Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Score Another Win for Occupy

As David Dayen explains here, there are an infinite number of ways for congressional Democrats and President Obama to fuck this one up, but until that happens, let's enjoy the victory, however temporary.

Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

The Republicans have decided to back the payroll tax extension, fearful of being painted as anti-middle class in the coming elections.

As Kos noted in a tweet, there’s no way this happens without Occupy Wall Street. This is concrete evidence of how OWS has changed the discussion in America. Remember 6 months ago? The Republicans were in full ascent, talking tough, showing no compromise, going all-in for the 1%. Now we have recalls in Wisconsin, the irrelevancy of the Tea Party governor in Maine, the repeal of SB-5 in Ohio, and now this. Republicans are starting to run scared. Democrats need to start pushing them hard, keep them on the retreat.

Kentucky Cracks the Door on Child Abuse Secrecy

Several recent deaths-by-abuse of children under state supervision have finally forced Kentucky to open its secret records on child abuse deaths.

But those records are the tip of the secrecy iceberg. The bigger issue is the secrecy of all child protection cases that allows mishandling by both social workers and judges to go unnoticed.

The Herald:

After multiple lawsuits and key lawmakers' repeated calls for more transparency, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Tuesday that he will release state records of children who have been killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse or neglect.

The Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal had sued the state over the records of children who died while under supervision of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees child protection.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd has ruled twice that the two newspapers were entitled to the records. State law says that child-protection records are private with one clear exemption: the deaths or near-deaths of children as a result of abuse or neglect.

In addition to releasing the records, Beshear said he would hold legislative hearings and conduct an independent review. An independent panel on child deaths will include social workers and pediatricians. Beshear said he will propose legislation on mandatory release of information on child fatalities in Kentucky.

In Shepherd's Nov. 3 ruling saying that the cabinet had to turn over the records, he blasted the cabinet, saying, "The court must conclude that the cabinet is so immersed in the culture of secrecy regarding these issues that it is institutionally incapable of recognizing and implementing the clear requirements of the law."

Beshear's announcement came a day before a hearing about whether the cabinet would turn over the records as the Nov. 3 ruling ordered. The two newspapers argued in court documents that the cabinet might have misclassified some of the deaths so it would not have to turn over records. The media companies had asked that Shepherd make the cabinet turn over the records by Dec. 2 and requested that the state list all fatality and near-fatality cases in which it conducted an internal review — which would show whether the cabinet made mistakes in handling of an abuse case.

Meanwhile, thousands of Kentucky children move through the protection/family-court/foster-care system hidden from public scrutiny. Several states have opened family court proceedings to the press. The states require only the redaction of identifying information, thus protecting the children while allowing the public to know how courts and social workers handle abuse and neglect cases.

Such transparency protects social workers as well as children - under secrecy, social workers cannot defend or explain their decisions, or criticize the decisions of police and the courts.

Without that kind of transparency, there is no accountability.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Real Criminals Always Get Away

Shame on me for missing the quarter-century anniversary of the scandal that codified the result of Watergate that haunts us still: powerful officials are immune to prosecution for crimes that threaten the security of the nation.

Peter Kornbluh at Salon:

It has been 25 years since President Ronald Reagan stepped up to the microphone in the White House press room and made the announcement that launched one of the greatest scandals in modern American politics.

Reagan announced that his administration had sent “small amounts of defense weapons and spare parts to Iran” not to trade arms for hostages, but to improve relations and support moderate mullahs. There was “one aspect” of the operation that, the President said, he had been “unaware of.” His attorney general, Edwin Meese, then stepped forward to describe how “private benefactors” had transferred profits from those sales to counterrevolutionary forces, the contras, fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. No U.S. officials were involved, according to Meese, in this “diversion” of funds that linked two seemingly separate covert operations.

The focus on the diversion, as Oliver North, the NSC staffer who supervised the two operations wrote in his memoir, Under Fire, was itself a diversion. “This particular detail was so dramatic, so sexy, that it might actually—well divert public attention from other, even more important aspects of the story,” North noted, “such as what the President and his top advisors had known about and approved.”

The list of the “other… more important ” aspects of the sordid story that became known as “Iran-contra” scandal is a long one but worth recalling 25 years later. The Reagan administration had been negotiating with terrorists (despite Reagan’s repeated public position that he would “never” do so). There were illegal arms transfers to Iran, flagrant lying to Congress, soliciting third country funding to circumvent the Congressional ban on financing the contra war in Nicaragua, White House bribes to various generals in Honduras, illegal propaganda and psychological operations directed by the CIA against the U.S. press and public, collaboration with drug kingpins such as Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, and violating the checks and balances of the constitution.

“If ever the constitutional democracy of the United States is overthrow,” the leading political analyst of the scandal, Theodore Draper wrote at the time, “we now have a better idea of how this is likely to be done.”

Despite the gravity of the scandal, and the intense political and media focus it generated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Iran-Contra has been largely forgotten.

SNIP

Both Reagan and Bush got away with their misconduct in the Iran-Contra operations. Few reviews of Reagan’s legacy even include mention of the scandal; Bush’s son was elected and re-elected president, bringing Richard Cheney with him-into the oval office. For Cheney, the lessons of the scandal were that the White House had the prerogative to ignore the law and the constitution in its exercise of power. We are still living with the consequences of that approach.

“The Iran-Contra affairs are not a warning for our days alone,” Draper presciently wrote at the time. “If the story of the affairs is not fully known and understood, a similar usurpation of power by a small strategically placed group within the government may well reoccur before we are prepared to recognize what is happening.”

Twenty-five years later, that is why we remember the real meaning of the scandal that defined the dangerous abuse of presidential power.

Read the whole thing.

Gerry Ford's pardon of Nixon is why Reagan and Bush got away with near-treason in Iran-Contra, and Reagan and Bush getting away with near-treason in Iran-Contra is why Cheney and Bush got away with actual treason in Iraq, and Cheney and Bush getting away with actual treason in Iraq is why no one will ever go to jail for destroying the economy of this nation and the world.

Kentucky Gets Smart About Christmas

I am a Christmas tree traditionalist. Not in the freakazoid Jesus Tree bullshit way, but in the lighting-evergreens-to-mark-the-Winter-Solstice way.

I don't like artificial trees, but I also don't care for the wasteful practice of Christmas tree cutting. Which is why I switched to a live tree years ago - that is, a Christmas tree with a root ball that I plant in the yard.

And which is why I applaud this decision by the Beshear administration:

In a tough economy, Kentucky will avoid even the minimal cost of hauling in an official Christmas tree, opting instead to decorate an evergreen growing on the Capitol's front lawn.

Finance Cabinet spokeswoman Cindy Landham said Monday that Gov. Steve Beshear's administration opted not to follow the traditional route of issuing a public request for a donated tree that state workers typically load aboard a truck and haul to Frankfort.

Turns out the traditional spot for the cut tree in front of the Governor's Mansion is currently taken by construction of a stage for Inaugural festivities, so it's a logistical decision as much as a budgetary or environmental one, but kudos anyway.

We'll see if this is an aberration or the start of a tradition.

Fundamental Rights Are Not Your Bargaining Chip, Barack

While we're all distracted, President Obama is getting ready to toss women's reproductive rights overboard. Again.

Digby:

So it's not about birth control, huh?

Yes, in fact, it is:

Women's groups working to save coverage of women's health care under health reform are concerned that President Obama will cave as early as this weekend to demands by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (all 271 men) to eliminate coverage of birth control without a co-pay.

The reason? The President thinks he "owes" the Bishops for help with passage of health reform.

I don't know what the bishops did to "help" pass health care reform unless the president really wanted to ensure that women would have to swallow yet another unpalatable abrogation of their rights. (In fact, the bishops tried as hard as they could to tank the health care bill for purely political reasons --- they support the Republican Party and wanted the president to fail.)But apparently we are supposed to believe he owes them something. I wonder what it is?

