Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Tax Breaks That Ate America"

Michael Lind had a great piece in Salon this week proving "The greatest threat to the U.S. economy is not creeping socialism. It's creeping subsidism."

Here's the latest bold new idea for reconciling the costs of national defense with the need to avoid adding to federal deficits or raising taxes. A bipartisan coalition of "New Democrats" and moderate Republicans has proposed buying weapons for the U.S. military through the IRS rather than the Pentagon. Here's how it would work. Instead of being paid to deliver planes, missiles and tanks, defense contractors would receive "weapon supply tax credits" (WSTC). The defense contractors would be able to reduce the taxes they owed the federal government by the prices of the weapons they delivered. Because the tax credit would be refundable, if the prices exceeded a firm's annual tax liability, the IRS would send a check to the firm in the amount of the difference. In this way, the federal government could finance a massive military buildup -- and because tax credits aren't counted as part of the federal budget, for official purposes the cost of the buildup would be zero!

I had you going there for a minute, didn't I? The "weapons supply tax credit" is a joke. It was proposed some years ago by the late David Bradford, a Princeton economist who worked in the Ford and George H.W. Bush administrations. Bradford's purpose was to ridicule the growing reliance of Congresses and presidents on tax credits and other so-called tax expenditures as an alternative to ordinary spending programs funded by ordinary taxes.

No, he's not just talking about the subsidies for oil drilling and the domestic yacht industry; he's talking about the home mortgage deduction and credits for employers who offer health insurance and even the Earned Income Tax Credit.

EITC functioning as a refundable tax credit gets it past the no-welfare wingnuts in Congress, but it enables the same wingnuts to continue to oppose genuine social welfare programs.

The political scientist Christopher Howard calls the tax expenditure system the "hidden welfare state." It might just as well be called the Blob That Ate the Economy. If only non-business subsidies to individuals are counted, the IRS-administered subsidy sector costs around $800 billion a year. That's about 6 percent of U.S. GDP, or about a fifth of the total official expenditure of the federal, state and local governments combined.


Social democrats and reasonable libertarians might consider uniting in a grand alliance against the bloated subsidy sector. As a rule, public goods should be provided by the government and private goods by the private sector, with a small contribution from a modest nonprofit sector. Most of the 6 percent or so of GDP that is now converted into the dark matter of tax expenditures needs to be divided between a restored public sector and a restored private sector -- with a rebuilt border between them. The principled left and the principled right can argue about where the border between the public sector and the private sector should be. But at least they can agree that there should be a border, and that the no man's land of the subsidy sector needs to be erased from the map.

Read the whole thing.

"No More Subsidies!" Snappy, easy to remember, fits on a bumper sticker.

They Don't Make Anti-Fascists Like This Anymore

Once upon a time, Americans opposed to fascism didn't spout racist hatred into a microphone while masturbating furiously under the desk.

Seventy-three years ago, Americans opposed to fascism put their bodies in the line of fire to protect Democracy.

Clarence Kailin, a son of the Midwest whose lifelong commitment to social and economic justice led him to become one of the first Americans to take up arms against the fascist forces that swept across Europe in the years before World War II, has died at age 95.

Kailin was one of the last survivors of the 2,800 American volunteers who fought from 1936 to 1939 as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in defense of the elected Spanish government against a coup engineered by Generalissimo Francisco Franco with the backing of Germany's Adolf Hitler and Italy's Benito Mussolini. His role in "the good fight" of the international volunteers -- as it was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway and W.H. Auden -- gave Kailin, a scrawny kid from Madison, Wisconsin's multi-ethnic Greenbush neighborhood, a place in an essential chapter of 20th century history.


Quick-witted and passionate to the last, Kailin laughed with his friend and comrade Bob Kimbrough -- as only old socialists could -- at the notion that a centrist Democrat from Chicago named Barack Obama was somehow turning the United States hard to the left. "If only Obama was a socialist!" Kailin mused. "But, you know, real change never comes from the top. It comes when people get organized and decide that they're going to make the change happen – no matter who the leaders are."

That was not just rhetoric. Kailin lived his politics.


It would have been easy for Kailin to rest on his laurels on that sunny Sunday in 1999. Instead, he reminded everyone that "they shouldn't see this as a memorial to old soldiers. They should see it as a reminder that the struggle we joined in Spain, the struggle for economic and social justice, goes on. We're still a part of it."

That was how Clarence Kailin saw himself, as a part of a movement for economic and social justice that began before his birth and that will extend beyond his death. But what a remarkable part he played.

The great Spanish radical Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria, told the international brigades as they withdrew from Spain late in 1938: "You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of the solidarity and the universality of democracy."

Those words, uttered more than 70 years ago, when Clarence Kailin was a young idealist fighting fascism in Spain, were the ones he chose to emblazon on the monument to the Wisconsin volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade. They remain his most fitting epitaph.
Read the whole thing. It's a genuine American adventure story.

172 New Real Americans

Americans don't get any more real than the 172 people from 59 countries who were sworn in as brand-new citizens in Louisville yesterday.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward H. Johnstone, who presided over the ceremony, told participants that naturalization ceremonies usually take place in federal courtrooms where those standing before him usually look serious and frightened.

“But here today is different because when I look out and see the spectators and participants in this ceremony I see nothing but smiles and happy people,” he said. “This is such a good day.”

Later, Johnstone led the candidates in taking the oath, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. He also shared with them that he, like them, was born outside of the United States in Brazil. “Now, however, all of us are citizens of the same country,” he said.

Read the whole thing.

See more pictures here.

Don't Settle for Health Care Reform Bills Yet

Strong progressive voices are coming down both for and against the compromise health care reform legislation. (No, President Obama is not a "strong progressive voice." Where he's strong he's not progressive and where he's progressive he's not strong. And he has yet to come down anywhere on health care reform.)

I think we still have room to get a stronger final bill than either the Senate or House bills, so I strongly urge you to keep calling and writing your Congress critter and the White House demanding a stronger public option. Just to goose them, you might mention that you really want single-payer, and that a much stronger public option is the bare minimum you'll accept.

In the meantime, here are the views from some voices I respect.

The Nation sees trillions of dollars in giveaways to drug companies and insurers in return for pennies in savings, and won't accept it.

The public option was always a compromise for serious supporters of health-care reform, who -- like Barack Obama when he was running for the Senate in 2003 -- knew that a single-payer "Medicare for All" system was what America needed to provide health care to everyone while controlling costs.

But, in the reform legislation debuted Thursday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the compromise was even more compromised than had been expected.


Reviewing the details of Pelosi's plan in a passionate speech on the House floor, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of the chamber's most ardent advocates for reform asked: "Is this the best we can do? Forcing people to buy private health insurance, guaranteeing at least $50 billion in new business for the insurance companies?

Kucinich continued:

Is this the best we can do? Government negotiates rates which will drive up insurance costs, but the government won't negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies which will drive up pharmaceutical costs.

Is this the best we can do? Only 3 percent of Americans will go to a new public plan, while currently 33 percent of Americans are either uninsured or underinsured?
Is this the best we can do? Eliminating the state single payer option, while forcing most people to buy private insurance.

If this is the best we can do, then our best isn't good enough and we have to ask some hard questions about our political system: such as Health Care or Insurance Care? Government of the people or a government of the corporations.

Read the whole thing.

Paul Krugman, whose record of being always right rivals Bill Kristol's of being always wrong, urges action now before the reform window closes.

For this is the moment of truth. The political environment is as favorable for reform as it’s likely to get. The legislation on the table isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as anyone could reasonably have expected. History is about to be made — and everyone has to decide which side they’re on.

Read the whole thing.

Even Howard Dean, the father of post-Clinton health care reform who has been pushing for single-payer for years, says he'd vote for the current House bill.

I'll give the last word to Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars:

Look, I want single-payer, too. But this bill has a lot of things in it that will quickly offer substantial relief, and I'm not joining the wholesale condemnation.


The bill keeps kids on their parents' insurance until age 27, there's a temporary insurance pool until the public option is operable, extension of COBRA benefits (still looking for details), steps to close the Medicare doughnut hole, a ban on lifetime coverage limits, and the end of rescissions, except in case of fraud. It also expands Medicaid.

The bill also adds a voluntary long-term care program (and if your parents have seen their insurance carriers crash and burn this year, you know what a blessing this will be). It also funds a temporary reinsurance program that subsidizes employers offering health benefits for retirees aged 55-64.


