Thursday, June 30, 2011

25 People

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, originally published at Huffington Post, June 29, 2011.

Republicans are perpetrating a fraud. They say they're concerned about reducing government deficits. But you don't need to look at how they treat all of the country's biggest corporations (which is extremely well) or even how they kowtow to its richest 400 families, who now have 6900 times as much income as the average household.

You only need to look at the way they treat 25 people.

The top 25 hedge fund managers in the United States collectively earned $22 billion last year, and yet they have their own cushy set of tax rules. If they operated under the same rules that apply to other people -- police officers, for example, or teachers -- the country could cut its national deficit by as much as $44 billion in the next ten years.

We're not talking about "raising taxes on the rich," either -- although that's an excellent idea. (There's an automated petition here that will encourage your representative to do just that.) This money could be raised simply by removing a tax loophole that protects hedge fund managers. And that's not counting all the other people who run hedge funds. We'd get that $44 billion from just 25 people. They can certainly afford it, and at least one of them (George Soros, #2 on the list) undoubtedly would approve.

But they won't do it. Instead of taking a simple step that could net as much as $4.4 billion per year, House Republicans have passed a budget that cuts $30 million for flood control and emergency funds that would help people avoid being hurt or killed in storms like the ones we've seen in New Orleans, Birmingham, the Midwest, and all across the country. They voted to cut $336 million from the National Oceanographic and Aeronautical Administration to track and predict violent storms.

Better Than Bush Isn't Good Enough

So the Obama Administration is not as bad as the Bush Administration when it comes to promulgating and enforcing regulations that are meant to safeguard public health, worker and consumer safety and the environment.  But, as Rena Steinzor writes below, that is a quite a low bar, and much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Obama's regulatory czar, the oft-lauded Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein.

Cass Sunstein and the Obama Legacy

By Rena Steinzor, originally posted on American Constitution Society's blog, June 27, 2011.

A series of catastrophic regulatory failures in recent years has focused attention on the weakened condition of regulatory agencies assigned to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. The failures are the product of a destructive convergence of funding shortfalls, political attacks, and outmoded legal authority, setting the stage for ineffective enforcement and unsupervised industry self-regulation.

From the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven and caused grave environmental and economic damage, to the worst mining disaster in 40 years at the Big Branch mine in West Virginia with a death toll of 29, the signs of regulatory dysfunction abound. Peanut paste tainted by salmonella, lead-paint-coated toys, sulfur-infused Chinese dry wall, oil refinery explosions, degraded pipes at U.S. nuclear power plants: At the bottom of each well-publicized event is an agency unable to do its job and a company that could not be relied upon to put the public interest first.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Democratic Priorities

When Karl Rove's group Crossroads GPS airs grossly misleading attack ads, it is not enough for Democrats to simply decry these efforts as an evil product of secret outside money.  The reality is that Democrats tried to pass the Disclose Act, which would have put an end to such efforts, but the Republicans killed it.  So, although they have a lot less money to work with, Democrats have to try to fight back.  That is what Democratic Super PAC, Priorities USA, is trying to do with this  new ad which directly responds to the Crossroads GPS ad.  As Greg Sargent summarizes, it "stresses three key points that will be central to the Dems’ 2012 messaging: Republicans have opposed economic reform at every turn; they would end Medicare; and they are trying to preserve tax breaks for oil companies and the rich."

On The Debt Ceiling, Give The Republicans What They Voted For, Let Voters Decide How To Get There

By Robert L. Borosage, originally published at Huffington Post, June 28, 2011.

Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders committed common sense on the floor of the US Senate. It's amazing that he wasn't cited for an ethics violation.

Sanders called on the president to leave the beltway, go across the country and talk sense to the American people about the cruel obscenities of the Republican position on lifting the debt ceiling. Threatening to blow up the economy by forcing the US to default on its debts if they don't get their way, Republicans are demanding over $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years with no, nada, zero contribution from increased taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street, or the big corporations.

Sanders lays out the today's reality: corporations and the wealthy are making out like bandits, the middle class is getting crushed and poverty is spreading. Yet Republicans are insisting that the corporations and wealthy be exempt from any sacrifice, and instead all deficit reductions come from slashing programs for the elderly, the sick, the poor, and the young. To date, their leadership won't even agree to mandate cuts in the Defense Department despite the fact that its budget has more than doubled since Bush came into office -- not counting the money spent on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Palate Cleanser: Mercury Rev



Holes by Mercury Rev

Obama's Lack of Transparency

“A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”  -- James Madison
Professor Geoffrey Stone, a former colleague of the President at the University of Chicago, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week, expressing his profound disappointment in Obama's refusal to "restore the balance between government secrecy and government transparency" that was so badly skewed by his predecessor in the White House.   

As Stone reminds us, after 9/11, the Bush Administration sought to hide its more sordid policies from the public, which included "torture, surveillance of private communications, and restrictions on the writ of habeas corpus," in order to "evade the constraints of separation of powers, judicial review, checks and balances and democratic accountability."  Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to distinguish himself from Bush when it has come to promoting "openness and public accountability in government policy making." 

As I recently discussed, Obama has been particularly vigorous in cracking down on whistleblowers, which, as Professor Stone agrees, is shown by "number of high-profile criminal cases . . . [for] unauthorized leaks."

Stone also lambastes Obama for "zealously applying the state secrets doctrine, a common-law principle intended to enable the government to protect national security information from disclosure in litigation."  Just as the Bush Administration relied on this doctrine to "to block judicial review of a broad range of questionable practices," Obama likewise "has aggressively asserted the privilege in litigation involving such issues as the C.I.A.’s use of extraordinary rendition and the National Security Agency’s practice of wiretapping American citizens."

