Friday, August 30, 2013

The Glacial Cultural Evolution Goes (Relatively) Hyper

Celebrating in Colorado: This is 2012, not 1967.

Have you noticed that the American culture is undergoing a comparatively momentous set of changes? Well, of course you have. But let's review:
  1. We have a black president.
  2. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is rejected in favor of equal rights in the armed services.
  3. Same-sex marriage becomes the norm with complete federal support.
  4. Marijuana is legal in 20 states -- and the DOJ just announced they're backing off (they mean it this time).
  5. Health-care reform is coming despite grossly political opposition.
  6. The fiercely law-and-order culture begins to get tamped down, with stop-and-frisk declared unconstitutional and long mandatory-minimum sentencing likely on its way out.
  7. The NFL admits its sport is bad for brains and agrees to huge settlement for former players. Is the end to NCAA exploitation of "amateur" athletes far behind?
  8. Modest consumer-protection reforms are on-going.
  9. There's a growing movement to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, especially in the fast-food industry. Is retail next?
  10. Common Core, a national curriculum reform, offers a chance to sweep provincialism, anti-critical-thinking, and anti-science movements aside (except maybe in Kansas!).
  11. We might (many say will) have a female president in 2016.

The Millennials: solving the world's problems, one cell phone at a time.

I could go on, and there are many areas -- like guns, race, and financial corruption -- where progress is slow, but even in these one senses a critical mass for change starting to take shape. Why is this? Possibly it's generational, with the "greatest generation" dying off and being replaced with the Millennials and the baby boomers stepping aside for Gen X.

Rick Perry's Texas in peril?
There's another factor, I suspect, that's geographic and more glacial: The Internet, the media, and ethnic reconfiguration (yes, I mean Hispanics) are causing the country to reduce its regionalism, with the Old South and its racist and religious provincialism beginning to recede as urban centers like Charlotte, Atlanta, and northern Virginia lead the way to a new liberalism. This movement is real. Who would have thought we'd be uttering things like "Texas is going blue?"
I wish I could speak in depth to the international component of this trend, but we can go back to the end of apartheid in South Africa and the end of the Cold War and the liberation of Eastern Europe as harbingers, with the establishment of democracy in South Korea another early sign of Asian progress. Is a democratic Indonesia becoming a reality? We know the Arab Spring has reverted to an Arab Winter of discontent and violent upheaval with democracy unlikely to flourish and return to autocratic rule now all but certain, but it still represents progress and green sprouts of change.

We're seeing it across Latin America, too.

I find myself hopeful. Maybe it's because of the recent celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington, which reminded us all of how far we've come and how far we still have to go to achieve racial equality. The challenges of the first black presidency has had the effect of energizing the national conversation in all the areas of reform where we still lag.

Barack Obama: a turning point of sorts.
Barack Obama's presidency is a complicated mess, with the push-pull of politics becoming more fiercely partisan and rancorous. At its center is a black man who knows his only chance for greatness is to avoid any appearance of the uppity Negro in order to put that stereotype behind us perhaps once and for all. That requirement itself has held back the nation in its movement towards social justice. But it had to be this way.

No doubt Obama is a sign post, a symptom if maybe not a cure.

In the end, though, Barack Obama is part of the solution and not part of the problem. The forces that resist his centrist liberalism do hold back the nation. But not for long, I feel, not for long. The Obama era will be remembered as a major turning point in our cultural evolution. That in itself is a legacy.

Martin Luther King Jr.: He had a dream. What do we have?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Best Case Yet for Not Bombing Syria

I'm conflicted on this sort of thing. I regard myself as a pacifist and have since Vietnam, was against Iraq but not against Afghanistan, other than how the war was prosecuted, believing we should have engaged in a police action to root out the bad guys no matter how long it took without waging all-out war.

I agreed with Clinton's actions in Bosnia and Kosovo, not so much because no Americans were lost in combat but because we took a limited action that was launched in great measure against genocide. That's why I originally favored knocking Syria, Assad, and his forces back as hard as Barack Obama felt like doing. We don't cotton to genocide, and we don't allow chemical weapons.

However, arguments are being made against any action, and some have been persuasive, none more so than Slate business blogger Matthew Yglesias in his post, "The Case for Doing Nothing in Syria:"
Except, in this case, it’s total nonsense [that there are no good options]. Obama has an excellent option. It’s called “don’t bomb Syria.” Don’t fire cruise missiles at Syria either. Or in any other way conduct acts of war. Condemn Assad’s violations of international humanitarian law. If rebels violate international humanitarian law, condemn them, too.
Work at the United Nations to get wrongdoing punished. Insofar as geopolitically driven Russian and Chinese intransigence prevents that from happening, accept alliance politics as a fact of life. The government of Bahrain has killed dozens of protesters since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, and America has done nothing. We haven’t cut aid to Egypt despite massacres there, and while it’s at least imaginable that we might cut aid at some point, we certainly won’t be greenlighting any cross-border attacks on the Egyptian military. We don’t have to like it when our friends in Beijing and Moscow block our schemes, but there’s no need to be self-righteous about it.
Obama’s good option would be to reread his administration’s official National Security Strategy, which sagely argues that “[a]s we did after World War II, we must pursue a rules-based international system that can advance our own interests by serving mutual interests.”
In this case, the relevant rules are in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which  states that all countries have an “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” in the case of an armed attack. Bombing Syria would not be an act of U.S. self-defense. Nor would it be an act of collective self-defense in which the United States comes to the aid of an ally. Beyond individual and collective self-defense, military action may be legally undertaken at the direction of the Security Council. In this case, direction will not be forthcoming, which is what makes Obama’s choice easy. He needs to stick with the pursuit of a rules-based international system by, in this case, playing by the rules.
This is a good option.
This is very persuasive indeed. We didn't stop genocide in Rwanda, we aren't stopping it in Congo, and we haven't stopped aid to the Egyptian Army despite obvious deadly force inflicted on Egypt's own people: We pick and choose based on our national interests, don't we?

