Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Last Fuck-You from the Loyal Bushies

Zandar brings us the bad news:

And the charges against the Blackwater Five have been thrown out.

A federal judge dismissed manslaughter charges Thursday against five Blackwater security guards in the 2007 deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghad square, finding that prosecutors wrongly used the men's own statements against them.

The September 2007 shootout in Baghdad's Nusoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and two dozen wounded. The killings led Iraq's government to slap limits on security contractors hired by Blackwater, now known as Xe, and other firms.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina found that the government's case was built largely on "statements compelled under a threat of job loss in a subsequent criminal prosecution," a violation of the Fifth Amendment rights of the five men charged.

"In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation," Urbina wrote in a 90-page decision.

Federal prosecutors "repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors assigned to the case" in doing so, he found.

Urbina also sharply criticized prosecutors and federal agents who developed the case, calling their explanations for using the guards' statements "all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility."

So that's it then. 17 dead and there's not enough evidence to even convict on manslaughter charges. Of course it's not like it mattered...they're just Iraqis, after all. Why would anyone think that would matter?

Gosh, it's almost like the Bushies put together such a terrible, incompetent case in 2007 that it was destined to fail, then handed it to Obama.

Now, where have I seen that play before?

Unfortunately, this won't be the last fuck-you from Smirky/Darth and the loyal bushies. Until and unless the White House faces the necessity of rounding up every single one of the lying motherfuckers and prosecuting them for war crimes, shit like this is going to poison and destroy everything President Obama tries to accomplish.

Yemen Will Have to Wait; War Number Three is Already Hot in Pakistan

No, I don't mean unmanned drones dropping bombs or covert spies along the border. I mean full-on, regular-military, killing-people war.

Jeremy Scahill at the Nation investigates reports of Blackwater operating in Pakistan, and discovers far more:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive actions inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of the program. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so "compartmentalized" that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.


The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program, which the agency's director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled this past June. "This is a parallel operation to the CIA," said the source. "They are two separate beasts." The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war--knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006 the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden, with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.


"It wouldn't surprise me, because we've outsourced nearly everything," said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater's role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater's involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. "Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don't have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it."


One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel working on the classified JSOC contract are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the term for highly classified "black" operations. An ACCM allows Blackwater personnel access at "an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That's exactly what it is: a circle of love." Blackwater, therefore, has access to "all source" reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. "That's how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors," said the source. "We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don't unless they ask."


Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. "Nobody even gives them a second thought."

So don't be surprised when Afghans start killing innocent aid workers. Meanwhile, the Blackwater and CIA spy programs are providing cover for actual military action by the Department of Defense's Joint Special Operations Command:

The military intelligence source said that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. "Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it's JSOC and its parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes." The Pentagon has stated bluntly, "There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."


The military intelligence source explained that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. "Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now, and the CIA knows that," he said. "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don't care. If there's one person they're going after and there's thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That's the mentality." He added, "They're not accountable to anybody, and they know that. It's an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?"

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and DIA camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the United Nations and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. "The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a frontline non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?" asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for the News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. "Let's forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren't about logistics or getting food to Bagram, that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force, inside Pakistani territory."

There is much, much more, including details on how Smirky/Darth let Rumsfeld create a rogue JSOC, and how revelations in the Pakistani press about Blackwater's activites has enraged the population. The whole thing is well worth your time.

White House Finally Fights Back

It appears the White House may have finally learned that taking the high road always fails when you're dealing with people who want you dead and don't care what happens to them in the process, and ignoring bullies only encourages them.

Steve Benen:

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer published an important item yesterday, offering a surprisingly forceful response to Cheney's latest vile nonsense. Pfeiffer noted at the outset that it's "telling" that Cheney and his right-wing cohorts "seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers."

Just as important, Pfeiffer offered a "substantive context" for those who seem desperate to assign blame for a failed terrorist attack.

[F]or seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq -- a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion -- Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda -- more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda's safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

That's a rather diplomatic way of saying, "Dick, you had your shot and you failed. Now shut up while we clean up your mess. You can thank us later."

Cheney's disgusting missive also insisted that the president, by his estimation, doesn't realize we're "at war." Pfeiffer reminds us of several instances in which Obama has made it clear that, as far as this administration is concerned, we are very much at war.

There are numerous other such public statements that explicitly state we are at war. The difference is this: President Obama doesn't need to beat his chest to prove it, and -- unlike the last Administration -- we are not at war with a tactic ("terrorism"), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

Well said.

Mitch McConnell's Highly Suspicious Military Record

Hillbilly reminds us that long-standing questions about Mitch McConnell's military "service" remain unanswered.

A re-post from 2008:

December, 2007 we submitted a request for the Selective Service Classification Records for Senator Saxby Chambliss, Rep Tom Tancredo and Senator Mitch McConnell. When we received the Selective Service Classification Records from the Selective Service System all of the records were included with the exception of Senator Mitch McConnell's and his was an extract put together by Richard Flahavan, Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs. When Richard Flahavan was questioned about sending us an extract of Senator Mitch McConnell's Selective Service Classification Record, he responded in writing that "Selective Service no longer has access to Selective Service records for men born prior to 1960."

Knowing that we had already received the full Selective Service Classification Records for Senator Saxby Chambliss, Rep Tom Tancredo born in 1943 and 1945 respectively we felt that Richard Flahavan was possibly covering for Senator Mitch McConnell. In Richard Flahavan's extract he writes "the U.S. Army ordered him to undergo an Armed Forces Physical Examination which he did July 9, 1967. Apparently, he did not pass because he was released from the U.S. Army Reserve August 15, 1967." I just love that word apparently!

Several correspondences later we decided to request the information we needed from the National Archives Southeast Region in Atlanta and they sent us Mitch McConnell's complete Selective Service Classification Records and when we looked under column 7 Armed Forces Physical Examination it was blank, indicating that Mitch McConnell did not receive a Armed Forces Physical Examination as stated by Richard Flahavan, in his extract. If the Selective Service Classification Record is correct and Mitch McConnell didn't receive Armed Forces Physical Examination, then how could he flunk the Armed Forces Physical Examination he didn't take and what is the real reason Mitch McConnell didn't serve his country during the Vietnam war?

Senator Mitch McConnell has an obligation to clear this up and I'm suggesting he publish his military discharge papers for all of us to see and until that time we have good reason to believe he has something to hide.

To his credit, McConnell does not claim service he does not have - probably because he knows he couldn't get away with it. He sidesteps the question of whether he is a veteran, though - probably because he doesn't want anyone looking to closely into exactly what happened when little Mitchie reported for his physical.

My guess is that he either faked a disqualifying condition or got someone with juice to pull some strings to get him disqualified. If so, he wouldn't have been the first or last. Most Vietnam-era draftees who wanted out tried those stunts at the draft physical, but maybe Mitchie didn't choke until he got to basic.

I don't blame him for wanting out. I know Vietnam combat vets and Vietnam-era draft dodgers both of whom regret what they did. Far be it from any of us to judge anyone's choice among bad and worse options.

