Saturday, January 01, 2011

And yet no one went to jail

Reliving the Valerie Plame affair in Fair Game, based on the books written by Plame herself and her husband Joe Wilson, if you didn't have any anger before over what the Bush White House did to a loyal CIA agent in the name of politics and a war they wanted no matter what the facts were, that old rage will well up once again. In Doug Liman's film, it comes up even more so because before we get to the events of the leak of Plame's covert status itself, we actually see what her job entailed and what the Bush politicos callously threw away for their own warped reasons and the cost it took in American lives, those of other intelligence sources and, of course, the truth. Still, no one who committed crimes (and crimes were committed) went to jail for their roles. It's outrageous and the film will make that outrage feel fresh again.

Naomi Watts stars as Plame and Sean Penn plays Wilson (in one of his least-mannered performances) and while many of the details of the film will be familiar to anyone who watched the episode unfold in the media, what makes director Doug Liman's film most interesting are the details that were left by the wayside.

Fair Game begins by showing us Plame at work for the agency, making frequent secret trips overseas making contacts and protecting sources in the battle against weapons proliferation. Her husband knows her real job, but her friends believe she works for a phony business service. Early on, at the behest of the Defense Department, her section gets contacted to check out stories on aluminum tubes supposedly sought by Saddam Hussein and the possibility that Saddam had tried to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Never mind that the aluminum tube story had been investigated and disputed long before since the equipment was horribly outdated and unacceptable for uranium enrichment, the Bush White House pressures the CIA to check it out again. As it happens, Wilson, the last American to meet Saddam face-to-face and someone who had strong contacts with high-ranking officials in Niger, is suggested as someone who could check out the African side of the story. Plame admits her husband's expertise in the area, but that's the extent of her involvement in his getting the assignment.

Wilson takes the trip to Niger and finds that it would be logistically impossible to remove that large an amount of yellowcake from the country without leaving physical or written evidence. He returns, issues his report that the story is a nonstarter and believes that it's the end of it. Unfortunately, the Bush gang, represented especially by the unctuous Scooter Libby (played to smarmy perfection by David Andrews) are ghouls who can't say no and, much to Wilson's surprise, President Bush says those 16 words that mean so much in his 2002 State of the Union speech about Saddam attempting to acquire quantities of uranium from Africa.

Just to be certain, Wilson calls a source of his to make certain that Bush isn't referring to a different African country than Niger, but no, that's the lie that's being spun, followed by the big p.r. push from Cheney, Rice and the gang about not letting the "smoking gun be a mushroom cloud." An outraged Wilson pens the infamous op-ed in The New York Times about what he didn't find in Niger and the White House declares war on him and his wife, including outing her identity as a CIA operative in Robert Novak's column, which still is a crime.

The rest of the story should be fairly familiar to anyone who followed it, but if you've forgotten some of the details, you are certain to get riled once again (and to question the wisdom of the Obama Administration letting sleeping liars sleep free for the crimes they committed).

Still, as well known as the tale is, Fair Game proves quite compelling thanks to a solid cast and Liman's solid direction. Of course, the true Bush believers will have no interest and partisans already will have been converted, but those who are fuzzy on the facts owe it to themselves to see this film. A little history never hurt anybody. 

(Cross-posted at Edward Copeland on Film.)

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Before Stewart there was Carlin

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2011? Already?

Here's wishing you all a very Happy New Year from all of us at The Reaction. We hope you have a great 2011.

All my love to my loved ones, to all my friends and family.

Be safe out there, everyone, and take care of one another.

-- Michael

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Friday, December 31, 2010

Is Jon Stewart the new Edward R. Murrow?

There has been much ado recently, and justifiably so, about Jon Stewart's admirable advocacy in support of 9/11 First Responders, demanding passage of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and shaming both Congress (Democrats for not being aggressive enough and Republicans for obstructing the bill) and the news media (which, with the exception of Aljazeera, was neglecting the story entirely) into action.

Stewart has repeated denied that he is a political player, let alone a partisan, preferring to present himself as a comedian first and foremost, but there is no denying that he has become a major political figure. His rally with Colbert back at the end of October was a sign of his significant reach, but those of us who adore him, if I may put it so lovingly, have known about his influence for a long time. So, for that matter, have his critics.

While a huge fan, I have been deeply critical of Stewart's anti-partisan claims, and so, while supporting 9/11 First Reponders is hardly a partisan thing to do (even if Republicans like Tom Coburn made it partisan), I do welcome Stewart's aggressive foray into legislative politics. Without necessarily turning into an overt partisan, and without endangering his comedy (and his broad appeal across the left into the center, and especially with liberal-minded but independent young people), he should do more of it.

But the question is, is he, as no less an authority than the Times has suggested, the new Edward R. Murrow, the legendary journalist and CBS commentator who famously stood up to McCarthyism and, in the process, became the icon of journalism itself?

It's a silly question, in a way, even as it asks us to put Stewart into perspective, to figure out just what he's all about. No longer just a self-deprecating comedian with an obscure late-night cable faux news show appealing to collegiate stoners, Stewart has become a sort of icon himself, the essential progressive voice of the engaged but generally powerless, a voice speaking truth to political and media power, but doing so not as a member of the insider ranks, like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, but as a justifiably cynical outsider pointing out the very absurdity of it all while holding those on the inside to account, catching them in their various foibles, sometimes criminal, often unethical, usually counter to the public good.

If he isn't quite Murrow, it's because he refuses to be that serious, because he remains a comedian above all, and because, honestly, Murrow was a man of his time and place. In today's media landscape, a Murrow just isn't possible, just as, say, a Cronkite isn't possible. The world is too fractured for such a singular giant. Now it's all about granular niches and multiple platforms, not overarching media figures wielding immense influence on a limited number of channels, the entire nation tuned in.

But that doesn't mean the comparison is without merit. Murrow was a man of exceptional determination and courage. Stewart is much less sure of himself, and much more of a funny man who thrives on being out there on the fringe, poking fun at the establishment, but his willingness to take on the establishment even as he and his fans are laughing at it suggests a courage that is sorely lacking in American society today, both in politics and in the media. He may not have the revolutionary aims of a Julian Assange, but, then, neither did Murrow. And like Murrow, what Stewart is ultimately fighting for is for America to live up to its professed values and principles. He doesn't go about it quite the same way Murrow did, but the similarities are there.

For more on this, see this fine piece by Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic, which has influenced much of what I've written here. Here's part of it:

Jon Stewart may or may not be the most important journalist of the 21th Century -- it's early still, plus he'd have to cop to the label and I'm not sure he would. But it should be clear from this episode, if it somehow weren't before, that Stewart (Murrow-like, you might say) wields enormous power and prestige through the medium of television (and the Internet). He showed it this fall with his well-attended Washington rally, he shows it each week with his ratings among younger viewers and the nation's political elite, and he clearly raised his game a notch with his searing light on how official Washington was screwing up the responders' health bill. I give credit to the Times and others for at least trying to cover that aspect of this story. The comparison to Murrow, which came off as facile in the Times piece, has some merit. It just wasn't explained well enough. Nor, alas, was the mainstream media's generally miserable failure -- also highlighted by Stewart -- in covering the 9/11 responders' legislation before Stewart's broadcasts. Stewart didn't just blast the Congress, remember, he blasted news organizations, too, for the latest example of their chronically short attention spans.

When Murrow took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy nearly half a century ago, he had far more to lose than Stewart did when he lobbied for the federal legislation. Murrow was standing up to bullies -- horrible, powerful bullies -- who might have ended his career and destroyed his network. By comparison, Stewart was merely speaking out against the way politics and journalism too often works in Washington. But both Murrow and Stewart dramatically changed public perceptions about a current event. Both men stuck their necks out. Both went first into a sort of no-man's-land. It is probably true that only Murrow in his time had the bona fides to stand up to McCarthy (and don't forget, Murrow waited years before doing so). But of all the media people who could have stood up in late 2010 for the brave, sick men and women who went into the rubble of September 11, 2001 only Stewart had both the will and the chops to do so in earnest. Does that make his courage any less impressive? Not in my book. Not when compared with so many other broadcasters and journalists who thought they had more important stories to file.

Courage in broadcasting, or in journalism in general, is not a zero sum game. Praising Stewart for his "mad as hell ain't gonna take it anymore" moment is no slight to Murrow or any other journalist who risks criticism and vitriol for speaking truth to power. Any comparison between the men diminishes neither. Let the historians and biographers correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Murrow would have applauded Stewart's role in redirecting public opinion back to some of the heroes who ran toward the rubble in Lower Manhattan in September 2001. And I believe Murrow would have endorsed Stewart's critical view of the media's role in the affair -- especially the navel-gazing that has occurred since the passage of the legislation. Murrow may have searched for light but he is known today for the passion, the heat, he brought to his best work. I believe history will judge Stewart similarly, in this instance and hopefully again in the future.

Hopefully indeed.

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GOP theater: Now starring the U.S. Constitution

By Nicholas Wilbur 

Republicans take control of the lower branch of Congress on January 5. On January 6, members of the new Republican-controlled House will do what no Congress member has done in the entire history of the country: they will read the United States Constitution from start to finish. 

If it sounds like a new age of honor and accountability in politics is on the horizon, don't be fooled. 

Republican leaders plan to emphasize their vigor in carrying the water for this nouveau wave of patriotism by instituting a mandatory practice of attaching a citation of constitutional authority to every piece of legislation presented in the 112th Congress. But that too should be taken with a grain – or possibly an entire box – of salt.

Tea Partiers across the country are howling a victory song over these surface-level gestures, and I'm beginning to feel that unpleasantly familiar tingle in the back of my throat that usually precedes the uncontrollable outpouring of vomit from my mouth.

"It appears that the Republicans have been listening," Jeff Luecke, a Tea Party organizer in Dubuque, Iowa, told The Washington Post. "We're so far away from our founding principles that, absolutely, this is the very, very tip of the iceberg. We need to talk about and learn about the Constitution daily."


No one could argue against learning. Education is the backbone of American enterprise, the foundation of individual liberty, the necessary prerequisite for responsible media consumption and informed voting.

This is not that. This is the GOP wrapping a bow around a cheap, as-seen-on-TV gimmick. This is an embarrassment to all who are capable of distinguishing between real progress and mere shadows dancing nude in front of a perpetually digressing and intellectually devolving populace. This is entertainment broadcast for the masses at the expense of actual, measurable enlightenment.

And, sadly but not surprisingly, no one seems to notice.

A wise man once told me that extremism is borne of ignorance, while intelligence is necessarily cultivated, instructed, and nurtured over time.

"Whenever we wish to understand something other than ourselves, we must remember that we never really escape ourselves, our place and time, saturated as they are with a multitude of experiences and assumptions." 

The subject of this quotation was Islam, but the core of this man's statement is a timeless and universal maxim for approaching education in general.

Knowledge is not innate, but particularly during the learning process itself, an individual's perceptions, stereotypes, experiences, and assumptions undoubtedly influence the way new information is absorbed and understood.

Do you know what Muslim terrorists read in order to justify blowing up buildings, planes, and marketplaces? (Hint: It's the same book that billions of moderate, peace-loving Muslims read daily.)

Do you know what extremist Christians read before hosting book-burning parties, protesting the funerals of U.S. military service members, and murdering abortion doctors? (Hint: It's the same "good news" that billions of moderate, peace-loving Christians read daily.)

Hearing verbatim recitations of the Constitution isn't akin to terrorism. To claim such would be idiotic beyond measure. But exactly what purpose is served by the GOP's bright idea to have story time with the American people?

Is it possible that reading the U.S. Constitution will prove only to reinforce the radical ideas of a group of revolutionists suffering from intellectual retardation (per its actual definition: delayed, slow, inhibited, hampered)?

Considering that the Tea Party believes that anything not specifically mentioned in the Constitution is therefore unconstitutional, then yes.

Health-care reform, for example, isn't in the Constitution.

The Internal Revenue Service isn't in the Constitution.

Public schools, specifically, are not in the Constitution, and neither are unemployment benefits, anti-discrimination laws or women's rights.

There are millions of reams of case law defining and interpreting probably every sentence of this historic document. Without the context provided by centuries of interpretation, analysis, and application, reading the Constitution and/or citing the Constitution will do nothing to bring America back around to what the Founding Fathers intended (assuming we're so far off base that such a revolution is necessary at all).

Republicans are planning a reality show for the ages, and it's sure to be full of the same sensational, headline-grabbing theatrics that helped rally the base in the 2010 midterm election. But it won't mean anything. It won't change anything. And it won't fix any of the problems we're faced with as a nation.

Like many of the Republican Party's tactics, it's good politics, as it appeals to the masses who believe America is straying from the intentions of its Founding Fathers. But in practice, such histrionic displays of alleged patriotism will only further enrage the blindly faithful and context-averse followers of the GOP by giving Republicans a seemingly legitimate reason to block Democrat-sponsored legislation in the 112th Congress.

That is what this nouveau wave of patriotism is all about – not education, not enlightenment, just more smoke, mirrors, and entertaining shadows on the wall.

Skidamarink a dinky dink, Skidamarink a doo. Welcome to the Elephant Show!

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Obama's recess appointments and the faux outrage of Republicans

Republicans are outraged -- outraged, they scream at us! -- over President Obama's recess appointments (six on Wednesday alone!). How dare he? Is he a tyrant or something? A Republican president would never ever ever do such a thing. Never ever!

(Ahem... John Bolton... ahem. And, no, I did not scream bloody murder when Bush appointed him. While I vehemently opposed Bolton, I recognized Bush's move as perfectly legal. As you may remember, Bolton was never confirmed and ended up resigning several months after his appointment.)

And, of course, all Republicans care about is bipartisanship. They just want to help out, to work productively with Democrats to get things done. They'd never ever ever act in a partisan way. Never ever!

Or am I to believe that WaPo's "Right Turn" columnist, Jennifer Rubin, is just full of shit?

On Wednesday, Obama shed any pretense of bipartisanship in making six recess appointments. As were his previous recess appointments, this batch included two individuals whose records are so controversial that they could not obtain confirmation even with 59 Democratic senators.

Thankfully, our good friend Steve Benen has taken the time to wade into the muck to set the record straight:

President Obama nominated six qualified officials to fill a variety of executive branch vacancies. These nominations were considered in the respective Senate committees, and approved by committee members. If brought to the floor, each of the six would have been confirmed, most with more than 60 votes. (When Rubin claims they were too "controversial" to "obtain confirmation," this has no relation to reality. She's simply wrong.)

Knowing this, conservative Republicans, who've engaged in obstructionist tactics unseen in American history, placed anonymous holds on the nominees. They could have simply voted against the nominees and urged their colleagues to follow suit, but that wasn't good enough -- Republicans had to shut down the advise-and-consent process altogether.

This, in turn, left the president with a choice: (a) leave the positions vacant until a Senate minority agreed to let the chamber vote up or down; or (b) fill the vacancies with qualified nominees who enjoyed the support of a Senate majority. He wisely chose the latter.

In other words, Rubin is indeed full of shit.

Plain and simple, this is about Republican obstructionism (a partisan effort by the disloyal opposition to prevent Obama from being able to govern effectively), and Obama's response to it, not Democratic partisanship or a presidential abuse of power.

And these supposed Constitution fetishists of the right ought to read the Constitution, along with some history:

Every president since George Washington has used recess appointments; it's a power explicitly given to the president in the Constitution.

Game. Set. Match.


The appointment Rubin most objects to is James Cole as deputy attorney general. She points to his supposed "controversial stance on the War on Terror" as justification for blocking him. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), that loathsome and utterly hypocritical supporter of terrorism, called his appointment "absolutely shocking."


As David Waldman points out at Daily Kos, Cole supports civilian trials for terror suspects. Republicans do not, of course, but Cole's "stance" is hardly all that "controversial," and certainly not so beyond the pale that he doesn't deserve a high-ranking job in the Justice Department -- which, of course, is a political job, and one should expect the person who holds it to have some views that the other side may not agree with. And, again, he was only blocked because a senator put a hold on him, not because he didn't have solid support in the Senate.

Waldman also notes that Cole has targeted political corruption, including among Republicans, most notably Newt Gingrich. But that can't have anything to do with it, right?

Because Republicans are so very honest, so very helpful, so very bipartisan. They say so themselves!!!


Yes, the shit stinks. And there's a lot of it.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Newsflash for Greta Van Susteren: Sarah Palin is just not that bright

Greta Van Susteren, Fox News talking head and defender of all that is fair and balanced in the coverage of news, wants to know what criteria fellow Fox pundit Juan Williams used when he stated that Sarah Palin is not on the same "intellectual stage" as President Obama.

You may recall that Williams once worked for National Public Radio but lost that job because of comments he made about Muslims on airplanes that NPR thought insensitive. Then Fox gave him a full-time gig – mostly to provide them leverage to criticize NPR for not supporting free speech. In any case, Fox is probably sorry it did that because Williams says the occasional thing that doesn't sit well with the Fox narrative, such as the aforementioned slight about Palin's intellect.

There is nothing particularly new about people taking shots at Palin's intelligence. Even conservatives have been lining up to do that for some time now.

What I find interesting, however, is the benchmark that Van Susteren uses to suggest that Williams has no basis for making the claim. She writes:

Has Juan interviewed either [Palin or Obama] so as to have any knowledge about which he speaks or is he just talking? Knowing if he interviewed (first hand knowledge) either and to what depth can help guide you as to whether you should credit his opinion or not.

Van Susteren goes on to say that her purpose was not to defend Palin from Williams, or to target Williams, but to: 

drive home the point that there is a big difference between fact and opinion, and that when we express opinion, we should make sure that it is rooted in fact or experience or good judgment -- and not simply slinging insults.

Is Van Susteren really suggesting that the only way one can determine the quality of another person's intellect is to actually interview them personally? Is that really what she is saying?

Does Van Susteren seriously believe that Americans should refrain from making judgements about the intelligence of candidates running for office unless they have had the chance to sit down with them for a good chin wag?

It seems that this would take a very long time. 

Van Susterern's comments are simply stupid and just another way of suggesting that Palin is really some sort of bright light whose abilities are obscured by "lamestream" media types who insist on asking loaded questions for the sole purpose of making Palin look foolish. Yeah, right.

I have to think that what Van Susteren is really doing is admitting that Palin comes across as less than capable in most interviews, other than those conducted by Fox News, but that if each American had the chance to sit down with her, one-on-one, they would see how smart she really is. That must be what Greta really means. I don't think she is right about this, but that must be what she means.

Obviously, we all make judgements about other people's intellectual capacity, whether or not they are running for office. In the world of politics, people who work for media companies are paid to ask the questions, either directly or indirectly, and the candidates or candidates-in-waiting answer the questions as best they can while we, the people, decide who has the requisite ability and who does not.

Criteria for assessing intelligence is important but, to be fair, there is hardly a scientific consensus about it. SAT scores and university degrees are likely a very poor proxy. The accumulation of facts, the ability to appreciate a range of opinions, empathetic imagination, problem-solving competencies, communications skills, a capacity for abstract thought, and more are certainly ways to think about intelligence. But, at the end of the day, our judgement is all we have to tell us whether or not we think another person ranks higher or lower on the scale. Perhaps the best we can do is to say that whatever intelligence is, we know it when we see it (or fail to see it).

Whatever else is true, we get to decide, though face time, while no doubt helpful, is probably not absolutely essential and certainly not practical.

Sorry Greta, but as for Ms. Palin, most people have already decided that she is just not that bright or at least not bright enough – under the most important definitions for the highest political office in the land.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have never interviewed Sarah Palin or President Obama, but still reserve the right to express an opinion about the relative qualities of their intelligence, just like Juan Williams. Call it the American in me.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Why conservatives are scared shitless

Check out this interesting piece at The Raw Story:

Political opinions are considered choices, and in Western democracies the right to choose one's opinions -- freedom of conscience -- is considered sacrosanct.

But recent studies suggest that our brains and genes may be a major determining factor in the views we hold.

A study at University College London in the UK has found that conservatives' brains have larger amygdalas than the brains of liberals. Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other "primitive" emotions. At the same time, conservatives' brains were also found to have a smaller anterior cingulate -- the part of the brain responsible for courage and optimism.

If the study is confirmed, it could give us the first medical explanation for why conservatives tend to be more receptive to threats of terrorism, for example, than liberals. And it may help to explain why conservatives like to plan based on the worst-case scenario, while liberals tend towards rosier outlooks.

"It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes," Geraint Rees, the neurologist who carried out the study, told the media.

Not that we really needed a study to tell us that conservatives are "primitive," but it's helpful to have this sort of scientific confirmation.

It makes you wonder if conservatives deny evolution because they just haven't evolved much and either can't grasp evolution as a theory or are terrified of its progressive consequences.

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The Year In Rearview

By Carl
Look, for my part, the year 2010 cannot go away fast or far enough.
Between the crappy cynical pandering by Teabaggers to the lowest common denominator of a minority of the American electorate to the health issues I dealt with to the fact that my mom is racing the end of the year to end first, this has been a pretty shitty ride.
So in my inimitable fashion, fuck the bad, let's focus on the good stuff!
1) Healthcare reform -- it was nasty business, it was exceedingly poorly handled, a blind kindergartener could have done a better job of promoting the benefits, but America joined the civilized world.
Sort of. There's a lot of room for improvement there, and one hopes in 2013, we will see it roll in.
2) The laughable joke that passes for "populism" -- From The Wicked Witch Of The West(ern Delaware) to Sharon Angle, the Teabaggers, while generally successful in electing minor candidates to federal posts, had an epic fail in terms of persuading the population that they are a serious political force to be reckoned with. My suspicion is they have blown their only real chance, however it's possible they may end up shooting the GOP in the foot. Sarah Palin, while moderately successful with her carefully chosen endorsements, was not the game changed she hoped to be and her final throes in 2010, trying to refudiate saying "refudiate" while gobs of tape proved her a self-involved liar, only served to nail the coffin shut on her presidential aspirations, such as they were.
3) Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert and The Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear -- A more delightful event could not have been planned by anyone else. While remaining strictly-- perhaps frustratingly-- non-partisan and entertaining...maybe the opening performance by The Roots could have been shorter, but there was probably some stuff going on that we didn't know about...Stewart and to an extent Colbert brought to the near-undivided attention of Americans the, um, divide that presents itself upon the electorate.
Some of this was necessary. Some of it smacked of patronization and even condescension (the attempt to make an equivalence between the teeth-bared partisanship of FOX with the balance of MSNBC was a little discomfiting from Stewart) but the entire event was at once eye-opening, refreshing and reassuring. We are America. We are Americans. From the Muslim selling the newspaper to the Sikh running the dry cleaner to the Korean driving the taxi to the Jewish doctor and Presbyterian lawyer, to the bald guy in the SUV with the gun rack driving next to the soccer mom in her Volvo in the Holland Tunnel, what unites us is truly more important than what divides us, and we ought to honor that.
4) The San Francisco Giants -- I don't plug baseball on my blog much but I am an huge fan of the game, and the Giants were a real American story: cast-offs and has-beens let go by other teams for a song played above their heads and collectively went from mutts to pedigrees. That they play for the gayest city in America is just a plus. 
5) The repeal of DADT -- Well, what can I say? Harry Reid found his balls, and gave thousands of soldiers back theirs. And those are just the women!
6) Chilean Mine Rescue -- Really, why did it take a "third world" nation to show us in America how it's done? Good grief, it's CHILE! I know, I know, Chile is actually one of the most progressive nations on the planet, nevermind South America, and has much to show for themselves, but come ON!
7) The World Cup -- South Africa, indeed the entire African continent, deserves high marks for hosting the quadrennial meeting of men in shorts. Not only were the games held safely and securely, not only were old animosities put aside...I'm looking at you, Portugal and Spain!...not only were the Americans embarassed once again in a sport that the rest of the world deems "it", but the energy of the audiences and the nation were stunning enough that you could safely ignore the vuvuzelas.
From time to time.
Y'know, the temptation to round this out to a Top Ten list is strong, so I think story number 8 for good news this year is that I stopped the list at story number 7.
Have a Happy New Year, my friends, my readers!
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Nullification nonsense: How conservatives mistake the Constitution for the Articles of Confederation

Guest post by Publius 

Publius has lived in and spent most of his life thinking about Washington, D.C. He is an attorney, an avid sports fan, and the editor of The Fourth Branch.

(Ed. note: This is Publius's second guest post for us. You can find his first, on George Will and "engaged justices," here. -- MJWS)


Many have noted the irony of conservative politicians running on a platform of undying love for and understanding of the Constitution while simultaneously advocating the repeal of many of its significant provisions. Vocal elements of the conservative base, primarily centered on the Tea Party and pundits on Fox News, have advocated for repealing part of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (citizenship) and all of the 16th Amendment (income tax) and 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators). Those would be significant changes to the nation's governing text, but they pale in comparison to the most recent calls for change involving nullification.

The so-called "Tenther" movement holds that the Congress continues to pass "unconstitutional" laws that are beyond Congress' power to enact, and that the states have the right, under the Tenth Amendment, to reject all such laws. The legal theory behind the Tenther movement isn't novel, but it is one that has been soundly rejected -- politically, legally, and militarily. The doctrine was used by the South to justify its continued use of slavery prior to the Civil War. It led to the South invoking nullification's close relative, secession, as the ultimate exercise of state sovereignty. Military elimination of the doctrine and the racist policies supported by the doctrine cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans. The Constitution itself was born following a failed history with a legal document codifying the concept of nullification -- the Articles of Confederation.

Given the racist past of nullification and secession, and the severe strain both policies placed on the nation and the Constitution as a whole, one would think the conservative movement would stray far from such policies. Instead, nullification has found new life and even a place on the ballot in many states. In Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, and Colorado, voters have been asked to "nullify" the recent health-care law, and nullification passed in each of those states but Colorado. Virginia recently passed a law through the legislature "repealing" health care with respect to that state. None of these efforts have any legal significance (which ought to be a sign that they aren't constitutional, but I digress).

Of course, health-care reform isn't the only law targeted by Tenthers for nullification. According to the Tenth Amendment Center (which is pushing many of the nullification efforts), other laws targeted for nullification include medical marijuana laws, firearm control laws, cap and trade (which hasn't even been enacted yet), EPA regulations, and more. In addition to repealing laws, the Tenthers advocate passing laws or constitutional amendments which restrict the definition of "interstate commerce" (which would restrict Congress' ability to pass laws, because many laws are passed under the Commerce Clause), require state approval of federal tax laws, and require a return to the gold/silver standard.

It ought to be obvious that such efforts, if enacted, would effectively eliminate the federal government. If the federal government, for example, could not pass a budget without state approval, or could not raise taxes from residents of a state until that state consented, the federal government would be crippled. How do we know this? Because it was already tried once before and it failed miserably with the Articles of Confederation.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Confederation Congress could pass laws, but the power of enforcement lay with the states. Furthermore, Congress itself had no power of taxation -- all revenue had to be requested by the states. Substantively, such provisions in the Articles of Confederation are identical to granting states under the Constitution the power of nullification. Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government neared insolvency, inflation of the "continental dollar" skyrocketed so much that the saying "not worth a continental" was born, and the military, desperate for funding which rarely came from Congress, was authorized to confiscate whatever property it needed to carry on the Revolutionary War.

Notwithstanding these clear lessons from our past and the bloodiest war fought in U.S. history, many in the conservative base continue arguing that embedded in the Tenth Amendment is the state right to nullify unconstitutional laws. Taking the next step in the logical nullification process, even conservative elected officials have articulated a state right to secession, including Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC, arguably the head of the Tea Party), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), and more.

Arguments for nullification and even secession are, more subtly, a rejection of Article III of the Constitution, which establishes the judiciary and gives it the sole right to interpret the Constitution, and Article VI of the Constitution, which establishes constitutional and federal supremacy. Any state that considers a law to be beyond the powers of Congress can challenge that law in the courts (as many have done with the health-care law, for example). The courts then make a determination as to the constitutionality of that law and, provided it is constitutional, the law is then binding upon all states pursuant to Article VI of the Constitution. Nullification shifts that decision-making process away from the judiciary and into the hands of the state political classes. In effect, the role of the judiciary as a constitutional arbiter is eliminated.

Nullification proponents are quite familiar with the role of the judiciary and its ability to nullify unconstitutional laws. Simply put, such proponents have zero confidence in the judiciary and seek to re-write Article III.

The Tea Party's admiration for the Constitution appears to end where Article III, Article VI, and Amendments 14, 16, and 17 begin. It is an admiration that ignores the historical fact that the Constitution was enacted to establish a stronger central government as a replacement for the weaker state-centered government that was failing miserably. It is a devotion that calls for violent "second amendment remedies" when Congress and/or the courts take an action with which one may disagree. It is a love that calls for a return to policies that supported the racial oppression of millions to the shame of a nation. It is a love of the Constitution that would cause its demise.

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There's craziness on the loose in North Carolina

This is what happens when the culture of fear takes over:

An athletic and academic standout in Lee County said a lunchbox mix-up has cut short her senior year of high school and might hurt her college opportunities.

Ashley Smithwick, 17, of Sanford, was suspended from Southern Lee High School in October after school personnel found a small paring knife in her lunchbox.

Smithwick said personnel found the knife while searching the belongings of several students, possibly looking for drugs.

"She got pulled into it. She doesn't have to be a bad person to be searched," Smithwick's father, Joe Smithwick, said.

The lunchbox really belonged to Joe Smithwick, who packs a paring knife to slice his apple. He and his daughter have matching lunchboxes.

"It's just an honest mistake. That was supposed to be my lunch because it was a whole apple," he said.

Ashley Smithwick said she had never gotten in trouble before and was surprised when the principal opened her lunchbox and found the knife.

The teen was initially given a 10-day suspension, then received notice that she was suspended the rest of the school year.

"I don't understand why they would even begin to point the finger at me and use me as an example," she said.

This month, Ashley Smithwick, a soccer player who takes college-level courses, was charged with misdemeanor possession of a weapon on school grounds. She is no longer allowed to set foot on campus.

There are many nefarious forces behind this ever-growing culture of fear: news media sensationalism (hyping threats beyong all reasonable perspective), the cult of law and order, post-9/11 security obsession, a general disregard for young people and youth culture, etc.

In this case, it's school security run amok (as schools have been hyped up into cesspools of violence), with no apparent consideration for the specifics -- which clearly exonerate this young woman.

Those responsible for suspending Ms. Smithwick and potentially ruining her life, or at least her academic career, should themselves be suspended, if not fired, for abuse of power.

And, if need be, the governor should step in and make sure that these absurd charges are dropped, that Ms. Smithwick receives not just a formal apology but whatever reparations she may be owed, and that policies are put in place to prevent this sort of madness from recurring in future.

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Christine O'Donnell, crook

Defeated Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, who ran for vice president Joe Biden's former Senate seat, is reportedly under federal investigation for using campaign funds for personal expenses, the Associated Press reports.

The criminal probe is being conducted by two federal prosecutors and two FBI agents, an anonymous source told the AP. The matter has not yet been referred to a grand jury.  

This actually goes back to September, when a leading watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed two complaints against O'Donnell alleging misuse of campaign funds.

As I said then, let's hope O'Donnell gets the vigorous investigation she deserves. Even in defeat -- massive, landslide defeat -- she must be held accountable for her actions.


An interesting note: In the ABC News piece linked above, O'Donnell is described in the first paragraph as a "Tea Party candidate." It isn't until the sixth paragraph that she's identified as a Republican.

But of course she was the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware. Yes, she was also a prominent Tea Party candidate, but her victory in the Republican primary was a clear case of the Tea Party taking over the GOP, at least at the grassroots level, and the GOP welcoming the Tea Party into its ranks as a dominant, if not entirely controlling, influence.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that ABC News is trying to hide O'Donnell's official party affiliation, or to hide the clear links between the Tea Party and the Republican Party, but shouldn't she be described primarily as a Republican and then secondarily as a Tea Partier?

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

If this be treason...

By Capt. Fogg

The Republicans like to use the word "tyrant" a lot. Perhaps it's the same sort of tendency you find in liars and cheats and thieves of other types who use those words to describe those who threaten to expose them. Perhaps not, but I've noticed of late that there have been a lot of calls for summary and extra-legal executions coming from right-wing writers and hate-shouters like good ol' love thy neighbor Mike Huckabee or Foxboy Tucker Carlson, who "personally" would like to have had Michael Vick put up against a wall and shot even though dear justice loving Tucker professes to be -- you guessed it -- a Christian. Pardon me, but I'm confused.

If you find it hard to reconcile what you think you know about Jesus and non-judgmentalism and forgiveness with summary executions for animal cruelty, perhaps you're unaware of the overriding moral imperative of the Values Party: anything we do to undermine Obama and the Democrats is patriotic and is justified through patriotism because our word is law, not your damned Constitution. Barack Obama praised the NFL's Eagles for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance and of course Barack Obama is the Tyrant Prince of Darkness so if he does anything, it's a bad thing. Vick must die, even if those animal rights people are bleeding heart liberals and even if you don't give a damn about dogs.

Last Wednesday in my local paper, I suffered through a tortuous justification of summary execution for treason of the fellow who leaked those diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, the essence of which was that had he leaked different information under different circumstances at a different time, some terrible thing might have happened. That's the basis of Mike Huckabee's equally loathsome demand for twisting the treason definition to allow the Republicans to kill their critics for the crime of informing the public that our allies aren't our allies and the government doesn't know what it's doing.

Of course if someone were lying about the failures of our government, that would be different. They'd get a regular show on Fox like Huckabee and Beck, make the big bucks and none would dare call it treason. The truth is what makes it bad, you see.

Never mind that something is exposed that would cause us to hang a foreigner the way we did an Nuremberg for, if we do it, it's not a crime. A bit like saying that if your aunt had had wheels instead of legs she'd have been a bus and so she can be sued for not picking you up at the bus stop this morning even if you don't ride the bus and she has legs anyway -- and you'd see the logic of that if you weren't a damned Libtard lover of tyranny.

