Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Serious Reservations" About President Obama

It hardly matters that President Obama may have "serious reservations" about the indefinite detention provisions that he just signed into law as part of the defense spending bill.  And it provides little comfort that his signing statement purports to clarify that his "Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” or that he believes "that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation."

The problem, as David Dayen points out "was always about the codifying of indefinite military detention into the law, available for any future President to pick up and use."  Or as the ACLU puts it: "the statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield."
 
Dayen further explains:
The vagaries of the language in the statute, which allows for detentions of people “associated” with Al Qaeda, and the burden on Presidential waivers to avoid military detentions rather than an opt-in kind of process, make the language extremely unadvisable from the standpoint of the civil liberties community. However, it’s important to recognize that the Obama Administration really was already in practice allowing for the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects. They didn’t want language that hindered their counter-terrorism processes, particularly those of the FBI. That’s what they got out of the changes, so the codification really didn’t matter to them at that point. There are painfully few political actors in Washington opposed to this complete breach of the Constitutional right to due process.
So, President Obama, how about some Wilco to close out 2011?  Unfortunately, unlike the lyric, I do have reservations about you.  Serious reservations.

Another Year In Crazy

Tom Tomorrow's year in review encapsulates the utter absurdity of our political discourse over the past 12 months, particularly coming from the right.  As he says, 2011 brought "more lunacy than we could fit in an entire year's worth of cartoons," but he sure gave a valiant effort.

Here is the link to part one and here is part two.  As always, you can click on the Tom Tomorrow badge on the right side of this blog for the link to his latest strip.  Undoubtedly the craziness will continue, and lucky for us Tom Tomorrow will be there to capture it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Blog Essentials

After blogging for a little over a year it seems to me that the one invaluable skill I've brought to the endeavor is an ability to tune out so much of the noise and static that stands in for meaningful political discourse and tease out some of the essential issues, facts and insights that, in my view, deserve attention.  I have only been able to do this, however, by relying on other blogs which provide consistently inspired, incisive, and informative content.  

Taking a tip from Meteor Blades over at Daily Kos, who created a list of worthwhile blogs (somehow Fair and Unbalanced didn't make the cut), I thought I would create my own top 20.  So, here is a non-exclusive list of the bloggers who inspired and informed me in 2011, and who have made Fair and Unbalanced a far more interesting blog than if I had to come up with all this stuff on my own:

Amy Davidson, Robert Reich, Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Tom Engelhardt, Digby, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Adam Serwer, the folks at Campaign for America's Future (including Robert Borosage, Isaiah Poole, RJ Eskow, Dave Johnson), Jodi Jacobson and others at RH Reality Check, David Dayen, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Glenn Greenwald, Howie Klein, Meteor Blades, Joan McCarter, Laura Clawson and others at Daily Kos, and the writers at ThinkProgress, Talk Left, American Constitution Society and Other Words.

2011's Occupied Hearts And Minds

Compassion Is Our New Currency

By Rebecca Solnit, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

Usually at year’s end, we’re supposed to look back at events just passed -- and forward, in prediction mode, to the year to come. But just look around you! This moment is so extraordinary that it has hardly registered. People in thousands of communities across the United States and elsewhere are living in public, experimenting with direct democracy, calling things by their true names, and obliging the media and politicians to do the same.

The breadth of this movement is one thing, its depth another. It has rejected not just the particulars of our economic system, but the whole set of moral and emotional assumptions on which it’s based. Take the pair shown in a photograph from Occupy Austin in Texas.  The amiable-looking elderly woman is holding a sign whose computer-printed words say, “Money has stolen our vote.” The older man next to her with the baseball cap is holding a sign handwritten on cardboard that states, “We are our brothers’ keeper.”

The photo of the two of them offers just a peek into a single moment in the remarkable period we’re living through and the astonishing movement that’s drawn in… well, if not 99% of us, then a striking enough percentage: everyone from teen pop superstar Miley Cyrus with her Occupy-homage video to Alaska Yup’ik elder Esther Green ice-fishing and holding a sign that says “Yirqa Kuik” in big letters, with the translation -- “occupy the river” -- in little ones below.

The woman with the stolen-votes sign is referring to them. Her companion is talking about us, all of us, and our fundamental principles. His sign comes straight out of Genesis, a denial of what that competitive entrepreneur Cain said to God after foreclosing on his brother Abel’s life. He was not, he claimed, his brother’s keeper; we are not, he insisted, beholden to each other, but separate, isolated, each of us for ourselves.

Think of Cain as the first Social Darwinist and this Occupier in Austin as his opposite, claiming, no, our operating system should be love; we are all connected; we must take care of each other. And this movement, he’s saying, is about what the Argentinian uprising that began a decade ago, on December 19, 2001, called politica afectiva, the politics of affection.

If it’s a movement about love, it’s also about the money they so unjustly took, and continue to take, from us -- and about the fact that, right now, money and love are at war with each other. After all, in the American heartland, people are beginning to be imprisoned for debt, while the Occupy movement is arguing for debt forgiveness, renegotiation, and debt jubilees.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Occupy Congress: How The 99% Act Would Work

"The Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act," proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as previously noted, is the "most serious effort to bring together the tools needed to address today's economic crisis" and "is a direct answer to the economic anger at the heart of the Occupy movement."

Here are some of the key highlights of the bill with helpful infographics:
  • It would create more than 5 million jobs.
  • Impose new taxes for millionaires and Wall Street speculation
  • Add a public option to the Affordable Care Act
It would also:
  • Create a national infrastructure bank and invest in America
  • Eliminate handouts to big oil
  • End the wars and reduces Pentagon waste
  • Save $2.4 trillion over 10 years
This bill deserves attention and support.  As Isaiah Poole put it:
The Progressive Caucus legislation offers a different choice. We can put people to work today building the foundation of the economy of the future, or allow the stubborn subservience of congressional conservatives to millionaires and big corporations to cause more economic pain, widen the gulf between the very wealthy and struggling workers, and fuel more Occupy movements. 
Click here to endorse the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act.

Move Your Money To A Better Bank

By Andrew Korfhage, cross-posted from Other Words

During a key scene in the classic holiday film It's A Wonderful Life, savings-and-loan proprietor George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, memorably explains to the townspeople how his business works – that he's not sitting on piles of money just because he runs a small, local bank.

