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Friday, December 19, 2014

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It's that time again --- Holiday Fundraiser at Hullabaloo!

by digby

It's been quite a year here at the old Hullabaloo homestead. Many good things have come my way and I'm so grateful for them.  Last spring I was surprised and thrilled to learn that I had won the Sidney Hillman prize for opinion and analysis, something this old country blogger never expected in her wildest dreams. After all, I've just been scribbling away on this humble site, pretty much writing whatever comes into my head.  It's a very rare privilege indeed to have been acknowledged for that work and I couldn't have been more elated by the honor.

Blogging is its own form of writing --- an ongoing stream of consciousness conversation that lasts, in my case, for years. On good blogs, some posts always stand alone as essays but I think it's the evolution of ideas and observations that take place over time that makes a blog stay alive and meaningful. That's how it works for me anyway. It was extremely gratifying to be rewarded for writing in this new form.

And aside from the ongoing privilege of howling about everything from Chris Matthews to torture here in my own place, if you've visited Salon.com in the past few months you've noticed my name as a contributor there. They were kind enough to offer me the opportunity to post some of my writing and I'm very grateful for the privilege. Salon was one of the first online sites I ever visited and it's been a mainstay of the liberal side of the political and cultural internet for decades. It's good fit and I'm enjoying it a lot.

This year has also seen some new faces at Hullabaloo which makes me very happy.  In addition to my long time contributors Dennis Hartley, tristero and David Atkins I've been happy to add Tom Sullivan, Gaius Publius and Spocko to the roster as well as welcome back my old friend Batoccio on occasion. These writers are all bloggers from way back whose writing and activism I've admired. It makes me very happy to be able to provide a platform for their ideas and I'm thankful for their contributions.

Those of you who've stuck by me through thick and thin all these years can also take a little bow. None of this would have happened without you helping to support me these past few years with your donations. Each holiday season I come to you with my request to keep this site going and you always come through.

I'm asking you to do it again this year.

For all the opportunities and honors I've had this past year, it's this site that sustains me intellectually and spiritually --- and financially. It's what makes everything else possible and therefore, nothing I do supersedes my commitment to blogging.  I may be a dinosaur, but I'm determined to survive with my dinosaur cred intact. (And everything old may just be new again --- the Washington Post referred to this blog as "old-school chic" just the other day!)

So, once again I'm asking for your support. If you think the kind of independent blogging I do is something that still has value and you think that people like me, Atrios, Marcy Wheeler, John Amato, Howie Klein  and others still contribute value to our political dialog, please consider dropping a few bucks in the kitty so Hullabaloo can keep going for another year.

You can make a one time contribution via paypal or by credit card. You can buy a monthly subscription too.  Or you can send your donation via snail mail to this address:

Digby's Hullabaloo 
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157 
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Happy Hollandaise everyone! And thanks again for your past support. It means the world to me.



Why what we saw was totally not torture

by Tom Sullivan

All the news about the CIA torture program reminded me of those batches of FBI emails the ACLU obtained through FOIA requests. The ones Sen. Dick Durbin held up and described to colleagues like this:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."
After about ten days of epic, right-wing hissy fit, a tearful Durbin apologized to the U.S. Senate. After the release of the SCCI report, doesn't he feel like an idiot?

(I have this image in my head of Bill Frist accepting Durbin's apology, walking solemnly back to his office, closing the door, and doubling over laughing. The Art of the Hissy Fit is simply alpha dog behavior — showing who's boss by barking loudly in the other dog's face until he rolls over on his back and pees in the air. This is called winning. Torture serves a similar function, doesn't it?)
A May 22, 2004 FBI email described techniques used at Guantanamo Bay that agents on site found disturbing. Although the techniques listed seem not as harsh as those used by the CIA or at Abu Ghraib, the FBI still considered them torture, and said so. Basically, Special Agents were pointedly NOT reporting to superiors that what they'd seen were crimes.

The EC [Electronic Communication] states that "if an FBI employee knows or suspects non-FBI personnel has abused or is abusing or is mistreating a detainee, the FBI employee must report the incident."
See, they write, what we saw would be a crime we'd have to report except we're really not reporting that because the interrogators have an Executive Order from President Bush that makes the illegal techniques legal, therefore by definition not "abuse" and our bureau people are totally NOT involved in any of it. At all.

The agents made sure to repeat "Executive Order" ten times in two pages so no one could miss it. The White House later claimed no such order existed and the FBI and the Pentagon said the directive originated with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

An earlier email from December 5, 2003 suggested that DOD interrogators at GITMO were impersonating FBI agents to their prisoners.
The e-mail concludes "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [sic] the 'FBI' interrogators. The FBI will [sic] left holding the bag before the public."
The document also says that no "intelligence of a threat neutralization nature" was garnered by the "FBI" interrogation, and that the FBI's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) believes that the Defense Department's actions have destroyed any chance of prosecuting the detainee. The e-mail's author writes that he or she is documenting the incident "in order to protect the FBI."

But to protect the FBI from what? Digby linked to a Pew poll the other day showing lots of public support for the use of torture. A Washington Post-ABC News poll produced similarly grim results.
No wonder former vice president Dick Cheney feels he can brag about torturing people on TV with impunity. Because in America our convictions are a mile wide and an inch deep. We are better at boasting about them than sticking to them.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Stevie we hardly knew ye

by digby

I haven't had the opportunity to see the last episode of The Colbert Report yet because I'm on the West Coast (and all you east coasters are ruining everything as usual by running your east coast mouths on twitter!) But I have been enjoying all the tributes  and remembrances over the past few days.

Still, this is the best thing he ever did, the most stellar, surreal put down of the Village anyone anywhere has ever done.  And he went directly into the belly of the beast and did it right to their faces. They didn't know what hit them:

Remember, this was 2006, when the press was still in full swoon over Bush and barely waking up to the fact that the war in Iraq was a big fat loser and that they had been so far in the tank for the Republicans for years that they'd grown gills. Those of us who followed the media closely were at a point of near despair. And then came this moment of pure comeuppance. It was beautiful.

I didn't see it live.  I saw it the next morning on C-SPAN.  My husband and I and my brother and sister in law who were visiting sprang from our chairs and stood in front of the TV for the entire thing, cheering, laughing and even dancing. It was one of the best moments of the decade and I will never forget it.

Politics is going to be a lot less fun now. Colbert always gets it and then gives it back in a whole new way. I've often looked to him for assurance that I'm on the right track --- that the political lunacy I see around me isn't a product of my own delusions.  So I will miss conservative "Stephen"  --- he was a touchstone to sanity.  But normal Stephen will be back with a new thing that I'm sure will be vastly entertaining and intelligent.  He's just that good.

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

The torture queen and the black muslim plot

by digby

Jane Mayer reports on this story about the CIA's Torture Queen, a woman who was not only responsible for much of the epic cock-up of 9/11 but virtually every sick thing the CIA has done since then. She's reportedly the model for the lead character in Zero Dark Thirty, except she evidently really got off on the torture. She's been promoted, naturally.

It's a fascinating story and well worth reading but I just wanted to highlight this:
As NBC recounts, this egregious chapter was apparently only the first in a long tale, in which the same C.I.A. official became a driving force in the use of waterboarding and other sadistic interrogation techniques that were later described by President Obama as “torture.” She personally partook in the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, at a black site in Poland. According to the Senate report, she sent a bubbly cable back to C.I.A. headquarters in 2003, anticipating the pain they planned to inflict on K.S.M. in an attempt to get him to confirm a report from another detainee, about a plot to use African-American Muslims training in Afghanistan for future terrorist attacks. “i love the Black American Muslim at AQ camps in Afghanuistan (sic). … Mukie (K.S.M.) is going to be hatin’ life on this one,” she wrote, according to the report. But, as NBC notes, she misconstrued the intelligence gathered from the other detainee. Somehow, the C.I.A. mistakenly believed that African-American Muslim terrorists were already in the United States. The intelligence officials evidently pressed K.S.M. so hard to confirm this, under such physical duress, that he eventually did, even though it was false—leading U.S. officials on a wild-goose chase for black Muslim Al Qaeda operatives in Montana. According to the report, the same woman oversaw the extraction of this false lead, as well as the months-long rendition and gruesome interrogation of another detainee whose detention was a case of mistaken identity. Later, in 2007, she accompanied then C.I.A. director Michael Hayden to brief Congress, where she insisted forcefully that the torture program had been a tremendous and indispensable success.

