Thursday, May 31, 2012

Portrait Of A Failed Presidency

Robbie Conal
George W. Bush is returning to the White House today on occasion of the unveiling of his official portrait. This one would do nicely.

The Ginned Up Race War Of 2012

By Sally Kohn, cross-posted from Colorlines
“The secret of Republican political success since the rise of the right is not, as many liberals believe, that they play no-rules hardball. Instead, it’s their skill at projection—at accusing Democrats of doing what they are doing themselves, or are planning to do, or have done.”
Michael Tomasky, Daily Beast
Nothing stirs up white racial anxiety in an election year like a black-against-white race war. Never mind the fact that there isn’t one. When has that ever stopped the inventive right wing?

Those of us living in the world of objective facts and reality might be mistaken for thinking that the United States remains an at best well-intentioned, but nonetheless deeply hostile nation toward its communities of color. In New York City, reports have shown that in 2011, police conducted 685,724 street stop and frisks (up from 97,000 in 2002). Young black and Latino men between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of those stopped—although they are only 4.7 percent of the city’s population. In Missouri, a black man named George Allen has been in prison for almost 30 years for allegedly murdering a white woman, a crime that mounting evidence suggests Allen did not commit. Last month, a black woman named Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a single warning shot into the kitchen ceiling of her home to warn off her abusive husband and protect her three children.

But according to conservative media, exactly the opposite is occurring. Conservatives allege there is a growing but underreported black-versus-white race war in America.

There’s no data, of course, just some strung together anecdotes—namely, one about two white newspaper reporters who, while driving through Norfolk, Va., were attacked by a group of young black kids. The media didn’t pounce on the story—even the reporters’ own newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, only mentioned the incident in an opinion piece two weeks later. Conservatives, who actually love to talk about race and racism when they can do so with their fingers pointing at people of color and liberals, pounced on the story as evidence of media bias. The lamestream media was all over the Travyon Martin story but ignored the beating of whites by black kids. That, conservatives screamed, is racial bias.

Mind you, the two reporters in the Virginia incident weren’t hospitalized for their injuries, let alone killed. Local police moved quickly to investigate and three days after the incident was first reported by the paper, police arrested one teen, charging him with throwing a rock at the reporters’ car (a felony) as well as related misdemeanors. By comparison, George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested until almost two months after he shot Trayvon Martin, and only then as a result of community pressure. Only those desperate to distract from productive conversations about racial bias and injustice and return American attention to reinforcing racial stereotypes and hierarchies could manage to find anything comparable between the Trayvon Martin case and the Virginia incident.

Even most white conservatives know better than to use the term “race war” to describe this concocted, black-against-white threat. Fortunately, conservatives have Thomas Sowell. In a widely circulated, syndicated column for the National Review entitled “The Censored Race War,” the black conservative wrote:
What the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress is that the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places. If there is anything worse than a one-sided race war, it is a two-sided race war, especially when one of the races outnumbers the other several times over.
Sowell is either intentionally feeding the idea that blacks like himself are more dangerous and violent than whites or unwittingly providing cover for those who seek to do so.

The root of inequality is the simple but sinister idea that some people are inherently inferior to others. I’ll give Sowell and other conservative media figureheads the benefit of the doubt that they do not personally believe young black men are inherently more dangerous and violent, but that’s all the more reason not to play into such biases and fan the flames of white racial anxiety. Sowell and others should understand that, in America today, this is how racism operates—not primarily through explicit epithets and force but through subtle winks and nods to the prejudices on which our society remains built.

The Virginia case specifically and the manufactured race war in general conveniently feed a larger conservative narrative this election year—reminding white America of how dangerous and scary black men are and how white people, especially white men, are the victims. Despite the fact that, yes, a lot of white folks voted for President Obama in 2008, most didn’t and according to a post-election study by a researcher at Harvard, racial animus cost Obama anywhere from three to five percentage points in the 2008 popular vote. In what is shaping up to a be a tight re-election battle, a few percentage points can really matter.

In addition, the 2012 election will likely be less about independent voters (who polls indicate may split fairly evenly between Romney and Obama) than about voter turnout in each party’s base. Republicans know they have an enthusiasm gap—even now that the primaries are over, Republicans say the main reason they support Romney simply because he’s “not Obama.” Yet in 2008 exit polling, 24 percent of American voters said they were “scared” by the prospect of Barack Obama being elected president. Of those, 95 percent voted Republican. Gin up fear, win the election.

I’m not saying racial animus is the only way to stoke white conservative fear in an election. But it’s sure a popular choice, one we have already seen that Republican Super PACs are pursuing. And we can see this at play in other campaigns too, including the fact that Scott Brown has tried far harder to portray Elizabeth Warren as a person of color than she ever did herself, desperately hoping to increase his own margin of the racial animus vote.

Things really are bad for most white men in America today, just like they are for the rest of us. Jobs are disappearing and so are the public benefits that have traditionally supported them in times of need. And if the present seems bad, the future seems even worse, as public schools implode and college tuition gets further out of reach. Anger is a powerful motivator.

Republicans can’t risk white voters realizing that conservative policies have caused their suffering. And though President Obama’s own record isn’t strong, for the majority of voters middle class tax cuts, affordable health care and fairly centrist policies from education reform to the military aren’t exactly the stuff of fire and brimstone. But the president is black. I’m not arguing that conservatives are attacking the president only because of his race, but they are certainly guilty of tapping into and fanning racial resentment to ignite their critiques. In that sense, sadly, by inventing a fake black-versus-white race war, conservatives are reinforcing and exploiting the divisive white-versus-black racial dynamics in America that they should be instead helping to fix.

 Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, writer, Fox News contributor, and a regular contributor to

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

They Call It Terror Tuesday

Vast Left Conspiracy
A distressing front page article in the New York Times yesterday, entitled "Secret Kill List" Tests Obama's Principles And Will, describes how Obama has placed himself “at the helm of a top-secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, for which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”  Or, as Glenn Greenwald put it, "an actual presidential-led death panel (as always in American media parlance, “Terrorist” means: individuals alleged by the U.S. Government — with no evidence, transparency or due process — to be Terrorists)."

Specifically, as Greenwald continues, "Obama himself 'insisted on approving every new name on an expanding ‘kill list,’ poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.'  In total secrecy — with no transparency or oversight of any kind — he then selects who will live and who will die."