Yglesias is also right to point out that there are established channels to follow to invoke the Geneva Protocols. It's called going to the U.N. If Russia and China refuse to pass a resolution to punish Syria for war crimes, shame on them. The world will know who stands up against chemical weapons and who doesn't.

And, finally, deciding to blow stuff up in a "limited, targeted" way is fraught with difficulty and often just as likely to cause civilian deaths as doing nothing. In some cases, it raises civilian casualties.

Let's get the whole world against Syria and its vile actions. Then see what action, if any, should be taken.

Remember these guys? They decided "screw the U.N." How well did that work out?

   Paul Wolfowitz   "Scooter" Libby
        Elliot Abrams     

      Richard Perle  Donald Rumsfeld
     Richard Cheney
Er, uh, or not.

Denying Health Care: Think Globally, Act Locally

Hey, Republicans, this isn't funny anymore:
Several Republican-led states at the forefront of the campaign to undermine President Obama’s health-care law have come up with new ways to try to thwart it, refusing to enforce consumer protections, for example, and restricting federally funded workers hired to help people enroll in coverage.
And in at least one state, Missouri, local officials have been barred from doing anything to help put the law into place...
...Under the [new health-care] law, millions of uninsured Americans will be able to shop for health plans and apply for subsidies to buy them, beginning Oct. 1. The policies will take effect in January, when most Americans will be required to have insurance or face a penalty.
Advocates worry that continued resistance by some states could hinder efforts to coax many of the nation’s 50 million uninsured to sign up for coverage.
Let's look straight at this: Republicans on the state level would rather deny new opportunities for health care for the poor and lower middle classes than allow the Democrats on the national level -- read Barack Obama -- from having a political victory. These red-state Republicans take pride, by the way, in their Christian faith. Read the Beatitudes lately?

Let's sample a couple of the red-state approaches:
In the states, much of the activity involves “navigators,” a workforce of tens of thousands of people who will be deployed by the administration to provide in-person or over-the-phone assistance for people signing up for insurance.
More than a dozen states have imposed licensing rules and limits on these helpers, with the encouragement of professional insurance agents and brokers, who lobbied heavily for the restrictions.
In Ohio, for example, navigators won’t be allowed to compare and contrast plans for customers. And in Missouri, which has a Democratic governor but a Republican legislature, they are required to immediately cut off contact with any customers who at some point have talked to a professional broker or agent.
That's right, Republicans have made it illegal to help people get health care. Something they can't do on the national level they are finding ways to do on the local level. Chew on that.

Ohio governor John Kasich: We can't stop Obamacare
 but we can hinder you from getting it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And Here I Thought Feminism Was About Jobs, Money, Equal Opportunity, and Respect

Thank god we've got Rush Limbaugh to let us know it's really about the icky:

Man, those crafty, angry bitches almost got one over on us. Thanks, Rush!

(via Atrios and Media Matters)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The MLK Speech

Funny, none of the networks -- that I know of -- ran the speech or any significant piece thereof, since it's the reason we remember the 1963 march on Washington, DC, at all:

Donald, Trump'd!

In for some stormy weather, eh?

When you've already had nine lives -- some of them ending in bankruptcy -- and you become infamous for trash-talking the president's birth certificate, you're set up for a fall. But, Donald, did you have to take such a big one?

I love the Guardian's headline:

Donald Trump sued for $40m over allegedly bogus university 

So rich, with the "bogus." Read the story here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Health Care Matters, and Republicans Can't Get There from Here

The key to the Republicans' conundrum with health care is that Obamacare can work. Oh, they worked overtime to demonize it, but they didn't do it with the truth. So sez Jonathan Bernstein at WaPo's The Plum Line:
...Much of the initial hatred of the ACA was focused on a series of phony talking points and outright lies (“government takeover” of health care; “death panels”; the law was “rammed through” using corrupt procedural tricks; etc.).
Since none of that was true, it gave Republicans an opening: they may have stigmatized “Obamacare,” but they hadn’t stigmatized the policy ideas at the core of the law — the combination of exchanges and subsidies that actually started out as a Republican plan... In other words, as late as 2012 it seemed plausible Republicans could choose to invent a ConservaCare proposal based on Ronald Reagan Marketplaces that would basically offer a slightly different spin on the same underlying idea.
But conservatives have decided that no policy overlap with Obamacare is acceptable...
So now they've cornered themselves, in that anything that solves the health-care problems that Obamacare solves -- such as pre-existing conditions -- has to, in effect, look like Obamacare. Why? Because Obamacare is based on conservative ideas, you know, preserving the insurance structure and avoiding single-payer, keeping the free market intact.