This is a war criminal, full stop. And she's being rewarded for it by the US Government.

I have to say that I've always been surprised that the right wingers didn't glom onto the black Muslim, Nation of Islam thing to bring their visceral hatred for both African Americans into the war on terror. In fact, I've considered a sign of a certain maturity that they didn't do it --- it would have been easy to concoct some connections and could have been extremely destructive.

Apparently some people tried but they were in the CIA, thank goodness. And the CIA are such royal fuck-ups they couldn't manage to get it done. Silver linings ...

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

Doctors without boundaries

by digby

In the course of writing about the torture regime, I came across some previous work I did in real time on the subject that are relevant again.

The idea that after all this time they are still convinced of their rectitude --- and that a majority of the public is behind them is mind-boggling. I thought the one below from 2009 was as chilling today as it was when I wrote it.  I'll never get used to the fact that we are unrepentant torturers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Professional Courtesy

by digby

In reading the Bybee torture memo, you see that he refers constantly to the "professionals" and the medical personnel who oversaw the interrogations. He uses the fact that American military personnel who had undergone SERE training had suffered little lasting damage due to their training in these techniques. (No metion of the logical conclusion that American military personnel knew that the people who were inflicting the torture were only doing it for demonstration purposes and therefore had a completely different psychological reaction.)

Names have been redacted and much of the advice Bybee relies upon is not revealed with any specificity. But rely on it he does, through the entire opinion. Indeed, when you read this classic CIA CYA memo, you get the clear feeling that Bybee was trying to cover his own ass by constantly referring to these "experts" who stipulated that Zubaydah was in good health (despite the fact that the man had almost died of gunshot wounds just a few months before), was completely in control (except for being a schizophrenic) and was handling his interrogation with equanimity (by compulsively masturbating.)

One has to assume that at least some of the CIA personnel the Obama administration promised not to prosecute today were among those to whom Bybee refers. So who are they?

There is actually quite a bit of information out there about how this whole thing happened so it's not hard to figure it out. First, it's important to recall that the Zubaydah case was special for a number of reasons, the most important of which was that it spelled the end of the battle between the FBI and the CIA as to how to properly interrogate Al Qaeda prisoners. The FBI believed that that the best way to get actionable info from these people was to use approved interrogation techniques (which in Zubaydah's case was quite effective.) But the CIA objected, insisting that he knew more than he was saying and that only by using torture could they get it out of him.

Jane Meyer published many of the details about the people involved and the program they used several years ago in the New Yorker:

The C.I.A. program’s first important detainee was Abu Zubaydah, a top Al Qaeda operative, who was captured by Pakistani forces in March of 2002. Lacking in-house specialists on interrogation, the agency hired a group of outside contractors, who implemented a regime of techniques that one well-informed former adviser to the American intelligence community described as “a ‘Clockwork Orange’ kind of approach.” The experts were retired military psychologists, and their backgrounds were in training Special Forces soldiers how to survive torture, should they ever be captured by enemy states. The program, known as SERE—an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—was created at the end of the Korean War. It subjected trainees to simulated torture, including waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation. The SERE program was designed strictly for defense against torture regimes, but the C.I.A.’s new team used its expertise to help interrogators inflict abuse. “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture,” a European official knowledgeable about the program said. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses. It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.”

The use of psychologists was also considered a way for C.I.A. officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture. The former adviser to the intelligence community said, “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have Ph.D.s who have these theories.’ ” He said that, inside the C.I.A., where a number of scientists work, there was strong internal opposition to the new techniques. “Behavioral scientists said, ‘Don’t even think about this!’ They thought officers could be prosecuted.”

Nevertheless, the SERE experts’ theories were apparently put into practice with Zubaydah’s interrogation. Zubaydah told the Red Cross that he was not only waterboarded, as has been previously reported; he was also kept for a prolonged period in a cage, known as a “dog box,” which was so small that he could not stand. According to an eyewitness, one psychologist advising on the treatment of Zubaydah, James Mitchell, argued that he needed to be reduced to a state of “learned helplessness.” (Mitchell disputes this characterization.)

Steve Kleinman, a reserve Air Force colonel and an experienced interrogator who has known Mitchell professionally for years, said that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.” Mitchell, he said, “draws a diagram showing what he says is the whole cycle. It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the K.G.B. model. But the K.G.B. used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The K.G.B. wasn’t after intelligence.”

As the C.I.A. captured and interrogated other Al Qaeda figures, it established a protocol of psychological coercion. The program tied together many strands of the agency’s secret history of Cold War-era experiments in behavioral science. (In June, the C.I.A. declassified long-held secret documents known as the Family Jewels, which shed light on C.I.A. drug experiments on rats and monkeys, and on the infamous case of Frank R. Olson, an agency employee who leaped to his death from a hotel window in 1953, nine days after he was unwittingly drugged with LSD.) The C.I.A.’s most useful research focussed on the surprisingly powerful effects of psychological manipulations, such as extreme sensory deprivation. According to Alfred McCoy, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, who has written a history of the C.I.A.’s experiments in coercing subjects, the agency learned that “if subjects are confined without light, odors, sound, or any fixed references of time and place, very deep breakdowns can be provoked.”

Agency scientists found that in just a few hours some subjects suspended in water tanks—or confined in isolated rooms wearing blacked-out goggles and earmuffs—regressed to semi-psychotic states. Moreover, McCoy said, detainees become so desperate for human interaction that “they bond with the interrogator like a father, or like a drowning man having a lifesaver thrown at him. If you deprive people of all their senses, they’ll turn to you like their daddy.” McCoy added that “after the Cold War we put away those tools. There was bipartisan reform. We backed away from those dark days. Then, under the pressure of the war on terror, they didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques—they perfected them.”

The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,” an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. “At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.”

Mayer names the two senior psychologists involved in the reverse engineering of the SERE program in her book The Dark Side: James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen whom she described as ”good looking, clean-cut, polite Mormons.”

KGB torture techniques are what the Bybee memo legalized --- at the behest of retired CIA "psychologists." And they recommended it over the objections of trained FBI interrogators and behavioral scientists in the CIA itself. Those were the experts he relied upon to assure him that Zubaydah was a seasoned terrorist warrior who could only be "broken" by using torture. He ignored plenty of others who said otherwise.

We know now that the information that was gleaned from Zubaydah under torture was completely useless. That's what that torture program is designed to do, after all -- elicit false confessions. And it cost this country millions and millions of dollars and uselessly scared the hell out of people:

Ron Susskind, who also wrote extensively about Zubaydah in The One Percent Solution and wrote this in TIME Magazine when Zubaydah was transferred to Guantanamo:
What is widely known inside the Administration is that once we caught our first decent-size fish--Abu Zubaydah, in March 2002--we used him as an experiment in righteous brutality that in the end produced very little. His interrogation, according to those overseeing it, yielded little from threats and torture. He named countless targets inside the U.S. to stop the pain, all of them immaterial. Indeed, think back to the sudden slew of alerts in the spring and summer of 2002 about attacks on apartment buildings, banks, shopping malls and, of course, nuclear plants. What little of value he did tell us came largely from a more sophisticated approach, using his religious belief in predestination to convince him he miraculously survived his arrest (he was shot three times and nursed to health by U.S. doctors) for a reason: to help the other side. It's that strange conviction that generated the few, modest disclosures of use to the U.S. Complicating matters is that Zubaydah was more a facilitator--a glorified al-Qaeda travel agent--than the operational master the Administration trumpeted him as. Also, he suffers from multiple personalities. His diary, which the government refuses to release, is written in three voices over 10 years and is filled with page after page of quotidian nonsense about housekeeping, food and types of tea.
So, it's not just a matter of morality, although this program was so immoral and depraved as to be nearly unbelievable. It was also excessively counterproductive in almost every way, to the point where I'm convinced that the US can probably never get its reputation back and will be seen as a brutal, threatening giant among many people around the world who never thought that before.