Sarah Posner has the full story on this at Religion Dispatches. Nothing surprising. Just another insult to the millions of liberal women who supported the president:

David Nolan, a spokesperson for Catholics for Choice, told me today, "Obama's definitely listening to the bishops. The bishops seem to have significant sway over the administration, which can be seen by the fact Archbishop Dolan met with [Obama] last week and came out alleging that he felt much more at ease with what was going on after the meeting. Which seems to suggest that Obama made lots of conciliatory noises to the archbishop." The archbishop, Nolan emphasized, does not represent American Catholics, but rather is "the leader of 271 active bishops, and that's who he represents."

Catholics for Choice has launched a campaign urging its supporters to call the White House and express that "Catholics overwhelmingly reject the bishops’ views on contraception" and that it "is discriminatory to deny these women and men access to this important provision simply because the institution where they work or the school they attend is religiously affiliated." The ACLU has launched a similar campaign, arguing that religious freedom "does not mean that we get to impose those beliefs on others."

"There is absolutely no reason to expand this exception," said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel for the ACLU. "There's certainly no legal reason for it to be changed. The current rule doesn’t infringe on anyone’s religious liberty as a matter of law."

Click through to the links above if you want to sign on of the petitions.

I have one question though. Posner says that Democrats for Life are out there touting this with everything they have:

The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs. It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.

And here I've been told for years that Democrats for Life aren't against birth control and that it's purely about "life". I don't think anyone can say that's true at this point.

Now that the Democrats have welcomed in the anti-choice faction, coddled them and genuflected to their beliefs it was inevitable that their true agenda would eventually reveal itself. Why wouldn't it?

Update: I'm going to post this piece from my friend Debcoop again, just in case some people again feel the need to tell me to "calm down" and stop being hysterical over something that "isn't that important".

For women ALL Roads to freedom and equality - economic equality and most particularly the ability to avoid poverty START with control of their bodies. If they can't control how they get pregnant and when they will have a child then poverty is the result.

There is theory about something called the Prime Mover - the first action or the first cause. Well for women it IS reproductive rights. It precedes everything. It really is simple. Without the abilty to control your own body then you are a slave to everything else.

Frankly sexism, the need to control women's lives by controlling their bodies and the things that arise from it, are endemic to any social structure. It is ever enduring and even when it seems to be quashed it returns in another form. That is the story in the modern era of women's rights. One step forward after a long struggle - suffrage and then a step back. (And no way do I say that women are not complicit in their own subjugation. We are.)

I am reading The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin. In the epilogue he makes a point of saying that the loss of power and control is what the elite and the reactionary fear the most. More than a specific loss itself the fear the rising volcano of submerged anger and power. And for them it is most acutely felt compulsion for control in the "intimate" arena. That is the most vexing and disturbing of all.

It is why they want to control women. And controlling their reproductive lives is the surefire way to control them.

It is why abortion rights are absolutely central to every other kind of freedom.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Only in LA?

It may not last the night, but enjoy it while you can: Occupy LA stares down the police and peacefully defies the eviction.

Lisa Derrick of Firedoglake was there:

One man built a tree fort in a banana grove next to the Spring Street steps, while others positioned themselves up trees or around the symbolic tent draped with an America flag. The tent encirclers had decided to be arrested and were linking arms and chanting. Others were prepared for the worst (even we had vinegar soaked cloths and a bottle of Maalox and water). Some of the people we knew left at 1am, as did many in the crowd which thinned out by 2 am, but we decided to stick around. We mapped out our safety routes for escape if necessary. An announcement was made that the Mayor had told the police to hold back as there were still hundreds of people (and, unspoken, news media!) present.

Fourteen officers of the LAPD were at Temple and Main while a sparse group of protestors sat in the crosswalk. My friend Ava and I walked over to talk with them. They were really cheerful and nice, usually based out of (South) Central. One joked about being a geek who liked to hike and read books, and I said I try to avoid the evil, yellow hurty thing.

You mean the sun, me too, that’s why I work at night. Hey, occupy the sun!

he laughed. The larger mass of police at Spring and 1st were grimmer, though one laughed at my my Hello Kitty iPhone cover. The drummer circle was there, as was a protestor reading a declaration from Occupy about why they were there, while the human mic repeated it (some cops looked visibly uncomfortable when they heard the portion on Constitutional rights read, followed by an explanation of corporate and mortgage malfeasance.

SNIP

The police took giant steps backwards, the street was clear except for Juan, one of the wise elder homeless dudes who rode his brightly decorated bike in circles. the police did nothing. The Occupiers stayed on he sidewalks, the streets stayed clear; we were told we could cross on the lights, and obey the traffic laws as motorcycle police rode up and down, then began escorting traffic through. A cheer went up. People were hugging and smiling and clapping.

It was miraculous, and I hope that spirit of community, or mutual respect, or restraint or whatever–LOVE–love of oneself, of one’s city, or one’s fellows can spread through Los Angeles’ police and community and become a model for both cops and civilians to work in cooperation to obey the laws and foster change.

Chief Beck was on the news today saying that the assembly in the park is a violation, but there is not a specific time to begin enforcing it. And at 8:30 this morning a judge began a hearing on an injunction filed over the weekend to prevent Occupy form being evicted. Meanwhile, plans are being made by Occupy to launch Occupy 2.o.

Of All the Things to Waste Public Money On

The worst has to be police brutality against peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.

Jon Walker at Firedoglake speculates last week:

Watching the massive late night raids on the occupations at places like Oakland and New York City I’m left thinking, who is paying for all this?

These massive late night raids can’t be cheap. They involve dozens, perhaps hundreds of police officers, often brought in from other nearby jurisdictions. There just aren’t that many police on the graveyard shift, so the bulk of them must be getting paid costly overtime to work evictions in the middle of the night. I can also only assume renting police from other jurisdictions to work a late night shift must come with some significant additional costs.

In these bad economic times, cities and other local jurisdictions have been struggling hard to find funds to pay for even the most basic public services, including police. They have been forced to make extremely painful cuts at every level to stay within budget. They simply don’t have large pools of funds to spare.

Either cities like Oakland have decided using massive police force to break up peaceful demonstrations is worth wasting money that could have gone to fund needed city services like schools, public transit and infrastructure repair, or the cities are getting federal money from agencies like the Department of Homeland Security to pay for these military style crackdowns.

Neither of the two possibilities is good news, but I find it strange that all over the country several large cities simultaneously decided now is the moment to waste a huge amount of their limited budgets on expensive late night raids that require overwhelming police presence.

I don’t have the answer to the question yet, but I have my suspicions. I think the American people deserve to know exactly who is footing the bill for what appear to be nation-wide coordinated attacks on the occupy movement.

By this week, Kevin Gosztola had some data on how that unnecessary expense is being spun to turn taxpayers against Occupy:

The excessive and gratuitous use of police at Occupy protests, especially in New York and other large cities, has led a number of people to wonder how cities are paying for the police to patrol demonstrations and encampments. Now, with a report from AP circulating, those who despise the Occupy movement or have grown impatient with it have ammunition to lash out even more.

According to AP, the movement has cost “local taxpayers at least $13 million in police overtime and other municipal services.” AP finds the “heaviest financial burden has fallen upon law enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring marches and evicting protesters from outdoor camps. And the steepest costs by far piled up in New York City and Oakland, Calif., where police clashed with protesters on several occasions.”

