Friday, May 31, 2013

What year is this again?

I'm hearing this Cheerios commercial has unleashed a firestorm of racism. I saw it for the first time the other night and didn't even notice the couple was interracial. People are so weird.

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GOP credo: feed the rich, starve the poor



The Republicans are hellbent on destroying any and all government assistance for the olds, poors and other needy Americans. Their most inhumane target remains cuts to food assistance programs. Krugman blasts the GOPers today and notes:
And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.
Prairie Weather has the full numbers. Congressman Fincher and his family have received roughly $8.9 million in government handouts over the last 10 years. In fact, Rep. Fincher is the second largest recipient of farm subsidies in Congress. And did I mention this farm bill that severely slashes food assistance for poor children, including the WIC program which insures the bare basic nutrional requirements for babies, also includes a $9 billion increase in crop insurance to the sole benefit of big agribusiness guys like Fincher?

That, in the world according to Fincher, we can afford. No problem because cotton farmers need that help. Those poor kids and poverty stricken olds can just go rummage in garbage bins for their daily bread I guess.

Once again, on the stupid or evil scale, we're putting this down as pure evil.

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Romney wants to be the comeback kid

Guess the Romneys are missing the spotlight. Saw yesterday that Anne was giving an interview somewhere and today we have this, which is as sad as it is funny:
Restless, a little wistful and sharply critical of President Barack Obama's second term, Mr. Romney said in an interview that he plans to re-emerge in ways that will "help shape national priorities." As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort.

He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates.
Wonder if anyone has told the candidates? Have a feeling there might be a number of regretful scheduling conflicts on that score. [photo via]

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Your Moment of Zen

Ashikaga flower park in Japan.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Media refuses to meet with Holder

I really hate it when I'm at odds with journalists I like and respect, (there's more of them than you might think), about the leak investigations. In the latest twist in the storyline, most of the major media heads are refusing to meet off the record with AG Holder to discuss the matter. I'm sorry to have to say this ends up looking like they care more about pumping up a so-called scandal than finding a solution to the problem.

It's too weird to find myself in agreement with the WaPo and Politico who so far are the only major news orgs willing to say wait a minute, we routinely have off-the-record conversations with the government, so we're going to the meeting. The rest of them are coming off as entirely off base. Or in other words, as this tweet points out:
@AlecMacGillis: Exactly. The piousness on this is a bit much. RT @jackshafer: News organizations that go off the record all the time suddenly get picky.
Hells bells. It's supposed to a gripe session, not a fucking press conference. It's not like they're going to be writing policy or making some secret pact. And frankly, I don't blame Holder for wanting it off the record. Who can't predict how that would go. They would spend an hour or two discussing the problem and all that would be reported is some out of context, off the cuff remark to draw traffic in the slow news cycle of summer.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, outside of the insider bubble, not seeing any sympathy for the solipsism. Media might want to take notice:

@BrettLoGiurato: This is perhaps the clearest indication about how the public feels about AP, Fox leak investigations:



Click through on that link to read the responses. My personal favorite being, "Sheesh. Go after the leaker, not the journo."

Funny. Last I looked, no journos were being hauled into court for national security reporters "standard operating practices." The only ones paying the price are the inside sources they convinced to breach their contractual agreements and the law simply for a "scoop" that didn't even expose any government wrongdoing. Seems to me the sources are the real victims here.

All that being said, I'm not without empathy for the media in this. I understand the pressure to produce traffic. What worries me is when inside sources are squandered for stories that don't expose government misconduct for short term gain, then when real misconduct occurs, the sources will be too afraid to come foreward. Not seeing how that serves anyone in the long run.

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Please, just shoot me before this happens

I loathe this stupid grumpy cat. I find the entire mythology that's grown around the damn feline to be mean spirited and not funny. Apparently I'm alone in this. Worse yet, Grumpy Cat has a movie contract. In fact, there's a whole bleeding franchise I didn't know about till now.
Here, Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) will be given the power of speech. How much movie potential can a Grumpy Cat have? Well, she has been scratching at the door of fame in a big way. Among the indicators: Grumpy Cat was named the most influential cat of 2012 by MSNBC, a most important Meme of 2012 by Mashable, and has appeared on such TV shows including Today, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, Anderson Cooper Live, VH1 Morning Buzz and The Soup. In March, Grumpy Cat was deemed the star of South by Southwest-i by news outlets. The appearances drew lines of thousands of people that spanned for blocks. Grumpy Cat received more social mentions in four days than anyone else at SXSWi.The cat’s official Facebook has more than 930,000 likes and a weekly reach well over 2 million. The official YouTube Channel has over 120,000 subscribers and over 20 million views. Grumpy Cat stars in a collection of webisodes in partnership with Friskies and the Will Kitty Play With It series. Grumpy Cat merchandise sells at Walmart, Hot Topic, Thinkgeek and many other retail stores. Licenses include Chronicle Books, Gund, Ripple Junction, Buckle Down, T Line, ATNY, Ultra Pro, 99 Cent Brains and more.
This creepy, ill-tempered sourpuss wants everybody and everything on earth to die in a fire. She is going to make millions. Hilarious.
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Why MSNBC's ratings are down

Everybody has a theory. Certainly Steve M. points to some valid reasons for MSNBC's ratings drop. It's true compelling current events will trump opinion programming. Perhaps some of their core audience is disillusioned because of the scandals, but I don't think that applies as strongly. And as far as the summer lag in readership for left wing political blogs, as long as I've blogging these ten years, that happens every summer. I think that's more because every damn summer brings some blitz of GOP generated faux outrage that draws their base and the lack of real news leaves liberals with more free time to do real world stuff like create Vines and take Instagrams of their cute pets. Also liberals tend to travel more than conservative poli-junkies. Liberals post travel pix. Meanwhile the cons are caught up in pushing the lastest haterage. It never ends for them.

The other thing I'm seeing in terms of the current drop in ratings is based solely on what I see on social nets. I don't watch any of the talk shows anymore, but I do *watch* Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow on the twitter every night. I'm seeing mostly viewer dissatisfaction with Hayes new format. What they loved about Uppers was the comprehensive coverage of undercovered stories and the mix of mostly liberal guests. What I'm seeing now is a lot complaints about too many conservatives on his show and a notable lack of pushback by Chris. In fact, I've seen more than one accusation about Hayes "going emo" and gettin all anti-Obama. That's not what they're tuning in for. They want to see right wing memes get shot down, not validated by yet more exposure.

To some extent that's Rachel's current problem too. Lately I've been seeing a lot of -- oh, you're giving air time to that right wing idiot ... click. This was especially true about her show that joined in on the Obama bashing over the leak investigations. The complaints about that one survived well past the actual airing of the program. However you want to define Chris and Rachel's viewer base, within my circle of view anything that smacks of both sides do it turns them off. We're inundated with that sort of journalism already. They want a refuge where the liberal view is fully aired and undiluted by too much conservative view balance.

Far as I can see, Rachel is already turning that around. Last night's program was being cheered again. As for Chris, not seeing any love for his new format. Apparently it's just not the same kind of show anymore. They should probably work on that.

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Your Moment of Zen

Seljalandsfoss Falls, Iceland. [photo via]



[click to embiggen.]