When Bybee was searching for legal justifications to do what the CIA wanted to do (and probably Cheney and the rest as well) here's what the man at the top was saying when he was being briefed about the torture of Zubaydah:

"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports.

James Risen described this scene in his book State of War:
Risen makes much of an anecdote he heard from one of his trusty White House sources about a conversation in 2002 between then-CIA director George Tenet and George Bush after the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan, a known and high-ranking al Qaeda operative. Tenet was briefing Bush on the matter, explaining that not much intelligence had been pulled from Zubaydah in the early stages because he had been put on pain medication to deal with the injuries he sustained during capture. Bush asked Tenet: "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?" Risen speculates whether Bush was "implicitly encouraging" Tenet to order the harsh treatment of a prisoner "without the paper trail that would have come from a written presidential authorization." Risen writes, "If so, this episode offers the most direct link yet between Bush and the harsh treatment of prisoners by both the CIA and the U.S. military."
Risen does say that sources close to Tenet have challenged this account, but spends pages after writing about the significance of Zubaydah's interrogation as "the critical precedent for the future handling of prisoners both in the global war on terror and in the war in Iraq." Risen writes, "The harsh interrogation methods the CIA used on Zubaydah prompted the first wide-ranging and legal policy review establishing the procedures to be followed in the detention of future detainees. 'Abu Zubaydah's capture triggered everything,' explained a CIA source." Risen describes a turf war process that eventually had the CIA in charge of all the high-profile al Qaeda prisoners.

And everyone else at the top knew exactly what they were doing too. Mark Danner's recent mind-blowing story on the Red Cross report backed up this earlier bombshell:

Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers "briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee," including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who "then signed off on the [interrogation] plan." At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, the administration was devising what some referred to as a "golden shield" from the Justice Department -— the legal rationale that was embodied in the infamous "torture memorandum," written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee in August 2002... Still, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet regularly brought directly to the attention of the highest officials of the government specific procedures to be used on specific detainees —- "whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subject to simulated drowning" -- in order to seek reassurance that they were legal. According to the ABC report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that "some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed." At one such meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, reportedly demanded of his colleagues, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

They are all war criminals, from the nice looking Mormon sadists who call themselves doctors, to the twisted bureaucrats in the Justice Department who call themselves lawyers, to the top leadership of the Bush administration who sat there and watched choreographed torture sessions in the White House and have the utter gall to call themselves human. They all knew that what they were doing was repulsive and immoral. That's why went to such lengths to ensure that all of it was approved with all the is dotted and all the ts crossed all the way to the very top and back down again. They all implicated each other.

Apparently, they assumed that nobody would ever prosecute even one of these very important, upstanding members of their professions for horrific crimes such as these because if onw went down they would all go down. And apparently they were right.

Update: Oh, and let's be sure to add Steven Bradbury to the list. He's just as much of a sadistic madman as Bybee, Yoo and the rest of them --- and his opinions were in effect until he left office three months ago. More on his memos tomorrow. Warning: they will make you sick. 

And no reflection or retribution is not the answer. Prosecution is the answer. If these aren't criminal acts, nothing is. It's the stuff of nightmares.

Update: Apparently we are being disrespectful of the military to try war criminals because it's exactly the same as calling average Vietnam War Vets baby killers. At least according to our new Director of National Intelligence. William Calley was a hero I guess. 

Oh, and while it may seem terrible and disturbing to read these things in the bright light of 2009, we need to remember that our country went crazy after 9/11. All the way up until May of 2005, when the Bradbury memos were written. 

It's annual holiday fundraiser time. Your support is very much appreciated.

The 50 caliber nutcracker

by digby

Happy holidays from your gun proliferation activist pals:

America didn't cave. Hollywood didn't cave. Capitalism caved.

by David Atkins

There has been a lot of caterwauling around the political circus (but mostly on the Right) about the decision to cancel/delay the opening of "The Interview" because of terrorist threats. The always execrable Megan McArdle tweeted:

Other conservatives are using the opportunity to bash their favorite bugbear Hollywood for getting weak in the knees against terrorists.

But in truth, neither "America" nor "Hollywood" caved to the terrorist threat. Capitalism did. Sony is a Japanese-owned multinational corporation. Its decision to cancel the opening of the film was precipitated not by Hollywood studios, but by the defensive decision of a bunch of corporate conglomerate theater chains with only tenuous connections to the star-studded production companies in Tinseltown.

An organization made a threat to a corporation and its customers if it released a certain product. Distributors of said product decided not to risk carrying that product, as a market decision. The corporation decided to pull the product from shelves--for market reasons.

That's capitalism. Capitalism doesn't care about standing for the principle of free speech, or for patriotism, or for standing up to bullies. It cares about money. Theater chains don't make money if they lose customers too afraid to show up to the movie theaters. Production companies don't make money if not enough theaters show their movie. It's just business.

If conservatives want to see a little more backbone in standing up to international bullies looking to squash free speech, they might want to start by looking in the mirror at their ideological elevation of profit over principle.

Obama Can Restore Overtime Pay to 1975 Levels With a Stroke of His Pen

by Gaius Publius

Let me repeat the title, including the words I cut out:
Obama Can Restore Overtime Pay to 1975 Levels With a Stroke of His Pen — And Give an Immediate Raise to 54% of Salaried Workers
Consider that for a second. An immediate raise for 54% of salaried workers. As Nick Hanauer writes in The Hill (my emphasis):
Salaried Americans now report working an average of 47 hours a week—18 percent report working more than 60 hours per week. If it feels like you’re working more hours for less money than your parents did a generation ago, it’s probably because you are. ... That’s 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in your pocket or more time to spend with your friends and family.
If Obama has the courage to act, every one of those extra hours would have to be compensated at the overtime rate of time-and-a-half, or the company would have to hire more workers. Either way, the "economy for the rest of us" — as opposed to the "billionaire economy" that vampires us into the poorhouse — would get a huge burst of stimulus, all of which would be almost immediately spent.

Overtime Pay Is Like the Minimum Wage For the Middle Class

This is like being able to raise the minimum wage by executive order. And the comparison to the minimum wage is appropriate. The federal minimum wage was at its peak in 1968, an inflation-adjusted $11 per hour, or about $22,000 per year. Today the minimum wage is $7.25, or about $15,000 per year. That's a decline in spending power of 35%. Poverty wages made more meager so billionaires can live fat and happy.

In the same way that the poor have been impoverished by the rise of the billionaire class, so have the mass of workers in the middle. Hanauer again, writing in Politico (my bolding and some reparagraphing):
Whatever Happened to Overtime?
It’s one reason we’re poorer than our parents. And Obama could fix it—without Congress.
If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you are—falling further behind, that is. Adjusted for inflation, average salaries have actually dropped since the early 1970s, while hours for full-time workers have steadily climbed.

Meanwhile, a handful of wealthy capitalists like me [see below for "Who is Nick Hanauer?"] are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams, in large part because we’re able to take advantage of your misfortune.

So what’s changed since the 1960s and '70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class.

In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime.
Just as the threshold for the minimum wage has been eroded by inflation, so has the threshold for the mandatory minimum wage. The good news? Obama can return the threshold to its original level, by himself:
President Obama could raise the overtime threshold to $69,000—enough to cover the same 65 percent of salaried workers that it covered 40 years ago—and with no prior congressional approval. Because unlike the minimum wage, the overtime threshold is set through the Department of Labor’s existing regulatory authority.
There's a second reason to act in the piece in The Hill, but I'll leave you to read it for yourself. Look for the phrase "exempt from the overtime rules."

Will the "Bolder Obama" Dare to Act?