In a bill this complex and controversial, there are, of course, things that will make us swallow hard. From what I'm hearing so far, the subsidies are inadequate. As soon as I have concrete numbers, I'll put them up.

I'd say the subsidies are the single most productive focus for the netroots. Call your congress critter, tell him or her (or it) that the subsidies must be adequate - or else.

And if they say they have to respect the ceiling President Obama asked for, ask them why it doesn't bother them when they have to pay for wars - only health care. Tell them you will not pay more money for less coverage, that this is a deal-breaker for Democratic voters.

Send them a strong message.

Read the whole thing.

Then get cracking:

Call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

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

Friday, October 30, 2009

Health Care Reform Booby Trap Number 3

Several bloggers have discussed this, but none as concisely as the Rude Pundit. (Rated PG)

The amendment passed the Energy and Commerce Committee and was included in the final bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced yesterday. And it does, indeed, explicitly ban federal funds from being used for abortions, except as the Hyde Amendment allows.

So, of course, the pro-lifers all over the political map have declared that the bill is "mandating abortion services."

See, the way that these anti-choice conservatives see it, even if no federal tax dollars are ever used for abortion, the simple fact that any of the plans in the exchange cover abortion means that federal funds would be used for, say, colds and cancer and paper clips, thus evilly freeing up other money to be used for abortions. Or, as an amendment pro-life Democrats, led by Michigan's Bart Stupak, are demanding be voted on in the House says, no federal funds may be used "to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion" except in cases of the trio mentioned above. And that goes even if one plan out of, say, a dozen in the exchange covers abortion.

You got that? Even though tax money can't be used for abortions, the right is gonna say it's being used indirectly for abortions, thus it's being used for abortions. It's like saying that if you and your buddy go to a strip club and he decides to get a lap dance, his girlfriend says it's your fault he came home with sticky pants.

In the next week, this is where the battle is gonna be. Sure, a lot is gonna be made about the price tag, but that'll fade, as will the stupidity over the actual, physical size of the bill. But, you know, we're an idiotic nation that has a juvenile discomfort with women's bodies and the rights that we can't seem to understand are settled law.

Read the whole thing.

The bill also fails to mandate coverage for contraceptives and other reproductive services for women, although you can bet your ass it requires coverage for Viagra and its imitators. The bill continues to guarantee unconscionable windfall profits for Big Pharma on breast cancer drugs. And it falls short of completely eliminating the premium surcharge paid by half the population.

Starting to see a pattern here? Shame on you, Nancy Pelosi.

Unemployed? Mitch McConnell Says Tough Shit

Senate repugs are stopping Democrats from extending unemployment benefits for people run over by the Great Recession.

For decades, extending unemployment benefits has been a bipartisan achievement, mostly because there is no downside. It saves people from destitution, allows workers to survive until the job market improves, injects needed cash into the economy, and pleases voters.

But Mitchie-poo's minions are so bound and determined to stop President Obama and the Democratic Congress from doing anything at all that they're willing to ruin American families - more than 7,000 that lose benefits every month.

Wonkette isn't amused:

Now that the New American Economy’s only path to profitability hinges on major corporations slashing as many salaries as possible, it would be nice of the government to extend unemployment benefits a little longer for starving permanently unemployed people who will probably die soon. (7,000 new ones a day!) A few Dems introduced a simple bill to do just that a few weeks ago. It hasn’t passed, though, because the Republicans attached numerous, unrelated amendments that more or less heckle ACORN and Mexicans for existing in White America.

Jon Kyl doesn’t understand — well, he does, but pretends he doesn’t — that unemployment benefits for every human do not all start on one day and end on another. Not everyone lost his or her job on the exact same day. Too bad, because that would do much to simplify things!

Moments ago, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) took to the chamber floor with a strange claim about the urgency surrounding legislation to extend unemployment insurance.

“The benefits haven’t run out yet,” Kyl said. “We’re going to pass this before the benefits run out.”

It’s tough to decipher exactly what he means. Roughly 400,000 folks exhausted their federal unemployment benefits in September, with another 200,000 projected to do the same by the end of October, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. By the end of the year, NELP estimates that 1.3 million Americans will have exhausted their benefits unless Congress steps in with an extension. Each day the Senate dallies, another 7,000 people go off the rolls.

The Republican amendments include at least two provisions related to ACORN; one related to the E-Verify program; one to pay for the UI benefits with unspent stimulus money; and one providing tax relief.

Hooray for the existence of “easy rules to circumvent some random racist amendments” in the Senate! Hey, unemployed welfare losers: just eat your own poops for a few weeks, there are IMPORTANT CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES about like ACORN to work out here. There is no margin for error.

Also, nice work with the enabling, Democrats. Remember last month or whenever, when the vast majority of you immediately caved to conservative demands to strip ACORN of funding after some wacky racist Andrew Breitbart video showed up on YouTube? Did you think that would somehow not encourage the GOP to be even more annoying about ACORN, seeing that it worked at first?

Digy wants to know how the repugs sleep at night:

I've been writing about this for the past two weeks and I can't believe it's still going on. They just don't give a damn about actual human beings. And neither do the village media who never seem to find room to mention this atrocity. (Maybe the Democrats could get it passed if they told the Republicans they were giving the benefit to fetuses.)

I don't know about you, but I've needed extended unemployment in my life, back in the 1981 recession. When you are desperately looking for a job and you can't find one, and then your unemployment runs out, you are on the verge of panic. It's a very scary position to be in. And these jackass Republicans are holding up this vital lifeline over some political bullshit that even the teabaggers have long since lost interest in. Some things you just don't screw around with in an economy like this and unemployment insurance is one of them. It's a crime and they are going to go to hell for it.

More from Digby:

I guess Kyl thinks these lazy bastards should just tap into their trust funds. isn't that what everyone does?

And in case anyone doubts that the Republicans are holding a gun to the heads of the unemployed purely for political purposes, put them away:


If the Democrats want to help these unemployed people all they have to do is pass a bunch of bills declaring ACORN a communist organization and bashing immigrants and they can have it. They only have themselves to blame if the people suffer.


Yes, it's an inspiring thing to see "the minority" literally take the food out of people's mouths and then brag about it. Makes you proud to be an American.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) offered his own theory about why some lawmakers seem content to crawl toward passage of the unemployment benefits extension: they’ve simply been sheltered from the crisis.

“Not very many of our colleagues really know any unemployed workers,” Brown said. “We don’t spend our time with people who are really suffering.”

Hey, Kyl's manservant brought him a tepid cup of coffee this morning. Don't ever say he doesn't know about suffering.

I wish I knew why the Democrats weren't making a big deal out of this. I know they are dealing with health care, but they aren't going to get any Republicans on board, so there's no need to play nice nice and this issue illustrates the painful results of the Party of No strategy perfectly. If they are afraid of the ACORN stuff then they need to get a grip. Nobody even really knows what ACORN is, but hundreds of thousands of people are suffering due to no fault of their own. There are no jobs. These Republicans are playing Russian Roulette with their lives and the public should know about it. It's a perfect depiction of everything disgusting about the conservative philosophy.

There are no jobs. Wall Street is recovering, but only by eliminating jobs. There are no jobs. And the repugs think that's just fine.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Opponents of Public Option Flunk Math

Just like they flunk science, and history, and health, and civics, and public speaking, and playground etiquette ....

Scarecrow at Firedoglake explains:

CBO estimated that a Public Option available only to the uninsured, self-insured and small businesses (less than 20 employees) would have saved the federal budget $110 billion over ten years, if the PO paid health care providers at Medicare rates plus 5 percent. The savings would be only $25 billion if the PO were required to negotiate rates with providers. If Congress chooses negotiated rates, it raises budget costs by $85 billion for the limited access exchanges.

These saving would have arisen because with lower prices for public option insurance, and pressure on private insurers to lower their premiums or lose market share, there would have been less need for federal subsidies to achieve the same level of “affordability.” So the switch from Medicare+5% rates to negotiated rates means that premiums for everyone in the exchanges, both public and private plans, will be higher, whether you get a subsidy or not, and on top of that we’ll need $85 billion more in subsidies.


In other words, if the fiscal-deficit scolds were genuinely serious about reducing the cost of the reform bill, they would expand eligibility to public health care to a lot more people and forget about shielding private insurers from competition.