David Swanson has more:
Obama is depicted as "keeping the tether short" by personally deciding on each and every drone kill. And yet, despite this personal care and attention, Obama has dramatically increased drone kills. The New York Times writes that Obama's role of "personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda" is "without precedent in presidential history." This is either because whatever the "shadow war with Al Qaeda" is has been created by Obama, or it's because Bush let subordinate(s) oversee it. This meaningless claim immediately follows bragging about how many of Obama's advisers the New York Times interviewed in order to produce it, and yet somehow the underwhelmed reader is still left to simply guess what is supposed to be meant. Presumably it is that Obama has created a new form of murder.

In fact, Obama has created drone wars, and an insider picture of how he runs them is found at the end of the article:

"Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government's sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects' biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret 'nominations' process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia's Shabab militia."

How do Obama's principles and will manifest themselves in this "due process" as he bestows it upon his victims? Well, according to the New York Times, he kills "without hand-wringing" and calls the decision to kill a U.S. citizen "an easy one." (Killing the same man's teenage son is so easy it goes unmentioned.) Obama is "a realist," who is "never carried away" by any campaign promises he may have made. He shrewdly maneuvers to keep in place Bush's powers of rendition, detention, and war . . . .
The Obama Administration is no doubt thrilled with the Times piece as illustrating the President's toughness in the fight against the terrorists.  But I find it chilling how we have come to accept from Obama programs and policies that would have been (and were) harshly condemned when conducted by Bush-Cheney.  As Greenwald writes today, we now see "how rapidly true extremism becomes normalized."

The key difference between Obama and his predecessor is not the policy but the personality.  While we could not contemplate that Bush-Cheney would carefully balance national security and human rights, Obama, the former-constitutional law professor, can surely be trusted to take a principled and prudent approach with the awesome powers bestowed upon the "commander in chief" in the never-ending war on terror. 

Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial editor at the Times correctly worries about this "just trust me" approach to targeted killings:
 If Mr. Obama wants to authorize every drone strike, fine—but even the president requires oversight (remember checks and balances?) which he won’t allow. The administration refuses to accept judicial review (from a FISA-style court, say) prior to a strike directed at an American citizen, and won’t deign to release the legal documents written to justify the targeted killing program. The Times and the ACLU have both sued to force disclosure of these documents. No luck yet.

Apologists for the president’s “just trust me” approach to targeted killings emphasize that the program is highly successful and claim that the drone strikes are extraordinarily precise. John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser, said in a recent speech that not a single non-combatant had been killed in a year of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And today’s Times article quoted a senior administration official who said that civilian deaths were in the “single digits.”

But it turns out that even this hey-it’s-better-than-carpet-bombing justification is rather flimsy. The Times article says “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties …It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
The logic, such as it is, is that people who hang around places where Qaeda operatives hang around must be up to no good. That’s the sort of approach that led to the false imprisonment of thousands of Iraqis, including the ones tortured at Abu Ghraib.
As Rosenthal concludes, " Mr. Obama used to denounce that kind of thinking."  So did we.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Biggest Climate Victory You Never Heard Of

The fight against coal in the U.S. has achieved great success due to activists' passion and commitment. 

By Mark Hertsgaard, originally published at Al Jazeera

Coal is going down in the United States, and that's good news for the Earth's climate. The US Energy Information Administration has announced that coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive conventional fossil fuel, generated only 36 per cent of US electricity in the first quarter of 2012. That amounts to a staggering 20 per cent decline from one year earlier. And the EIA anticipates additional decline by year's end, suggesting a historic setback for coal, which has provided the majority of the US' electricity for many decades.

Even more encouraging, however, is the largely unknown story behind coal's retreat. Mainstream media coverage has credited low prices for natural gas - coal's chief competitor - and the Obama administration's March 27 announcement of stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants. And certainly both of those developments played a role.

But a third factor - a persistent grassroots citizens' rebellion that has blocked the construction of 166 (and counting) proposed coal-fired power plants - has been at least as important. At the very time when President Obama's "cap-and-trade" climate legislation was going down in flames in Washington, local activists across the United States were helping to impose "a de facto moratorium on new coal", in the words of Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, one of the first analysts to note the trend.

Another surprise: most of these coal plants were defeated in the politically red states of the South and Midwest. Victories were coming "in places like Oklahoma and South Dakota, not the usual liberal bastions where you'd expect environmental victories", recalls Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Beyond Coal campaign, which provided national coordination for the local efforts. The victories in Oklahoma were particularly sweet, coming in the home state of Capitol Hill's leading climate denier, Senator James Inhofe.

Of course the activists had help: the falling cost of natural gas and a decline in electricity demand following the 2008 financial collapse made coal vulnerable. But it was grassroots activism that turned this vulnerability into outright defeat, argues Thomas Sanzillo, a former deputy comptroller for the New York state government who has collaborated with Beyond Coal. "If the activists hadn't been there talking to government regulators and newspaper editorial boards and making the case that coal was a bad bet," Sanzillo explains, "the plants would have gone forward, because the utility companies would say, ‘We can handle the costs,' and those [government] boards are often good ol' boy boards."

Meet Droney, The Friendly Surveillance Drone

Tom Tomorrow
The drone industry is launching, so to speak, a public relations campaign.  As reported, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry's trade group, has hired a public relations firm to counter what it perceives as negative media coverage and to focus on safety and public benefits of domestic drones.

Tom Tomorrow takes it from there.  (Click on the "Tom Tomorrow" caption for a link to the full comic or, as always, you can click on the "Read Tom Tomorrow" badge on the right side of the blog.)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Thoughts On National Defense

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

We can best honor those who have given their lives for this nation in combat by making sure our military might is proportional to what America needs.

The United States spends more on our military than do China, Russia, Britain, France, Japan, and Germany put together.

With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the cost of fighting wars is projected to drop – but the “base” defense budget
(the annual cost of paying troops and buying planes, ships, and tanks – not including the costs of actually fighting wars) is scheduled to rise. The base budget is already about 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago, adjusted for inflation.

One big reason: It’s almost impossible to terminate large defense contracts. Defense contractors have cultivated sponsors on Capitol Hill and located their plants and facilities in politically important congressional districts. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and others have made spending on national defense into America’s biggest jobs program.

So we keep spending billions on Cold War weapons systems like nuclear attack submarines, aircraft carriers, and manned combat fighters that pump up the bottom lines of defense contractors but have nothing to do with 21st-century combat.

For example, the Pentagon says it wants to buy fewer F-35 joint strike fighter planes than had been planned – the single-engine fighter has been plagued by cost overruns and technical glitches – but the contractors and their friends on Capitol Hill promise a fight.

