My first thought on reading this is that desperate unemployed people can't get jobs or help from the local government but their right to be armed is honored! That makes for a really happy society in which to live.

My second thought was the one I always have when reading about the Second Amendment, which is to try to stretch my poor brain to make the leap from "well-regulated militia" to Bob-can-have-a-rifle-in-his-pants.

And so on...

What a mad, mad, mad world it is.

But at least there was a firm ruling against anti-gay bigotry, and at least Catholic sex abusers can be held accountable in courts of law for what they've done.

A mixed day indeed, even as Americans continue to arm themselves towards Armageddon.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Robert Byrd (1917-2010)

Robert Byrd, who had served West Virginia in the Senate since 1959, died today at the age of 92. His was a long and varied career in public life. He joined the KKK in the '40s and later filibustered the Civil Rights Act, but he became a champion of liberal causes and an esteemed Democrat on Capitol Hill:

Mr. Byrd's perspective on the world changed over the years. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, he filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act only to come to back civil rights measures and Mr. Obama. A supporter of the Vietnam War, he became a fierce critic, decades later, of the war in Iraq. In 1964, the Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal lobbying group, found that his views and the group's aligned only 16 percent of the time. In 2005, he got an A.D.A. rating of 95.

There is something admirable in that, in learning and growing and changing, and doing so not just with the times but more profoundly as a human being.

Given such a long career as a legislator, there are a lot of stains on Byrd's record, including his penchant for pork, as well as his views against gay marriage and against gays in the military, and he was never as solid a  liberal as he could have been on issues like the environment and civil liberties, but, flaws and faults aside, he was an impressive man who represented both his state and the institution he gave so much of his life to with passion and commitment. And, when it mattered most, as he grew into one of the true lions in the Senate and in the Democratic Party, he was often there with the courage to say what had to be said.

West Virginia Blue has some tributes and posts his "finest hour," Byrd's brilliant Senate speech against the Iraq War. "I weep for my country," he began.

This is the Robert Byrd we ought to honour today.

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