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Maine governor issues a call to arms

What does it take before our exalted media use their precious First Amendment protection to call these rightwing politicians out for what they are -- pure crackpots. I mean, this isn't some fringe conspiracy nutcase we're talking about here. He's a highly placed government official who somehow hoodwinked his constituents into voting him into office.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is literally calling for armed revolution. He's peeved that he wasn't allowed to testify at a state Appropriations Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago and comes out with these statements:
Asked why the issue is so important, the governor replied, "It’s freedom of speech. You folks should understand that better than I. It is the First Amendment, then there is the Second and I love ‘em both."

He later added, "The minute we start stifling our speech, we might as well go home, roll up our sleeves and get our guns out."
He should tell that to women representatives in Michigan who weren't allowed to speak on the Statehouse floor. He should tell that to the women legislators who weren't allowed to testify as Issa's anti-contraceptive hearings in the House of Representatives in Washington, DC.

Imagine the media uproar if these Democratic women legislators had said the same thing. I expect there would have been screaming headlines along the lines of "Annie git yer guns."

LePage is verging on sedition here. Media needs to call it what it is -- crazy talk. IT shouldn't be reported as if this was something normal that should be expected or condoned.

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Behind the scenes at Fox News

Joe Muto wrote a book about his eight years at Fox News as an alleged undercover liberal. This excerpt article is mostly about Bill O'Reilly but the description of the Fox News hierarchy is fascinating.
For example, some unlucky guests were banned for life from every show on the network, a result of a diktat from the Second Floor. Comedian Bill Maher, once a semi-regular guest on “The Factor” and some other Fox shows, made too many cracks about Sarah Palin over the years, raising the ire of a powerful female VP who banned him from our air and demanded that all Fox-affiliated websites refer to him only as “Pig Maher.”

Sometimes entire organizations were given lifetime bans. The website Politico wrote something a few years back that rubbed Roger the wrong way (we were never told what exactly the transgression was) and word went out to all the shows: No more Politico reporters as guests. Also, any anchors who mentioned the site on air had to use the phrase “left-wing Politico” — an absurd designation for a publication that usually played it down the middle.
The rest is an hour by hour visit inside Fox's star hothead. Doesn't make me want to buy the book, but interesting read for the curious.

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Bye bye Bachmann



By now you've heard Michelle Bachmann is calling it quits. That night she announced we won't have her to kick around in 2014. I have mixed feelings about it. Happy to have her crazy-eyed crackpottery out of our government but it is going to make it harder for the Democrats to win her district if the Republicans come up with any candidate even slightly less crazy who can string two sentences together coherently.

There's boatloads of commentary on Bachmann's departure. My favorite is Amanda Marcotte's delightful fisking of Michelle's goodbye speech. There's much speculation about her motives, but I agree with Steve M. I'm willing to bet the GOP leadership forced her out. Imagine she got word from on high that the party wasn't going to support her in the race, nor defend her against the investigations into her campaign chicanery.

Meanwhile, the bloggers whose stock is trade is wingnut snarkery, weep in sorrow to lose such an reliable source of material. [photo via Esquire]

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Your Moment of Zen

Monkey orchids (Orchis simia). The species' range is Europe, the Mediterranean, Russia, Asia Minor and Iran. [photo via]

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Leaks and the limits of the First Amendment

Walter Pincus gets to the heart of what's wrong with the media freakout about DoJ's leak investigations. Do read it all, it's short but here's the main point. The media may "just be doing their job" but the leaker is in breach of their contract. The leaker is breaking the law to give them the information. So why is it so damn scandalous for the DoJ to seek to enforce the law? That is their job.

As Pincus points out:
Applying labels such as co-conspirator provides a probable cause for the judge to grant the warrant, as in the Rosen case. If Rosen offered money or some other reward, it might be a different case. I believe the First Amendment covers the right to publish information, but it does not grant blanket immunity for how that information is gathered.
Rosen actively encouraged his source to break the law. He brazenly waltzed in and out of the State Department wth barely an attempt to cover his tracks. I used more sophisticated subterfuge to hide my underage cigarette smoking from my parents. And I'm not moved by the wailing about leak investigations “intimidating a growing number of government sources.” The DoJ's job is not to make it easy for lazy journalists to get a scoop. Furthermore, exposing active undercover counterterrorism operations being conducted in the interests of national security is not whistleblowing. It just isn't.

The White House Correspondents’ Association board was late to the defense of the reporters. When they say, “Reporters should never be threatened with prosecution for the simple act of doing their jobs,” it should raise the question, what the hell is their job? Traditionally it was to watchdog government misconduct, not to expose our intelligence assets who are risking their lives to provide inside information on foreign plots against our country.

The principle of freedom of the press on which our country was founded was designed to protect criticism of corrupt politicians. Our founders designed it protect the press from retribution when it exposes government misconduct. It's not a blanket exemption for exploiting insider connections to expose rightful government process conducted for our protection simply to win a news cycle.

As Pincus notes there's a big difference between nothing being more sacred to the profession of journalism and the notion that “nothing is more sacred than our profession.” At some point we have to ask, is journalism even a profession anymore, or is it just another Big Business conducted for no loftier goal than corporate profit.

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NRA losing its firepower

Alec MacGillis takes a long look at the battle over gun safety reform and finds NRA is losing its might in the fight. It's a longish read but this is the big takeaway.
The narrow defeat of the background-check bill, it turns out, was not the end of hopes for gun reform, but the beginning.
Newtown really did change everything and the the conventional wisdom is outdated. The NRA's power to swing elections is waning.
Senator Chris Murphy, a rookie Connecticut Democrat who has taken a lead on the issue since the Newtown massacre, points out that, of the 16 Senate races the NRA participated in last year, 13 of its candidates lost. “The NRA is just all mythology,” he says. “The NRA does not win elections anymore.”
The forces for gun sense are gaining strength. Their resolve was not broken by one legislative defeat, it's hardened into a determined force that will prevail in the end. From Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns to Gabby Giffords' group to Moms Demand Action and a growing list of gun safety activists, a coalition is growing larger every day. Their tactics are improving. The NRA's gun absolutists are loud but their numbers are shrinking. The gun sense lobby is determined to prove to the political class that aligning with that minority comes at a greater cost than defying it. We'll all be safer because of their good work.

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Politico throws pity party for Boehner

No need to read the Politico piece, it only states the obvious. Everybody knows the crackpot cons have taken control of the House and Boehner is powerless to stop them. Charlie's takedown of Tiger Beat on the Potomac gets to heart of the dysfunction.
This remains the only story worth covering about how our government is operating — or, more accurately, failing to operate — in Washington, and it remains a story that TBOTP, among others, have failed dismally to cover. It is not an unfair summation of that passage to conclude that "most young conservatives" who have been elected to serve in one of the three branches of government believe their job once elected is not...to...govern.