But hiding the truth is inexcusable. 'Fess up, Mitch - the longer you keep it secret, the worse we imagine the truth to be.

The Rooties are out!

And the 2009 list is better than ever.

New Year's Resolutions for Liberals

1. Stop calling ourselves, or letting others call us, "progressives." We're liberals. Either you're liberal or conservative; either you support the Bill of Rights or you don't. Saying you're a "progressive" means you're a pussy who can't commit.

2. Stop letting anyone, usually repugs but especially "progressives," label or define us. Liberals support the Bill of Rights - everything else is just details.

3. Stop apologizing for anything liberals or liberalism has done - ever. And I mean anything. Don't admit liberals or liberalism was or is responsible for anything unless you've researched it and know it for certain. 99 percent of what gets blamed on liberals and liberalism was actually the fault of conservatives, reactionaries, fascists or other varieties of repug. On the few things that liberals and liberalism actually did that may not have worked out 100 percent perfectly, just say "that didn't go exactly as planned," and move on. Never apologize.

4. Stay on offense. And by that I mean "be offensive." When tempted to retreat, attack. Liberalism is right about everything; act like it.

5. Demand liberal solutions for every problem. Don't let anyone reject a liberal solution just because "it's liberal." Make them explain why they think the liberal solution won't work, then explain how and why they're wrong, and how the liberal solution will work.

6. Challenge every non-liberal policy, program, proposal, project, suggestion, assumption and implication. Reject the market-worshipping, only-rich-people-and-corporations-are-fully-human economic and cultural structure that has been strangling us for 40 years.

7. Perfect our nagging technique. Nag everyone in any position of political power to do the liberal thing. Nag the sheriff to substitute training for tazing. Nag the mayor to seek more advice from social workers and less from bankers. Nag the governor to solve the budget crisis by reforming the regressive tax system. Nag our congress critters to vote liberally. Nag the president to dance with us what brung him.

8. Remember, and remind everybody else, that the most successful and popular achievements of American history are all, every single one, liberal achievements: the New Deal, Social Security, winning World War II, the Marshall Plan, universal adult suffrage, Civil Rights, Medicare, Clean Water, Clean Air - just to name a few. And despite how people may label themselves, the policies and programs they support today are all liberal: health care reform, re-regulating Wall Street, a higher minimum wage, safe and secure jobs at good pay with good benefits, medical privacy, and more.

9. Keep Democrats honest. Become an invaluable nuisance to the local Democratic party. Invaluable for volunteering for everything and always participating; nuisance for being an out, proud and loud Liberal who never lets them forget where they came from.

10. Stand tall, speak with pride, work with confidence, act boldly.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Any Excuse to Kill Wild Things

So you drive home one lovely spring day to your home in the eastern Kentucky woods, where the dogwood and redbud are in bloom, and as you pull into your driveway the path from your car to your door is blocked by a black bear, rooting around for food in your garbage cans.

Setting aside for the moment that if you leave your garbage cans anywhere that wild animals can get into them you are too stupid to live outside midtown Manhattan, what do you do?

You could lay on the horn for a while. That won't scare a black bear, but it might irritate her to the point she gives up on the goodies you left as such an inviting banquet in the garbage cans.

But after months in hibernation, she's really hungry, and refuses to leave. And now you've pissed her off, so she comes after you. She can't get into the truck, but she can damage it pretty good and maybe even flip it over. So you pull the shotgun out of the rack and shoot her.

There's not a jury in this state that will convict you. Hell, not a cop that will arrest you.

If you are genuinely threatened by a wild animal in Kentucky, you are legally allowed to defend yourself with deadly force.

But let's say your local black bear has been making an unbearable nuisance of herself. She tramples the vegetable garden, shits in the flowers, terrorizes the dogs. She also is quite the large speciman, which after taxidermy would look deeply impressive in the family room.

She's no threat to you, but you shoot her anyway. Now you're up shit creek without a paddle, because self-defense is one thing, but killing a black bear for decoration just makes you an asshole.

Now you need a special new law that gets you off the hook for killing a black bear as long as you cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die swear you thought it was dangerous.

State Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, said he will be pushing the legislation to protect Kentucky residents from criminal prosecution if they shoot black bears they believe pose a danger.

Nelson said he has received calls from constituents who have been unable to walk from their homes to their cars because of bears ransacking garbage cans or eating from bird feeders and pet food bowls.

“It makes you a prisoner in your own home,” he said. “There seems to be conflicting statutes about what a person can do. Under existing law, if there is a bear on your property, you can actually shoot it, but fish and wildlife folks make the determination if they feel you were justified.”


Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Commissioner Jon Gassett acknowledged in a letter to Nelson that people who are “genuinely threatened with bodily injury from a black bear or any other wildlife species can use deadly force” to protect themselves.

“However, the mere presence of a bear on one's property does not warrant lethal action,” he said.


Kentucky opened a hunting season for bears this year, a move pushed by the League of Sportsmen to reinforce the animals' fear of humans. But no bears were killed in the hunt, which was held Dec. 19-20.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources blamed the lack of kills on a winter storm that left up to 12 inches of snow in parts of the mountain region. Bear biologist Steven Dobey said hunters could not get to areas where they likely would have been able to shoot bears.

Read the whole thing.

I have a compromise: you can kill any black bear you come across, anywhere, anytime, for any reason, whether it's dangerous, benign or downright friendly. Just one condition: you have to kill the bear with your bare hands.

Radically Reform Kentucky's Tax System, or Shut the State Down

One and one-half Billion dollars.

Sixteen percent of the entire budget. One-sixth of what it costs to run Kentucky for one year.

That's the size of the budget deficit Kentucky is facing.

The Herald-Leader has an eight-step primer on the budget crisis the General Assembly will face next week.

But so far no one is facing the stark truth: spending cuts won't close this giant pit of no revenue. Not unless you want to shut down prisons, hospitals and schools.

Raising taxes on things most voters won't mind, like cigarettes and liquor, won't avoid this crisis, unless you want to tax both of those manufacturers right out of business.

Nothing less than radical, burn-it-to-the-ground-and-start-from-scratch reform of the tax system is going to fix this.

No more no-tax passes to Big Coal, Big Power, Big Insurance, Big Development and every other amoral alien corporation ass-raping Kentuckians for fun and profit.

No more keeping poor people poor and making middle-class people poor with a regressive income tax system that redistributes income from working people to wealthy parasites.

No more sweetheart contracts and giveaways of taxpayers' money to political campaign contributors and cronies.

It's going to cost all of us, but the alternative is no highways, no police or firefighters, no running water.

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. Kentucky is a medieval barony operating on the backs of serfs, and an insane tax system is why.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Court Makes Sense on Tasers

From Digby, who has been pounding on the outrageous misuse of tasers longer than anyone, finally some good news:

The 9th Circuit issued what may be a landmark ruling on tasers, and not a moment too soon:

A federal appeals court on Monday issued one of the most comprehensive rulings yet limiting police use of Tasers against low-level offenders who seem to pose little threat and may be mentally ill.

