Saturday, April 19, 2014

Obama decides America should keep Justin Bieber, Canadians breathe huge sigh of relief

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Looks like the U.S. will still have Justin Bieber to terrorize its popular culture, not to mention anywhere he happens to be at any given time, for a whole lot longer:

The White House has declined to comment on a "Deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card" petition, saying the "We the People" petition system allows the Executive Office to dodge comments "to avoid the appearance of improper influence."


More than 273,000 people signed the petition, which calls for Canadian pop star to be deported because of his representation in the world of pop culture.

"We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive, and drug abusing Justin Bieber removed from society and his green card revoked," the petition says. "He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nation's youth."

The original petition, filed January 23 through the "We the People" petition system, merited a response from the White House after receiving more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, per the system's terms of participation.

Clearly the petition was silly and full of hyperbole, perhaps ironically so, but this really lowers my opinion of the president. Here he had a chance to rid the country of a nuisance, a pest, a spoiled brat, a blight on the cultural landscape, and he refused? Come on. Do Americans really want Bieber in their midst? I mean, they probably prefer Celine Dion, on the whole.

But... wait! Bieber is Canadian. I'm Canadian. Worse, he's from Ontario. I live in Ontario. If he were to be deported, there's a good chance he'd spend more of his time here. And, honestly, we already have Rob Ford. Isn't that enough?

So, yes, well done, Mr. President. You gone done the right thing. And Americans, keep enjoying all that Bieber brings to your glorious country. You can keep him.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

No reason allowed

By Capt. Fogg

Here Comes Easter again. Easter and the media puff pieces about how it's really all true enough in one sense or another and how it's wrong to say that it's a borrowed holiday, re-badged from pre-Christian European fertility cults, egg laying rabbits and all. The Easter holiday (is it OK to call this one a holiday?) carries a large basket of baggage without my needing to illustrate its long history and I'm quite as content to let people celebrate it as they will as I am to let anyone celebrate anything at any time including life itself. It's a wonderful life after all, and not just at Christmas.

In the true spirit of American small mindedness however, others are not so happy with your freedom when it comes to protecting their hermetically sealed belief bubble from questions or against having to be aware of other ways of seeing and appreciating life in our shared world. But I'm OK with that too if only for the humor. Seeing an image of an all year "Prayer Station" set up in the Warren Michigan city hall looking for all the world like something from the Peanuts comic strip, put a smile on my face in a way that only irony-blind religious fervor can. Reason isn't funny and I do like to laugh.

Not so funny though when Warren resident Douglas Marshall proposed a "Reason Station" for the same venue and the Mayor, Jim Fouts not only rejected it, but banned any such display for a year because after all, Marshall is an advocate for separation of Church and State. Using a government facility as a church and to promote Christianity ( assuming it isn't praying to Vishnu or the Chinese Kitchen God being solicited) is simply no problem in this Detroit suburb. Atheism is not a religion wrote Fouts to Marshal and his Freedom From Religion Foundation, unwittingly asserting that only a religion can have access to public space and non-Christian interests need not apply. Besides it might disturb the faithful, which is, in his words, a Constitutional violation!

What about equal protection, freedom of speech and all that Godless, Commy nonsense? Don't make me laugh. This is Michigan after all and in Michigan reason can fend for itself and you can take your Jeffersonian Humanism straight back to Moscow where it belongs.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)


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Behind the Ad: GOP civil war battle lines are drawn in the Idaho 2nd Congressional District

By Richard K. Barry

Who: U.S. Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho)

Where: The Idaho 2nd Congressional District

What's going on: The district is solidly Republican, so this is all about the primary, and what a primary it is turning out to be. 

According to the Charlie Cook Report:
In 2014, Idaho's most fervent conservatives' long-simmering distrust of the consensus-building Simpson is set to boil over. And, because the May 2014 GOP primary has already turned into an all-out proxy war between the GOP's ideological purists like the Club for Growth and the Madison Project on one side and Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Main Street Partnership on the other, the results will have repercussions well beyond Idaho.

The hyper-conservative Club for Growth has already listed Simpson as one Republican they most want to beat in part because he is a close personal friend of House Speaker John Boehner, not to mention that he has been willing to actually get things done in Washington, a no-no for the crazy right. 

Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith is the anointed one for the Tea Party types and he has been attracting boat loads of outside cash in the hope that Rep. Simpson can be taught a lesson he'll never forget. 

Support for Simpson, on the other hand, will come from the part of the Republican base that is establishment oriented and business friendly and has had enough of Tea Party wack-jobbery. This will, of course, also include lots of outside money.

If you need more clarity on the distinction between the two, Smith was against Simpson's October 2013 vote with Democrats to end the 16-­day partial government shutdown and to raise the debt ceiling without any spending cuts.