Hanauer and others have issued a public call to act, and the perfect time to do so is now, during the gifting season. Talk about a gift; the middle class would praise him and Democrats every time they got a paycheck. The issue is clear — help restore the increasingly impoverished middle class in a way that counts, in the pocket book. The authority is clear — the Department of Labor has unchallenged regulatory authority. The benefit to both people and party is clear.

The only question is — will he dare to do it?

This could be another feather in his Better-Legacy Project. President Obama has acted on immigration reform (though too late to save senators like Mark Udall). And now there's news of a second overdue action — restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. This could easily be his third bold act in a row, and for a change, the money for it won't come from the federal purse, but from the pockets of billionaires who vacuumed it out of ours in the first place, with their cleverly under-compensated overtime hours.

Will he dare to do it? (If you click, jump to line 122 and start reading.)

Speaking of billionaires ...

Who Is Nick Hanauer, and Why Is He So Angry With Billionaires?

Because he is one. Nick Hanauer is this guy:
The Pitchforks Are Coming … For Us Plutocrats

Memo: From Nick Hanauer
To: My Fellow Zillionaires

You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like Amazon.com, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash. My friends and I own a bank. I tell you all this to demonstrate that in many ways I’m no different from you. ...

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks. ...
It's a smart fun read. Do click through. And remember, collapses happen quickly. An American Spring could happen as fast as an Arab one. Wherever they occur, they look like this:

Is that too old-fashioned? How about this?

A nihilist is a person with nothing to lose, and we're making them by the cityful. C'mon, Mr. Obama. After all, it is the gifting season.



In this corner, wearing blue, Elizabeth Warren

by Tom Sullivan

Sen. Elizabeth Warren may not have stopped passage of the "Citigroup provision" last week, but even in losing she may be winning. As the Boston Globe observed:

“You’re not always going to win. That’s just the nature of politics,” said Dennis Kelleher, a Wall Street critic who heads a group called Better Markets and a Warren ally. “Every time the American people are reminded of what Wall Street’s doing in the dark corners of Washington, it’s a loss for Wall Street.”

And increased stature for Warren. Harold Meyerson writes in the Washington Post that the fights Warren picks with Wall Street have crossover appeal:

Although 20 Democratic senators joined Warren last weekend in voting against the funding bill as a way to protest its allowing publicly insured banks to trade risky derivatives, five colleagues joined her in the more emphatic gesture of voting against the cloture motion that brought the bill to a vote. They were three staunch progressives — Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Minnesota’s Al Franken and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders (an independent) — and two senators generally considered among the party’s more conservative lawmakers: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill.

By the metric of social issues, the “more conservative” label fits those two. Unlike his Democratic colleagues, Manchin voted Monday against confirming Vivek Murthy as surgeon general to register his displeasure with Murthy’s advocacy of stricter gun control, a position that runs counter not just to Manchin’s beliefs but also to those of his West Virginia constituents. But when it came to rescinding regulations on Wall Street, Manchin and McCaskill were among Warren’s firmest allies.

Warren will need them. And more. From The Hill:

Fresh off a victory in the government funding debate that liberals decried as a giveaway to Wall Street, advocates for the financial sector aim to pursue additional changes to Dodd-Frank that they say would lighten burdens created by the 2010 law. Among the top items on the wish list: easing new requirements on mortgages, loosening restrictions on financial derivatives and overhauling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

And they thought Warren fought hard to preserve Dodd-Frank. Just wait until they come to emasculate Warren's independent CFPB.

Republicans and industry groups are demanding an overhaul of the agency, calling for a new structure that allows Congress to set its budget. They also want the bureau led by a bipartisan commission rather than a single director that they say has too much power.

Democrats have universally opposed those efforts, none more fervently than Warren, who came up with the idea for the bureau and was the guiding hand during its inception.

That's a fight I'd ante up to watch on Pay Per View.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Historic speeches on the way out the door

by digby

Katherine Hawkins of openthegovernment.org chronicles the astonishing statements of three retiring Senators, Rockefeller, Levin and Udall in their final days in office:

All three closed their Senate careers with expressions of deep distrust in the intelligence community.
Former Intelligence Committee Chair John Rockefeller said:

It was, therefore, with deep disappointment that over the course of a number of private meetings and conversations I came to feel that the White House’s strong deference to the CIA throughout this process has at times worked at cross-purposes with the White House’s stated interest in transparency and has muddied what should be a clear and unequivocal legacy on this issue.

While aspiring to be the most transparent administration in history, this White House continues to quietly withhold from the committee more than 9,000 documents related to the CIA’s programs. I don’t know why. They won’t say, and they won’t produce. In addition to strongly supporting the CIA’s insistence on the unprecedented redaction of fake names in the report, which obscures the public’s ability to understand the important connections which are so important for weaving together the tapestry, the administration also pushed for the redaction of information in the committee’s study that should not be classified, contradicting the administration’s own Executive order on classification.

Let me be clear. That order clearly states that in no case shall information fail to be declassified in order to conceal violations of law and efficiency or administrative error or prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency. In some instances, the White House asked not only that information be redacted but that the redaction itself be removed so it would be impossible for the reader to tell that something was already hidden. Strange.

Given this, looking back, I am deeply disappointed, rather than surprised, that even when the CIA inexplicably conducted an unauthorized search of the committee’s computer files and emails at an offsite facility, which was potentially criminal, and even when it became clear that the intent of the search was to suppress the committee’s awareness of an internal CIA review that corroborated parts of the intelligence committee’s study and contradicted public CIA statements, the White House continued to support the CIA leadership, and that support was unflinching.

On December 9, Carl Levin spoke about the Senate torture report.

There has been a great deal of conversation, and rightly so, about the need for effective congressional oversight of our intelligence community and the obstacles that exist to that oversight. This report highlights many such obstacles. In one case, this report makes public the likely connection between the Senate’s efforts to oversee intelligence and the destruction of CIA tapes documenting abusive interrogation of detainees. In 2005 I sponsored a resolution, with the support of ten colleagues, to establish an independent national commission to examine treatment of detainees since 9/11. According to emails quoted in the report released today, Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo wrote on October 31, 2005, that the commission proposal “seems to be gaining some traction,” and argued for renewed efforts “to get the right people downtown”–that is, at the White House–“on board with the notion of our destroying the tapes.” Does it sound a little bit like Watergate? The videos were destroyed at the direction of Jose Rodriguez, then the head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, just 1 day after the November 8, 2005, vote on our commission proposal in the Senate. It is just one striking example of the CIA’s efforts to evade oversight.

Two days later, on December 11, Levin was denouncing the CIA on the floor again. Levin spoke about his longstanding effort to declassify a 2003 CIA cable warning the Bush administration that the allegations of a “Prague meeting” between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer were untrue. Levin said that, contrary to promises John Brennan made during his confirmation hearing, he was covering up the information in the cable to protect former Bush administration officials from embarrassment:

The March 13, 2003, cable is an invaluable record in helping the American people understand how their elected officials conducted themselves in going to war. Continuing to cloak this document with a veil of secrecy, revealing a few sentences at a time, allows those who misled the American people to continue escaping the full verdict of history. It deprives the American people of a complete understanding of how we came to invade Iraq. In his letter to me, Director Brennan writes, “I understand that your principal concern is that the historical record be as complete as possible regarding this period in our history, and on this point we are in agreement.” But Director Brennan’s apparent refusal to do what he has committed to do – to ask the Czech government if it objects to release of the cable – now takes on the character of a continuing cover-up.

Senator Mark Udall was the harshest of all in his criticism of the CIA. His speech, the sequel to Chairman Feinstein’s historic floor speech in March, is worth reading and viewing in its entirety.

Udall described the intelligence committee staff’s discovery of and efforts to preserve the “Panetta Review,” a CIA internal study that Udall called a “smoking gun” for its acknowledgment of facts about torture that the CIA’s official response denies. He said,

The refusal to provide the full Panetta review and the refusal to acknowledge facts detailed in both the committee study and the Panetta review lead to one disturbing finding: Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture. In other words, the CIA is lying. This is not a problem of the past but a problem that needs to be dealt with today.