But then they’d be accused of creating a powerful argument for Medicare for all, and we can’t have that. Because as Joe Lieberman reminds us, those government entitlement programs just increase the deficits — uh, except when they lower them.

Read the whole thing.

And always remember that when Blue Dogs like Benny Boy Chandler talk about "fiscal responsibility," they're really talking about enriching their corporate donors at the expense of working families.

What You're Doing is Working, So Ramp It Up

There's a lot of world-is-ending hysteria out there about the public option clusterfuck in the Senate, and although I was set back on my heels there myself for a minute, I kept the worst of the doomsayers away from you, dear readers.

You're welcome.

And thank you. Because you got us to a point no one thought we'd ever even glimpse in the distance: on the verge of genuine, economy-saving, life-saving health care reform.

Oh, c’mon folks. If we’ve learned anything about Congress and health care reform, it’s that you can’t really believe anything they say in public. I just hope you’re convinced now that you can do amazing things. I don’t mean the impersonal ‘you’, as in ‘one can do anything’. You, I mean.

I really think you have the Senate on the run. You rattled Harry Reid, and enabled Chuck Schumer. Chuck doesn’t say much. When you hear he’s made a statement, that means he wants you to know something about the reality of the situation. He said that a bill without a public option wasn’t worth a damn, and that was a public challenge to the other Democratic Senators. If they go up against a public option, they’re going up against Chuck Schumer, who’s going to be the next Majority Leader in the Senate. In effect, that’s what he is now. You heard him praising Harry Reid as a great vote-counter and an all-around jolly good fellow. This is someone asserting that’s he’s in a superior position, and it must be the way he’s acting in the private meetings. Result: Harry Reid has to prove to his herd of cats that he’s still in charge, so he’s acting in a way that shocks everyone. I believe they’ll end up passing a bill with some form of public option; didn’t Schumer say he could accept the opt-out version? That’s what it’ll be, then.


Whatever you’re doing, it’s working. They’re showing weakness, something they avoid at all costs. I claim to know more about politics than I really do, but I’m pretty certain of this: now is the right time to stomp. Do not let them get up off the floor. It’s not the time to thank anyone, not yet. Don’t try to analyze exactly what worked, just do more of it as soon as you possibly can. More ads, more petitions, more opinions, more threats, more demonstrations, more hyperbole, more.

Don’t you think the House is the place to pressure now? Repeatedly counting votes seems to be good, it’s helping. The so-called moderates are trapped by circumstances beyond their control, forced to actually do something that will significantly change society. Some of the Blue Dogs weeks ago made it publicly clear they’re going with Pelosi wherever she goes, but most of them are twisting and turning in an effort to save face, claim they can still say no, without actually saying so. They definitely want to avoid your personal attention, I’m convinced of that. Otherwise, they’d just say no, because it puts them in a better bargaining position.

Read the whole thing. Then get back on the attack.

Call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

Guess Who's a Definite No on the Public Option?

If you didn't yell "Cowardly Weasel Benny Boy Chandler!" before you even finished reading the headline, obviously you're new here.

Now that Senate BLue Dogs have stabbed the public option in the back, it's up to House Democratic members to save health care reform. Down whit Tyranny explains:

Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn says there are 47 hard no votes among conservative Democrats as well as 8 more leaning in that direction (55 in all). There are 256 Democrats-- so 201 after the 55 who have announced they will be crossing the aisle to vote with the Republicans against meaningful health care reform. Far be from me to second-guess Clyburn's numbers but another good source has given me a list of the hard no votes and the undecided votes. First the 43 for sure no votes:


Ben Chandler (Blue Dog-KY-06)Travis Childers (Blue Dog-MS-01)


If any of these are your congressmembers, it's worth calling their offices and telling them how important this vote is to you and your family.

Call or email Blue Dog DINO Ben "I hate working people" Chandler:

Phone: (202) 225-4706
Fax: (202) 225-2122

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

AfPak Clusterfuck Merges With Drug War Clusterfuck

Remember how just when we thought things couldn't possibly get worse it Iraq, they did? We can't forget, because it's happening in Afghanistan, too, as Digby notes:

A couple of bad helicopter crashes in Afghanistan today make this one of the worst single days of the war there. I was interested to hear that DEA agents were among those killed because their involvement was controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which was this:

As the Obama administration ramps up the Drug Enforcement Administration's presence in Afghanistan, some special-agent pilots contend that they're being illegally forced to go to a combat zone, while others who've volunteered say they're not being properly equipped.

In interviews with McClatchy, more than a dozen DEA agents describe a badly managed system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors.


Both men have flown for the DEA in Latin American countries wracked by drug violence, but they say service in a combat zone should be treated as voluntary because they're not military personnel.

"You could say that the war on drugs is dangerous," said Beavers, a DEA pilot for more than 20 years. "But it's not quite like Afghanistan, where you can get your legs blown off by an (improvised explosive device)."

One wonders if these DEA agents who were killed today were among those who were "drafted" into Afghanistan.

It seems that our two abstract, endless Orwellian wars --- the War on Drugs and the War on Terror --- have officially merged. And the complications stemming from that decision are going to be immense. What are we fighting for again?

And the Vietnam parallels just keep coming.

Health Care Reform Booby-Trap Number 2

Regardless of the ultimate fate of the again-endangered public option, the rest of the health care reform bill contains other booby traps that need attention.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake discusses the consequences of allowing Big Pharma to keep making obscene, windfall profits off life-saving drugs.

The public option has received the lion’s share of attention in the health care debate, but there is an equally important one relating to generic drugs that could mean the lifesaving drugs of the future remain too expensive for all but the wealthy.

Biologics are drugs made from living organisms, and they are considered the miracle drugs of the future. They are the new “blockbuster” drugs for the pharmaceutical industry. Herceptin, for breast cancer, costs $48,000 a year, and many insurance companies won’t cover it — or people quickly hit their limits and must pay for it out-of-pocket or go without.


Pharmaceutical companies are trying to use healthcare reform to make sure these drugs never become “generics,” and thus stay extremely profitable. No surprise there.
But young medical and public health students across the country feel their hands are being tied as healers of the future, and they are coming out in protest.


Laura Musselwhite, a medical student at Duke University and a member of the American Medical Students Association, writes:

Earlier this year, as a medical student at Duke University, I saw a patient with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory intestinal disease associated with substantial disability and mortality that affects more than 500,000 individuals nationwide. This patient required hospitalization for a flare that she attributed to not being able to afford the month’s Humira, a biologic medicine used to treat severe, active Crohn’s disease.

The drug is priced by Abbott Laboratories at a staggering $22,000 a year. This patient would clearly have benefited from the availability of an affordable, generic version.


Current biologics proposals, as they stand, will undermine one of the primary objectives of health-care reform — to limit costs — by in many instances creating almost indefinite monopolies. This will cost billions of dollars and more important, will leave expensive medicines unaffordable to the vast majority of Americans.

That’s just wrong. And POP will be joining with these students to help them fight for affordable drug prices. They shouldn’t have their hands tied by protectionist legislation that puts corporate profits over access to health care.

Read the whole thing.

Call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Listen to the Screams"

Do you think seven years of our political leaders hysterically defending torture as the only way to keep us safe might have something to do with the incidence of police brutality skyrocketing to Bull Connor levels?

A cell phone video shows San Jose police officers repeatedly using batons and a Taser gun on an unarmed San Jose State student, including at least one baton strike that appears to come after the man is handcuffed, as they took him into custody inside his home last month.

The video, made by one of the student's roommates without the knowledge of police, shows that force was used even though the suspect was on the ground, and apparently offering no physical threat to the officers. Several experts in police force said the video appears to document excessive — and possibly illegal — force by the officers. A police spokesman Friday said the department had opened a criminal investigation of the officers' conduct, after police officials viewed a copy of the recording.

The confrontation arose as Phuong Ho, a 20-year-old math major from Ho Chi Minh City, was arrested on suspicion of assaulting another of his roommates. He faces pending misdemeanor charges of exhibiting a deadly weapon and resisting arrest. Ho admits picking up a knife as he argued with a roommate. He was not armed when police arrived.


Among the issues noted by the outside experts:

# Ho remains on the ground, moaning and crying, as he is repeatedly struck. He does not appear to offer significant resistance, suggesting the high level of force is not necessary.