Finally, Stone notes, even though he was a sponsor of the original bill as Senator, President Obama has declined to support passage of the Free Flow of Information Act, which would enable journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources, unless the government could prove that disclosure of the information was necessary to prevent significant harm to national security.

President Obama assures us that unlike President Bush, we can trust him to do the right thing.  We don't need a reckoning of abuses by the Bush Administration because that is all in the past and the current government is different.  It won't torture and won't unlawfully wiretap, so we can simply move forward.  But, as Professor Stone says, "Those in power are always certain that they themselves will act reasonably, and they resist limits on their own discretion. The problem is, “trust us” is no way to run a self-governing society."

Drone Warfare: Cost And Challenge

By Paul Rogers, originally posted at openDemocracy, June 23, 2011.

The repositioning of the United States’s military strategy includes a great expansion in the use of armed-drones to attack targets in Pakistan and Yemen. But this development raises profound legal and ethical questions that are now entering the public arena

The announcement by President Obama on June 22 of substantial withdrawals of United States troops from Afghanistan by September 2012 marks an important moment in the almost decade-long war in the country. The impact of the decision will be on the current diplomatic calculations over the nature of a settlement that will bring the war to an end. It may also impinge on the presidential-election campaign in the US that reaches a climax in November 2012. But whatever the diplomatic or political consequences of the drawdown will be, the Afghanistan war is still far from over - and indeed, in one significant way it has in its tenth year been intensifying rather than winding down (see “Afghanistan: mapping the endgame”).

This is the use of pilotless armed drones. These are employed under CIA command - a procedure chosen because the CIA's rules of engagement are less restrictive then those of the military. The continuous drone-attacks across the border in Pakistan have very destructive human effects that often reach beyond the presumed insurgent targets; the agency claims to have killed around 1,400 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban paramilitaries, but Pakistan sources also (amid a scarcity of precise details) estimate that hundreds of civilians have also died in these operations.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New York Pride

I just wanted to add a personal note to Lovechilde's post on the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in New York. I have the good fortune to be in New York on a visit right now and my wife and I took our kids to the Pride Parade yesterday. The energy and pure joy were really amazing and the ovation that Andrew Cuomo got as he marched by was raucous. I've put in a few pictures I took of the event (not great as I did not have a great spot). It was a really beautiful moment. One of the things that gives me real hope for the future is the fact that my children are utterly baffled by the idea that anyone would care whether two men or two women got married. They just don't get it. Of course neither do I.


Governor Cuomo

Dan Savage, Grand Marshall

Clarence Thomas Is Ethically Challenged

Congressman Presses House Judiciary Leaders on Supreme Court Ethics, Noting Recent Gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas 

Originally posted on American Constitution Society's blog, June 23, 2011.

Rep. Chris Murphy has urged leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to conduct a hearing consider a measure that “would end the Supreme Court’s immunity to judicial ethics laws,” Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser reports.

Murphy’s letter follows a recent report in The New York Times about Justice Clarence Thomas’s connections to Harlan Crow, “a major contributor to conservative causes,” including allegedly providing $500,000 to Thomas’s wife, Virginia, to launch a Tea Party group that worked to scuttle the landmark health care reform law. Thomas, The Times reported, has received other gifts from Crow, who has also donated $175,000 to a museum being constructed in the justice’s birthplace of Pin Point, Ga., which undoubtedly celebrate Thomas.

Common Cause, last year called on the Justice Department to look into other political connections of Thomas, as well as Justice Antonin Scalia.

In a press statement following The Times story, Common Cause President Bob Edgar asked, “Has Justice Thomas been traveling on a developer’s private jet and yacht, on the developer’s dime, while reporting that his expenses were borne by someone else? Do Supreme Court justices get a pass on the ethical standards that every other judge must meet?”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #39

Charles McPherson.  Be-Bop Revisited (1964).  Charles McPherson is an alto saxophone player known for his work with Charles Mingus throughout the 1960s.  Stanley Crouch has said that McPherson "is a singular voice who has never sacrificed the fluidity of his melody making."  Here he teams up with his long-time collaborator, the great Barry Harris, "one of the major bop pianists of the last half of the 20th century."  They perfom riveting interpretations of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell.  Also in the quintet are trumpeter Carmell Jones, bassist Nelson Boyd and drummer Al "Tootie" Heath.

[Related posts:  Great Jazz Albums  #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley); #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell); #28 (John Hicks); #29 (Kenny Barron); #30 (Coleman Hawkins); #31 (Count Basie) #32 (Benny Carter w/ Ben Webster and Barney Bigard); #33 (Chet Baker); #34 (Thad  Jones); #35 (The Great Jazz Trio); #36 (Ahmad Jamal); #37 (Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond); #38 (Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis)]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dreaming Of A Progressive Tea Party

 "It’s time for a movement of deeper patriots to stand up for the country against this wrecking ball agenda for America."  -- Van Jones

I want to echo an important point Fuzzyone made the other day about how to channel our frustration with the President and his unwillingness or inability to stand up to the Republicans.  Obama and the Democrats, as we seem to lament weekly, have ceded the framing of the debate on the economy to the GOP so that we are talking about austerity measures and how much to reduce the deficit instead of how much more stimulus we need to pump into the economy to create jobs.  This is insane.

Of course, we are still going to vote for Obama in 2012, but as Fuzzyone says, what is critical is that we ensure the election of more progressives to state and federal office.  We also need to unify the disparate groups and individuals who should naturally support a progressive agenda and take back the populist  messaging from the right wing fringe.  In short what we need is a liberal alternative to the Tea Party.