Let the games begin. This is the real thing. 

Not surprisingly, in this ad, Mitt Romney (A.K.A. that guy who ran for president) comes down on the side of the establishment in his buttoned-down support of Rep. Simpson. 

Grade: Well, it has to be done, though the ad really defines the battle lines for anyone who wasn't sure. C

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A.M. Headlines

(Washington Post): "The Affordable Care Act comes in with better-than-expected numbers"

(New Republic): "ObamaCare signups hit 8 million"

(Huffington Post): "Americans think people are poor because of bad breaks, not because they're losers: Poll"

(The Hill): "Obama: Immigration will 'haunt' Congress"

(Wall Street Journal): "South Korea ferry sinking: Authorities arrest captain"


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Thursday, April 17, 2014


By Carl

Edward Snowden got tired of the lack of attention and decided to shove his foot deeper in his throat:
NSA leaker Edward Snowden put a direct question to Vladimir Putin during a live televised question-and-answer session Thursday, asking Russia's president about Moscow's use of mass surveillance on its citizens.

Speaking via a video link, Snowden asked: "I've seen little public discussion of Russia's own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance, so I'd like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?"

Needless to say, this entire episode appears to have been orchestrated by Vladdy:
"Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law have to get a court permission to stalk that particular person.

"We don't have as much money as they have in the States and we don't have these technical devices that they have in the States. Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by society and the law and regulated by the law."

Excuse me a sec. I feel a sneeze coming on…..AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhBULLSHI!

There, that’s better.

Putin’s former employer, the KGB, practically invented the surveillance state and made it an art form. Who the hell does he think he’s kidding?

Watching Edward Snowden genuflect to a world leader is, however, a very tasty morsel of vengeance, to be sure. Any credibility he may have had in the debate over surveillance and domestic intelligence has likely been spent.

Look, there is no doubt that the Snowden story was the story of 2013. Even the Pulitzer Committee has admitted as much. It finally got people, both in and out of power, to focus on what we on the far left have been complaining about for ten years: that privacy isn’t a gift, that we have to maintain vigilance, and that the contract between government and the governed is a fragile thing when we abdicate our responsibility to pay attention.

That it took a vole-ish little wisp of a man to focus lights on the problem speaks poorly about our democracy. That he now defends Vladimir Putin speaks poorly of him.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Putin on the blitz

By Capt. Fogg

Well, of course the media still hasn't come to the end of all the discussion, speculation, mourning wailing and fantasizing possibilities regarding that missing airplane and they need to keep reminding us that nobody has ever suffered as much grief as the families of the missing nor ever will, but I can't help but noticing that events in the Ukraine might be causing a bit of speculation as well. Something we can do on our own during commercial breaks at least.

Russian troops are massed on the border, obviously fake stories of persecution are rampant in the Russian press, orchestrated riots, people running about with guns and armored vehicles and today we read that Ukrainian Jews have been ordered to register with the pro-Russian hooligans pretending to be a legitimate government.

Just in time for Easter.

USA Today tells us that in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk:
"Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city's Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee "or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated."

The leaflet states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and "register." Non-compliance will result in deportation and confiscation of property. Nothing for Americans to worry about of course and no celebrities are involved.

Now back to the Mystery plane story in which nothing new has emerged in weeks. Isn't that exiting?

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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On the Hustings

(Norm Ornstein): "Could America become a banana republic?

(Politics): "Warren memoir offers revealing inside tales"

(New York Times): "Sebelius said to weigh run for Kansas Senate seat"

(Philadelphia Inquirer): "Christie advocates end to limits on campaign donations"

(Fox News): "Sen. Landrieu takes heat for reenacting Senate hearing in campaign ad"


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Behind the Ad: Who's zoomin' who in the North Carolina GOP Senate race?

By Richard K. Barry

Tom Tillis
Who: Senate Majority PAC (Democratic super PAC)

Where: North Carolina

What's going on: Well, this one really climbs into the gutter. In this ad, the Democrats attack Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis by drawing attention to the fact that "two former staffers were engaged in inappropriate relationships with lobbyists," as The Washington Post reports. One of the staffers was Tillis' chief of staff, with whom Tillis shared on apartment.
Tillis has said he wasn't aware of his chief staff's affair, despite the two of them living together. The affairs were revealed in 2012, and Tillis was criticized for giving the staffers severance pay when they were forced to resign.

If you haven't been following the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina closely, it is shaping up to be a tough one for Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagen, at this point a likely toss-up. Tom Tillis is considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, which is also being contested by physician Greg Brannon, Mark Harris, a Baptist minister, and nurse Heather Grant. The Tea Party is split between Brannon and Harris.