I don't believe there ever has been a time like this in our history. We have had periods of severe political polarization before, but those were periods in which the government was polarized because of conflicting ideas of what the national government should do. Right now, we have a polarization based on the fact that an uncontrollable faction of one of our two political parties — a faction with its own sources of money and power that exist outside conventional political accountability — has decided that the only thing that the national government should do is nothing, a faction that is perfectly situated to make that at least part of a political reality, and a faction that is growing even faster out in the states than it is in Washington.
The situation in the states is a bit different and even more dangerous. The crackpot cons have taken over entire state governments and they're not so much not governing, as they are dismantling every social assistance program, privatizing every public common and passing out the "savings" in cash to their favored cronies. And on the side, they're also legislating their religious beliefs into local law. To paraphrase the old Pogo bit: we looked for the tyrants, and found they were the power mad GOP.

Meanwhile, our serious news orgs are posting such important stories as, Senate GOP feels jilted after being wined and dined by Obama, After 2008, who would Hillary Clinton hire?, and I've seen at least a half dozen stories about how Obama failed to win a teddy bear at an arcade on the Jersey Shore.

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Your moment of Zen

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Monday, May 27, 2013

News Corp can't find DoJ notice on Rosen subpoena

Well how interesting. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation says they don't know nothing 'bout any subpoena:
News Corporation said on Sunday that it had no record of being notified by the Justice Department nearly three years ago of a subpoena for the telephone records of a reporter at its Fox News cable channel.

The company’s chief legal counsel at the time also said that he had never seen material from the government related to the subpoena.
The Justice Department says they notified News Corporation on Aug. 27, 2010, that it had seized Rosen phone records by fax, email, and certified letter, as it the custom in all legal matters.

You may remember that this is the same News Corporation that claimed for months on end it didn't know nothing 'bout phone hacking and police bribery until the proof finally caught up with them. But hell, they pretty much got away with lying about that without any major punishment, so why wouldn't Murdoch's US enterprise lie about this now?

Not making any accusations until the facts are all in, but thinking the circumstantial evidence and history is on the DoJ's side. Surely DoJ will have copies of the notifications. Lawyers never throw anything away.

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Your moment of Zen

Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana major) from Australia. [photo via]

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Big Media ignores worldwide Monsanto protest


If the whole world protests against Monsanto and BigMedia refuses to cover it, did it happen? Maybe not in the United States but the rest of the world is banning GMO crops even as they're allowed to pollute our agriculture here at will.

In France, justice demands recompense for Monsanto's criminal negligence.
The French court in Lyon ruled that Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller formula, which contains the active ingredient alachlor, caused Paul Francois to develop lifelong neurological damage that manifests as persistent memory loss, headaches, and stuttering during speech. [...]

In 2007, France officially banned Lasso from use in the country in accordance with a European Union (EU) directive enacted in 2006 prohibiting the chemical from further use on crops in any member countries. But despite all the evidence proving that alachlor can disrupt hormonal balance, induce reproductive or developmental problems, and cause cancer, the chemical is still being used on conventional crops throughout the U.S. to this very day.

“I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of (alachlor),” added Francois to Reuters.
In the U.S. it's not just the farmers. Our entire population is endangered by the corporate coup of our government by Monsanto and other deep pocket multinational corporations who have co-opted our political class.

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How big is media surveillance under Obama

I'm as unhappy as the next guy about government surveillance on journalists and private citizens but I sure wish the media had been this focused when the Bush administration was doing it illegally. Even the NYT is verging on scaremongering about Obama's DoJ. I mean the hed screams US Leaks Inquiries Show How Wide a Net is Cast. About midway through the article it admits, "It is not clear how often the government has obtained reporters’ communications records."

The only person they could get on record for the story is one government guy whose life was ruined under the Bush administration for allegedly leaking about warrantless wiretaps -- on everybody. Meanwhile here's an interesting twist to the Rosen saga.
On Saturday, a Fox News executive said that the notice had gone to News Corp., its parent company, on Aug. 27, 2010, but that Fox News was not told until Friday. The executive said they were still trying to sort out how the notice fell through the cracks.
You might have thought this would be something the parent corp would have brought to their news station's attention right away. Kind of convenient they suddenly discovered it after the AP got all sorts of steam out of their surveillance. And again, in these Obama era cases it's not about wholesale spying on the population or the media. As the government states, "law enforcement officials said the leaks were alarming because someone had shared information while overseas intelligence operations were still under way."

If somebody can show me where any of these stories exposed government misconduct, I'm happy to join in the outrage but so far all I see is a few journos outing active counter-terrorism operations in countries that do pose a danger to our national security, effectively shutting them down because of the exposure. I don't feel so well served by that kind of traffic baiting journalism.

I have to agree with Kevin Drum about this hue and cry over this.
Something about the Rosen case just doesn't add up. But a lot of people don't seem to be taking the possible outing of an intelligence source very seriously. They're acting as if the DOJ prosecution is over a completely meaningless story. That might be, but I think a bit less circling the wagons, and a bit more serious questioning, might be in order here.
I often watch these big journos on the twitter. They hate Obama, not for his politics but because he doesn't treat them with the respect they believe they deserve. Sadly, I don't believe the vast majority of them deserve the respect. They aren't informing the public. When he does hold a presser, they leap to find a single phrase out of hundreds of words and manufacture some kind of fauxtroversy out of it. They skip most of the salient points he makes about policy. Too boring. Doesn't bring in the eyeballs. Maybe if they showed the POTUS the kind of respect he deserves, they would get some in return.

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I feel the bridge fall under my feet

Austerity maniacs are literally going to kill us. When you have a major political party which is effectively one half (or sometimes more) of our government refusing to spend a red hot penny on the public commons while they bleed our national treasury to wantonly pass out tax breaks to the obscenely wealthy, this is what you get.


[RJ Matson cartoon]

This is not a joke. Cutting government funding for infrastructure projects verges on criminal negligence. Our bridges are falling down and it will only get worse. [via]
...The 607,380 bridges in the U.S. are 42 years old on average, and 1-in-9 are rated “structurally deficient,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which advocates more spending on such structures.
The deficit is shrinking. We can borrow our own money for practically nothing. Repairing our critical infrastructure would create jobs, improve the economy and reduce the deficit with increased revenues making the cuts unnecessary. The Republicans ongoing refusal to allow these spending bills to even get to the floor for a vote redefines "death by a thousand cuts" as pure homicide. When we weigh this on the "stupid or evil" scale, the obvious answer is pure evil.

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Your moment of Zen

Lovely downtown Northampton, MA. [Sophie Theroux painting]

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Uncanny resemblance

My friend Simels asks: "Did you ever notice that Rand Paul looks just like Donald Duck's n'eer do well cousin Gladstone Gander?"

Actually I hadn't, but now that he mentioned it -- well -- judge for yourself.




[photo via]

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Why I don't defend Rosen or the government

It seems my friend Dan at Pruning Shears and I are having a disagreement. I don't think we're actually as far apart on the government surveillance of the media as he does. I think I made rather clear in my earlier post on James Rosen and also on the AP records grab that I don't condone secret government surveillance on the media -- or anyone. Unfortunately it doesn't appear that the government conducted these investigations illegally. The laws that make it possible have been creeping into our judicial system long before the Obama administration arrived. And let's not lose sight of the fact that Rosen isn't being charged with a crime regardless of the dicey allegations made by the government to get its authorization for his records.

