Excellent essay on the battle for "civility":
If negativity is understood to be bad (and it must be bad, just look at the name: negativity) then anti-negativity must be good. The most broadly approved-of thing about Barack Obama, in 2008, was his announced desire to "change the tone" of politics. Everyone agreed then that our politics needed a change of tone. The politicians who make speeches, the reporters and commentators who write the articles expressing the current state of political affairs, the pollsters and poll respondents who ask and answer questions about politics—in short, the great mass of people who do anything that could conceivably generate something that could be called a "tone" of politics—all were dissatisfied with the tone.
One of the silliest or most misguided notions that David Denby frets about, in denouncing snark, is that "the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side threatens to win national political campaigns." This is more or less the opposite of the case. What carries contemporary American political campaigns along is a thick flow of opaque smarm.
...members of the self-identified center are in some important sense unable to accept opposition. Through smarm, they have cut themselves off from the language of actual dispute. An entire political agenda—privatization of government services, aggressive policing, charter schooling, cuts in Social Security—has been packaged as apolitical, a reasonable consensus about necessity. Those who oppose the agenda are "interest groups," whose selfish greed makes them unable to see reason, or "ideologues." Those who promote it are disinterested and nonideological. There is no reason for the latter to even engage the former. In smarm is power.
The urge to civility, pushed most strenuously by the Sensible Centrists™, is fundamentally anti-democratic: it insists that there are no disputes, only people who dispute, and we should all calm down and allow the right people to reach a consensus (it goes without saying that Elizabeth Warren rather than John Boehner is uncivil, Rachel Maddow rather than Rush Limbaugh...funny how that works).
Anyway, worth reading, if only for this: "If you would know smarm, look to Joe Lieberman".
The savagely punitive nature of our War on (Some) Drugs goes on:
“Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice – in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial,” said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”
In the 1980s, when Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, lawmakers intended 10-year minimum sentences for drug kingpins and five years for mid-level traffickers. But because the laws key the sentence to the weight and type of drug, and not the specific role of the offender, prosecutors can levy the same charges with the same mandatory sentence against a courier who delivers a package of drugs and the head of a drug organization to whom the drugs are delivered. Nearly half – 48 percent – of federal drug defendants have low-level functions such as street-level dealer or courier, and half to three-quarters of them are convicted of offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences.
Prosecutors also pressure drug defendants to plead by threatening increased mandatory sentencing enhancements and penalties that are applicable if the defendant has one or more prior drug convictions or possessed a gun at the time of the offense. If the prosecutors carry out their threats, they add decades to the defendant’s time behind bars, resulting in punishments that, as one federal judge, John Gleeson of New York’s Eastern District, recently put it, are “so excessively severe they take your breath away.”
“Going to trial is a right, not a crime,” Fellner said. “But defendants are punished with longer sentences for exercising that right.”
The burgeoning Prison-Industrial Complex aside, I've long been convinced that a part of the American character is a love of punishment and the inflicting of pain and death.
Our Puritan forefathers smile upon us.
[Via Dan Gillmor.]
Earlier this year, researchers say, someone mysteriously hijacked internet traffic headed to government agencies, corporate offices and other recipients in the U.S. and elsewhere and redirected it to Belarus and Iceland, before sending it on its way to its legitimate destinations. They did so repeatedly over several months. But luckily someone did notice.
And this may not be the first time it has occurred — just the first time anyone has noticed.
Analysts at Renesys, a network monitoring firm, said that over several months earlier this year someone diverted the traffic using the same vulnerability in the so-called Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP, that the two security researchers demonstrated in 2008. The BGP attack, a version of the classic man-in-the-middle exploit, allows hijackers to fool other routers into re-directing data to a system they control. When they finally send it to its correct destination, neither the sender or recipient is aware that their data has made on unscheduled stop.
The stakes are potentially enormous, since once data is hijacked, the perpetrator can copy and then comb through any unencrypted data freely — reading email and spreadsheets, extracting credit card numbers, and capturing vast amounts of sensitive information.
The attackers initiated the hijacks at least 38 times, grabbing traffic from about 1,500 individual IP blocks — sometimes for minutes, other times for days — and they did it in such a way that, researchers say, it couldn’t have been a mistake.
