July 2014 archive

Cartnoon

The Breakfast Club (Sailing on a Dream)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

The Breakfast Club Logo photo BeerBreakfast_web_zps5485351c.png

This Day in History

Breakfast Tunes

“Calypso”

To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean, to ride on the crest of the wild raging storm.

To work in the service of life and the living, in search of the answers to questions unknown.

To be part of the movement and part of the growing, part of beginning to understand.

Aye, Calypso, the place’s you’ve been to,

the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.

Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.

Like the dolphin who guides you, you bring us beside you

to light up the darkness and show us the way.

For though we are strangers in your silent world, to live on the land we must learn from the sea.

To be true as the tide and free as a wind swell, joyful and loving in letting it be.

Aye, Calypso, the place’s you’ve been to,

the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.

Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.

Aye, Calypso, the place’s you’ve been to,

the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.

Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.

On This Day In History July 31

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 31 is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 153 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1948, the Broadway musical “Brigadoon” closed after 581 performances. It originally opened on March 13, 1947 at the Ziegfeld Theater. It was directed by Robert Lewis and choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Ms. De Mille won the Tony Award for Best Choreography. The show was had several revival and the movie starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse premiered in 1954.

Brigadoon is a musical with a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Songs from the musical, such as “Almost Like Being in Love” have become standards.

It tells the story of a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years, though to the villagers, the passing of each century seems no longer than one night. The enchantment is viewed by them as a blessing rather than a curse, for it saved the village from destruction. According to their covenant with God, no one from Brigadoon may ever leave, or the enchantment will be broken and the site and all its inhabitants will disappear into the mist forever. Two American tourists, lost in the Scottish Highlands, stumble upon the village just as a wedding is about to be celebrated, and their arrival has serious implications for the village’s inhabitants.

USA Freedom Act Still Won’t Protect Americans’ Liberties

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-NH) introduced the version of the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday.

Leahy’s bill, like the House’s, would still provide the NSA with access to enormous amounts of American phone data. Though it would require a judge to issue an order to telecos for “call detail records” based on a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of association with terrorism or a foreign power, the NSA will be able to use that single order to obtain the “call detail records” of a suspicious entity, as well as those of entities in “direct connection” with it and entities in connection with those.

While that would permit the NSA to yield thousands of records off of a single court order, on a daily basis for six months, the NSA and the bill’s architects contend that it bans “bulk collection.”

Leahy’s bill would go further than the House version in narrowing the critical definition of “specific selection term,” a foundational aspect of the bill defining what the government can collect. The House definition is a “term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device,” which privacy groups have lambasted as unreasonably broad.

Seeking to plug that loophole, Leahy would prevent the NSA or the FBI from accessing a service provider’s entire clientele or a wholesale “city, state, zip code, or area code.”

Although the Leahy bill has the support of several civil libertarian groups and major tech firms like Facebook and Google, it does not revive some privacy proposals that those organizations considered crucial but the intelligence agencies and their advocates in Congress stripped from the House measure.

There are still some really big loopholes, as noted by emptywheel’s Marcy Wheeler:

Leahy’s bill retains the language from USA Freedumber on contact chaining, which reads,

   (iii) provide that the Government may require the prompt production of call detail records-

   (I) using the specific selection term that satisfies the standard required under subsection (b)(2)(C)(ii) as the basis for production; and

   (II) using call detail records with a direct connection to such specific selection term as the basis for production of a second set of call detail records;

Now, I have no idea what this language means, and no one I’ve talked to outside of the intelligence committees does either. It might just mean they will do the same contact chaining they do now, but if it does, why adopt this obscure language? It may just mean they will correlate identities, and do contact chaining off all the burner phones their algorithms say are the same people, but nothing more, but if so, isn’t there clearer language to indicate that (and limit it to that)? [..]

I remain concerned, too, that such obscure language would permit the contact chaining on phone books and calendars, both things we know NSA obtains overseas, both things NSA might have access to through their newly immunized telecom partners.