The absence of a budget deal on Capitol Hill is supposed to trigger an automatic across-the-board ten-year cut in the defense budget of nearly $500 billion, starting January.

But Republicans have vowed to restore the cuts. The House Republican budget cuts everything else — yet brings defense spending back up. Mitt Romney’s proposed budget does the same.

Yet even if the scheduled cuts occur, the Pentagon is still projected to spend over $2.7 trillion over the next ten years.

At the very least, hundreds of billions could be saved without jeopardizing the nation’s security by ending weapons systems designed for an age of conventional warfare. We should shrink the F-35 fleet of stealth fighters. Cut the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And take a cleaver to the Navy and Air Force budgets. (Most of the action is with the Army, Marines and Special Forces.) 

At a time when Medicare, Medicaid, and non-defense discretionary spending (including most programs for the poor, as well as infrastructure and basic R&D) are in serious jeopardy, Obama and the Democrats should be calling for even more defense cuts.

A reasonable and rational defense budget would be a fitting memorial to those who have given their lives so we may remain free. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Birth(day) Of The Cool

Miles Davis was born on May 26, 1926 (and died in 1991).  Click on these links for earlier posts on two of my favorite recordings:  Great Jazz Albums:  Relaxin' and Great Jazz Albums: Walkin'.

And here he is in 1964, performing Autumn Leaves with his second great quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams):

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy 71st Birthday To Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turned 71 this week, on May 24th.  Here is the post I wrote last year on his 70th birthday:

Forever Young: Bob Dylan Turns 70

Bob Dylan, born on May 24, 1941, turns 70 years old today.  I agree with historian Sean Wilentz that Dylan is "the most important and influential songwriter" in the second half of the 20th Century, and perhaps the most influential artist.

Rolling Stone published lists of the greatest Dylan songs, and it is hard to argue with their top 10:  (1) Like a Rolling Stone; (2) A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; (3) Tangled Up in Blue; (4) Just Like a Woman; (5) All Along the Watchtower; (6) I Shall Be Released; (7) It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); (8) Mr. Tambourine Man; (9) Visions of Johanna; (10) Every Grain of Sand.  On the other hand, with so many incredible songs over so many years as Dylan constantly reinvented himself, countless other top ten lists could have been made that would have been hard to dispute.  So, rather than debate which are Dylan's best songs or albums, I thought it would be better to just savor the music.  Here's a playlist with some of my favorites, beginning with an extraordinary version of Dylan rehearsing If Not For You with George Harrison prior to the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, the movie and album which provided me with my first real exposure to Dylan.  Happy  Birthday!

The Bain Of Our Existence

By Mike Lux, cross-posted from Crooks and Liars

I love this Bain debate. It is exactly the kind of debate about the nature of business and job creation we need to be having in this campaign. The Republicans, along with pro-Wall Street Democrats, are squealing like stuck pigs about the Obama campaign “attacking free enterprise” because they want to change the subject fast. They are saying to themselves: please, let’s talk about anything else. Deficits would be their first choice, but anything would be preferable. Maybe we’ll see them start talking about contraceptives and how people shouldn’t have sex again just to change the subject. Because this debate goes straight to the heart of what kind of economy we should be trying to build in this country.

This is isn’t about being for or against free enterprise. This is about how the economy should work better for everyone in it, not just the top 1 percent. The Republicans -- and Democrats like Cory Booker and Harold Ford, who both have raised millions of dollars in Wall Street money (including money from Bain) for their campaigns -- say that it is great when financial corporations like Bain make money by loading up the companies they buy with debt, taking all the tax write-offs the law allows, and then walking away with tons of money whatever happens to the original company. In fact, the companies Bain bought frequently went bankrupt, and Bain usually profited when those companies did go belly-up because of tax write-offs and sucking the companies’ assets dry. But in this line of reasoning, it’s all good, because capitalism should be unrestrained and some people got very rich.

What Obama and other Democrats are arguing is that our government should be on the side of the businesses that create not just wealth for a few at the top, but jobs and incomes for a lot of people. That is why Obama made the incredibly gutsy move to save the American auto industry, a policy that saved 1.45 million jobs in the short run, and kept desperately needed manufacturing jobs in this country for years to come. It is why Obama has made big investments in the budget for Small Business Administration jobs. It is why investments have been made in clean energy jobs of the future. It is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture has emphasized rural economic development and small business development in areas where jobs and incomes are desperately needed.

Democratic policies are in fact far more pro-business than policies like the Romney-Ryan budget, which independent studies estimate would cost the nation more than 4 million jobs in the next two years. That’s a lot of business customers who no longer have money to spend.

The Republican attack machine (helped by Democrats like Booker and Ford who have been feeding at the Wall Street trough for their entire careers) wants to intimidate the Obama campaign by making the claim that any attack on greedy business practices like the ones Romney perfected at Bain is an attack on all business and the market. It’s the same kind of argument Republicans make when they complain about class warfare politics when Democrats suggest that millionaires ought to pay a little more in taxes. It is an utterly soulless, amoral argument. But this is a fight Democrats can and will win if we make our case, because I think most people understand that there are ethical and unethical business practices. And they get that there is a difference between making money by manipulating the tax code and squeezing all the value out of businesses before throwing them away, and making money by making and selling good products that people want to buy. Biden laid this case out beautifully in a speech in Youngstown:

The Facebook IPO: Unlike

It has been widely reported that the underwriters for Facebook's initial public offering reduced the revenue forecasts for the company before the IPO, but only shared this information with big, institutional investors. 

As Travis Waldon and Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress explain, the Facebook IPO fiasco provides us with several examples of how Wall Street games the system:
1. Facebook may have hid information about weak revenue growth: According to one lawsuit launched since the company went public, Facebook “concealed crucial information” regarding weak revenue growth, failing to disclose a revised revenue forecast, much like Wall Street banks failed to provide key information about mortgage securities they were peddling before the financial crisis.

2. Morgan Stanley alerted “preferred” investors to Facebook’s poor growth forecasts: Facebook’s Wall Street underwriters are facing scrutiny from regulators for only alerting certain “preferred” investors about Facebook’s declining revenue stream, leaving many potential shareholders in the dark.

3. Facebook stock dropped, Wall Street got rich: Facebook stock plummeted on its second day of trading and has continued its decline since, but Morgan Stanley and the other underwriters are still turning massive profits by “shorting” its stock. “In fact,” Fortune’s Steven Gandel wrote, “Morgan Stanley and the other banks who were selling Facebook shares to the public were positioned to make more money the lower Facebook’s shares went.” As of Tuesday, the group of Wall Street banks that underwrote the IPO could have topped more than $450 million in profits — on top of more than $170 million in underwriting fees.