"Your money's not here," George tells the crowd. "It's in the Kennedy house and the MacLaren house, and a hundred others. You all put your savings in here and then we make loans to people to buy homes and cars and other things."

Alas, when you save or invest in big corporate banks in the 21st century, the bank isn't likely to explain to you, George-Bailey-style, how your money is going to work in the world. Imagine what it would be like if they would.

"Your money's not here," the bank might say. "It's financing fossil-fuel energy projects that are polluting our environment, or helping a corporation move jobs into overseas sweatshop factories. It's in the CEO bonus, and the CFO bonus, and a hundred others."

As Occupy Wall Street and related protests grew this fall, anger at the giant banks rightfully swelled as well, with a "Bank Transfer Day" declared for pulling money out of the big banks and moving to smaller local banks and credit unions. But not every news story covering this issue took note of the financial institutions specially designed to play a positive role in local communities.

Community development banks and credit unions — collectively called CDFIs, for "community development financial institutions" — direct their lending toward those who have been overlooked by conventional lenders. Unlike the conventional banks that contributed to the 2008 global economic crisis by lending out billions in unsound and predatory subprime mortgages that their borrowers couldn't repay, CDFIs take pride in their expertise with lower-income borrowers. They take the time to get to know their clients, determining what homeowners and small-business owners can actually afford.

With more of a community focus, CDFIs pursue reasonable, rather than excessive, rates of return. They target projects that lift up underserved communities, and boost local economies by financing small businesses that perform vital local services. By contrast, the New Rules Project reported in 2010 that the 20 biggest banks "devote only 18 of their commercial loan portfolios to small business," despite the clear need to spur small-business growth to jump-start our economy.

Where are the big banks directing all their money if they're not supporting small businesses? For one thing, mega-bank CEOs as a group have seen their pay skyrocket back to 2008 levels and higher. The Financial Times reports that big-bank CEO pay rose 36 percent in 2010, while average workers in private industry saw their pay rise only 2 percent.

If you'd rather see your banking and investment dollars going to improve your own community, rather than lining the pockets of CEOs or financing projects that don't match your values, there's an easy solution. When you pull your money out of your mega-bank and start banking with CDFIs, your old bank will hear your voice even louder and clearer than if you were standing on Wall Street with a bullhorn.

And you'll be joining a growing movement. Funds invested in CDFIs grew from $5 billion in assets to nearly $40 billion over the last decade. You can find lists of banks and credit unions maintained by the Community Development Bankers' Association (www.cdbanks.org) and the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (www.cdcu.coop). You can use these resources to find your own local "George Bailey" and make a New Year's resolution to make your banking part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Andrew Korfhage is Green America's online and special projects editor. www.greenamerica.org

Inspector General Okays Pentagon's Propaganda Machine

By Meteor Blades, cross-posted from Daily Kos



Bruce Ackerman writes:
This is a time of good cheer at the Pentagon—its watchdog, the inspector general, has just ruled that its Bush-era campaign to manipulate the media was entirely acceptable under Defense Department regulations. The report, dated Nov. 11, was held back until Christmas Eve, when it was released at the happiest time of the year. But we should not allow it to slip into oblivion.
No worries there. Since it's perfectly all right for the Pentagon to train and send scores of retired top officers out to spread propaganda that supports whatever project it has in mind—say another war of choice—we can expect to see it happen again in some new form.

It isn't bad enough that so many of these guys serve on the boards of the arms manufacturers. From those post-retirement perches, they work their past subordinates to obtain approval for the latest upgrade or new weapon. And they succeed by virtue of the fact it's hard to say no to someone who used to be your boss and may someday get you on the board of an arms maker. In addition, they now have the okay to get paid to shape public opinion as supposedly expert but objective analysts as long as they don't say anything contrary to what the Pentagon desires.

China Currency Manipulation -- From "Enough Is Enough" To "Not Enough To Certify"

By Dave Johnson, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

In November President Obama said, "enough is enough" to China's currency manipulations. Today the Treasury Department said it hasn't seen enough to call China a currency manipulator. This is happening because certain powerful interests are benefiting tremendously and using their wealth and power to keep things from changing.

China's Currency Manipulation
 
China manipulates its currency to keep it "undervalued." This means that things made there cost less in world markets than things made in other countries. The result is that manufacturing moves there, bringing them entire industries, supply chains, and the "industrial commons" of expertise, suppliers and culture that brings with it new businesses and industries. Many economists say that China's currency is undervalued by 25 to 40% meaning products made there have a 25-40% pricing advantage before any other advantages, subsidies, manipulations, etc. are considered. The currency it does not rise to market levels because China takes steps like preventing open trading and buying other currencies -- most of us wold call this manipulation -- to keep this from happening.

Instead of competing fairly China uses this manipulation and others, throwing world trade completely out of balance. Countries "make their living" by producing things and selling them to the rest of the world. This imbalance is costing our country jobs, factories, industries and trillions of dollars but we can't seem to get our government to do anything about it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Palate Cleanser: The National (with Bon Iver)

The National perform Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks with special guest Justin Vernon.

G.O.P.'s Ten Most Extreme Attacks On A Woman's Right To Choose

By Tanya Somanader, cross-posted from ThinkProgress

Tom Tomorrow
2011 marked a banner year in the Republican war on woman’s health. Close to 1,000 anti-abortion bills sped through state legislatures as the GOP-led House led a “comprehensive and radical assault” on a federal level. But in surveying their arsenal this year, 10 bills stood out as particularly perturbing and far-reaching efforts to stymie women’s access to abortion services, birth control, and vital health services like breast cancer screenings. Here are ThinkProgress’s nominations for the most extreme attacks on a woman’s right to choose:

Redefining Rape: Last May, every House Republican and 16 anti-choice Democrats passed H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act. Anti-choice activists Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) tried to narrow the definition of rape to “forcible rape,” which meant that women who say no but do not physically fight off the assault; women who are drugged or verbally threatened and raped; and minors impregnated by adults would not qualify for the rape and incest exception in the Hyde Amendment. Smith promised to remove the language but used “a sly legislative maneuver” that essentially informs the courts that statutory rape cases will not be covered by Medicaid should the law pass and be challenged in court.