In addition, Leahy’s bill keeps USA Freedumber’s retention language tied to Foreign Intelligence purpose, allowing the NSA to keep all records that might have a foreign intelligence purpose.

That’s just for starters. She is also concerned about the vague language will still be used to allow bulk collection. She doesn’t think it’s strong enough

The question is whether this “agency protocol” – what Chief Justice John Roberts said was not enough to protect Americans’ privacy – is sufficient to protect Americans’ privacy.

I don’t think it is.

First, it doesn’t specify how long the NSA and FBI and CIA can keep and sort through these corporate records (or what methods it can use to do so, which may themselves be very invasive).

It also permits the retention of data that gets pretty attenuated from actual targets of investigation: agents of foreign powers that might have information on subjects of investigation and people “in contact with or known to” suspected agents associated with a subject of an investigation.

Known to?!?! Hell, Barack Obama is known to all those people. Is it okay to keep his data under these procedures?

Also remember that the government has secretly redefined “threat of death or serious bodily harm” to include “threats to property,” which could be Intellectual Property.

So CIA could (at least under this law – again, we have no idea what the actual FISC orders this is based off of) keep 5 years of Western Union money transfer data until it has contact chained 3 degrees out from the subject of an investigation or any new subjects of investigation it has identified in the interim.

In other words, probably no different and potentially more lenient than what it does now.

And one more thing from Marcy: Leahy’s version still will allow the FBI uncounted use of backdoor searches:

I strongly believe this bill may expand the universe of US persons who will be thrown into the corporate store indefinitely, to be subjected to the full brunt of NSA’s analytical might.

But that’s not the part of the bill that disturbs me the most. It’s this language:

   ‘(3) FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION.-

   Subparagraphs (B)(iv), (B)(v), (D)(iii), (E)(iii), and (E)(iv) of paragraph (1) of subsection (b) shall not apply to information or records held by, or queries conducted by, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The language refers, in part,  to requirements that the government report to Congress [..]

These are back door searches on US person identifiers of Section 702 collected data – both content (iv) and metadata (v).

In other words, after having required the government to report how many back door searches of US person data it conducts, the bill then exempts the FBI.

The FBI – the one agency whose use of such data can actually result in a prosecution of the US person in question.

We already know the government has not provided all defendants caught using 702 data notice. And yet, having recognized the need to start counting how many Americans get caught in back door searches, Patrick Leahy has decided to exempt the agency that uses back door searches the most.

And if they’re not giving defendants notice (and they’re not), then this is an illegal use of Section 702.

While the Senate version may be a good enough reason for some civil libertarians, privacy groups and technology firms to back, it still falls far short of what is needed to protect Americans’ constitutional rights and privacy.

“Torture Is Not a Public Relations Problem”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Here is message to the Obama administration, as well as, past and present high ranking members of the CIA from David Cole, constitutional law, national security, and criminal justice professor at George Washington University, in his op-ed at the Washington Post:

Torture us not a public relations problem. It is a grave human rights abuse and a war crime.

Yet, once again the Obama administration has enable the torturers to manipulate the narrative to cover up their crimes.

Back in April, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to declassify part of its 6300 page report that concluded torture to be an ineffective intelligence-gathering technique and the CIA lied about its value. The committee also agreed to allow the White House to review the document with the CIA’s participating in approving what would be released to the public. Talk about a serious conflict of interest. This is tantamount to allowing an accused murderer to decide what evidence will be presented to the jury at his trial.

Up until Friday, a dozen ex-CIA officials were going to be allowed to review the report in a secure room at an undisclosed Washington suburb after signing a secrecy agreement. That now will not happened.

Then, on Friday, CIA officials called them and told them that due to a miscommunication, only former CIA directors and deputy directors would be given that privilege. Former directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet have been invited to read it, as have former acting directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morell.

Senate aides familiar with the matter say Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, protested to the White House that it had no business allowing retired officials to read a Senate oversight report.