In one case, traffic headed from New York to Los Angeles took a detour to Moscow and Belarus before being sent back through New York to its destination on the West Coast. In another case, traffic headed from Chicago to Iran, which normally passed through Germany, took a roundabout journey through Canada, London, Amsterdam, Moscow and Belarus before being sent to Iran via Poland, Germany, the UK and New York.
NSA? China? Russia? Israel? Hell, anyone who can scare up some decent hackers could have pulled this off.
The 21st Amendment was ratified this day eighty years ago.
Now if we could do something about the other, ongoing prohibition that continues to cause problems.
Katie Couric joins the anti-vaxx brigade.
I'll say it again: with perhaps an exception or two, teevee "news" makes you less, not more, informed.
posted by gyma
WTF is late today because *somebody* broke my Internet. I'm blaming it on the bitterly cold temps (it's currently 8°).
What's the worst Christmas gift you've ever received (or given)? Mine would have to be the year my brother gave me a waterpik type oral hygiene appliance, and one year I gave my step daughters framed photos of their dad as a kid (they weren't pleased).
So to keep the tradition going, here's an entire blog devoted to the worst things for sale on the Internet, including this lovely ornament:
I heartily encourage our Republican friends in the House to begin impeachment proceedings against President Obama. Just try to time is so the Senate trial occurs next October.
Do it for America, Republicans!
It's a good time to be in banking, at least so long as you aren't actually working for one:
Almost a third of the country’s half-million bank tellers rely on some form of public assistance to get by, according to a report due out Wednesday.
Researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks. The workers collect $105 million in food stamps, $250 million through the earned income tax credit and $534 million by way of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center.
Perhaps the kind-hearted folks at Third Way will have something to say about this.
The people who run the non-partisan-only-concerned-about-responsible-budgets Third Way:
As always, Dahlia is worth a read:
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are ultimately so worrisome because they fuse together two of the most dangerous right-wing civil rights obsessions of our times: the ambition of large, for-profit corporations to see themselves as people, with faith, convictions, and consciences, and the attempt of citizens, using their own science and their own facts, to declare when legal personhood begins, and then impose universal laws based on those beliefs. The cases are a collision of two very insidious legal metaphors — that personhood begins when any one religion says it does and that religious personhood can be vested in corporations in ways that can be forced on workers. It simply cannot be the case that in a country of 319 million people, we are ready to recognize zygotes and Walmart as legal “persons.” We can protect animals and unborn babies and corporations without also embodying them with a humanity they don’t possess. Turning everything and anything into a “person” ultimately also serves to turn persons into things.
Let me toss out an idea: if corporations are legally persons, with all the inherent rights of persons, then why don't we treat corporate officers as personally liable for the actions of their corporations?
It's time to renew our offensive in the War of Christmas!
I updated my Twitter client, Twitterrific, this morning and this is the result:
Drones schmones, the real story is CBS's 60 Minutes is apparently now functioning as Amazon's PR department.
Continuing to cover themselves in glory, they are.
posted by gyma
Or perhaps I should say Brown Thursday. Yesterday I ordered a sound bar for our flat screen TV from Amazon. I am a proud member of Amazon Prime, which guarantees 2-day, free delivery. So when should I expect to receive my package?
Adding: I'm sure I read where Amazon twisted some arms to convince the USPS to deliver its packages on Sundays. So WTF?!
posted by gyma
May you all have *something* to be thankful for on this carb-laden holiday. Here's a Menurkey to make the day complete:
posted by gyma
Time to get your Christmas decorations up. This would be an excellent time to put this in your front yard as it would likely make you the most hated neighbor on the block!
Bonus: it's animated!
I'll give you even odds that Lara Logan eventually ends up at Fox "News".
Show me your money.
At least, how capitalism practiced in the United States.
Example #1: Finding loopholes in the ACA:
As Americans have begun shopping for health plans on the insurance exchanges, they are discovering that insurers are restricting their choice of doctors and hospitals in order to keep costs low, and that many of the plans exclude top-rated hospitals.
The result, some argue, is a two-tiered system of health care: Many of the people who buy health plans on the exchanges have fewer hospitals and doctors to choose from than those with coverage through their employers.
A number of the nation’s top hospitals — including the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, and children’s hospitals in Seattle, Houston and St. Louis — are cut out of most plans sold on the exchange.
Not that healthcare behemoths need the ACA as an excuse.