Booman and I differ on that point. I don't consider Rosen a criminal. I think he's an irresponsible journalist. Rosen's email to his source made clear his main interest was in scooping his competitors, not in changing any policy. However, his piece was written in a way that revealed our intelligence operation. If he had simply done the usual anon source says N. Korea will blah, blah blah... without revealing we had an inside source in N. Korea and had lost track of their missiles, I wouldn't have seen it as damaging.

While Dan Ellsberg would probably disagree, I don't see any comparison between the Pentagon Papers and what Rosen did. The Pentagon Papers revealed serious government misconduct. Our government lied to the people and to Congress. Big lies that resulted in tens of thousands of lost lives. That was whistleblowing in the service of public interest. I'm wondering what government wrongdoing Dan sees as having been revealed by Rosen.

I don't suggest we blindly accept every government claim of acting in the interest of national security while they abridge our civil rights. We need to look no further than the odious NSLs the Bush administration was so fond of to see the danger in that. But neither do I trust the motives of our present day media so much that I'm willing to unequivocally defend them. Surely Jon Karl and his anon source who provided altered emails to perpetrate a false GOP narrative would suggest our skepticism should go both ways. What good is a free media if they lie to us too, or jeopardize our intelligence assets, simply to drive traffic? As far I'm concerned neither secret surveillance nor irresponsible journalism should be defended. We deserve better from both sides

[Crossposted at my long dormant FDL account]

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Your moment of Zen

Gate to the Summerland. [via Old Moss Woman artist unknown]

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Shake your hair out and come and dance with me

Grim reaper ripped my heart out today. I lost my best friend. Oh, but the times we had and William Topley played the soundtrack of our wild nights that lingered til dawn and beyond. RIP Jamie.

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Crumbling infrastructure is our national shame

Miraculously no one was killed when that bridge went down in Washington state this week. It's unlikely we'll be so lucky the next time and there will be a next time because we can't get the funding out of DC. The chart shows our national neglect of our critical infrastructure.



You might have thought the horrifying bridge collapse on I-35W in Minneapolis in 2007 would have been a wake up call, but no. At a time when one in nine of our bridges are deficient in some way, Republicans continue to block all infrastructure spending simply because they see it as win for Obama and they're still trying to squash our economy for their own politcal gain in the next election.

It's stupid. Hell it's evil. We could put people to work rebuilding our roads and bridges and as Atrios said, replace aging waterlines in our cities. Those are so ancient, they're busting open all over America.

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Obamacare, it's lowering costs

There was some article going around a week or so ago where one of the big health insurers was claiming rates would rise by something like 384% because of Obamacare. Which unsurprisingly turns out to be pure bullcrap. The news out of California, our biggest state with some 7.1 million uninsured residents, is rates are going to be significantly lower than even neutral observers had predicted.

I couldn't access the original New Republic piece. Apparently you need to be a subscriber now to read it, but Ed Kilgore has a good summary:
Based on the premiums that insurers have submitted for final regulatory approval, the majority of Californians buying coverage on the state’s new insurance exchange will be paying less—in many cases, far less—than they would pay for equivalent coverage today. And while a minority will still end up writing bigger premium checks than they do now, even they won’t be paying outrageous amounts. Meanwhile, all of these consumers will have access to the kind of comprehensive benefits that are frequently unavailable today, at any price, because of the way insurers try to avoid the old and the sick.
Ed has the numbers and a policy that was expected to cost $450 a month will actually be $300 and that's before the government subsidies kick in. For healthy 20 years old, the subsidies will completely cover a bare bones policy and a single individual making under $45k a year, estimated to be about 12% of the population, will get generous subsidies as well finally making health care affordable for just about everybody. And this is even with major insurers opting out of the exchanges.

And it's not just in California. Obamacare is lowering rates in other states too because, competition.
We've see this happen in other states. Earlier this month, rate proposals released by insurance companies in Washington state showed some people's premiums would actually go down. Premera Blue Cross had estimated that premiums would rise about 50 percent to 70 percent. When Oregon released proposed health care premiums online in May, two insurers requested the chance to adjust their rates — to make them lower. Why is this happening? "The premiums and participation in California, Oregon, Washington and other states show that insurers want to compete for the new enrollees in this market," the Kaiser Family Foundation's Gary Claxton told The New Republic. The glories of the free market.
This is why the GOPers keep trying to repeal it. Their greatest fear is it will succeed and prove the reformers, and Obama, were right.

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Wherein Pope Francis wins me over

As I've said before, I'm not an atheist. Neither am I particularly religious though I did suffer from Catholic envy when I was young and I collect Catholic religious items now. Because they're beautiful. However, I've never had any great love for the Pope. In fact I found the whole concept of the papacy somewhat insulting. So I'm surprised to find myself liking Pope Francis so much. He doesn't talk or behave like the others before him, at least in my lifetime.

This homily he gave on the theme culture of encounter is the foundation of peace rather knocked me out. I mean when have you heard words like this from the Vatican?
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

...And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
I was genuinely shocked by the reaction to this on my social nets. Whole lot of angry atheists sneering at him for being condescending, or demanding moral authority. I read it a whole different way.

He's not saying dear atheists, I absolve you. He's talking to the whole damn world saying don't sit in judgment of good works just because the doer doesn't share your belief system. Not all that different from Mr. Rogers saying look for the helpers. And it's powerful, because the Pope is saying it. Millions of people do give him moral authority, while even those who don't will hear the words. Perhaps it will even make some people reconsider their self-claimed absolute righteousness in their own beliefs. Surely, that would be a good thing.

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Don't want to go to war no more

Second day analysis is coming in on Obama's foreign policy speech and this NYT editorial sees what Obama did there:
President Obama’s speech on Thursday was the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America. For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future.
Our POTUS effectively declared the war on terror over. No more axis of evil. No more existential threat to justify deploying combat assets to fight a ground war that doesn't have a home ground. Obama is calling for a return to law enforcement and intelligence gathering for such preventative measures as are possible in fighting small cell groups and radicalized individuals.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie Pierce has the most astute analysis of Obama's speech. Definitely read it all but here's the punchline:
The process of making the presidency an office with far more power in foreign affairs than the Founders intended took decades. The process of putting a sharp edge on that office took less than one. Give this president some credit. At least he knows what a deadly weapon his office is.
Yes, Obama's speech was only words but I believe this counts as the use of the bully pulpit his critics so often claim he refuses to use. He's calling for an end to the forever war. He's asking America to calm down and restore some of those freedoms we gave up for supposed security. He's asking to have some of the executive war powers rescinded. But he can't make his rhetoric come to fruition alone. Congress needs to do its part, so maybe targeting them for some criticism would help acheive the goals Obama laid out. It's worth a try.

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Your moment of Zen

Loretta Young, 1931 edition. [graphic via]

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Obama redefines the war on terror

President Obama gave a foreign policy speech this afternoon. Do yourself a favor. Read the whole speech before you read any of the instant punditry and take it as gospel. If you're out of free reads at the NYT, Booman has it and he also has one of the more temperate takes on it.

It was a huge and complex speech. A speech that takes some time to process fully. Maybe it was just too complicated in a world that now operates mostly in 140 character quips and expects on demand gratification. The initial wave of analysis I've seen was rife with cherry picked points that offer a ride on favored hobby horses.

