Friday, March 30, 2012

DREAMS COME TRUE! THREADED COMMENTING!

Sorry for so many all caps posts at once, but this is significant. Basically ever since I've had this blog on blogger, I've pined for the day when we could have threaded commenting, where comments could either be about the post itself, or someone else's comment, rather than just all mashed together as one unreadable mess.

NO MORE!!!



I've really enjoyed the debates in RB's supreme court posts, and this is the perfect way to celebrate! Respond to posts! Or respond to each other! Rejoice!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

THREE MONTHS??!?!?!

We have to wait till June for a verdict???? But I'm angry now!
(via NPR, which I heard while half awake this morning)


(I could not find a video of the full clip, sadly)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SCOTUS Docketwatch–Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act Day 2: Part 2

**UPDATE **FULL TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL ARGUMENTS ONLINE**

**UPDATE **FULL AUDIO OF ORAL ARGUMENT ONLINE**

Today’s oral arguments focused on several important questions necessary to determine the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision/individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act:

  • Does an individual’s inaction (decision to not purchase health insurance) qualify as an economic activity that is subject to regulation?
  • Is the mandate only regulating the how and when people pay for insurance, instead of compelling them to pay for insurance?
  • Or is the Law creating commerce with the purpose to regulate it? 
  • Is there any limiting principle to the minimum coverage provision?
  • Is Health Care Insurance a unique market, and what makes it unique to allow the minimum coverage provision?
  • Courtesy of Justice Scalia – Can you make people buy broccoli? (Edtr Note – Trainofthought is very Pro broccoli)

Solicitor General Verrilli attempted to characterize the mandate as government regulation of how and when health insurance is purchased.  Verrilli argued that the government’s action regulated “the means by which health care – by which health care is purchased” (p 4).  Justices Scalia and Kennedy pushed back on this assertion immediately, questioning if instead Congress was creating commerce in order to regulate it. 

Verrilli’s response was that the mandate was not creating commerce, instead – and this goes to the fundamental premise of the government’s argument and purpose for passing the ACA and individual mandate – that health care is a unique market in that:

In the health care market -- the health care market is characterized by the fact that aside from the few groups that Congress chose to exempt from the minimum coverage requirement -- those who for religious reasons don't participate, those who are incarcerated, Indian tribes -- virtually everybody else is either in that market or will be in that market, and the distinguishing feature of that is that they cannot -- people cannot generally control when they enter that market or what they need when they enter that market.” (p 5)

The Justices followed up by questioning whether this could be true of other markets, and if so, then are there limits to what Congress could do under the directive to regulate commerce.

As loyal Blog follower Luke points out – the question of a limiting principle is extremely important.  Justices Alito and Kennedy seemed especially concerned by this notion, with Justice Scalia posing the broccoli hypothetical:

Could you define the market -- everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli. (p 13)

The Solicitor General distinguished health care with some help from Justice Ginsburg – stressing the unique problem of an individual’s relationship with others in the health care market.

I thought what was unique about this is it’s not my choice whether I want to buy a product to keep me healthy, but the cost that I am forcing on other people if I don’t buy the product sooner rather than later. (p 14-15)

He attempted to differentiate the mandate as only a regulation of the means of payment for health care insurance.  Scalia asked whether or not the mandate would permit Congress to mandate that everyone join an exercise club.  Verrilla argued that would not be permitted because the hypothetical health club membership “is not a means of payment for consumption of anything in a market.” (p 38-41)

From reading the transcript, and listening to the audio, it appeared that the solicitor general had trouble articulating a concise limiting principle (as Justice Breyer and Kennedy requested) for the minimum coverage provision.

As Respondent’s counsel Paul Clement argued against the minimum coverage provision, he stressed 2 main points. First, that Congress was creating commerce for the purpose of regulation in violation of their authority under the commerce clause.  Second, that upholding the mandate would yield nearly unlimited power to Congress, who could hypothetically compel any mandate under its power to regulate commerce.

Clement noted that the main concern for opponents of the mandate is that it penalized someone for not acting. He stressed that in every prior case, Congress provided incentives and regulation for affirmative acts by people:

We didn't say when we had problems in the automobile industry that we are not just going to give you incentives, not just cash for clunkers, we are going to actually have everybody over 100,000 dollars has to buy a new car. (p 64)

During the third set of arguments by Michael Carvin (representing the National Federation of Independent Business), Justice Kennedy made a revealing statement that illustrates his main question on the uniqueness of the health insurance and health care markets:

And the government tells us that's because the insurance market is unique. And in the next case, it'll say the next market is unique. But I think it is true that if most questions in life are matters of degree, in the insurance and health care world, both markets -- stipulate two markets -- the young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries. That's my concern in the case. (p 104)

This statement could be a sign of sympathy coming from Justice Kennedy towards the mandate. The Justice elaborated that unlike other markets, here even if a young person refuses to buy insurance on the basis of their present health, they can still affect the market for others as they age to a point where they will eventually need the kind of health care that they cannot afford. 