Last week, Van Jones launched Rebuild the Dream, which promises to do just that.  The driving force behind it is "the Left’s collective effort to use grassroots organizing and new media to challenge the rhetoric coming out of Washington and strengthen the middle class."  The goal, is to mobilize the varied progressive forces in the country "under the patriotic umbrella brand of the 'American Dream Movement.'"

Van Jones is brilliant, inspirational and an incredible communicator with tremendous credibility in left/liberal circles.  In stark contrast to Obama and the Democratic Party leadership, Jones is willing to pierce the dishonest and dishonorable nonsense spewed by the right.  As Jones told Rolling Stone, there is a "huge disconnect between what the political elite is talking about in Washington, D.C. – now in both parties – and what ordinary Americans are talking about . . .  . There is much, much more concern about jobs, and much more openness to solving the budget crisis by more balanced means – including raising taxes on rich folks – than D.C. seems to understand."

Here are highlights from Jones's speech on Thursday where he warns about "three 'lies' animating the conservative narrative:  America is broke; Taxing the wealthy is bad for the economy; and 'Hating' on our government” is actually patriotic."

Free Agents

And speaking of the sanctity of marriage . . . In 1973, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, two Yankee pitchers, announced that they had swapped wives.  It was a big story in New York at the time, and for this 13-year old Yankee-hater, I remember feeling a combination of amusement and bafflement.  The swap did not just involve wives, but lives:  Peterson's wife, Marilyn, their two kids and a poodle were traded for Kekich's wife, the two Kekich children and a Bedlington terrier.  (Jim Bouton reportedly said, “I can see trading your wife, but the dog?”)  Both pitchers were eventually banned to Cleveland, where they faded away.  Peterson, who is almost 70 years old, is still married to the former Susanne Kekich.  The other couple did not fare as well.  An article in New York Magazine, provides the details of the scandal and reports that Red Sox fans, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are making a movie about it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

And Now There Are Seven!


The bill to legalize same-sex marriage was approved Friday night by the New York State Senate and signed into law by the heroic Governor, Andrew Cuomo.  As a result, the number of people who are guaranteed equal justice under the law with regard to marriage has just doubled.  New York joins six other jurisdictions, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, that recognize same-sex marriage. 

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign said:  "History was made today in New York. This victory sends a message that marriage equality across the country will be a reality very soon."  Indeed, as Greg Sargent put it, hopefully "tonight’s events will hasten the arrival of a future moment in which this national dispute — which seems jarringly ridiculous even today — is studied by students from elementary school on up as a historical relic, as a long-settled skirmish in the larger, ongoing battle to ensure that our government, and our society at large, treat all Americans as deserving of full equality."

War Economy: The Selling (And Unselling) Of Afghanistan, 2011

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, originally published at Huffington Post, June 23, 2011.

Pop quiz: Can you summarize specific, concrete objectives for our military in Afghanistan? If so, please write them in the space provided below:



2011-06-23-missionstatement.JPG
If you were among the few Americans who felt they could complete this box, here's part two: Write a speech uniting the nation around your objectives. Explain that they've been achieved successfully enough to begin bringing troops home, but not successfully enough to bring them home very quickly.
>If you
Finally, convince your fellow citizens that spending billions each month to meet these objectives is more important than investing in jobs, growth, education, or a crumbling national infrastructure.

Tunisia: Will Democracy Be Good For Women's Rights?

By Kristine Goulding, originally posted at openDemocracy, on June 13, 2011.

History reveals an abundance of democratic paradoxes: cases in which progress on women’s rights regressed in the aftermath of revolution. Coming to terms with the battle between secularism and Islam – a dispute long silenced by Ben Ali’s rabidly secular policies – will require a redefinition of women’s rights. Are the secularists or Islamists ready for that step? 

Falling tyrants and rising freedoms have been a recurrent theme of the Arab Spring. Invariably, in every discussion of democratization in the Middle East, the question of women crops up. The key conundrum: will democracy be good for women’s rights?

While the social and political movements gaining momentum in the Middle East and North Africa appear to be opening the door for democracy, initially progressive revolutions do not often result in sustained improvements for women’s rights. While Arab women have been crucial in the revolutions that have shattered the status quo, their role in the future development of their own countries remains unclear. In Tunisia, for example, the fear is that women will be sucked into an ideological and religious tug-of-war over their rights, reducing the complexities of democratization into a binary secular/non-secular battle.

R.I.P. Roy Blankenship

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On June 23, 2011, Georgia executed Roy Blankenship for the 1978 rape-murder of  78-year old Sarah Bowen.  He was the first person put to death in Georgia with pentobarbital as part of the execution drug cocktail. After Georgia's supply of illegally imported sodium thiopental was seized by the DEA, it decided to substitute pentobarbital.  Blankenship's attorneys challenged the use of pentobarbital, contending it was unsafe and unreliable, and would risk needless pain and suffering. 

It was reported that "as the injection began, [Blankenship] jerked his head toward his left arm and made a startled face while blinking rapidly. He soon lurched to his right arm, lunging with his mouth agape twice. He then held his head up, and his chin smacked as he mouthed words that were inaudible to observers.  Within three minutes, his movements slowed."  Kathryn Hamoudah of Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty stated:"It is unconscionable that Georgia would experiment with untested and potentially harmful drugs on a human being."