The findings, AP concludes, are “more or less in line with the cost of policing major public events and emergencies.” Nonetheless, AP adds, “the price of the protests” is drawing the “ire” of taxpayers in cities. The report notes, “Cash-strapped police departments have cut overtime budgets, travel and training to respond to the recession. Nonetheless, city officials say they have no choice but to bring in extra officers or hold officers past their shifts to handle gatherings and marches in a way that protects free speech rights and public safety. In some cities, officials say the spending is eating into their overtime budgets and leaving less money for other public services.”

AP goes on to mention how money has been saved by cities. For example, in Des Moines, the parks department has saved money because Occupy Des Moines takes their garbage out and, when the first snow fell in Iowa, they shoveled the sidewalk. Protesters agreed to pay the “full cost of their electricity usage.” But the AP report follows that up with an example that suggests many of the occupations are not “good neighbors” at all.

The impetus of the report is that police resources are being strained by the continued assembling of citizens all over the country. In some cases, police forces are considering cutting back internally to absorb the costs. All this exercising of First Amendment rights is costing Americans because of “public safety” concerns and the need to “protect free speech rights.”

Attaching a dollar amount to the movement at a time when cities and states all over the country are facing debt can only turn Americans against the Occupy movement if Americans do not understand why so much taxpayer money is being expended. That may be of great help to a number of cities, which understand there is wide support for the camp so they have to watch how they contain and crack down on occupiers.

All of this raises a series of questions: Why should the New York Police Department (NYPD) be used to fortify Wall Street so casino capitalists who collapsed the economy in 2008 do not have to face protesting Americans? Why should the NYPD be used to mass a squadron of officers and police vehicles around any demonstration, which inevitably creates a crowd control issue that turns into a situation where NYPD officers beat or shove protesters and arrest those who do not budge when mistreated?

Why should taxpayers subsidize a massive police operation to evict peaceful protesters from a park when they have been there for nearly two months and have earned much support from New York City residents? Why should taxpayers have to foot the tab for police officers who improperly and coldly use pepper spray on protesters? Why should they have to pay for officers who fire off flash bang grenades in the midst of peaceful assemblies? Why should they have to pay for officers who slink back to avoid being spotted when they fire off a tear gas canister right at the head of an Iraq War veteran, who then goes to the hospital with a brain injury?

Why should they foot the bill for the pepper-spraying of an 84-year old woman, who becomes so disoriented from the spray that she has to be saved by an Iraq War veteran nearby who keeps her from falling over and being trampled? Why should taxpayers support the use of funds to violate freedom of the press by arresting journalists at demonstrations? Why should taxpayers pay for police officers that are going to brutalize pregnant women and give them a miscarriage? Why should taxpayers pay for police who stand around and seize and destroy property from citizens who are demonstrating, like books, tents, insulating materials, a food cart or even a truck?

Both city and state police in Albany have been reluctant to spend unnecessary amounts of resources on peaceful protesting. Albany police leaders, according to the Albany Times Union, were willing to hold off making arrests for the “low-level offense of trespassing, in part because of concern it could incite a riot or draw thousands of protesters in a backlash that could endanger police and the public.”

“We don’t have those resources, and these people were not causing trouble,” the official said. “The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.”

A city police source said his department also was reluctant to damage what he considers to be good community relations that have taken years to rebuild. In addition, the crowd included elderly people and many others who brought their children with them.

“There was a lot of discussion about how it would look if we started pulling people away from their kids and arresting them … and then what do we do with the children?” one officer said.

The Portland Police, which have been forceful in handling Occupy protests, have figured out there is a better way. The Oregonian reports the police “will be limiting police presence at Occupy Portland rallies.” Portland Police Chief Mike Reese said in a statement, “Officers will first ask protesters if they need police escort. If they don’t, they’ll be asked to self-police, and officers will respond only if there are complaints.”

It is true that there have been reports of incidents of crime at encampments. But consider the following: the NYPD was telling drunks to “take it to Zuccotti” or likely dropping off criminals at Zuccotti Park. Is this something taxpayers wish to be paying for? New York’s finest standing around and not arresting these people, which Bloomberg and others would characterize as “safety concerns”?

After visiting multiple occupations, I think any police force that finds is is not responsible for lawlessness or violent behavior in camps is grossly appalling. No camps oppose police arresting individuals whose crimes are making it difficult for them to occupy.

If the camps are expected to abide by city codes, ordinances and laws, then they most certainly deserve the protection of the police. Additionally, police should be working with organizers to police the area. Each camp has a security or safety team and can tell officers about what happens on a daily basis and who needs to be watched closely to prevent conflicts from escalating sharply.

No doubt, city leaders and state leaders will seize upon this report to justify the shut down of more camps in the country. They will promote this notion that the movement has made its point and been out for two months now and now it is time to pack up and go home (of course, many have no homes to go to; the camps are their home).

The First Amendment does not have an expiration date. It does not cease to protect citizens who dissent against their government because millions of dollars are spent. If cities or states cannot afford policing, that should not be blamed on Occupy protesters. It should be blamed on city and state governments for choosing to sign off on the asymmetric and expensive deployment of police for use in military-style operations to crackdown on the movement. It should be blamed on cities and states that refuse to respect and trust their own citizens and pay officers to babysit camps that are fully capable of calling police, firefighters or emergency medical services if they need assistance.

But even if every dime cities spend to violate citizens' constitutional rights could be justified, it's still nothing compared to how much money the crimes of the one percenters have cost and continue to cost the economy.

Zaid Jilani and Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress:

The AP piece does not provide the neccessary context to put this number into perspective. $13 million for policing of ongoing protests all over the country for two months is not a particularly large sum. For example, the 2004 Republican National Committee protests, which lasted for a single week and took place in a single location, cost $50 million to secure. A small tea party rally in November 2010 that attracted only a few dozen people cost $14,000, paid for by official congressional money.

The cost of securing these protests against economic inequality and political corruption also pales in comparison to one large figure: the wealth destroyed by Wall Street’s recession. The recession caused by Wall Street’s misdeeds destroyed $50 trillion of wealth globally by 2009, $20 trillion of that wealth in the United States alone. ThinkProgress has assembled the following chart to visualize these comparative costs:



Additionally, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost $13 million every 40 minutes this year, and the multibillionaire magnate Koch Brothers increase their wealth by $13 million every eleven hours.

None of this invalidates a discussion about the costs of securing the protests, but it does put it in context. Additionally, if the Associated Press wants to probe the costs of the demonstrations, it might also ask why police are using such expensive and heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators.

Finally, Teddy Partridge on how unnecessary all this expensive illegal policing really is:

Of course, those overtime expenses were necessary given the scary and unpredictable #Occupation the Portland Police Bureau was faced with, right? For an objective viewpoint, the reporter seeks out Mayoral ex-candidate, Police Chief Mike Reese, to justify his force’s huge overtime presence:

On the following Monday, Police Chief Mike Reese defended the police deployment. “In terms of keeping the peace, it was appropriate, and I don’t know how you put a dollar amount on that,” he said.

Next, though, we learn that a demonstration and march with no police presence turned out to require none after all (my bold):

The high costs stand in stark contrast to last weekend, when the bureau didn’t incur overtime as it changed course and decided not to provide police coverage for Occupy Portland’s march for universal health care, which remained peaceful.

So, the dollar amount Chief Reese can put on police overtime required to keep the peace when #Occupiers peaceably assemble to petition our government for redress of legitimate health care grievances is… ZERO. That makes #OccupyPortland’s point about Mayor Sam’s Deadline Countdown Party without really trying:

Occupy Portland protesters have said the massive police presence was unnecessary and a result of poor police management.

Lexington and Louisville's Occupations are far smaller than Portland or even Albany, and both cities' police forces seem to understand that treating them like criminals would be counter-productive in the extreme.

But if the one-percenters and their minions at Faux News establish a meme that Occupy causes budget cuts in city services, it will be used as an excuse by every city to try to destroy the protests once and for all.