Don’t you love the theater?  From what I’ve seen, upholding the mandate comes down to whether or not Justice Kennedy can reason a clear limiting principle on the mandate.  It will be tricky. They may get some help tomorrow when the Court hears arguments on severability and when the Court revisits whether or not the mandate can be sustained as part of its tax power. Both Solicitor General Verrilli and Paul Clement argued one hell of a case, but Clement’s oral argument was clearly a step above. Law aside, bear in mind the politics looming in the background – the recent Citizens United ruling, lingering effects of Bush v Gore, and of course the upcoming November election.  

So – have at it in the comments.  I left a lot of analysis out to focus on the main points, but feel free to chime in on any part of the arguments.

SCOTUS Docketwatch–Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act: DAY 2 Pt. 1

Today’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court focused on one fundamental issue – Whether the minimum coverage provision (the individual mandate) is a valid exercise of Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. 

Background –The Commerce Clause of the US Constitution allows Congress to regulate Interstate Activity.  The question of what exactly constitutes “interstate activity” can be tricky, but  the modern era of the Court  has allowed a broad interpretation (and as 6.54 puts it, “comically broad”) that has tended to uphold Congressional action.

Court’s Approach to Commerce Clause – Generally, Congress is permitted to regulate 1)Instrumentalities of interstate commerce/ persons/things in Commerce stream, 2) Channels of commerce and 3) Activities that substantially affect interstate commerce  (see Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. (2005)). If Congress is looking in the 3rd set of activities, then it also has the power to “regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic class of activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.”  This power allows Congress to regulate the entire class of economic activity.  In this case – health costs and purchasing health insurance.

Main Issue Before The Court –  Whether or not requiring individuals to purchase health care insurance (note: WashPost has an excellent description of exactly who is required and who is not) qualifies as an economic activity, that is subject to government regulation.  Specifically, does the decision to not purchase health insurance qualify as an economic activity that has a substantial effect on that nation’s health insurance costs and markets. And if so, are there limits to what the government can require an individual to purchase?

Summary of Administration’s Main Argument – In the Petitioner’s Brief, Solicitor General Verrilli argues that the minimum coverage provision “regulates economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce” (p 23).  Simply put, everyone is already engaged in the health insurance economic activity, whether they choose to purchase insurance or not. The uninsured cost over $40 billion of health care costs that are transferred to other taxpayers.  This ‘activity’ then constitutes the economic conduct that effects interstate commerce – “namely the way in which individuals finance their participation in the health care market” (p 18).

Summary of Opponent’s Main Argument – In the Respondent’s Brief, Former President Bush SG Paul Clement argues that the minimum coverage provision violates the commerce clause.  Opponents argue that Congress cannot compel an individual to enter into commerce (i.e. by requiring the purchase of health insurance) in order to regulate their behavior. To regulate commerce “presupposes the existence of commerce to be regulated” (p.16). In broader terms – opponents see the law as an unbounded assertion of federal power that if allowed, has virtually no limits on what the government can require an individual to do.

 

There are a few other arguments in play, but these are the big ones. I’ll have more as the Court transcript becomes available.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  As for me – my gut tells me this will come down to which side can sway Justice Kennedy to agree with them. 

China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq

What do those countries have in common? Those are the only countries in the world that executed more people than we did last year!
NEW YORK -- The United States was the only Western democracy that executed prisoners last year, even as an increasing number of U.S. states are moving to abolish the death penalty, Amnesty International announced Monday.

America's 43 executions in 2011 ranked it fifth in the world in capital punishment, the rights group said in its annual review of worldwide death penalty trends. U.S. executions were down from 46 a year earlier.
USA! USA! USA!

Monday, March 26, 2012

SCOTUS Docketwatch–Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act: Day 1

Today the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments as to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.  For some background, the Court will hear 6 hours of oral arguments over 3 days.  Each day will focus on different challenges to the law, as follows:

  • Monday 3/26 –  Does the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867 prohibit a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act until after 2014, when the law takes effect?
  • Tuesday 3/27 – Does the ACA’s “individual mandate” violate the Constitution?  (The BIG question)
  • Wednesday 3/28  - If the ACA’s individual mandate does violate the constitution, then how much of the law should remain in effect?

Today’s arguments focused on whether or not parties can challenge the ACA before provisions are enacted in 2014.  The context revolves around whether or not the ACA’s mandatory penalties for not buying insurance constitute a “tax”.  If so, then the act bars any party (in this case the 26 states and consortium of private businesses) from bringing a lawsuit until they have actually been ‘taxed’ or suffered a financial penalty in their 2015 income tax returns.  Think of this as a first hurdle Jurisdictional issue that is necessary to decide whether or not the Court should even hear the oral arguments in the first place.

In rare unity, both opposing parties in the case agreed that the act does not apply, and filed briefs calling for the Court to decide on the constitutionality of the case.  Yes, this does seem weird – the Court, without any challenges from either the Obama administration or the challengers calling for repeal of the law, appointed a neutral 3rd party lawyer (Robert Long) to advocate on behalf of the law. 

Long’s argument characterized the ACA’s penalties as a tax, based on the way it was collected.  From the oral argument transcript:

First, Congress directed that the section 5000A penalty shall be assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes.  Second, Congress provided that penalties are included in taxes for assessment purposes.  And, third, the section 5000A penalty bears the key indicia of a tax. 