Abortion Audits: The No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act also bans using tax credits or deductions to pay for abortions or insurance. Thus, a woman who used such a benefit would have to prove, if audited, that her abortion “fell under the rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exception, or that the health insurance she had purchased did not cover abortions.” This requirement turns the Internal Revenue Service into “abortion cops” who, agents noted, would have to force women to give “contemporaneous written documentation” that it was “incest, or rape, or [her] life was in danger” which made an abortion necessary.

Let Women Die: This October, House Republicans also passed the “Protect Life Act”, known by women’s health advocates as the “Let Women Die” bill. The measure allows hospitals that receive federal funds to reject any woman in need of an abortion procedure, even if it is necessary to save her life. Though federal law already prohibits federal funding of abortions, the GOP insisted that the health care law “contains a loophole that allows those receiving federal subsidies to use the money to enroll in health care plans that allow abortion services.”

Personhood: Mississippi entertained the idea of passing a “personhood” amendment to its constitution this year, one that defines a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” The measure’s “profoundly ambiguous” language regarding the definition of fertilization not only would ban all abortions, it could potentially outlaw birth control, stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization for couples struggling to conceive. Mississippians rejected the amendment but personhood activists are making headway with versions for other states and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is championing a national personhood amendment.

Growing Consensus That California's Death Penalty Must Be Replaced

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, after one year as the Chief Justice of the State of California, has concluded that the state's capital punishment system is "not effective" and requires "structural changes" that the state cannot afford.  Her predecessor, Ron George, who was Chief Justice for 15 years, came to the same conclusion, describing California's death penalty scheme is "dysfunctional."

These are two conservative jurists, appointed by Republican Governors, who with their fellow justices on the California Supreme Court have voted to uphold death sentences at an unprecedented rate.  But they have become disillusioned when confronted with a costly, time-consuming, unreliable and unworkable system that serves no useful purpose while draining judicial resources and diverting needed funds from true public safety programs.

As the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice concluded after its extensive review in 2008 of the state's death penalty system, death sentences are unlikely ever to be carried out (with extremely rare exceptions) because of a process “plagued with excessive delay” in the appointment of post-conviction counsel and a “severe backlog” in the California Supreme Court's review of death judgments.  According to CCFAJ's report, the lapse of time from sentence of death to execution constitutes the longest delay of any death penalty state.

California has a death row population close to 720, by far the largest in the nation.  But it has not carried out an execution since 2006, while the myriad problems with the state's lethal injection protocol continue to be litigated.  Only ten days ago, a state court held that the revised rules for carrying out executions are invalid because state officials again misapplied California's administrative law which sets out the proper rule-making procedures.  As a recent New York Times editorial stated:  "The process it used exemplifies California’s capital-punishment system — badly broken and in need of being permanently shut down."

The Times also referenced an "exhaustive study released last summer which found that since 1978 capital punishment has cost California about $4 billion."  This is the report by Arthur Alarcon, long-time judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, who, together with law professor Paula Mitchell, determined that California's death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year.  They concluded that "since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."

The views of the present and former Chief Justice reflect, as the Los Angeles Times reports, "a growing frustration with capital punishment even among conservatives and a resignation that the system cannot be fixed as long as California's huge financial problems persist."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

R.I.P. Austerity Economics (1921-2011)

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

This is the time of year when we're reminded of all the famous people who died over the last twelve months, a list which includes two of my favorite guitar players (Hubert Sumlin and Cornell Dupree). But there were also some notable non-human deaths in 2011, especially in the world of economic policy.

One of those deaths should have completely altered the political debate in Washington. The name of the deceased was "Austerity Economics," and it was first glimpsed in a 1921 paper by conservative economist Frank Wright. Austerity died of natural causes brought on by prolonged exposure to reality.

But the debate in Washington didn't change nearly enough after its passing. In the nation's capital, dead things still rule the night. 

Why Austerity?

"Austerity economics" backers claim that today's economic woes can only be fixed by dramatic reductions in government spending, which will lead to increased private-sector confidence and therefore to greater investment and growth.

But it's never worked. And if investors have lost confidence in the U.S. government's fiscal stability, they're sure not acting that way. There hasn't been this much demand for Treasury bonds since the government began tracking it twenty years ago, and they haven't performed as well since the go-go 1990s.

It's easy to understand austerity's attraction for power elites inside and outside of government. The people who suffer from austerity budgets aren't the kinds of people they know personally, since they're typically public employees like teachers, police, firefighters and the administrators of social programs; people who need government assistance, like the poor; and middle-class people with the temerity to either grow old or become disabled.

Austerity's attraction became even greater in the U.S. because once it became conventional wisdom that tax increases on the wealthy was "politically infeasible." That made it a program whose sole purpose was to cut government spending, lowering the pressure to increase taxes on the wealthy from today's historically low levels.

For a one-percenter, what's not to love? 

Robot Airplanes With Wings Of Clay

What a Busted Robot Airplane Tells Us About the American Empire in 2012 and Beyond
 By Nick Turse, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

The drone had been in the air for close to five hours before its mission crew realized that something was wrong.  The oil temperature in the plane’s turbocharger, they noticed, had risen into the “cautionary” range. An hour later, it was worse, and it just kept rising as the minutes wore on.  While the crew desperately ran through its “engine overheat” checklist trying to figure out the problem, the engine oil temperature, too, began skyrocketing.

By now, they had a full-blown in-flight emergency on their hands.  “We still have control of the engine, but engine failure is imminent,” the pilot announced over the radio.

Almost two hours after the first signs of distress, the engine indeed failed.  Traveling at 712 feet per minute, the drone clipped a fence before crashing.

Land of the Lost Drones

The skies seem full of falling drones these days.  The most publicized of them made headlines when Iran announced that its military had taken possession of an advanced American remotely piloted spy aircraft, thought to be an RQ-170 Sentinel.

Questions about how the Iranians came to possess one of the U.S. military’s most sophisticated pieces of equipment abound.  Iran first claimed that its forces shot the drone down after it "briefly violated" the country’s eastern airspace near the Afghan border.  Later, the Islamic Republic insisted that the unmanned aerial vehicle had penetrated 150 miles before being felled by a sophisticated cyber-attack.  And just days ago, an Iranian engineer offered a more detailed, but as yet unsubstantiated, explanation of how a hack-attack hijacked the aircraft.