# The officer most visible in the sequence stands for much of the time in a casual posture, at one point with his legs crossed. He seems to show no concern that the situation is potentially dangerous — raising additional questions about why force was being used.

# The final baton strike appears to occur after the handcuffs can be heard snapping onto Ho's wrists. That particularly troubled several outside experts.

Read the whole thing. Watch the video if you can stomach it - I couldn't.

Think it can't happen to you? Police everywhere now use excessive force routinely and automatically to punish anyone who so much as looks at them cross-eyed. President Smirky/Darth itself told them that only pre-emptive, overwhelming force can prevent catastrophe. American law enforcement is not about enforcing the law anymore; it's about torturing into screaming agony any miscreant, any suspect, any bystander.

They Shoot Traitors, Don't They?

Or they should have, back in 2006, when Traitor Joe Lieberman defied the Democratic Party to run as an independent against the duly-elected Democratic Party nominee.

Since then he's done nothing but fuck over the Democratic Party and the nation at every opportunity. Besides voting with the repugs to support Smirky Darth on the Iraq Clusterfuck, on torture, on secrecy, on illegal wiretapping, on tax cuts for the rich, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum, Lieberman - wait for it - endorsed and campaigned for the repug nominee for President.

So I'd ordinarily be chortling and yelling "I told you so!" to the Senate Democratic "leadership" and President Obama, who thought it was soooooo clever to reward Traitor Joe with exactly the committee chairmanship he wanted. I would, if Traitor Joe's latest betrayal weren't threatening to literally destroy the country.

This isn't a fucking game. This is the last - the LAST - chance to rescue an economy that cannot survive without substantial national health care reform.

On Monday, before Harry Reid announced a deal on a public option that was promptly ruined by Traitor Joe's betrayal, Robert Reich explained why a strong public option - rather than the "trigger" the Senate is now likely to "compromise" on - is so essential.

Reich's call to "redouble our efforts" is even more critical now.

Call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

And click here to sign this petition:

PETITION TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: "Every day, insurance companies deny care and let people die. Getting one Republican senator's vote is not worth delaying reform -- too many real lives are at stake. We need you to fight and state clearly that anything less than a strong public option is not change we can believe in."

President Obama and Senate Democrats thought we would be satisfied with just the announcement of a strong public option they knew goddamn good and well they would dump after it had distracted everyone from the real deal.

They're willing to sacrifice the economy, the lives of 45,000 Americans every year and Democratic control of Congress and the White House for a generation in order to get a worthless piece of shit they can claim as a victory.


This would be a very, very, very big mistake on Reid's part. Ezra writes today about how much liberals have already compromised and it's kind of stomach churning to see it all laid out. (Considering how much shit we've taken for being "unreasonable" and how every villager has spent the last few months opining how terrific it was that the Democrats were slapping their liberal base in the face, I suppose we're lucky that they haven't decided to allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on voting record.) Doing something cute like that would unleash a firestorm. Opt-out is only being accepted as a way to get the public option into the conference with the (slim) hope that they can get something better. Opt-in isn't the same thing and unlike the Villagers, we know it. Reid and the President will get no credit if they do this. None. Indeed, it will be seen as a betrayal of the highest order.

If the plan here is to placate the base, dangling the half baked opt-out compromise and getting liberals to sign on, then pulling it back in favor of some cute "sound alike," it would be so insulting I think they might just blow the whole thing up. It would take a lot to get liberals to vote against a health care bill, but if they want to test it, treating them like idiots might be a way to do it.

But we're not as stupid as they think we are. The strong public option they've already thrown overboard is the MINIMUM we'll accept.

Tell them so.

Health Care Reform Booby Trap Number 1

Called to our attention by Crooks and Liars:

Unfortunately, there's still one big elephant in the reform room: There are no restrictions on increases based on age. Unless something changes drastically in the final version of the bill (and if you don't call your congress critter, it definitely won't), this is a giant shell game in which health insurers will get their profits from one new underwriting emphasis rather than another.

Top Senate Democrats are close to finalizing their health bill and could unveil a measure as soon as early this week that would include stiffer penalties on employers who fail to provide health coverage.

Senate leaders plan to submit the bill to the Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate as soon as Monday, and make the legislation public as soon as Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Details of the legislation could change, but its broad outlines are becoming clear. Employers with more than 50 workers wouldn't be required to provide health insurance, but they would face fines of up to $750 per employee if even part of their work force received a government subsidy to buy health insurance, this person said. A bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee had a lower fine of up to $400 per employee.

The bill to be brought to the Senate floor would create a new public health-insurance plan, but would give states the choice of opting out of participating in it, a proposal that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada backed last week.

The bill is expected to expand health coverage to tens of millions of Americans by giving low- and middle-income Americans subsidies to offset the cost of insurance, and expanding the Medicaid federal-state insurance program to cover a broader swath of the poor. Most people would be required to buy insurance or pay a fine, though exceptions would be made for those deemed unable to afford it.

Also expected are new rules on insurers to prevent them from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions and from dropping customers' insurance once they become ill.

No, no, my dear, we're not tripling your premium and slashing your lifetime maximum because you had the lack of personal responsibility to get cancer. We're doing it because you had the bad judgement to live to age 50.

Never, ever, underestimate the ability - nay, eagerness - of corporate motherfuckers to find a way to fuck over their customers.

Age is the first health care reform loophole to be exposed, but it won't be the last.

Call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

AfPak Clusterfuck Merges with Drug War Clusterfuck

Remember how just when we thought things couldn't possibly get worse it Iraq, they did? We can't forget, because it's happening in Afghanistan, too, as Digby notes:

A couple of bad helicopter crashes in Afghanistan today make this one of the worst single days of the war there. I was interested to hear that DEA agents were among those killed because their involvement was controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which was this:

As the Obama administration ramps up the Drug Enforcement Administration's presence in Afghanistan, some special-agent pilots contend that they're being illegally forced to go to a combat zone, while others who've volunteered say they're not being properly equipped.

In interviews with McClatchy, more than a dozen DEA agents describe a badly managed system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors.


Both men have flown for the DEA in Latin American countries wracked by drug violence, but they say service in a combat zone should be treated as voluntary because they're not military personnel.

"You could say that the war on drugs is dangerous," said Beavers, a DEA pilot for more than 20 years. "But it's not quite like Afghanistan, where you can get your legs blown off by an (improvised explosive device)."

One wonders if these DEA agents who were killed today were among those who were "drafted" into Afghanistan.

It seems that our two abstract, endless Orwellian wars --- the War on Drugs and the War on Terror --- have officially merged. And the complications stemming from that decision are going to be immense. What are we fighting for again?

And the Vietnam parallels just keep coming.

Did Alan Grayson cross the line?

No, he shouldn't have called her a "K Street whore."

He should have called her a "Wall Street cock-sucking K Street whore." And her boss a "finance industry goat-fucker."

Apparently, sounding like a foul-mouthed blogger is bad for Congressmen.

Republicans and Democrats slammed Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) for calling Linda Robertson, an adviser to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, a “K Street whore” in a month-old radio interview that circulated on Capitol Hill Monday night.

“There’s no call for that language. No call for it. That’s absurd. If he was standing here now, I’d say that to him,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.)

“He’s out of control,” added Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.

The remarks are the latest to surface in a string of controversial statements by Grayson, who said on the Alex Jones radio show that he believes Robertson, a former Enron lobbyist, is not qualified to pass judgment on intricate financial matters.

It’s clear that his colleagues’ opinion of him has suffered.

“Is this news to you that this guy’s one fry short of a Happy Meal?” asked Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)

I don't see what the big deal is. Just because one has a conflict of interest between financial lobbyists and the Fed doesn't make you a prostitute, but...well, that doesn't mean there's not a financial arrangement to screw people, ya dig? Think it's less of the insult and more of, well, he was kinda being truthful.

Little disappointed in Anthony Weiner of NY though, he and Grayson really should be on the same side and Blues Brother-ing their way through Congress.

If you're not reading Zandar vs The Stupid every day, start now.

"So completely bass-ackwards that it's almost comical"

Alan Grayson on the Obama administration's futile search for repug support in Congress? Keith Olbermann on Darth Cheney's ludicrous defense of torture? Here's a clue: that quote comes from Robert Dreyfuss's interview with Christine Fair, Rand Corporation expert on Af-Pak terrorism.