When For-Profit Companies Get Public Dollars

The public gets screwed. Every. Time. The latest in an infinite line of examples is the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

John Cheves at the Herald:

Kentucky has paid $97 million since 1999 through its state scholarships to privately owned, for-profit colleges, including several under investigation for alleged consumer fraud or other possible wrongdoing, according to a Lexington Herald-Leader review of public records.

Some states, such as Ohio, have moved to reduce for-profit colleges' access to state educational aid, citing a need to put students at state colleges first in a time of repeated budget cuts.

Kentucky has not. The state gives nearly 8 percent of need-based student aid to for-profit colleges, which is twice the national average, according to a survey by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs. Only four states give a bigger portion of need-based aid to the industry, the association found.

Among Kentucky's for-profit schools to collect state aid was Decker College in Louisville, which went bankrupt in 2005 amid allegations of fraud and inadequate accreditation, leaving hundreds of students with loan debt and no chance to obtain degrees. Another, the Sullivan University System, saw a nearly 1,000 percent increase in its assets from 1998 to 2009, accumulating $76 million, according to court records.

A few Democratic lawmakers want to regulate this taxpayer subsidy in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. I don't know how much money the for-profit "college" industry invests in our lege, but my guess is that it's enough to at least kill any such bill, and might be enough to force a bill that actually increases the subsidy.

Some for-profit colleges in Kentucky charge $30,000 a year or more for two-year vocational degrees related to clerical jobs in offices or cooking in restaurants. Data suggest that many of the students struggle later. Nationally, students at for-profit schools represent 26 percent of federal student loan borrowers and 43 percent of subsequent loan defaults, according to federal data.

Funny how the most egregious examples of government "waste" always involve money given to private companies.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Seven Billion People Aren't the Problem; the Seven Sisters and Their Brethren Are

Shifting blame for pollution onto individuals is a long-standing corporate trick. Never mind that industrial sludge setting the Cuyahoga River on fire - look at the trash litter bugs throw along the road! It's not coal dust from the mines that's killing you - it's your smoking! Toxins in your drinking water didn't cause your miscarriage - it's that beer you had six months ago!

Industrial poisoning by corporations isn't threatening human survival; it's that seven billionth baby!

Erik Loomis:

A bit of an older piece now, but Ian Angus and Simon Butler provide some real solid evidence to a point I have made repeatedly – that overpopulation is far from the greatest environmental problem we face:

But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.

Even in the rich countries of the Global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity’s survival.

No reduction in U.S. population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.

Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.

Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protestors in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more, and destroy more than all the rest of us put together.

Of course, rising consumption rates by a growing middle class in China, India, Brazil, and other developing world nations complicate this narrative, but the larger point stands–population is not the major cause for environmental degradation. Rather, the profit motive and capitalist control over the potential regulatory power of governments are much greater problems.

Keep recycling, keep rejecting over-packaging, keep cutting back on the driving and flying - but never forget who the big culprits are.

The Franistan Technique

When I was a kid, my very un-mechanical father used to pretend to diagnose car problems by saying with great authority: "It needs the franistan adjusted."

It was years before I realized that there really isn't any such thing as a franistan. In a car engine or anywhere else.

But I was reminded of how easy it can be to fool someone with totally made-up shit if you declare it authoritatively enough by this latest example from Faux:

Heather at Crooks and Liars:

Here's more from Media Matters on Fox's ridiculous attacks on Kagan -- Fox Cites Non-Existent Part Of The Constitution To Hype Argument For Kagan Recusal:

For the second day in a row, Fox's "straight news" division has hyped the claim that U.S Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan should recuse herself from the case involving the constitutionality of a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Fox pointed to an email Kagan sent to then-Justice Department adviser Laurence Tribe on the day the House of Representatives passed the Affordable Care Act in which Kagan said, "I hear they have the votes, Larry!! Simply amazing."

Legal ethicists have thrown cold water on the argument that Kagan needs to recuse herself over that email. But Fox seems to have an argument that the legal ethicists haven't thought of: Fox national correspondent Steve Centanni said Kagan's recusal may be required by "Article 28 of the Constitution." Fox's graphics department provided the relevant quote from the "U.S. Constitution, Article 28, Sec. 144":

Three glaring problems with this argument: The Constitution has no Article 28, has no Section 144, and does not contain the language quoted.

The Constitution actually contains seven articles, none of which have more than 10 sections. It also has 27 amendments, none of which contain anywhere near 144 sections.

The language Fox quoted from actually comes from a statute passed by Congress, Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Section 455. But that's the very statute legal ethicists have analyzed in finding that Kagan does not need to recuse herself because of the email.

My father took advantage of the fact that preschoolers don't know much about cars to create a family joke. He knew there was no such thing as a franistan.

And Faux knows there is no article 28 in the Constitution. They're eager to take advantage of the fact that their reality-starved viewers don't know much about the Constitution. They don't know much that is factual, that is - just the lies Faux spins for them.

"Some Blessings We All Share"



Full transcript here.

Winning the Economy by Winning Climate Change

They are not competing issues; they are two halves of the same issue. Separated, they both fail. Combined, they both win.

Naomi Klein at The Nation:

All of this means that the climate movement needs to have one hell of a comeback. For this to happen, the left is going to have to learn from the right. Denialists gained traction by making climate about economics: action will destroy capitalism, they have claimed, killing jobs and sending prices soaring. But at a time when a growing number of people agree with the protesters at Occupy Wall Street, many of whom argue that capitalism-as-usual is itself the cause of lost jobs and debt slavery, there is a unique opportunity to seize the economic terrain from the right.

This would require making a persuasive case that the real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and radically reins in corporate power.

It would also require a shift away from the notion that climate action is just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention. Just as climate denialism has become a core identity issue on the right, utterly entwined with defending current systems of power and wealth, the scientific reality of climate change must, for progressives, occupy a central place in a coherent narrative about the perils of unrestrained greed and the need for real alternatives.

Building such a transformative movement may not be as hard as it first appears. Indeed, if you ask the Heartlanders, climate change makes some kind of left-wing revolution virtually inevitable, which is precisely why they are so determined to deny its reality. Perhaps we should listen to their theories more closely—they might just understand something the left still doesn’t get.

SNIP

Outside the Heartland conference and like-minded gatherings, the return of planning is nothing to fear. We are not talking about a return to authoritarian socialism, after all, but a turn toward real democracy. The thirty-odd-year experiment in deregulated, Wild West economics is failing the vast majority of people around the world. These systemic failures are precisely why so many are in open revolt against their elites, demanding living wages and an end to corruption. Climate change doesn’t conflict with demands for a new kind of economy. Rather, it adds to them an existential imperative.

SNIP

Climate change does not demand an end to trade. But it does demand an end to the reckless form of “free trade” that governs every bilateral trade agreement as well as the World Trade Organization. This is more good news —for unemployed workers, for farmers unable to compete with cheap imports, for communities that have seen their manufacturers move offshore and their local businesses replaced with big boxes. But the challenge this poses to the capitalist project should not be underestimated: it represents the reversal of the thirty-year trend of removing every possible limit on corporate power.

SNIP

Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.

SNIP

It looks like the end of the world. It’s not, of course. But it is, for all intents and purposes, the end of his world. Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.

SNIP

This is a crucial point to understand: it is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real-world implications of those facts.

SNIP

In other words, it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered, a fact that was as true of die-hard Stalinists at the height of the purges as it is of libertarian climate deniers today.

SNIP

They are saved from this fate (obscurity) only because their ideas about minimal government, no matter how demonstrably at war with reality, remain so profitable to the world’s billionaires that they are kept fed and clothed in think tanks by the likes of Charles and David Koch, and ExxonMobil.