4. Facebook will dodge billions in taxes after its IPO: Corporate tax law allows companies that issue stock options to make huge deductions to their tax liabilities, helping Facebook avoid $16 billion in taxes. CEO Mark Zuckerberg could possibly never pay taxes again, using a series of loopholes to avoid them after the initial hit he’ll take after selling shares.

5. Facebook is spending big on politics: Just like the Wall Street banks and other big companies that spend huge amounts of cash lobbying Washington, Facebook jumped into the fray, giving $119,000 in donations to lawmakers through March 31. The money went to leaders of both parties and those lawmakers who “serve on House and Senate committees that handle Internet and online privacy issues.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How To Forget On Memorial Day

Crosses of Lafayette
Whistling Past the Graveyard of Empires

By Tom Engelhardt, cross-posted from TomDispatch

It’s the saddest reading around: the little announcements that dribble out of the Pentagon every day or two -- those terse, relatively uninformative death notices: rank; name; age; small town, suburb, or second-level city of origin; means of death (“small arms fire,” “improvised explosive device,” “the result of gunshot wounds inflicted by an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform,” or sometimes something vaguer like “while conducting combat operations,” “supporting Operation Enduring Freedom,” or simply no explanation at all); and the unit the dead soldier belonged to.  They are seldom 100 words, even with the usual opening line: “The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.” Sometimes they include more than one death.

They are essentially bureaucratic notices designed to draw little attention to themselves.  Yet cumulatively, in their hundreds over the last decade, they represent a grim archive of America’s still ongoing, already largely forgotten second Afghan War, and I’ve read them obsessively for years.

Into the Memory Hole

May is the official month of remembrance when it comes to our war dead, ending as it does on the long Memorial Day weekend when Americans typically take to the road and kill themselves and each other in far greater numbers than will die in Afghanistan.  It’s a weekend for which the police tend to predict rising fatalities and news reports tend to celebrate any declines in deaths on our roads and highways.

Quiz Americans and a surprising number undoubtedly won’t have thought about the “memorial” in Memorial Day at all -- especially now that it’s largely a marker of the start of summer and an excuse for cookouts.

How many today are aware that, as Decoration Day, it began in 1865 in a nation still torn by grief over the loss of -- we now know -- up to 750,000 dead in the first modern war, a wrenching civil catastrophe in a then-smaller and still under-populated country?  How many know that the first Decoration Day was held in 1865 with 10,000 freed slaves and some Union soldiers parading on a Charleston, South Carolina, race track previously frequented by planters and transformed in wartime into a grim outdoor prison?  The former slaves were honoring Union prisoners who had died there and been hastily buried in unmarked graves, but as historian Kenneth Jackson has written, they were also offering “a declaration of the meaning of the war and of their own freedom.”

Those ceremonies migrated north in 1866, became official at national cemeteries in 1868, and grew into ever more elaborate civic remembrances over the years.  Even the South, which had previously marked its grief separately, began to take part after World War I as the ceremonies were extended to the remembrance of all American war dead.  Only in 1968, in the midst of another deeply unpopular war, did Congress make it official as Memorial Day, creating the now traditional long holiday weekend.

And yet, when it comes to the major war the United States is still fighting, now in its 11th year, the word remembrance is surely inappropriate, as is the “Memorial” in Memorial Day.  It’s not just that the dead of the Afghan War have largely been tossed down the memory hole of history (even if they do get official attention on Memorial Day itself).  Even the fact that Americans are still dying in Afghanistan seems largely to have been forgotten, along with the war itself.

As the endlessly plummeting opinion polls indicate, the Afghan War is one Americans would clearly prefer to forget -- yesterday, not tomorrow.  It was, in fact, regularly classified as “the forgotten war” almost from the moment that the Bush administration turned its attention to the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and so declared its urge to create a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.  Despite the massive “surge” of troops, special operations forces, CIA agents, and civilian personnel sent to Afghanistan by President Obama in 2009-2010, and the ending of the military part of the Iraq debacle in 2011, the Afghan War has never made it out of the grave of forgetfulness to which it was so early consigned.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Obama Should Be Attacking Casino Capitalism

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website
I wish President Obama would draw the obvious connection between Bain Capital and JPMorgan Chase.

That way his so-called “attack” on private equity is neither a personal attack on Mitt Romney nor a generalized attack on American business.

It’s an attack on a particular kind of capitalism that Romney and JPMorgan both practice: Using other peoples’ money to make big bets which, if they go wrong, can wreak havoc on the economy.
It’s the substitution of casino capitalism for real capitalism, the dominance of the betting parlor over the real business of America, financial innovation rather than product innovation.

It’s been terrible for the American economy and for our democracy.

It’s also why Obama has to come out swinging about JPMorgan. The JPMorgan Chase debacle would have been prevented if the Volcker Rule were sufficiently strict, prohibiting banks from using commercial deposits to make bets except very specific offsetting bets (hedges) on narrow classes of trades.

But Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan have been lobbying like mad to loosen the Volcker Rule and widen that exception to include the very kind of reckless bets JPMorgan made. And they’re still at it, as evidenced by Dimon’s current claim that the rule that eventually emerges would allow those bets.

As a practical matter, the Volcker Rule is hopeless. It was intended to be Glass-Steagall lite — a more nuanced version of the original Depression-era law that separated commercial from investment banking. But JPMorgan has proven that any nuance — any exception — will be stretched beyond recognition by the big banks.

So much money can be made when these bets turn out well that the big banks will stop at nothing to keep the spigot open.

There’s no alternative but to resurrect Glass-Steagall as a whole. Even then, the biggest banks are still too big to fail or to regulate. We also need to heed the recent advice of the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve, and break them up.

At the same time, there’s no point to the “carried interest” loophole that allows private-equity managers like Mitt Romney to treat their incomes as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent, when they’ve risked no money of their own.

If private equity were good for America it wouldn’t need this or the other tax preference it depends on, elevating debt over equity. But the private equity industry has huge political clout, which is why these tax preferences remain.

Get it? Bain Capital and JPMorgan are parts of the same problem. The President should be leading the charge against both.

Trust Me: You Believe In Gun Control

By Tina Dupuy, cross-posted from her website

If you ask the typical hyper-political gun owner (and I have … at Thanksgiving dinner), why it’s important to own a gun, they’ll bark about the Constitution. Yes, the Second Amendment: “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed!”