This past week Newt Gingrich chided his party -- he's been doing that a lot recently, behaving like the professor he isn't -- for not having the replace part of repeal-and-replace. In this the Republicans jammed themselves up: When you repeal "death panels," what do you replace them with when they never existed to begin with?

Gingrich didn't leave himself much of an out, either, as Ezra Klein points out:
“If we’re going to take on the fight with Obamacare, we have to be able to explain to people what we would do to make your life better,” [Gingrich] said.
That’s a task Republicans have clearly failed at. One of the more interesting polling wrinkles of the past few years is that the persistent unpopularity of the Democrats’ signature health-care initiative hasn’t helped the GOP take the lead on the broader issue. A recent poll by the Morning Consult found a 10 percent edge for Democrats on health care. Even the conservative polling group Rasmussen continues to find a Democratic edge.
The public doesn’t like what the Democrats did. But they really don’t like what they think the Republicans will do.
Of course, as Gingrich correctly points out, the Republicans have no idea what is it is they’ll do — save for undoing what the Democrats did. But for all Gingrich’s bluster on the subject, the simplest way to understand that policy vacuum is to understand Gingrich’s pre-Obamacare health-care plan: It was Obamacare.
“We should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond),” he wrote in his 2008 book, “Real Change.” “Meanwhile, we should provide tax credits or subsidize private insurance for the poor.”
So that’s an individual mandate plus tax subsidies to purchase insurance. That’s the core of Obamacare. And it’s no surprise Gingrich supported it. Lots of Republicans did. Gov. Mitt Romney even signed a plan like that into law in Massachusetts.
Which, as you know, Romney campaigned against, however contorted he had to become. (I like my ideas except when Obama agrees with them.)

And thus we find the crazies among the conservatives attached at the hip to defunding Obamacare, while the moderates -- and thus leadership -- in the Republican Party urge a repeal-and-replace notion that they can't talk about because it would sound like Obamacare.

And, finally, that leadership is in danger of going all in with the "defund Obamacare or we bring down the world economy" blackmail because they have -- or will have -- crazies running against them in the primaries. Even if Mitch McConnell seems poised to defeat his tea-party challenger, the threat may drive him further right, as he fears what happens to his base when he cuts a deal to "preserve" Obamacare. Will his base move over to his opponent?

While Obamacare will likely take effect in October -- with Democrats getting the credit when it turns out that it works -- the extreme right might yet gamble on bringing down the government, at the risk of destroying the U.S and world economies.

It's not wise to corner wild animals. It turns out that Republicans have cornered themselves. Will they act like wild animals? Let's hope not.

Update. I had originally wanted to include a link to a horrendous Karl Rove op-ed piece about the Republican "alternative" to Obamacare, but it's behind a paywall at the WSJ. So here's a link to a takedown of it by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. It's good, with links to other folks' responses, including Paul Krugman's. Check it out.

Oops, the truth slipped out.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Night Video: Brandi Carlile

Here's my first video selection, meant to start a good while back.

I chose Brandi Carlile because she's a great singer, and I lucked into a free ticket to see her and her band at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Oregon, as I passed through just this past Wednesday.

Much thanks to Laurie and Joe. Brandi was beyond good. It's a good concert when, while you're walking out, you're already thinking about how you can see her again.

Bush's Legacy Is Trashed. Why Would Obama Want to Follow Suit?

We had your back from Day 1. Where did you go?

Let's face it, Barack Obama has done enough good things -- helped us limp through a tepid recovery, overseen a return to civility (if only on his side), ended DADT, helped win the same-sex marriage debate, and brought us healthcare reform -- that his legacy is fairly well secured. Simply by letting Iraq and Afghanistan wind down was almost enough to place his presidency on the right side of sanity. Add support for sensible gun laws and Obama has done well.

Except -- this is crucial -- the president went and let the national security apparatus give him the smackdown he could have avoided. This is what threatens his legacy the most, that he didn't stand up to the thugs that naturally build up around defense.

The NSA is clearly out of control, its descent beginning as far back as TIA (Total Information Awareness) under John Poindexter early in the Bush years after 9/11. It came out of DARPA, the defense lab that gave birth to the Internet, and though Congress defunded TIA to get rid of it in 2003, it hung around like cancer and slowly metastasized.

And, like a cancer, it threatens not only Americans' constitutional rights but also Barack Obama's legacy. If it does, he'll have only himself to blame: You let the slimy critters live and they'll take over. And it seems they have.

Unfortunately, Obama has double-doubled down, firstly by saying at the beginning of his presidency that we would "look forward, not back" and leave off investigating the origins of torture and a host of black ops run by Bush's (or rather Dick Cheney's) cabal of blackguards, and secondly by participating in the stock prevarications used by all those in power who wish to preserve even the most sullied of their prerogatives. Power corrupts, and even Barack Obama with his lofty rhetoric has been so corrupted.

Obama didn't just let it lie there. He actually tripled down through the Justice Department, with its ruthless pursuit of whistleblowers and leakers, using antiquated statutes to label anyone who went up against this overgrown, out-of-control surveillance leviathan a traitor, a spy, an enemy of the state.

Sorry, Mr. President, somebody is listening to our phone calls.

Now, to a great extent, it doesn't matter what Barack Obama does in the remaining 3 and 1/2 years in office. Obamacare can be a great success, gun control might yet stage a comeback, immigration reform might yet pass the Congress. But in many ways, Obama has already drawn a weak hand and traded in the wrong cards by standing on the podium and saying that "your government doesn't spy on you" when he knows that it does and should have known better than to think the American people would believe him. They don't. And it was the first and clearest example of how an apparent man of principle loses his when he ascends to the White House.