This points to the limits of theories like “cultural cognition.” The deniers are doing more than protecting their cultural worldview—they are protecting powerful interests that stand to gain from muddying the waters of the climate debate.

SNIP

This is where the intersection between hard-right ideology and climate denial gets truly dangerous. It’s not simply that these “cool dudes” deny climate science because it threatens to upend their dominance-based worldview. It is that their dominance-based worldview provides them with the intellectual tools to write off huge swaths of humanity in the developing world.

SNIP

It is a painful irony that while the Heartlanders are busily calling climate change a left-wing plot, most leftists have yet to realize that climate science has handed them the most powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills” (and, of course, those mills were the beginning of climate change).

When demonstrators are cursing out the corruption of their governments and corporate elites in Athens, Madrid, Cairo, Madison and New York, climate change is often little more than a footnote, when it should be the coup de grĂ¢ce.

SNIP

In other words, culture is rapidly shifting. And this is what truly sets the OWS moment apart. The Occupiers—holding signs that said Greed Is Gross and I Care About You—decided early on not to confine their protests to narrow policy demands.

Instead, they took aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying—in highly visible ways—radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.

This deliberate attempt to shift cultural values is not a distraction from the “real” struggles. In the rocky future we have already made inevitable, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people, and a capacity for deep compassion, will be the only things standing between humanity and barbarism. Climate change, by putting us on a firm deadline, can serve as the catalyst for precisely this profound social and ecological transformation.

Culture, after all, is fluid. It can change. It happens all the time. The delegates at the Heartland conference know this, which is why they are so determined to suppress the mountain of evidence proving that their worldview is a threat to life on earth. The task for the rest of us is to believe, based on that same evidence, that a very different worldview can be our salvation.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

When They Threaten to Kill You, You Know You're Winning

Brad Friedman

Several opponents of WI's Gov. Scott Walker have been receiving middle-of-the-night death threats, as they've been circulating petitions to gather signatures in an effort to recall the state's controversial anti-union Republican Governor.

According to WISC-TV/Channel 3000 in Madison...

The threats involved phone calls from an area code in Minnesota. The calls came overnight after Walker's opponents began the recall, said Madison resident Tom Peer, who said he received a call at 2 a.m. on Thursday.

"They said, 'If you don't stop circulating recall petitions, we will kill you,'" said Peer.

A similar call came to Heather DuBois Bourenane, of Sun Prairie. The United Wisconsin recall worker jumped out of bed when her phone rang around 4 a.m. on Thursday.

"He said I had attracted the attention of some very bad people, and my life and the lives of my family were in danger," Bourenane said.

She called Sun Prairie police, who confirmed investigators were working on the case.

But you have to wonder: why the overreaction? Are these lone crazies taking out their inability to function in the reality-based world on a few convenient targets? Is Walker so bugfuck insane he's actually encouraging his minions to do this? Have the Koch Brothers finally made the move from just killing the middle class economically to killing them literally?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Occupy Lexington in their Own Images

Via Barefoot and Progressive:



Instead of risking your safety, mental health and wallet in the Black Friday Riots, grab some cold weather gear and deliver it to your local Occupation.

The Wampanoag Side of the Story

This year, tell a better story.

From Indian Country Today:

Turner said what most people do not know about the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did not sit down for a big turkey dinner and it was not an event that the Wampanoag knew about or were invited to in advance. In September/October 1621, the Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They “sent four men on fowling,” which comes from the one paragraph account by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.” “Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said. “So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”

When the Wampanoag showed up, they were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town [William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well. When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,” said Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.

The harvest feast lasted for three days. What did they eat? Venison, of course, and Wall said, “Not just a lovely roasted joint of venison, but all the parts of the deer were on the table in who knows how many sorts of ways.” Was there turkey? “Fowl” is mentioned in Winslow’s account, which puts turkey on Wall’s list of possibilities. She also said there probably would have been a variety of seafood and water fowl along with maize bread, pumpkin and other squashes. “It was nothing at all like a modern Thanksgiving,” she said.

While today Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s favorite holidays, it has a far different meaning for many Wampanoag, who now number between 4,000 and 5,000. Turner said, “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.”

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Give Thanks to the Ones Who Have Earned It

I am sick and fucking tired of people publicly "thanking" a non-existent invisible sky wizard for positive events brought about by the hard work and intelligence of actual, living, adult human beings.

This Thanksgiving, let's try to direct our thanks to those who are actually responsible.

Thankful for the food in front of you? Thank the farmers who grew and raised it, the taxpayers who subsidize those farmers, the illegal immigrants who slave - literally - to harvest it, the truck drivers who transport it, the grocers who sell it, and the people at the table who bought it, prepared it, cooked it and served it.

Thankful for your health and that of your family and friends? Thank the doctors, nurses and technicians who keep you healthy. Thank modern medical science, which is brought to us by poorly-paid researchers at public universities supported by tax dollars paid primarily by the 99 percent, and hardly at all by millionaires and billionaires.

Thankful for your job? Thank the taxpayers who fund the economic stimulus of government spending that supports our economy and is the only thing that actually does, in reality, create jobs.

Thankful for the technology that makes your life easier and all the cool toys it provides, from smartphones to the cloud to live streaming? Thank government agency DARPA, which really did invent the Internet (with support from congressman Al Gore).

Thankful for your home? Thank the skilled and probably unionized workers who built it, and the thousands of public employees - also probably unionized - who provide water and electricity to your home, maintain the roads around your home, and protect your home from fire, floods and criminals.

Thankful for your children? Thank the teachers and principals and janitors who toil thanklessly in the public school system to produce worthy citizens.

Thankful for your elderly parents? Thank Social Security and Medicare, and the many public employees providing services to the aged, from Meals on Wheels to nursing home inspections.

Thankful for the end of the Iraq war and the return of our troops? Thank President Barack Obama.

Thankful to live in the Greatest Nation in the History of the World? Thank the protesters, the rebels, the nonconformists, the communists, the pacifists, the socialists, the Black Panthers, the feminists, the gays, the atheists and every other despised activist who fought to fix what was wrong with this country, and who still fight every day.

There is no invisible sky wizard dropping presents on your head like so much birdshit. Everything you have, everything you've done, is the result of action by actual human beings, including yourself.

Performance of Supercommittee Dems Nothing to Celebrate

We're not going to be able to pressure Congressional Democrats to stand firm on budget cuts as long as supposed liberal voices ignore the fact that supercommittee Democrats came within a hair of giving away the entire store.

George Zornick at The Nation:

This whole super-committee charade was never about deficit reduction for Republicans, but protecting low taxes, particularly for the very wealthy—that became abundantly clear when their final offer involved a permanent extension of the budget-busting Bush tax cuts.

To their credit, Democrats would not assent to any such extension. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator John Kerry, a member of the super-committee, explained that the “most significant block to our doing something right now, tomorrow, is their insistence, insistence, insistence on the Grover Norquist pledge and extending the Bush tax cuts.” The Democrats offered up some awful deals during the course of super-committee negotiations, but they deserve some credit for not budging on taxes.

The Bush tax cuts, you may recall, will expire at the end of 2012. So the central battle that divided the super-committee has yet to be resolved. While Democrats showed gumption in not using the super-committee to extend the Bush cuts, nor lock in a new tax policy that’s just as bad, they’re going to need to stand just as firm next year.

That’s because the Democrats can’t just stand pat, and let the tax cuts expire automatically—that would be easy. But under that scenario, all the Bush tax cuts would expire, including those on the middle class, and during a recession—not to mention on the brink of a presidential election—Democrats will simply not allow that to happen.

Some kind of bill addressing the Bush tax cuts will have to be passed by the end of next year, and Republicans will definitely try to force the issue before the November elections. It wasn’t done last December, when the Bush rates were first set to expire, and it didn’t happen with the super-committee, but sooner or later, Congress will have to either kill the Bush rates or make them permanent—and thus choose between two radically different versions of a federal government. The super-committee has now become nothing but a footnote in that ongoing battle.