In a case out of San Diego County, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized an officer who, without warning, shot an emotionally troubled man with a Taser when he was unarmed, yards away, and neither fleeing nor advancing on the officer.


A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the trial judge's ruling on Monday, concluding that the level of force used by the officer was excessive.

McPherson could have waited for backup or tried to talk the man down, the judges said. If Bryan was mentally ill, as the officer contended, then there was even more reason to use "less intrusive means," the judges said.

"Officer McPherson's desire to quickly and decisively end an unusual and tense situation is understandable," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court. "His chosen method for doing so violated Bryan's constitutional right to be free from excessive force."


"Certainly the officer should be able to articulate the reason the force (was used), and a mere resistance to comply may not be enough," said Sheriff John McGinness.

It's not. The idea that police can use it to subdue people at their discretion in order to make their difficult jobs easier is just wrong. The police can't hit people over the head with a baton if they smart mouth them or refuse to immediately comply and they shouldn't be able to shoot them full of electricity either. Just because it doesn't leave marks doesn't mean it isn't cruel and brutal.

This issue will wend itself through the courts for some time. I would imagine we'll see a Supreme Court ruling. Considering the current court, I'm sure Taser International hopes so.

Read the whole thing.

Stop Those Raw Eggs Before They Kill Again

Blue Texan at Firedoglake:

Since we still seem to be having a national freakout over some loser who got on a plane with a bomb in his underwear, which was apparently worthy of a presidential address, it might be a good idea to put the actual danger posed by terrorist attacks in some numerical perspective.

If you count the Ft. Hoot shooting as a terrorist attack, which even the likes of Pantload doesn’t, 16 people have died in the United States as result of terrorism in 2009. The other three deaths include the Little Rock military recruiting office shooting (1), the Holocaust Museum shooting (1), and Dr. George Tiller’s assassination (1), the last two coming at the hands of right-wing extremists.

On the other hand, 45,000 Americans died because they didn’t have health insurance and 600 died from salmonella poisoning.

Clearly, providing health care to all Americans is beyond our capabilities, so when do we launch the $700 billion-a-year War on Salmonella?

If For No Other Reason

An icon of the abstinence-only movement makes the definitive case for teaching actual sexual techniques to teens - before they ruin it for themselves.

Jesus' General has it:

But, now Kevin Jonas needs to serve as a role model for marriage. His recent statement about his wedding night doesn't accomplish this. If you missed it, here's what he had to say: "After we did it, I was kind of like, that's it?"


Why go to all the trouble of getting married, if, in the end, it's like waiting in line three hours for a Big Mac.

I suspect his problem is ignorance. We don't teach kids the mechanics because it only encourages them to have sex. I bet no one sat him down and told him he needs to put his little unit into her woo woo hole. Without that knowledge, sex is just the weeping and vomiting--who enjoys that.

Read the whole thing.

There's a reason why indigenous cultures encouraged mature adults to initiate young adults into sex. It's obvious, but only in cultures that don't fear and hate sex in all its manifestations.

Health Insurance Reform Calculator

From Digby:

For those of you who aren't covered by your employer for health insurance, here's a handy tool to figure out what you'd owe under health care reform under the two plans. (Be sure to put in your age in 2014.)

Get more detail about what's really "affordable" from emptywheel here.

I wanted to hit the question of affordability one more time, to show that this isn’t a matter of eating home more often, but rather of precisely the debt problems that Nate says reform will prevent.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"We are doing everything in our power"

I'm still finding it difficult to take seriously a moron who set his own dick on fire, and even more difficult to believe that Al Qaeda is so hard-up for publicity it's taking credit for this fuck-up, but President Obama had this to say:

Transcript here.

Adults in Charge

President Obama is a corporate-owned centrist happy to fuck over liberals in pursuit of David Broder's approval, but Thank Dog he's an adult who doesn't think starting a war is the appropriate response to an idiot setting himself on fire.

Steve Benen explains:

If you've been following the news the past couple of days, you've no doubt seen plenty of coverage of the attempted terrorism aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. And while you've also probably seen some political figures rush to get on television -- God help anyone caught between Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and a camera -- President Obama has remained largely scarce. Indeed, yesterday, the president went golfing.

Marc Ambinder noted yesterday that there's a deliberate White House strategy underway.

Here's the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.

Authorities respond appropriately; the President (as this president is want to do) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he's videoconferencing regularly, that he's ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he's discoursing with his Secretary of Homeland Security.

But an in-person Obama statement isn't needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN'T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation. [...]

Let the authorities do their work. Don't presume; don't panic the country; don't chest-thump, prejudge, interfere, politicize (in an international sense), don't give Al Qaeda (or whomever) a symbolic victory; resist the urge to open the old playbook and run a familiar play.

In the Bush/Cheney era, we know officials read from a far different script. Incidents like these became opportunities to exploit. Top officials -- Bush, Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft, Ridge -- would fan out and start hitting the talking points. There'd be talk about invading Yemen. Maybe the Bush gang would get a bump in the polls, maybe Dems and administration critics would hold their fire for a few days. If they didn't, the White House could take comfort in knowing that critics would be accused of "aiding and abetting" terrorists by attacking the Commander in Chief in the wake of a crisis.

Obama and his team obviously prefer a far more mature, strategic approach. It's about projecting a sense of calm and control. It's about choosing not to elevate some lunatic thug who set himself on fire.

Indeed, notice the pattern throughout the year. The Obama administration has taken out Saleh al-Somali, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, and Baitullah Mehsud, while taking suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch potential attacks.

In each case, there were no high-profile press conferences, no public chest-thumping, no desire to politicize the counter-terrorism successes. Indeed, most of the country probably never heard a word about any of these developments.

It's about competent and effective leadership, and it's what the country was sorely lacking up until 11 months ago.

I'll just add that given Lieberschmuck's demands to invade Yemen, it remains to be seen if President Obama cedes foreign policy to Traitor Joe as completely as he ceded health care reform.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sorry, Nancy, But Obama's Got to Sign the Bill Now

I second Zandar's endorsement of Aimai's plea to get the health care reform bill signed immediately, before Traitor Joe kills it.

And speaking of Lieberdouche, Aimai at NMMNB has a must-read on why Obama has to go over the heads of the Centrists, and ask the House to eat a bowl of crap, and has to sign the Senate health care reform bill into law before this weekend's attack becomes the excuse Joe needs to kill this bill.

Previously, even a day ago, I was opposed to the ping ponging of the bill. I hoped that a conference report might, with the good wind at its back, materially improve the bill and still squeak through the Senate's sixty vote bottleneck. Now I'm sure that Lieberman is going to step up and screw us if he can, when he can. Just imagine his puffed up self hectoring us about how irresponsible it is to spend money on health care when there are terrorists attacking us in our valued cities, like Detroit?

I recommend that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi take what they can get--push the Senate version of the bill through as is and then fix every bit of it they can as it relates to the budget through Reconciliation. Do it fast and without warning. And make the terrorist attack your excuse, if you want. Say "the country has been through enough and we need to get on with things. We believe this bill is very good and we can fix the parts that need fixing through reconciliation in a timely manner." And then just do it. Lieberman will be left with his mouth hanging open and the majority of the bill will be irrevocable. But promise the progressives that they will absolutely be able to get the rest of their initiatives through the reconciliation process and hew to that promise. It will be the best of all possible worlds.