Predictably, drones emerged as the first complaint. Obama didn't disown their use. He was honest in his assessment of their necessity. He didn't make false promises that they won't be used again. What was mostly ignored is that he acknowledged they were problematic and pledged to work towards making their use more transparent and accountable. What also won't be mentioned much is the appropriate Congressional committees were informed before every strike. And I suppose I'll lose whatever liberal cred I have left when I say, I agree with Obama. Given the choices, none of which are good, drones are still a better choice than any other option. I don't want our country to be killing people. But I honestly think, Obama doesn't either and he's making the best choices he can under the circumstances. He's not wrong when he says it's the best way to minimize civilian deaths.

I've seen him accused of passing the buck to Congress. Not sure how that works, when Congress is the body that has the responsibility for setting the parameters. Obama tried to close Gitmo practically on the first day he took office. Congress wasted no time in making it illegal to do so. Never understood what executive action progressives think he should have taken to override Congress. Funny, I thought we hated executive overreach. Don't see how he could do much more than say this.
"There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened."
Obama also addressed everything from surveillance on the media to prosecuting leakers to the incremental destruction of our civil rights under the aegis of national security. Much of it was more aspirational than operational. Given the political reality, don't see how he could do much more. But the most important part of the speech was clear and bold. He promised to work to rescind the AUMF. He won't sign another extension. No other president will be able to wage an undeclared war under that ill-advised leftover legacy of the Bush administration.

That's big. He deserves some praise for that, dammit. I'm thinking historians will be kinder to Obama in the future than the media and the internets are to him in the present.

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Scandals unite House GOP

Scandalmania has been very good for GOP unity. All Republicans agree what's bad for Obama is very good for them. And Mr. Boehner has been kind enough to only bring the kind of bills to the floor that give the crazy conservatives opportunites to prove their crackpot cred for the folks back home. The question is, how long can it last?
Aware that the unity is fragile, the conservative group Heritage Action for America sent a warning to Boehner and Cantor, urging them to keep the focus on the scandals and “avoid bringing any legislation to the House Floor that could expose or highlight major schisms within the conference.”
Good luck with that. Boehner won't be able to avoid real issues like raising the debt limit forever. And just wait until the immigration fight hits the House. GOPers should enjoy their comity while they may.

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Mitch McConnell spins the scandals

Gotta give him some credit for wringing the most value out of pseudoscandal. Taking to the WaPo op-ed page, Mitch McConnell sees an opportunity to quash big money donor disclosure:
[R]ecent efforts to revive the so-called Disclose Act suggest that these tactics are alive and well in Washington. This bill, which would force grass-roots groups to make their member and donor lists public, may seem benign to some. But as a longtime defender of the First Amendment, I have always seen it for what it is: a backdoor effort to discourage those who disagree with the Obama administration from participating in the political process. [...]

Oddly, some on the left are now arguing that the IRS scandal is reason to revive the Disclose Act. But if this scandal has taught us anything, it is that Washington's ability to target individuals and groups is already too expansive.
You will recall the odious intimidation McConnell is speaking of here merely requires deep pocket donors who sponsor political attack ads to be identified so the public can judge the motivation of the groups flinging the dirt to muddy the discourse. It doesn't kick in until the donation reaches $10,000 or more.

Of course the majority of these groups are backing Republican candidates and causes and are financed mainly by a handful of very wealthy Big Business conservatives but I'm sure that has nothing to do with Mr. McConnell's great concern that millionaires and billionaires might be terrorized on the streets by the hoi polloi if the voters find out who's sponsoring the half-truths and outright lies on their TV.

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Your moment of Zen

The art of coffee. [photo via]

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Moose on the loose

This video was taken in Easthampton, MA. Not the first time I've heard of an in-town moose sighting in the Happy Valley. Seems about every spring a confused youngun' would wander into the city. Never happened in my neighborhood sadly. This however is the first time I've seen a video of it. So there's that.

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Fiscal conservatives are killing us

It's always useful to remember budgets are only political documents. They're a rhetorical weapon of mass deception. Appropriations are the real deal. And more proof that the GOP really doesn't give a flying leap about budgets, even as they now refuse to go to conference to pass one, Republicans are furiously slicing and dicing funding to circumvent the sequestration cuts.

Of course they never offer specifics but the plan "focuses the biggest cuts" on aid to local school districts, health research and enforcement of labor laws. Also:
Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and the Pentagon would be spared under the plan approved by the House Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote, but legislation responsible for federal firefighting efforts and Indian health care would absorb a cut of 18 percent below legislation adopted in March. [...]

Capitol Hill's budget would be untouched, however. House GOP leaders, who have boasted recently of their efforts to cut Congress' generous budget, opted against cutting further below levels imposed under the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that began taking effects in March. In fact, the House would get a 1.6 percent budget increase when measured against current levels.

The foreign aid budget would be sharply cut as well, while a bill funding the IRS budget and implementation of new financial regulations would absorb a 20 percent cut from levels approved just two months ago.
Much more at the link but basically anything that aids or protects the middle class and working Americans or the needy gets the ginsu knife while their wealthy cronies are pretty much completely spared from the Republican whopper chopper. Now all they have to do is figure out how to blame the Democrats for it.

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Ted Cruz don't trust nobody but himself

You'll recall the House GOP passed a ridiculous budget based on Paul Ryan's roadmap to ruin back in March knowing full well it had zero chance of survival. Boehner thought he was being very clever with this pass the buck manuver. The GOPers immediately launched a mass tirade demanding Democrats pass their own damn budget in the Senate. Much to everyone's surprise, the Democrats did just that two months ago. According to normal process, the two budgets would go to a Senate/House conference committee shortly thereafter and a single compromise bill would emerge.

But there is no normal procedure now that the crackpot cons have taken even their own party hostage. Now comes the emerging leader of the lunatics, Ted Cruz who vows to block any budget conference negotiations unless his demand to "take a debt limit increase off the table" is met. In other words he wants to guarantee a replay of the same insane kabuki that almost took our economy down before. And that's much more important than passing a budget, which the GOP has been caterwauling about forever.

Cruz clearly has his eye on 2016 and he's more than willing to trash his own party, saying he doesn't trust big spending establishment Republicans either, in order to polish his bonafides with the crackpot rubes and establish himself as the new "Maverick" of the GOP. This is so "call in the white coats" insane that even the old Maverick Gumpy Gramps McCain is calling Cruz crazy. [video at the link]

Of course, no Republican is going to mention the deficit is actually shrinking. In fact it's shrinking faster than even the most optimistic estimates. But why should they be the first? Not like the media is out there telling the people at home about it either. They're too busy inventing scandals to drive their own damn traffic.

[Big thanks to Batocchio of Vagabond Scholar who is sitting in at Mike's Blog Roundup for the link.]

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Just do it!

By Capt. Fogg

Perhaps Fred Phelps Jr. is getting slow, or perhaps he has to type with one hand because he's so exited at God's wrath being inflicted on Moore, Oklahoma.  The very thought of little children being crushed or torn to pieces as they scream in terror must excite him past the point of self control. It took him hours to inform us that this disaster was the result of Oklahoma City Thunder basketball star Kevin Durant’s public support for gay basketball player Jason Collins.  God works in mysterious ways, but there's nothing mysterious about Fred unless you're interested in the chemistry of foul smells.