No. The Dems were perfectly willing - just as they were last year - to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, no matter that those cuts would explode the deficit to the point that it might actually matter.

They were also not just willing but eager to gut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, the ACA, public health, public housing, public education, and everything else not dedicated to killing innocent brown people.

All the dems wanted in return for eliminating the New Deal, the Great Society and the last vestiges of civilization in this country - not to mention committing political suicide as a party - was a bone. A teeny, tiny tax bone. Like reducing the tax write-off for personal helicopters from 100 percent to 90 percent.

The repug refusal to countenance even a deal that would create the lords-and-serfs economy they pine for, make the plutocracy permanent and keep them in power for eternity is what saved us - not any alleged courage on the part of Kerry and company.

Yes, now it's a street fight, and the dirtiest fighters will win. Everybody who thinks that's the Democrats, stand on your head.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Price of Paramilitary Police

If the Occupy protests accomplish nothing else, they will be successful if they start a national debate about local police using military weapons and torture devices against American citizens who are peacefully protesting.

Digby:

What is that thing this NYPD officer is carrying today? TPM says it's reported to be a Long Range Acoustic device, aka LRAD.

In case you were wondering about the effects of an LRAD, read this report from the ACLU from last month:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Karen Piper, a bystander who suffered permanent hearing loss after Pittsburgh police deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against protestors during the 2009 G-20 Summit. An LRAD emits harmful, pain-inducing sounds over long distances. Developed for use by the military, LRAD technology had never before been used against US civilians.

"Police departments should not be using weapons built for the military on civilian protesters," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania "As this case shows, the LRAD cannot be controlled to prevent serious harm to innocent bystanders. Collateral harm to innocents may be justifiable in wartime, but not to quell protesters who overturned a couple of trash dumpsters.”

SNIP

"The intensity of being hit at close range by a high-pitched sound blast designed to deter pirate boats and terrorists at least a quarter mile away is indescribable. The sound vibrates through you and causes pain throughout your body, not only in the ears. I thought I might die," said Piper, now an English professor at the University of Missouri. "It is shocking that the LRAD device is being promoted for use on American citizens and the general public."

Yet another pain compliance device in use against American citizens. The good news is that the intense pain it causes anyone in the vicinity is "harmless." Except when it causes permanent damage.

I suppose everyone is different. I think I can handle pepper spray as hideous as it sounds. (Maybe not. I've been lucky enough not to have it happen to me.) Being tasered sounds horrifying. But this weapon would be unbearable to me with my sensitive ears. In fact, it would be torture. Which is what all this "pain compliance" technology really is.

But still, as a spokesman for the company said:

If you stand right next to it for several minutes, you could have hearing damage," he said. "But it's your choice."

See? You have a choice. You can just not protest. If you do, expect torture and possible permanent damage. That's what being free is all about.

As for the pepper spray that Lt. Pike at UC Davis has made so famous, Digby writes this:

This article called "Pepper Spray, Pain and Justice" from the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project in northern California on the use of pepper stray as a torture device gives all the details of this famous case. It has informed my thinking about tasers and other uses of "pain compliance" and its implications for a free society. It's not long and I urge you to read it all if this situation alarms you.

It tells the harrowing story that you see in that video up top, including the chilling statement by the police after they were done pepper spraying one of the girls directly in the face: "We're not torturing you anymore."

It asks the question:
Are these valid tactics for the DA's office to use? May the Sheriff and the DA single out forest activists for "special treatment" when they are arrested and charged? The argument for this would be that the protests are costly to the county, and in an effort to contain those costs by reducing the number of protesters, or to prevent nonviolent civil disobedience which is expensive to the government, the government may use its discretionary powers to make the experience these activists have with the criminal justice system as unpleasant and costly as possible. The use of pepper spray to torment activists who are nonviolently sitting-in can be seen as the latest and most extreme step in this campaign.

The difficulty with this approach is that it puts the Sheriff and the DA into the position of the judge. It metes out punishment -- pain, days in jail, costly trips to court, disruption of normal life -- without the bother of proving guilt. Did the Queen in Alice in Wonderland say, "First the sentence, then the trial"? Even children can see that this is backwards.

One would think so. At the time this was written, they assumed the case would be decided in 1998. As I wrote, it was finally decided in 2009. But a jury found for the activists.

Of course it's torture. It couldn't be more obvious. The question we have to ask ourselves if our society believes torturing of political dissidents is acceptable.

Nor is pepper spraying just the torture of temporary pain. Diane Sweet at Crooks and Liars:

The U.S. Army concluded in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study that pepper spray "is capable of producing mutagenic and carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities."

At The Nation, former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper calls for an end to paramilitary police:

The cop in me supported the decision to clear the intersection. But the chief in me should have vetoed it. And he certainly should have forbidden the indiscriminate use of tear gas to accomplish it, no matter how many warnings we barked through the bullhorn.

My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.

More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland—where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine remains in serious condition from a police projectile—brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, US police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: the NYPD “white shirt” coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for “trespassing.”

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

SNIP

There will always be situations—an armed and barricaded suspect, a man with a knife to his wife’s throat, a school-shooting rampage—that require disciplined, military-like operations. But most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy and interpersonal skills. I’m convinced it is possible to create a smart organizational alternative to the paramilitary bureaucracy that is American policing. But that will not happen unless, even as we cull “bad apples” from our police forces, we recognize that the barrel itself is rotten.

SNIP

It will not be easy. In fact, failure is assured if we lack the political will to win the support of police chiefs and their elected bosses, if we are unable to influence or neutralize police unions, if we don’t have the courage to move beyond the endless justifications for maintaining the status quo. But imagine the community and its cops united in the effort to responsibly “police” the Occupy movement.
Picture thousands of people gathered to press grievances against their government and the corporations, under the watchful, sympathetic protection of their partners in blue.

Where Repug Stupidity Meets Repug Arrogance and Corruption in Kentucky

Oh, the entertainment we denied ourselves by rejecting Ritchie Farmer as our new Lieutenant Governor.

From the Courier:

State Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer hired his girlfriend as a “special assistant” in his department during the waning days of the 2011 gubernatorial campaign, in which he was a candidate for lieutenant governor.

According to the state Personnel Cabinet, Stephanie L. Sandmann was hired as a non-merit employee in the Department of Agriculture, to start work on Oct. 31, and is earning $5,000 a month, equal to $60,000 a year.

Department spokesman Bill Clary said that Farmer, 42, who is going through a divorce, declined to be interviewed on the matter.

Sandmann didn’t return a phone call Thursday afternoon to Farmer’s administrative offices.

But Senate President David Williams, Farmer’s running mate, confirmed Thursday that Sandmann is Farmer’s girlfriend and said he had no idea Farmer had put her on the state’s payroll eight days before the Nov. 8 election. He said he met her while on the campaign trail with Farmer.

“She told me she worked for a gynecologist,” said Williams, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor.

According to her state personnel file, the 38-year-old Sandmann didn’t apply for a specific job but said she was willing to work only in Frankfort.

Non-merit employees aren’t required to pass civil-service tests and can be hired or fired at the discretion of elected officials and their top aides.

The non-merit ranks are long-standing favorite places for elected officials to stash friends, idiot nephews and campaign contributors, although most such appointments are made years, rather than days, before the end of one's term.

Ritchie Farmer is known to be dimwitted, but surely even he knew he was leaving office. Which suggests that there may be something to the rumor that the new repug Ag Commish is going to hire Ritchie as a special assistant himself.

State Rep. Jamie Comer of Tompkinsville was elected agriculture commissioner last week and will take over in January for Farmer, who couldn’t seek a third term because of constitutional limits. Asked if Sandmann would be retained in his administration, Comer said only that his office will handle hiring differently.