This of course is the slogan the National Rifle Association adopted in the 1970’s. It was then that owning a gun became an absolute right endowed by God and the Constitution. A blessing passed down by our forefathers to obliterate game and protect our property. The NRA was founded in 1870 and for its first hundred years it was for gun control and didn’t mention the Second Amendment as their cause.

Adam Winkler points out in his delicious book, “Gun Fight,” what we call the “wild west” had some of the strictest gun control laws we’ve seen as a nation. The shoot out at the OK Corral took place, after all, because Wyatt Earp was trying to disarm the outlaw Cowboys in accordance with a Tombstone ordinance. The KKK was among other things, a gun control organization. They were trying to keep guns out of the hands of newly freed slaves … but still gun control.

The part of the Second Amendment omitted from the NRA’s slogan is: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” Yes, well regulated—it’s in the Constitution!
Now, to some, guns are as sacred as scripture. If you ask, again, this typical hyper-political gun owner why they need to stockpile assault rifles, you will get an answer much like Pat Flynn’s, a recent candidate for a Senate seat in Nebraska. “Really, we have our guns to protect ourselves against the government, number one,” Flynn said in a debate right before the primary. “Hunting’s number two. But protecting us against our government is number one.” Remember Flynn was trying to land a job in the government (he didn’t win his party’s nomination, by the way).

The idea is that we have to be just as armed as our government in order to be safer or have more liberty (or something). The U.S. government has unmanned drones armed with supersonic laser-guided anti-armor Hellfire missiles, “bunker busters,” and nuclear weapons. Are far-right politicians saying we need civilians to have shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles “for protection?” Of course they’re not. They actually do want limits on ownership.

And if you ask the most vehement gun rights advocate why Everyman Gun Owner shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, I’d bet you’d get the same answer as to why we don’t want every country to have the capability: “Because they could get into the wrong hands.”

So weapons-grade plutonium should be limited. But the ever-handy semi-auto Glock pistol with a 30-round high-capacity magazine is an absolute right?

A recent gun buyback drive in Los Angeles resulted in someone turning in a rocket launcher. Comforting.

So we’re not actually talking about limited vs. unlimited. We are talking about degrees of weapon ownership.

Guns fall into the wrong hands all the time. More guns and fewer requirements for ownership doesn’t curb this. George Zimmerman was the wrong hands. Zimmerman, a Florida man now infamous for shooting an unarmed black teenager at close range after a 911 operator told him not to engage the alleged suspect and wait for police to arrive, is now being defended by said hyper-political gun owners. There’s no reason a Neighborhood Watch captain should be patrolling his block with a criminal record and a pistol. Zimmerman was a catastrophe realized. Even in the wake of new evidence about this case, the fact remains if Zimmerman didn’t have a gun, 16-year-old Trayvon Martin would be alive.

The United States is number one in the world in civilian gun ownership. And since we’re not last in gun violence (we’re the 14th highest in deaths—way higher in just injuries) it’s safe to assume that increasing the number of guns doesn’t decrease the number of gun deaths. Just like cutting taxes doesn’t increase revenue—making gun ownership unlimited doesn’t make us safer. It’s a lie. A fairy tale of the gun lobby. Completely unsupported by data or logic. A falsehood.

So unless you think all Americans should get Daisy Cutters this Christmas—you believe in regulations as to who gets a weapon, what kind and where they can have it.

Gun control laws are not tyranny—as the family of Trayvon Martin can testify to—a de-regulated militia is.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What The Bain Debate Is Really About

By Terrance Heath, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

The 2012 presidential election may go down as one of the strangest political seasons in recent memory, for the simple reason that the influence of the financial sector in politics, policy and the economy has caused Republicans to sound like Democrats and Democrat to sound like Republicans — usually with confounding results.

When Republicans sound like Democrats, like Newt Gingrich attacking Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, they tend to start arguments they can't win. When Democrats start sounding like Republicans, like Cory Booker defending Bain Capital, they tend forfeit arguments they could win. That's because, in both cases, the politicians are arguing about the wrong things, in order to avoid the real argument  — the one America needs to have, and Americans need to win; the argument over what kind of economy we will have going forward.

Gingrich's attack on Romney's record confused many conservatives, who equated it with an attack on capitalism itself. Newark Mayor Cory Booker echoed the concerns of confused conservatives when he called the Obama campaigns ads attacking Romney's record at Bain Capital a "nauseating" attack on private equity, labeling them a distraction. "It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about," Booker said.

What Booker, Democrats like him, and conservatives now lauding his diatribe ignore or don't realize is that the issues affecting voters don't come much bigger and don't get much more real than the kind of capitalism Bain represents.

Bain Capitalism

As Digby said, if Romney is going to run on his Bain Capital record and tout his private equity background as his main qualification for the presidency, then his track record at Bain is fair game. I summed up that track record in my original post about his brand of "vulture capitalism."
A former managing partner at Bain, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, made it clear that job creation was never the point at Bain.
Bain managers said their mission was clear. "I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation," said Marc B. Walpow, a former managing partner at Bain who worked closely with Romney for nine years before forming his own firm. "The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors."
Under Romney's leadership, Bain certainly created wealth for its investors, no matter what happened to the companies it acquired or the the people worked for them. The Wall Street Journal's revealing look at Romney's time at Bain shows that 22% of the companies Bain invested on under Romney's watch either filed for bankruptcy, reorganized, or closed their doors — sometimes with substantial job losses. As Pat Garofalo pointed out, that's nearly one fourth of the companies Bain invested in.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wall Street, Romney, And Obama

By Mike Lux, cross-posted from Crooks and Liars

The most critical battle in this election year is the battle over Wall Street. Candidates all over the place, from the high profile candidates like Elizabeth Warren to a slew of others all over the country, are battling over who is on Wall Street’s side, who wants to keep bailing them out, and who is pushing them to go to jail. But nowhere is this battle being played out more prominently than in the race for the White House.

The Obama campaign is doing a major push in the coming weeks on Mitt Romney’s sordid history at the helm of Bain Capital. His fellow Republicans called it vulture capitalism, and they were right. Mitt bought companies (many of them doing just fine at the time he bought them), loaded them up with massive amounts of debt that Bain could write off on their taxes, in many cases destroyed and outsourced jobs and cut pay and benefits, and then frequently carved them up and sold off the pieces to maximize short-term profits. A few of these companies ended up surviving this brutal process and becoming more profitable, and we will hear a lot from Mitt about those examples. But way too many times, Mitt and Bain left these companies, and especially their workers, far worse for the wear, leaving behind a lot of shattered lives in the process, while Mitt and his fun-loving pals stuffed money in their pockets and walked away. High School wasn’t the only place Mitt brutalized those weaker than him, and he enjoyed doing it.