Perhaps that's why Obama allowed his administration to so ruthlessly hunt down leakers. Obama wanted to be the leaker-in-chief, wanted to manage the message at all costs, to control the talking points. Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning before him, had a very clear message to Barack Obama: We got your talking points right here, Mr. President.

Barack Obama had the clearest path laid out before him when he was elected, and that path was untrod by George W. Bush. Why, then, did Obama turn and follow Bush into the oblivion of the power-hungry? Maybe someday Obama will write the book on how good men go wrong. Or maybe he's writing it now.

Update. Talking Points Memo has a feature out today listing the major revelations on the NSA front. It's a must-read. And to pile on, TPM flags this ridiculous bit of flim-flamery. C'mon, Barack. You're not doing yourself any favors.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ted Cruz Is a Spineless 'Fraidy Cat

Fraidy cat Ted Cruz can dish it out but can't take it.
Presidential timber? Only if you're looking for balsa.

I guess his base is going to eat this up, his renouncing his Canadian citizenship. Does that make him more American? Maybe, but now what are the Canadians ever going to do? My recommendation? Rush a bill through Parliament to establish "Ted Cruz Emancipation Day." And there was dancing throughout the land.

Also, Canada sure dodged a bullet.

Update. Just so you know, my point is Ted Cruz' base is so crazy that he feels that he has to renounce his Canadian citizenship to placate them. And that's cowardice. A man of spine would have told them to get a life and moved on.

"Everyone Who's Ever Shot Me Was Black and Wearing a Hoodie"

I'm tired of ripping off Atrios so much, except that's what he does (so well). In fact, that's what the best bloggers do, Atrios is just my favorite at it. We call it "redirecting." Getting your attention, and that's not a bad thing.

This piece by Brian Beutler -- a journalist who worked for Talking Points Memo before moving to Salon -- is about getting shot. It's the clearest argument I've yet found for ending stop-and-frisk, or at least for putting the lie to nonsense that it isn't racist. Read it. Here's a tease:
A half-hour after last call, on our walk home up 16th Street northbound toward Mount Pleasant where we lived at the time, we impulsively decided to grab a late night snack at a 24-hour diner we used to frequent in Adams Morgan and hung a left up Euclid Street — a dimly lit one-way street with a violent history.
Just as an aside, I have, like a lot of whites, an irrational fear of black people at night. That's funny because when I was nineteen and reasonably young and stupid, a friend of mine and I decided in the middle of the night to cross half of San Francisco to go see a friend who lived near Haight-Ashbury. I suppose we thought he might have drugs.

We encountered two sets of people during that walk, both black. during the first encounter, one of the guys admired my gold rings -- it was the sixties, you know, Ringo and all that -- before giving me a couple of Kools.

During the second encounter, in the dark heart of the Fillmore with papers swirling in the slightly foggy wind, we ran into two black derelicts who asked us for a dime. When they discovered we were broke, they forced their last nine cents on us, insisting we'd do it if it was the other way around.

That was 45 years ago. Did I say my fear of blacks was irrational?

Monday, August 19, 2013

The New Normal? Glenn Greenwald's Partner Detained at Heathrow Airport

For nine hours. For being Glenn Greenwald's partner:
Glenn Greenwald's partner was detained by authorities at London's Heathrow airport for nearly nine hours, the Guardian reported on Sunday.
Greenwald writes books.
David Miranda, who lives with Greenwald in Brazil, was held under a controversial provision of Britain's Terrorism Act that allows police to stop, question and search people without having to prove any reasonable suspicion, and without a lawyer needing to be present. The paper said he was held for the maximum amount of time allowed under the law...
Glenn Greenwald reacts:
This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It's bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It's worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they feel threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.
If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world - when they prevent the Bolivian President's plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today - all they do is helpfully underscore why it's so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.
So this is how civil liberties disappear. It's a continuation of the West's uncivil reaction to 9/11. Did the terrorists win? Cliché, yes, but on point. For now it seems they have.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Noah Smith Explains the Fox News Bubble for All Time -- Without Even Mentioning Fox

Sources familiar with Noah Smith
claim this might be a picture of him.
First-year finance professor at SUNY and blogger without peer -- at least in making economics funnier than shit -- has advanced the scholarship miles and miles on the nature of the Fox News Bubble. (Example on Fox and Friends from just yesterday: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.)

Smith, as no other blogger I know, is just the person most qualified to establish not only the meaning of the term "derp" but also to show how vital the term is to today's discourse.

Read his explanation here. I won't quote it because it's unfair to take his masterful work of scholarship and steal only a snippet for critical review. It deserves to be read as a whole piece.

I will, however, offer a tease. Smith reaches his crescendo of magnificence -- and relevance -- with this line:
That twerp just herped a flerp of derp!
Read the whole piece, and don't skip the comments.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bette Midler (Yeah, the Singer!) Goes Up Against WaPo Fed Reporter on Larry Summers and Wins!