Udall also revealed the extent to which the CIA has refused to provide the committee with information about its unlawful search of Senate computers—the search that led OpenTheGovernment.org and 19 of its partners to call for Director Brennan’s resignation last summer. Udall revealed that the Office of the Inspector General’s report into the incident has been withheld not only from the public, but from many of the Senate staffers whose communications were searched:

The CIA Inspector General subsequently opened an investigation into the CIA’s unauthorized search, and found – contrary to Director Brennan’s public protestations – that a number of CIA employees did, in fact, improperly access the Committee’s dedicated computers. The investigation found no basis for the criminal referral on the Committee’s staff. The IG also found that the CIA personnel involved demonstrated a “lack of candor” about their activities to the Inspector General.

However, only a one-page, unclassified summary of the IG’s report is publicly available. The longer, classified version was only provided briefly to members when it was first released, and I had to push hard to get the CIA to provide a copy to the Committee to keep in its own records. Even the copy in Committee records is restricted to Committee members and only two staff members, not including my own. After having reviewed the IG report myself again recently, I believe even more strongly that the full report should be declassified and publicly released.

Udall also revealed that John Brennan has continued to stonewall, and refuse to answer questions from the committee about the CIA’s search of staff computers:
In March, the Committee voted unanimously to request responses from Director Brennan about the computer search. The Chairman and Vice Chairman wrote a letter to Director Brennan, who promised a “thorough response” to their questions – after the Justice Department and CIA IG reviews were complete. The Chair and Vice Chair wrote two more letters, to no avail. The Director has refused to answer any questions on the topic and has again deferred his answers – this time until after the CIA’s internal accountability board review is completed, if it ever is.

So from March until December, for almost nine months, Director Brennan has flat-out refused to answer basic questions about the computer search – whether he suggested the search or approved it, and if not, who did. He has refused to explain why the search was conducted, its legal basis, or whether he was even aware of the agreement between the Committee and the CIA laying out protections for the Committee’s dedicated computer system. He has refused to say whether the computers were searched more than once, whether the CIA monitored Committee staff at the CIA-leased facility, whether the agency ever entered the Committee’s secure room at the facility, and who at the CIA knew about the search both before and after it occurred.

Udall extended his criticism to President Obama as well as the CIA. The White House, he said, has shown “no moral leadership” or willingness to confront the CIA on torture, and has broken campaign promises on transparency:

But there is still no accountability, and despite Director Brennan’s pledges to me in January 2013, still no correction of the public record of the inaccurate information the CIA has spread for years and continues to stand behind. The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account.

Torture didn’t just happen, after all – contrary to the president’s recent statement, “we” didn’t torture some folks. Real actual people engaged in torture. Some of these people are still employed by the U.S. government. There are, right now, people serving in high-level positions at the Agency who approved, directed, or committed acts related to the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

It is bad enough not to prosecute these officials – but to reward or promote them and risk the integrity of the U.S. government to protect them is incomprehensible. The president needs to purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program. He needs to force a cultural change at the CIA.

It was a remarkable speech–and every word rang true. It is extremely rare for a Senator to criticize either the intelligence community or a President of his own party so frankly, let alone both at once. But to date the White House’s only response has been to express confidence, yet again, in Brennan’s leadership.
That just seemed like something worth noting to me...

There's more at the link.

Down the rabbit hole again

by digby

American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.

Fox News pundits are calling this an act of war that requires a military response. Of course.

This is wrong. We should not surrender to blackmailers, blah,blah, blah. Free speech, Danish cartoons all that. But really it's almost surely a stupid movie so I can't care all that much.

And I have to say that I smell a little bit of marketing here. Pulling a movie isn't that big of a deal to the theatre owners. This response makes the movie a household word. But it sure makes this film seem a lot sexier than it did before, doesn't it?

Anyway, in the meantime maybe we could all watch this tonight instead:

If we don't defend the torturers, the terrorists will have won?

by digby

They never stop whining:

[Torture architect, psychologist] Mitchell told Kelly that this ordeal “is like being caught in a bad spy novel.”

He said that those who released the CIA report knew the results they wanted beforehand.

“They didn’t give us a chance to explain anything,” he said.

Now, Mitchell said that interrogators are getting death threats, and he fears for his life.

“I do not mind giving my life for my country, but I do mind giving my life for a food fight for political reasons between two groups of people who should be able to work it out like adults.”

Mitchell alleged that no one from the Senate committee has ever asked him a single thing about the interrogations.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has the opportunity to address the charges against him, but I don’t,” he said.

Mitchell told Kelly that he feels horrible because this report puts Americans at risk.

“It shows al Qaeda and the al Qaeda 2.0 folks, ISIL, that we’re divided and that we’re easy targets, that we don’t have the will to defeat them because that’s what they know. In fact, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told me personally, ‘Your country will turn on you, the liberal media will turn on you, the people will grow tired of this, they will turn on you, and when they do, you are going to be abandoned.'”

If KSM actually said this (which I highly doubt) he was just saying, "we're going to hell together pal. Welcome aboard." And he was right.

QOTD: St Ronnie

by digby

Message to the Senate Transmitting the Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment

May 20, 1988

With a view to receiving the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification, subject to certain reservations, understandings, and declarations, I transmit herewith the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention was adopted by unanimous agreement of the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and entered into force on June 26, 1987. The United States signed it on April 18, 1988. I also transmit, for the information of the Senate, the report of the Department of State on the Convention.

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution...

By giving its advice and consent to ratification of this Convention, the Senate of the United States will demonstrate unequivocally our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture.

The White House,
May 20, 1988.

Clearly, he didn't know how to protect America.
My take on Jebbie

by digby

In Salon this morning:

So the suspense is almost over. Jeb Bush has finally announced that he is officially thinking that he might explore the possibility of maybe running for president. Feel the magic, the Bush is back. I confess that I’m still skeptical. There’s just something missing from Jeb’s demeanor, a certain fire, that one usually sees in serious presidential candidates. But one can certainly see why he’d do it anyway.

First, there seems to have been a full-court family press and in his family that’s got to feel like facing a firing squad. After all, somebody has to rescue the family legacy and he’s all they’ve got left. Poppy was pretty much driven out of office by his own party for raising taxes at a time when Newt Gingrich and his revolutionaries were turning over the Beltway barricades. Junior tried to reverse Poppy’s legacy by making gigantic tax cuts for the rich his immediate priority but then he mucked up the family legacy in Iraq and left office with the lowest approval ratings on record. And, needless to say, there is the unfinished business of putting the Clintons in their places once and for all. No matter how much they all embrace each other as “family” today, the Bushes bear grudges. Beating Hillary would finally even that score.

On the practical side, the family also understands something else: The only way that Jeb can possibly finesse the dynasty issue is if there is another dynastic scion on the other side.

read on for the reason I think he might be this year's Fred Thompson...

He seems to be taking the high road on the Cuba policy in stark contrast to Rubio. The polls are certainly with Bush on that. But one wonders what will happen with wingnut media. Republicans are easily led...

Cuba libre

by digby

I'm pretty sure that this is all most people know about Cuba:

Good for President Obama for finally taking some steps to normalize relations.  It takes some cojones. Not because it's a big deal.  America's Cuba policy is absurd --- it pretty much hasn't changed since the period depicted in that famous scene. And nothing can substantively change until the US congress joins the 21st century on this issue. But it's guaranteed to make the right wing completely lose its shit.  This proves in their minds, if they didn't believe it already, that Barack Obama is a full blown communist. I have to believe with this one that he's completely given up on even pretending to give a damn.

All Cuba policy for at least 40 years has really been about Florida presidential politics so it will be interesting to watch how it plays out politically. From the looks of  FOX news, most Republicans still think it's 1961 so I wouldn't assume they're going to grow up.

Update: Polling on Florida:

— 68 percent of respondents favor restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.

— Among younger respondents, 90 percent of respondents favor restoring diplomatic ties.

— When you include only registered voters, 51 percent of them support continuing the embargo.