Example #2: Company towns for the 21st Century:
Over the last year and a half, Wall Street hedge funds and private equity firms have quietly amassed an unprecedented rental empire, snapping up Queen Anne Victorians in Atlanta, brick-faced bungalows in Chicago, Spanish revivals in Phoenix. In total, these deep-pocketed investors have bought more than 200,000 cheap, mostly foreclosed houses in cities hardest hit by the economic meltdown.
Since the buying frenzy began, no company has picked up more houses than the Blackstone Group, the largest private equity firm in the world. Using a subsidiary company, Invitation Homes, Blackstone has grabbed houses at foreclosure auctions, through local brokers, and in bulk purchases directly from banks the same way a regular person might stock up on toilet paper from Costco.
In one move, it bought 1,400 houses in Atlanta in a single day. As of November, Blackstone had spent $7.5 billion to buy 40,000 mostly foreclosed houses across the country. That’s a spending rate of $100 million a week since October 2012. It recently announced plans to take the business international, beginning in foreclosure-ravaged Spain.
Few outside the finance industry have heard of Blackstone. Yet today, it’s the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the nation -- and of a whole lot of other things, too. It owns part or all of the Hilton Hotel chain, Southern Cross Healthcare, Houghton Mifflin publishing house, the Weather Channel, Sea World, the arts and crafts chain Michael’s, Orangina, and dozens of other companies.
In hindsight, it’s clear that the Great Recession fueled a terrific wealth and asset transfer away from ordinary Americans and to financial institutions. During that crisis, Americans lost trillions of dollars of household wealth when housing prices crashed, while banks seized about five million homes. But what’s just beginning to emerge is how, as in the recession years, the recovery itself continues to drive the process of transferring wealth and power from the bottom to the top.
I'll leave it there; any comprehensive list would an impossibility.
ADDED: Let the rending of garment commence from rightwing Roman Catholics and their allies:
Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.
The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.
In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".
Your move, Bill Donohue.
For conservatives, the Soviet Union always has been and always will be.
The era of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany truly were a golden time for our Friends on the Right™.
posted by gyma
The saved files folder in my news reader keeps getting longer and longer because I keep thinking I'll have the time and energy to blog about some of them.
Well, that's not happening, so on this lazy Sunday afternoon, here are some links to amuse, amaze and/or outrage you.
And finally, excuse me while I enjoy a Baileys Chocolat Luxe. Rube Goldberg would be proud.
posted by gyma
You mean it isn't?! Could have fooled me.
Check out the story of the shit storm that ensued when the Discovery Church pastor went shopping.
It should be obvious to even the slowest mind that the NSA doesn't just want all the information, it wants all the power:
Yet the paper also shows how the agency believes it can influence and shape trends in high-tech industries in other ways to suit its needs. One of the agency’s goals is to “continue to invest in the industrial base and drive the state of the art for high performance computing to maintain pre-eminent cryptanalytic capability for the nation.” The paper added that the N.S.A. must seek to “identify new access, collection and exploitation methods by leveraging global business trends in data and communications services.”
And it wants to find ways to combine all of its technical tools to enhance its surveillance powers. The N.S.A. will seek to integrate its “capabilities to reach previously inaccessible targets in support of exploitation, cyberdefense and cyberoperations,” the paper stated.
But let no one say the NSA doesn't have a sense of humor:
N.S.A. officials have insisted that they have placed tight controls on those programs.
What a bunch of cards!
Again: Markus Wolf couldn't have dreamed of such power to control populations.
I've come to say that the greatest achievement of John F. Kennedy's presidency was him getting his head blown off. That tragedy has allowed liberals* to confidently predict precisely what JFK would have done had he lived. And for many liberals, there's no bigger truism than had Kennedy lived there would have been no Vietnam War. It should be, but apparently isn't, obvious the historical record is at best ambivalent, and probably tips towards Kennedy pursuing the war.
Historical what-ifs can be entertaining time-wasters but let's not confuse them with actual facts and actual history.
*Like Martin Luther King previously, conservatives are increasingly claiming JFK as one of their own. It's one of the more interesting quirks of conservatism that when something liberal becomes widely admired, that thing becomes conservative. Conservatives is strange, is what I'm saying.
Credit to Majority Leader Harry Reid for finally lassoing the needed votes.