Apparently, the report is quite damning:

Several people who have read the full report, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss still-classified material, say it shows that the CIA interrogation programme was far more brutal than previously understood, and that CIA officials repeatedly misled Congress and the Justice Department about what was being done to al-Qaida detainees. The report asserts that no unique, life-saving intelligence was gleaned from the harsh techniques.

It’s long been known that the CIA used slapping, stress positions, sleep deprivation and other harsh tactics on several detainees and a near-drowning technique known as waterboarding on three of them. The CIA’s use of waterboarding has drawn particular scrutiny since it is considered the harshest technique on the list of those used, but the report asserts that the other tactics, as applied, were extremely harsh and brutal.

Torture is illegal under US law. CIA officials dispute that waterboarding amounted to torture.

To counter the negative press this report is bound to receive, former CIA Director George J. Tenet has quietly been working on a public relations response:

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.

The report is expected to accuse a number of former C.I.A. officials of misleading Congress and the White House about the program and its effectiveness, but it is Mr. Tenet who might have the most at stake.

The detention and interrogation program was conceived on his watch and run by men and women he had put in senior positions.

It was Mr. Tenet who requested the former CIA Directors and officials be allowed to review the report.

There is also some frustration coming from Democratic committee members:

“If the redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study that we receive appears to be an effort to obscure its narrative and findings – and if the White House is not amenable to working toward a set of mutually agreed-upon redactions – I believe the committee must seriously consider its other option,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee, told the Guardian on Monday.

It is believed that the White House will provide its completed redactions to sections of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark torture report in the coming days. The committee will subsequently review the redactions as preparation for the report’s public release, something chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, had wanted to happen in early May. [..]

Fuelling congressional suspicions, the White House placed lead authority for reviewing the declassification in the hands of the CIA, which struck critics as a conflict of interest.

Udall joins Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat and civil libertarian on the committee with whom Udall often votes, in pointing to the parliamentary rule, Senate Resolution 400, as an additional tactic to force disclosure. Yet the never-before-used rule portends an uphill struggle: a majority of senators would need to vote for additional disclosure.

Author and investigative reporter for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and New York Times reporter, Mike Marzetti, joined MSNBC’s “NOW” host, Alex Wagner to discuss the release of the report and recent events,

One more word from Prof. Cole:

The CIA’s response is about 10 years too late. The time to respond to allegations of torture, cruelty and disappearances is when they occur, not a decade later, when an official report finds fault. And when you learn such conduct is occurring, there is only one proper response – order it to stop and hold the perpetrators accountable. Both the Geneva and the torture conventions absolutely prohibit torture and cruel treatment of wartime detainees; the world has proclaimed through these laws that there are no circumstances that justify such acts. [..]

So what will the public relations strategy look like now? We can probably make some educated guesses, based on past assertions by Bush administration officials. “We didn’t think it was torture because the lawyers told us it wasn’t.” That defense doesn’t work for Mafia dons and ought not to work for the CIA. The practices involved – waterboarding, excruciating stress positions, slamming suspects into walls and prolonged sleep deprivation – plainly qualify as torture and have long been treated as such by the United States when other nations employ them. Just last week, the European Court of Human Rights held Poland responsible for complicity in the CIA’s crimes, finding that the conduct was so clearly illegal that Poland had an obligation to stop permitting it on its territory.

Poland, in other words, was an accessory to the crime. But the United States was the ringleader.

Let’s be clear here, the Obama administration, while it may have stopped torture, is now complicit in covering up the Bush administrations war crimes and allowing the criminals, who should be sitting in prison cells, to continue the cover-up in the hopes that someday it will all go away. No amount of spin will negate these facts.

Late Night Karaoke

TDS/TCR (Damn Dirty Apes)

TDS TCR

Johnny Missileseed

The News is Broken

For tonight’s guests, the web exclusive Sara Firth extended interview, and the real news join me below.

Cartnoon

The ‘Good’ War

Taliban Making Military Gains in Afghanistan

By AZAM AHMED, The New York Times

JULY 26, 2014

Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.



Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.



Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district center. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighboring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

But there are only anecdotal reports to help gauge just how deadly the offensive has been. The Afghan defense and interior ministries stopped releasing casualty data after a shocking surge of military and police deaths in 2013 began raising questions about the country’s ability to sustain the losses. By September, with more than 100 soldiers and police officers dying every week, even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force suggested the losses could not be sustained.

Kandahar suicide attack kills cousin of Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai

AFP

Tuesday 29 July 2014 04.20 EDT

A cousin and close ally of the outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has been killed in a suicide attack in the volatile southern city of Kandahar on Tuesday, officials said, raising tensions during a struggle over the contested election result.

Hashmat Karzai was a campaign manager in Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a bitter dispute over fraud that threatens to pitch the country into worsening instability.

Hashmat Karzai, who famously owned a pet lion, was killed by a man with explosives hidden inside his turban when visitors arrived to celebrate Eid, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Maybe it has something to do with this-

How Missing American Guns Might Be Fueling Terrorists In Afghanistan

by Will Freeman, Think Progress

Posted on July 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

On Monday, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), charged with ensuring efficiency and preventing fraud, reported that it discovered a significant lack of accountability on both the part of the U.S. and Afghanistan’s military, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in tracking the hundreds of thousands of weapons the U.S has sold to Afghanistan since 2004. According to the report, the Pentagon set up two inventory systems to track the weapons in 2010, but incompatibilities between the programs led to “missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records,” that produced a logistical nightmare and caused some weapons to go missing even before they were shipped abroad.

The situation only gets worse inside Afghanistan. The report states that ANSF officials rarely take inventory of all the weapons they receive, and often by the time they do, many have already gone missing. As if poor record-keeping wasn’t enough, the real danger comes from the army’s inability to properly dispose of weapons, thousands of which have been piling up in excess as the ANSF attempts to scale down its huge supplies. Afghanistan’s military received 83,000 more AK-47s than needed in 2013 alone. Overwhelming numbers of extra weapons aren’t just a waste of money; they also threaten to trade hands and bolster the anti-government insurgents the U.S. and ANSF have been battling for years.



While the U.S. supplies huge amounts of military aid across the globe, it has been less keen on developing nonproliferation programs with other U.N. member states to stop the illicit trade in small arms. In 2001, the U.S. and a small group of states including China, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Russia voted to block the creation of a more comprehensive system for monitoring weapons proliferation. They argued that existing standards set up under international law were doing enough to check the illegal flow of weapons. But a look at the growing power of insurgencies over the past several years suggests otherwise. Infamous terrorist groups like ISIS have stunned the world by overpowering well equipped armies, often using illegally smuggled or captured weapons.

Ultimately, ensuring accountability over future arms sales may do more to counter terrorism around the globe than dumping huge shipments of weapons on foreign armies incapable of tracking them.

The Failure of the Political Class

GOP’s 30-year spin job is over: Why we are not a center-right nation

Joshua Sager, Salon

Monday, Jul 28, 2014 11:45 AM EST

According to Gallup polling, 59 percent of Americans think that U.S. wealth “should be more evenly distributed” among a larger percentage of the people while only 33 percent thought that the current “distribution is fair.” While this is down from the 2008 modern high point, where 68 percent of Americans supported more redistribution, the public opinion of redistribution has held a stable majority, if not super-majority, for decades.



According to Pew Research, 69 percent of Americans oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, even in order to cut the deficit, while only 23 percent support such cuts. Additionally, 59 percent oppose cuts on programs assisting the poor in order to address the deficit, while only 33 percent support such austerity.

A multitude of polls have indicated that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy, depending upon how the question is worded and the polling venue – this indicates that a majority of Americans support increasing taxes on top-earners in order to reduce the deficit.

According to Quinnipiac Polling, 71 percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour, while only 27 percent oppose increasing the minimum wage.