Congress directed that the section 5000A penalty shall be assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes.  That directive triggers the Anti-Injunction Act, which provides that ‘no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax may be maintained in any court by any person.’”

This argument appeared to fail to convince the justices.  Justices Breyer and Scalia pushed back, challenging that even if the penalty is “being collected in the same manner of a tax, doesn’t automatically mean it’s a tax.” 

The Obama administration’s Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued in favor of the justices deciding the constitutionality of the individual mandate, but his argument treaded carefully on the tax question.  Key to the government’s argument of whether or not the Individual Mandate is constitutional (to be argued on Tuesday), is that Congress does have the authority to pass the ACA as part of its tax powers.  Here is some fine legal parsing – separating the 2 arguments into a “how to read the law” (Monday’s argument) context vs. “Congressional authority” (Tuesday’s constitutionality argument argument): (p. 31 –32 of Transcript)

JUSTICE ALITO: General Verrilli, today you are arguing that the penalty is not a tax.  Tomorrow you are going to be back and you will be arguing that the penalty is a tax.  Has the Court ever held that something that is a tax for purposes of the taxing power under the Constitution is not a tax under the Anti-Injunction Act?

GENERAL VERRILLI: No, Justice Alito, but the Court has held in the license tax cases that something can be a constitutional exercise of the taxing power whether or not it is called a tax. And that's because the nature of the inquiry that we will conduct tomorrow is different from the nature of the inquiry that we will conduct today.
Tomorrow the question is whether Congress has the authority under the taxing power to enact it and the form of words doesn't have a dispositive effect on that analysis. Today we are construing statutory text where the precise choice of words does have a dispositive effect on the analysis.

For more details and analysis, check out Lyle Denniston's excellent SCOTUSBlog recaps, and the Volokh Conspiracy Blog’s coverage.

The Court will move on to the next question, THE BIG QUESTION, of the constitutionality of the individual mandate tomorrow at 10 AM.  Be here tomorrow for some more breakdowns.

ALEC: An Indisputably Terrible Organization

For those who don't know the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), it's a horrible organization that drafts up terrible bills for just about every issue on the planet. They make "dummy" bills that can be copied and pasted from state to state so the same horrible ideas can be spread across the country with ease. Wonder why after the 2010 elections it seemed like every state was introducing the same bills over and over? It wasn't a coincidence, they were actually the same bills!

Republic Report has a quick look at 5 areas where ALEC crafts horrible, horrible legislation:
1. Banning Living Wages: ALEC claims to be a conservative group that stands for “limited government.” But the organization has worked to ban local and city governments from setting their own wage laws. ALEC used the model legislation known as the “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act” to stop cities from deciding how they spend their own taxpayer money by declaring that contracts with government contractors must pay living wages. After Atlanta, Georgia, passed a law saying that it will only use its taxpayer money to hire contractors who pay living wages, the state legislature passed an ALEC bill to ban the city from being able to control its own wage limits.

2. Crippling Collective Bargaining: When state legislatures around the country started introducing “right to work” bills that would cripple unions, they weren’t acting alone. These bills mirrored model legislation pushed by ALEC to undermine labor rights and crush the unions that middle class Americans rely on for good wages and benefits.

3. Privatizing Our Schools: School vouchers — a system where public taxpayer money is used to line the pockets of private schools — are so unpopular that they only exist in a handful of school systems nationwide, while the idea is repeatedly shot down in national polling. Yet in 2011, there was a huge push in various state legislatures for the expansion of school voucher systems. This push was coordinated largely by ALEC and other Big Money financiers. This push for public money for private schools came at the very same time that these legislatures were cutting money for public schools

4. Attacking Voting Rights: ALEC authored the model law, inspiring numerous bills to enact onerous “voter ID” requirements that effectively disenfranchise millions of Americans who do not possess these special IDs for voting, yet are fully eligible to vote. The U.S. Department of Justice recently blocked a Texas voter ID law pushed by ALEC that it deemed discriminatory.

5. Selling Prisons To The Highest Bidder: ALEC has worked closely with its private prison industry sponsors to increasingly privatize the U.S. prison system. It has also pushed harsh laws related to illegal immigration that would put more immigrants in the jails of the very same private prisons that fund ALEC.
If you hear about something terrible at the state level, there's a very good chance ALEC is involved. If you want to learn more about ALEC and how they've effected your state, this site is a good catch-all resource.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Counterpoint: Right Is No Crazier Now Than It Ever Was

It's a common thing to say the right is much crazier now than it was in the past. Rick Pearlstein (who wrote one of the best books ever about the history of the right in america) doesn't agree:
But are right-wingers scarier now than in the past? They certainly seem stranger and fiercer. I'd argue, however, that they’ve been this crazy for a long time. Over the last sixty years or so, I see far more continuities than discontinuities in what the rightward twenty or thirty percent of Americans believe about the world. The crazy things they believed and wanted were obscured by their lack of power, but they were always there – if you knew where to look. What's changed is that loony conservatives are now the Republican mainstream, the dominant force in the GOP.