As for the details of the dirty dancing, this was reported by local North Carolina media:
The incident referenced in the commercial came to light just before the May 2012 legislative short session. Charles Thomas, who was Tillis' chief of staff and roommate, resigned after admitting to a romantic relationship with a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association. The affair was problematic both because Thomas was married and because of the perception that Thomas could have used his role to do favors for the lobbyist.

Days later, Tillis' policy adviser, Amy Hobbs, resigned after volunteering to Tillis that she, too, had had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist. The story surfaced again two weeks later when it was reported Tillis paid roughly $19,000 in severance to the two staffers in question.

That Democrats are attacking Tillis in this way suggests they take him seriously. 

Grade: I know that progressives are supposed to be okay going after Republicans on questions of morality because conservatives are usually so damned sanctimonious. I'm still a little uncomfortable with it, though it is true that these were not simply extramarital affairs, but involved lobbyist, so that's not good. Does the work? Yeah, probably, maybe, I don't know. C

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A.M. Headlines

(BBC News): "Heartbleed hack case sees first arrest in Canada"

(New York Times): "How the President got to ‘I do’ on same-sex marriage"

( "Law firm hired by Christie for internal probe donated $10K in 2014 to RGA"

(The Hill)
: "Yellen vows 'continuing commitment' to economic support from Fed"

(New York Times): "Hundreds missing after South Korean ferry sinks"


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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In a shock to no one...

By Carl

…Joe Biden got out in front of the White House and shamed them into a policy change:

Vice President Joe Biden really did get ahead of President Barack Obama on accepting gay marriage in 2012 — and the White House really wasn’t happy about it, despite their many attempts to claim otherwise.

That’s the story laid out in Jo Becker’s new book, “Forcing the Spring,” which documents the past few years of successful efforts to expand the legalization of gay marriage, according to an advance copy obtained by POLITICO.

Speculation that Biden’s comments on “Meet the Press” in May 2012 were meant as a trial balloon, Becker writes, came from people “not privy to the chaos that erupted inside the West Wing after an emailed transcript of the interview landed in the inbox of the White House press team.” A furious Valerie Jarrett, Becker adds, accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Barack Obama, already four tempestuous years into an administration boxed in by Republicans from committing to any legislative achievements, and his staff spent many long nights arguing back and forth about this particular issue, engaged in a deep political calculus of offending moderates while shoring up his liberal wing.

It’s also not hard to imagine Joe Biden becoming frustrated at the inaction and taking a “shit or get off the pot” position with the President.

It’s also not hard to imagine President Obama giving him the ok to go ahead and take the lead on the issue. Valerie Jarrett may simply have been kept in the dark in order to make the kabuki more believable.

We on the far left can argue endlessly about how this was an issue of “do the right thing” and shouldn’t even have been a question of if, but of when. But we on the far left also have to admit there are some things the nation is ready for (same sex marriage) and some things it is not (single payer healthcare) and that there’s a lot of work we have left to do to move the nation into a position more accepting of our sensible policies.

So…let’s get to it.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Matt Taibbi says George Bush was tougher on corporate America than President Obama. Discuss.

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On the Hustings

(Miami Herald): "House Democrats' committee sitting on $40M fund"

(Public Policy Polling): "Republicans lead in Texas"

(Washington Post): "Republicans try to address ‘war on women’ with an army of young volunteers"

(Real Clear Politics): "Ad touts Landrieu as critic of Obama energy policy"

(Lexington Herald-Leader): "Mitch McConnell raises $2.4 million, Matt Bevin raises $1.1 million in first quarter of 2014"


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CNN: "U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it, CNN yesterday posted a must-read piece by Peter Bergen and David Sterman on how Islamic jihadism is considered to be so much worse than domestic right-wing extremism -- among the public, in the media -- even though the latter is much more deadly than the former. Here are some highlights, starting with a reference to the Kansas City KKK killer, though you would do well to read it in its entirety:

Now let's do the thought experiment in which instead of shouting "Heil Hitler" after he was arrested, the suspect had shouted "Allahu Akbar." Only two days before the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, this simple switch of words would surely have greatly increased the extent and type of coverage the incident received.

Yet the death toll in the shootings in Kansas is similar to that of last year's Boston Marathon bombings, where three people were killed and the suspects later killed a police officer as they tried to evade capture. (Many more, of course, were also wounded in the Boston attacks; 16 men, women and children lost limbs.)

In fact, since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology. According to a count by the New America Foundation, right wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11. (The total includes the latest shootings in Kansas, which are being classified as a hate crime).

By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology have killed 21 people in the United States since 9/11.