“Obviously, I’m not commissioner yet and won’t be until January,” he said. “But I can assure you that changes will be made, and hiring of qualified personnel will be my No. 1 priority.”

Clary said he didn’t know what Sandmann’s duties are in the department and had never met her.

“I don’t even know who you are talking about,” he said when first contacted. “We have 260-something employees. I don’t know them all.”

In a second conversation, however, he confirmed that Sandmann was on the payroll, reiterated that he didn’t know what her duties are and added, “The department doesn’t have anything to say about this.”

When asked if he had seen her at work, Clary said, “I don’t work in the same building. … You have exhausted my knowledge of this subject.”

Farmer’s estranged wife, Rebecca Ann, filed suit in Franklin Circuit Court on April 5 to dissolve the couple’s 13-year marriage. The case is scheduled for trial Tuesday.

That case, which promises to be nasty if not explosive, was postponed from its original pre-election date to two days before Thanksgiving, and has now been postponed again until two days before New Year's.

Sandman is also seeking a divorce.

According to records in Jefferson Circuit Court, she filed for divorce against her husband, Stephen Sandmann, in August. An order finalizing that divorce was entered Oct. 19 but is being challenged.

In the last days of the campaign, Farmer and Sandmann were often seen on the campaign trail together, including election night at the Republican Party celebration at the Marriott Griffin Gate Hotel in Lexington.

When asked if Sandmann was on the clock while attending campaign events around the state, Clary said: “I don’t have anything to say on this subject.”

Sandmann’s application for the Agriculture Department position said her last job was as a receptionist at a Louisville doctor’s office that provides gynecologic and obstetric care.

Before that, she worked as a title clerk for a title insurance company, as a real estate agent, a mortgage processor and a cellular phone saleswoman, according to the application.

Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball star and a high school legend in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, burst onto Kentucky’s political scene in 2003 with his first campaign for agriculture commissioner. He was re-elected in 2007 and was the Republicans’ leading vote getter that year.

But don't worry about us getting bored. Among the seven state elected officials is always at least one determined to embarass the Commonwealth. Taking bets now on which one it will be and how soon the idiocy will hit the papers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kentucky City Fuels Economic Expansion With ... Higher Taxes

Amazing what elected officials can accomplish when they concentrate on creating jobs and restoring the local economy.

The Herald on the growing economy in Owensboro:

... this city of 57,265 and surrounding Daviess County, where 96,656 people live, have invested in an array of business-development initiatives in health care, transportation, education, and tourism and travel that focused on making the city and county more competitive in attracting residents and businesses.

Job growth is coming from construction, an expanding medical sector, new businesses in high tech and biotechnology, and the three loan-service centers of US Bank Home Mortgage.

Most improbable in this politically conservative region is the $80 million tax increase that provided almost half of the $178.4 million in publicly and privately financed downtown development projects now under way.

The tax increase, which raised the city insurance premium tax rate to 8 percent from 4 percent, and the county rate to 8.9 percent from 4.9 percent, is paid by residents and business owners on premiums for auto, homeowners, boat and casualty insurance policies. The increase, which came after vigorous debate, was approved by a vote of 7 to 2 in February 2009 by city commissioners and the Daviess County Fiscal Court.

Notice the tax increase is regressive: everyone who owns anything insurable gets hit - which means the vast majority paying the higher tax are low- and middle-income workers - and everyone pays the same percentage, which means the wealthy hardly notice an increase that burdens most workers.

And before the positive results of the tax became manifest, the officials who courageously approved it paid the price:

The new tax revenue is producing jobs and new downtown projects, but the effect of the vote on local political careers also was unmistakable. Of the seven city and county officials who voted to approve the tax increase, just two remain in office; two were defeated and three did not seek re-election in 2010.

I hope the five out of office are walking around town with "I told you so" tattooed on their foreheads.

So what's the lesson for 99 percenters, suffering communities and discouraged voters?

"For so long, we were kind of isolated," said Payne, who is credited in Owensboro and Daviess County with leading the redevelopment. "We were kind of on a cul-de-sac. You had to be going here to get here. If anything was going to happen in this community, we were going to have to do it ourselves. We decided to reinvent this community, and that's what we're doing."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rich Get Richer and America Gets Poorer

Funny how that works.

Down with Tyranny:

Demands to return to the good old days of Clinton era tax rates are bogus. The 1% had already taken over the government lock, stock and barrel by the time Clinton-- a completely dependable servant of the 1% in every way, much the way Obama is-- became president. The most pronounced social mobility in contemporary American history-- and the greatest thrust at social equality-- came to a peak during the Eisenhower years. Those should be the model for American tax policies. Obama wants to increase the top rate for 1%-ers from 35% to 39.6%. It was 70% under Nixon and a far healthier 91% under Eisenhower. That's when America was winning.



Just as a reminder of how much money we're talking about - and why you, your teabagger brother-in-law and everybody you both know is part of the 99 percent and will never get within sight of the one percent:

From the National Taxpayers Union, one percenters have adjusted gross income per year of more than $343,000.

Here's a cool graph from the New York Times illustrating the extreme distance between the very richest and all the rest of us.

Occupy Day of Action - LA



More pictures from the Los Angeles Times here.

Mental Illness Still Earning Death by Taser

The less-publicized aspect of the paramilitary force a few big cities are using against the Occupy protesters is that throughout the country police are still managing to kill innocent, unthreatening citizens with tasers.

Digby, on a case from San Bernadino:

The use of tasers on the mentally ill is one sub-category of this controversy that really needs investigation. People who are in a delusional state cannot be expected to understand the orders that they comply. Indeed, they very likely will feel the horrible pain and struggle all the harder to get away from it. It's counterproductive to the alleged purpose of the intervention.

Here you have a situation in which there is no public safety issue. They could have called in mental health professionals to deal with it. Using pepper spray and electrical shocks on an already agitated schizophrenic was stupid. And it killed him.

I guess we are just supposed to see this as more "collateral damage" in the ongoing war against crime. And that's a direct result of the militarization of our police departments. Ex police chief Joseph McNamara addressed this dynamic in this op-ed:

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on "officer safety" and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today. Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn't Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

"Officer safety" is the excuse for tasers --- even on elderly women at traffic stops and unruly children having tantrums. In fact, it's commonly used so that the officers can demand instant compliance from the citizens regardless of the circumstances. I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea that policing is a dangerous job. But the pursuit of officer safety to the exclusion of everything else is to create a world in which the bill of rights is an anachronistic abstraction.

Being a cop in a free society is a tough gig. I think they deserve all the early pensions and great benefits they get for doing it. Anyone would burn out early from a job like that. But giving them carte blanche to use pain devices on the citizens in order to gain instant compliance and avoid any kind of physical altercation can't be right. Over time that war on crime morphs into a war on citizens.

Read the whole thing.

What Creates Jobs - and What Doesn't

Don't deny it - you're not going to be able to resist getting into it over turkey with your Paul Ryan-lovin' brother-in-law.

So when he starts in on the tax-cuts-create-jobs bullshit, throw this one at him.

Kevin Drum:

Chuck Marr of CBPP notes that the CBO recently studied a laundry list of job creation proposals and concluded that higher unemployment benefits had the biggest bang for the buck. "That’s not surprising," he says, "given that jobless people are severely cash constrained and would quickly spend most of any incremental increase in cash and that, in turn, would lead to higher demand and job creation."

But which proposal came in last? You'll have to scroll wa-a-a-a-y down to the bottom of this chart to see it, but the answer is: a tax repatriation holiday for big multinational corporations. So riddle me this: What is Congress more likely to pass? A program that benefits the 99% and creates lots of jobs? Or a program that benefits the 1% and creates hardly any jobs at all? Hmmm....