According to Gallup Polling, 54 percent of Americans support labor unions, while only 39 percent disapprove of unions.

According to Gallup Polling, 37 percent of Americans think that we spend too much on defense, while only 28 percent think that we spend too little.

During the fight over letting jobless benefits expire, Quinnipiac Polling found that 58 percent of Americans supported extending benefits by at least three months, while only 37 percent of Americans supported letting benefits expire.

According to Washington Post/ABC polling, 59 percent of Americans support gay marriage, while only 34 percent oppose marriage equality.

According to Pew Research, 54 percent of Americans support keeping abortion “legal in all/most cases,” while only 40 percent support making abortion “illegal in all/most cases.” While informative of public opinion, this poll is moot, as abortion is a constitutionally protected right, and there is no way for even a majority of antiabortion voters (that hasn’t existed for decades) to legally make abortion illegal in most cases.

According to ABC/Washington Post polling, 51 percent of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, while only 33 percent support the decision. This decision was a direct result of the Alabama GOP’s attempts to circumvent the Voting Rights Act preclearance provision, and was engineered to allow right-wing legislatures to pass voter disenfranchisement laws.

According to polling by the Feldman Group, 62 percent of Americans support the Paycheck Fairness Act – which seeks to close the gender-based wage gap – while only 29 percent of Americans oppose the act.

According to Gallup Polling, 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, while only 39 percent support continued criminalization.

Even Fox News Polls indicate that 68 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship, while only 15 percent support deportation – of the remaining 17 percent of those polled, 13 percent support expanding guest worker programs while 4 percent didn’t know what they wanted.

According to Pew Research, 81 percent of Americans support universal background checks for all gun purchases, while only 17 percent oppose them. A University of California, Davis, poll concluded that even 55.4 percent of gun sellers supported universal background checks and disqualifying offenses for gun purchase, while only 37.5 percent opposed background checks.

According to USA Today/Stanford University polling, 73 percent of Americans believe in climate change and 52 percent of Americans say that it will be a “very serious” problem if we don’t implement policies to reduce it (as opposed to 10 percent who say that climate change will be “not serious at all”).

According to polling by Perception Insight/Greenberg Quinlan, 66 percent of Americans support stronger EPA air regulations, 72 percent support stronger carbon-emission regulations, and 60 percent support stronger regulations on motor vehicle emissions.

According to these policy polls, an “average American” supports the redistribution of wealth through taxing the wealthy more, wants to increase the minimum wage and environmental protections, thinks that unions are beneficial to society, and opposes attempts to cut anti-poverty programs or entitlements, even if those cuts are intended to balance the budget. On social issues, this theoretical American supports gay equality, reasonable abortion access, universal background checks for gun purchases, wage equality for women and the legalization of marijuana.



The tendency of the American public to vote based upon party or cultural identification rather than objective policy preferences creates a situation where almost half of our political representation in the federal government supports policies that are supported by only a tiny minority of the total population; this is what has led Congress to have a 13 percent approval rating, up slightly from when it cratered to 9 percent in late 2013.

If the American people want to actually implement their policy preferences, they need to stop voting based upon cultural or party identifiers and start voting based purely upon policy. Democrats need to vote for progressive politicians while Republicans need to vote for conservatives who do not live so far out on the fringe that they fall off the edge of sanity.

My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats

Bill Curry, Salon

Sunday, Jul 27, 2014 07:00 AM EST

Though a private citizen, Nader shepherded more bills through Congress than all but a handful of American presidents. If that sounds like an outsize claim, try refuting it. His signature wins included landmark laws on auto, food, consumer product and workplace safety; clean air and water; freedom of information, and consumer, citizen, worker and shareholder rights. In a century only Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson passed more major legislation.

Nader’s also the only American ever to start a major social or political movement all by himself. The labor, civil rights and women’s movements all had multiple mothers and fathers, as did each generation’s peace and antiwar movements. Not so the consumer movement, which started out as just one guy banging away at a typewriter. Soon he was a national icon, seen leaning into Senate microphones on TV or staring down the establishment from the covers of news magazines.