Moreover, since 9/11 none of the more than 200 individuals indicted or convicted in the United States of some act of jihadist terrorism have acquired or used chemical or biological weapons or their precursor materials, while 13 individuals motivated by right wing extremist ideology, one individual motivated by left-wing extremist ideology, and two with idiosyncratic beliefs, used or acquired such weapons or their precursors.

This is to take nothing away from 9/11, which was obviously a horrendous attack, nor to suggest that jihadism is no longer a serious threat. Certainly part of the reason for its decline is that the U.S. has expended vast resources combating it, both overseas and at home, including building up the national security state. And of course America isn't jihadism's only target. Whether al Qaeda or related to al Qaeda or not, it has struck elsewhere, including in Mumbai in 2008.

But Bergen and Sterman are right that jihadism is blown way out of proportion in the U.S. and that the media deserve much of the blame for that. I suppose racial/ethnic/religious/cultural bias is to explain for that. Even a known KKK leader and virulent anti-Semite can be your friendly next-door neighbor in the mostly white and Christian parts of the U.S. He may look like you and act like you, for the most part, and in any event he may not seem all that their weird despite his extremist views, some of which, deep down, you may even share.

But anyone with even slightly brown skin, with an accent, with odd dress, with weird-smelling food, with strange religious or cultural practises, well, even it hardly matters whether that person is Muslim or Buddhist or Sikh or Hindu or whatever -- he or she is somehow the Other, and that frightens you, because difference terrifies you and because, of course, you've been told by the media -- and it's only worse if your media outlets of choice are Fox News or right-wing talk radio -- that the real threats to America, to your way of life, to you personally, are of the non-white, non-Christian, "foreign" variety.

The point, of course, is that while jihadi terrorism is very much a real thing, the more urgent danger within America's borders is right-wing extremism, which while appearing in different forms is very much a significant threat to the country and its inhabitants. Look no further if you're concerned about your way of life, about yourself personally. These are people who blow up government buildings and plant bombs and drive around major cities randomly shooting people or even targeting certain kinds of people -- people just like you in many ways, no matter your race, creed, color, or hue.

It's much easier to vilify the foreign Other, I know, to lump those "different" from you into one big huge threat from which you can cower in fear with those you think are like you. But I would say it's far more advisable to deal with the world as it is and to understand the real threats for what they are.

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Behind the Ad: The power of bleak comes to New Jersey's 12th

By Richard K. Barry

Who: Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula.

Where: New Jersey's 12th Congressional District.

What's going on: The New Jersey 12th is currently represented by Democratic Rep. Rush Holt. Holt first won election to the House in 1999 but has decided he's had enough, announcing in February that he would not seek re-election in 2014. Holt sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in the 2013 special primary election to fill the seat of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in office in June of last year, but lost to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

In 2012, Holt won re-election to his House seat with 69.2 percent of the vote. Some people describe the district as leaning Democratic. Charlie Cook calls it solidly Democratic. I suppose without an incumbent in a midterm year it could be closer this time.

So far, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, State Sen. Linda Greenstein, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, and South Brunswick resident Andrew Zwicker are seeking the Democratic nomination. The primary is on June 3.

I haven't seen any polling, and am not sure any has been done.

According to local press reports, the Democratic nominee will likely face off against Republican candidate Alieta Eck in the general election.

The ad below is for Democratic candidate Upendra Chivukula. Of interest is that Mark Putnam, who is doing some very nice ads for Sen. Mark Begich (D) in Alaska, did this one for Chivukula. 

As Daily Kos describes it:
It's a very stark ad featuring grim black-and-white urban scenes in which Chivukula, who was born in India, describes his native country as a bleak place with "no minimum wage, no equality for women, no Social Security, and no Medicare" -- and "no way up." Chivukula warns that "we cannot let it happen here."

Grade: Stark indeed. I don't know that Garden Staters will necessarily respond well to the idea that their fortunes could slide so badly. Perhaps they should, but I don't know that they will. I like the idea of the ad, and I know voters can be effectively frightened. But I'm on the fence as to whether or not New Jerseyans will relate to this approach. B-

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A.M. Headlines

(New York Times): "Census survey revisions mask health law effects"

(Blogger): "GOP Senate may run purple"

(Roll Call): "Nuclear’ nominations aftermath slows Senate to crawl"

(New York Times): "Bloomberg plans a $50 million challenge to the N.R.A."

(The Guardian): "Ukraine on the brink as troops take on rebels"


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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jesse Winchester: "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt"


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Be a patriot, pay your taxes

By Frank Moraes

I just did my taxes. Well, I did a rough calculation and then filled out an extension. And as usual, I amamazed at how much I pay. It isn't in absolute terms that I'm amazed however. It is in relative terms—relative to how much the super rich are paying. Despite the fact that I made almost nothing last year, I am still paying roughly the same rate that Mitt Romney is paying. Actually, I'm probably paying a substantially higher rate because I assume he went out of his way to pay more when people were looking.