This is the 24th execution in the United States in 2011, the second in Georgia.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jazz Interlude: McCoy Tyner



McCoy Tyner is one of the truly great and influential jazz pianists of the 20th Century.  He is spectacular whether he is playing with a big band, a small group, or in solo performance as he is here, on the Coltrane classic composition Giant Steps.  This is from a 1996 date in Hamburg, Germany.

R.I.P. Milton Mathis

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On June 21, 2011, Texas executed Milton Mathis for a 1998 shooting that killed Travis Brown III and Daniel Hibbard.  Mathis was put to death despite substantial evidence that he suffered from mental disabilities that should have rendered his execution unconstitutional.  Intelligence tests, including one given by the Texas Department of Corrections in 2000, measured Mathis's IQ in the low 60s, well below the threshold for mental retardation.

This is the 23rd execution in the United States in 2011, the sixth in Texas.  Mathis is the 12th African American to be executed this year.

A Closer Look At Juvenile Interrogations

By Brandon L. Garrett, originally posted on American Constitution Society's blog, June 17, 2001.

The Supreme Court’s decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina provides the latest window into the troubled world of juvenile interrogations. The Court ruled that police questioning of a thirteen-year-old boy about residential robberies, without giving the famous Miranda warnings or allowing him to call his grandmother, may have rendered his confession inadmissible. If he in fact should reasonably have felt “free to leave” then the questioning was not custodial, and the Miranda warnings need not have been given. However, the Court said that the trial judge should have examined whether his age was a factor when deciding whether he should have actually felt free to leave. He was in a classroom with the door closed and school officials present, not in an interrogation room in a police station.

But the Court described how a thirteen-year-old might very well not feel free to leave under the circumstances. The thirteen-year-old confessed in thirty to forty-five minutes. He was told he could not call his grandmother, his legal guardian, and that he would end up in juvenile detention. The Court called it a “commonsense reality” that juveniles should be treated differently because, as the Court has recognized in many other opinions dealing with punishment of juveniles, they are more “vulnerable” and “susceptible to outside pressures than adults.”

Deficit Hysteria: Washington's War On The Young

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, originally published at Huffington Post, June 22, 2011.

It's one of modern political life's strange ironies that defending Social Security and Medicare is considered an "old people's issue." Old people are doing just fine with these programs, thank you very much -- at least so far.

Anti-government hawks like Alan Simpson and Pete Peterson also made a deft (if deeply cynical) move by framing these programs as a war between baby boomers vs. Gen X-ers, since some of their cuts would hurt boomers too.

But young people will take the worst of these cuts, since their impact increases over time. When you combine this assault on "entitlements" with other forms of austerity economics, the result is a plan to hand the next generation a nation with crumbling infrastructure, collapsing government services, and bleak economic prospects. It's an all-out assault on the future of the young.

That's no accident. Politicians know that seniors would rise up against any politician who crosses them. And seniors vote. They're also aware that baby boomers are a large and powerful voting bloc, not to be trifled with.

Young people, on the other hand, traditionally find it hard to imagine their own old age. On top of that, they've been barraged with propaganda designed to discourage them from believing these benefits will be there when they retire. That makes it easy for politicians to target them when designing their budget cuts, especially since its easier to hide their long-term impact from those they would hurt the most.

Climate Zombies On The Supreme Court

It is bad enough that the Republican Party is dominated by climate zombies.  It also appears that a majority of the Supreme Court is skeptical about the existence of global warming.

The American Constitution Society reported on a U.S. Supreme Court decision which blocked a lawsuit "aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, holding that because the power to regulate emissions had been delegated to the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act, federal common law did not apply."  ACS discussed some positive aspects of the opinion as well as more problematic ones.

Most disturbing is the "opinion’s overt skepticism about the science of climate change, which likely influenced their decision in this case."  Yale professor Douglas Kysar dissects the opinion, which suggests readers explore “views opposing the EPA” by reading a profile of Freeman Dyson, “the theoretical physicist whose controversial views on climate change have been widely promoted by the climate-skeptic community.”

Kysar also points out how "the court also repeated a prominent sceptical refrain about the ubiquity and supposed banality of greenhouse-gas emissions — 'after all, we each emit carbon dioxide merely by breathing' — that serves only to downplay the severity and significance of industrial emissions.'"

As Kysar concludes:  "That the nation's highest court would repeat this misleading refrain, and seemingly endorse Dyson's views as equal to those of the IPCC and the EPA, simply takes the breath away."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Palate Cleanser: Sebadoh



Skull by Sebadoh.

Tell Obama: Good Food = Fair Food

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, originally posted on PAN's website, June 22, 2011.

This morning, while my boys are eating breakfast, I’m going to take a moment to mentally thank our local dairy farmers for the milk on our table and our chicken farmers for our eggs. Then I’m going to pick up the phone and call the President. It won’t take long, and it’s really important. Family farmers and ranchers' livelihoods are on the line.


This Wednesday, June 22, is the National Call-in Day for Fair Farm Rules. It’s the day that thousands of us across the country will call the White House and urge President Obama to put Fair Farm rules into practice.

R.I.P. Eddie Duval Powell

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On June 16, 2011, Alabama executed Eddie Duval Powell, who was convicted for the 1995 murder of 70-year old Mattie Wesson.  In  2002, United States Supreme Court, in the case of Atkins v. Virginia, barred the execution of people who are mentally retarded as unconstitutional.  According to the Equal Justice Institute, Powell "may be the first person executed in Alabama since Atkins where there is credible evidence of mental retardation but the death row prisoner nonetheless was denied an evidentiary hearing in any court."

This is the 22nd execution in the United States in 2011, and the fourth execution in Alabama.  Powell is the eleventh African American executed this year.