For its part, the United States initially claimed that its military had lost the drone while it was on a mission in western Afghanistan.  Later, unnamed officials admitted that the CIA had, in fact, been conducting a covert spy operation over Iran.

The drone crash that led this piece did occur in Afghanistan -- Kandahar, to be precise -- in May of this year.  It went unreported at the time and involved not a sleek, bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, but the older, clunkier, if more famous, MQ-1 Predator, a workhorse hunter/killer machine of the Afghan war and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.

A document detailing a U.S. Air Force investigation of that Predator crash, examined by TomDispatch, sheds light on the lifecycle and flaws of drones -- just what can go wrong in unmanned air operations -- as well as the shadowy system of bases and units scattered across the globe that keep those drones constantly in the skies as the U.S. becomes ever more reliant on remote-controlled warfare.

That report and striking new statistics obtained from the military offer insights into underexamined flaws in drone technology.  They are also a reminder of the failure of journalists to move beyond awe when it comes to high-tech warfare and America’s latest wonder weapons -- their curious inability to examine the stark limitations of man and machine that can send even the most advanced military technology hurtling to Earth. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

G.O.P. In A Nutshell

DonkeyHotey
So what are the overarching characteristics of each of the hopefuls for the GOP nomination for president?  Newt Gingrich is mean-spirited, polarizing, arrogant and, as Paul Krugman said, "a stupid man's view of what a smart man sounds like;" Mitt Romney is a liar who will say anything and take any position to get elected; Ron Paul is an anti-Semitic, racist, homophobe; Rick Perry seems to be cognitively impaired, once accurately describing his own brain as "like chicken pot pie;" Michele Bachmann must be insane given the things that come out of her mouth; and Rick Santorum is a religious zealot obsessed with gay sex.

Robert Reich wrote last week that our democracy can't work when one of our two political parties is not "grounded in the realities of governing."  What is so disturbing about the half-dozen candidates who embody the hopes and dreams of the Republican Party is that they don't seem in to grounded in reality at all.

As We Leave Iraq, Remember How We Got In

By Eric Alterman.  This article was published by Center for American Progress

Two weeks ago in this space [at Center for American Progress], I employed the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to examine the unhappy precedent set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in failing to level with the American people about the level of conflict between the United States and the Axis Powers that preceded the attack.

Using this analogy, and speaking of the manner in which President Lyndon B. Johnson deliberately deceived the nation about the imaginary second Gulf of Tonkin incident and thereby entangled the nation in the unwinnable Vietnam War, I noted Sen. J. William Fulbright later remarked that “FDR’s deviousness in a good cause made it much easier for [LBJ] to practice the same kind of deviousness in a bad cause.

The consequences of President Johnson’s campaign of deliberate deception regarding Vietnam could hardly have been more catastrophic for the nation, the military, the president, his party, and the presidency itself. And while there is no reason to minimize either the level of lying or its consequences, one cannot be impressed by the refusal of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to learn from his mistake.

As we salute the final American soldiers leaving Iraq, we also remember the enormous costs paid not only by our soldiers and our nation but also denizens of the region, millions of whom were turned into refugees and injured, hundreds of thousands of whom were killed, and countless who were tortured or otherwise abused. But it behooves us to recall the underhanded manner in which President Bush and Vice President Cheney manipulated a quiescent press corps into making it appear as if an American invasion of a nation that had no intention of harming us (and next-to-no capacity to do so, regardless of intentions, as it turned out) was warranted.

At the same time, if we care about our nation’s ability to act as a democracy, we need to ask ourselves and our mainstream media hard questions about how it happened. To do so, I return to some of the research I undertook for When Presidents Lie (where specific citations for all of the quotes below can be found).

The almost ostentatious lack of concern for veracity was evident in almost every area of governance but was most prominent in the administration’s foreign policy pronouncements. Recall the famous (albeit anonymous) Bush press aide who, in response to a string of revelations of falsehoods relating to the president’s reasons for the invasion, replied, “The President of the United States is not a fact-checker.”

Yet the case President Bush made to convince the nation to embark on its first-ever “preventative” war was riddled with deception from start to finish. The examples of purposeful fraud in the Bush White House’s portrayal of the level of alleged threat to Americans’ safety and security posed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein are so extensive that only a few examples can be offered here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Duke's Nutcracker

  Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's inspired arrangement of Tchaikovsy's Nutcracker Suite is my personal holiday favorite.  Here is the Overture faithfully performed by Wynton Marsalis' Lincon Center Jazz Orchestra in 2001.  The original (Duke's not Pyotr's) from 1960 can be found on an album entitled "Three Suites."

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Democrats Win A Round, Need To Keep Fighting

It is a relief to see Republicans finally being portrayed in the media as unreasonable, recalcitrant extremists, with the Democrats as the steadfast protectors of the middle class.  But before we gloat too much, we must keep in mind the concessions the Democrats gave to get to this point and that negotiations for a year-long extension will soon commence with Republicans unlikely to be in any mood to compromise and Democrats unlikely to learn from their recent success.  (Looking ahead, Steve Benen warns, "the House GOP leadership has already announced its slate of members to participate in the conference committee, and not coincidentally, most of them have said they don’t want a payroll-cut extension no matter what concessions Democrats are willing to make.")

Greg Sargent writes that this was a "very significant victory" for Obama and the Democrats, and "stands as an all too rare example of what can happen when they draw hard lines and refuse to budge, secure in the knowledge that the public is on their side."  Sargent also provides some key caveats.  First, are the Democrats' significant concessions:  "They dropped the millionaire surtax (which had very broad public support) and agreed to an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline."  Second, the Democrats were only able to stand tough because of a unique turn of events:  "Either through a failure of communication among GOP leaders or a bad misjudgment of sentiment in the House GOP caucus, a bizarre situation developed which gave Dems all the leverage and left the House GOP with none."  And third, Sargent reminds us, "this is the only piece of Obama’s jobs plan that Dems have been able to pressure Republicans into supporting."