It still amazes me that the American political party that most wraps itself in the flag is also the party that most complains about taxes. To them, apparently, tax avoidance is the most patriotic thing you can do. Mitt Romney said as much during the 2012 campaign. And sadly, Romney is one of the more reasonable Republicans. It gets much worse.

I do not believe in nationalism. It is generally a pox on the world. But I have a great fondness for my own country and for us as a people. I very much believe in our ideals. And as much as we screw up all the time, we try to do good. The government, on the other hand, has distinctly evil aspects to it. That doesn't especially distinguish it from other governments. But there is a wider gap between its rhetoric and its actions than I like.

Read more »

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The limits of new campaign technology

I just finished reading Sasha Issenberg's Victory Lab, a very interesting treatment of how the ability to gather increasingly sophisticated information about voters has enabled campaigns to better target their voter ID and get-out-the-vote efforts. The book ends with a discussion of Obama's campaign and its effective use of this approach, also called "analytics," to win.

It is, as publishing company PR departments invariably say, a must-read for anyone interested in elections and politics.

As I made my way through the book, however, it did occur to me that having the boots on the ground, funding and campaign infrastructure in place to make use of these piles of data might be, for many campaigns, especially in down-ballot races, a bridge too far. 

A recent article in Advertising Age addresses the challenges:
The fact is...most state legislative or U.S. House candidates can't possibly use all the data that's been given to the party. And, just as important, a single candidate simply doesn't have the resources to hire more than one internal data handler, much less replicate the 50-plus crew that steered the Obama analytics ship.

"People read about the Obama juggernaut," said Tom Bonier, co-founder and partner of Clarity Campaign Labs, a data-analytics firm that works with Democratic campaigns. "If you're a state legislative caucus director … you look at that and say, 'In no way is that anything that we could possibly do.'"

Or, as they put it  "individual campaigns across the country may struggle to use something as big and complex as Obama's data trove, which was built for a nationwide campaign. Think of taking a fire hose to your flower garden, or asking the local marina's security guy to dock a submarine."

This doesn't mean that improved methods aren't important, only that they come with their own set of problems.

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The "purple wedding" of geo-politics

By Carl

Sorry if you don’t watch Game of Thrones on Sunday nights, you might not get the title reference. Suffice it to say, without giving a spoiler alert, that there’s vengeance and there’s payback.

Vengeance is when someone who has harmed you gets his or her comeuppance, and while you get to sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude, you really don’t get to revel in it. Payback is when you get to plot and plan the comeuppance, and you can fully indulge your enjoyment. The Purple Wedding was a case of vengeance, in which most of the audience (both in the TeeVeeland and at the wedding of King Joffrey) were simultaneously horrified and gratified by the events.

Likewise, the Purple Wedding of Geopolitics is unwinding in front of our eyes. It explains precisely why President Obama doesn’t have to lift a finger (and why every President after Kennedy could have truly ignored the Soviet threat).

It’s called “economics”:

Russia is at increasing risk of a full-blown financial crisis as the West tightens sanctions and Russian meddling in Ukraine pushes the region towards conflagration.

The country’s private companies have been shut out of global capital markets almost entirely since the crisis erupted, causing a serious credit crunch and raising concerns that firms may not be able to refinace debt without Russian state support.

“No Eurobonds have been rolled over for six weeks. This cannot continue for long and is becoming a massive issue,” said an official from a major Russian bank. “Companies have to roll over $10bn a month and nothing is moving. The markets have been remarkably relaxed about this, given how dangerous it is. Russia’s greatest vulnerability is the bond market,” he said.

The Russian economy is, for all intents and purposes, a one-trick pony: oil and gas control economic growth. When prices are high, Russia is powerful. When prices drop, Russia is hobbled. 

Read more »

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On the Hustings

(Politico): "Paul Ryan isn’t committing to 2016"

(Roll Call): "Can you lie in politics? Supreme Court will decide"

(Las Vegas Review-Journal): "Nevada GOP drops platforms against abortions, gay marriage, endorses Sandoval"

(Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel Journal): "State GOP gets to vote on secession at convention"

(Chris Cillizza): ""Democrats are talking about race and the Republican Party an awful lot lately. Is it a smart midterm strategy?"


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The Guardian and The Washington Post deservedly win a Pulitzer for exceptional work exposing NSA surveillance, but Snowden remains the real hero

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Truly great journalism is rewarded:

The Guardian and the Washington Post have been awarded the highest accolade in US journalism, winning the Pulitzer prize for public service for their groundbreaking articles on the National Security Agency's surveillance activities based on the leaks of Edward Snowden.