I'm in a unique position to judge. A sixties obsessive since childhood, I misspent my teenage years prowling a ramshackle five-story used-book warehouse that somehow managed, until last October, to stay one step ahead of Milwaukee, Wisconsin's building inspectors. There, I collected volumes from a decade gone mad: texts by Black Panthers decrying "AmeriKKKa"; by New Leftists proclaiming that "the future of our struggle is the future of crime in the streets"; and by right-wingers like preacher David Noebel, who exposed the "Communist subversion of music" by which Russian spymasters deployed Pavlov's techniques to rot the minds of America's youth via their bought-and-paid-for agents, the Beatles. People who thought like Black Panthers and New Leftists, of course, proved a historical flash in the pan. People like Noebel, however, have proved a constant in American history. In fact, Noebel himself is still with us. In the 1970s, he was a favorite source for James Dobson, the still enormously popular Christian Right radio pschologist and Republican power broker. Most recently, Noebel's reputation got a boost from an admiring Glenn Beck on Fox News, and now he’s a Tea Party favorite.

Over fifteen years of studying the American right professionally — especially in their communications with each other, in their own memos and media since the 1950s — I have yet to find a truly novel development, a real innovation, in far-right "thought." Right-wing radio hosts fingering liberal billionaires like George Soros, who use their gigantic fortunes – built by virtue of private enterprise under the Constitution – out to "socialize" the United States? 1954: Here's a right-wing radio host fingering "gigantic fortunes, built by virtue of private enterprise under the Constitution ... being used to 'socialize' the United States." Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, "fed up with elitist judges" arrogantly imposing their "radically un-American views" — including judges on the Supreme Court, whose rulings he's pledged to defy? 1958: Nine Men Against America: The Supreme Court and its Attack on American Liberties, still on sale at sovereignstates.org.

Only the names of the ogres have changed — although sometimes they haven't. Dr. Noebel's latest project is to republish a volume he apparently finds freshly relevant, Dr. Fred Schwarz's You Can Trust the Communists: To be Communists. Schwarz, an Australian physician who died three years ago, had his heyday in the early 1960s, when he would fill municipal auditoriums preaching his favorite gospel: that the Kremlin dominated its subjects by deploying "the techniques of animal husbandry," and harbored "plans for a flag of the USSR flying over every American city by 1973." The new version, updated by Noebel – it comes with raves from grateful Amazon.com reviews, like this: "Just as important as it was 50 years ago"; and this: "Should be required reading for every American," and "This book made me a conservative" – is titled You Can Still Trust the Communists: To be Communists, Socialists, Statists, and Progressives Too.

Why does this matter? Because the notion that conservatism has taken a new, and nuttier, turn has influential adherents whose distortions derail our ability to understand and contain it. In a recent New York Review of Books review of Corey Robin's ground-breaking book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, which traces continuities in right-wing thought all the back to the seventeenth century, the distinguished political theorist Mark Lilla pronounced that "most of the turmoil in American politics recently is the result of changes in the clan structure of the right, with the decline of reality-based conservatives like William F. Buckley." So what did a "reality-based conservative" like Buckley make of Fred Schwarz? Reader, he blurbed him, praising the good doctor for "instructing the people in what their leaders so clearly don’t know." So, in fact, did Ronald Reagan, who in 1990 praised the quack's "tireless dedication in trying to ensure the protection of freedom and human rights." And here's the late GOP heavyweight Jack Kemp, who wrote in praise of Schwarz's 1996 memoir (Reagan is pictured with Schwarz on the flap): "How much I appreciate the fact that as much as anybody, including President Reagan, President Bush, and Pope John Paul … [Dr. Schwarz] has had the opportunity to educate literally thousands of young men and women all over the world in the struggle for democracy and freedom and the struggle against the tyranny of Communism." The "establishment conservatives," Reagan and Kemp, and the "nut," Dr. Fred Schwarz, were never so far apart after all.

You hear a lot about Ronald Reagan from the conservatives-are-nuttier-than-ever-before crowd: They praise him as a compromiser and point out, correctly, that he raised taxes seven of his eight years as president, in stark contrast to today's Republicans, who refuse to raise them at all. Here's the thing, as I wrote amid the hosannas after he died in 2004, during the awful reign of Bush: "It is a quirk of American culture that each generation of nonconservatives sees the right-wingers of its own generation as the scary ones, then chooses to remember the right-wingers of the last generation as sort of cuddly. In 1964, observers horrified by Barry Goldwater pined for the sensible Robert Taft, the conservative leader of the 1950s. When Reagan was president, liberals spoke fondly of sweet old Goldwater."

And so it goes: Reagan is now deemed one of those reality-based conservatives whose disappearance we now lament. Wrong. Deeply informed by the whackadoodle far-right, Reagan at earlier points in his career loved to quote its nostrums: that according to Communists blueprints "by 1970 the world will be all slave or all free"; that, as he said in a 1975 interview – rehabilitating a quote supposedly from Vladimir Lenin but in fact made up by the founder of the John Birch Society – once Lenin and his comrades had organized the "hordes of Asia," then conquered Latin America, "the United States, the last bastion of capitalism, [would] fall into their outstretched hands like overripe fruit." But he was also a good politician, and as such he learned to avoid saying things that disadvantaged him politically. The reason he didn't effectively fight tax increases was because, with a Democratic Congress, he didn't have the power to do so. Every time he actually had to sign one he made his preferences perfectly clear, blaming wicked liberals for forcing his hand and adding that this was why liberalism had to be defeated — so that he wouldn't have to sign one again.
Check out the whole piece, it's an interesting read.