Agreed. Fast track this thing. Sign it ASAP, or Lieberman will kill it. Period.

Ditto. It's a piece of shit, but repugs hate it and Traitor Joe wants to use it to fuck over progressives. Ping-pong that fucker right past the House and sign it. Do it now.

Small Towns in Kentucky are AIG's Latest Victims

KeninNY at Down with Tyranny alerts us to the newest way that Big Corporations have found to squeeze even more turnip blood out of destitute eastern Kentucky.


To AIG. We’ve all seen those westerns where the evil, sweaty, filth-encrusted villain holds the water canteen just out of reach of the dying old man in the desert and pours out the contents into the sand. Nothing better represents where AIG is coming from. This company is so guilty, they even had to change their name, just like Diebold had to. The first thing they did was take down their sign so angry citizens couldn’t find them or hassle employees as they slithered out of the building every day.

Check this out, from Yasha Levine at AlterNet, who recently discussed what effect the nice folks at AIG have recently had on two small communities in Kentucky:

“Middlesboro and Clinton are two tiny, impoverished towns in southern Kentucky with a combined population of 12,000. In 2008, Middlesboro’s per capita income was $13,189 a year, only a few hundred dollars more than the average worker earned in third-world Mexico. That is if they were lucky to even get a job. Real unemployment hovers somewhere around 30%, and the state is so broke that half the people eligible for unemployment benefits can’t receive them. Life may be tough and most people live in poverty, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made a little poorer. That’s the lesson locals learned after bailed-out insurance villain AIG took over their water utility and instantly raised rates to squeeze an extra $1 mllion in profits out of its new customers, forcing some to consider choosing between running water and food.”

This is in America in the 21st century, not some Old West town taken over by a gang of outlaws, right? Well, apparently, it’s something quite like that. We’ve heard about people not being able to afford heat and having to choose between their health care and food or between prescriptions and food for their kids. Now it’s running water. You can bet that the insipid, despicable suits at AIG also sit around conference tables on Wall Street laughing as they fantasize about a future of selling us our air too.

Our tax dollars went to bail these vermin out and keep their lawn sprinklers running and their swimming pools filled all summer. If we can send so many troops to Afghanistan, why can’t we send a few Special Forces squads to the offices of AIG? That’s a military action I can get behind! Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the citizens their might want to question what kind of U.S. $enate representation they have gotten from the likes of Jim Bunning and Minority Leader "Miss Mitch" McConnell.

Read the whole Alternet piece here.

When I say President Obama and Congressional Democrats are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Big Corporations, this is what I mean.

Barack and Michelle's Christmas Message

Read the full transcript here.

Not Shutting Up, Not Going Away

OK: Everybody who thought, even way back on Election Night, that Barack Obama was a "starry-eyed idealist," stand on your head.

That's what I thought.

So let's stop with the everybody-who-doesn't-think-the-shitty-Senate-health-care-bill-is-better-than-Social-Security-and-Medicre-put-together-is-an-idiot criticism.

No, this is not a defense of Jane Hamsher's insane alliance with Grover Fucking Norquist.

It's a demand that the Obama apologists hysterically claiming that a trillion-dollar giveaway to Big Medicine is the Democratic Achievement of the Century stop insulting those of us who would like to point out how many thousands of people will continue to die after going bankrupt trying to pay for mandated insurance that is too expensive and doesn't cover anything.

We're not pissed because Obama broke our delicate wittle hearts. We're pissed because we started way back before Inauguration warning the President, Democratic members of Congress and everybody else that if they didn't start negotiating with the strongest, furthest-left position they could imagine - Single-Payer - the Blue Dogs and repugs would negotiate them down to nothing.

And hey, lookie here: That's exactly what happened.

Now that it's obvious that we were right and they were wrong, guess who's getting ridiculed and ignored and marginalized? Yep, the ones who have been right all along.

But only the ones who were wrong are allowed to comment on health care DEform. Only the repug collaborationists and corporate tools who made sure the bill is a windfall for everybody except the people who actually need health care coverage have the credibility to tell us how wonderful it is and how we should shut the fuck up and go away.

Serve all of them right if we did. If all of us Fighting Liberals who knew a year and a half ago that getting real reform out of centrist, cautious Barack Obama was going to be trench warfare one muddy step at a time just left the DINOs to their fate.

But as told-you-so satisfying as it would be to see Harry Reid lose the Senate next year, as he richly deserves, there's work to do. And as usual, it's we liberals who are going to have to do it.

So we're going to keep demanding Congress repair the gaping holes in the health care reform bill, and we're going to keep promoting primary challengers to Blue Dogs and DINOs, and we're going to keep calling out Barack Obama every time he fails to meet a crisis with the appropriate liberal solution.

Not because he ever promised he would, but because he made it crystal clear he would not, and that makes it our job to force him to do it anyway.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Proof the Economy's Sunk and Not Rising Any Time Soon

It's been traditional for two millenia, after all. It's free housing, meals and healthcare for life, with much less chance of dying than in the military. The celibacy's a bitch, of course, but my guess is the seminary teaches that one with a wink.

The Archdiocese of Louisville is seeing an increase in men studying for the priesthood, a dramatic reversal of a trend earlier in this decade when the pool of prospects shrank to all but zero.

Seventeen men from the archdiocese are now in seminary, the most since the early 1990s, church leaders say.

And St. Meinrad School of Theology in Southern Indiana — which trains many future priests for dioceses in Kentucky, Indiana and throughout the country — is reporting its highest enrollment in two decades as it strains to find classroom and living space for the influx of seminarians and other students.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Kentucky's "Doomsday Book"

You don't have to be a family tree freak - excuse me, amateur geneaologist - to find this discovery exciting.

Land, census and marriage records from the late 1700s to the early 1900s have recently resurfaced that could provide a treasure trove of information for genealogists and others.

The books, which are being indexed to make the information easier to pinpoint, were found in several places. The land and census records were at government archives in Frankfort, and several years' worth of marriage licenses were in the Fayette County clerk's storage area.


Potter found out about a large volume of applications for land patents from an article in the October issue of The Kentucky Explorer magazine. The article said the Fayette County clerk's office had a "Doomsday Book" containing names of the commonwealth's earliest settlers.


The Doomsday Book contains the names of settlers who applied for land patents — property titles, essentially — from 1779 through 1780, when Kentucky was still part of Virginia.


The clerk's office also recovered several books containing Fayette County school census records from 1896 to 1909. There are separate books for black and white students.

Potter calls the census records a "significant discovery" for black genealogists.

"Unfortunately, the Fayette County clerk's office doesn't have a lot of records for black people to go on," she said.

The census books contain students' names, addresses, names of parents and siblings, and dates of birth.

"All of a sudden, one record has potentially opened up a world of finding one's family," Potter said.