FAIR: I don't think (the Taliban) are our preeminent national security concern. The Taliban are a bunch of hillbillies. They are a parochial, territorial insurgency. Despite all of the hullaballoo, they don't really have an international agenda.

These guys are focused on Afghanistan, period. Our concerns are Al Qaeda. And there are more Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, and there are more international terrorist groups operating in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. A vast majority of these international terrorist conspiracies that have been busted in Europe and the U.K., their footprints are in Pakistan. Obviously, Jaish-e Muhammad, Lashkar-e Taiba, the list goes on and on and on. These guys are all in Pakistan. And Pakistan has been using militant groups for six decades as part of their policy. …

So I would argue that we've got this so completely bass-ackwards that it's almost comical! We've got these troops in Afghanistan, so we've got to placate Pakistan, cajole it, make it feel important, throw money at it, because we need Pakistan to support the logistics. So we have this narrative that says, to stabilize Afghanistan we need to get Pakistan's support. Stabilizing Afghanistan's not the goal. Quite the contrary. We need to be in a different place in Afghanistan so we can play hardball with the Pakistanis. So the idea is, we have to stabilize Afghanistan, so we need to get Pakistan and all these other clowns on board? That's not our objective. Our objective is to wrap up international terrorism, limit our exposure to it, and to preclude a nuclear exchange on the Indian subcontinent, and to preclude nuclear proliferation. And all of the return addresses for those problems are right there in Pakistan. And because of our position in Afghanistan, we are so adversely positioned to deal with Pakistan.

Q. So, what do you think we should do?

FAIR: I think we should do what's currently being discussed, which is: realize we can't win the counterinsurgency, because it's not ours to win. Foreigners don't win at counterinsurgency, locals do. And locals are not going to win this, because this local government is just so sub-optimal! Bad government is worse than no government at all. We can keep building the Afghan army, the police – but they can't ever pay for it. They can't pay for their own election! How are they going to pay for an army?

I think we should go ahead, keep throwing resources at training, try to set up some trust fund to pay for this when it stabilizes, but really get our troops out of kinetics. The more troops we have killing people, the harder it is. Everyone blames us for everything. When the Taliban kills civilians we get blamed, because without us there would be no insurgents. When we kill civilians, the Taliban of course exaggerates the numbers and says that we killed women and children going to the mosque, or whatever, whatever makes us look really bad. We get blamed for propping up this corrupt government. So I think we should be scaling back the COIN effort, recognizing that it's not winnable. … Rather than sending our men and women to their doom, we should be asking questions. What is the alternative to COIN? Take for granted that we're going to lose the COIN. How do we secure ourselves against Al Qaeda?

Q. But is Al Qaeda such a big threat?

FAIR: "I'm with you. This has been a fake argument."

Read the whole thing. Then read The Nation's special issue on Obama's Fateful Choice in Afghanistan.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Find the Right Superstition for You

Via grrlscientist at

Obviously anti-pirate, anti-pasta bigots.

McConnell Playing the Steve Nunn Gambit

Our good friend Blue Girl nails what's really driving the obsessive obstructionism of Mitch McConnell's minions.

The republican minority in the Senate has gone completely off the rails.

Apparently, they actually believed Karl Rove's crap about a "permanent republican majority" and now that they no longer have the White House and have not merely lost their majorities in both chambers of Congress, but by margins that ought to render them utterly irrelevant to the process, they have, quite simply, lost their fucking minds.

They seem to be like the jealous stalker ex who can't let go and move on and reflect inward on why, exactly, she (the nation) wants nothing more to do with them. Like the stalker ex boyfriend, they 'll have their revenge. If the bitch won't see reason and take them back, they'd just as soon kill her so she can't find happiness elsewhere.
(emphasis added)

Read the whole thing.

Just to be clear, the "bitch" the repugs are trying to kill? That would be us. You and me. The American people.

Help Small Business With A Strong Public Option

Yes, Mr. President, small businesses do desperately need health care reform, but the last thing they need is the DEform that saboteur Olympia Snow demands. Stop kow-towing to the repugs and Blue Dogs, Mr. President - demand Congress pass a strong public option. No trigger, no opt-out, no booby traps. Just real health care reform that will revitalize small business.

Read the full transcript here.

Call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Worst Yet to Come: Nothing But Bad News For State Budget

One of the many frustrations of state government work is the inability of most people to realize, much less appreciate, how much state government does to make their lives easier every day. Even services provided by your city or county government are supported with funding from state tax dollars.

But we're about to find out just how much we get from the state budget - after it gets slashed down to nothing next year.

Tom Loftus has the bad news:

With no economic recovery in sight and federal stimulus money dwindling, the budget that the 2010 General Assembly must write early next year is likely to be the most difficult in decades.

In recent years — as revenue failed to meet projections — Kentucky has used its Rainy Day fund and the stimulus money to avoid mass layoffs of state workers and deep funding cuts for its highest priorities, including the public schools.

But now the Rainy Day Fund is empty. And federal stimulus dollars are scheduled to run dry in the middle of the next fiscal year.

“It's most definitely the worst budgetary outlook I've ever seen,” said State Budget Director Mary Lassiter, who has worked in the budget office for 27 years. “The outlook is a lot worse than it was two years ago.”


Revenues to the state General Fund are projected to fall more than $1 billion short (about 12 percent) of the roughly $9 billion required in the 2009-10 budget as enacted by the 2008 General Assembly.

Beshear and lawmakers are using $787 million in stimulus dollars to help fill that hole.

But only about $485 million in stimulus funds will be available to Kentucky in 2010-11 — and none at all in 2011-12.

State tax revenues — which have shrunk the last two years — are expected to begin growing again next year, but not nearly fast enough to plug the gap when stimulus funds end.

Meanwhile, the state's failure over years to deal with the consequences of budget cuts to essential services is starting to present overdue bills.

There already are signs of how high that price may be: the state court system last month laid off 47 workers and warned that more layoffs are possible; legislators complained last week that a 2007 law to protect the safety of social workers isn't being fully funded; and House Speaker Greg Stumbo said reserve funds held by local school districts may have to be tapped to supplement state revenues.

Read the whole thing.

Do I really need to say that our political so-called leaders have no intention of using this crisis to seek long-term solutions? Like tax reform?

No, you can rest assured that rich individuals and corporations will continue to get a free ride in this state on the backs of the poor, low-income, middle-class and small businesses.

And be sure to thank your repug and Blue Dog Senators and Representatives, who demanded that hundreds of billions of dollars to support state budgets were stripped from the stimulus bill last February. Yeah, that's working like a charm.

The only question is how long it will take before the complete gutting of public services - highways, schools, police, firefighting, water treatment, food safety, electricity infrastructure, ad infinitum - empties the state of the few people who still have the resources to pack up and leave.

Free Speech = Blasphemy

Because if it doesn't offend somebody, what's the point? If speech never offends anyone, you don't need guarantees to protect it. But if speech is restricted to only that which doesn't offends someone, it's not free.

So whatever you consider sacred, from your invisible sky wizard to images of your prophet to your ethnic history to your symbols of patriotism, I rhetorically spit on them. BLASPHEMY! Because I can. No matter what that mooslin commie terrist in the White House says.

It's very nice of Obama to have occasionally acknowledged the existence of freethinkers in his speeches, but it doesn't mean much when his administration endorses blasphemy laws.

The public and private curtailment on religious criticism threatens religious and secular speakers alike. However, the fear is that, when speech becomes sacrilegious, only the religious will have true free speech. It is a danger that has become all the more real after the decision of the Obama administration to join in the effort to craft a new faith-based speech standard. It is now up to Congress and the public to be heard before the world leaves free speech with little more than a hope and a prayer.

Free speech doesn't mean you only have the right to say things that the majority agrees upon — it is also the right of a minority to offend the majority. I don't know why that is so hard to get across to some people.

Jonathan Turley, the Constitutional Law expert who spent the Smirky/Darth maladministration repeatedly calling out the motherfuckers for violating the Constitution, turns his attention to President Obama's atttempts to do the same.

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping." The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism.


Thinly disguised blasphemy laws are often defended as necessary to protect the ideals of tolerance and pluralism. They ignore the fact that the laws achieve tolerance through the ultimate act of intolerance: criminalizing the ability of some individuals to denounce sacred or sensitive values. We do not need free speech to protect popular thoughts or popular people. It is designed to protect those who challenge the majority and its institutions. Criticism of religion is the very measure of the guarantee of free speech — the literal sacred institution of society.