But there's light at the end of the drain and maybe a suggestion for people like Fred with more demons than synapses in their skulls. Dominique Venner is billed in the press as a right-wing historian, although some may prefer to call him a hate-filled pervert obsessed with other people's sexual preferences,  or an ultra nationalist militiaman because of his past involvement with a paramilitary Secret Army Organisation which fought against France giving up colonial rights in Algeria. A gay hating enemy of human rights and freedom, in short. Mr. Venner walked into Notre Dame de Paris Monday, placed a letter on the altar and then blew his brains out with an illegally owned pistol.

The famous Cathedral has been the site of many demonstrations and protests over the issue of gay marriage which became legal last week. Catholic conservative Venner certainly made his point to the horror of the tour groups present and one has to wonder about the dedication of lesser nobles like Phelps for not martyring himself for his ridiculous cause.  I presume God has to wonder too.

So what about it Fred?  I mean you don't need to go to Paris or even to bloody up someone elses Church, you've got one of your own. Take your dad along, make it a father and son thing, or take the whole flock along, but Just do it!


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Your moment of Zen

Happy face orchids. [photo via]

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

War on Christmas 2013

Great news for public school kids jammed into overcrowded classrooms in falling apart buildings with outdated textbooks and underpaid teachers. They can't have art or music classes, or play sports unless they can afford the fees but by golly in the great state of Texas their teachers can wish them a Merry Christmas. Because, freedom of religion, not from religion.

One can only hope they don't live next door to an unregulated fertilizer storage facility just waiting to explode, so they live long enough to hear them say it.

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Kill the filibuster before it kills us

I'm one of the last holdouts on this. I've argued for years that we should keep the filibuster to protect the Senate minority. But that was before the entire Republican party's brains melted before our eyes. Now convinced Paul Waldman is right.

The crackpots have taken over the GOP. When they manage to take the majority again, and they will, they will kill the filibuster. My only quibble with Paul is I don't think they'll wait a hot minute. They'll kill it preemptively on the first day of the session. So Harry Reid should just let it die with dignity now, while we still have a chance to get some sane legislation passed.

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Tea Party launches lawsuit against IRS

This is too precious. The biggest grifter born of the original Tea Party uprising is suing the IRS for making them wait too long and work too hard to get their for tax-exempt status.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, the NorCal Tea Party Patriots accused the IRS of violating its constitutional rights due to the "intensive and intrusive scrutiny" it received while seeking tax-exempt status. [...]

The lawsuit has the backing of a group calling itself Citizens for Self-Governance, a group launched by the co-founder the Tea Party Patriots, Mark Meckler.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with all those known and unknown who have been abused by a federal government run amok," Meckler said in a statement.
Well maybe not everyone. Meckler is seeking "class action status on behalf of all conservative and libertarian groups" who were asked to prove they deserved the exemption. Apparently the liberal groups who were actually denied the status, need not apply. And nothing says small government conservative like running to the federal courts for relief.

You may recall Meckler was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots back in the days of the "proud angry mobs." He parlayed that slot into a big grift culminating in the publication of a book. He polished his bonafides with the rubes by railing against the GOP operatives who he accused of co-opting other Tea Party organizations. Of course he didn't mention his own failed attempt to get cozy with the GOP himself.

That aside, I say please proceed Tea Party. Can't wait to see this issue adjudicated. Fact is, these Tea Party groups are primarily political. Meckler's Patriots gave a cool million to political candidates, sponsored a political debate and actively campaigned to kill state legislation. Claiming "social welfare" status devoted to public education is the biggest fraud going. If there's any justice every one of the damn Tea Party groups will lose the tax exempt status they were wrongfully awarded in the last year or two.

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President Obama, cool, calm, collected

Some insights from former speechwriter Jon Favreau, on how President Obama deals with media driven scandals. Worth a read in full, but here's the standout grafs:
In the case of the AP phone records, Obama the former constitutional-law professor cares deeply about the balance between freedom and security. This is the president who began the foreign-policy section of his inaugural with the words “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” And he wants Congress to debate and finally pass a media-shield law. But can you imagine if the president of the United States had quashed a court-ordered subpoena in an independent investigation he wasn’t even supposed to know about? A subpoena aimed at finding the person in his own administration who leaked classified information that may have jeopardized American lives? Talk about a political scandal. [...]

That is who he is. The handwringers and bed wetters in the D.C. punditocracy should know that Barack Obama will never be on their timeline. He does not value being first over being right. He will not spend his presidency chasing news cycles. He will not shake up his White House staff just because of some offhand advice offered to Politico by a longtime Washingtonian or a nameless Democrat who’s desperately trying to stay relevant. And if that means Dana Milbank thinks he’s too passive; if it means that Jim VandeHei will keep calling him arrogant and petulant; if it means that Chris Matthews will whine about him not enjoying the presidency, then so be it. He’ll live.
We could use some of that "not valuing being first over being right" ethic in our punditocracy right now. In fact we could use a metric ton of it. Not that we will get it as long as the big money is in chasing news cycles and creating outrage.

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Your moment of Zen

Lovely downtown Northampton, MA.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Aftermath in Moore, Oklahoma

My sense of empathy is so strong, when these tragedies strike it literally hurts me. At the moment I'm feeling as stunned as the victims must be. I'm too overwhelmed for words. So all I got are these photos.

A teacher hugs child at Briarwood Elementary school after the tornado. [photo via The Oklahoman]



And another survivor amidst the rubble. [photo via]



Meanwhile as reported first at CQ:
The tornado damage near Oklahoma City is still being assessed and the death toll is expected to rise, but already Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says he will insist that any federal disaster aid be paid for with cuts elsewhere.
Sadly, that's not the worst reaction I've seen tonight.

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You can't yell fire in a crowded theater

Well we have a brand new brouhaha about surveillance on a journalist. Today it's James Rosen of Fox News over a story he published in 2009 about North Korea, based on an insider leak. To be clear, it's important to protect journalists. It's equally important to protect leakers when they're exposing government wrongdoing. But once again, this is not really the case here.

I'll spare you my thoughts on how ineptly they covered their tracks. Hell they were practically asking to get caught, but here's my big problem with James Rosen's reporting. His motive appears to more about career enhancement than truth telling.
[Rosen] also wrote, according to the affidavit: “What I am interested in, as you might expect, is breaking news ahead of my competitors” including “what intelligence is picking up.” And: “I’d love to see some internal State Department analyses.”
I've read a few posts about this today and noticeably missing from most of them, is a link to Rosen's original article. Here, via Booman, is the key flaw in his reporting.
What's more, Pyongyang's next nuclear detonation is but one of four planned actions the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea, that the regime of Kim Jong-Il intends to take -- but not announce -- once the Security Council resolution is officially passed, likely on Friday.
As Booman explains:
It's important that the policy advisers and policymakers inside our government know if the intelligence they are reading is coming from straight inside the Pyongyang government. It is equally critical that the North Korean government not know that.