There is no timetable for when the records will be indexed and available for the public to see at the Fayette County clerk's office. But clerks will do what they can to accommodate people with an urgent need to look at them, Potter said.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Boxing Day is for Giving

Not more superflous presents to friends and family, but gifts that will make all the difference to those in need.

The name derives from the tradition of giving seasonal gifts, on the day after Christmas, to less wealthy people and social inferiors, which was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants.

The traditional recorded celebration of Boxing Day has long included giving money and other gifts to charitable institutions, the needy and people in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early christian era.

In the United Kingdom it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their 'Christmas boxes' or gifts in return for good and reliable service throughout the year on the day after Christmas. [1].

The establishment of Boxing Day as a defined public Holiday under the legislation that created the UK's Bank Holidays started the separation of 'Boxing Day' from the 'Feast of St Stephen' and today it is almost entirely a secular holiday with a tradition of shopping and post Christmas sales starting.

Want to wash the conspicuous consumption off your holiday? Take a few of the minutes and a few of the dollars you were going to spend shopping today, and put them to work helping others.

Need an idea? Every community in the nation has a food bank, and every food bank in every community is struggling to feed dozens, even hundreds more families who never needed food help before. Check the phone book, or google "Food Bank" and the name of your community.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Oh, Man. Look here."

Dickens nailed it 166 years ago.

"'Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,' said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe,' but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw.'

'It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,' was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. 'Look here.'

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

'Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

'Spirit. Are they yours.' Scrooge could say no more.

'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.'

'Have they no refuge or resource.' cried Scrooge.

'Are there no prisons.' said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses.'"

For there is not a problem on earth that cannot be traced back to those two vicious children Ignorance and Want.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

You've probably heard at least one "rewrite" of the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore this week. For the record, here is the original poem and a short history of its creation and global influence.

Twas the night before Christmas Poem also called “A Visit from St. Nicholas"

Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863) wrote the poem Twas the night before Christmas also called “A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822. It is now the tradition in many American families to read the poem every Christmas Eve.

The poem Twas the night before Christmas has redefined our image of Christmas and Santa Claus. Prior to the creation of the story of Twas the night before Christmas St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, had never been associated with a sleigh or reindeer. The author of the poem Twas the night before Christmas was a reticent man and it is believed that a family friend, Miss H. Butler, sent a copy of the poem to the New York Sentinel who published the poem. The condition of publication was that the author of Twas the night before Christmas was to remain anonymous.

The first publication date was 23rd December 1823 and it was an immediate success. It was not until 1844 that Clement Clarke Moore claimed ownership when the work was included in a book of his poetry. Clement Clarke Moore came from a prominent family and his father Benjamin Moore was the Bishop of New York who was famous for officiating at the inauguration of George Washington. The tradition of reading Twas the night before Christmas poem on Christmas Eve is now a Worldwide institution.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Completely Off the Rails

If you harbored the faint hope that losing on health care reform would send the wingnuts to their corners to quietly lick their wounds, think again.

Zandar reads the crazies so we don't have to.

I knew the Wingers would grimly intone the end of the United States of America as we know it due to today's Senate bill passage, but two reactions stand out as some of the worst punditry I can recall seeing on the entire issue. First, Rick Moran warms up paragraph after paragraph of mendacious warnings, calling the bill the "worst piece of legislation in my lifetime" while managing to absolve the GOP...


Look, Rick, there was zero amount of GOP Senators that ever would have voted for this bill. Until 2013 at the minimum, the Republican Party has abdicated any and all responsibility for legislating anything. They simply vote no and then complain they aren't allowed to run the country anymore. Over a hundred cloture or procedural votes in 2009 alone, Rick. You can't be that dense. Nobody believes for a second the GOP is going to do anything but blockade this Congress.

But then we have a winner for worst Wingnut douchebaggery of 2009 hands down as Dan Riehl directly compares the passage to a terror attack on America:


Really. This asshole just outright called them terrorists, called the President a terrorist mastermind, and called for the people to rise up against them.

Riehl is so far off the map he's in another year's atlas. This is the kind of stuff that I've been talking about since I started this blog, the level of unbridled, blood-drunk hatred against the Democrats that borders on the delusional and sociopathic.

This is Obama Derangement Syndrome. And it's only getting worse.

Read the whole thing.

This is why I'm glad the Democrats have won - so far - on health care DEform, even though I still think the bill is a piece of shit that will cost Democrats dearly in extra work, extra money, extra time and lots of lost votes.

This bill is making repugs rip out their own eyeballs in rage and despair, and for the moment that's a good enough outcome for me.

"95 percent of what I wanted."

Jim Lehrer's a putz, and President Obama is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate America, but last night the two did agree that the modern filibuster, as wielded by repugs, is an abomination.

"I mean, if you look historically back in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s - even when there was sharp political disagreements, when the Democrats were in control for example and Ronald Reagan was president - you didn't see even routine items subject to the 60-vote rule.

So I think that if this pattern continues, you're going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us. We're going to have to return to some sense that governance is more important than politics inside the Senate. We're not there right now."

Part One:

Part Two:

Read the transcript here.

Blown Opportunities

Although there is a case to be made that the failure to reach agreement on reducing global climate change is the fault of China, Naomi Klein explains how President Obama's missed opportunites on the economic crisis set the climate talks up for failure:

There's plenty of blame to go around, but there was one country that possessed unique power to change the game. It didn't use it. If Barack Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative and inspiring commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, all the other major emitters would have stepped up.


I understand all the arguments about not promising what he can't deliver, about the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, about the art of the possible. But spare me the lecture about how little power poor Obama has. No President since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn't threaten the stability of life on this planet. He has refused to use each and every one of them. Let's look at the big three.

Blown Opportunity Number 1: The Stimulus Package When Obama came to office he had a free hand and a blank check to design a spending package to stimulate the economy. He could have used that power to fashion what many were calling a "Green New Deal" -- to build the best public transit systems and smart grids in the world. Instead, he experimented disastrously with reaching across the aisle to Republicans, low-balling the size of the stimulus and blowing much of it on tax cuts. Sure, he spent some money on weatherization, but public transit was inexplicably short changed while highways that perpetuate car culture won big.

Blown Opportunity Number 2: The Auto Bailouts Speaking of the car culture, when Obama took office he also found himself in charge of two of the big three automakers, and all of the emissions for which they are responsible. A visionary leader committed to the fight against climate chaos would obviously have used that power to dramatically reengineer the failing industry so that its factories could build the infrastructure of the green economy the world desperately needs. Instead Obama saw his role as uninspiring down-sizer in chief, leaving the fundamentals of the industry unchanged.

Blown Opportunity Number 3: The Bank Bailouts Obama, it's worth remembering, also came to office with the big banks on their knees -- it took real effort not to nationalize them. Once again, if Obama had dared to use the power that was handed to him by history, he could have mandated the banks to provide the loans for factories to be retrofitted and new green infrastructure to be built. Instead he declared that the government shouldn't tell the failed banks how to run their businesses. Green businesses report that it's harder than ever to get a loan.