Ben Chandler Shits on KY Democrats. Again.

Face it, Sixth District Dems: Ben Chandler is laughing at you.

On Friday, the House of Representatives failed to come up with the 2/3 majority necessary to pass the highly destructive Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, 261-165.

From Steve Benen:

The nation dodged a bullet today. This amendment would have devastated the economy and made responses to future crises effectively impossible. Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, explained this week that this is a “dreadful” idea and the Republican proposal “is, frankly, nuts.”

And now, thankfully, it’s dead for another Congress.

No thanks to Blue Dog DINO Ben Wire Hangar Chandler (Traitor-KY6), who of course voted for it.

Dear Deluded Sixth District Dems:

We know what happened. Ben Chandler said he'd take you to the prom. But when you got there, he ass-raped you in the car, dumped you crying in the parking lot and went off to dance with the Homecoming Queen.

And you are fine with that.

You are terrifyingly close to deserving everything he does to you.

After redistricting, the Sixth District is going to be far bluer than it is today. Democrats who actually vote Democratic are going to be an absolute majority in the Sixth. You will never have a better chance to put an actual Democratic candidate in that seat than you do by running a liberal Democrat against Wire Hangar in the primary.

You've got until January 30 to find your candidate and file to run.

Show some dignity, for pity's sake.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Kind of Idiot Turns Down Safe Free Money?

I called my credit union the other day to find out if mortgage rates had dropped since I last refinanced. They hadn't, but if they had, I would have jumped to refinance again. In this economy, you'd have to be stupid to turn down a safe opportunity to save money.

You probably already know where I'm going with this.

Brian Beutler at TPM:

Here in the United States, Republican lawmakers are busy blocking plans to spend money on jobs and infrastructure improvement, while both parties work in earnest to find ways of cutting $1.2 trillion or more from the budget over the next 10 years.

They’re doing this at a time when demand for America’s debt is so high that investors will essentially pay the U.S. to borrow.

You read that right. Here are the numbers. They may appear hard to parse, but it’s pretty straightforward: when you adjust for inflation, the interest creditors get for parking their money here is negative. That’s not a deal you’d accept from your bank, but it’s the deal we’re getting now.

So why are we letting bridges and roads deteriorate? Why aren’t we installing new high-speed rail lines everywhere it makes sense to install them? Why aren’t we paying people to do the things the vast majority of Americans support doing? Why, in other words, aren’t we going on a borrowing frenzy?

The biggest and most obvious reason is that our government is riven by ideology and politics. Republicans say they want smaller government, to cut government programs, and that means less spending — whether financed by debt or by raising taxes. They also have a strong political incentive against helping President Obama and the Democrats boost the economy.

Which is to say, we should be doing this, but we’re not.

Federal government borrowing right now does not just not add to the deficit; federal borrowing at negative interest actually reduces the deficit.

So any repug, DINO Blue Dog or random moron who opposes the federal government borrowing five or ten trillion dollars to create jobs right now is out to destroy the economy.

Don't let them get away with claiming anything else.

Everywhere the Occupation Thrives

Occupations in Lexington and Louisville are surviving and thriving.

In that they are the rule, not the exception.

Phoenix Woman at Firedoglake:

There actually is a bit of good news on the Occupy front. Aside from the astonishing fact that the CBS Evening News last night actually mentioned — and played a portion of! — the BBC interview with Oakland mayor Jean Quan, where she ‘fesses up to being on a nineteen-city conference call to discuss things like OWS (I wonder if the arrests of at least five reporters and the manhandling of several others in Bloomberg and Kelly’s efforts to silence the press might have had something to do with this sudden volte-face on a usually-establishment-coddling network’s part?), there was this:

The General Executive Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters unanimously passed a resolution today supporting the right of protesters at Occupy Wall Street to assemble at Liberty Park. The Teamsters further commended New York Supreme Court Judge Lucy Billings for issuing a restraining order this morning restoring protesters’ constitutional rights.

“You can draw a direct line from the Wisconsin protests in the winter to Occupy Wall Street to the overwhelming rejection of an anti-union ballot question in Ohio,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “Occupy Wall Street is bringing new energy to a fight that labor has been engaged in from the beginning: The fight for an economy that works for everybody, not just the 1 percent.”

English translation: “Dear Bloomberg, Kelly, Cuomo, Quan et al: Here is some salt. Go pound it up you know where. Love, Jimmy’s Kid.”

In Detroit, Des Moines, Albany, Phoenix and a hundred other cities, reality-bssed mayors and police departments are refusing to treat protesting citizens like terrorists.

Read the whole thing.

How Corporations Fight the "Insurgency"

Just as data collection and surveillance of citizens by corporations is far more extensive and dangerous than that by government, so is the way corporations attack citizens who refuse to obey their One Percenter masters.

Robert Johnson at Business Insider:

Fracking is a contentious business. The process of injecting chemicals at high-pressure into the earth to pull out gas and oil has prompted as many reports condemning it as there are declaring it safe.

Homeowners concerned for the safety of their well water, and environmentalists, who believe the drilling even caused the Oklahoma earthquake, have formed movements against the practice, and it was these efforts that came up for discussion at last week's oil industry conference in Houston.

Filled with industry insiders all facing the same challenges and concerns, speakers lectured openly on how they handled the American public in communities where they drilled.

There, recording it all, was environmental activist Sharon Wilson, director of the Oil & Gas Accountability Project.

In the following recording, given to CNBC, one presenter tells the crowd to download a copy of the Army's counterinsurgency manual. "Because," he said, the movement opposing the industry is an "insurgency."

In this next recording (also given to CNBC) the speaker tells listeners that his organization maintains several military veterans who served as psychological warfare specialists. These former "psy ops" soldiers, he explains, are using their skills in Pennsylvania.

Wilson paid full price for attendance to the conference and wore a nametag identifying herself and her organization.

In his forum called “Designing a Media Relations Strategy To Overcome Concerns Surrounding Hydraulic Fracturing,” Range Resources communications director Matt Pitzarella explains how to "overcome stakeholder concerns" surrounding fracking.

“We have several former psy ops folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments,” Pitzarella said. “Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”

It was during Anadarko Petroleum's manager of external affairs, Matt Carmichael's, session on “Understanding How Unconventional Oil & Gas Operators are Developing a Comprehensive Media Relations Strategy to Engage Stakeholders and Educate the Public" that he suggested his colleagues:

“Download the U.S. Army-slash-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency,” Carmichael said. “There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.”

To be clear on exactly what Carmichael meant when he said they're "dealing with an insurgency" we obtained a copy of the FM 3-24 — the final edition of the 2006 Counterinsurgency manual provided to psy ops soldiers. We substituted the word government with corporation.

" ... insurgency has been a common approach used by the weak to combat the strong. At the beginning of a conflict, insurgents have the strategic initiative ... the insurgents generally initiate the war. They may strive to disguise their intentions, and the potential counter-insurgent will be at a great disadvantage until [corporate] leaders recognize that an insurgency exists and are able to determine its makeup and characteristics to facilitate a coordinated reaction.

While the [corporation] prepares to respond, the insurgent is gaining strength and creating increasing disruptions throughout the state. The existing [corporation] normally has an initial advantage in resources, but that edge is counterbalanced by the requirement to maintain order. The insurgent succeeds by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the [corporation] fails unless it maintains order everywhere.

Check out FM 3-24 below, section 1-1 provides the overview of an "insurgency." It provides an interesting insight into how corporations impacting the daily lives of US citizens conduct policy.


h/t Crooks and Liars.

"Give American workers and businesses the chance to succeed"

If you want to save and expand American jobs, Mr. President, stop signing job-killing "trade" agreements.



Full transcript here.