And no, this is not confined to "backward" countries lacking a history of pluralism. This idiocy is rampant in the supposedly rational industrialized world.

• In Holland, Dutch prosecutors arrested cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot for insulting Christians and Muslims with cartoons, including one that caricatured a Christian fundamentalist and a Muslim fundamentalist as zombies who want to marry and attend gay rallies.

• In Canada, the Alberta human rights commission punished the Rev. Stephen Boission and the Concerned Christian Coalition for anti-gay speech, not only awarding damages but also censuring future speech that the commission deems inappropriate.

• In Italy, comedian Sabina Guzzanti was put under criminal investigation for joking at a rally that "in 20 years, the pope will be where he ought to be — in hell, tormented by great big poofter (gay) devils, and very active ones."

• In London, an aide to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was arrested for "inciting religious hatred" at his gym by shouting obscenities about Jews while watching news reports of Israel's bombardment of Gaza.Also, Dutch politician Geert Wilders was barred from entering Britain as a "threat to public policy, public security or public health" because he made a movie describing the Quran as a "fascist" book and Islam as a violent religion.

• In Poland, Catholic magazine Gosc Niedzielny was fined $11,000 for inciting "contempt, hostility and malice" by comparing the abortion of a woman to the medical experiments at Auschwitz.

How stupid can it get? This stupid:

Private companies and institutions are following suit in what could be seen as responding to the Egyptian-U.S. call for greater "responsibility" in controlling speech. For example, in an act of unprecedented cowardice and self-censorship, Yale University Press published The Cartoons That Shook the World, a book by Jytte Klausen on the original Mohammed cartoons. Yale, however, (over Klausen's objections) cut the actual pictures of the cartoons. It was akin to publishing a book on the Sistine Chapel while barring any images of the paintings.

The public and private curtailment on religious criticism threatens religious and secular speakers alike. However, the fear is that, when speech becomes sacrilegious, only the religious will have true free speech. It is a danger that has become all the more real after the decision of the Obama administration to join in the effort to craft a new faith-based speech standard. It is now up to Congress and the public to be heard before the world leaves free speech with little more than a hope and a prayer.

So, while I still have the right, allow me to say this, in First Amendment solidarity:

Fuck you, fuck your religion, fuck your ancestors, fuck your flag, and fuck your favorite sports team, too.

What's that you say? Please refrain from insulting you? Well, of course, since you ask me nicely, and since you would never dream of using government power to deny me the right to say something I can choose not to say.

To stop this abomination, call the President (202-456-1414), your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and your Senators (202-224-3121). Click here to send them each an email or a letter.

Have you blasphemed someone today?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

People Fleeing From Violence Are Not "Illegals"

As the descendant of criminals who fled to America from their homeland in order to avoid being executed for their crimes, I have a pretty broad definition of who should be counted among "legal" immigrants.

But your definition of acceptable reasons for coming to America doesn't have to be that broad to include people fleeing from political persecution and violence.

This story in the WSJ about Mexico's legal system is absolutely riveting. I have spent a lot of time down there and I honestly had no idea how bad it had become.

This tale centers around a documentary made by two American lawyers who covered the case of one young man. The film managed to right this particular wrong but there are tens of thousands of others who are caught up in the corrupt, incoherent Mexican legal system and it's just heartbreaking:

Antonio Zuñiga's life changed when he went for a walk on Dec. 12, 2005. As he crossed a busy Mexico City avenue, two burly cops grabbed him from behind and shoved him into a patrol car.

So began a nightmarish journey into Mexico's legal system that seems lifted from the pages of Franz Kafka. For nearly two days, the street vendor was held incommunicado and not told why he was arrested. His questions met with hostile stares from detectives, who would say "You know what you did." He says in an interview that he only learned of the charges after walking into a holding cell and being asked by a prisoner: "Are you the guy accused of murder?"

Mr. Zuñiga, then 26, was charged in the shooting death of a gang member from his neighborhood. Ballistic tests showed Mr. Zuñiga hadn't fired a gun. Dozens of witnesses saw him working at his market stall during the time of the murder, which took place several miles away. And he had never met the victim. Still, he was found guilty by a judge at trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Zuñiga's case is not unusual in Mexico. Crooked cops regularly solve cases by grabbing the first person they find, often along with a cooked-up story from someone claiming to be an eyewitness. Prosecutors and judges play along, eager to calm a growing public outcry over high crime rates and rising violence from Mexico's war on illicit drug gangs. In practice, suspects are often presumed guilty. More than 85% of those charged with a crime are sentenced, according to Mexico's top think tank, the Center for Investigation and Development, or CIDE.

Mr. Zuñiga's story has a twist. His plight attracted the attention of Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, a married pair of lawyers who are also graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley. The couple took on his case, won a retrial, and in a stroke of luck, convinced a Mexican official to let them film the ensuing trial, which lasted for more than a year.

The result is a 90-minute documentary called "Presumed Guilty" that offers a rare—and chilling—glimpse of Mexico's dysfunctional legal system.

Read on. It's astonishing.

The drug gangs are, of course, making it even worse. Our contribution to the problem, with drug consumption and guns is immense. Perhaps we should start looking at the illegal immigration issue more from the perspective of political asylum than economic refuge.

That our viciously racist and outdated immigration "laws" so stupidly restrict immigration from our own neighbors that they force desperate people to become technical criminals is inexcusable and redounds to our eternal shame.

How To Stop Tolerating Zero Tolerance

If you know a teacher, you've probably heard that person railing about the idiocy, the destructiveness, the danger of zero-tolerance policies. Everyone in teaching has a story about the good kid ruined by the cop who dragged her off to jail for offering a friend an aspirin.

But now a school in Georgia has proven a different way works better.

A startling case in point is the juvenile court system of Clayton County, Georgia, which was buckling to the point of collapse in 2004. In the mid-'90s, after police officers were placed in the schools, the number of kids charged with crimes jumped 600 percent. By 2003, it had jumped another 400 percent. The increase wasn't due to felonies--the cops were enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy against disorderly conduct or disruption.

Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske saw the problem. School police and probation officers could not do their jobs because the court was overloaded with minor cases that didn't belong there. "Technically, the behavior may be a crime," Teske said, using the example of a kid who gets into a fight to protect his sister. "But it shouldn't be, in the context of adolescent youth behavior."

So Teske brought together school officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, parents and heads of child-services programs. "I am telling you zero tolerance is not improving safety," he told them. Not everyone agreed. But it was obvious that too many kids were getting arrested. Teske proposed something rather ordinary: give kids warnings and a workshop on behavior before dragging them into court. The committee discussed it before a neutral arbiter.

Nine months later, Clayton County had a system that worked. As of 2008, the county had reduced the number of referrals by 68 percent, and in turn had seen another improvement: serious weapons charges were down 70 percent since 2004 (from sixty-three incidents to seventeen). Teske attributes the drop to the fact that officers are spending less time shuttling to court and more time gathering "intelligence" so future incidents can be avoided. Last year, instead of arresting a student who had gotten into a fight, Officer Robert Gardner talked to her. She spoke about a drug dealer's house two blocks from the school. The information led to a search, which yielded two AK-47s, two drums of ammunition, seven handguns, a shotgun, five pounds of pot and $7,000 in cash.

Everyone wants safe schools. But the Clayton model may prove that the best, most cost-effective way to neutralize violence is not by arresting kids. By paying attention to everyday circumstances, the potential for extraordinary tragedy is defused.


Maybe there's a lesson here. Paying attention to young people prevents day-to-day injustice. And young people who aren't treated like criminals are less likely to become them.

Read the whole thing.

Then send it to every teacher, every principal, every police officer and sheriff's deputy you know.

Why Do Davis, Rogers, Guthrie Hate Solar Power?

Here's a challenge for you: Name one positive, useful, small-d democratic - hell, American thing Kentucky's repug congressional delegation has ever voted for.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

The latest Good Thing That Repugs Hate is renewable energy research. Geoff Davis, Hal Rogers, and Brett Guthrie all voted Nay. This wasn't even a party-line vote: 63 republicans joined every single Democratic House member voting in favor, including Ed Whitfield, who represents far Western Kentucky despite actually living in Florida where the logic of solar power must have penetrated even his thick skull.