Imagine if these three huge economic engines -- the banks, the auto companies, the stimulus bill -- had been harnessed to a common green vision. If that had happened, demand for a complementary energy bill would have been part of a coherent transformative agenda.

Whether the bill had passed or not, by the time Copenhagen had rolled around, the U.S. would already have been well on its way to dramatically cutting emissions, poised to inspire, rather than disappoint, the rest of the world.

There are very few U.S. Presidents who have squandered as many once-in-a-generation opportunities as Barack Obama. More than anyone else, the Copenhagen failure belongs to him.

Read the whole thing.

Paying the Arsonist who Burned Down Your House

You may remember last year the revelation that a small town in Alaska charged rape victims up to $1,200 for the cost of the kits used to collect evidence from them.

Yesterday, the Kentucky Public Service Commission pulled a similar stunt.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission on Wednesday authorized Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities to pass nearly half a billion dollars in environmental projects on to their 900,000 customers across 77 counties.

Work will include new coal combustion waste landfills at LG&E's Trimble County power plant and KU's Ghent power plant near Carrollton; an expansion of an ash pond at the Trimble plant; construction of a second ash landfill at LG&E's Cane Run power plant in Louisville; and new controls on smog-causing nitrogen oxides at KU's E.W. Brown plant in Mercer County.

Read the whole thing.

This is worse than the rape kit outrage. Those coal-ash ponds are "environmental projects" only in the sense that they devastate the environment and allow Big Power to shrug and blame "nature" when the ponds burst, flood millions of acres and poison thousands of people.

But there is and never has been any limit to the ways that Kentucky's government will offer up its citizens for Big Coal and Big Power to ass-rape.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Welcome Our New Corporate Masters

and wave bye-bye to democracy.

John Amato explains:

While our backs are turned as we are engrossed with the health-care debate, there is a Supreme Court case looming on the horizon that could upend our entire political system. The Roberts court must be salivating to get the chance to help their right wing Big Corp base as they wait to render their decision on the Citizens United case which will for all purposes allow BigCorp. to dump as much money as they can into any election they want.

The most excellent Dahlia Lithwick writes:

Citizens United released the film in six theaters and on DVD, actions not subject to federal regulation. But when they sought to distribute the film by paying $1.2 million to sell it through a video-on-demand service, the Federal Election Commission contended that the film was no different from the kind of "electioneering communication" regulated under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. That was the 2002 statute that tried to limit the influence of big money on elections. If subject to the constraints of McCain-Feingold, the film could not be financed by corporate treasuries or broadcast within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The federal court of appeals agreed with the FEC, finding that the movie could be interpreted as nothing but an effort to "inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office." Citizens United appealed.

With their limitless resources, they can corrupt our system like never before and destroy our democratic process.

In Bush v Gore, the United States Supreme Court, in an unprecedented ruling that proclaimed it should not be used as precedent, decided the 2000 presidential election by a 5-4 decision. Bush v Gore stands as one of the most legally dishonest and the most politically partisan opinion ever issued by the Court.

That is, until the Court hands down its decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, involving a ruling by the FEC that barred a rightwing hit group, partially financed by a corporation, from running a hatchet-job film about Hillary Clinton in the days prior to an election in violation of the McCain-Feingold law.

By another 5-4 decision the Supreme Court will effectively turn the United States government over to corporations, i.e., back to the Republican Party, this time for keeps. The major corporations -- total profits of more than $600 billion per year for the top Fortune 100 -- will be permitted to advertise without limitation in Congressional, Senate and Presidential elections.
Moreover, corporations often have foreign shareholders. Although barred as individuals from participating either through financial contribution or voting, foreigners will now be able to use the corporate fiction of a 'legal person' to influence profoundly the outcome of US elections.

The Supreme Court will soon allow corporate profits to be spent without limits to "preserve, protect and defend" not the Constitution, but those profits.

Swiftboats will be the fastest growing industry in the United States. on

Sen. Dick Durbin is saying that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Citizens United, that prove the catalyst for creating new campaign-finance legislation:

As a Supreme Court decision that could weaken campaign finance laws looms, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said that a ruling giving an upper hand to corporations and labor unions could be the catalyst needed to pass election-reform legislation.

He and Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., spoke at a Center for American Progress event on Friday to promote their legislation, the Fair Elections Now Act, and discuss the impact of the pending decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

That decision could open the door for unrestricted spending on campaign advertising. "It takes a major scandal to create a major reform," Durbin said. "I don't know that we've reached the level in the Senate or in the nation where people are going to demand this of us.... But if they think that the Supreme Court has tipped the scales so dramatically that they don't have a fighting chance any more, they may be open to this.

Do we really want that to happen? No, the Court must not rule in favor of the wingnut film makers. Something will have to be done, because a single corporation could bully any member of the House or Senate to vote for their profitable benefit or they will unleash their pocketbooks against them and that is a nightmare scenario.

Read more about real campaign finance reform here.

Toxic coal ash in our drinking water - yum.

Because blasting mountains to smithereens and burying downstream communities isn't enough.

Because exploiting the ignorance and desperation of impoverished people in order to rake in windfall profits isn't enough.

Because roasting human life right off the planet with greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning isn't enough.

Big Coal and Big Power are demanding to expand yet another way to poison, ruin and kill Kentuckians: coal ash ponds.

Jake has the details:

Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E), owned by E.ON U.S., has requested permission from the Kentucky Public Service Commission to increase rates. Why, you may be wondering? Well, uh, to finance the construction of two new coal ash ponds in Trimble County. That’s within the floodplain of the Ohio River. 40 minutes from Louisville and the Louisville Water Company’s intake facility.

This is happening just a year after the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal ash disaster. Great timing.

“A year ago today, more than a billion gallons of toxic coal ash - waste from a coal-fired power plant - flooded a quiet residential community in Tennessee when the dam holding the ash back failed”, stated Wallace McMullen, Chair of the Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter Energy Committee. “However, as the EPA discusses new coal ash regulations, LG&E is proposing to saddle its customers with a costly, public health liability.”

Isn’t it about time LG&E/E.ON applied responsible management practices instead of putting countless thousands in danger by exposing them to hazardous coal waste?

Read the whole thing.

In potential good news, the Kentucky Public Service Commission is requiring East KY Power to actually present minimum justification for expanding a coal-burning plant just outside Lexington.

Don't worry; the PSC will never deny the permit. But even asking Big Power to explain itself is a huge step forward.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Obama Finds Populism at Last

Forget health care reform or even a real jobs bill. This is what will get President Obama re-elected:

The federal government will impose stiff penalties starting this spring on airlines that keep passengers waiting too long on the tarmac without feeding them or letting them off the plane — a remedy that will relieve many travelers but mean longer delays for a few.

JetBlue passengers waited for hours to leave Kennedy Airport for Cancun on Feb. 14, 2007.

Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, called the action on Monday “President Obama's Passenger Bill of Rights.”

The Obama administration took the strict new approach in response to several highly publicized events in recent years, and in the face of likely Congressional action if airline regulators did not respond to the consumer outcry that ensued.