Bette Midler: You are the wind beneath
my contempt for Larry Summers.
This was flagged by blogger Atrios and analyzed by economist Dean Baker, but it's too sweet not to share with my readers. Singer/actor (and apparent financial wiz) Bette Midler Twitter-debated WaPo Fed reporter Neil Irwin on Larry Summers -- Obama's misguided possible first choice to replace Fed chair Ben Bernanke -- and crushes him:
Ms Midler led off with the tweet:
"HUH. The architect of bank deregulation, which turned straitlaced banks into casinos and bankers into pimps, may be next Head Fed: Summers."
Irwin took issue with this by pointing out that the Clinton administration, as well as the Bush administration, were filled with proponents of deregulation. This would be people like Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Timothy Geithner. Based on this background Irwin doesn't think it's fair to call Summers "the architect of bank deregulation." 
Neil Irwin, do you wanna dance?
No, not with Bette Midler...
We at Beat the Press have to call this one mostly for Midler. After all, Summers is known financial luddite for raising the possibility that deregulation might lead to instability in the financial system at the Fed's big Greenspanfest in 2005.
to be a forceful character, not just a shrinking violet who sits in the corner of the room. Regulation fans everywhere remember how Summers denounced Raghuram Rajan  as a financial luddite for raising the possibility that deregulation might lead to instability in the financial system at the Fed's big Greenspanfest in 2005.
Summers was a big actor in pushing the deregulation agenda. He deserves credit for his work. If we change Midler's tweet to read, "an architect of bank deregulation," she is 100 percent on the mark.
Baker continues with the refereeing, with Midler wiping the floor with Irwin. Read the whole thing to enjoy all the fun.

As for me, I'm for Janet Yellen, Fed-wise.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Eric Holder Makes a Good Decision on Low-Level Offenders. What Took So Long?

I wrote a long-winded "What could we do to make America better" post, which I left as a draft earlier today, and then it turns out that one of my recommendations -- tossing the practice of mandatory minimum sentence -- is being offered by Eric Holder. Good for him.

This is no solution to anything.

Emily Bazelon of Slate doesn't think Holder goes far enough.

Charlie Savage of the NYTimes explains more.

I for one hope that the states, some of which already have, with follow suit. We don't need to lock so many people for so long. It's a huge waste of both human and monetary capital.

NYC's Stop-and-Frisk is Over. What Took So Long?

Read this news item about it.

Then read this opinion about it. It's Bill Keller, not being an idiot for once but still offering a "Goldilocks" opinion.

Then read this opinion about it. Slate gets it more right than "Goldilocks."

Now we have to wonder: Will NYC obey the decision? Or will it appeal and continue the offensive practice as long as it can?

I like CA governor Jerry Brown, but he hasn't exactly followed the court mandate to reduce the population in overcrowded CA prisons. To me, his handling is quasi-legal, a practice perfected in the Bush-Cheney response to terrorism.

Winning hearts and minds, one stop-and-frisk at a time...

We Don't Have to Call Edward Snowden a Hero, but...

Edward_Snowden-2...he's been very good for the country and, by extension, the world. How? Check this out:
The Snowden effect, a definition:
Direct and indirect gains in public knowledge from the cascade of events and further reporting that followed Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified information about the surveillance state in the U.S.
Meaning: there’s what Snowden himself revealed by releasing secrets and talking to the press. But beyond this, there is what he set in motion by taking that action. Congress and other governments begin talking in public about things they had previously kept hidden. Companies have to explain some of their dealings with the state. Journalists who were not a party to the transaction with Snowden start digging and adding background. Debates spring to life that had been necessary but missing before the leaks. The result is that we know much more about the surveillance state than we did before. Some of the opacity around it lifts. This is the Snowden effect.
It is good for public knowledge. And public knowledge is supposed to be what a free press and open debate are all about.
Read the whole article. It exposes the hypocrisy of charging Snowden as a spy. There are two things to understand: one, that these programs never should have gotten so big and out of hand; and, two, because they did, Snowden's actions are clearly, if not purely, patriotic. Whatever else his motives were is irrelevant.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

9/11 --> Patriot Act --> Our Own Special Owellian World

Edward Snowden, patriot, now in exile.
The title of this post says it all. However, I'd like to share some things that amplify it. First, a comment by Mark P on a NYTimes article about President Obama's press conference yesterday that centered around Edward Snowden and the "national conversation" we're having about the NSA surveillance programs:
There are several misapprehensions among some commenters on this article.

1) That the NSA programs are legal.

The only program uncovered by Snowden that might have a hope of being considered legal is the metadata program, due to precedents that imply that phone meta data is like the outside of an envelope. Sensenbrenner believes that the wholesale seizing of all phone metadata is not legal under the PATRIOT Act, but possibly it is legal. However, the DOJ kept this program, along with the others, hidden for the purpose of keeping it unchallenged in court.

All the other programs uncovered that appear to populate the XKeyScore database, including the one that searches through every single email crossing the border (and probably ones that don't cross the border, too, although that part has not been acknowledged), appear to be spectacularly illegal as well as unconstitutional.

2) That Snowden should have stayed in the US to perform his whistleblowing.

There is recent precedent of how NSA, CIA, FBI, and Army whistleblowers are treated. Looking into how Drake, Binney, Kiriakou, Manning and others have been treated would explain exactly why Snowden knew he'd have to leave the country in order to perform his whistleblowing. A large number of whistleblowers, including Ellsberg, the gold standard for staying in the country and fighting through the courts, have publicly endorsed Snowden's fleeing the country. A group of them have given Snowden a whistleblowing award.
I completely agree with what Mark P said above, but there are broader implications here. First, a good look at what we know of these NSA programs leads to no other conclusion that they are illegal as well as unconstitutional. Second, it should be well understood that we now have a habit of not only locking up whistleblowers but also of abusing them, even torturing them.