If someone in Pyongyang sticks their neck out to talk to the CIA, they should not be reading about it the next week on the Fox News web page. The government was basically forced to try to figure out who leaked that information, and the only thing that should be up for debate is how far the government should be able to go to solve the mystery.
I'd add I'm not sure it was in the national interest to tell North Korea we lost track of their missle movement either, but I guess that's a judgment call. Thinking it's better the North Koreans not know that, but an argument could be made that the public has the right to know.

In any case, in striking a balance between national security and protected speech, there are competing interests. This is point worth remembering as we seek to strike that balance.
Adam Weinstein: We as journalists have the right to work with leakers to report the truth. The gov. has the right, within the laws, to find/punish leakers.
First Amendment protections are not absolute. The press enjoys greater protection than most of us. The onus is on them to use it responsibly. I have to agree with Booman. This is yet another case where it wasn't.

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Your moment of Zen

Swamp azalea in Belmont. [source unknown]

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Where were you when we needed you

I'm about done with the pseudoscandals but one last word on the AP records grab. AP's CEO went on the teevee to wail about their persecution today claiming the DoJ violated the constitution.
“We don’t question their right to conduct these sort of investigations, we just think they went about it the wrong way. So sweeping, so secretively, so abusively and harassingly and overbroad that it is an unconstitutional act,” Pruitt said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. [...]

“Under their own rules, they are required to narrow this request as narrowly as possible so as to not tread upon the First Amendment. And yet they had a broad, sweeping collection. And they did it secretly,” Pruitt said.
I can't speak to the scope of the request. All we have to go on is AP's word about that and frankly, these days that's not worth squat. Certainly the time frame was limited. As far as I know it was done under the law, by subpoena, under precedents set at least as early as the Bush administration. Don't necessarily disagree that it's unconstitutional. If the AP wants to challenge the law on those grounds, they have my full support. But this bid for pity leaves me cold.
He said it’s already had an effect by making sources skittish about talking to journalists. “I think it will hurt journalists,” Pruitt said of the matter.
Really? If your business model depends almost solely on anonymous inside sources who leak to advance their own political agenda, as we saw so brilliantly illustrated this week with Jon Karl's fake scoop, then maybe you need a new model. One that's based on investigative work and independent fact finding instead of lazy repetition of unconfirmed rumors.

This guy articulated what galls me about the AP wailing really well:
And here's the funny part: after years and years of governmental power-grabbing, Unitary Executive over-reaching, Supreme Court rubber-stamping and congressional go-alonging, the dirty fact of the matter is that, almost certainly according to what now passes for American law, the Department of Justice technically did nothing wrong when they plundered the phone histories of all those reporters. [...]

Well, welcome to the future you helped to create. I have neither pity nor sorrow for you, but I am hopeful that your sudden inclusion in the ranks of the "Oh Shit, They Can Do That?" Club will inspire you to truthfully and factually inform the American people about what has been happening to their country right under their, and your, nose.
Hell, ten years ago this same media was sneering at the "unserious" left for raising the alarm about the Patriot Act. They ignored the anti-war movement. They showed no concern about the encroachment of civil rights against its activists. They fluffed every warmongering talking point. They treated the outing of Valerie Plame, done strictly to cover up the lies that started the damn war on terror, as inconsequential. We told them then, it would lead to this. They mocked us. So forgive me if I send my regrets to AP's pity party.

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Your moment of Zen

A study in fiber. [Aditya Vardhan Tibrewala photo]



[click to embiggen]

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

I'll take self-serving traffic baiting for $1000 Alex

I love Alex Pareene. I wouldn't have thought him capable of writing such a mean-spirited tirade against Media Matters for trying to break through the knee jerk defense of AP going on among the big name stars of the media insiders and inject some much needed perspective.

Let's review the facts one more time. The AP didn't break the second coming of The Pentagon Papers with their story. They exposed an important counter-terrorism operation based solely on leaked information which ultimately led to to the outing of a CIA asset who had infiltrated an active terrorist group. Jack Shafer explains why that matters:
To begin with, the perpetrators of a successful double-agent operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would not want to brag about their coup for years. Presumably, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will now use the press reports to walk the dog back to determine whose misplaced trust allowed the agent to penetrate it. That will make the next operation more difficult. Other intelligence operations — and we can assume they are up and running — may also become compromised as the press reports give al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula new clues.

Likewise, the next time the CIA or foreign intelligence agency tries to recruit a double agent, the candidate will judge his handlers wretched secret keepers, regard the assignment a death mission and seek employment elsewhere.

Last, the leaks of information — including those from the lips of Brennan, Clarke and King — signal to potential allies that America can’t be trusted with secrets. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” as Obama put it today in a news conference.
Alex sneers at Media Matters' question, “Is this story about a government source blowing the whistle on government misbehavior, or about a source gratuitously exposing ongoing counter-terrorism operations?” He finds it useless because no liberal wants Media Matters to be the boss of their talking points. Well they probably don't think they need Alex to be the boss of how they choose to influence the public discourse either. Better Alex should answer the question.

Kevin Drum confirms the entire undercover operation had to be shut down and the double agent was put in jeopardy. If the AP hadn't built the bandwagon with their irresponsible traffic baiting, this operation would still be delivering useful intelligence on terrorist plots. So tell me how was the public interest served by the AP story? And where do you draw the line between national security and profit seeking opportunism by the media? If AP hadn't published the leak, the government wouldn't be looking for the leaker and their records wouldn't been subpoenaed.

As I've said before, I've been fighting for First Amendment rights all my life. I worked my heart out in twenty years working for the ACLU and in private practice defending those rights. I want to protect the freedom of the press, but with that freedom comes responsibility to use it for the public good. I was outraged when Valerie Plame was outed by our government for political gain. Why shouldn't I be equally outraged when the media outs an agent in an active operation simply for their own profit? Dumping on Media Matters for trying to hold the press accountable for irresponsible reporting doesn't answer the question.

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Blame it on the inane

As if there weren't enough pseudoscandals to go around, our very useful media eagerly embraced the most inane fauxtroversy since flag pins with Umbrellapalooza. This loser was initially pitched by Griftzilla of the Great White North, Sarah Palin who spewed out some word salad on Facebook. No, I didn't read it, but here's the quote making the rounds:
Mr. President, when it rains it pours, but most Americans hold their own umbrellas.
You mean like this, Princess Dimwit? [via]



Meanwhile, I saw WaPo's Karen Tumulty saying this was a very important story, because bad optics! Swear the media excuses for fluffing these fauxscandals are getting as lame as the crackpots who invent them. That aside, I seem to be the only one who actually noticed Obama asked for the damn umbrellas in the first place as a courtesy to the Turkish Prime Minister standing next to him.

I watched that presser. Obama initially declined the umbrellas. It wasn't until Obama noticed his guest was uncomfortable that he interrupted his remarks and asked for the damn things. I'm sure if Obama was alone he would have never asked. He's certainly made speeches in bigger rainstorms than that. And he could hardly have asked for just one. It would have embarrassed the Prime Minister. Made him look like a pansy who was afraid to get wet.

You might think our very experienced journos would understand that protocol, but no. Instead they stampeded like a herd of enraged elephants to promote this lazy GOP meme as if they've never seen anything like this before. [via]



Also, this [via] :



And here's a whole gallery of Dharapak photos, many of which show Obama holding his own damn umbrella. A skill his predecessor apparently hadn't mastered well.