It acted on the eve of the busy Christmas travel season, and just as airlines struggled to recover from extensive weather-related disruptions to air travel to and from the Northeast over the weekend.

Under the rule, airlines that do not provide food and water after two hours or a chance to disembark after three hours will face penalties of $27,500 a passenger, the secretary of transportation announced on Monday.

Read the whole thing.

People hate airlines. More than they hate Wall Street, more than they hate insurance companies. This is a winner.

Have a Very Atheist Christmas

Shamelessly stolen from PZ Myers.

Welcome, No More Misters! It's UK2K Day.

No offense to the Duke, UCLA, Indiana and various SEC fans out there, but I'm going to have to welcome you to BITB with this.

Yes, our college basketball program can beat up your college basketball program, and has probably done so at least once.

The journey began Feb. 18, 1903.

Win No. 1 for the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program came by one, 11-10, over the always formidable Lexington YMCA.

On Monday night, the fascinating journey that is Kentucky basketball reached 2,000 wins first — before any other college hoops program — with an 88-44 obliteration of Drexel.

"This is for the greatest fans in the history of college basketball," UK Coach John Calipari said.

What a trek UK2K has been.

No, there is nothing horrible and vicious you can say about Calipari that I will not agree with and try to top, and yes, by the beginning of this season any semi-alert high-school basketball coach could have gotten this team to 2,000 wins, but here's the important thing to remember:

UK got there ahead of North Carolina.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Name Change Suggestion of the Year

Honors to Betty Cracker, for this:

I’ve never paid much attention to Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island. He seems like a mild-mannered pol with a mild-mannered name to match. But dayum—Sheldon Whitehouse, ladies and gentlemen:

He needs to change his name to Stakedriver Wingerhammerer Von Dethhaus or something.

The Reason for the Season: Light

Since the dawn of homo sapiens sapiens, human beings have celebrated in mid-winter for a simple reason: Light.

The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, with the longest night. With the next dawn, the days begin to lengthen. Light returns.

Even after we figured out why the sun seemed to almost disappear in winter, only to reappear, and realized that it did so regardless of our festivals to entice it to return, mid-winter celebrations remained essential cultural touchstones.

Call it what you wish; create whatever myth comforts you; consecrate it with music that represents the best and worst of human composition, it remains what it has always been: A Celebration of Light.

If none of the religious myths appeal to you, try Human Light Day on December 23.

HumanLight illuminates Humanism's positive secular vision. In Western societies, late December is a season of good cheer and a time for gatherings of friends and families. During the winter holiday season, where the word "holiday" has taken on a more secular meaning, many events are observed. This tradition of celebrations, however, is grounded in supernatural religious beliefs that many people in modern society cannot accept. HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist's vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.

Tomorrow, may you have Light.

Dark and Cold for Christmas

For the second time in 11 months, a severe winter storm has left tens of thousands of people in Kentucky without electricity or water for days if not weeks.

For the third time in fifteen months, thousands of families are powerless because of the despicable refusal of Big Power utilities to bury electric lines underground where the wind, snow and ice can't tear them down.

Sometime next year, the Kentucky Public Service Commission will issue yet another report stating that even though burying power lines will save lives and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, it will not require power companies to do so.

Meanwhile, Christmas in the mountains is going to be even less festive than the recession has already left it.

State officials said about 87,000 Eastern Kentucky residences remained without power and 15,700 had no running water as nightfall approached Sunday and temperatures dipped below freezing.

More than a foot of heavy, wet snow snapped trees in the easternmost portion of the state over the weekend, leaving many residents stranded in cold houses that might not have power restored by Christmas.

Dozens of others made their way to emergency shelters in 10 counties.

In Pike County, Totie Crig lor sought refuge in a high school with her husband, Tim, and their 8-day old daughter, Tessa, after losing power Friday night.

Totie Criglor said it was the first time they had gone to a shelter. "We came for the baby's sake, to keep her warm," she said.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stop Celebrating

Be careful what you wish for, little dems. You wanted any old piece of shit bill you could try to sell to the rubes as "health care reform," and boy did you get it.

Digby is in favor of passing the senate bill, if only to get it into conference, but here she explains why it's nothing to celebrate, and indeed condemns Democrats to far more work, far more difficult work, over far more time, than if they had negotiated from strength from the start.

In my view these mandates make this bill something quite different from "entitlements" as people know them. And it's a psychological/philosophical difference as much as a practical one which I believe it makes these reforms much more vulnerable to repeal.

I'll let Robert Kuttner make the point much more artfully, as he did on Bill Moyers last night:

ROBERT KUTTNER: Think about it, the difference between social insurance and an individual mandate is this. Social insurance everybody pays for it through their taxes, so you don't think of Social Security as a compulsory individual mandate. You think of it as a benefit, as a protection that your government provides. But an individual mandate is an order to you to go out and buy some product from some private profit-making company, that in the case of a lot of moderate income people, you can't afford to buy. And the shell game here is that the affordable policies are either very high deductibles and co-pays, so you can afford the monthly premiums but then when you get sick, you have to pay a small fortune out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. Or if the coverage is decent, the premiums are unaffordable. And so here's the government doing the bidding of the private industry coercing people to buy profit-making products that maybe they can't afford and they call it health reform.

You should watch the whole thing if you missed it. Shrill bloggers aren't the only ones who have this point of view.

One thing those of the old political hands may not realize is that in this era of 24/7 cable and the internet this is the first time most people have watched a big piece of legislation enacted in such close-up detail. And what they are seeing is shocking and disturbing --- the obvious corruption of the process by wealthy corporate interests. There's a lot of populist resentment out here and it's coming down on the heads of the Democrats who are now ironically seen to be funneling taxpayer dollars to rapacious corporations which have been making people's lives miserable, insurance companies being among the worst of them. This health care debate has reinforced that perception. (And sadly, that perception isn't exactly wrong.) It makes health care reform a very different animal than our other social welfare programs.

On the practical political level, I think that rather than being thrilled they are "getting health care" many uninsured people are going to be very disappointed to find that the "benefit" is that they are going to be required to buy something --- especially from companies they don't like or trust. And even if they get subsidies, it's still going to be expensive by the standards of people who make between 30 and 60k a year. Suddenly requiring healthy people to come up with a few hundred dollars a month to pay Aetna isn't really mitigated by the argument that it would have been more before the reforms. I realize that's how mandates work but I don't think people are being adequately prepared for that reality.


There has been no public education about responsibility to buy insurance in all this or any strategy to manage expectations of what people will get with Health Care Reform. And because of that the right is going to have a field day telling everyone that the nanny state liberals are forcing them to give to money to insurance companies and then spending their tax money on poor (brown/black) people. So, again, running around saying "Mission Accomplished" is bad politics.