R.I.P. Lee Taylor

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
Texas executed Lee Taylor on June 16, 2011.  Taylor was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing in 1999 of Donte Greene, a fellow inmate, while serving time in state prison.  There have been 469 inmates put to death since Texas resumed executions in 1982, and Taylor was only the second white convict executed for killing an African American.

This is the 21st execution in the United States in 2011, the fifth in Texas.

War Is A War Is A War

Tom Engelhardt reminds us that three reviled phrases from the Bush Adminstration -- “regime change,” “shock and awe,” and “imperial presidency.” -- are making quite a comback, as exemplified by the war in Libya.  It is obvious that Obama, with our allies in NATO, is engaged in removing  Qaddafi from power.  They are attempting to do so with what Engelhardt characterizes as a "modified version of shock and awe," with predator drones, as well as jets and helicopters.  And, as Jonathan Schell writes below, Obama is insisting on an untenable justification for refusing to consult with Congress in compliance with the War Powers Act.

The Attacking Libya -- And The Dictionary
If Americans Don’t Get Hurt, War Is No Longer War


By Jonathan Schell, originally posted at TomDispatch, June 21, 2011.

The Obama administration has come up with a remarkable justification for going to war against Libya without the congressional approval required by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

American planes are taking off, they are entering Libyan air space, they are locating targets, they are dropping bombs, and the bombs are killing and injuring people and destroying things. It is war. Some say it is a good war and some say it is a bad war, but surely it is a war.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration insists it is not a war. Why?  Because, according to “United States Activities in Libya,” a 32-page report that the administration released last week, “U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.”

In other words, the balance of forces is so lopsided in favor of the United States that no Americans are dying or are threatened with dying. War is only war, it seems, when Americans are dying, when we die.  When only they, the Libyans, die, it is something else for which there is as yet apparently no name. When they attack, it is war. When we attack, it is not.

Just Put Your Lips Together And . . . Get Indicted

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.  -- President Barack Obama

Jane Mayer, in a devastating article in The New Yorker, recently highlighted the Obama Administration's unprecedented attack on whistleblowers.  She described the case against Thomas Drake, a computer specialist who leaked information to a reporter, motivated by the patriotic desire to expose government waste in the National Security Agency.  Although Drake is not a spy, he was indicted for violating the Espionage Act and was looking at a possible  35-year sentence.

As Mayer put it, "the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness."  Drake's case is one of five in which the government is using "the Espionage Act to press criminal charges" in alleged instances of national-security leaks, "more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined."  As reported in the Times, these five include one case each against defendants from the National Security Agency , the C.I.A, the F.B.I., the military and the State Department.

The case against Drake recently fell apart, and last week he pleaded guilty to a minor charge and is unlikely to serve any time.  But the other four cases remain, including the case of Steven Kim, an arms expert who is charged, as another recent Times article reports, "not by aiding some foreign adversary, but by revealing classified information to a Fox News reporter."

Last month, the Justice Department subpoenaed New York Times reporter James Risen, to force his disclosure of a source who gave him information.  Jane Mayer explains that the case "involves a book that Risen wrote, “State of War,” in which he described a failed effort by the C.I.A. to sabotage Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer, is facing trial on ten felony charges relating to the leak of the information."

Shamai Leibowitz is a former linguist for the FBI who was sentenced for 20 months in prison for leaking classified documents to a blogger.  After being sentenced, Leibowitz said that "this was a one-time mistake that happened to me when I worked at the FBI and saw things that I considered a violation of the law.”   His 20 month sentence, according to Politico, was the largest sentence ever handed out to a government employee accused of passing national security secrets to a member of the media.

And then, of course, there is Brandon Manning, who has been detained for over a year for allegedly leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.  In his case, substantial allegations of inhumane treatment have been raised not only by the human rights community and progressive-minded journalists, but by P.J. Crowley, the State Department's chief spokesperson, who was then forced to resign.

It is a deeply disturbing irony that an Administration that came into power vowing to maintain transparency has, as a conservative political scientist quoted in Mayer's New Yorker article stated, "presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”   What is going on here is what Yale law professor Jack Balkin contends is part of the dramatic shift since 9/11 towards the "normalization and legitimization of a national-surveilance state."  And so former Bush officials who authorized torture and illegal wiretapping go home to write their memoirs while government officials who attempt to expose waste and wrongdoing are prosecuted as spies and traitors.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

$4 Billion Since 1978 -- Time To Cut California's Death Penalty

By James Clark, originally published at Huffington Post, June 21, 2011.

New data in a study to be released next week on California's death penalty has revealed that the price tag for death is even higher than we thought: $4 billion since 1978. Put another way, we spend $184 million more per year for death penalty inmates than we do on those sentenced to life without the chance of parole. All told, California is on track to spend $1 billion on the death penalty over the next five years.

The new estimate is the result of a three-year comprehensive examination of state, federal, and local expenditures on California's death penalty by Arthur Alarcón, a federal judge on the 9th Circuit, and Paula Mitchell, a Loyola Law School professor. Mercury News called the study "highly credible" and that it made the case for replacing the death penalty "nearly indisputable." Not that anyone was disputing the wasteful spending before -- except for that guy who comments on all my blogs. By now, most folks get that the death penalty wastes hundreds of millions of our dwindling state dollars. Only now we know that it actually wastes billions.

$4 billion and what did that get us? A grand total of 13 executions. That's over $300 million per execution above the cost of life without parole.

Doubling Down On The War On Terror

Guantanamo remains openMilitary tribunals are used to try suspected terrorists.  Controversial provisions of the Patriot Act are renewed.  Government officials who leak information to the press are treated as spies and prosecuted with unprecedented aggression. The FBI eases restrictions on their agents' ability to use intrusive surveillance measures on individuals.  The FBI raids  peace activists.  This is not Bush's America.  This is Obama's America.

Originally posted at TomDispatch, Karen J. Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, explains that these are not aberrations and suggests five steps that could help to put the excesses of the never-ending War on Terror behind us.

Business As Usual On Steroids

By Karen J. Greenberg, originally posted on TomDispatch, June 19, 2011.

In the seven weeks since the killing of Osama bin Laden, pundits and experts of many stripes have concluded that his death represents a marker of genuine significance in the story of America’s encounter with terrorism.  Peter Bergen, a bin Laden expert, was typically blunt the day after the death when he wrote, "Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror. We can just sort of announce that right now."

Yet you wouldn’t know it in Washington where, if anything, the Obama administration and Congress have interpreted the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader as a virtual license to double down on every “front” in the war on terror.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was no less blunt than Bergen, but with quite a different endpoint in mind.  “Even as we mark this milestone,” she said on the day Bergen’s comments were published, “we should not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden.  Indeed, we must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts.”

And the Rich get Richer

By Fuzzyone

There were two news stories that caught my eye yesterday, one in the New York Times and the other in the Washington Post, that say a lot about the current state of the U.S. economy and our discourse about it.

The Post ran a must read article about the ever increasing disparity between rich and poor. The article wraps up a bunch of recent research showing that the rich are not primarily rock or sports stars. Rather it is business executives noting that "executive compensation at the nation’s largest firms has roughly quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, even as pay for 90 percent of America has stalled." The article also notes that the level of income inequality in the U.S is "far more unequal than the European Union and the United Kingdom. The United States is in the company of developing countries — just behind Cameroon and Ivory Coast and just ahead of Uganda and Jamaica."

It is not clear what the solution to this problem is. The article suggests that there was once a self restraint in executives which prevented them from taking such obscene pay checks while cutting pay to workers. Certainly it is no coincidence that the increase in income inequality coincided with the decline of labor unions so one solution would be stronger federal laws protecting unions and union organizing.

Another at least partial solution can be found in the Times article about efforts by big corporations to get yet another tax break, in this case a "repatriation holiday" which would allow them to bring back money that they earned overseas without paying taxes on it. We just did this in 2005 and where did the money go, not to investment or new jobs. It went to shareholders (and of course those who own stock tend to be wealthier) and, despite provisions which were supposed to prevent it, to executives in compensation.

Our leaders need to stop listening to the nonsensical claims of big business and the rich that tax cuts will make it all better. Tax cuts do not stimulate the economy and raising taxes does not cause the rich to flee. Rather than talking about cutting the budget deficit on the backs of those who are already falling behind we need to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for the rich and some of the ways in which tax policy make the rich richer, like the lower rate for capital gains and the ridiculous "carried interest" break that applies this lower rate to hedge fund managers, and reverse the steady decline in the share that the rich pay to support a society from which they are the main beneficiaries. Incidentaly, if you have any doubt that increasing inequality is a problem take a look at economist Joseph Stiglitz's recent Vanity Fair article on the subject. Rising inequality is corrosive to our society and polity in almost every conceivable way.

By Not Challenging The Tea Party , The White House Makes It Stronger

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, originally published at Huffington Post, June 16, 2011.

There's reason to believe that the White House held back on helping struggling homeowners because it was afraid of a Tea Party backlash. That was exactly the wrong response, politically as well as economically. Bolder and more effective action would have weakened the anxiety and frustration driving that movement. By fearing the Tea Party, the Administration has only made it stronger.

There have been more than three million foreclosures since 2008, a figure that may soon reach six million. Real estate has lost nearly $7 trillion in value since 2006. Homeowners owe their banks nearly $1 trillion for real estate value that no longer exists. More than 16 million homes, or 28% of all those with mortgages, are underwater.

And home values keep on falling. As real estate analysis group Case Shiller reports, "National home prices hit a new low" in the first quarter of this year. Housing values are now down to their 2002 levels, which is probably bad news for anyone who's bought their home in the last nine years.

A well-organized relief program for these homeowners could generate billions of dollars in consumer spending - spending that's desperately needed to create jobs and economic growth. It would also slow down the plunge in real estate values that's holding down wages, aggravating the unemployment crisis, and destroying communities across the country.

Yet the White House has done almost nothing to help the millions of households who are struggling with excessive debt for evaporated real estate values. Why?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wal-Mart v. Dukes: Corporate Interests Win Again


“Justice Roberts famously said this is about balls and strikes, well, the Roberts court is moving the pitching mound for plaintiffs down to second base, and out to center field.  Yes it’s balls and strikes, but [now] you have a much harder time getting the ball over the plate."  -- Attorney Cyrus Mehri, quoted by Adam Serwer
While it is generally agreed that business interests, as Justice Stephen Breyer said last year, "have always done pretty well" before the United States Supreme Court, the current conservative members of the Court have driven a marked ideological shift that favors corporations to a far greater degree.  This is reflected in their opinions when they are on the bench (see Corporate Takeover) and in their actions off the bench, most notably in the central roles played by Scalia, Alito and Thomas in major fundraising events for right wing, pro-corporate groups.  (If You Have Nothing Nice To Say; Just Politics; Activist Judges).

If we needed any more proof, we now have Wal-Mart v. Dukes, in which the Court blocked what the New York Times described as "the largest sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history on Monday, siding with Wal-Mart and against up to 1.6 million female workers in a decision that makes it harder to mount large-scale bias claims against the nation's other huge companies, too."

Goodbye Dolly: The Slow Death Of The Fourth Amendment

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court took another swipe at the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unlawful searches and seizures.  In United States v. Davis, the police conducted an unlawful search of Davis' car after a routine vehicle stop and found a gun.  The Court conceded that under a case it decided after Davis' conviction (Arizona v. Gant), the search violated Davis' Fourth Amendment rights and agreed that Gant retroactively applied to Davis' case.  In what Justice Breyer in dissent referred to as a "fatal twist," however, the majority refused to reverse the conviction.  Instead it applied a "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule.  Thus, even though the gun was obtained unlawfully, it would not be inadmissible because the police acted in good faith by relying on the law that was in effect at the time.

It has been 50 years since the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Mapp v. Ohio, which applied the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unlawful search and seizures to the states.  In that case, the Cleveland police forcibly entered the house of Dolly Mapp, allegedly looking for a fugitive, and after searching her house without a warrant found a trunk in the basement containing obscene material.  Dolly Mapp's conviction for possession of this material was overturned by the Supreme Court, which extended the exclusionary rule to state prosecutions.

As the American Constitution Society blog notes, an increasingly conservative Supreme Court has been chipping away at the Fourth Amendment.  ACS cites Alexander Wohl's article in Slate, which contends that the Court is only one conservative vote away from overturning the application of the Fourth Amendment to the states in its entirety.  Yale Kamisar, the leading expert on Mapp and co-author of the casebook, “Modern Criminal Procedure,” agrees.  In a piece commemorating Mapp's 50th Anniversary in The National Law Journal, Kamizar notes that "it is fairly clear that four members of the current Court are quite unhappy with the search-and-seizure exclusionary rule: Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr.” 

It was not until Mapp and the cases that followed during the heyday of the Warren Court that the Bill of Rights became applicable to the states.  Before then it only applied to federal prosecutions and criminal defendants in state court could not rely on the protections of the Fourth Amendment (right against unreasonable search and seizure), Fifth Amendment (right against self-incrimination) or Sixth Amendment (right to counsel).  Now, instead of Warren, we have Chief Justice Roberts and a court that cares little for individual rights or legal precedent with which they disagree.  As a result, as ACS says, we better celebrate Mapp v. Ohio while we still can.

Dispelling The "Borlaug Hypothesis"

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, originally posted at PAN's website, June 16, 2011.

Climate change, environment and agriculture are inextricably linked. Many would have us believe that protecting the environment means feeding fewer people. Can we somehow feed the world and save rare and endangered species from extinction?

A scientific review published this month by my colleague, Michael Jahi Chappell and his co-author, Liliana Lavalle, tackles just this question. Asking “Food security and biodiversity: can we have both?” Chappell and Lavalle say yes. Citing the UN-led International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), among other studies, the authors explain how agroecological farming not only can feed the world, but also can enhance biodiversity.

Their findings dispel a common misconception that feeding the world and protecting the environment are mutually exclusive goals. Their evidence also directly refutes the “Borlaug hypothesis” (named after the father of the Green Revolution), which argues that biodiversity conservation requires the intensification and industrialization of agriculture, so as to produce enough food in a limited area and thereby leave neighboring wildlife habitat intact.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All Star Protest

Arizona was awarded the 2011 All Star game in 2009, before the state passed its notorious anti-immigration bill that allows police to request documentation from anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant.  Despite boycotts and a lawsuit filed by the Obama Administration, Arizona is stubbornly clinging to its desire for racial profiling.  A federal court has struck down provisions of the bill, but the state is seeking review in the United States Supreme Court.

An article in yesterday's New York Times notes Major League Baseball's shameful silence in the face of calls to boycott the game if it isn't moved, and how this puts the many Latin American stars "in the impossible position of having to choose between showing solidarity to their people or to the game that has enriched them even as they have enriched it."  This is even more disturbing, the article points out, because of Baseball's long history of exploiting Latin American players.

In an earlier piece on the issue, I posted Rebecca Albert's proposal to use the All Star ballot as a form of protest by voting for as many Latin American players as possible.  It seems worth posting again (below). 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Big Man (1942-2011)

A while back I wrote about my love for Bruce Springsteen and how much his music resonated with me back in my glory days:  Thank You Steven Gladstone, Wherever You Are.  So, it is with great sadness to have to say farewell to Clarence Clemons, the amazing saxophone player who was the soul, if not the heart and soul, of Springsteen's E-Street Band.  As Springsteen  put so well, "with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music."

If I had to pick one song which exemplifies what Springsteen is talking about it would be Jungleland, from Born to Run, in which the Big Man's brilliant saxophone solo turns a great tune into an epic. 



A little synchronicity. After posting this, I see that my blog-mate Fuzzyone, posted his own tribute with the exact same video.  It is worth listening to twice.

Saying Goodbye to the Big Man

I usually leave the music blogging to Lovechilde but growing up in New York City in the 80s Bruce was one of my lodestars. He sang things that I felt and that made so much sense to me. And Clarence's sax, sometimes mellow and sometimes blasting, was as much a part of it as Bruce.



You will be missed Big Man

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #38

Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.  Tough Tenors: The Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis Quintet (1960).  These two "tough tenors" had very different styles.  Griffin was one of the great bop players, known for being "the fastest tenor in the west."  Among his many other dates, he made some great recordings with Thelonious Monk.  Davis was more rooted in "swing and blues."  I am most familiar with his Cookbook series of albums he made with organist Shirley Scott in the late 1950s.  Griffin and Davis formed a quintet in 1960, where they go head-to-head, and it works brilliantly, "turning a half-dozen pieces into an enticing mix of edgy solos and synchronized ensemble playing."  As one reviewer said, this "will please saxophone fans, Davis/Griffin fans, and anyone who enjoys classic hard bop."

[Related posts:  Great Jazz Albums  #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley); #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell); #28 (John Hicks); #29 (Kenny Barron); #30 (Coleman Hawkins); #31 (Count Basie) #32 (Benny Carter w/ Ben Webster and Barney Bigard); #33 (Chet Baker); #34 (Thad  Jones); #35 (The Great Jazz Trio); #36 (Ahmad Jamal); #37 (Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond)]

The Growing Desperation Of The Don't-Raise-Taxes-On-The-Rich Crowd

By Robert Reich, originally posted on his website, June 16, 2011.

The much-vaunted Republican pledge not to raise any taxes is crumbling. Today 34 Senate Republicans voted to end the special tax breaks for ethanol.

According to no-tax-increase purists like Grover Norquist, this is tantamount to a tax increase.

The truth is, Republicans are divided between those who want to bring down the budget deficit and those who want to shrink government. Ending a special tax subsidy helps reduce the deficit but doesn’t necessarily shrink government. That’s why Norquist and his followers have insisted any such tax increase – including even the closing of tax loopholes – be directly linked to a corresponding tax cut.

In order to save face on today’s vote, Norquist says renegade Republicans will still be considered to have adhered to the pledge if they vote in favor of an amendment offered by Senator Jim DeMint to eliminate the estate tax. Talk about grasping at straws. DeMint’s amendment isn’t even up for a vote.

In short, the no-tax pledge is evaporating in the fresh air of reality.

What are anti-tax Republicans to do now?  For one, continue to distort the arguments of those who believe corporations and the rich should pay more taxes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jazz Interlude: Cannonball Adderley



Julian "Cannonball" Adderley  has been described "as one of the progenitors of the swinging, rhythmically robust style of music that became known as hard-bop."  Here he is on Jive Samba
from 1963 with his brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Yusef Lateef on tenor sax, oboe and flute, Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums.

Support David Onek At Cafe Du Nord

On Tuesday, June 28 at 6:00 pm, there will be for a reception at Café Du Nord for my friend David Onek, who is running for San Francisco District Attorney.  This is a great opportunity to support an extraordinary candidate at a really fun venue. 

David is a leading expert on criminal and juvenile justice, with experience in policy-making, academia and government.  I have previously written about why I so strongly believe in David's candidacy:  Onek's the One.

David is a criminal justice reformer who has served as a San Francisco Police Commissioner and top criminal justice staffer in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office. David is currently a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and host of the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast.

You can get a strong sense of David's thoughtful, progressive approach to criminal justice and public safety issues by by clicking on the "Onek" tag below and reading his previously posted articles.  (You can also learn more about David’s campaign here, see his full his full list of supporters here, read recent articles about him here and here, and listen to his Criminal Justice Conversation Podcast here.)

The campaign has tremendous momentum, with over 1,500 people already signed on in support – elected officials, community and advocacy leaders, educators, law enforcement officials, legal community members, neighbors and friends.  Join us.

Café Du Nord is located 2170 Market Street in San Francisco.  Click here to RSVP on-line.

Proposed Legislation Providing Consular Access Holds Lives In The Balance

I have recently written about Texas flaunting U.S. treaty obligations as it prepares to execute Humberto Leal, a Mexican national who was not advised by Texas authorities after his arrest of his right to consult with with the Mexican Embassy:  Time for Texas to Execute International Law, Not Mexican Nationals.  Texas intends to carry out Leal's execution, scheduled for July 7, even now that legislation has been introduced to provide a remedy when, as in cases such as Leal's, consular access rights are violated.  Ginny Sloan, President of the Constitution Project, provides the latest developments.  -- Lovechilde

By Virginia E. Sloan, originally published at Huffington Post, June 14, 2011.
 
Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act, a long-awaited bill aimed at protecting the consular access rights of foreign nationals in U.S. custody who are charged or convicted of capital crimes. The act provides for judicial review of alleged violations of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations ("Vienna Convention") an international treaty the United States entered requiring foreign nationals detained to be notified "without delay" of their right to communicate with consular officers of their home country.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal judiciary could not remedy violations of the Vienna Convention without implementing legislation from Congress. Senator Leahy's legislation aims to rectify this situation, providing for federal judicial review in capital cases where consular access violations are alleged. A judge could order a new trial or resentencing if the violation is determined to have prejudiced the criminal conviction or sentence.

Passage of this legislation will signal to the other Vienna Convention signatory countries that the U.S. intends to honor its international obligations, which in turn will encourage those countries to provide consular access to the more than 2,500 U.S. citizens annually who may find themselves detained abroad, including our men and women in uniform. For American citizens, this is essential to securing their safety when living, working and traveling abroad.

Consular access also enhances the truth-seeking function at the heart of American justice, and provides an indispensable protection for foreign nationals who are unfamiliar with the U.S. criminal justice system. "Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty Revisited," the 2005 report (PDF) of The Constitution Project's Death Penalty Committee -- a bipartisan committee comprising supporters and opponents of the death penalty -- concluded that "the policies underlying the [Vienna Convention] are similar to those underlying the right to counsel guaranteed by the United States Constitution." The diverse committee thus called on all jurisdictions to fully comply with the Vienna Convention.