Washington’s rapid response affirmed Nader’s belief that people provided with critical facts will demand change and that sooner than one might expect politicians, however listless or corrupt, will give it to them. This faith in the power of ideas and of public opinion – in the educability of people and thus in the viability of democracy – distinguishes Nader from much of what remains of the American left.



In 1985 moderate Democrats including Bill Clinton and Al Gore founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which proposed innovative policies while forging ever closer ties to business. Clinton would be the first Democratic presidential nominee since FDR and probably ever to raise more money than his Republican opponent. (Even Barry Goldwater outraised Lyndon Johnson.) In 2008 Obama took the torch passed to Clinton and became the first Democratic nominee to outraise a GOP opponent on Wall Street. His 2-to-1 spending advantage over John McCain broke a record Richard Nixon set in his drubbing of George McGovern.

Throughout the 1980s Nader watched as erstwhile Democratic allies vanished or fell into the welcoming arms of big business.  By the mid-’90s the whole country was in a swoon over the new baby-faced titans of technology and global capital. If leading Democrats thought technology threatened anyone’s privacy or employment or that globalization threatened anyone’s wages, they kept it to themselves.  In his contempt for oligarchs of any vintage and rejection of the economic and political democratization myths of the new technology Nader seemed an anachronism.



Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party’s upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.

In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it’s easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party’s abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.



Populism encompasses not just Bryan’s late 19th century agrarians but their close relations, the early 20th century urban progressives and countless descendants of each. Jefferson and Jackson are called fathers of both populism and the Democratic Party. Jackson and Bryan are the only Democrats other than FDR to be nominated three times for president. All populists share common traits: love of small business; high standards of public ethics; concern for individuals, families and communities; suspicion of elites and of all economic trusts, combinations and cartels.

Some recent populist talk is owing to the election of two liberals, Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. (Liberals taking Massachusetts or Manhattan didn’t used to be news.) It’s unclear how well they and other Democratic liberals can tap populist sentiment. In any case, Democrats are late to the populist dance. Mass protests of corrupt oligarchies have roiled global politics for a decade. In America the Tea Party has been crying crony capitalism since the Bush bailout and Obama stimulus. Income inequality’s so bad Mitt Romney wants to raise the minimum wage.

Even the Democrats’ tardy me-too-ism seems insincere, less a churning of policy than a freshening of message. In 2009, when he had the votes in Congress, Obama chose not to raise the minimum wage. Not till late 2013 did Democrats press the issue. Why then? As the New York Times reported, “they found an issue they believe can lift their fortunes both locally and nationally in 2014.” If there’s a true populist revolt on the left it is as yet invisible to the naked eye.



Democrats aren’t even having a debate. Their one think tank, the Center for American Progress, serves their establishment. (Its founder, John Podesta, once Clinton’s chief of staff, is now counselor to Obama.) The last real primary challenge to a Democratic senator was in 2006 when Ned Lamont took on Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman. They say the GOP picks presidents based on seniority. Two years out, Republicans seem headed for a bloody knife fight while Hillary Clinton may be headed for the most decorous, seniority-based succession in either party’s history. (If she loses this time it will be to herself.)

If Democrats had caught populist fever they’d be reappraising their own orthodoxy and offing a few of their own incumbents. Owing only partly to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, they instead spend their days as Republicans do, in an endless search for new ways to help the rich pump money into politics. As public alienation deepens, polls show Democrats generally content with their party’s leaders. Of such stuff revolutions are not made.



What agrarian populists did best was battle cartels and advocate for a kind of homegrown communitarian capitalism. They busted price fixing railroads and granaries, fought for rural free delivery and established cooperative banks that still provide a third of all credit to rural America. Most amazing, they did it all via Congress amid the venality of the first Gilded Age. Powerful trusts were turning farmers into wage slaves and the world’s greatest democracy into just another corrupt oligarchy when Populists and Progressives rose as if from nowhere to stop them.