As for the promise to fix all the problems once the bill is in place, I think people are vastly underestimating the forces that are going to be brought to bear to prevent that from happening. Republicans aren't so disorganized that they forgot that they must stop Democrats from giving people reason to believe in government. In addition to deploying their formidable communications apparatus to present health care reform as a massive failure to the majority who are currently covered by employers and will only see the effects from afar, they are going to strangle improvements in the cradle by any means necessary including leveraging their most valuable new voting demographic in the age of Obama --- the elderly. On top of that, we are entering an era of deficit fetishism and have an industry that has shown it will do everything in its power to protect its interests. It's not impossible, but watching the Democrats operate at the zenith of their institutional power over the past year does not give me any confidence that they want to, much less can, battle all that back.


I don't know how this bill will play out politically. It's not what I thought health care reform would be, but perhaps it is better than nothing. Your mileage may vary. I think it definitely is better for the working poor if we can hang on to the funding, which I think is dicey. As for the rest, we'll see.

But I think the first thing Democrats need to do is dial down the end-zone dance and start talking about this bill for what it is. Indeed, if I were them, I'd work hard to lower expectations. I do not believe this legislation will be exempt from repeal or serious whittling away as time goes on nor do I think that the political system will allow the quick fixes that will be necessary to keep people on board while they get the reforms in place, regardless of whether the Republicans come back into power during the implementation period, which they very well could. This just isn't a big New Deal style social insurance program and selling it in those terms is setting the stage for a backlash.

Read the whole thing.

Competing Superstitions Over the Magic Buggy Whip Industry

Seems the freakazoids are claiming their invisible sky wizards for both sides of the mountaintop removal debate, which should be all the proof you need that nothing poisons a debate like superstition.

“Mountaintop-removal mining blasts away our souls, blasts away our communities, the souls of the workers who are doing the work and our cultural and natural heritage,” said the Rev. Robin Blakeman, a West Virginia minister and environmental activist.

But a different view prevailed on a recent wintry Sunday at First Baptist Church in Pikeville, a congregation replete with miners and those in coal-related businesses who say they “thank God we've got the coal.”

That would be the same mythical deity that has been used in the mountains for three centuries to justify every crime and social injustice, from child abuse to exploiting miners to murdering union organizers.

God “wouldn't have put the coal and the other minerals here if it wasn't for the use of man,” said church member Virgil Osborne. “But he expects us to be a good manager, good stewards of what he gives us.”

The use of coal has galvanized fierce debates worldwide over its environmental and economic effects, from local mountain communities to the policy-making corridors of Frankfort and Washington.

But religious values are flowing through these debates as well — and they're being waged here in the heart of the Appalachian coal country.

The area is steeped in a Christian heritage, attested by the modest steeples that poke through the trees at almost every turn of the winding mountain roads. Some of the churches represent Baptist, Pentecostal and Holiness movements rooted in the mountains, while others have links to more prominent national denominations such as Southern Baptist and Presbyterian.

All are deeply embedded in a culture and economy that is defined by its century-old coal industry.

Both sides — and those in between — cite as pivotal passages from the biblical creation account in which God commands humans to “work and take care of” the earth and to “subdue” it, exercising “dominion … over every living thing.”

They speak of a spiritual duty to strike a balance between jobs and nature, but they see that balancing point at different places.

Read the whole thing.

You wanna debate jobs and drinking water, fine. But when you break out the Bronze Age fiction, you're pretty much proving you deserve the lethal fate the coal companies have planned for you.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Bring this long and vigorous debate to an end"

"These protections are just one part of a landmark reform that will finally reduce the cost of health care. When it becomes law, families will save on their premiums. Small businesses and Americans who don’t get any insurance today through their employers will no longer be forced to pay punishingly high rates to get coverage. This legislation will also strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program, while saving senior citizens hundreds of dollars a year in prescription costs. And reforms to target waste, inefficiency, and price-gouging by the insurance industry will help make this the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade."

Full transcript here.

Rational Optimism on Health Care Reform

Doug at Down with Tyranny thinks a decent health care reform bill with a public option has a good chance of getting to Obama's desk, and no, I don't think he's kidding. His scenario actually sounds more realistic than too good to be true.

Right now it looks really, really bad, but I'm going to play the role of Pollyanna here and say it's going to be okay. And I don't mean that the bill that gets Lieberman's vote (which will necessarily be a totally useless kiss-up to the insurance industry) is going to make life better for Americans, and we'll improve it later, and so on and so forth. I just saw Tom Harkin and Ron Wyden on MSNBC saying how much good that bill would do, and I'm convinced they're faking it. What I mean is that the bill that goes to conference will never be seen again; they're going to disappear it.

Is it your belief that they've really caved? I'm saying they've decided to make nice so they get the 60 votes on something, anything, then rewrite it in committee until it's a victory for Chuck Schumer, Tom Harkin, Ron Wyden, Jay Rockefeller and the rest of the relatively progressive voices. Don't y'all get why the insurance industry has been going all out to prevent 60 votes on even a sack of garbage? It’s because they know what can happen when it gets to conference. It's totally out of corporate control at that point, because the conferees are the action-oriented people in both chambers. And they're people who aren't all about getting attention and being windbags. They're all about something else: ordering people around and winning. Being in charge. I think we can relax a little now, because they seem to be confident they've got the 60 votes.


But I think this will end soon, with a bill going into conference. This thing is rolling, it has a momentum all its own. They're acting as though they'll do just about anything to get to the conference, so I'm assuming they actually will. I don't care how many Vermonters say that progressives should vote no in the Senate, it ain't going to happen.


When it goes into conference, that’s the time for all of us to make noise. When it comes out of the conference committee, the corporate last stand is a filibuster that must fail. That's the time for all of us to bring the heat.

He makes a strong case. Read the whole thing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back at the Unemployment Office ....

Regardless of what happens with health care reform, the real issue that will decide the 2010 elections continues to fester: the stagnant economy and rampant unemployment.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka talked to Firedoglake:

In Tuesday’s live Web chat, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka talked about what we need to do to fix our economy in both the short term and the long term—and touched on a vital, too-infrequently discussed issue: the need to end the stranglehold neoliberal economic thinking has on our politics.

Spurred by Milton Friedman and other economists, the neoliberal agenda is based on the radical principle that it’s markets, not people, that matter most. By nature, the neoliberal principle is hostile to collective bargaining, public regulation and all manner of ways to leverage community power to balance out the power of wealth.

Trumka sums up Friedman’s poisonous political philosophy:

He believed that anything that got in the way of the free market was something that was bad and should be eliminated. Any regulation on business is bad, so get rid of it; any tax on business is bad and distorts the marketplace, get rid of it. A union is bad and distorts the marketplace, so you have to get rid of it.

For the last 30 years, that’s the system that we’ve had here. It brought us to this crisis.

Trumka says the labor movement needs to get back at the forefront of economic policy, including monetary, fiscal and industrial policy. Unions need to lay out a clear new economic agenda that will work better and stand as an alternative to the markets-first, people-later neoliberal agenda.

That means building an economy in which the financial sector works on behalf of the real economy—not the other way around. It means listening to the needs of working families, not pundits and corporate shills who claim that good jobs with living wages and benefits are “bad for the economy.” It means we don’t let big bankers reap profits from destructive speculation and pass the risks and the consequences on to us. It means that wages, not debt, drives the economy.

Read the whole thing.