Bain Capital was Wall Street at its worst. But the cutthroat, anything-goes-in-the-pursuit-of-one-more-dollar culture at Bain has infected our entire banking system. The Obama campaign is right to attack on Bain and on the culture of Wall Street; it is in my view their single most powerful attack line. However, that attack will be undercut unless they buttress their own credibility on taking on Wall Street. Republicans aren’t going to hesitate coming after Obama hard on his ties to Wall Street (ironically with a lot of Wall Street money) in order to weaken the campaign’s credibility when they attack Bain, and we are seeing signs of that right now.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Mets And Astros Celebrate 50 Years Together

If you read this admittedly Mets-centric blog, you already know that the Mets are celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year.  I've already done a Mets at 50 Tribute, a Top 25 Greatest Mets, as well as a more ignominious All-Time Met busts.

What shouldn't be forgotten in all the hoopla, is that in 1962, when the Mets came into being, they were joined by another team -- the Houston Colt '45s, who changed their name to the less violent and more cosmic Astros when they moved into the Astrodome -- the first domed, artificial turf sports stadium.

The Astros were not as spectacularly bad as the Mets in those early days.  In an attempt to appeal to erstwhile Dodger and Giant fans whose teams fled to California, the Mets stocked their team with over-the-hill but recognizable players like Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer and Duke Snider.  The result was an awful, but loveable team.  The Astros focused more on young talent and fielded such exciting players as Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub and Jim Wynn.  But it was the Mets who made the World Series first, winning it all 1969, and making three more appearances in the Fall Classic before the Astros finally made it in 2005, when they were swept by the White Sox.

The overall records of the two teams are pretty close, with the Astros/Colt 45s (3958-4044) having won just 129 more games than the Mets (3829-4162) over the 50 years.  In head-to-head competition, Houston has the edge as well, 304-256.  But the Mets have those two World Series wins (1969 and 1973), and came out ahead in their epic 1986 playoff contest.

Which team has the better All-Time roster?  Again, it's pretty close.  (The Mets I can do off the top of my head; I got help on the Astros from this cite.)

At first base, both have had great players, but Houston's Jeff Bagwell has the numbers over Keith Hernandez.  And at second base, Craig Biggio was the far better player than the Mets' Edgardo Alfonso.  The Astros never had a really great shortstop.  Neither Dickie Thon, whose promising career was cut short by a beaning, or Roger Metzger were as good as Jose Reyes.  An at third base, David Wright gets the nod over Ken Caminiti or Doug Rader. 

The Astros have had some truly great outfielders, led by Cesar Cedeno and Jimmy Wynn ("Toy Cannon"), as well as Jose Cruz, Lance Berkmann, and Moises Alou  This is a better collection than the Mets' best of Darryl Strawberry, Cleon Jones, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Carlos Beltran.

Catcher easily goes to the Mets.  The best catchers in Astros history, Alan Ashby and Brad Ausmus are not close to the great Met catchers, Mike Piazza and Gary Carter.

And then there's pitching.  The Mets franchise is known for their fabulous arms, starting with Tom Seaver, and including Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Ron Darling.  But the Astros are pretty impressive too.  The Mets gave up on Nolan Ryan early, and he later excelled for Houston  Add J.R. Richards (one of the most intimidating pitchers ever), Mike Scott (another ex-Met), Larry Dierker, and Joe Niekro, and you have a pretty formidable rotation -- just as good as the Mets.

How about intangibles?  Astroturf was an abomination (as Dick Allen once said, "if a cow don't eat it, I don't want to play on it") and the cavernous Astrodome was a horrible place to play ball.  Mr. Met -- the first and remains the greatest mascot,  in my objective opinion.  The Astros mascot is now something called Junction Jack, who replaced their prior mascot "Orbit," when the team moved from the Astrodome to Minute Maid Park.  The fact that I couldn't tells you what Junction Jack or Orbit look like tells you what you need to know.  And, finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the Astros once wore the ugliest uniforms in baseball history.

The Astros will be moving to the American League next year as part of a re-alignment that will even the number of teams in each league and allow for a slightly expanded playoff system.   For the Mets and Astros, it will never be the same.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Using The Poor As Piggy Banks

By Barbara Ehrenreich, cross-posted from TomDispatch

Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But as Business Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.

The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.

Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.

It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.

The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Etch-A-Sketch Quote Of The Day

“I’m not familiar precisely with what I said, but I’ll stand by what I said, whatever it was.” -- Mitt Romney

Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr. AKA Taj Mahal Is 70

"Taj Mahal opened the untapped potential of the Delta Blues, felt the connection to African soul and island rhythms, and became one of world music's first proponents and champions."

Read more here:
I first saw Taj Mahal perform in the late 1970s, and have enjoyed his unique blend of roots-blues-world music ever since.  In addition to his role in "revitalizing and preserving traditional acoustic blues," Taj Mahal has taken "a musicologist's interest in a multitude of folk and roots music from around the world -- reggae and other Caribbean folk, jazz, gospel, R&B, zydeco, various West African styles, Latin, even Hawaiian."  This "global perspective," while still rooted in the "African-derived heritage of most of those forms," allowed him to "present the blues as part of a wider musical context."  

Here's some exciting news:  Sony's Legacy Recordings is celebrating this "groundbreaking artist with a major catalog reissue project beginning with the release of the newly-curated The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal, 1969-1973, an extraordinary two-disc collection of previously unreleased studio and live performances, available Tuesday August 21."  

Read more here:

Taj is 70 years old today.

House Passes Weak, Flawed Version Of Violence Against Women Act After Orwellian Debate

The Violence Against Women Act provides critical funding and training to curtail domestic violence, including funding for police training to handle cases involving sexual assault.  The legislation became law in 1994, and was an unmitigated bi-partisan success, with incidents of domestic violence against women having dropped by over 50 percent.

The Senate had already approved by a 68-31 vote an expanded version of the Act that would provide protection to the LGBT community, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans.  House Republicans will have none of it.

As Steve Benen reports, the House gutted the Senate version and replaced it with "burdensome, counter-productive requirements that compromise the ability of service providers to reach victims, fails to adequately protect Tribal victims, lacks important protection and services for LGBT victims, weakens resources for victims living in subsidized housing, and eliminates important improvements to address dating violence and sexual assault on college campuses. Among the most troubling components of this bill are those that jettison and drastically undercut existing and important, long-standing protections that remain vital to the safety and protection of battered immigrant victims."