The award, announced in New York on Monday, comes 10 months after the Guardian published the first report based on the leaks from Snowden, revealing the agency's bulk collection of US citizens' phone records.

In the series of articles that ensued, teams of journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post published the most substantial disclosures of US government secrets since the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war in 1971.

The Pulitzer committee praised the Guardian for its "revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy".

But of course the journalists, Glenn Greenwald and others, could only do what they did because of Snowden:

Snowden, in a statement, said: "Today's decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance."

And yet while these two newspapers and the journalists who work (or worked) for them receive a prestigious award for their hard work, however well-deserved, Snowden remains stuck in Russia, unable to travel anywhere else because the U.S. won't allow it, with the federal government more interested in persecuting him than giving him a fair hearing (just consider how whistleblowers are treated), called a traitor even by many on the left back home for daring to expose the government's illegal activities (and for many because Obama is the president), attacked from the right and other corners of the national security state, and otherwise denied from being treated the way he deserves to be treated... which is, as I see it, a truly heroic patriot who performed an extraordinary service for the American people, however ungrateful many of them are.

If there any justice at all in this matter, he would be welcomed home with open arms, a courageous whistleblower who blew the lid off a ubiquitous and out-of-control surveillance state that undermines the very essence of American democracy.

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"Shoe trutherism" is a thing because conservatives are insane

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Conservatives have never met an element of reality that they couldn't twist into complete and utter unreality for the sake of advancing some bullshit partisan smear. Case in point:

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Behind the Ad: Did someone say "boner"?

By Richard K. Barry

Who: The J.D. Winteregg campaign.

Where: Ohio's 8th Congressional District - web ad.

What's going on: Mr. Winteregg is a Tea Party-backed candidate running agains House Speaker John Boehner (R). Just because someone had to, Winteregg produced an ad positioning himself as the answer to "electile dysfunction." Get it. Electile. Oh, my.

In a parody of all those commercials for what Charlie Sheen in Two and Half Men calls boner pills, couples are seen drinking out of Winteregg mugs and generally looking as silly as the people in the real commercials.

In the event you can't access YouTube, some of the copy goes like this:
Sometimes when a politician has been in D.C. for too long, it goes to his head, and he just can't seem to get the job done... Used on a daily basis, Winteregg in Congress will help you every time the moment is right — to have your voice heard at the federal level... When using Winteregg, it's important to note that the borders will be secured, Second Amendment rights protected, ObamaCare and Planned Parenthood will be defunded, and common sense will be used in solving the nation's problems.

And then:
The narrator says that signs of electile dysfunction include "extreme skin discoloration," a reference to Boehner's infamous tanned skin, "the inability to punch oneself out of a wet paper bag, or maintain a spine in the face of liberal opposition."

Finally, because acting like a fourteen-year-old boy never gets old, the narrator warns, "[i]f you have a Boehner lasting more than 23 years, seek immediate medical attention.”

For the record, John Boehner got 84 percent in the 2013 primary in the Ohio 8th, which also happens to be the most Republican district in the state. So, this Boehner is lasting a bit longer (sorry).

Grade: Okay, it's kinda cute. Unfortunately some of the copy brushes up against a bit of unnecessary meanness which damages the cuteness, but, other than that, whatever. Mr. Winteregg and friends can have their chuckle. This is probably the last time any of us will hear his name in this election cycle or any other. Having said that, we're talking about him today. B-

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A.M. Headlines

(New York Times): "Budget office lowers estimate for the cost of expanding health coverage"

(Philadelphia Inquirer): "Interviews show Christie staff reacting to scandal"

(The Hill): "Hillary Clinton sequel in the works"

(New York Times): "Political rifts slow U.S. effort on climate laws"

(The Week): "Will the GOP sideline social conservatives in 2014?"


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Monday, April 14, 2014

Secretary Sebelius on Meet the Press this past weekend discussing her departure and the future of healthcare reform

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How not to lie in politics

By Richard K. Barry

Joni Ernst (R) is running for the United States Senate in Iowa. She is currently a state senator and has been criticized for missing more than half of the votes in the Iowa Senate this year. When asked by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham why she missed so many votes, Ernst said this:
Well first, National Guard Services. I have had some days on duty that I’ve had to be with the National Guard. And those are times that I’ve been on orders ... so that is one thing you won’t hear them talking about, those that are attacking my voting record.

The problem is that these things are a matter of public record and such statements beg for an enterprising reporter to do the leg work. 
A review by The Gazette of the Iowa Senate Journal and her schedule obtained through a Freedom of Information and Iowa open records request from the Iowa National Guard, shows that few — 10 percent, or 12 of the 117 missed votes — came on days when she was on active duty.

Some will defend her by saying she never said that most, or even a significant number, of missed votes were because of National Guard duty.