Isaiah J. Poole explains how we got here and what must be done in the battle ahead:

The Next Fight For The 99%

By Isaiah J. Poole, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

Consider House Speaker John Boehner's U-turn on a temporary extension of a payroll tax holiday a temporary retreat. The tea-party Republicans who lead Boehner show no signs of actually moderating their agenda, and that will make next year's fight to continue the payroll tax for a full year no less intense than this week's nail-biter.

We're going to have to keep the pressure on congressional Republicans. When it comes to anything related to the economy, they are still in the hostage-taking business. They will still make unacceptable demands on behalf of their conservative and corporate overlords in exchange for the ability of ordinary Americans to have the wherewithal to make it from week to week.

Why The Republican Crackup Is Bad For America

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more profoundly than at any time since the GOP’s eclipse in 1932. That’s bad for America.
The crackup isn’t just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.

Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for it.

Not just Speaker John Boehner, who keeps making agreements he can’t keep, versus Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who keeps making trouble he can’t control.

And not just venerable Republican senators like Indiana’s Richard Lugar, a giant of foreign policy for more than three decades, versus primary challenger state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who apparently misplaced and then rediscovered $320 million in state tax revenues.

Some describe the underlying conflict as Tea Partiers versus the Republican establishment. But this just begs the question of who the Tea Partiers really are and where they came from.

The underlying conflict lies deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.

As Michael Lind has noted, today’s Tea Party is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority – predominantly Southern, and mainly rural – that has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

History Is Made With New EPA Rules For Cutting Mercury Emissions

"These standards are 22 years in making. They are what the American people deserve after waiting so long.  My belief is that if we started hiring engineers instead of lobbyists and  . . .  scientists instead of lawyers, we would be able to do our job for the American people."  -- EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
As Republicans deny any benefit for babies and pregnant women from reducing mercury levels, President Obama's EPA issued the first ever national standards to cut mercury emissions from coal-fired and oil-fired power plants.  As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health."

David Roberts explains why the new rules are such a "bona fide big deal"
Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live. […]
[T]his is an historic day and a real step forward for the forces of civilization. It’s the beginning of the end of one of the last of the old-school, 20th-century air pollution problems…. Long after everyone has forgotten who “won the morning” in the fight over these rules, or what effect they had on Obama’s electoral chances, the rule’s legacy will live on in a healthier, happier American people.

Last Call For Obama To Veto The NDAA

By Nicole Flatow, cross-posted from American Constitution Society

Following Congress’s enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act with some tweaks to the detainee provisions, the White House put out a statement that President Obama’s advisers would no longer recommend he veto the law.

Most have viewed this as an indirect announcement from Obama himself that the veto is off the table. But the Brennan Center for Justice’s Elizabeth Goitein reminds Obama in a column for The Hill that he alone will make the decision, and that it’s not too late to “reject this historic affront to our liberty and our security.”

“It would be extraordinary for the president to change course now,” writes Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security. “But to sign a bill that permits the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without charge, erects pointless barriers to law enforcement’s counterterrorism efforts, and requires the detention of innocent people would be even more extraordinary.”

Disappointment among civil libertarians has been widespread, with the Center for Constitutional Rights saying Obama has made a “choice with chilling consequences” and Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth warning, "By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law."

Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole explains in The New York Review of Books why the bill, even as amended, “continues to contain extraordinarily dangerous principles”:

It creates a presumption in favor of indefinite military detention for foreign al-Qaeda suspects, even if a criminal arrest and prosecution would be the preferred course. And it imposes this presumption even for foreigners caught within the United States. While the law permits the president to waive that, the presumption is still wrong: given its inconsistency with basic principles of due process, indefinite military custody should be the last, not the first resort.

Equally problematic, the law puts Congress’s stamp on a dubious—and untested—interpretation of military detention authority. The law provides that indefinite detention without charge may be imposed on anyone who has provided “substantial support” to groups that are “associated forces” of al-Qaeda; but it leaves undefined what constitutes “substantial support” and which groups might qualify as “associated forces.” Thus far, the lower federal courts have upheld detention of al-Qaeda or Taliban members, but not mere supporters, much less supporters of associated forces. And there is much dispute about whether the laws of war permit detention in those circumstances. Now Congress has essentially predetermined that question. Unless this and future administrations construe these provisions as limited by the laws of war, they risk authorizing detention that the laws of war would not.

Most disturbingly, the law still effectively prevents President Obama from closing Guantanamo. He can’t use any funds to build or modify a facility in the United States to house Guantanamo detainees—a necessary precondition to closing the prison. He cannot transfer any Guantanamo detainee to the United States, even to face criminal trial. And he cannot release any detainee to another country without meeting onerous certification requirements regarding that country’s security measures that, until now, have proven impossible to meet. (To its credit, the administration did get the conference committee to water down the certification requirements somewhat, but it still seems unlikely that they will be met.)

Bank Of America Settlement: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

The Obama Administration announced a $335 million settlement deal with Bank of America to settle charges of discriminatory lending practices. Here is, in ascending order of importance, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Justice Department deserves praise for responding to illegal bank behavior more aggressively than it's done in the past. So does the Occupy movement, and so do the many Americans who have expressed their outrage over the lack of prosecutions and sweetheart bank deals. Without them it's unlikely we'd be seeing a deal like this at all.

But while the Justice Department has taken a first step, the proposed agreement seems designed to do only the bare minimum its framers hoped would be needed to quell public outrage. While it will be sold as bold and decisive, it's not. In fact, this deal perpetuates some of the worst failings of past settlements the government's made with big banks.

As we said, it has good features. But where it's ugly, it's very ugly indeed. Hopefully the judge who reviews it will bear that in mind.

The Good

First, let's offer some positive reinforcement for our leaders in Washington: The agreement is meant to settle charges that Countrywide, which is now owned by Bank of America, systematically discriminated against African American and Latino homeowners in issuing loans. Discriminatory lending is endemic in the banking industry and can take a variety of forms, including charging higher interest rates for minorities, pressuring borrowers to exclude their spouses from mortgages, and predatory lending practices which target minority communities.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Palate Cleanser: Los Campesinos

By Your Hand by Los Campesinos! from their new album Hello Sadness.

Drones Are Coming To America

The ACLU has released an important report on the domestic use of drone aircraft by law enforcement and what protections must be implemented to protect our privacy.

Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft

Cross-posted from the ACLU website

Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life. Many Americans have heard of these aircraft, commonly called “drones,” because of their use overseas in places like Afghanistan and Yemen. But drones are coming to America, and, as an ACLU report concludes, protections must be put in place to guard our privacy. Download the report »

As technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, and interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing around the country, our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values.

In early 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to propose new rules to make it much easier for law enforcement agencies to gain permission to use drones in the U.S. If the FAA is unable to implement the needed reforms, then Congress must act.

The ACLU’s report outlines a set of protections that would help protect Americans’ privacy in the coming world of domestic drones. The report recommends that drones should not be deployed unless there are grounds to believe that they will collect evidence on a specific crime. If a drone will intrude on reasonable privacy expectations, a warrant should be required. The report also calls for restrictions on retaining images of identifiable people, as well as an open process for developing policies on how drones will be used. Download the report »

Routine aerial surveillance in American life would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States. Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a “surveillance society” in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities.

Download the report, “Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft” »

"The Protester" Becomes Time's Person Of The Year, Wants More

By J.A. Meyerson, cross-posted from Truthout

Time Magazine Wednesday announced that its 2011 Person of the Year would be "The Protester." In the feature by Kurt Anderson, Time charts the wave of protests that defined 2011, from the Middle East to Europe to the United States and even, lately, to Russia.

By way of prognosticating where from here, Anderson confesses that "as long as government in Washington - like government in Europe - remains paralyzed, I don't see the Occupiers and Indignados giving up or losing traction or protest ceasing to be the defining political mode. After all, the Tea Party protests subsided only after Tea Partyers achieved real power in 2010 by becoming the tail wagging the Republican Party dog. When radical populist movements achieve big-time momentum and attention, they don't tend to stand down until they get some satisfaction."

In that analysis is contained the primary misunderstanding that underlies so much of the mainstream media's coverage of Occupy and its international brothers and sisters (and leads to such widespread misunderstanding about the nature of the movement). This year's "Protester" was not protesting government paralysis.

Governments are not the primary bearers of power in the geopolitical landscape. Bigger things are at work, and the biggest of these is the globalization of capital. Governments are, in fact, toppling in Europe because the political superstructures of the democratic world are so dearly at the mercy of the international financial class. Already in Greece and Italy (a country with a bigger economy than India's, borrowing at 7.2 percent), the democratic leadership has been replaced by what the media euphemistically call "technocrats" - really, these are bankers who have performed coups d'etat.

The Defining Issue: Not Government's Size But Who It's For

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

The defining political issue of 2012 won’t be the government’s size. It will be who government is for.
Americans have never much liked government. After all, the nation was conceived in a revolution against government.

But the surge of cynicism now engulfing America isn’t about government’s size. The cynicism comes from a growing perception that government isn’t working for average people. It’s for big business, Wall Street, and the very rich instead.

In a recent Pew Foundation poll, 77 percent of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.

That’s understandable. To take a few examples:

Wall Street got bailed out but homeowners caught in the fierce downdraft caused by the Street’s excesses have got almost nothing.

Big agribusiness continues to rake in hundreds of billions in price supports and ethanol subsidies. Big pharma gets extended patent protection that drives up everyone’s drug prices. Big oil gets its own federal subsidy. But small businesses on the Main Streets of America are barely making it.

American Airlines uses bankruptcy to ward off debtors and renegotiate labor contracts. Donald Trump’s businesses go bankrupt without impinging on Trump’s own personal fortune. But the law won’t allow you to use personal bankruptcy to renegotiate your home mortgage.

If you run a giant bank that defrauds millions of small investors of their life savings, the bank might pay a small fine but you won’t go to prison. Not a single top Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for Wall Street’s mega-fraud. But if you sell an ounce of marijuana you could be put away for a long time.

Not a day goes by without Republicans decrying the budget deficit. But the biggest single reason for the yawning deficit is big money’s corruption of Washington.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Politifacts Are Apparently Not Stubborn Things

As Adam Serwer astutely points out, the only reason there is such a thing as Politifact is because the mainstream media has abdicated what should be its responsibility -- objectively fact-checking the statements made by politicians and determining their validity.   The media's commitment to balance, or as Eric Alterman puts it "the time-honored MSM tactic of false equivalence," has left a void in the political discourse filled by fact-checkers tasked with determining what is true and what is false.  But since Politifact picked Republican talking points as the "Lie of the Year" in each of the past two years, it felt pressure to pick a Democratic one this time around.  So, as Serwer states, to avoid another avalanche of conservative criticism, Politifact has "proven that fact-checking organizations are themselves vulnerable to the very problem that spurred their existence in the first place: A media tradition of 'objectivity" in which 'fairness' to competing sides of an argument overwhelm journalists' commitment to reporting what is true, and what is not."  -- Lovechilde


 Politifact Kills Its Credibility

By Dave Johnson, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

If you take a government program, change everything about it, destroy its core purpose, but keep the same name, is it the same program? Politifact.com says yes, and even goes so far as to say it is "The Lie Of The Year" to say it isn't -- because it still has the same name.

Early this year Republicans voted to privatize Medicare, ending it as a government insurance program, instead giving limited vouchers to people to use to purchase private insurance. Everything about the program would change, and because of the loss of economy-of-scale that government provides the costs to seniors would be much higher while the coverage would be lower. This would effectively end the program.

Americans were outraged by this. People love Medicare, and depend on it. And the cost-shifting these changes would bring mean that the cost to the larger economy would greatly increase. But since government wasn't paying those costs anymore, the pressure to raise taxes on the 1% would go down.

People took up arms that Republicans were trying to end Medicare. Newspaper editorials expressed shock and outrage. Bloggers were angry. Politicians pledged to run against Republicans who voted for this plan to end Medicare.

Enter Politifact.com

Politifact.com's About page says, "PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners to help you find the truth in politics." The look at statements, research the facts, "then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False and False."

Politifact examined the statements that Republicans voted to "end Medicare" and decided this was a "lie" -- because the program would continue to have the same name. This week Politicat doubled down on this absurd conclusion, saying that claiming the program would end is the "Lie Of The Year."

That's right, they say it is "The Lie Of The Year" to say that a program ends, as long as there still exists a program with the same name. 