And they wonder why no one respects BigMedia anymore?

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Your moment of Zen

Pink Columbine. [source unknown]

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Grasping at strawmen - Updated

There's no doubt the IRS was ham-handed in its handling of the tax-exempt applications after Citizen United. I've yet to see that they did anything against the law. Which is a problem to be sure. It suggests maybe we should be agitating to change the damn laws. Not that that's going to happen. Instead we have everyone looking to grind their own axe against the sharp edge of this pseudoscandal. That of course includes the "Obama has failed me" crowd of the left. Garance jumps in with this damning bit of evidence. On noes, there was no surge in applications in 2010. Quick fire more people. Heads must roll.

That's fine with me. Fire the whole lot. I seem to be the only one who remembers how George W Bush loaded the bureaucracy with GOP loyalists during his reign. Incompetent loyalists at that. Small wonder they screwed it all up. I've yet to see a high level official here who was hired under Obama.

Furthermore, as Steve M. points out, if the goal here was to suppress Tea Party influence on the election, they did a damn poor job of it. The chart showing the monthly approvals speaks for itself.



Oh and that bureaucrat who was in the tax exempt branch and is now in charge of IRS Obamacare enforcement? Hired under Reagan and promoted by none other than President George W. Bush, who also awarded her a hefty bonus in 2004 for distinguished service.

Our government agencies are riddled with GOP loyalists. Don't recall Obama doing any big purges like President Codpiece did. And let's not forget, the IRS admitted they outed themselves. I don't see any political advantage to Obama in engineering something so blatantly obvious. But looks like a helluva good way to invent a pseudo-scandal to help the GOP.

Update: Here's a list of all applications in that category which were approved in 2012. Just going by the obvious ones, looks like more conservative orgs were approved than liberal ones.

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The biggest Benghazi scandal



In a startling new first, Major Garrett called Republicans liars -- on the teevee. Never would have expected Major to be the one to break that taboo.

Kevin Drum, who lately has dropped his old squishy style in a favor of a refreshingly bold persona, sums up the details of the GOP's ratfuckery:
So here's what happened. Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week's Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.
Except the White House did release them, proving that the GOPers lied their faces off and burned Jon Karl. Not that Jon will pay a price for pushing it without confirming, but can't have everything. What should happen next is obvious, but since he got there first, over to you, Charlie Pierce:
The right thing to do here is for ABC to reveal the source that fed it bogus information. This is what should happen for two reasons: 1) it should happen to demonstrate the consequences of feeding bogus information to ABC, and 2) it should happen to demonstrate that there is something of a campaign among Republican congressional staffers to wound an elected president with bogus information, because (as I think we would all agree) that's a helluva news story, too. (Those of us who remember ABC's performance during Whitewater are not optimistic, by the way.) Ball's in your court, folks. Who do you really serve? The country, or the liars in your BlackBerries?
I'm not optimistic names will be named, but I'll take what we can get. Seeing generic Republicans called out by BigMedia for their mendacity is a damn good start. [graphic via]

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Your moment of Zen

This was our private playground when I was a teen, long before they turned it into Tarywile Park. Danbury, CT. [John Andrew Zanzal photo]



[click to embiggen]

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Off with their heads

Yet another ritualistic resignation at the IRS, as required by the optics under what passes for civil society these days.
An internal IRS memo says Joseph Grant, commissioner of the agency’s tax exempt and government entities division, will retire June 3. Grant joins Steven Miller, who was forced to resign as acting IRS commissioner on Wednesday.

Grant joined the IRS in 2005.
But Booman is right. In a sane society, this is what should have happened to Tea Party group tax exemptions.
I am infuriated by these stories about Tea Party groups who are complaining that seeking tax-exempt status was like having a proctology exam. While I acknowledge that the IRS made unreasonable requests and caused unreasonable delays, I am even more outraged that they did not deny tax-exempt status to even one Tea Party group. Not one.

There isn't a single Tea Party group in the country that isn't primarily concerned with political matters. None of them should have qualified for tax-exempt status. None.
If this had been liberal groups organizing during the Bush administrations, not only would their tax exemptions have been denied, the leaders of the groups most probably would have been arrested. Hell, in those days they were arresting people for wearing tshirts and carrying signs even mildly critical of the government.

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The cost of repealing Obamacare

Not talking about the costs as related to health care or the deficit. This is simply the cost to the taxpayer for the time it takes Congress to keep producing these "message bills" the crackpot cons insist on repeatedly bringing to the floor in order to impress the rubes back home.
Steve Daines represents Montana, which, at last count, takes in $1.92 of money from big government Beltway solutions for every dollar in taxes Montanas send to the rest of us. And, by the time the House arranged to define the word "quixotic" for the ages for the 33rd time, which was almost a year ago, the collective cost of all the tantrums to American taxpayers — including Montanans — already had topped $50 million. ...
House GOP leadership just agreed to bring futile attempt number 37 forward because they have freshman crackpots who didn't get a chance to show their contempt for President Obummer, the rule of law and the will of the people yet.

Now if somebody would just figure out what Darrell Issa's clown show has cost us so far instead of the endless iterations on the political standings of the playahs, we'd be getting somewhere.[image via]

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GOP agree: Feed the rich, starve the poor



Rebuffing Democratic attempts to stop this inhumane pandering to special interests, Republicans rammed a bill through committee that starves children of the poor and impoverished olds in order to give more money to wealthy corporate farmers.
A Republican-controlled panel in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the biggest cuts in food stamps for the poor in a generation and a potentially expensive expansion of federally subsidized crop insurance. [...]

Almost half the savings in the House bill would come from a $20.5 billion cut over 10 years in spending on food stamps for low-income Americans. [...]

Some 45.6 million people, many of them impoverished elderly or working-poor families with children, received food stamps at latest count.
The bill restructures the corporate farm welfare in a way that expands their subsidies, effectively putting the risks of the business on the taxpayer without any share of the profits in return. The biggest beneficiary of the shift will be crop insurance companies which have been riddled with fraud.

Small government the GOP way. You see, the "dependency culture" only applies to poor people who can't get jobs that pay a living wage, if they can get a job at all. [image via]

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Benghazi grandstanding blows up in Issa's face

After months of pounding the podium in outrage, demanding answers, suddenly Darrell Issa needs to think about whether to question the lead Benghazi investigators. It's one thing for Darrell to accuse them of incompetence on the TV. Quite another to allow them to defend their work:
In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa exclusively obtained by CNN, the co-chairmen behind an independent review of September's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, expressed irritation over the House Oversight Committee chairman's portrayal of their work and requested he call a public hearing at which they can testify.

"The public deserves to hear your questions and our answers," wrote former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, co-chairmen of the Accountability Review Board that was convened to investigate the September 11th attack.
And irony this rich could give you a stomach ache.
Issa also suggested on the program that Pickering and Mullen meet with the committee behind closed doors so as not to create "some sort of stage show."
In other words, these guys might give legitimate answers that could shut the whole clown show down. Not to mention, make Issa look like a bigger idiot than he does already. [graphic via]

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