No, but she implied it, and that's when her trouble began. If, as a candidate, you are going to tell a lie, for Pete's sake, make sure there isn't irrefutable empirical evidence to make you look foolish. And, oh yeah, don't wrap yourself in the flag while you 're lying. People hate that.

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On the Hustings

(The Week): "Rand Paul vs. the money men"

(Wall Street Journal): "Tea-Party favorite Rand Paul aims to woo GOP stalwarts for 2016 bid"

(The Courier-Journal): "McConnell gaffes show campaign rust"

(National Journal): "Obama's real job: Fundraiser in Chief"

(Roll Call): "Israel: Elements of Republican base ‘animated by racism’"


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God, guns and Hitler

By Capt. Fogg

I have certain misgivings about hate crime laws, but we're reminded this morning -- the eve of Pesach or The Passover and a week before Hitler's birthday, that people who belong to hate-based organizations and creeds, who post virulent hate messages and calls for extermination on-line, need their constitutional right to keep and bear arms infringed.

I feel quite protective of our guaranteed right to free speech and our right to think what we think, but speech that incites to violence, that creates a mortal danger to the public, is something else and that's been established for a long time. Frazier Glenn Miller is a founding member of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party. That's not a crime, more's the pity, nor is shouting "Heil Hitler" from the back of a police car, but perhaps we ought to consider making it a felony to belong to groups who advocate murder because as far as I know, it's illegal for felons to own firearms.

I know -- penalties and restrictions don't prevent criminals and especially psychopathic criminals from committing crimes, but there's something wrong with Mr. Miller or Mr. Cross as he often calls himself, to own weapons. There's something wrong if the targets of hate groups need to arm themselves or to hire armed guards or to go about in fear because we elevate and protect a right to be armed above the right to remain alive. We shouldn't have to wait for people like that to run amok before we do anything. Threatening violence against groups or individuals should be sufficient to disarm someone.

Lest one think that being a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant is protection and a reason not to worry, Methodists were shot in this tragedy as well.

(Cross posted at Human-Voices)

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Behind the Ad: Damage control in Iowa

By Richard K. Barry

Who: Senate Majority PAC (Democratic PAC)

Where: Iowa

What's going on: A short while ago Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who is seen as a front-runner in the race to succeed Sen. Tom Harken (D), who is retiring, made a dismissive comment about Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), calling him a "farmer from Iowa." The context of the comment was that Grassley would, as a farmer, be unqualified to be on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I had fun at the time asking when it become smart politics to make fun of farmers in Iowa.

Who knows if such foolish comments will have an impact, but Democrats are worried enough to do some damage control.
In the ad, two men who appear to be farmers tout Braley's family farming roots and defend his character, implicitly refuting concern that his gaffe shows he's out of touch with Iowa farmers.

"We don't pay attention to what people say, we look at what they do," one says. "Bruce led the fight to pass a new farm bill and he's been a leader on renewable fuels. So people can say what they like, but we know Bruce and we know he's got our back."

I love the comment that "we don't pay attention to what people say." As for myself, I tend to pay attention, but that's me.

Grade: If you shoot yourself in the foot, I guess you're obliged to make ads with people saying you're not as stupid as you appear to be. C

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A.M. Headlines

(Wall Street Journal): "New York prosecutors open another front of scrutiny for Port Authority"

(Chris Cillizza): "Why Kathleen Sebelius’s political career is (probably) over"

(Politico): "Struggling Dems waiting for Hillary in 2014"

(Kansas City Star): "Man with history of anti-Semitism jailed in fatal shooting of three at Johnson County Jewish centres"

(New York Times): "No action seen from Ukraine as deadline for militants passes"


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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Conservatives at New Hampshire conference boo Jeb Bush's compassionate stance on immigration

By Richard K. Barry

Yesterday, at the Freedom Summit in Manchester, N.H., Donald Trump addressed the audience, speaking his usual nonsense on a range of issues.
When Trump mentioned former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has been mentioned as a possible moderate Republican presidential candidate, the audience loudly booed and groaned. The boos crescendoed when he mentioned Bush's comment that people who illegally immigrated to the United States may have “broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.

Meet the men who will not be the GOP presidential nominee for 2016,  neither Jeb nor the Donald. The relevant remarks come at around 1:11.

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On the Hustings

(Boston Globe): "Bernie Sanders seeks to pull Democrats left in 2016 primary"

(New York Times): "New Hampshire Republicans get a preview of 2016"

(Boston Globe): "Changing N.H. demographics may help Scott Brown"

(The State): "Tom Ervin jumps out of GOP governor’s race (South Carolina)"

(Las Vegas Review-Journal): "Nevada GOP drops platforms against abortions, gay marriage, endorses Sandoval"


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Republican hopefuls suck up for 2016 votes at Anti-Freedom Summit in New Hampshire

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Your 2016 GOP: Over the cliff, in the name of freedom.