But back to the bill:

Yesterday the House voted, overwhelmingly, to pass H.R.3585, the Solar Technology Roadmap Act, which is meant to provide for U.S. research, development, and demonstration of solar energy technologies. With China-- as well as several other countries-- pulling way ahead of the U.S. in alternative energy development, you would think supporting this kind of legislation would be a no brainer. And, indeed every Democrat and 63 Republicans voted yes. It passed 310-106. The Republicans with no brains... well, generally speaking the Republicans sticking with their obstructionist leadership on this-- John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan all urged no votes-- were the dimmest lights in the House, knee-jerk anti-everything fanatics .... the real knuckle-dragging bottom of the barrel community; Limbaugh's crowd.

China is spending $221 billion of its $586 billion 2009 stimulus package on renewable energy and other clean technologies, and is poised to overtake Germany and Japan to become the world’s largest alternative energy producer. Another spur to development is a 2007 policy requiring large utilities to produce 3 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and 8 percent by 2020, excluding hydroelectric (20 percent by 2020 is proposed in the Clean Energy and Security Act). China’s five-year plan that starts in 2011 will include even higher standards and subsidies to support clean energy development.

Though aspects of it may violate the WTO, China has a coherent industrial policy to capture global leadership, while US initiatives are fragmented. China recognized that the real economic development potential in renewable energy is in manufacturing, which comprises 70 -75 percent of the jobs in solar, and now has more than 100 solar companies that account for one-third of global solar component production.

Speaker Pelosi points out that this legislation "lays the foundation for a future of renewable energy, sustainability, a growing economy, and good-paying jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. This bill helps improve the performance and reliability of solar technology, and invests in critical research and development initiatives that will redefine how we power our homes and offices. More solar technology means better energy security, more home-grown energy, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It returns the United States to the forefront of cutting-edge research and places the next generation of American workers on the frontlines of a clean energy future."

But what about clouds, you commie bitch? What about skin cancer? Renewable energy causes cancer! What about that, huh? Huh?

Be Subversive; Get Your Dirty Fucking Hippie On

Via Crooks and Liars, a list from Michael Moore of 15 things to do to Fight, Survive, and Force Change:

You want something to do? Well, you've come to the right place! 'Cause I got 15 things you and I can do right now to fight back and try to fix this very broken system.

Here they are:


1. Declare a moratorium on all home evictions. Not one more family should be thrown out of their home. The banks must adjust their monthly mortgage payments to be in line with what people's homes are now truly worth -- and what they can afford. Also, it must be stated by law: If you lose your job, you cannot be tossed out of your home.

2. Congress must join the civilized world and expand Medicare For All Americans. A single, nonprofit source must run a universal health care system that covers everyone. Medical bills are now the #1 cause of bankruptcies and evictions in this country. Medicare For All will end this misery. The bill to make this happen is called H.R. 3200. You must call AND write your members of Congress and demand its passage, no compromises allowed.

3. Demand publicly-funded elections and a prohibition on elected officials leaving office and becoming lobbyists. Yes, those very members of Congress who solicit and receive millions of dollars from wealthy interests must vote to remove ALL money from our electoral and legislative process. Tell your members of Congress they must support campaign finance bill H.R.1826.

4. Each of the 50 states must create a state-owned public bank like they have in North Dakota. Then congress MUST reinstate all the strict pre-Reagan regulations on all commercial banks, investment firms, insurance companies -- and all the other industries that have been savaged by deregulation: Airlines, the food industry, pharmaceutical companies -- you name it. If a company's primary motive to exist is to make a profit, then it needs a set of stringent rules to live by -- and the first rule is "Do no harm." The second rule: The question must always be asked -- "Is this for the common good?" (Click here for some info about the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.)

5. Save this fragile planet and declare that all the energy resources above and beneath the ground are owned collectively by all of us. Just like they do it in Sarah Palin's socialist Alaska. We only have a few decades of oil left. The public must be the owners and landlords of the natural resources and energy that exists within our borders or we will descend further into corporate anarchy. And when it comes to burning fossil fuels to transport ourselves, we must cease using the internal combustion engine and instruct our auto/transportation companies to rehire our skilled workforce and build mass transit (clean buses, light rail, subways, bullet trains, etc.) and new cars that don't contribute to climate change. Demand that General Motors' de facto chairman, Barack Obama, issue a JFK man-on-the-moon-style challenge to turn our country into a nation of trains and buses and subways. For Pete's sake, people, we were the ones who invented (or perfected) these damn things in the first place!!


1. Each of us must get into the daily habit of taking 5 minutes to make four brief calls: One to the President (202-456-1414), one to your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and one to each of your two Senators (202-224-3121). To find out who represents you, click here. Take just one minute on each of these calls to let them know how you expect them to vote on a particular issue. Let them know you will have no hesitation voting for a primary opponent -- or even a candidate from another party -- if they don't do our bidding. Trust me, they will listen. If you have another five minutes, click here to send them each an email. And if you really want to drop an anvil on them, send them a snail mail letter!

2. Take over your local Democratic Party. Remember how much fun you had with all those friends and neighbors working together to get Barack Obama elected? YOU DID THE IMPOSSIBLE. It's time to re-up! Get everyone back together and go to the monthly meeting of your town or county Democratic Party -- and become the majority that runs it! There will not be many in attendance and they will either be happy or in shock that you and the Obama Revolution have entered the room looking like you mean business. President Obama's agenda will never happen without mass grass roots action -- and he won't feel encouraged to do the right thing if no one has his back, whether it's to stand with him, or push him in the right direction. When you all become the local Democratic Party, send me a photo of the group - - and I'll post it on my website.

3. Recruit someone to run for office who can win in your local elections next year -- or, better yet, consider running for office yourself! You don't have to settle for the incumbent who always expects to win. You can be our next representative! Don't believe it can happen? Check out these examples of regular citizens who got elected: State Senator Deb Simpson, California State Assemblyman Isadore Hall, Tempe, Arizona City Councilman Corey Woods, Wisconsin State Assemblyman Chris Danou, and Washington State Representative Larry Seaquist. The list goes on and on -- and you should be on it!

4. Show up. Picket the local branch of a big bank that took the bailout money. Hold vigils and marches. Consider civil disobedience. Those town hall meetings are open to you, too (and there's more of us than there are of them!). Make some noise, have some fun, get on the local news. Place "Capitalism Did This" signs on empty foreclosed homes, closed down businesses, crumbling schools and infrastructure.

5. Start your own media. You. Just you (or you and a couple friends). The mainstream media is owned by corporate America and, with few exceptions, it will never tell the whole truth -- so you have to do it! Start a blog! Start a website of real local news. Tweet your friends and use Facebook to let them know what they need to do politically. The daily papers are dying. If you don't fill that void, who will?


1. Take your money out of your bank if it took bailout money and place it in a locally-owned bank or, preferably, a credit union.

2. Get rid of all your credit cards but one -- the kind where you have to pay up at the end of the month or you lose your card.

3. Do not invest in the stock market. If you have any extra cash, put it away in a savings account or, if you can, pay down on your mortgage so you can own your home as soon as possible. You can also buy very safe government savings bonds or T-bills. Or just buy your mother some flowers.

4. Unionize your workplace so that you and your coworkers have a say in how your business is run. Here's how to do it (more info here). Nothing is more American than democracy, and democracy shouldn't be checked at the door when you enter your workplace. Another way to Americanize your workplace is to turn your business into a worker-owned cooperative. You are not a wage slave. You are a free person, and you giving up eight hours of your life every day to someone else is to be properly compensated and respected.

5. Take care of yourself and your family. Sorry to go all Oprah on you, but she's right: Find a place of peace in your life and make the choice to be around people who are not full of negativity and cynicism. Look for those who nurture and love. Turn off the TV and the Blackberry and go for a 30-minute walk every day. Eat fruits and vegetables and cut down on anything that has sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour or too much sodium (salt) in it (and, as Michael Pollan says, "Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants"). Get seven hours of sleep each night and take the time to read a book a month. I know this sounds like I've turned into your grandma, but, dammit, take a good hard look at Granny -- she's fit, she's rested and she knows the names of both of her U.S. Senators without having to Google them. We might do well to listen to her. If we don't put our own "oxygen mask" on first (as they say on the airplane), we will be of no use to the rest of the nation in enacting any of this action plan!