Those two facts are, well, facts, and hard to dispute. Funny thing is, many people all the way up to including Eric Holder and the president himself do dispute them. What's even funnier is that we're not surprised they dispute them. We expect them to, and that includes everyone in the intelligence community, the State Department, and the Justice Department. We now accept that it's their job to deceive us, to offer up justification for massive violations of the U.S. Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald, journalist, is amazed
that government liars keep their jobs.
When Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress on national TV, I suspect very few people thought he was telling the truth, and that probably goes for most people in the committee hearing room. The thing that was surprising was that he got caught!

Did he resign? No. Did the president ask for his resignation? No. Are we surprised at that? No. Are we disgusted by that? We should be.

Guardian journalist and former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald is surprised, in fact amazed:
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald said Sunday it's "amazing" that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper still has a job and hasn't been prosecuted.
Clapper recently apologized to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for an "erroneous" statement given to Wyden over the scope of the National Security Agency's data mining programs, but Greenwald said on ABC's "This Week" he was surprised that's as far as it's gone given that Clapper was "caught red-handed lying to the American Congress."
"It's amazing that he not only hasn't been prosecuted  but still has his job. And what that does is it lets national security officials continue to lie to the public," Greenwald said.
Greenwald said he plans to publish a story this week that reveals the scope of access that low-level NSA and government contractors have into phone and email communications.
"There are legal constrains [sic] for how you can spy on Americans," Greenwald said. "But these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing history, Microsoft Word documents. It's an incredibly powerful and invasive tool."
For balance -- that bane of good journalism -- Politico chooses to quote Sen. Saxby Chambiss as disputing Greenwald's statement, saying that he had been "assured otherwise." By whom, James Clapper?

 Okay then. As long as it's the least untruthful you could be.

George Orwell
This is the world we now live in, where we no longer can trust a huge segment of government, a world in which we expect to be lied to by people we elect -- or the people appointed by the people we elect  -- and we're encouraged to accept it as being for our own good. Those that sincerely want to protect our rights, like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, have to fear for their safety, need to be fearful enough that they would flee to exile for self-preservation. Snowden did and is safe. Manning didn't and was placed in solitary and made to sleep naked with no sheets or pillows. Torture nowadays is as American as apple pie.

Nice world we're creating. George Orwell was a visionary, but I wonder if he could have envisioned this. Actually, I guess he did. He certainly nailed it with doublethink and doublespeak.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hey, America, We Have No Privacy

He's back.
(Updated below.)

The post-Edward-Snowden era is different from the pre-Edward-Snowden era, well, only in as much as we now know that we didn't have any privacy before and we don't have any privacy now, either.

Some Bill of Rights you got there, America.

The latest from Snowden, via The Guardian in the UK, essentially says that the NSA and its analysts may not, repeat, may not target U.S. citizens in database searches unless, well, uh, they can. Very reassuring:
The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant, according to a top-secret document passed to the Guardian by Edward Snowden.
The previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans' communications using their name or other identifying information. Senator Ron Wyden told the Guardian that the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing "warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans".
The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs.
Cute. It's against the law to target U.S. citizens unless there's a loophole nobody knows about that says maybe it's okay.

The NSA's new data center in Utah. Question is, who's privacy is not violated?

I don't think I'm naïve, but I admit I was caught up in Obama fever in 2008. Yes, we can! I still sort of like the guy in that he actually has positive policy ideas and mostly tries to implement them except the Republicans in their wisdom won't let him. But I don't think I properly understood that when he said, "We can't continue stomping on your civil rights the way the Bush administration did with its opaque and secretive ways," Obama actually meant, "Yes, we can!"

Americans, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll, say that Snowden should be charged with a crime after exposing NSA secrets, by a margin of 53% to 36%. On the other hand, a Quinnipiac poll shows that Americans believe that Snowden is a whistleblower, not a traitor, by a margin of 55% to 34%. To suggest that this assessment is incoherent is to waste words. My only possible takeaway is that Americans love their whistleblowers but also love them in jail.

Wait, there's more: Americans, 58% to 39%, support the NSA's collection of our data because it makes them feel safe. At least, they believed it in June. Now, a couple of months later, they feel the same -- in a Washington Post/ABC poll -- with 57% saying the NSA should investigate threats and 39% saying that it intrudes on our privacy. However, in the same poll 74% of Americans thought that surveillance of phone records and Internet traffic intruded on our privacy, while 22% did not. 55% of Americans considered this intrusion was not justified, with 39% believing it was not.

I'm reading my email, and so is the NSA. Meh...
Wait! I'm pissed. Well, sort of. What was the question?

This is so drip, drip, drip. Next week there will be another disclosure even worse. And Americans' opinions will shift yet again. And their outrage will be...muted.

Maybe Americans are too busy looking for a job or trying to stop their banks from foreclosing on them to worry about the Bill of Rights. Hey, the conservatives' strategy is working!

Our rights? We'll worry about that after our son's game, or maybe
after tomorrow's job fair, or right after marriage counseling Saturday, or...