Parallels to our own time could hardly be clearer. Like invasive species destroying the biodiversity of a pond, today’s global trusts swallow up everything smaller than themselves.  The rules of global trade make organizing for higher wages next to impossible in developed and undeveloped countries alike. Fights for net neutrality and public Wi-Fi are exactly like the fight for rural free delivery.  Small businesses are as starved for credit as small farmers ever were. PACs are our Tammany Hall. What’s missing is a powerful, independent reform movement.

Republicans make their livings off the misappropriation of populism. Democrats by their silence assist them. Rand Paul is more forceful than any Democrat on privacy and the impulse to empire. The Tea Party rails loudest against big banks and corporate corruption. Even on cultural issues Democrats don’t really lead: Your average college student did more than your average Democratic congressman to advance gay marriage.



Mistaking the nature of the crisis, Obama mistook massive fraud for faulty computer modeling and a middle-class meltdown for a mere turn of the business cycle. Had he grasped his situation he’d have known the most he could do by priming the pump would be to reinflate the bubble. Contrast him to FDR, who saw the systemic nature of his crisis. To banks Roosevelt offered only reform; financial help went to customers whose bad mortgages he bought up and whose savings he insured. By buying into Bush’s bailout, Obama co-signed the biggest check ever cut by a government, made out to the culprits, not the victims. As for his stimulus, it didn’t cure the disease and hefty portions of it smelled like pork.



Liberals have spent the intervening years debating macroeconomic theory but macroeconomics can’t fathom this crisis. This isn’t just a slow recovery from a financial sector collapse, or damage done by debt overhang or Obama’s weak tea Keynesianism. We’re in crisis because of all our broken systems; because we still let big banks prey on homeowners, students, consumers and retailers; because our infrastructure is decrepit; because our tax code breeds inefficiency and inequality; because foreign interventions bled us dry. We’re in peril because our democracy is dying. Reviving it will take more than deficit spending and easy money. It will take reform, and before that, a whole new political debate.



It pains us to watch Democrats bungle populist issues. We see Rand Paul corner the market on privacy and the scrutiny of defense budgets and wonder why no Democrat rises to expose his specious rantings. We yearn for a new politics but worry that our democracy, like that Antarctic ice shelf, has reached its tipping point. For things to improve Democrats must come up with better ideas and learn how to present them. So why don’t they?

One reason is that today’s Democrats think politics is all about marketing. While Republicans built think tanks Democrats built relationships with celebrity pollsters. When things go awry one pops up on TV to tell us how they “lost control of the narrative.” Asked to name a flaw, Obama invariably cites his failure to “tell our story.” Judging by his recent book, Tim Geithner thinks failing to tell his story was the only mistake he ever made. People don’t hate the bailout because Tim Geithner gives bad speeches. They hate it because their mortgages are still underwater.

Democrats must learn that policy precedes message; figure out what you believe, then how to tell people about it. A good idea advertises itself.



Democrats think the power of money is greater than the power of ideas. Nader thinks that with the right ideas you can win even if outspent 100-to-1.  Every year Democrats further dilute their ideas to get the money they think they need to sell them. The weaker the ideas, the more ads they need, the more money it takes, the weaker the ideas. As you can tell from their ads, they’ve been at this a long time.

They don’t believe in ideas because they don’t believe in people. Obama wasted years dickering with Republicans who wished him only ill. He should have talked to the people and let them talk to the Republicans.

One reason we know voters will embrace populism is that they already have. It’s what they thought they were getting with Obama. In 2008 Obama said he’d bail out homeowners, not just banks. He vowed to fight for a public option, raise the minimum wage and clean up Washington. He called whistle-blowers heroes and said he’d bar lobbyists from his staff. He was critical of drones and wary of the use of force to advance American interests. He spoke eloquently of the threats posed to individual privacy by a runaway national security state.