Yes, the 2016 campaign has already begun, and some big-name Republicans were in New Hampshire yesterday for a right-wing pissing contest:

The Republican presidential primary is up and running in New Hampshire, where conservative prospects lined up in Manchester Saturday for the first cattle call of the 2016 cycle. 

Speakers at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, which was sponsored by Citizens United and Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity, included Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, all of whom would be top tier presidential contenders should they run.

Donald Trump also spoke.

Huckabee seemed especially determined to show he could compete for conservative votes against politicians like Paul and Cruz, who have each earned a devoted following among tea party activists. While the two senators mostly stuck to their usual talking points, Huckabee offered an extra large serving of red meat.

"My gosh, I'm beginning to think that there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States," he said in his remarks. "When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position, people put hands all over me, and I have to provide photo ID and a couple of different forms and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane – but if I want to go vote I don't need a thing."

Huckabee is apparently trying to position himself as the stupidest Republican in the field, and on the merits of his comments yesterday he's succeeding. Though of course the competition is fierce.

It's hardly worth commenting on someone who thinks North Korea is a freer place than the United States (and presumably the entire Western world), but it's awfully rich of any Republican to criticize the national security state that has arisen in the wake of 9/11 given that it was the warmongering and torture-loving Republican administration of Bush and Cheney that put those restrictions in place. And it's simply ridiculous to suggest that for some reason airport security is akin to election security given that voter fraud (according to the evidence as opposed to Republican scaremongering) amounts to a microscopic problem that hasn't even come close to impacting the outcome of any election, whereas lapses in airport security (and, more broadly, all security involving air travel) can lead to event such as, you know, 9/11. Seriously, anyone who cares at all about what happened on 9/11, including the families of the victims, should take Huckabee's comment as a gross and insensitive insult. Because that's what it was, along with being insanely stupid. Perhaps he should go to North Korea for some re-education.

Otherwise, though, it's awfully rich of any Republican to talk about freedom when pretty much that entire party is doing its utmost to deny freedom to so many Americans, like the freedom to vote, the freedom to have access to affordable health care (including birth control), the freedom to have one's reproductive rights respected, the freedom to receive equal pay for equal work, the freedom to have the same opportunities to succeed as the rich and privileged, and so on.

But, no, this is the party that only wants freedom for the rich and privileged, and for people to own whatever firearms they want without restriction, for companies to be able to do whatever they want without regulation, for people to be able to use their theocratic Christianity to discriminate against anyone they want, and so on.

In other words, they want freedom for themselves, everyone else be damned to the dystopia of their right-wing desires.

Yes, they talk up FREEDOM, but Republicans are anything but the liberty-loving freedom fighters they claim to be.

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Behind the Ad: The benefits of ObamaCare

By Richard K. Barry

Who: Put Alaska First PAC (a pro-Democatic super-PAC)

Where: Alaska (state-wide)

What's going on: This is an Alaskan super-PAC backing Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's reelection bid. The ad does what, I suspect, many Democrats are going to have to get comfortable doing, and that is touting the benefits of ObamaCare. As we hear, Lisa Keller is a cancer survivor born and raised in Alaska who was unable to get health coverage until Obamacare became law.
“I was lucky, I beat cancer but the insurance companies still denied me health insurance just because of a pre-existing condition," Keller says in the ad. "I now have health insurance again because of Mark Begich. Because he fought the insurance companies, so that we no longer have to."

So far, many Democrats in closer races have stayed away from talking about ObamaCare or have pointed to their efforts to improve it.  Others have argued that its time to talk about what health care reform has and will do for Americans.

Interestingly, this ad mentions neither ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act by name, so baby steps first, I suppose, but good that it's happening.

To say the very least, Sen. Begich is very vulnerable in his bid for reelection. Alaska is a red state, and Begich only got 48 percent of the vote in 2008 when President Obama was busy carrying so many Democrats to victory. And 2014 is a midterm, when so many Dems have tanked in the past. Having said that, Begich has mostly run away from Obama over the years and is clearly hoping that Alaskans have noticed.  Polling done in March has the race between Begich and any credible GOP candidates as close enough so we don't really know what is going to happen here. 

Grade: As an ad, it's simple and to the point. We can argue that the approach may not work for Begich, but it presents the message the campaign is going with right now. In political communication, there are two things to considers: The first is, will it work for the candidate? The second is, does it do effectively what it sets out to do? It's difficult to separate the two considerations, but it's an important analytical distinction. Based on the second of the two considerations, it's a pretty good piece. B


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