— 69 percent of all respondents favor the lifting of travel restrictions impeding all Americans from traveling to Cuba.

— 53 percent of respondents said they would be likely to vote for a "candidate for political office who supported the re-establishment of diplomatic relations."

— A large majority — 71 percent — responded that the U.S. embargo of Cuba has not worked at all or has not worked very well.


Colbert: Going out on a slab?

by Tom Sullivan

It's been great fun watching the last episodes of the "Colbert Report." Stephen Colbert's interview with Smaug the dragon was a tour de force.

Rumor has it that Colbert has secured another rock-star celebrity for his last show:

For nine years, Stephen Colbert has relentlessly maintained his pompous, deeply ridiculous but consistently appealing conservative blowhard character on his late-night show, “The Colbert Report” — so much so that when he puts the character to rest for good on Thursday night, he may have to resort to comicide. The Grim Reaper is his last guest.

The New York Times wonders whether Colbert plans to go out on a slab. Other late-night hosts give Colbert kudos for staying relentlessly in character for so many years. Jimmy Fallon is one:

Like other competitors, Mr. Fallon professed unabashed awe that Mr. Colbert could sustain this performance at such a high level for so long. “Before he won the Emmy, I had been preaching that people had to recognize what he was doing: He’s faking a person,” Mr. Fallon said. “I was one of those who said, ‘He’ll do it for six months and then he’ll move on.’ Imagine if you were still trying to do the Coneheads on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It’s gets old. But not this. He’s a genius.”

And former vice-president Dick Cheney is not. He's been faking a person for decades, but nobody laughs.

Mr. [Conan] O’Brien commended Mr. Colbert for breaking what he called the American tradition. “Our system is, if there’s another nickel to be found in it, you keep playing that character,” he said, “just beat it to death — and then do it another 10 years.”

As we saw just last week, Cheney is still playing his Torquemada character even though his show went off the air in early 2009. But then he's comfortable with beating things to death. Maybe his act would go over better in The Hague. Ten years would be a start.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oh mom

by digby

Most of my readers have probably seen but for those who haven't, just watch:

I've often thought that people who go on C-SPAN don't think anyone they know is watching.  This shows that's not true ...
QOTD: The first president

by digby

It's not the first time I've posted this and it won't be the last. It seems important to do it right now:

"Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause... for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country." -- George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

He was nothing but a lily livered coward who didn't understand the nature of an existential threat. We should blast his face from Mt. Rushmore.

h/t to AG
Panchito's back and Jebbie's happy

by digby

Guess who's writing about the Bushes again? That's right: Frank Bruni. I wrote about it in Salon today:
Bruni has a long history with the Bush family, having been on the campaign trail with “W” back in 2000 and delivering some of the most glowing coverage any presidential candidate has ever been privileged to receive, and often on the front page of the New York Times. And the affection was mutual. Eric Alterman recounted a story that perfectly illustrates the relationship:
Shortly after the 2000 election, Richard Wolffe, then a reporter for the Financial Times, summed up what went wrong in the coverage. “The Gore press corps is about how they didn’t like Gore, didn’t trust him. … over here, [on the Bush press plane], we were writing only about the trivial stuff because he charmed the pants off us.” The New York Times’s Frank Bruni, however, did not think he or his colleagues were to blame. Rather, the trivial nature of his work was apparently the fault of the voters. “Modern politics wasn’t just superficial because the politicians made it so,” he argued. “It was superficial because the voters let it be.”


Bush knew a good thing when he saw it. As a candidate, he put his arms around Bruni, whom he nicknamed “Panchito” Bruni, and cooed, “You know we love you.” Later, Bush looked across a crowded room at Bruni and mouthed, “I love you, man.” Bruni did not mention whether he told Bush that he loved him back, but in relationships as in literature, it is always better to show than to tell. Either way, Bush sure knew his man. Bruni went over to the Gore camp one day and found out, to his apparent horror, that Al Gore not only did not love him; he did not even bother to come up with a nonsensical nickname for the writer.

That campaign was notorious for such sophomoric coverage. Bruni wasn’t the only practitioners, but he was among the most enthusiastic. And perhaps one of the reasons he was enthusiastic is best explained by his next job at the Times as a food critic: the Bush team just put on a better spread.
Read on ...
A gestation vessel mistakenly thinks it is human

by digby

A life lesson for women:
Wisconsin has a law on the books that allows the authorities to lock up a pregnant person who’s used illegal drugs if she “habitually lacks self-control” and “there is a ‘substantial risk’ that the health of the egg, embryo, fetus, or child upon birth will be ‘seriously affected.'” Here’s what that looked like in practice for one Wisconsin woman.

Tamara Loerstcher was suffering from an untreated thyroid condition and depression and had begun to self medicate with drugs when, in late July 2014, she suspected she might also be pregnant. Loerstcher, uninsured at the time, went to an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, hospital for medical treatment and to confirm her pregnancy.

After submitting to a urinalysis, Loerstcher disclosed her past drug use to hospital workers. But instead of caring for Loerstcher, who as it turns out was 14 weeks pregnant, hospital workers had her jailed.

Loerstcher’s medical records were handed over to the state without her knowledge. She was accused of “abuse of an unborn child” and had to sit through a hearing in which her 14-week-old fetus was appointed a lawyer. She was ordered to go to in-patient drug treatment — despite the fact that she had not used any drugs recently — and when she refused, she was held in contempt of court and sent to jail for 17 days.

One would think that when the state incarcerates a pregnant woman in order to “protect” her fetus, they’d at least do everything they can to ensure a healthy pregnancy — that is literally the only supposed purpose of such a law, after all. You’d be wrong. During her time in jail, Loerstcher didn’t have access to prenatal care and when she was experiencing cramping, she wasn’t allowed to see her regular doctor. She was told she’d need to see a jail-appointed doctor who demanded she take a test to confirm the pregnancy — even though the only reason she was in jail in the first place was because she was pregnant. When she refused, she was thrown in solitary confinement and threatened with a taser.

A gestation vessel has no rights. It has no agency. One would have to be human for that.  Oh, and not just during pregnancy. She will be on the child abuse registry for life.

President Obama's greatest torture mistake

by digby

Here's something I didn't know, from Jane Mayer's piece this week in the New Yorker:

There was a way to address the matter that might have avoided much of the partisan trivialization. In a White House meeting in early 2009, Greg Craig, President Obama’s White House Counsel, recommended the formation of an independent commission. Nearly every adviser in the room endorsed the idea, including such national-security hawks as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and the President’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director at the time, also supported it. Obama, however, said that he didn’t want to seem to be taking punitive measures against his predecessor, apparently because he still hoped to reach bipartisan agreement on issues such as closing Guantánamo.

Well that certainly worked out well.

There are a few different ways to look at this. First, it's yet another example of Obama believing his own hype back at the beginning of the administration. And you can't entirely blame him. The delirious belief in his supernatural power to accomplish things that no mere mortal could dream of accomplishing was thick in our culture at the time. We've seen this impulse at play throughout the first term. If this was what motivated him, it took him a long time to figure out that it wasn't going to work. He was still quixotically angling for bipartisan agreement years later with the budget deals.

But look at that group of people on the other side of that decision. But they would not have the responsibility of protecting the presidency would they? That's also what could have been at work here: presidents cover each others' asses out of fear of future retribution from their rivals' successors. The presidential protection racket. And considering that's what he's reported to have been concerned about one has to assume that at least played into his thinking.

And there's always the possibility that he didn't want anything tying his hands. Presidents are protective of their prerogatives and it's entirely possible that as much as he might have personally thought torture was wrong, he hoped to make the issue fade away before he got into a battle over presidential authority.

We can't know what was going through his mind. But if this is true, it was one of his biggest errors in judgement. We are now living in a country that endorses torture and, at best, sees it as a political issue. And the world knows that if the US Government continues to use it, the people will back it. That has made us far more vulnerable and far less safe. We are an extremely powerful rogue nation that openly says we don't care about the rule of law or international norms of behavior.