He turned out to be something else altogether. To blame Republicans ignores a glaring truth: Obama’s record is worst where they had little or no role to play. It wasn’t Republicans who prosecuted all those whistle-blowers and hired all those lobbyists; who authorized drone strikes or kept the NSA chugging along; who reneged on the public option, the minimum wage and aid to homeowners. It wasn’t even Republicans who turned a blind eye to Wall Street corruption and excessive executive compensation. It was Obama.

A populist revolt among Democrats is unlikely absent their reappraisal of Obama, which itself seems unlikely. Not since Robert Kennedy have Democrats been so personally invested in a public figure. Liberals fell hardest so it’s especially hard for them to admit he’s just not that into them.



If Democrats can’t break up with Obama or make up with Nader, they should do what they do best: take a poll. They would find that beneath all our conflicts lies a hidden consensus. It prizes higher ethics, lower taxes and better governance; community and privacy; family values and the First Amendment; economic as well as cultural diversity. Its potential coalition includes unions, small business, nonprofits, the professions, the economically embattled and all the marginalized and excluded. Such a coalition could reshape our politics, even our nation.

Inside the Beltway, things look much different.

No Labels? No results? No problem.

By Meredith Shiner, Yahoo News

7/28/14

In 2010, a group of political veterans who said they were tired of the extreme partisanship paralyzing Washington created an organization to advance their new cause. The founding mission of No Labels was “to move America from the old politics of point scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving.” Through a combination of congressional engagement in Washington and grass roots organizing around the country, No Labels’ lofty aspiration was to promote bipartisanship by providing political cover for lawmakers to work across the aisle and creating incentives to slowly erode the culture of polarization and intransigence in Congress. But four years later, it appears the group designed to combat the insidious habits of the Washington establishment has been engulfed by it.



The group failed to carve out much of a niche for itself in the 2012 presidential contest. Its backing of a 12-point “Make Congress Work!” action plan and promotion of a bill that would “withhold congressional pay if members of Congress fail to pass spending bills and the budget on time” went nowhere.  Since then, its focus on fostering bipartisanship in Congress has not gone far, except to the extent that there is now bipartisan stagnation and gridlock so severe some members report becoming depressed and hating their jobs. Members of Congress seem all too eager to accept the mantle of civic responsibility offered by No Labels, only to return to partisan warfare.

In July 2013, No Labels held a rally where lawmakers of both parties crowded a park outside the Capitol, stood on a grandstand and one by one declared themselves “problem solvers.” The government shut down a few months later as Republicans, including some who appeared on that stage, refused to allow a budget to pass unless it defunded the president’s health care law.

Even in its own May document, No Labels claimed only one legislative victory: a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote, but which never came up for a vote in the House or became law.

It turns out that for a group that consistently bills itself as above the partisan politics and the corrosive culture of Washington, No Labels has come to exemplify some of the most loathed qualities of the town’s many interest groups.

Much of the group’s budget goes toward sustaining or promoting itself. According to No Labels’ confidential document, the group employed 22 paid staffers and eight consultants as of May. Of its projected $4.5 million budget for 2014, only 4 percent – or $180,000 – of spending was slotted for “Congressional Relations.” By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising.



Outside groups have become a cottage industry inside the Beltway, where they pay lush salaries to staffers and consultants while talking loudly and doing little to achieve their missions in this age of legislative stasis.

“The reality is that No Labels is a front group to raise money and pay consultants,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They should release a full disclosure of not only how they’re raising their money but also how they’re spending it.”



Clearly people still are writing big checks to keep the operation moving.

But the more they do, and the more entrenched a player No Labels becomes, the more risk there is that the accumulated weight of the group’s actions will come to define them permanently. In today’s highly partisan Washington, it’s hard to stay unlabeled for long.

The Breakfast Club 7-30-2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Everyone’s welcome here, no special handshake required. Just check your meta at the door.

Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpg

This Day in History

On This Day In History July 30

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 30 is the 211th day of the year (212th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 154 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare, a health insurance program for elderly Americans, into law. At the bill-signing ceremony, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri,