Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Weekend At Occupy Oakland

By Eva Paterson, cross-posted from Equal Justice Society


All is well here in Oakland after the police went wild. I went down to Occupy Oakland Friday night. There were hundreds of people there. The faint scent of marijuana was in one of the areas where a long line of people were assembled. I kept walking and saw a field of tents.

I then came to the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall. The last time I had been there was to hear Senator Obama in May of 2008 ask for our support for his candidacy. Last night, the plaza was filled with hundreds of people talking in small circles. I heard earnest conversations about how the Occupy Oakland folks were interacting with each other. As I continued walking around, I was struck by how serious these folks were.

Two young women then told those assembled that they had to wrap up their conversations. They asked one representative from each group to come up and talk about the topic they had all been given to discuss: “How is privilege a part of the Occupy Oakland movement?” Folks were instructed to line up behind a man named Sweet Potato. I loved that and wondered if he often said “Who yam I?”

The crowd was filled with young people, but the first speaker was a 70-year-old woman who did not start off talking about race or class. She said that she envied the energy and physical dexterity of the young. She also said that the activists should make sure that those with physical impairments or with hearing difficulties were treated with respect and had their needs taken into account during the occupation. I smiled.

I then left feeling conspicuous in a dress and stockings. I had started the evening at a wake for the daughter of a friend whose 22-year-old daughter had suffocated after having an epileptic seizure. It was a very sad, sad moment. All the parents had a common refrain. “This is a parent’s worst nightmare.”

We hugged each other and cried and let old grievances and hurts wash away with our tears. A colleague and a friend had a similar reaction to seeing young people look at one of their friends in a coffin. They both said that young people in Oakland frequently are in funeral homes and mortuaries viewing the bodies of fallen friends. That realization deepened our collective grief.

Yet later that evening at Occupy Oakland, I brushed by young Black men walking through the encampment. I thought that perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement might provide a way out of the misery and despair that sometimes leads to violence. One can only hope.

Life is good and goes on in Oakland.

The Occupiers' Responsive Chord

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

A combination of police crackdowns and bad weather are testing the young Occupy movement. But rumors of its demise are premature, to say the least. Although numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests the movement is growing.

As importantly, the movement has already changed the public debate in America.

Consider, for example, last week’s Congressional Budget Office report on widening disparities of income in America. It was hardly news – it’s already well known that the top 1 percent now gets 20 percent of the nation’s income, up from 9 percent in the late 1970s.

But it’s the first time such news made the front page of the nation’s major newspapers.

Why? Because for the first time in more than half a century, a broad cross-section of the American public is talking about the concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

Score a big one for the Occupiers.

Even more startling is the change in public opinion. Not since the 1930s has a majority of Americans called for redistribution of income or wealth. But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an astounding 66 percent of Americans said the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed.

A similar majority believes the rich should pay more in taxes. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, even a majority of people who describe themselves as Republicans believe taxes should be increased on the rich.

I remember the days when even raising the subject of inequality made you a “class warrior.” Now, it seems, most Americans have become class warriors.

Austerity Class Warfare

We all know that during high unemployment and a stagnant economy, what is needed is a boost from the federal government -- or what one might call "stimulus."  (As John Maynard Keynes explained 75 years ago, and Robert Reich continues to instruct us today, when consumers and businesses can’t boost the economy on their own, the responsibility must fall to the government.)  But instead, the focus over the last two years has been on the need for less federal spending and the overarching concern has been to reduce the long-term deficit.  Only recently, thanks to Occupy Wall Street and the President's belated "pivot" to jobs has the conversation begun to change.  But this still leaves the question why the deficit fetishists remain so prominent  -- why failed policies of the past that involve tax cuts for the rich, reduced federal spending and more federal regulation continue to remain so influential -- and not just in Republican circles.

Ari Berman, in a great new piece in The Nation, describes this as "a central paradox" in American politics:
How, in the midst of a massive unemployment crisis—when it’s painfully obvious that not enough jobs are being created and the public overwhelmingly wants policy-makers to focus on creating them—did the deficit emerge as the most pressing issue in the country? And why, when the global evidence clearly indicates that austerity measures will raise unemployment and hinder, not accelerate, growth, do advocates of austerity retain such distinction today?
Berman provides the answer:
An explanation can be found in the prominence of an influential and aggressive austerity class—an allegedly centrist coalition of politicians, wonks and pundits who are considered indisputably wise custodians of US economic policy. These “very serious people,” as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wryly dubs them, have achieved what University of California, Berkeley, economist Brad DeLong calls “intellectual hegemony over the course of the debate in Washington, from 2009 until today.”

Its members include Wall Street titans like Pete Peterson and Robert Rubin; deficit-hawk groups like the CRFB, the Concord Coalition, the Hamilton Project, the Committee for Economic Development, Third Way and the Bipartisan Policy Center; budget wonks like Peter Orszag, Alice Rivlin, David Walker and Douglas Holtz-Eakin; red state Democrats in Congress like Mark Warner and Kent Conrad, the bipartisan “Gang of Six” and what’s left of the Blue Dog Coalition; influential pundits like Tom Friedman and David Brooks of the New York Times, Niall Ferguson and the Washington Post editorial page; and a parade of blue ribbon commissions, most notably Bowles-Simpson, whose members formed the all-star team of the austerity class.
This "austerity class" is a relentless presence in Washington and in the mainstream media.  Its various strands "form a reinforcing web that is difficult to break. Its think tanks and wonks produce a relentless stream of disturbing statistics warning of skyrocketing debt and looming bankruptcy, which in turn is trumpeted by politicians and the press and internalized by the public."  The result is what Greg Sargent calls "a Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop, wherein the hypothetical possibility of a US debt crisis somewhere in the future takes precedence over the very real jobs crisis now."

In addition, much to our misfortune, this group is profoundly influential over the current Administration:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Film Review: How To Start A Revolution

By Dan Siegel, cross-posted from Huffington Post

The sweeping changes of the Arab Spring demonstrated to the world how "the people without the guns are winning." So declares the new documentary, How to Start a Revolution, a film that profiles the ideas and impact of Gene Sharp, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated academic who can be described as the intellectual architect of non-violent, people-powered revolutions that have swept the globe over the past generation.

Nearly 30 years ago, I read Sharp's rather obscure but classic three-volume series on civil disobedience in college. While being inspired by the success of Gandhian nonviolence in rolling back the British empire, I wondered how such theories could be applied against iron-fisted regimes in the present age. In the fall of 1989, I was fortunate to witness first-hand how unarmed civic revolutions swept away authoritarian governments on the streets of Budapest, Prague and Warsaw.

How to Start a Revolution documents how Gene Sharp's ideas and tactics have inspired and guided democratic activists, notably contained in his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, originally written in 1993 for Burma's freedom movement. The free downloadable book -- which offers 198 steps for overthrowing dictators -- has been translated into over 30 languages.

The documentary, by first-time Scottish director and journalist Ruaridh Arrow, introduces us to the soft-spoken, 83-year-old Sharp in his modest Boston brick row house carefully tending to his orchids. This constant gardener plants the seeds of resistance and revolution, not knowing when and where they will sprout, and cultivates a world where the oppressed liberate themselves through peaceful means.

The film demonstrates that nonviolent resistance is anything but passive, and when properly planned and deployed, it utilizes a strategic mix of political social, psychological and economic weapons to destabilize illegitimate regimes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Most Important Thing In The World Now

On October 6, 2011, Naomi Klein, journalist, activist, author (most recently of The Shock Doctrine) addressed Occupy Wall Street.  Her powerful and moving speech was truncated due to the need to filter it through the so-called "human microphone."  

She has permitted me to post the uncut version below: 

 I love you.

And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.

Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.

If there is one thing I know, it is that the 1 percent loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate and no one seems to know what to do, that is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.

And there is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99 percent. And that 99 percent is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Palate Cleanser: Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot perform Shadow Casting

R.I.P. Frank Garcia

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On October 27, 2011, Texas executed Frank Garcia, for the shooting death of San Antonio police officer Hector Garza, who had responded to a domestic dispute between Garcia and his wife.  Garcia also fatally shot his wife, Jessica, in the incident.

Garcia's attorneys argued that he was ineligible for the death penalty because he suffered from an intellectual disability, and that his trial lawyers unreasonably failed to investigate and present evidence of his mental impairments at his trial.

 This is the 39th execution in the United States in 2011, the 12th in Texas.

Tunisia's Elections: Consolidating Democracy

By Ayman Ayoub, cross-posted from open Democracy

The Tunisian people in December 2010 sparked the popular movement that became known as the Arab spring and opened new horizons for freedom in the region. Now, on 23 October 2011, they completed a vital round of their nascent democracy by delivering Tunisia's first genuinely democratic and competitive elections since the country's independence in 1956.

This achievement belongs to Tunisians above all, but it is also a great occasion for democrats and supporters of democracy around the world. To see the long queues of Tunisians awaiting their chance to cast a vote for the future of democracy in their country is a delight and a source of hope. For many of these voters - young and old, women and men - this was the first occasion to express their real choice freely, in an orderly fashion and with no fear or intimidation.

The remarkably high turnout - up to an astonishing 90% of the electorate in many areas, according to official data released by the electoral authorities - is a clear indicator of the Tunisian people’s thirst for dignity, and their determined will to build a democratic society. It is notable here that some waiting voters protested against an attempt by the head of one leading political party to bypass the queue by using a common expression from the days of revolution: "Dégage!" In calling him back to join the queue, they were also affirming something profound about equality of citizenship. That is where democracy starts.

This exceptional expression of "civism" in Tunisia also represents a clear signal of the real objectives of the Arab uprisings at large. This is a region that has suffered from long decades of dictatorships, oppression and injustice. Now, a new generation is crying out "enough" - and voicing to the entire world that it also deserves a chance to join the ever increasing community of democratic nations. The success of the elections in Tunisia is undeniable evidence of the popular will underlying the peaceful demands sweeping the Arab world for freedom and democracy.

Seventh Heaven

For my friends who were uninspired by a Cardinals-Rangers match up and decided to sit this one out, you are missing one of the most thrilling World Series in quite a while.

The teams split the first two exciting games, each decided by one run.  The Cards won in a blow out in Game #3, but watching the epic performance of Albert Pujols, with five hits, three of them home runs (joining only Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson with 3-homers in a World Series game) provided its own joy.  In Game #4, we were treated to a pitching gem by the Rangers' Derek Holland, with his adolescent mustache and refreshing sense of humor. The fifth game was another tight one, also going to the Rangers, who scored the winning runs in the 8th inning.  (Managers still communicate with their bullpen coaches by way of the old fashioned telephone, and in the pivotal 8th inning, the coach didn't have the right guy warming up because he didn't hear the manager's instructions.  I love old school stuff, but maybe they should text.) 

Which brings us to last night.  A game for the ages.  Sloppy play early on and repeated heroics by game's end.  Texas was on the verge of winning its first World Series in franchise history, only to see St. Louis tie the game in the ninth inning with David Freese's two-out triple just out of the reach of outfielder Nelson Cruz.  After a two-run homer in the tenth by Ranger Josh Hamilton, the Cardinals came back again, with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, and then won it in the 11th, with a home run by Freese over the center field wall.  (Hamilton, by the way, said that God told him he would hit the home run but didn't mention anything about winning the game.)

There is nothing like the seventh game of the World Series.  First, as always with baseball, there is history and tradition:  heroics by Bill Mazeroski in 1960, Sandy Koufax in 1965, Bob Gibson in 1967, Mickey Lolich in 1968, Willie Stargell in 1979, Ray Knight in 1986, and Jack Morris in 1991; Willie McCovey lining out to end the 1962 Series and Mariano Rivera blowing a save in 2001.

Almost by definition, if the series has gone to the limit (something that hasn't happened in 9 years) it means the teams are evenly matched and that we have been treated to some dramatic performances, as we surely have this year.  Also, after six games we have gotten up close and personal with the players on each team, so even if we didn't care about these guys before, we do now.  And, finally, Game #7, the last game of the year, has a special intensity in which it seems that every pitch, every hit, every play could provide the deciding moment in a season that began back in April. 

Now you're caught up.  Even if you aren't much of a baseball fan or if you haven't really paid attention to the Series, it's not too late.  So, as legendary announcer Vin Scully would say, "pull up a chair."

Republicans Love/Republicans Hate: Stimulus Edition

By Fuzzyone

Republicans Hate the argument that government spending creates jobs and stimulates the economy.

Republicans Love the argument that government spending on the military crates jobs and stimulates the economy.

This has been another edition of Republicans Love/Republicans Hate

Occupy Earth: Nature Is The 99% Too

By Chip Ward, cross-posted from TomDispatch

What if rising sea levels are yet another measure of inequality? What if the degradation of our planet’s life-support systems -- its atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere -- goes hand in hand with the accumulation of wealth, power, and control by that corrupt and greedy 1% we are hearing about from Zuccotti Park?  What if the assault on America’s middle class and the assault on the environment are one and the same?

Money Rules: It’s not hard for me to understand how environmental quality and economic inequality came to be joined at the hip.  In all my years as a grassroots organizer dealing with the tragic impact of degraded environments on public health, it was always the same: someone got rich and someone got sick.

In the struggles that I was involved in to curb polluters and safeguard public health, those who wanted curbs, accountability, and precautions were always outspent several times over by those who wanted no restrictions on their effluents.  We dug into our own pockets for postage money, they had expense accounts.  We made flyers to slip under the windshield wipers of parked cars, they bought ads on television.  We took time off from jobs to visit legislators, only to discover that they had gone to lunch with fulltime lobbyists.

Naturally, the barons of the chemical and nuclear industries don’t live next to the radioactive or toxic-waste dumps that their corporations create; on the other hand, impoverished black and brown people often do live near such ecological sacrifice zones because they can’t afford better.  Similarly, the gated communities of the hyper-wealthy are not built next to cesspool rivers or skylines filled with fuming smokestacks, but the slums of the planet are. Don’t think, though, that it’s just a matter of property values or scenery.  It’s about health, about whether your kids have lead or dioxins running through their veins.  It’s a simple formula, in fact: wealth disparities become health disparities.

And here’s another formula: when there’s money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable.  Just as jobs migrate if labor can be had cheaper overseas, I know workers who were tossed aside when they became ill from the foul air or poisonous chemicals they encountered on the job.

The fact is: we won’t free ourselves from a dysfunctional and unfair economic order until we begin to see ourselves as communities, not commodities.  That is one clear message from Zuccotti Park.
Polluters routinely walk away from the ground they poison and expect taxpayers to clean up after them.  By “externalizing” such costs, profits are increased.  Examples of land abuse and abandonment are too legion to list, but most of us can refer to a familiar “superfund site” in our own backyard.  Clearly, Mother Nature is among the disenfranchised, exploited, and struggling.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Citi Field: We Are The .475 Percent

The Apple is sort of like The Onion for Mets Fans.  A creation of Randy Medina, it is "Mets News That Is 0% Accurate, 100% Funny."  Randy has graciously allowed me to cross-post.  This piece was originally published on October 12, 2011: 

Occupy Citi  Field Movement Enters Third Week


The crowd of angry Mets fans gathered outside Citi Field continues to grow as the Occupy Citi Field movement enters it's third week.  The protest, which has been largely ignored by most of the mainstream Mets blogs, doesn't seem to have a clear goal but protesters are united in the fact that they are ticked off about something the Mets have done recently.

Unhappy Anniversary: The Patriot Act At 10

It's the tenth anniversary of the Patriot Act, but what do you get the government that knows everything.  Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 10/26/11
 

The Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, as part of the panicked response to the 9/11 attacks.

As the ACLU explains, the Patriot Act has "made it easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track the activity of innocent Americans on the Internet."  While it is generally believed that it was created and is being used for anti-terrorism purposes, turn outs that the Patriot Act is used routinely in criminal investigations, turning "regular citizens into suspects."

Check out theACLU's infographic here.

[Related posts:  The Patriot Act Goes Rogue; Libertarians and Civil Libertarians]

Wall Street Is Still Out Of Control

And Why Obama Should Call for Glass-Steagall and a Breakup of Big Banks

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

Next week President Obama travels to Wall Street where he’ll demand – in light of the Street’s continuing antics since the bailout, as well as its role in watering-down the Volcker rule – that the Glass-Steagall Act be resurrected and big banks be broken up.

I’m kidding. But it would be a smart move — politically and economically.

Politically smart because Mitt Romney is almost sure to be the Republican nominee, and Romney is the poster child for the pump-and-dump mentality that’s infected the financial industry and continues to jeopardize the American economy.

Romney was CEO of Bain & Company – a private-equity fund that bought up companies, fired employees to save money and boost performance, and then resold the firms at a nice markups.
Romney also epitomizes the pump-and-dump culture of America’s super rich. To take one example, he recently purchased a $3 million mansion in La Jolla, California (in addition to his other homes) that he’s razing in order build a brand new one.

What better way for Obama to distinguish himself from Romney than to condemn Wall Street’s antics since the bailout, and call for real reform?

Warren Shows Her Occupy Wall Street Cred

With so many timid Democrats unsure of how to discuss the Occupy Movement, Elizabeth Warren shows them how it's done.

Warren initially drew fire from Republicans after stating she not only supports the movement, but that she, in fact, "created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do.”

And when attacked by the GOP for these remarks, did she walk them back or say she was only joking?  Hardly.  At most, she clarified that she did not mean to imply that she created the movement itself, which she recognized as an organic -- and perfectly appropriate -- grassroots response to the unaccountability and recklessness of Wall Street.

A spokesperson for the campaign followed up with this statement:
Elizabeth was making the point that she has been protesting Wall Street’s practices and policies for years – and working to change them.  Wall Street’s tricks brought our economy to the edge of collapse, and there hasn’t been any real accountability. She understands why people are so angry and why they are taking their fight to the street. She has said repeatedly everyone has to abide by the law. Elizabeth is working for change in a different way, to take this fight to the United States Senate.
Elizabeth, herself, remains unequivocal: 
I've been protesting Wall Street for a very long time. And that I understand the frustration, I share their frustration, with what's going, that right now Washington is wired to work well for those on Wall Street who can hire lobbyists and lawyers and it doesn't work very well for the rest of us. That's what I'm talking about, that's why I'm running for office . . . Occupy Wall Street is an organic movement, it expresses enormous frustration and gives a great faith all across the country for people to talk about what's broken. So I am glad that that conversation is going forward and that it's going forward in an organic way.
Listen and learn fellow Democrats.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Myth of Horatio Alger

By Fuzzyone

One of the salutary effects of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been an increased attention to the stupefying increase in income inequality that has occurred in the United States in recent years. (Even Eric Cantor almost talked about it.) A sort of flip side of this massive income inequality is the myth of social mobility.

A couple of things I saw over the weekend made me think about this. One was a letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle (scroll down to "A Sense of Entitlement") which expresses what I imagine a lot of conservatives think, that the OWS protestors are a bunch of spoiled brats who just don't want to put in the hard work to get into the 1%. The other was a piece in the New York Times Sunday Review section on rising income inequality, which posited an interesting theory that decreasing racial and gender discrimination may have made increased inequality more acceptable. The piece ends by pointing out that "Inequality has traditionally been acceptable to Americans if accompanied by mobility. But most recent studies of economic mobility indicate that it is getting even harder for people to jump from one economic class to another in the United States."

It seems clear that Republicans are not sure how to respond to the protests. One, which we have already started to see, is that lower income Americans are not paying their fair share.  Not only is this false, the share of tax revenue that comes from payroll taxes, which every working person pays, has gone up just as the share paid by corporations has gone down.

The reality, as pointed out in yesterday's New York Times is that government policy, particularly tax policy and deregulation, has helped to drive money from wages into corporate profits, from whence it ends up in the hands of a few.  This concentration of wealth in turn has fed the speculative bubbles that have ravaged our economy in recent decades.  Those with too much money feed it into those bubbles and then, more often than not, emerge unscathed, their fall cushioned by public funds and the money that they have looted from the other 99%. 

The Occupy protests are a response to that phenomenon, and one that is not going to go away.  Republicans will continue to demonize them but that will not change the reality of ever rising inequality and the disappearance of the social mobility that enabled elites to convince people that they might be able to make it.  With that hope gone, with the game clearly rigged, and with the economy continuing to burn as the Republicans fiddle, anger can only grow.

Lessons From Occupy Oakland

My family went to Occupy Oakland last week to provide the protesters with food and art supplies.  It seemed like a good idea to not only explain to the kids what the anger and frustration was about, but to show them how people can get together and express that anger and frustration in a positive, hopefully meaningful, way, and also allow them to make their own small contribution to the effort. 

But now we have to explain what the police were doing days later, dispersing the very same peaceful crowd with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets. 

 

Occupy Oakland is planning to reconvene every day at 6pm at 14th & Broadway until the camp is reestablished.  Hopefully, the lesson to be drawn, when the protests and demonstrations return stronger than before, will be that bullying doesn't work. 

Or as Chris Hayes tweeted for the grownups:  “Note to police commissioners: every single time police suppress non-violent dissent with force and violence it makes #OWS stronger.”

The Numbers Are In, The Death Penalty Is Out

By James Clark, cross-posted from Huffington Post

Over the last few weeks, polls were released by several independent organizations that all point to one conclusion: Californians are ready to dump the death penalty.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Field Poll both show California voters' strong preference for life without the possibility of parole over the death penalty.
In the Field Poll released September 29, 48% of California voters opted for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole while only 40% chose the death penalty.

And Gallup Polling shows that American support for capital punishment has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years.

2011-10-21-DPsupport.jpg
Jeanne Woodford, former death row warden and current spokesperson for the SAFE California Campaign, said, "We see [these poll results] as a historic shift that will carry us through to the elections."

SAFE CA is the new initiative to end California's death penalty on the November 2012 ballot. It's about replacing the death penalty with a safe and affordable public safety solution: life without the possibility of parole plus work and restitution.

More Californians chose that over the death penalty because they know it saves $184 million state tax dollars every year. A single execution is exorbitantly expensive -- $308 million - and most Californians can probably think of better ways to spend their money.

For the same cost, we could hire about 6,000 new police officers, or about 5,000 new fire fighters. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that hiring thousands more public employees would make a bigger positive impact on a community than would executing a single individual. And it's also worth pointing out that for the cost of a single execution, we could provide 2,865 children with a free k-12 education.

Californians care about their communities, and they care about education and public safety. They know that cash-strapped California has to invest its resources wisely, and they know that protecting and educating their families will always bring more bang for their buck than wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on one execution.

These polls show that California is on the verge of a major shift in public priorities. When the SAFE CA Act lands on the ballot in November 2012, voters will have a chance to put their taxpayer money where their mouths are and fund real solutions over empty "tough on crime" rhetoric.

Sign up now to volunteer with the SAFE CA campaign to ensure that our tax dollars are invested in our communities.

Puddin' Don't Fetch But He Reads Fair And Unbalanced

My friend Jake Barlow draws the cartoon Puddin', about a dog who "don’t have all his parts, but that don’t stop Puddin’ from havin’ a good time and enjoyin’ life."  Fair and Unbalanced is a big fan of Puddin, and if you scroll down the right side of the blog you can now enjoy Puddin's latest antics.  Turns out, by happy coincidence, that Puddin' is a fan of Fair and Unbalanced.


Immunity And Impunity In The Legal System

How the Legal System Was Deep-Sixed and the Occupy Wall Street Swept The Land

By Glenn Greenwald, cross-posted from TomDispatch

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding -- indeed, an integral part of it.

Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression.  This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades.  As journalist Tim Noah described the process:

“During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth -- the ‘seven fat years’ and the ‘long boom.’ Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1%. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20%. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.”

The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the trend, but not radically: the top 1% of earners in America have been feeding ever more greedily at the trough for decades.

In addition, substantial wealth inequality is so embedded in American political culture that, standing alone, it would not be sufficient to trigger citizen rage of the type we are finally witnessing. The American Founders were clear that they viewed inequality in wealth, power, and prestige as not merely inevitable, but desirable and, for some, even divinely ordained. Jefferson praised “the natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature” for the “government of society.” John Adams concurred: “It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the… course of nature the foundation of the distinction.”

Not only have the overwhelming majority of Americans long acquiesced to vast income and wealth disparities, but some of those most oppressed by these outcomes have cheered it loudly. Americans have been inculcated not only to accept, but to revere those who are the greatest beneficiaries of this inequality.

In the 1980s, this paradox -- whereby even those most trampled upon come to cheer those responsible for their state -- became more firmly entrenched. That’s because it found a folksy, friendly face, Ronald Reagan, adept at feeding the populace a slew of Orwellian clichés that induced them to defend the interests of the wealthiest. “A rising tide,” as President Reagan put it, “lifts all boats.” The sum of his wisdom being: it is in your interest when the rich get richer.

Implicit in this framework was the claim that inequality was justified and legitimate. The core propagandistic premise was that the rich were rich because they deserved to be. They innovated in industry, invented technologies, discovered cures, created jobs, took risks, and boldly found ways to improve our lives. In other words, they deserved to be enriched. Indeed, it was in our common interest to allow them to fly as high as possible because that would increase their motivation to produce more, bestowing on us ever greater life-improving gifts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chicago Ought To Change The Standard Ending To That Same Old Wrongful Conviction Story

By Locke Bowman, cross-posted from Huffington Post

Jacques Rivera freed from Cook County Jail
A short driveway leads from California Avenue to Division 5 of the Cook County Jail. It is the point of entry for hundreds who daily visit friends or family members confined behind the razor wire. It is a point of departure too. Each day dozens of men pass through the Jail gate and back to the streets: their bond posted, their sentences served, the charges dropped.

On a rare warm October night a few days ago a different scene unfolded at this place. With Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions attorney Judy Royal at his elbow, Jacques Rivera walked briskly down that driveway, out of the shadows and into the warm glow of television lights, the embraces of his children and his mother and the cheers of supporters. He was finally free after 21 years of imprisonment for a murder he did not commit. It was like a dream, his mother said as her son hugged her to his chest, a dream come true.

We have seen this movie before. Like a romance novel or a cowboy story, we know how the plot will unfold: the brutal crime; the seemingly airtight case against the innocent suspect; his conviction; the lonely years in which his protestations of innocence from a prison cell fall on deaf ears; the arrival, finally, of heroic, committed lawyers who take up his case; and then, that magical walk to freedom after the false case has fallen apart. The TV producers -- like the rest of us -- can't get enough of this drama with its great visuals.

The famed University of Chicago criminologist Norval Morris once said that an innocent man in prison is as rare as a pigeon in the park; they aren't everywhere, but if you look, you will see them. With Rivera, the Chicago Police Department has so far been implicated in 63 known wrongful convictions since 1989, according to Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Bipartisanship I Can Believe In

I am happy to applaud the House of Representatives, and to concede that reaching across the aisle to achieve consensus and compromise can indeed produce positive outcomes.  Bipartisanship works -- at least when it comes to our National Pastime.  H.R. 2527, a bill to mint a commemorative coin in 2015, marking the 75th anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame, has 296 co-sponsors. 

The Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act directs the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue not more than 50,000 $5 gold coins, 400,000 $1 silver coins, and 750,000 half dollar coins in 2015.  

But, as always, there is a little wrinkle.  The Act provides that while one side of the coin will depict a baseball, the other will be subject to competition held by the Treasury Secretary.  Let's see how Secretary Geithner will screw this up.

Condi's World: Fantasies and Post Hoc Fallacies

Condoleeza Rice, George W. Bush's former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, has a disturbing habit of engaging in fantasy.  For example, her unsubstantiated assertion of Iraq's nuclear capability, culminating in her famous remark that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."  Of course, there was neither a smoking gun nor a mushroom cloud.

Then there was her embarrassing Freudian slip in which she appeared to refer to Bush as her husband.  Uh, no comment.

And now, in touting her memoir, Rice has the temerity to take credit for the Arab Spring, writing that it vindicates the Bush Administration's policies, including the invasion of Iraq.  More fantasy and a classic example of the Post Hoc Fallacy.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc or "after this, therefore because of this" is a logical fallacy in which one erroneously attributes cause and effect simply because one event occurs before the other.  Put differently, it is a fallacy to conclude that A causes B merely because A occurs before B.

Now, there is clearly a cause and effect between Bush's Iraq invasion and thousands of military and civilian deaths, a revitalized Taliban in Afghanistan, the spreading of Al Qaeda throughout the region, the strengthening of Iran, the tanking of the U.S. economy, and our disgraceful embrace of torture, extraordinary rendition, and other human rights violations.

But the Arab Spring?  Post hoc ergo ...

Digby put it more colorfully:
the logic behind Rice's view inexorably leads you to evaluate everyone in history through the lens of human progress --- which means that none of the great villains can be held responsible for their deeds and nothing can ever be learned from bad decisions of the past. As long as the world goes on you can always make the case that things will probably turn out ok in the long run. And that's hardly any comfort ---as the old saying goes, in the long run, we'll all be dead.

In fact, in the short run a whole lot of Iraqi people are dead because of the United States' inexplicable decision to invade their country. . .  If Iraq becomes a sane and prosperous nation some time from now, it will never render that policy, based on lies and propaganda, to be a good one --- and Bush, Cheney and Rice will never get credit for any future progress because of it. They need accept that the best they can hope for is to end up among history's inept clowns instead of history's villains. It's not much, but it's all they've got.
So, despite their best efforts to rewrite history, will Bush, Cheney and Rice be viewed as villains or inept clowns?  The answer can be found in another philosophical proposition:  The Unity of Opposites.  They can be villains and clowns.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ending California's Wasteful Tinkering With The Machinery Of Death


California's death penalty needs to be abolished.  Putting aside the philosophical and spiritual questions about the immorality of the death penalty, it is costly, arbitrary, discriminatory, and unworkable.  It serves no useful purpose while diverting needed resources from true public safety programs.  (See, e.g., Death Rattle For California, California's Unusually Cruel Death Penalty, California's Dysfunctional Death Penalty, Just Say No; State of Barbarism.)

Ending the death penalty in California can only be done by a ballot initiative.  The statewide signature‑gathering effort to place such an initiative on the November 2012 ballot is being launched this week.

Over the next few days, the “Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act" will be introduced to voters by law enforcement leaders, murder victim family members, exonerated persons and notable campaign supporters in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

After that, it will be time to get busy -- raising funds, recruiting volunteers and gathering signatures.

The SAFE California Act, if enacted, would replace California's multi‑billion dollar death penalty with life imprisonment without parole and require those convicted of murder to work and pay restitution to victim families through the victim compensation fund.  The SAFE California Act would also set aside $100 million in budget saving for local law enforcement for the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.

Click here for more information, to join the effort, or to donate.

Occupy Wall Street For Dummies (aka Pundits)

Tom Tomorrow
"If you are a political pundit and you still don't know what Occupy Wall Street stands for, you are an idiot," says Hunter at Daily Kos.  And to help those idiots, he provides a primer.  Here is a condensed version:

-- It a protest specifically against the members of the financial sector, who were bailed out at taxpayer expense after wrecking the economy
-- It is a protest against the perceived entitlement of the wealthy, for whom any slight economic injury (say, from taxes) is seen as an apocalyptic event, and for whose sake austerity must be imposed on every other group.
-- It is a protest against a government that seems to exist solely to meet the needs of wealthy and corporate benefactors.
-- It is not a protest against TARP; it is a protest against the failure of TARP to achieve even a stick of reform in exchange for the body blow dealt to the rest of us.
-- It is not a protest against political parties, but against a system that has been so corrupted that the needs of the one percent are considered of greater merit than that of the entire rest of the population.
-- It is not "against corporations." It is against the excesses of corporations
-- It is not "against the rich." It is against the rich being catered to at the expense of every other citizen.
-- It is about the unemployment crisis being absolutely ignored.
-- It is pro-worker, in that it is a reaction against workers being treated as increasingly disposable, abusable commodities by the companies that employ them.
-- It is neither pro-tax or anti-tax; it is against the disparity of treatment between rich and poor, when it comes time to pay those taxes.
-- It demands a voice in government, and a voice in the punditry that struggles so painfully to grasp what the little people are going on about.
-- Above all, perhaps, it is an objection to the notion that corporations do not just have rights and privileges equal to people, but in fact have rights superior to the rights of people, rights which are appended on in the name of free enterprise and seen by lawmakers and courts alike as being far more obvious and inviolate than those of you or me.

Pretty straightforward.  And for those pundits who remain baffled by the Occupy movement, Hunter concludes:
If you feel ideologically bound to ignore it, fine, but claiming you do not understand it only brands you as a mind too easily taxed to be of much use in the public sphere.  If you understand the grievances of the Occupy movement, feel free to either engage or rebut those complaints. If you do not understand them, then go away, for you are too lazy, too self absorbed, or too ignorant to do the job.

The Flat Tax Fraud, And The Need Of A Truly Progressive Tax

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

Herman Cain’s bizarre 9-9-9 plan would replace much of the current tax code with a 9 percent individual income tax and a 9 percent sales tax. He calls it a “flat tax.”

Next week Rick Perry is set to announce his own version of a flat tax. Former House majority leader Dick Armey – now chairman of Freedom Works, a major backer of the Tea Party funded by the Koch Brothers and other portly felines (I didn’t say “fat cats”) — predicts this will give Perry “a big boost.” Steve Forbes, one of America’s richest billionaires, who’s on the board of the Freedom Works foundation, is delighted. He’s been pushing the flat tax for years.

The flat tax is a fraud. It raises taxes on the poor and lowers them on the rich.

We don’t know exactly what Perry will propose, but the non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that Cain’s plan (the only one out there so far) would lower the after-tax incomes of poor households (incomes below $30,000) by 16 to 20 percent, while increasing the incomes of wealthier households (incomes above $200,000) by 5 to 22 percent, on average.

Under Cain’s plan, fully 95 percent of households with more than $1 million in income would get an average tax cut of $487,300. And capital gains (a major source of income for the very rich) would be tax free.

The details of flat-tax proposals vary, of course. But all of them end up benefitting the rich more than the poor for one simple reason: Today’s tax code is still at least moderately progressive. The rich usually pay a higher percent of their incomes in income taxes than do the poor. A flat tax would eliminate that slight progressivity.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Road Forward

My friend and former colleague, Arcelia Hurtado, who is Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, conducted the following interview with San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Johnson, one of the organizers of The Road Forward, a fundraiser on October 26, benefiting the SF Sheriff’s Department Women’s Resource Center and the SF Behavioral Health Court.  This piece was originally published at Huffington Post.  Please read the interview below and support this very worthy cause. -- Lovechilde


The Road Forward:  An Interview With Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson has been working with San Francisco's mental health court to provide gender specific services for women since 2005. She is a founding member of San Francisco's Behavioral Health Court and one of the organizers of The Road Forward, a fundraiser to benefit women as they transition out of custody and into the community.

Arcelia Hurtado (AH): Tell us what is going on in California with incarcerated women.

Jennifer Johnson (JJ): In times of economic prosperity, women in jails and prisons are an underserved population. In times of economic despair, they are forgotten. California is currently embarking on the biggest shift in criminal justice policy in decades as it enacts AB109, known as "realignment." The stakes are high and the opportunity is unprecedented as communities craft new approaches to incarceration and rehabilitation.

AH: What is The Road Forward?

JJ: The Road Forward is raising money to renovate the San Francisco Sheriff's Department's Women's Resource Center to create an optimal environment for helping women reclaim their lives.

Two community programs, Behavioral Health Court and the Women's Resource Center, are working together to ensure that women are not lost as the realignment process unfolds. Both programs have independently provided quality gender-specific treatment for years and they are joining forces streamline and enhance those services.

The October 26th event marks the beginning of a capital fundraising campaign and we have great allies in this effort: Equal Rights Advocates, California Pacific Medical Center, and Women Defenders of California.

AH: What do you mean when you say "helping women reclaim their lives?"

JJ: The Women's Resource Center serves women who are leaving jail and prison. The Center provides access to an array of coordinated services to help women find employment, sustain recovery, improve mental health, link to quality health care, and reconnect with their families and the community.

These services are going to become increasingly important as we see dramatic changes in criminal justice policy take effect across California.

. . . At The Old Ball Game

Great series so far.  Two close, exciting games, followed by an epic performance by the incredible Albert Pujols last night in Game #3.  But do we really need to see George and Laura Bush sitting behind the plate every inning?   And what is with the National Anthem before the game and God Bless America at the seventh inning stretch?  As for this last question, I am re-posting what I wrote last year at this time.

Let's Play Ball

In 1916, during WWI, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the Star-Spangled Banner be played at military events, and two years later, it was played during the 7th Inning Stretch at the 1918 World Series.

Thus began a wartime tradition.

During the Second World War, the National Anthem began to be performed before every game.  It has been asserted that this was not solely due to patriotic zeal but also to make sure the fans didn't question the patriotism of the players who weren't fighting in the war.

Peace came but the anthem played on.  During the Vietnam War, at the 1968 World Series in Detroit, Jose Feliciano sparked enormous controversy by performing a soulful rendition that was deemed disrespectful.  This eventually paved the way for countless non-traditional versions which could be poorly rendered as long as they were considered respectful. Rosanne Barr's attempt at a comedic version at a 1990 Padres games was widely trashed, with then-President Bush calling it "disgusting." And Michael Bolton was lambasted after his 2003 American League playoff game performance when he forgot the words midway through and had to rely on a cheat sheet.

After 9/11, one song did not seem sufficient for players and fans to express their love of the United States, and Irving Berlin's God Bless America began to be sung during the 7th Inning Stretch, either instead of or in addition to Take Me Out To The Ballgame.  It is played during every game at some ballparks, like Yankee Stadium, as well as at All Star Games and the playoffs and World Series.

Those who believe that this nationalist fervor is misplaced are shouted down.  When Toronto Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado refused to stand with his teammates during God Bless America in protest of the war in Iraq he was booed and roundly criticized.  In 2008, during a Yankee game, a fan who tried go to the bathroom while the song was playing was restrained and ejected.  Anyone who doesn't stand and remove their hat during either song will likely find a beer poured over their head. 

Baseball remains America's Pastime.  I don't understand, however, why we must reaffirm our love of this country -- including the 28% of  Major League Baseball players who are foreign born -- not once, but twice during a baseball game.  It seems to me that we show our faith in what is great about the United States by enjoying the great American game itself, and I truly believe there are few things more patriotic than standing up during the 7th Inning Stretch and singing about "peanuts and crackerjacks" at the old ballgame.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yes We Do!

“Fundamentally, what it really comes down to is providing love and care for all people, which I think is exactly what we’re called to as ministers.”  -- Rev. Jeff Wells
I am so proud of my very dear friend, Jeff Wells.  Jeff is a Methodist minister at the Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa, New York.  Along with other United Methodist pastors in New York and Connecticut, he signed a pledge to perform weddings for same-sex couples despite the denomination’s ban on gay marriage. 

The ministers' announcement of their intention to make weddings available to all marked the kick-off of a project called We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality. “We refuse to discriminate against any of God’s children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the New York Annual Conference, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression,” the group declared in statement called A Covenant of Conscience and signed by 162 clergy members, 721 lay people and six entire congregations.  

The ministers who have signed the pledge could be brought up on charges if they actually perform a gay wedding, which could lead to clergy orders being taken away.  Jeff believes it is important to act despite the risk:
The time has come when we simply have to take a stand against the discriminatory policies of our denomination.  I see myself as taking an action for the church because I believe that changing this discriminatory tradition is actually going to revitalize it.
 Amen to that.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Norman Solomon Is The Real Deal

As I have previously written, you won't find a better progressive candidate for Congress than Norman Solomon, who is running for a seat from the newly drawn North Coast, California district.

Solomon unequivocally supports the Occupy Wall Street movement, and says, "We need democracy, not “corporatocracy.”

In a recent article published in the Marin Independent Journal, Solomon finds it "appalling that the national government continues to dodge the dire need for massive federal jobs programs."  As a candidate for Congress, he is "committed to the goal of full employment" and is "determined to fight for it."
Trickle-down job creation is a failure. Many of the nation's largest corporations keep sitting on vast quantities of cash — with Wall Street's giants often posting record profits — while failing to hire Americans who are desperate for work.  The idea that big business needs even bigger tax breaks to get the country working again is grimly laughable.
Solomon suggests that to "see clear, beyond the current morass," we should look to the Great Depression, when "the federal government was ready,willing and able to take responsibility."
The New Deal — made possible by strong social movements, a willing Congress and a visionary in President Franklin D. Roosevelt — swept aside the nonsense of rigid ideologies. When business couldn't put the country back to work, the government

R.I.P. Christopher Johnson

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On October 20, 2011, Alabama executed Christopher Johnson, who was convicted of killing his infant son in 2005.  Despite Johnson's substantial history of mental illness, the trial judge granted his request to represent himself, and removed his attorneys, who were pursuing a not guilty by reason of insanity defense.

Christopher Johnson, as detailed by Equal Justice Initiative, had been in psychiatric hospitals throughout his childhood, had been prescribed anti-psychotic medications, and while awaiting trial refused to bathe, slammed his head against the wall of his cell, and attempted suicide by eating toilet paper.  Johnson was nevertheless permitted to act as his own lawyer and ask for the death penalty.  The judge and jury obliged.

Johnson was also allowed to represent himself on appeal.  His conviction and sentence were upheld by the state appellate court, and Johnson then waived the remainder of his appeals despite serious doubts about his competency to do so.  Alabama refused to appoint an attorney to represent Johnson in state or federal post-conviction proceedings, and as a result, Johnson was executed without any meaningful review of his case.

This is the 38th execution in the United States in 2011, the sixth in Alabama, which has the highest execution rate per capita in the country.

Media Alert: The GOP Jobs Plan Won't Create Jobs

Yesterday, the Senate Republicans blocked the Democrats' modest jobs bill that would have "saved or created hundreds of thousands of jobs through state aid, boosting teachers, police officers, and firefighters" and would have been paid for by "a 0.5% surtax on millionaires and billionaires."

OK, so what do the Republicans propose instead, I mean, when they are not too busy re-fighting the culture wars with attempts to further restrict women's reproductive rights?

The Republican plan consists of nothing more than the same tired, recycled policy ideas that will do nothing to stimulate the economy or help stem unemployment. We all know the litany by now:  less federal regulation, more tax cuts, and a balanced budget amendment.

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that the Republican leadership is simply not serious about job creation.  But the mainstream media refuses to expose the vacuity of the GOP's efforts.  Rather than doing some real reporting -- to determine whether Republican claims about their proposals have any validity -- they merely report about Democrat and Republican "competing" jobs plans.

Greg Sargent has been hammering the media for failing to aggressively report on the Republican plan.  As he complains, major news organizations are are not attempting to answer a critical question that is "at the heart of our politics," namely:  "are both parties making a serious and legitimate contribution to the debate over what to do about a severe national crisis that’s causing suffering among millions and millions of Americans? Or is only one party making a real contribution to that debate?"

The Washington Post finally did some fact-checking and, lo and behold, determined that the GOP claim that their plan would create five million jobs is "ludicrous" and that actually it "would do little to create jobs in the near future."

It is far past time for the rest of the mainstream media to subject the GOP "plan" to similar scrutiny.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Scooping Linda Greenhouse

The estimable Linda Greenhouse, who has been writing about the Supreme Court and other law-related matters for the New York Times for ever has a typically excellent column today, Actively Engaged, about how the right are now embracing judicial activism but have renamed it "judicial engagement."  Ms. Greenhouse admitted she had not heard of this new phrase until a couple of days ago.  Apparently, she is not reading her Fair and Unbalanced, as we covered this back in December 2010, in a piece called "Engaged Activism or Active Engagement." 

#OWS Quote Of The Day

So has the agitation of Occupy Wall Street begun to change the context of our discussion. Politicians and commentators who had been silent about economic inequality and the excesses of the financial sector are finally facing up to economic injustice and the irresponsibility of the financial elites. In the meantime, Obama’s moderation has won him absolutely nothing.
 -- E.J. Dionne

Will Obama’s Enviro Betrayals Cost Him in 2012?

By Mark Hertsgaard, cross-posted from his website

[Mark ghostwrote this editorial for The Nation]

“If he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t have said it.”  Referring to President Obama, environmental activist Bill McKibben was saying this a lot during the sit-ins he recently led outside the White House to urge Obama to block a climate-killing tar sands pipeline to run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  Two weeks of protest resulted in 1,253 arrests, making it the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of US environmentalism.  It concluded September 3, one day after Obama made one of the most fateful—and shameful—decisions of his presidency: ordering the EPA to delay new regulations on ozone emissions because the rules pose undue “burdens” on corporate polluters.

McKibben was urging Obama to live up to his 2008 pledge that in his presidency the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet begin to heal.  Of course, some might claim the standard to which McKibben is holding Obama is politically naïve.  Candidates for president routinely make promises they don’t keep.  But voters aren’t stupid.  What matters is why a candidate breaks a promise: is it because he won’t deliver, or he can’t?  If a president falls short because of circumstances beyond his control or insurmountable opposition, voters can understand and even forgive—if the president puts up a fight.  But if a president fails because of mistakes or weakness—if he is not seen as a strong leader—it leaves voters confused, demoralized and open to alternatives.

Obama has thirteen months to persuade voters that they should blame not him but the GOP for his presidency’s shortcomings.  He has much less time to convince the thousands of activists nationwide—who do the grunt work of getting out the vote—that he’s worth their sweat and sacrifices one more time.

It’s no secret that Obama is far from closing either deal, and the tar sands pipeline and ozone regulations demonstrate why.  Yes, the president has done some good things on the environment; the fuel efficiency standards he pushed through this year, for example, will significantly lower air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  But he has done bad things as well, including opening vast tracts of the West to coal mining and providing much more funding to nuclear and fossil fuel than to green alternatives.

Obama’s ozone decision, however, has provoked particular outrage, for four reasons.  First, by ordering the EPA to delay the promised ozone regulations, the president repudiated science; the independent panel of experts advising the EPA were unanimous in recommending the tougher regulations, which would reduce incidence of child asthma and avoid 12,000 deaths a year.  Second, Obama’s order was possibly illegal. The Clean Air Act expressly forbids the government to consider the economic impacts of its regulations; public health is the sole criterion (a stipulation upheld in 2001 by the Supreme Court, with none other than archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia writing the opinion). EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, who has described the existing regulations as “not legally defensible,” has now been undercut by her boss, raising questions about whether she—the administration’s strongest environmental voice—will resign. Third, in making his announcement, Obama channeled the antigovernment mantra of the Chamber of Commerce, citing “the importance of reducing regulatory…uncertainty,” thus buttressing the discredited argument that regulation costs jobs. Fourth, Obama blatantly double-crossed environmentalists, who were suing the EPA over these regulations when Obama took office. His aides persuaded them to drop the suit because Obama’s EPA would soon strengthen the regulations.

Overriding the EPA in this manner sets an ominous precedent for the tar sands decision, which Obama is scheduled to make by year’s end. Bear in mind, as the president likes to say, that both decisions are his alone; he can’t blame Congress for tying his hands. The EPA has twice lambasted reports by the State Department that absurdly claim that the Keystone XL pipeline—projected to transport the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth across 1,700 miles of North America, including the crucial Ogallala aquifer—would have “no significant environmental impact.” Citing the EPA’s estimate that the tar sands in Alberta, if burned, would emit 82 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuels, McKibben has called the pipeline “a fuse to the second-largest pool of carbon on the planet,” behind Saudi Arabia. The claim that the tar sands will reduce US dependence on petro-dictators is just as dubious. One of the refineries the pipeline will supply in Texas is half-owned by Saudi Arabia’s state oil company.

Mainstream voices tell progressives unhappy with Obama to grow up: your whining threatens to elect a Republican in 2012, who would be much worse. But they are the ones who aren’t savvy. Fear of the dark side will cause most of the Democratic base to give Obama their votes, but it will not be enough to persuade them to give up their evenings and weekends to get out the vote for him, to sway independent and undecided voters. It’s a normal reaction. If Obama approves the pipeline, explains Courtney Hight, his Florida youth-vote director in 2008 who was arrested in the protest outside the White House, “it is just human nature that the resulting disappointment will sap the enthusiasm that drove us to work so hard last time.”

Obama still has time to bring his message into line with the stirring vision he conveyed in 2008. Perhaps, however, he thinks he can win without a strongly motivated base, relying instead on the powers of incumbency, not least the enormous amounts of money he is raising. If he chooses that course and it fails, spare us any prattle about unsophisticated progressives being at fault. A defeated Obama will have no one to blame but himself.

Questions After Qaddafi

Muammar el-Qaddafi has reportedly been killed.  In the immediate aftermath, The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, as always, asks the right questions:   "If he was killed, how?  As a prisoner or a fugitive?  Was it a NATO strike, or was he shot in a gunfight?  Was he captured alive, and then killed?  (That matters, even for him.)  Who is left in his circle, who has been captured, will they be tried, and by whom?  Most of all, what comes next?"

And we can’t forget our own role there.
Libyans seized their country with their own hands and now will build their own future. But our planes and our bombs helped; we are involved. (Though it’s worth remembering, amid talk of the vindication of that decision, that Congress was not consulted, or not adequately; we need to have a better domestic conversation about that.) We didn’t want to turn away from the people of Benghazi; what is our responsibility for the settlement after the storm? Maybe there was golden pistol: there are, in war and peace, very few silver bullets.