I'm sure there are many other ideas you can come up with on how we can build this movement. Get creative. Think outside the politics-as-usual box. BE SUBVERSIVE!

Think of that local action no one else has tried. Behave as if your life depended on it. Be bold! Try doing something with reckless abandon. It may just liberate you and your community and your nation.

And when you act, send me your stories, your photos and your video - - and be sure to post your ideas in the comments beneath this letter on my site so they can be shared with millions.

C'mon people -- we can do this! I expect nothing less of all of you, my true and trusted fellow travelers!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Alan Grayson, Light and Dark

Just when Alan Grayson's delighted takedowns of vicious repugs approach self-parody, he reminds us that he remains laser-focused on the business of restoring the nation to democracy.

First, the light:

During an appearance yesterday on Hardball, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) jokingly suggested that former Vice President Dick Cheney is a vampire.

Chris Matthews asked Grayson what he thinks of Cheney's attacks on President Obama for "dithering" on Afghanistan.

"Well, my response is -- and by the way, I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes, because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he's talking," said Grayson. "But my response is this: He's just angry because the president doesn't shoot old men in the face. But by the way, when he was done speaking, did he just then turn into a bat and fly away?"

Even Matthews, no Cheney fan himself, was shocked: "Oh God -- we got to keep a level here. Let me ask you this: Don't you have any Republican friends?"

Grayson laughed, and said that some of his best friends are Republicans. Check out the exchange at the 5:25 mark here:

When a commenter called Grayson "ballsy" for saying such things while representing a republican district, I responded:

Being ballsy is the only thing that will SAVE his seat.

Alan Grayson is absolutely the only living Democrat who understands that the way to win ANY election is to stand up on your hind legs and say, "This is what I stand for and anybody who doesn't agree can fuck off and die."

That's the way repugs have been winning for 30 years. It's the way dems used to win for the 50 years before that.

And it's the ONLY way dems are going to hang on to Congress and the White House - by emulating Alan Grayson.

But Alan Grayson doesn't need me or anyone else to defend him; he's busy in Congress defending the Constitution from ravaging repugs:

You might expect a man who graduated from Harvard Law School with honors, and was later a law clerk in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (1984-85) under Robert Bork, Ruth Ginsburg, and Antonin Scalia to know his stuff concerning the Constitution. And with that kind of background you might also reasonably assume such a man would not suffer fools gladly when presented with an alternate view of reality on U.S. Constitutional matters. Grayson uses the words of William Rehnquist and James Madison to destroy a rather hapless Paul Broun.

This is Rep. Alan Grayson and Rep. Paul Broun discussing a bill to deny funds to one specific named organization in a Science and Technology markup. Such a bill is known as 'a bill of attainder'.

Grayson: "Thank you. I'd like to ask the gentleman from Georgia a few questions, and I'll yield to him for the purpose of having answers to these questions. Um, does the gentleman from Georgia know what a Bill of Attainder is?"

SNIP (Lots of Grayson demanding Broun justify his unconstitutional attack on ACORN and the repug flailing around, until ....)

Grayson: "Uh, listen, we, we are trampling on people's Constitutional rights. And I think it's unfortunate that the mania that exists on the other side of the aisle regarding this one organization, and we know why that mania exists, it's because they've registered an awful lot of Democrats, continues to distort and waste the time of this committee and many other committees here in Congress. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! I yield my remaining 5 seconds."

Read the whole transcript here.

Nothing can make up for 30 years of horrific damage to the nation and world of Democrats cowering in corners while repugs wreaked havoc, but Alan Grayson is coming damn close.

Afghanistan, from the Horse's Mouth

Down With Tyranny, who has been there, separates fact from fiction on Afghanistan:

The American media is spewing out an awful lot of misconceptions about Afghanistan. One piece, from last Sunday's New York Times Week in Review, Remembering Afghanistan's Golden Age by Elisabeth Bumiller, particularly stuck in my craw. Johann Hari's piece in today's Independent, The three fallacies that have driven the war in Afghanistan, comes from the world of hard reality, unlike Bumiller's fairy tale. We'll get back to that nonsense in a minute. Let's look at the very dire warning-- that the case for escalating the war is based on premises that turn to dust on inspection-- in the Independent first.

Hari makes the uncomfortable point that Obama, manipulated into a no-win political situation at home (unless, of course, he takes the kind of bold and decisive action he's shown us he abhors), is about to seal his fate as a one-term president and "drive his Presidency into a bloody ditch strewn with corpses." Clearly escalation, the most cowardly and politically craven move he could take, is going to be announced as soon as the ridiculous fig leaf of the Jeffersonian democracy implanted in Afghanistan is confirmed in 2 weeks. As we saw on the weekend, McChrystal is doing what blinkered military leaders always do: demanding more troops while preparing to blame his inevitable failure of a stab in the back by politicians unwilling to allow the military win by fighting a war of extermination.


This is the kind of stuff Americans should be digesting and considering while Obama gets bullied into escalating an unwinnable, tragic war that he knows is a catastrophic mistake in the making. But the Independent is a British daily and, instead, Americans are reading Mother Goose stories in the NY Times by lightweights like Bumiller, who spent 2001 until 2007 with her head stuck up Karl Rove's ass. She claims that "American and Afghan scholars and diplomats say it is worth recalling four decades in the country’s recent history, from the 1930s to the 1970s, when there was a semblance of a national government and Kabul was known as 'the Paris of Central Asia.'”


I spent a great deal of time on the ground in Afghanistan-- and all over the country, not just in Paris-- starting in 1969 and ending in 1972; I drove there from Europe in a VW van. Bumiller's ignorant and misleading statement that the Afs "built national roads" is typical of her sad brand of journalism and explains why she was voted Worst Campaign Journalist of 2004. The Russians built a national road from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and the Americans built a road from Herat to Kandahar to Kabul. That was it for national roads and there were no railroads. Before the highways were built you basically could only get into the country with an invading army, which is how it was for the rest of the "nation." I say "nation" in quotes because, outside of Kabul, it wasn't. The people in the rest of the country saw the king as the chief of Kabul who had bigger and better weapons from the hated foreigners and could lord it over the rest of them. As for Gouttierre, I agree with him about one thing: I too have "always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.” But if it was governable, it was governable because the king had a monopoly on the deadliest weapons and a fragile network of feudal strongmen in place who tacitly recognized that he handled most of the foreign policy and would give them a share of the foreign aid he could extort for the Soviets and Americans, the Indians and the Pakistanis, and the Europeans do-gooders.


When I went out into the country from Kabul I drove my van as far as I could and then went by horse. Other than walking, that's all there was. The Af villages I visited had never experienced electricity or indoor plumbing and "backward" doesn't begin to describe the country outside of two or three Kabul neighborhoods and a bit of Herat. I remember seeing the Kabul "River," just a few yards from the royal palace, for the first time. There was a man washing his donkey next to a man brushing his death next to a man defecating next to a man getting his rocks off. The imagine has stuck with me for 40 years. I should add that this isn't the kind of scene you would ever see outside the Paris of whatever.

Bumiller's line about how "Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts" is laughable and reminded me of walking in the middle of "downtown" (another joke) Kabul and seeing two stylish women get out of a chauffeur driven Mercedes IN FULL CHADRI when a couple of mullahs immediately come screaming up to them spitting all over them and forcing them back into the car. I lived with a family way up north and the women never left the compound and when my best friend got married neither his bride nor his mother came to the party. I lived in the family compound for months and wasn't allowed to even see his wife until she was pregnant. Women, outside of the ones in miniskirts at Kabul U., who I must have missed, didn't have enough words in their vocabularies to even think abstractly. One of the women I went to college with was in Ghazni as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching women words so they could THINK in their own language about things beyond the kitchen or the bedroom. As for women in miniskirts, keep in mind that Afghan men when I was there were fond of porn and porn in Afghanistan was a photo of a woman without her face covered up. In Kabul, though no where else, the golden age meant you could buy western picture postcards of women without veils at a kiosk near the "river."

Most Americans recognize Afghanistan as this decade's Vietnam and are smart enough to not want to get tangled up in it. Most members of Congress are confused, befuddled and hoping everything just takes care of itself. Only 32 Democrats voted against Obama's outrageous war supplemental last June. Think about saying thank you to them here.

Read the whole thing.