From Nixon To Newt: Why We Must Honor The Rule Of Law

"When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."  -- Richard Nixon

DonkeyHotey
When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country."  He should have considered the longer term.  We may have been spared short-term trauma, but Ford's pardon guaranteed that future high government officials would feel unconstrained by the checks and balances of the other branches of government.

Next came Iran-Contra. While the Republicans stacked the joint legislative committee undertaking the investigation with the conservative wing of their party (e.g., then-Representative Cheney), the Democrats relied mostly on moderates, and thus the committee members were skewed toward those who were disinclined to probe very vigorously.  By rashly granting immunity to key witnesses such as Ollie North, the committee undermined prosecutions by an independent counsel.  The Iran-Contra Affair culminated in the pardon by first President Bush of several participants who had been implicated.  The lesson that the president and his circle had nothing to fear from overriding the will of Congress was reaffirmed.

President Obama has refused to seek any meaningful investigation of his predecessor's "War on Terror," despite substantial evidence --indeed, admissions -- that wiretapping laws were broken and torture was authorized at the highest levels.  Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”  Thus, once again a clear signal was provided to future presidents that there would be no consequences for abuse of power.

President Obama maintains that he is committed to the rule of law and won't authorize torture.  And as he is about to sign a defense spending bill that will authorize the President of the United States to order indefinite detention of suspect terrorists without charges or court hearing, we are supposed to feel assured that Obama won't wantonly abuse this power.  But even assuming, without conceding, that Barack Obama is scrupulous in his respect for civil liberties and human rights, what is to stop the next president? 

Newt Gingrich has such disdain for the rule of law and the separation of powers that, as president, he would refuse to follow Supreme Court rulings he believed were incorrectly decided.  He rejects the long-standing principle of judicial review by which the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of whether legislation or executive branch actions are constitutional.  He believes it would be proper for Congress to subpoena federal judges, and he would be willing to abolish federal courts if they issued rulings with which he disagrees.

The Supreme Court's 2008 decision that the Bush Administration exceeded its constitutional authority in handling suspected terrorist detainees at Guantanamo would have been rejected by Gingrich if he were president:  “A commander in chief could simply issue instructions to ignore it, and say it’s null and void and I do not accept it because it infringes on my duties as commander in chief to protect the country." 

Gingrich's views on the powers of the presidency, whether you call them radical or simply bat-shit crazy, provide us with a jarring reminder of why a true reckoning of a prior administration's misdeeds is so essential and why enshrining into law provisions on indefinite detention which provide even greater discretion to the executive branch is so troubling.

Monday, December 19, 2011

There They Go Again: Rebublicans Sabotaging The Economy

By Isaiah J Poole, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

House Speaker Boehner
House Republicans are expected later today to engage in yet another one of their acts of economic sabotage. After a rare bipartisan agreement in the Senate to temporarily extend a worker payroll tax break and extended unemployment benefits for two months, getting both initiatives past a December 31 deadline and giving Congress more time to work out the details of a full-year extension, House Republicans aim to wreck it in their Tea-Party drunken rage.

Never mind that their refusal to accept "yes" for an answer even to some of their more egregiously out-of-line demands—such as their demand for expedited consideration of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that President Obama had earlier threatened to veto if it appeared in the payroll tax cut extension—will take billions of dollars out of workers' take-home pay, thus slowing a fragile economy and killing jobs.

"There they go again. The country needs these measures to infuse cash into the economy and the Republicans torpedo them for political reasons,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, in a news statement today. “House Republicans claim they support extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance, but every time Congress gets close, they add on onerous conditions or renege on previous deals. We call that sabotage.”

“Even if you passed the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance, the government would still be doing less to boost the economy than they did last year, which is folly with 23 million Americans unemployed,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “The Republican House Majority has blocked every proposed bill that would actually create jobs. They have forced the U.S. into austerity. It’s either pure blind stupidity or craven treachery designed for a political purpose.”

Borosage said, “If we don’t assume the Republicans are dim-witted, the only conclusion is that they are happy to go contribute to mass unemployment that they can blame the President for.”

The Trial Of Bradley Manning: Intimidation, Retaliation, Retribution

By Ann Wright, cross-posted from WarIsACrime.org (formerly AfterDowningStreet)

Yesterday, December 16, 2011, 40 supporters of Bradley Manning saw him in person in the military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland and another 60 saw him on a video feed from the court, the first time Manning has been seen by the public in 19 months.  Over 100 other supporters, including 50 from Occupy Wall Street who had bused down from New York City, were at the front gates of Fort Meade in solidarity with Manning.

Hundreds of supporters will gather today, Saturday, December 17, for a large rally and march.
For his first court appearance, Bradley was in what looked to be a new military uniform and typically military, he had a fresh haircut.  He was not in shackles in the courtroom, but it appeared in a photo that he was shackled in the van that brought him to the court. Manning talked freely with his civilian defense counsel and his two military legal counsels.

He did not turn around and look at the people in the court, but as he was brought in and taken out during the various recesses of the court, he no doubt noticed supporters in Bradley Manning t-shirts.
Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for 19 months, since May, 2010, without a trial.  Yesterday, December 16, 2011, an Article 32 hearing began at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which an investigating officer will determine whether there is sufficient evidence of the crimes with which the military has charged him for the case to be referred to a General court-martial.

In July, 2010, Manning was charged with transferring classified information onto his personal computer and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source.  22 more crimes were charged in March 2011, including "aiding the enemy," a capital offense.  Defense Department prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. In April, 2011, Manning was found fit to face a court martial.

Vaclav Havel: Living In Truth

By Mary Kaldor, cross-posted from openDemocracy

It is hard to imagine a world without Vaclav Havel. Human, self-deprecating, witty and even absurdist, often wrong as well as right, he represented a rare voice of integrity, courage and optimism in an era that is depressingly lacking in political leadership. His autobiography To the Castle and Back captures the quintessentially Czech character of his life – a fairytale in which a dissident playwright becomes a President in Kafka’s castle and later returns to not quite normal life. It is introspective and gloomy yet pierced through with new projects and jokes. For example, he describes how he nearly had a nervous breakdown when half-cooked potatoes were served to the Japanese Emperor. ‘Fortunately, he understood this to be a Czech culinary speciality.’ He also explains that now he is no longer president, nobody knows what to call him: Mr President, Mr Former President or even just Mr Havel. ‘It’s only a matter of time before someone addresses me as “Mr former Havel”’

I first met Vaclav Havel at a meeting in Prague in 1988 that was supposed to bring together the West European peace movement and Charter 77. Unfortunately, we were all arrested and the foreigners were thrown out of the country, accused of being ‘NATO agents posing as tourists’. (Coincidentally, Christopher Hitchens, who also died this week was also there and, like me, was forced to spend our visit to Prague in police stations and the airport). Long before that meeting, however, I had been in correspondence with Havel and he had been a regular contributor to the European Nuclear Disarmament Journal, which I edited during the 1980’s.