Update. Wow. When I talked about how incoherent Americans' view of Snowden, patriotism, national security, safety, privacy, and electronic surveillance, I had no idea that Barack Obama's views were equally incoherent. Check out this report about his press conference today:
Obama began the news conference by announcing a series of reforms meant to increase the transparency of, and the constraints on, the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. They included reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which enables the collection of telephone metadata; changes to the powerful surveillance courts to ensure ”that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary”; declassification of key NSA documents; and the formation of “a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”
“What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation,” Obama said. “It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”
If that’s so, then Edward Snowden should be hailed as a hero. There’s simply no doubt that his leaks led to more open debate and more democratic process than would’ve existed otherwise.
Obama reluctantly admitted as much. “There’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board,” he said, though he also argued that absent Snowden, “we would have gotten to the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security and some very vital ways that we are able to get intelligence that we need to secure the country.”
As Tim Lee writes, this is dubious at best. Prior to Snowden’s remarks, there was little public debate — in part because the federal government was preventing it.
Yeah, I feel you, brother. Let's hunt Snowden down, anyway. After all, he didn't whistleblow right. He should of whistleblowed by keeping his trap shut. We would have gotten to that national conversation about secret courts and secret surveillance the old fashioned way, you know, by, uh, you know, hey, look, a pony!

God. You're better than that, Obama. Or, maybe not.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Corporations: Don't Sponsor 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Russia is poised to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in a few months. In spite of that, the government -- most assuredly driven by Vladimir Putin -- pushes on with severe anti-gay laws. Russian society seems fertile ground for anti-gay hate. It's pretty shocking. The Duma voted in a new anti-gay law last month, passing it 436-0.

Is Russia the place to celebrate the Olympic spirit?

Russian youths attack a gay activist. A civilized nation that deserves the Olympics?

We need a broad-based movement either to boycott the Sochi Olympics or make sure the issues -- and support of LGBT athletes -- are front and center as the Olympics progress.

This is the Brits' reaction: Ban it!! Putin? Heartburn fer sure...

I'm inclined to simply boycott Russia, and boycott the Olympics. Uh, we've made NO PROGRESS? Rarely shout, but Russian anti-gay stance is offensive to open societies everywhere.

George Takei of Star Trek fame steps forward: No winter Olympics for Russia!!

Jump on board the boycott. Lean on NBC, the TV sponsor. Pressure the corporate sponsors. Make them pay for endangering the LGBT community around the world. Russian anti-gay laws are an anachronism that run counter to the spirit of enlightened people everywhere. Surely the Olympic spirit is meant to support freedom and safety.

I personally will not support or buy any product from any sponsor -- from any country -- of the Sochi Winter Olympics. I will express my opinion of their participation where I can on social media. Any sponsor that uses the opportunity to use their advertising perch to express support for freedom and safety for LGBT athletes may get my support.

Even if efforts fail to dislodge the Olympics from Russia, all efforts should be made to embarrass Russia for being a backward country that doesn't deserve the respect of a 21st-century world.

Bad press for Russia is popping up all over. Examples are here, here, and here.

Both Barack Obama and Jay Leno speak out against Russia's anti-gay
stance during the president's recent appearance on the Tonight Show.

The New Yorker covered Barack Obama's remarks on Jay Leno's show:
Leno: Do you think it will affect the Olympics?
Obama: I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They’re athletes, they’re there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track or in the swimming pool or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
Leno: Good enough for me.
Obama has a way of coming out on the record for causes he believes in. He does lend support for many of the right causes (even if he's conventional when it comes to Wall Street and national security, sigh). Anyway, kudos for his stance on the Russian anti-gay question.

Protest is broader than I thought. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) is on board.

Simple Blogging about Guns

Legal gun for average user in the U.S. Fuck yeah!

Here's a legal -- sort of -- gun owner with her new rifle:

Real gun owner -- pictured on an online gun forum. 2nd Amendment, fuck yeah!

This has been simple blogging about guns. Uh, in America. Freedom! Simple link about gun accidentss.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Curing Income Inequality: Strengthen Labor.

Anyone who has studied or lived through the rise of labor in the 30s and 40s and the fruits of labor victories in the 50s, 60s, and 70s knows that what made the rise of the American middle class possible was the clout of labor unions. Skilled blue-collar workers could work hard, raise families, send kids to college, and have expectations that those kids would do better than they did. In general, they did do better. Public-sector unions did their part, protecting the wages of government workers.

Good wages didn't come easily, even in the 1950s.

Those hard-fought victories include aspects of American life that we've framed as the American Dream. Americans today are decrying the loss of the American Dream, and those on the left blame it on anti-union and anti-labor sentiment, while those of the right claim that it's because we lost our sense of personal responsibility and 47% of us are takers.

The funny thing is that during all those years, we elected Democrats -- like Truman, Kennedy, Johnson -- and Republicans -- like Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan -- with equal enthusiasm. The turning point, however, was the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, who ushering in the era of anti-unionism with his handling of the PATCO strike, where he singlehandedly broke a major union. He did this while gathering disaffected blue-collar workers who then became known as Reagan Democrats.

The irony is that the man who brought blue-collar workers into the Republican fold was the same man who vowed to destroy labor. Every since then -- most economic historians mark the beginning of Reagan's first term as the beginning of 30 years of declining wages -- labor has not only lost power to capital but has also lost tremendous wealth to the upper quintile, the upper 5%, 1%, 0.1%. Any way you view it, capital is kicking labor's ass.