James O'Keefe Has A Rape Barn

I mean, we knew about his rape boat. But a barn?:
Last week, we reported that Nadia Naffe, self-described “accomplice” to conservative activist James O’Keefe, had begun publishing a multi-part tell-all series of posts to her blog. Thursday morning, Naffe published the second part, which details her version of the events that led her to file a criminal harassment complaint against O’Keefe in November, and which includes documents related to a sexual harassment settlement between O’Keefe and “CNN Sex Boat Caper” whistleblower Izzy Santa. O’Keefe filed suit against Naffe on Wednesday to obtain an injunction against publication of those documents, and of emails that O’Keefe claims she stole from his computer.

Since publishing the first part of her tell-all, Nadia Naffe has been the subject of relentless attacks on Twitter, and has responded defiantly, promising to publish 7 years worth of O’Keefe’s emails and documents (which she says she obtained when the conservative provocateur borrowed her Android phone and linked his Gmail account with hers), and to give a full accounting of the events that led her to file a criminal harassment complaint against him in November. Ms. Naffe’s complaint alleged that O’Keefe invited her to his New Jersey home to work on a project, where she was to stay in a finished barn to save money on hotels. They got into an argument, according to Naffe, and O’Keefe abandoned her in the barn, refusing to take her to a train station so she could go home.

Naffe also alleged that she began to feel physical disorientation, and was eventually unable to move under her own control, after sharing beer with O’Keefe. She said O’Keefe and a friend eventually drove her to Penn Station in New York and that O’Keefe and his friend had to help her into the car, and that she passed out during the ride. She says she woke up at the train station, and later noticed items, including panties, missing from her luggage.
Wow, that is shockin... err,  right on the mark for the type of behavior I would expect from a Breitbart disciple. This is literally the exact type of thing I would expect James O'Keefe to do. There is absolutely nothing surprising about this. Carry on.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#Whitemansburden2012

This from Teju Cole is by far the best thing I have read on what he describes as "The White Savior Industrial Complex": (via Sahar Shafqat)
Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda and he is no longer the threat he was, but he is a convenient villain for those who need a convenient villain. What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice. This is the scaffolding from which infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education can be built. How do we encourage voices like those of the Nigerian masses who marched this January, or those who are engaged in the struggle to develop Ugandan democracy?

If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself. The fact of the matter is that Nigeria is one of the top five oil suppliers to the U.S., and American policy is interested first and foremost in the flow of that oil. The American government did not see fit to support the Nigeria protests. (Though the State Department issued a supportive statement -- "our view on that is that the Nigerian people have the right to peaceful protest, we want to see them protest peacefully, and we're also urging the Nigerian security services to respect the right of popular protest and conduct themselves professionally in dealing with the strikes" -- it reeked of boilerplate rhetoric and, unsurprisingly, nothing tangible came of it.) This was as expected; under the banner of "American interests," the oil comes first. Under that same banner, the livelihood of corn farmers in Mexico has been destroyed by NAFTA. Haitian rice farmers have suffered appalling losses due to Haiti being flooded with subsidized American rice. A nightmare has been playing out in Honduras in the past three years: an American-backed coup and American militarization of that country have contributed to a conflict in which hundreds of activists and journalists have already been murdered. The Egyptian military, which is now suppressing the country's once-hopeful movement for democracy and killing dozens of activists in the process, subsists on $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid. This is a litany that will be familiar to some. To others, it will be news. But, familiar or not, it has a bearing on our notions of innocence and our right to "help."

Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to "make a difference" trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don't always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.

Success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government, which has been in power in Uganda since 1986 and has played a major role in the world's deadliest ongoing conflict, the war in the Congo. But those whom privilege allows to deny constellational thinking would enjoy ignoring this fact. There are other troubling connections, not least of them being that Museveni appears to be a U.S. proxy in its shadowy battles against militants in Sudan and, especially, in Somalia. Who sanctions these conflicts? Under whose authority and oversight are they conducted? Who is being killed and why?
Please, please, read the whole thing. He's a brilliant writer, and it touches on so many important points. (also he includes lots of links, which because the new blogger sucks at reformatting I can't include)

Also, somewhat related was Matt Bors' incredible comic on the subject:


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Austerity Attempts Coming Post Election

You can see the impending suck from miles away: David Dayen:
The Washington Post has a first draft of history piece about the debt negotiations last year that tells us mostly what we already knew: that the White House was ready to sign onto a document that increased the Medicare eligibility age and instituted chained CPI, which would cut Social Security cost-of-living increases.  In exchange would be $800 billion in new taxes, roughly the cost of letting most of the high-end Bush tax cuts expire (though this would be achieved by actually lowering rates and broadening the tax base).

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi reluctantly agreed to try and sell this. Republicans would only do it if they could count “dynamic scoring,” the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves in economic growth, in the deal. Republicans say the White House accepted that. The White House denies it.