When I first came across Havel’s ideas and the ideas of the Czech intellectuals around him, it seemed to me that they had discovered a new conceptual language in which to express the kind of politics that I was engaged in. Many of them had become window cleaners or boiler stokers or like Havel, spent time in prison in the ‘normalisation’ after 1968 and they had used the time to read and think. Havel invented concepts like ‘Anti-Politics’– a sphere of society that escapes the total hold of the overbearing state; ‘Living in Truth’– the notion of refusing the lies of the political class; or the ‘parallel polis’– the idea of an Aristotelian polis organised around the good life which would, as it were, spread out and gradually chip away at the formal political institutions. In ‘The Power of the Powerless’ Havel described the grocer who puts the slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite’ in his shop window, not because he believes it but as a badge of loyalty. His emphasis on acting autonomously according to one’s conscience and on human solidarity guided his politics throughout his life.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jazz You Can Believe In

Sonny Rollins was honored by President Obama and the Kennedy Art Center earlier this month, as an American whose "artistry has contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world.”  Indeed.

Rollins is the eighth jazz musician recognized with Kennedy Center Honors.  (The other seven:  Ella Fitzgerald (1979), Count Basie (1981), Benny Goodman (1982), Lena Horne (1984), Dizzy Gillespie (1990), Lionel Hampton (1992) and Dave Brubeck (2009).)

In a tribute to Rollins, posted in September on his 81st birthday, I quoted one critic who aptly said, Rollins is "the single most enduring tenor saxophonist of the bebop and hard bop era, but also the greatest contemporary jazz saxophonist of them all."  Click here to enjoy an epic performance of St. Thomas from 1968, and here, for a discussion of one of his many great albums, Way Out West.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cesaria Evora (1941-2011)

Cesaria Evora, the "Barefoot Diva," died today at the age of 70.  The Cape Verdean singer had a "voice to melt the soul."

From Moneyball To Girls Softball

Michael Lewis is a brilliant writer who can tell a riveting story about inside baseball as well as about inside Wall Street.  He and I have crossed paths on the softball diamond as head coaches of opposing teams comprised of seven and eight-year old girls.  (I won't say who won.)  Here is his piece about our remarkable league. -- Lovechilde

By Michael Lewis, cross-posted from Berkeleyside

One of the striking traits about Berkeley is the competitive spirit its residents bring to seemingly uncompetitive activities. They may not be playing the same game as everyone else, or be willing to admit an interest in victory, but the games they play, they play to win.

In addition to a lot of obvious intellectual and artistic achievement, our population can go head to head with any in its capacity to find what is morally objectionable in common foodstuffs; in its ability, as pedestrians, to make life miserable for automobiles; in its sensitivity to the presence of petroleum in products; and in its willingness to express political opinions, especially on bumper stickers. If the Olympic Committee ever were to replace cycling with recycling, our residents would not only take home all the medals, but know exactly which colored bin to put them in. And of course our tree sitters would kick the butts of tree sitters in any other similarly sized city.

That other people — people who do not live in Berkeley — not only fail to recognize a ferocious search for excellence in any of this  behavior, but actually mock it as “liberal” or “pinko”, is simply a failure of their small imaginations: in a world that appreciates only track and field events, we’re the curlers.

But, because Berkeley so often feels as if it is winning at games others do not play, it comes as fresh and surprising when Berkeley plays, and wins, at games that others do play. Softball, for instance.

The Albany Berkeley Girls Softball League is approaching its 30th season. By the American standards of girls’ softball leagues, it is, as people who do not live in Berkeley might suspect, a little quirky.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Perfect Microcosm

I previously wrote how the Republican Party's refusal to agree to extend the payroll tax cut for another year as long as Democrats insist on paying for it with a surtax on income of more than $1 million would have provided a perfect illustration of the stark difference between the two parties.  But the Democrats dropped the surtax in an effort to get the Republicans to agree on the tax cut extension.  Republicans, of course, still refuse to budge. 

Basically, Republicans in Congress are mean-spirited, unprincipled, greedy, out-of-touch nihilists.  They could care less about jobs or deficits.  They don't care about the planet.  They don't care about governing, really, except when it comes to protecting the 1%.  Democrats may evince more concern for working people and non-working people but they are too ineffectual to be of much use.  Since it doesn't matter to Republicans whether the government shuts down, whether the unemployed continue to get benefits or whether the middle class get a tax cut, they can make outrageous demands knowing that Democrats will eventually cave.

True to form, the Democrats compromise on the payroll tax cut extension by letting go of their key demand -- the surtax on millionaires.  The Republicans first say that doesn't count as a compromise since Republicans were never going to agree to it anyway.  Then they insist on their key demand -- that any payroll tax extension must be tied to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and refuse to back down.

As Steve Benen asks and then answers:  "Are Republican leaders seriously taking the position that taxes should go up for 160 million Americans unless they get the Keystone XL pipeline?  Yes, that’s pretty much the GOP position."   (Putting aside the devastating impact to the environment, the pipeline, contrary to the Republican claims, would create few jobs.  As ThinkProgress reports, "the only independent analysis into the pipeline found that just 500 to 1400 temporary construction jobs will be created, 'with a negative long-term economic impact.'”)

And the Democrats' response?

UPDATE:   "Senate leaders have agreed to a plan that will prevent key policies, including a two percent payroll tax cut for employees, from lapsing on January 1, 2012, according to top aides. But the agreement will only extends the measures for two months, setting Democrats and Republicans up to relitigate this same fight fight early next year. And it comes at a political cost to Democrats who were forced to relent on a provision forcing President Obama to take a public position on the Keystone XL oil pipeline."