This chart from the St. Louis FED shows labor share of income falling beginning in 1980, except for the period marked by the tech bubble during the Clinton years:

This is all the more surprising because labor productivity has risen steadily throughout the whole period:

Kenneth Thomas, political-science professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis, whose blog is where I found these charts, explains it well:
An even bigger problem is that the compensation series includes all workers, not just average workers, so it lumps CEOs and janitors together in a single measure even though we know that the 1% soaked up most of the income gains before and after the Great Recession. Moreover, the nonwage portions of compensation, such as health insurance and defined benefit pensions, have eroded much more for average workers than for the 1%. Thus, this measure is completely unsatisfactory for understanding what has happened to the average worker.

So, we come back to Table B-47 and the real wages of production and non-supervisory workers. The fact that, adjusted for inflation, wages still remain almost 14% below what they were 40 years ago, despite a doubling in productivity, is a national disgrace. It is one of the roots of the increase in multi-income households, in higher levels of indebtedness needed to maintain consumption levels, and of the sharp increase in inequality we have seen over recent decades.
This is not the first time this has happened:

Compare 1923-1929 with 2002-2007. We had serious crashes after both 1929 and 2007.

Can anyone possibly imagine what will follow if we can't cure income inequality?

Now, in simplest of terms, how do we describe such a situation of income inequality as illustrated in these graphs? I describe it as a disparity between capital and labor. We can talk about how the upper 1% have all the money, but that's not as helpful in illustrating the problem. Let's just call capital the upper 20% (with the top 1% of that having most of the wealth) and labor the bottom 80%. The solution to income inequality is redistributing wealth down from the top 20% to the bottom 80%.

How do we do that? By empowering labor over capital. Who does that best, historically?

Labor unions. Strikes pressing for a living wage are a good start. Go labor!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Clear Thinking in Support of Fiscal Stimulus -- with a Smackdown of Those Who Said It Can't Work

The best way to fix the economy? Conservatives think so.

The first part of this post is lifted in its entirely from a blog post by Oxford economics professor Simon Wren-Lewis, a particular favorite of Paul Krugman:
Well here is Nobel prize winner Robert Lucas:
 But, if we do build the bridge by taking tax money away from somebody else, and using that to pay the bridge builder -- the guys who work on the bridge -- then it's just a wash. It has no first-starter effect. There's no reason to expect any stimulation. And, in some sense, there's nothing to apply a multiplier to. (Laughs.) You apply a multiplier to the bridge builders, then you've got to apply the same multiplier with a minus sign to the people you taxed to build the bridge.
And here is John Cochrane, also a professor at Chicago, and someone who has made important academic contributions to macroeconomic thinking:
Before we spend a trillion dollars or so, it's important to understand how it's supposed to work. Spending supported by taxes pretty obviously won't work: If the government taxes A by $1 and gives the money to B, B can spend $1 more. But A spends $1 less and we are not collectively any better off.
Both make the same simple error. If you spend X at time t to build a bridge, aggregate demand increases by X at time t. If you raise taxes by X at time t, consumers will smooth this effect over time, so their spending at time t will fall by much less than X. Put the two together and aggregate demand rises.
This is a completely clear takedown of Robert Lucas and John Cochrane, two economists of the freshwater school, often described as neoclassicists or Real Business Cycle advocates -- as opposed to Keynesians like Krugman and Wren-Lewis. The mistakes ascribed to Lucas and Cochrane do seem like undergraduate-level errors that Wren-Lewis described by saying " I prefer to just note that if any undergraduate or graduate student in the UK wrote this in an exam, they would lose marks." Ouch.

The key here is that the time differential between spending and taxation to pay for it leads to aggregate demand rising. As aggregate demand rises, unemployment falls. As unemployment falls, aggregate demand continues to rise. This is called a multiplier effect, and because of it tax revenues rise, which can pay for the original stimulus or reduce the need for a permanent tax rise. Or it can pay down debt or go towards further stimulus, which then has an additional multiplier effect.

I'm not an economist, so I hope what I just wrote is accurate. It sure makes sense to me.

This is important because those who oppose fiscal stimulus and instead promote fiscal austerity have come to rely on Lucas, Cochrane, and other right-wing ideologues for their rationale. That the rationale is bunk matters, but not to the ideologues who employ it.

It's hard enough getting politicians who are predisposed to fight regulation and actions like fiscal stimulus and infrastructure spending to do the right thing to create more demand and more jobs. When the institutional elite at prestigious schools like Chicago give them cover, we've got our work cut out for us.

Thanks to the Keynesians -- or New Keynesians, if you will -- for fighting the good fight. Paul Krugman goes over this very particular misconception on the right -- some may think he goes over and over and over it to a fault -- mainly because it's the central economic failure of our time, that of failing to use fiscal stimulus, infrastructure spending, and out and out giving away free money to drive down unemployment, especially at a time when we're up against the zero lower bound and interest rates near zero make the cost of government borrowing insanely cheap. What's more, we've got bridges, water systems, highways, railways, and harbors that could sure use some fixing. Why aren't we doing it?

But, as Krugman points out ad nauseum, the Very Serious People think we need to suffer for our profligacy, and so the beatings will continue until morale improves. Or something like that.

All I can say is: good grief!