Then the Gang of Six came out with their deal in the Senate, which included much higher tax increases than what the Administration was about to sign off on. This blew up the deal when Obama seemed to endorse the Gang of Six process (which included more tax increases), Republicans immediately backed away from it; after the White House tweaked their deficit deal with House Republicans to catch up with the Gang, the Republicans summarily rejected it.

The deal could have easily become a reality were it not for the troublesome appearance of the Gang of Six. And it could still become a reality. It says right there in black and white at the end of the article: “White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.” What’s more, despite the change in attitude from the President, who’s in election mode, from a conciliator to a fighter, there’s a signifying event coming at the end of the year that will force a number of these same choices to be negotiated again.

By January 1, 2013, the Bush tax cuts will expire, the payroll tax cut will expire, unemployment benefits will expire, the “doc fix” on Medicare reimbursement rates will expire, and the “trigger” of $1.2 trillion in across the board defense and discretionary spending cuts will be triggered. Taken together, this mass of deficit-reducing changes would wipe out the primary budget deficit, leaving mostly a deficit made up of financing for the national debt. Debt-to-GDP ratio will fall, the key number often cited for sustainability. Oh, and the debt limit will run out around this time as well, making it more of a forcing event.
One of the side effects of completely broken system of government is that when things actually do have to get passed, they get bundled into some sort of awful catch-all shock doctine where people can't sort out who is responsible for what afterwards. Additionally, huge bipartisan clusterfucks are the only way horrible austerity measures like these will get passed, and the backers of these measures are fully aware of that fact.

Something will need to get done in December, a lot of congressmen will never face voters again, the ones that will won't face them for another two years. It's gonna be ugly.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Early Nominations for Human(s) of the Year

These people at a Rick Santorum rally. Incredible. (About the 3:40 mark)



Heroes. Absolute heros.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Murdered for Walking While Black

So depressing:
Trayvon had left the house he and his father were visiting to walk to the local 7-Eleven. On his way back, he caught the attention of George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, who was in a sport-utility vehicle. Zimmerman called the police because the boy looked “real suspicious,” according to a 911 call released late Friday. The operator told Zimmerman that officers were being dispatched and not to pursue the boy.

Zimmerman apparently pursued him anyway, at some point getting out of his car and confronting the boy. Trayvon had a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman had a 9 millimeter handgun.

The two allegedly engaged in a physical altercation. There was yelling, and then a gunshot.

When police arrived, Trayvon was face down in the grass with a fatal bullet wound to the chest. Zimmerman was standing with blood on his face and the back of his head and grass stains on his back, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

Trayvon’s lifeless body was taken away, tagged and held. Zimmerman was taken into custody, questioned and released. Zimmerman said he was the one yelling for help. He said that he acted in self-defense. The police say that they have found no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s claim.

One other point: Trayvon is black. Zimmerman is not.

Trayvon was buried on March 3. Zimmerman is still free and has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Train of Thought Lounge: Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch

One of my all time favorites:

 

 Enjoy your weekend!

Mortgage Settlement Catch up

Listening to the first 10-20 minutes of this Virtually speaking episode will get you partially up to speed with the developments that occurred before the settlement documents were released this week.


Listen to internet radio with Jay Ackroyd on Blog Talk Radio

Since this podcast, the documents have been released. The short version is that the deal is much worse than people were led to believe. If you want the details read anything David Dayen has written here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"What if President Bush Did This?": Detaining Journalists Edition

With Obama's actions on Civil Liberties and the war on terror, an always interesting game is: What would be the reaction had President Bush done this?

Today's case study: "Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen?"
As Scahill reports, Shaye has "risked his life to travel to areas controlled by Al-Qaeda and to interview its leaders." He argues that this reporting has not exactly won him friends in the U.S. or Yemeni governments:
His collision course with the U.S. government appears to have been set in December 2009. On December 17, the Yemeni government announced that it had conducted a series of strikes against an Al-Qaeda training camp in the village of al Majala in Yemen's southern Abyan province, killing a number of Al-Qaeda militants. As the story spread across the world, Shaye traveled to al Majala. What he discovered were the remnants of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which are in the Yemeni military's arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label "Made in the USA," and distributed the photos to international media outlets. He revealed that among the victims of the strike were women, children and the elderly. To be exact, 14 women and 21 children were killed.

Shaye was subsequently arrested and likely tortured by Yemeni authorities, who charged and convicted him on terrorism charges.  The case has drawn international attention, with media and human rights groups denouncing the trial. Pressure inside Yemen seemed to be working, and a pardon was ready for then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign.

Enter Barack Obama, who "expressed concern" over Shaye's release. The pardon was shelved; as Scahill reports:
Yemeni journalists, human rights activists and lawyers have said he remains in jail at the request of the White House.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald weighed in (3/14/12), reminding readers that the initial media accounts of the attacks in Majala were wildly misleading--the strikes were carried out by Yemen, those killed were "militants," and so on. As Greenwald puts it, the world knows the truth about this attack--which was a U.S. strike using cruise missiles and cluster bombs--because of Shaye's reporting.
I quoted this report from FAIR because the summary was shorter, but read the incredible story by Jeremy Scahill, and the follow up from Glenn Greenwald for the full picture. It's horrifying.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in the interview I posted the other day, it's not that Obama wants to do things that are worse than what Bush did or wanted to do (He did this exact thing too! For 7 Years!), it's that when Bush did these types of things, there was usually about half the country up in arms about how bad it was. When Obama does these type of things you have a few people up in arms, mixed in with liberals at liberal institutions defending whatever the fuck Obama does because he's a Democrat, and that's OUR team dammit!