Mayer writes:

Obama has made plain in his public statements and in his executive orders that torture, which is how he forthrightly labelled the program, was unacceptable. But, in leaving matters to the Senate, he left the truth open to debate. He further complicated things by appointing John Brennan to run the C.I.A., even though Brennan, as a top officer in the agency, had worked closely with George Tenet, the director during the worst excesses of the program. Last Thursday, in a rare press conference, Brennan called the C.I.A.’s past practices “abhorrent” but declined to say that they amounted to torture, undercutting Obama. Democrats called for Brennan and other C.I.A. personnel to be “purged.” Senator Mark Udall, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, said, “If there is no moral leadership from the White House, what’s to stop the next White House and C.I.A. director from supporting torture?

Back in the day people used to rhetorically ask: "Why do they hate us?" and people would either shrug their shoulders or sputter about how we are misunderstood. Today if someone asks the question, the ready answer is: Because the US is a barbaric superpower that will stop at nothing, not even torture. I can't argue against that.

Hillary Clinton thinks our problem as a culture is that we don't tell the good stories about ourselves anymore. Since more than half the people in this country are torture advocates, I'm not sure how you make any case for our "goodness" anymore. Good luck with trying to paper this over.


Good Dems, Bad Dems, Dems Who Are In-Between

by Gaius Publius

I've written about the possibility of an "Open Rebellion Caucus" (my playful name) forming in the Senate — a group of progressive senators strong enough and willing enough to openly defy their corporate-friendly Clintonian leaders.

Clintonian leaders frequently espouse anti-progressive policies, like cutting benefits to Social Security and punishing the poor by "ending welfare," for example. Those "leaders" include both President Obama and former President Clinton, high-ranking members of their administrations, and most Democrats in Congress, including those in leadership positions — Steny Hoyer in the House (next in line for Pelosi's position) or Chuck Schumer in the Senate (next in line for Reid's), to name just two.

For years, real progressives have been frustrated by these men and women. They've also been shamed, bullied, blackmailed, and in some cases bought off by their "leaders." Their losses, their fear, their attempts to advance more human policies have become just "part of the game," and we've been watching the results since Al From, Bill Clinton and the DLC. It's been a good game for bipartisan government "by the money" — they've scored win after win — but a terrible game for the rest of us. And mainly, the game's been stable.

A United Party Is a Complicit Party

How have progressive office-holders (most but not all) been complicit in government "by the money"? In two ways. First, many progressives have given their votes (reluctantly perhaps) to policies that benefit mainly the rich — Wall Street bailouts, gutting of the regulatory structure of the state, support for Monsanto when no one was looking, and so on.

And second, they've given ground cover (unknowingly perhaps) to the Democratic ("evil, but less so") Party as a whole. How? Because the pro-corporate Democratic party can always point to its (often hated) progressive wing and say, "See, we're the party with a conscience. Our evil really is lesser. Listen to the speeches of these fine progressives — you know, the ones we ignore."

And progressives, in the name of party unity, have mostly held their tongues when it counted (for example, during the 2013 filibuster "debate" when they hid the names of their own anti-reform elders), mostly soldiered on, content to pick away at the edges of corporate rule, to win a few crumbs from the floor at the corporate feast. And they've traded away their principles, often, for those wins. Which makes them complicit in the first way I mentioned.

Open Rebellion Means Breaking the Chains of Complicity

But now there's a birth, a start, of a new group of progressive office-holder, a group that won't be party-loyal when the party sides against the people, that won't hold its party-loyal tongue, that will openly criticize and fight the other enemy of pro-citizen government — corporate Democrats.

The calculus is simple — progressives are mostly losing anyway, and they're also losing their "souls," or at least obscuring their anti-corporate "brand," with critical pro-corporate votes. By voting in party unity with corporate-friendly "leaders," they're giving voters a reason to look elsewhere than the Democratic party. If progressives are going to lose anyway, they might as well lose fighting the real enemy, the bipartisan corporate state, and be seen doing it. At least they'll give the people someone to rally around. There's no question that the people are looking for someone to rally around.

It's a tough road to go down, though, fighting one's own party leaders. What to choose? Party unity when the party demands it (and the perqs that go with that compliance), or progressive principles and life as an outcast if you hold to them? Choosing the latter takes extraordinary courage (remember Dennis Kucinich's plane ride?). Thus there are three groups of Democrats in office today:
  1. Money-bought and corporate-friendly. Bad to the core on most money issues; frequently deeply corrupt as well. The many.
  2. Progressives willing to say publicly to their leaders, "Enough is enough." The insurgents. The very few.
  3. "Progressives" who triangulate between their principles and their loyalty to party (or their fear, their calculation, or their own careers). The in-betweens, the torn, or those who appear to be torn.
This is about those three groups. They're starting to sort themselves. They're starting to self-identify. And one group may be starting to grow.

What Did the Continuing Resolution Show Us?

As I've often written, when it comes to votes in the House or Senate, you can only trust the sincerity of people who vote with the winner when the outcome is uncertain. In situations where the outcome is not in doubt, votes for either side may be sincere, or they may be just "for show," for "the district," or a form of what Howie Klein below calls preening.

We got a perfect example of that in the Senate recently on the so-called "CRomnibus" bill — the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government, which also contains the "omnibus" appropriations for all of its agencies. (That bill passed in both the House and Senate, by the way, so the government is funded through the end of its fiscal year, October 1, 2015.)

There were many many reasons to vote against this abomination (there are at least ten at the link), but Elizabeth Warren and others made several impassioned pleas to kill it over a "Citibank rider" that would have put taxpayers back on the hook for derivatives-gambling losses. Warren was especially strong and caustic, as in this floor speech:

In the Senate and in the caucus, it was Warren who led the charge, who forcefully urged rejection of the "CRomnibus" bill. Since Steny Hoyer and almost everyone in House leadership except Nancy Pelosi supported the bill, and since both Barack Obama and Joe Biden whipped for its passage, she put herself squarely in the insurgency, in open and public rebellion against her leaders.

As it played out in the Senate, those three groups revealed themselves, partly in caucus meetings and partly in their votes. Let's consider just the votes here, and leave the caucus discussion for another time. There were two votes on the bill, two chances to kill it. One group tried to kill the bill every chance they got. One group supported the bill every chance they got. And one group voted against the bill only after it was sure to pass.

As usual, three groups of Democrats. And because Warren created such a sharp bright line with her charismatic, principled intra-party challenge, the self-sorting into those groups was both revealing and perhaps a harbinger. Let's look at the names.

Where Was the Merkley Crowd During the Cloture Vote?

The Continuing Resolution/Omnibus Spending bill came for a vote in the Senate on Saturday, December 14. First it had to survive a cloture vote to bring it to the floor, then a floor vote on the bill itself. From a valuable Howie Klein analysis (my emphasis and paragraphing):
First there was a cloture bill. The Democrats who were really serious about blocking Schumer's Wall Street bailout voted against cloture. They were ready to filibuster for real. There were only 5 plus Bernie [Sanders]: Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill. And, of course a bunch of crackpot Republicans who actually want to shut down the government. The total there was 77-19.

What happened to Jeff Merkely, Tammy Baldwin, Brian Schatz, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed [on the cloture vote]?
Then there was the vote on the bill itself. Klein again:
Once the filibuster was broken and it was impossible to really stop the thing from passing, senators could posture and preen on the final bill-- and they did. Corporate whores like Bob Menendez (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Cory Booker (NJ), Maria Cantwell (WA), Ed Markey (MA) and Carl Levin (MI) scurried across the aisle to safely pose as liberals. Tom Harkin (IA), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Barbara Boxer (CA) too. It passed 56-40.
Let's break out these lists. In bold are the Democratic No votes on cloture, votes to kill the bill by keeping it off the floor:

Senators Who Voted to Kill the Bill at Cloture

NAYs ---19
Brown (D-OH)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Franken (D-MN)
Heller (R-NV)
Lee (R-UT)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Moran (R-KS)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Risch (R-ID)
Rubio (R-FL)
Sanders (I-VT)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Vitter (R-LA)
Warren (D-MA)

These are the people who tried to kill the bill at the first opportunity. Everyone who voted Yes on the cloture vote helped it pass. Once the cloture vote failed, 77-19, everyone in the Senate knew there were plenty of votes to pass it. Time for some posturing.