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the fellow who embarrassed the military with his Afghanistan videos of course should be put up against the same wall for revealing the incompetence of government, the lies, the cover ups, and perhaps the slaughter of innocents, because, after all, anything that doesn't cover up our misdeeds is treason unless the deeds have political importance for Republicans -- then anything is fair game and lawbreakers are heroes and patriots. Are you starting to get it? Criticizing the government is treason because it helps the enemy and there's always an enemy, don't you know -- except when the elite does it, of course, and you know who they are.

Yes, the government is corrupt, incompetent and can't do anything and so we're against it as long as that's actually false. If it's true and you prove it, you're a traitor and should be shot without due process. That's not tyranny -- a middle class tax cut is tyranny, ending insurance company abuse is tyranny, taking deadly contaminated meat off the shelves is tyranny, ending bigotry against law abiding citizens is tyranny, addressing schoolchildren on TV is tyranny as bad as anything Pol Pot ever did. Making BP pay for its incompetence is tyranny, and, if you don't agree, the unelected leaders at Fox want you dead and aren't embarrassed to suggest that you be killed. Sic semper tyrannis.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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The apocalyptic pain of starving the beast

Guest post by Nicholas Wilbur 

Nicholas Wilbur is an award-winning reporter and opinion columnist turned political junkie and critic. He is the founder of the blog Muddy Politics and lives in New Mexico.

(Ed. note: This is Nicholas's fifth guest post for us. You can find his first two, both on the Obama-GOP tax deal, here and here. You can find his third, on the potential for revolution, here, and his fourth, on the state of American democracy, here. -- MJWS)


When you starve the beast, the last think you expect is "apocalyptic pain," especially when the former strategy and the latter warning come from the same political party.

After two years of vigorously opposing and consistently filibustering any Democratic-proposed initiatives that were not paid for – and even many that were – Republicans executed a flawless about-face this month by then lobbying the White House to add more than $675 billion to the national deficit with an extension of tax cuts for all Americans.

"The worst time in the world to raise taxes on anybody is during a recession," Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said in the lead-up to the tax-cut debate.

After President Obama and the majority of Democrats in Congress capitulated to GOP demands and approved the tax cuts for another two years, Coburn came out spewing the usual Republican fire-and-brimstone venom about government spending.

According to The Hill, Coburn is now on a "crusade against spending." He's calling for "sacrifice," warning of "punishment" for runaway spending, and prophesying "destruction" of the middle class if Washington doesn't get its house in order.

If it seems like a gold metal winner in the Hypocrite Olympics, it is.

(Perhaps it's time for the GOP to update its traditional title to reflect its modern political stances – something like Grand Old Hypocritical Party would do just fine.)

But it's also good politics. And it doesn't take a modern political science expert to see how.

George Lakoff’s 2004 description of the Republican Party's tax-cut pitch to America still applies to the extension Obama just signed into law.

The Republican Party holds to the theory that "social programs are immoral because they make people dependent," Lakoff writes. After hearing Republicans argue throughout the year against providing unemployment benefits to the millions of American who still cannot find work, it has become acceptable to describe these people not only as dependent but also lazy, serially breeding animals, drug addicts, hobos and, in general, taxpayer leeches who ride on the backs of the ever-dwindling population of hard-working and patriotic Americans.

Lakoff continues: "[I]f you believe that social programs are immoral, how do you stop these immoral people? It is quite simple. What you have to do is reward the good people – the ones whose prosperity reveals their discipline and hence their capacity for morality – with a tax cut, and make it big enough so that there is not enough money left over for social programs. By this logic, the deficit is a good thing. As Grover Norquist says, it 'starves the beast.'"

And that is exactly what Republicans have accomplished with the latest, mostly bipartisan effort to extend tax cuts for all Americans. 

By "starving the beast" of $675 billion worth in tax cuts, and another $183 billion in additional spending measures, Republicans are now squawking that the sky is falling. And Coburn is not alone in his argument that if something isn't done – and soon – the country as a whole will feel the "apocalyptic pain" of this administration's spending spree, economic emergency or not. 

For an added bit of irony, it's worth noting that Republicans spent the majority of the 2010 campaign season railing against Obama and Democrats for adding to the deficit, stretching the government too thin, and jeopardizing the fiscal safety of the nation by shoving a $787 billion stimulus bill down the throats of the American people, and then, after the election, coming out in near unanimous support for a second, even more costly stimulus bill totaling $858 billion.

Because of these measures, "wasteful spending" is now on the chopping block – which sounds like a good thing, a necessary thing, a vital thing if America is going to avoid a financial apocalypse. But wasteful spending, according to the GOP, is spending on social programs. And that debate is fast approaching.

To avoid defaulting on the national debt, Congress will begin debating in early 2011 whether or not to increase the national debt ceiling above the current $14.2-trillion limit.

The new House majority leader, John Boehner, has signaled that increasing the debt ceiling is necessary, even if it is not desirable. Not all Republicans are on board, but with Republicans taking control of the lower branch of Congress come January, and with a good many of them representing the anti-government, "Don't Tread on Me" philosophy of the Tea Party movement, spending cuts are guaranteed no matter what decision is made with regard to the debt ceiling.

If the Republican Party's "Pledge to America" is any indication of where spending allegiances lie, seniors, veterans, and troops will not be on the chopping block.

That may come as a relief to some, but it signals its own Armageddon to others. By ignoring cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and defense spending, only one-third of the federal budget is then open to cuts. One could bet with almost certain odds that social programs will be first to slide under the guillotine.

That means early child education, crime and violence prevention and resources, substance abuse treatment, mental health therapy, youth development, housing subsidies, after-school programming, college tuition assistance and grants... the list goes on, and on, and on – and it affects millions of people.

It's unlikely that Sen. Coburn will revise his statement about tax cuts and add that, "The worst time in the world to cut social programs on anybody is during a recession."