These arguments happen all the time on all kinds of issues, so I don't mean to pick on Kevin Drum, but read his defense for Obama's actions:
But which do I find more likely? That Shaye is indeed affiliated with al-Qaeda based on evidence that hasn't been made public? Or that Barack Obama is a sociopath who pressures foreign leaders to keep innocent journalists in prison based on the fact that they very slightly annoy him? Call me what you will, but I have to go with Door A. U.S. attacks within Yemen might be bad policy. The entire war on al-Qaeda might be bad policy. What's more, Obama — along with the entire security apparatus of the United States — might be specifically wrong about Shaye. But I don't believe that they're simply making this story up because of a basically inconsequential piece that Shaye wrote two years ago. That just doesn't add up.
Why doesn't it add up? Did he find flaws in Scahill or Greenwald's reporting? Nope, he just doesn't think Obama is a bad guy, therefore mountains of evidence and reporting be damned, he's going to assume Obama is right, and the reporting is wrong. The laziness and stupidity in that response really speaks for itself.

Do I think Obama is a nice guy? How about George W. Bush? By all personal accounts he was a really nice guy, and that clearly translated in his policy choices. Politicians, celebrities, athletes of all kinds are in the business of making themselves a brand and projecting a certain image. Since a) you don't actually know Barack Obama and b) He has a track record that you can judge him on, you should probably keep your opinions based on that. Instead you have someone who gets paid to do this shit for a living willfully ignoring real world evidence and reporting because he think's Obama is a nice guy. If our guy wasn't in the White House most people would expect better than that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Why I'm Leaving Goldman Sachs"

Holy crap, read this:
TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Costs of War

When you normalize killing people, unspeakable things like this happen:
(Reuters) - Sixteen Afghan civilians, including nine children, were shot dead in what witnesses described as a nighttime massacre on Sunday near a U.S. base in southern Afghanistan, and one U.S. soldier was in custody.

While U.S. officials rushed to draw a line between the rogue shooting and the ongoing efforts of a U.S. force of around 90,000, the incident is sure to further inflame Afghan anger triggered when U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Koran at a NATO base.

U.S. officials said an American staff sergeant from a unit based in Washington state was in custody after the attack on villagers in three houses. Multiple civilians were also wounded, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition said

President Barack Obama called his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai promising to establish the facts quickly and "to hold fully accountable anyone responsible."
It always bothers me people try to minimize atrocities like this because it was just one "lone wolf". Would the vast majority of soldiers over there commit acts like this? No, of course not. But when you engage in a never ending wars for ten years, these type of things will happen. They are a feature of war, not a bug. That's not a slander on the character of anyone fighting in this (or any war), it's just the fact that when killing people is normalized, incidents like these will happen.

It would be nice if the people (of all political stripes) who are constantly attempting to start new awesome wars would consider this fact before sending other people's kids into this environment.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Killing American Citizens Without Trial, Continued

Holder's speech explained in much further detail in a Sam Seder interview of Glenn Greenwald. Really important, and is easier to understand than Glenn's initial post on the subject (he comes in about 10 minutes in):


Also, a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon:


Friday, March 9, 2012

The Wire Bracket

Now for something completely unrelated...

Earlier this week Grantland released a bracket that put wire characters against each other. The bracket:

My thoughts: (don't click the links if you haven't seen the show, there will be spoilers)
Anyhow, this whole thing just reminded me over and over how amazing the wire was, and led to a youtube binge of awesome Slim Charles clips, which is never bad.

Do you all see any major snubs/mismatches?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Slutty Women's Day

This from Ann Friedman includes lots of gifs, and is very funny.

Check it out. Happy International Women's day!

Now, back to talking about how birth control makes women sluts and other important topics...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Newt Being Newt

This might be the most Newt Gingrich-y moment of the campaign so far
Newt Gingrich apparently has been so busy campaigning all around Georgia that he hasn’t had time to sleep, or even write a speech for the AIPAC crowd.

Moments before he was set to video-stream live to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Gingrich was caught on camera dozing off, perhaps dreaming about what it would be like to be president or live on the moon  or both.

At one point, he woke up in the midst of a speech by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who addressed the conference before Gingrich.

Someone off-camera, probably referring that Gingrich appeared to be nodding off, said it was “probably the most relaxed moment you had today.”

“Listening to Panetta is not a relaxing experience,” Gingrich said, before slipping away into nap time again.
He woke up before he was  introduced for his speech and gave a short opening statement in which he promised, if elected president, to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, along with several other points.  Gingrich then opened up the floor to questions.

“I understand you have a panel. I look forward to any questions.”

Then 12 seemingly eternal seconds of silence followed. Gingrich stared blankly into the camera, and the audience stared back.

Finally the AIPAC introducer had to cut the awkward void.

“Mr. Speaker, there is not a panel,” he said. “Please do continue, sir.”

Gingrich, always the improviser, moved right along.