Here are the Democratic No votes on the bill itself. Bolded names also voted against cloture. Underscored names are those who let it pass during cloture, then voted against it when the lights were on. Remember, this is the vote that gets reported in the papers and on TV.

Senators Who Voted to Kill the Bill After Cloture Failed

NAYs ---40
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Corker (R-TN)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Flake (R-AZ)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Grassley (R-IA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Heller (R-NV)
Hirono (D-HI)
Johnson (R-WI)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lee (R-UT)
Levin (D-MI)
Manchin (D-WV)
Markey (D-MA)
McCain (R-AZ)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Moran (R-KS)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Reed (D-RI)
Risch (R-ID)
Rubio (R-FL)
Sanders (I-VT)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Tester (D-MT)
Vitter (R-LA)
Warren (D-MA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

In other words, the following Democrats helped the bill pass during cloture, then sided against it, knowing they would lose (but look good doing it). These are just the underscored Democrats from the list above. Note that most have a well-cultivated "liberal" or "progressive" reputations.

Democrats Who Pretended to Try to Kill the Bill

Blumenthal Richard CT D (202) 224-2823
Booker Cory NJ D (202) 224-3224
BoxerBarbaraCAD(202) 224-3553
Cantwell Maria WA D (202) 224-3441
GillibrandKirstenNYD(202) 224-4451
HarkinTomIAD(202) 224-3254
HironoMazieHID(202) 224-6361
KlobucharAmyMND(202) 224-3244
LevinCarlMID(202) 224-6221
Markey Ed MA D (202) 224-2742
MenendezRobertNJD(202) 224-4744
MerkleyJeffORD(202) 224-3753
ReedJackRID(202) 224-4642
TesterJonMTD(202) 224-2644
WhitehouseSheldonRID(202) 224-2921
WydenRonORD(202) 224-5244

I'm calling these people, or most of them, the "Merkley crowd" because they frequently take progressive stands behind Merkley's leadership — on filibuster reform, for example, which I mentioned above. I'm also calling them the "in-between" crowd, at least on this vote, for reasons I just explained. Howie Klein has more about this group of senators here, including some striking and specific information about where some of them get their funding.

If you feel like making a phone call, you don't need anyone's permission. Just use the list above, check Klein's list of funding sources to see if your callee is mentioned (not all are), and then ask the senator this:
"Why did you vote for cloture if you opposed the bill?"
For example, Jeff Merkley issued this statement opposing the bill after it passed (my emphasis):
WASHINGTON -- Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement after the Senate voted on passage of the 2015 spending bill.

“Tonight the Senate voted on final passage of the 2015 spending bill. While there are many positive aspects of the bill, I voted ‘no’ [but not on cloture] because of my deep opposition to a provision that puts the Wall Street Casino back in business.

“This provision allows big Wall Street banks to get back in the business of making risky and exotic bets with government backing. These bets have no place inside a bank, putting our financial system at risk. And they certainly don’t merit government backing.

“Just six years ago, these types of bets melted down our entire economy with great losses in jobs and savings for middle-class Americans. We must not allow this to happen again. We can and must do better.”
A principled statement. But given that he didn't vote No on cloture, what does it mean? That he wanted to indicate he was opposed while taking the deal anyway as the best they were going to get? A plausible explanation perhaps, but he could have just said that. I struggle to understand.

Again, Jeff Merkley's DC office number is (202) 224-3753, and his Portland office number is (503) 326-3386. He may have an excellent explanation, but if so, we deserve to hear it, especially in light of the statement above.

Democrats Who Voted With Wall Street All the Way

There were plenty of Democrats in the corporate group — who were a Wall Street Yes all the way. Granted there were other reasons to vote Yes on both cloture and the bill — including and maybe especially, reasoned surrender to blackmail, or a (complicit) "this is the best deal we could get."

Still, a double Yes was a Wall Street Yes, for whatever reason. You can get the full list here of double-yes Democrats, but the names that jump out at me are —

Tammy Baldwin
Michael Bennet (who "curated" the 2014 electoral losses)
Dick Durbin (often an Obama surrogate)
"Independent" Angus King
Pat Leahy
Patty Murray (!)
Brian Schatz (!)
Jean Shaheen (!)
Debbie Stabenow
Mark Udall (who lost)
Tom Udall (who won)
Mark Warner (who very nearly lost, but Schumer loves him anyway)

Care to ask about their votes? Full Senate phone numbers here.

There are several on this list I'd personally add to an "Addition by Subtraction" file immediately, people whose presence should never be missed by any real progressive. For example, I could lose Michael Bennet and Mark Warner in a Wall Street Minute. If their presence cost Democrats the Senate, I'd be glad for their absence. (I could lose Schumer as well, but maybe that's just me.)

What About McCaskill and Manchin?

Finally, an apparent anomaly. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin, two "centrists" (corporatists), voted with Warren to defeat the cloture motion. How do we account for that? One way is this. If the rule is ...
In situations where the outcome is not in doubt, votes for either side may be sincere, or they may be just "for show."
... maybe they're in that "for show" group. It's possible they're opposed to Wall Street, though both are generally allied with Chuck Schumer, who's widely rumored to have worked to keep the Citibank rider in the bill. But McCaskill and Manchin are also reportedly enemies of Harry Reid, Schumer's frequent opponent in Senate leadership.

So this could just be "for show" on their part. If so, what are they showing? Perhaps a big middle finger to Reid, knowing cloture would fail and the bill would pass without them. According to The Hill (my paragraphing):
Manchin and McCaskill wage protest against Reid’s leadership style

Two centrists, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), voted against Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) Thursday to protest his leadership style.

McCaskill said that, under Reid’s tenure as Senate majority leader, the chamber has become engulfed in partisan sniping and produced little in the way of legislative progress. The Missouri Democrat said she’s focused on “making this place functional again and working with our Republican colleagues.” ...

She voted no on a yes-or-no secret ballot question on whether Reid should serve as minority leader in the 114th Congress. She did not have an opportunity to vote for another leader.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sounded exasperated after emerging from a four-hour meeting, during which Democrats voted to keep their leadership team largely in place. “I voted for a change,” Manchin told reporters. “I didn’t get a change.” ...
 And this is how the game is played, as I analyze it.

Where Do Our Three Groups Stand Now?

Thus our three groups, at the dawn of the late-Obama era, the post-2014 world. In the first group — the corporatists — money-bought Democrats lost ground to the corporate, money-bought Republicans. On the Democratic side, this group is smaller in number, but still in control of the caucus. Their number is legion relative to the other two groups.

In the second group — the insurgents — we see Elizabeth Warren leading the charge, and so far refusing to triangulate, to settle for less than a fight that puts teeth on the floor, Democratic teeth as well. Their number is six after first the round of battle.

In the third group — the "Merkley" group — we see many progressives who perhaps lack that fight, for whatever reason. (I'll examine those reasons separately; there's news from the caucus meeting.) On this fight they were less than insurgent, less than rebellious. Their number is 16.

If the Merkley group would all join the six insurgents — unlikely, I know, but still — the insurgency would have an impressive increase in strength. According to the latest count, the next Senate is 44 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 54 Republicans. Assuming "centrist" Angus King still caucuses with the Democrats, imagine if the insurgency caucus swells to 22 votes out of 46. (And frankly, without Angus King, 22 votes in a caucus of 45 is even better. Addition by subtraction, remember?)

What's not to like? Democrats would benefit (think of the increase in credibility). The insurgents would individually benefit (think of the increase in credibility). And the people themselves (remember them?) would also benefit. What's not to like?

Will Warren draw the 16 to her side? Will they quiet the fight in her? Or do we have a stalemate in alignment that is unlikely to change? These are fascinating days for a fly on the wall. Welcome to the wall.



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