Laura Clawson described the debate in the House as "Orwellian," with "members from both parties extolling the importance of cracking down on violence against women even as they disagreed bitterly on the bill in question."
The Orwellian flavor stemmed from the fact that the Republican bill excludes or weakens protections for LGBT, immigrant and Native American victims of violence—a Republican manager's amendment purported to address some Democratic concerns, but that did not adequately do so. House Republicans argued that passing this bill is very important and should be done in a bipartisan fashion, even as they refused to consider the Senate's actually bipartisan Violence Against Women Act—coauthored by a Republican and passed with 15 Republican votes.

Republicans repeatedly emphasized the bipartisan support for VAWA without acknowledging that their bill does not enjoy bipartisan support and that they have rejected a truly bipartisan bill. They also repeatedly insisted that their bill protects and supports victims, ignoring the opposition of a wide swath of domestic violence organizations, law enforcement groups and faith-based groups.

Democrats first opposed a rule prohibiting amendments, then offered a motion to recommit in an attempt to keep confidentiality protections from being gutted, with Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin detailing how as the victim of a violent rape in the 1970s, she felt put on trial as a single mother who must have invited her rape. Republicans, while rejecting bipartisanship and claiming that immigrant women use fraudulent allegations of abuse to get citizenship, wailed extensively about Democrats allegedly playing politics.
But, at least the watered-down version won the endorsement of the National Coalition for Men, as Jeremy Leaming notes.  This is a group devoted to raising “awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys" whose primary concern with the Violence Against Women Act is that too many men are arrested on “false accusations” of domestic violence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Since When Don't We Put A Price Tag On Justice?

By Ty Alper, cross-posted from Huffington Post

Faced with unassailable evidence that the death penalty in California costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year, death penalty supporters tend to respond with what is intended to be a conversation stopper: "You can't put a price tag on justice."

But wait a minute. Don't we already? Only in a world with unlimited resources could we run government programs with no regard for their price tags. Unfortunately, that is not where we live today. Consider Governor Jerry Brown's latest budget proposal as reported by the New York Times:
Struggling to contain mounting state budget shortfalls, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday proposed $8.3 billion in spending cuts, including slashing state employees pay and spending on social programs and prisons. He warned that California would have to impose another $6 billion in cuts on public schools and higher education if voters fail to approve his initiative this fall to raise sales and income taxes.
My kids go to public school in California and I teach at a public law school. I would love to be able to say, "You can't put a price tag on an education." But that would be ridiculous. It happens all the time.

The implication in the death penalty context, of course, is that only the most heartless among us would relish telling the mother of a murder victim that the person who killed her child is not going to be executed because, well, it just costs too much.

But here's what we need to remember: about half of all rapes and murders in California go unsolved. A 2009 survey asked law enforcement officials what interfered with effective law enforcement. The number one answer was lack of resources. (Last on the list was "insufficient use of the death penalty.") Thousands of rape kits across the state sit unexamined, because there is no money to conduct DNA testing.

The victims of unsolved murders and rapes are no less deserving of justice than the victims of solved crimes. The SAFE California initiative that will be on the ballot in November would eliminate the death penalty, save $1 billion that we desperately need over the next five years, and create a "$100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases."

The next time you hear someone say that you can't put a price tag on justice, ask them if they would say the same thing to the family members of victims of the 1,000 murders that go unsolved in California each year.

I'd love to live in a California with no price tags. Until then, the price tag on the death penalty is busting our state's budget.

Ty Alper is an assistant clinical professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

Gay Marriage & The Republican Love Affair With The Past

By Tina Dupuy, cross-posted from her website

The future is always a dystopia and the past is always better than this mess we live in right now. That’s if literature has any ability to tell us about ourselves. Stories about the future: Forewarning. Stories about the good ol’ days: Heartening. Somewhere in our collective unconscious we believe there was a golden era of innocence and irresistible quaintness. The present is far from that—so the future has to be worse. Most likely involving robots … emoting and plotting their revenge.

The future scares us and we wish it could be more like it used to be. Therefore we freak out about change and demand tradition because it connects us to this proverbial Garden of Eden in our minds.
This logical glitch is a pestilence in American politics. Conservative politicians in particular pander to this notion; we must go back to the past. There it’s better because we were better.

Presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s punt on same-sex marriage is: “I agree with 3,000 years of history.” To him this means a love-based consensual marriage between one man and one woman; our current interpretation of marriage. Of course plural marriage, like that of Romney’s grandfathers has also been practiced in the last 3,000 years. As were arranged marriages. As were loveless contractual nuptials. Deuteronomy is pretty clear if a woman isn’t a virgin when she gets married she should be killed. It wasn’t until 1993 that North Carolina became the last state to remove the marriage exemption for rape. Regardless Romney, admits to agreeing with 3,000 years of marriage history. His Etch-a-Sketch must be set to history revision.

I personally don’t agree with any history before sewage systems, women’s suffrage or the Loving decision. I also refuse to romanticize any era before the advent of antibiotics.

The GOP’s objection to state-sanctioned monogamous homosexual relationships is, they offer, based on their belief in the Bible. The current crop of Republicans are less into Jesus (who didn’t like rich people or capital punishment) than they are into 1st Century values like stoning misfits in the public square. They’ve picked gay marriage to condemn as an evil out to kill us all, because for Republicans there actually IS a magic time in the not-so-distant past to be nostalgic for—specifically 2004. Then gay marriage was the perfect catalyst to get people to vote Republican. Hence Dubya’s second term.

And now? Now in the wake of the unremarkable ending to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which funny enough is no longer talked about), gay rights doesn’t have the same bite. In 2005 the Supreme Court made sodomy legal in all 50 states and since then there have been absolutely no reports of anyone turning into a pillar of salt. But Republicans who pride themselves on being traditional and firmly planted in the past regardless of folly—are going to try and chum the water with something as anemic as spousal privilege.

Last week President Obama said he supported gays being allowed to marry. This was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t the radical thing to do—it’s popular. Most Americans agree that homosexuals should be able to be married. According to a recent Gallup poll 51 percent of Americans agree with President Obama on this issue.

Will gay marriage corrode the foundation of this country? When gay marriage becomes the norm (which it will eventually) we probably won’t even notice. We’ll get the same amount of wedding invites only all of these will be legal. You’ll know the same amount of gays you know now. Our children will have the same likelihood of being homosexual as they do now. Very few American’s lives will change. It’s just a minority—a persecuted, ostracized, demonized minority—of Americans whose lives will improve with the option for full-legal rights as a married couple.