“Let me just say – I say this pretty briefly, I think,” Gingrich riffed. “We need a fundamental reassessment of our entire understanding of the threat of radical Islam.”
Click here for the video, because ABC News are dicks and won't let us embed it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

American Citizens Can Now Be Killed Without Trial

I'm guessing if Bush had done this people would be a wee bit more up in arms:
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the decision to kill a U.S. citizen living abroad who poses a terrorist threat "is among the gravest that government leaders can face," but justified lethal action as legal and sometimes necessary in the war on terror.

Holder's comments broke the administration's silence on the legal justifications for its decision to kill American-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki five months ago in Yemen. In a speech at Northwestern University law school in Chicago, he described al-Awlaki as concocting plans to kill Americans but he never explicitly acknowledged the administration responded by targeting the cleric for death.

Instead the attorney general outlined a three-part test for determining when a targeted killing against a U.S. citizen is legal. He said the government must determine after careful review that the citizen poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the U.S., capture is not feasible and the killing would be consistent with laws of war.

The Obama administration has refused to release the Justice Department legal opinion on al-Awlaki's killing under the Freedom of Information Act and is in court opposing efforts to have it made public.
Responding to criticism from civil libertarians, Holder flatly rejected the suggestion that the Constitution's due process protections require the president to get permission from a federal court before taking lethal action.

"The unfortunate reality is that our nation will likely continue to face terrorist threats that at times originate with our own citizens," Holder told a packed Thorne Auditorium, where all 700 seats were filled with law students, who were taking notes on their laptops, were joined by Chicago-based federal prosecutors and other observers.
But don't worry, this will only be used against terrorists. So what makes someone a terrorist? It's when the government declares you to be a terrorist? Oh.

Glenn Greenwald has an extensive post about this if you're so inclined.

Monday, March 5, 2012

You Know What Might Work? Austerity!

The same group of assholes that are constantly trying to cut our social safety net are at it again. David Dayen:
Intransigence from Republicans basically kept us out of a grand bargain last year. Plenty of Democrats were willing to do it, the White House was more than willing to do it, and even John Boehner was willing to do it, at least on a conceptual level. But House Republicans wouldn’t betray their tax pledge and so it didn’t happen.

There are some different dynamics to the next round of the grand bargain. There are still enough Democrats willing to deal, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. The White House has de-emphasized a deficit deal, but their budget still shows a blueprint for one, and if they get revenue in exchange, they’ve stated openly that they would make cuts to Medicare and other social programs. So is there a new willingness on the Republican side? According to The Hill, Republicans have joined a bipartisan working group that is preparing a document on deficit reduction.
A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate are secretly drafting deficit grand bargain legislation that cuts entitlements and raises new revenue.
Sources said that the task of actually writing the bills is well underway, but core participants in the regular meetings do not yet know when the bills can be unveiled.
The core House group of roughly 10 negotiators is derived from a larger Gang of 100 lawmakers led by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Health Shuler (D-N.C.), who urged the debt supercommittee to strike a grand bargain last year.
That larger group includes GOP centrists like Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who has said Republicans should abandon their no-new-tax-revenue pledge, as well as Tea Party-backed members like Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
The best part is that they are openly talking about bringing this up in the lame duck session where people will be a full 2 years from an election or already out the door. Democracy!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Train of Thought Lounge: Miike Snow




Check this blog over the weekend for updated coverage of the Let's Bomb the Shit Out of Iran Now! AIPAC conference.

Fat Sexist Asshole Makes Fat Sexist Comment

Bouncing limbaugh

I don't know exactly why this is that much more offensive than every other horrible thing Rush Limbaugh has ever said, but this is getting a lot of attention, so I'm not complaining:
A growing list of groups and individuals have denounced Rush Limbaugh in the wake of his vicious attack on Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law School student who testified before Congress recently about the problems caused when women lack access to contraception. The popular right-wing radio host has unleashed a torrent of misogynistic comments directed at Fluke over the past few days, calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute," and demanding: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." 
If you want to help the campaign to make sponsors aware of his language, check out what media matters comes up with. They recently hired one of the main guys who used that tactic to get Glenn Beck off the air.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Most Interesting Racist Judge in the World

10% of this post is to point out how vile racism still exists, even among public officials.

90% of this post is an excuse to post the picture the racist judge that accompanied this story:


Montana's chief federal judge admitted on Wednesday that he forwarded an email comparing African-Americans to dogs and implying that President Barack Obama's mother had sex with animals.

Richard Cebull's email, obtained by the Great Falls Tribune, reads: "Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine."

A joke then follows: "A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?' His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"

Cebull forwarded the offensive email from his official court account to six "old buddies," who then forwarded to others.

In an interview with the Tribune, Cebull maintained he did not send the email because it was racist, but because it was 'anti-Obama.'

"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull said. He agreed the email was racist, but said he personally was not.

"This is a private thing that was, to say the least, very poor judgment on my part," he said. 
"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine."

Fuck off.

Good Riddance Andrew Breitbart

American politics just became a little bit less shitty. It would have been better if he had gone back to Australia or renounced being a terrible human being instead of dying, but it also would have been better if he had chosen anything other than en-crappening America as a career, so... Goodbye, and thanks for giving us James O'Keefe.