That said, it's the argument Democrats are going to have to take. Spending cuts are necessary, but their effects are mostly directed toward those who are already on the brink of poverty. More importantly, at least as far as politics is concerned, spending cuts result in staff reductions, which result in further unemployment.

It's not a battle any individual should look forward to fighting, because no matter who wins the debate, Coburn's forecast of "apocalyptic pain" is inevitable.

Such is the nature of starving the beast. When all of the money runs out, it's those without who suffer the most. A politically and morally divided Congress must now decide where to direct the apocalyptic storm.

If it weren't for the sluggish economy, one might feel it appropriate to give these lawmakers a raise for the life-or-death consequences their decisions will reap on America.

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Wall Street bigwigs complain Obama not letting them rule America by oligarchic fiat

If it weren't so goddamn annoying (and harmful), it'd be amusing listening to mega-rich bankers complain about President Obama.

As if he's done nothing to help them -- remember that bailout despised by both left and right?

But this is the sort of ridiculous thing you get from these ungrateful jackasses, raking in billions as they have their jackboots planted firmly on the necks of Americans, crushing them into debt-fueled submission. Here's the latest weeping, via Politico (which of course plays right along):

On the mental list of slights and outrages that just about every major figure on Wall Street is believed to keep on President Barack Obama, add this one: When he met recently with a group of CEOs at Blair House, there was no representative from any of the six biggest banks in America.

Not one!

"If they don't hate us anymore, why weren't any of us there?" a senior executive at one of the Big Six banks said recently in trying to explain his hostility toward the president.

"It's not so much just this one thing," he said. "Who cares about one event? It's just the pattern where they tell you things are going to change, that they appreciate what we do, that capital markets are important, but then the actions are different and they continue to want to score political points on us."

Still, the executive understands that it makes political sense for the White House to stiff-arm Wall Street, if not bash it with a massive sledge hammer.

After all, polls suggest most Americans believe Obama has handled the titans of Wall Street with an exceedingly light touch. He supported the deeply unpopular $700-billion bank bailout, pushed a financial reform package that stopped short of breaking up the biggest behemoths and, just this month, signed off on tax cuts for the wealthiest and continued low rates on capital gains and dividends.

And, of course, big-time bonuses at bailed-out banks are back, even as average Americans continue to get tossed out of their homes, corporate America has turned in its most profitable quarter in history and the stock market is at a two-year high.

First, are these bankers really that thin-skinned? Apparently so, and it's pretty pathetic. (Not one! Boo-fucking-hoo.)

Second, it's not just what the polls are saying, Obama has been soft on Wall Street, refusing to hold the big investment banks responsible for the havoc they wreaked on the economy -- and on the lives they destroyed.

Third, at this time of ongoing economic uncertainty (and, for many, crisis, if not disaster), the banks and those who run them are doing exceptionally well. These bankers complain when the president doesn't invite them to a meeting (like this is high school or something), but it's not like they have to worry about putting food on the table, paying the bills, and caring for their children.

Seriously, what the fuck? When has Obama ever said, or suggested, or implied, or hinted, that capital market aren't important? He hasn't even really played the anti-Wall Street populist card. Remember, it was the GOP, backed by the Tea Party, that went all populist this year, albeit from a right-wing, anti-tax, anti-government perspective. It was Republicans who went after the "elite," including positioning themselves against the bank bailout, while Democrats largely defended their record, which included the bank bailout. And yet it's Obama who has to take the brunt of Wall Street criticism?

Look, we all know what's going on here. Wall Street wants a one-way street. It wants government handouts to rescue it from the ocean of its own massive failure but doesn't want to give anything in return. It wants the president on his knees begging its forgiveness even as he's handing them billions of dollars and a presidential pardon. It wants not only to take no responsibility for its actions, not only to be left alone to make masses of cash in an unregulated market, but to be heralded as the repository of superhuman excellence. Socrates said there would never be justice unless philosophers ruled as kings. Wall Street doesn't really care about justice, but apparently it wants America to be ruled by banker-kings, or at least by politicians who do what bankers want, the puppets of the puppeteers of the world of high finance.

And, of course, Wall Street is fundamentally Republican. So it doesn't really matter what Obama does, he'll never get the bankers' vote of confidence and support. He could sign an executive order tripling the bonuses of Wall Street executives and they'd still slam him for not giving them enough.

Ungrateful? Ridiculous? That's a nice way to put it. It's all pretty despicable.

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Elephant Dung #8: Right-wing groups pull out of CPAC over inclusion of gays

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see
here. For previous entries, see here.)

Alright, this has more to do with the conservative "movement" broadly than with the GOP, but still -- these days, you can't have the GOP without the right-wing insanitarium known as CPAC, and the target here is a Republican group. As the right-wing WND is reporting:

Two of the nation's premier moral issues organizations, the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, are refusing to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in February because a homosexual activist group, GOProud, has been invited.

"We've been very involved in CPAC for over a decade and have managed a couple of popular sessions. However, we will no longer be involved with CPAC because of the organization's financial mismanagement and movement away from conservative principles," said Tom McClusky, senior vice president for FRC Action.

"CWA has decided not to participate in part because of GOProud," CWA President Penny Nance told WND.

FRC and CWA join the American Principles Project, American Values, Capital Research Center, the Center for Military Readiness, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage in withdrawing from CPAC. In November, APP organized a boycott of CPAC over the participation of GOProud. 

Forget financial mismanagement. This is all about the gays. Conservatives don't want them in the military and they certainly don't want them in their own political ranks.

Maybe they're worried about what might be going on in the washroom stalls at CPAC events.

Or what might happen if they ever found themselves in a shower with a GOProuder.

Or maybe they're just a bunch of bigots.

And the bigotry runs so deep that it's threatening to fracture one of the essential cornerstones of conservative politics, CPAC, and with it any attempt to broaden conservatism, and with it the Republican Party.

It'll be interesting to see how all this plays out.

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