That’s if the past is actually prolog … instead of paradise.

Robert Reich Explains How We Need A New Era Of Reform Based On Public -- Not Private -- Morality

Romney Has Public Morality And Private Morality Upside Down

by Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

Mitt Romney’s reaction to J.P. Morgan Chase’s mounting losses from reckless trades is “the market will take care of it.” His spokesman says “no taxpayer money was at risk” so we don’t need more financial regulation. Romney has even promised to repeal Dodd-Frank if he’s elected president.

Yet at the same time, Romney has come out strongly against same-sex marriage. He’s also against abortion. He has no problem with government intruding on the most intimate of decisions a person makes.

He’s got private and public morality upside down. He doesn’t want to regulate where regulation is necessary — at the highest reaches of the economy, where public immorality has cost us dearly, and will cost even more unless boardroom behavior is constrained. Yet he wants to regulate where regulation is least appropriate — at the level of the individual, in bedrooms and other intimate spaces, where private morality should govern.

This is a dangerous confusion. It should be a matter of personal choice whom to marry and when to have children. But it is undoubtedly a matter of public choice whether big banks should be allowed to take the kind of risky bets that plunged the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and whether people with great wealth and should be able to buy our democracy with huge campaign contributions.

Please see the attached video and pass it on.

 Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He writes a blog at  His most recent book is Beyond Outrage.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Executing The Innocent

Carlos deLuna
"No one can ever say again with a straight face that America doesn't execute innocent men. No one."  -- Andrew Rosenthal, The Atlantic
Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for the 1983 stabbing death of a gas station clerk in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The Columbia University Human Rights Review has just published its Spring 2012 issue devoted entirely to demonstrating that De Luna was innocent and that it was another Carlos - Carlos Hernandez -- who committed the murder.  The book-length article, entitled "Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution," was authored by Columbia law professor James Liebman and his team of students.

Rosenthal's piece in The Atlantic and Michael McLaughlin's at Huffington Post provide excellent summaries of the details of this deeply troubling case.

 McLaughlin cites some of the key findings of the investigation:
  • The eyewitness statements actually conflict with each other. What witnesses said about the appearance and location of the suspect suggest that they were describing more than one person.
  • Photos of a bloody footprint and blood spatter on the walls suggest the killer would have had blood on his shoes and pant legs, yet De Luna's clothes were clean.
  • Prosecutors and police ignored tips unearthed in the case files that Carlos Hernandez, an older friend of De Luna, who had a reputation for wielding a blade, had killed Lopez. The defense failed to track down Hernandez, who bore a striking resemblance to De Luna.
This was a case of "epic malfeasance and misfeasance," Rosenthal writes, in which the police, prosecutor, defense lawyer and judge all contributed.

The execution of an innocent man over two decades ago cannot be dismissed, however, as an isolated case from a time when procedural safeguards were not as rigorous as they are today.  Indeed, Rosenthal cites to several recent capital cases in which there remain serious and substantial questions of innocence.

But this well-investigated, extensively documented report, as Rosenthal writes, "ought to end all reasonable debate in this country about whether an innocent man or woman has yet been executed in America since the modern capital punishment regime was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1976."

Mitt Romney's Commencement Advice: WWCCD (What Would Charles Colson Do)?

Mitt Romney, in an attempt to assure the Religious Right of his social conservative bona fides, delivered the commencement address at Liberty University, the Evangelical Christian University founded by Jerry Falwell.

The reviews are in and it appears that he was a hit with the white Evangelicals he was trying to win over.  As the Christian Science Monitor reports, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, praised Romney's "well-delivered speech," which "accentuated the core values issues that are essential to a strong nation and of great importance to evangelicals . .  that America's financial greatness is directly tied to moral and cultural wholeness.”  And Richard Land, the Baptist pastor from Tennessee who heads The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, agreed, finding shared "values and a similar worldview" on marriage and abortion.

It was this common worldview which Romney stressed in trying to bridge the gap between his Mormon faith and that of these conservative Christians:  
People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview. The best case for this is always the example of Christian men and women working and witnessing to carry God’s love into every life - people like the late Chuck Colson.
Yes of course, "always the example" of the late Charles Wendell Colson, former hatchet man for Richard Nixon, whose ruthlessness was captured by his oft-quoted remark that he would "walk over my own grandmother" if it would help Nixon get re-elected.  H.R. Haldeman wrote that Colson “encouraged the dark impulses in Nixon’s mind and acted on those impulses instead of ignoring them and letting them die.”  Among his many dastardly acts was compiling Nixon's infamous "enemies list," orchestrating the effort to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, and hiring E. Howard Hunt, who later led the Watergate break-in.

Hunter S. Thompson described Colson as "the guiding light behind Nixon's whole arsenal of illegal, immoral, unethical 'black advance' or 'dirty tricks' department."  (See Fear and Loathing at the Watergate, where HST writes about his "abortive plot" to "seize Colson out of his house and drag him down Pennsylvania Avenue tied behind a huge gold Oldsmobile Cutlass" and "cutting him loose in front of the White House Guard Gate," an idea hatched out of frustration that Colson -- at that time -- appeared to be "the only one of Nixon's first-rank henchmen who would probably not even be indicted."  But I digress.)

Turns out Colson was indicted on obstruction of justice charges for leaking information to the press about Ellsberg, for which he served seven months in federal prison.  By then he had become an Evangelical Christian, and while serving time founded a prison ministry.

He thus became, as Sarah Posner writes, "the original culture warrior," who "helped forge the Catholic-evangelical alliance against abortion."
He was nothing short of a battle commander in the cosmic culture wars, the manufactured showdown between the “Christian worldview” — the only “true” way to see things — and other “worldviews” he insisted were antithetical to it.
Put another way, as Ed Kilgore does, Colson
was for many years the chief advocate among conservative evangelicals of a “united front” with other conservative Christians (notably Catholic “traditionalists”) to pursue an aggressive cultural agenda wrapped in claims that those enemies of the “Christian worldview” were threatening religious liberty, which happens to have become the battle-cry of Christian Right opposition to Barack Obama. 
So what better role model could young conservative Christians have than Chuck Colson because, as Hunter at Daily Kos writes
when you think about how to be a good, upstanding Christian, you should be thinking about convicted Watergate felon Chuck Colson, who did nasty things for partisan political gain, got caught, got sent to prison, and then discovered that mentioning Jesus was a fine way to make a generation of religious conservatives consider your own felon-for-your-party path through life as a decent career choice. Be like Chuck!