Mortality rates ought to be rising before too long:
With antibiotics losing usefulness so quickly — and thus not making back the estimated $1 billion per drug it costs to create them — the pharmaceutical industry lost enthusiasm for making more. In 2004, there were only five new antibiotics in development, compared to more than 500 chronic-disease drugs for which resistance is not an issue — and which, unlike antibiotics, are taken for years, not days. Since then, resistant bugs have grown more numerous and by sharing DNA with each other, have become even tougher to treat with the few drugs that remain. In 2009, and again this year, researchers in Europe and the United States sounded the alarm over an ominous form of resistance known as CRE, for which only one antibiotic still works.
Health authorities have struggled to convince the public that this is a crisis. In September, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a blunt warning: “If we’re not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era. For some patients and some microbes, we are already there.” The chief medical officer of the United Kingdom, Dame Sally Davies — who calls antibiotic resistance as serious a threat as terrorism — recently published a book in which she imagines what might come next. She sketches a world where infection is so dangerous that anyone with even minor symptoms would be locked in confinement until they recover or die. It is a dark vision, meant to disturb. But it may actually underplay what the loss of antibiotics would mean.
But let's keep giving antibiotics to people with colds or influenza and, most importantly of all, shoveling antibiotics at cows and pigs and chickens housed at factory farms. We won't ever regret that.
Meanwhile, over in Utah:
The new recorder in the town of about 275 just east of Deer Creek Reservoir forgot to announce the opening of the filing period or arrange to hold an election Nov. 5, when voters across the state cast their ballots in municipal elections.
By the time the oversight was caught shortly before Election Day, it was too late to field candidates and hold the balloting on the fly.
Mark Thomas, director of the state elections office, said Wallsburg didn’t schedule an election two years ago, either, and the council members had to be appointed then, as well. Those appointed seats should have been up for election in the November election, but were not, he said.
Perhaps they're especially dim in Wallsburg, Utah. Or perhaps not.
[Via TPM Livewire.]
posted by gyma
Best (or worst?) wedding cake, evah.
When the caffeine in the tea just isn't enough, there's always cocaine.
Sobriety checkpoints and mandatory drug testing of student athletes and railroad workers are among the legal precedents justifying the U.S. government’s now-defunct and court-approved secret email metadata dragnet surveillance program, according to documents the authorities released late Monday.
“We think this is the foundational opinion for the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata,” said Patrick Toomey, an ACLU attorney.
To be sure, Supreme Court rulings related to drunken driving, student athletes and railway officials weren’t the only legal precedent Kollar-Kotelly cited.
She noted a 1979 decision, involving a purse snatching, that concluded that Americans had no expectation of privacy in information stored with third parties in a case concerning a mugger’s telephone calling records.
Some of us back in the 1980s were warning that many "anti-drug" and "public safety" policies would lead to this sort of thing by rendering the Fourth Amendment null and void.
Nothing will be done to reverse this trend, of course, so here we are. And here we go.
I challenge you to gainsay that!
Libertarians, that is. David Atkins reads Tyler Cowen's Utopian vision for the future so we don't have to:
This new digital meritocracy will prove self-reinforcing. Worthy individuals will rise from poverty on a regular basis, but that will only make it easier to ignore those left behind. The wealthy class will grow larger over time, and more influential. And the increasingly libertarian values of the wealthy will shape the public debate, strengthening the upper class’s grip on the commanding heights of the economy and society, and pulling policy in their favor.Cowen goes on to argue that all the poors will simply fight and eat each other rather than focus their gaze on the 1%, and that a new dawn of libertarianism tingned with slight neoliberalism will rise in America's technocratic urban centers. It's well worth reading his piece in full to appreciate the giddiness with which he anticipates this Malthusian nightmare.
You might think the 85 percent would rise up in protest. Many commentators, influenced by widening income inequality and the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements, are predicting exactly that scenario: an America torn by unrest and maybe even political violence. I do think we’ll see some outbursts of trouble, but in the long run the picture will be fairly calm and indeed downright ordinary. Expect a society that will be more conservative, both politically and in the more literal sense of that term.
Atkins gets it mostly right:
I don't, however, think it will end that way. The history of middle class societies that lose their footing in an age of mass inequality and labor destabilization suggests that a more progressive social contract will emerge under the threat of revolution. The other, only slightly less likely possibility is a fascist regime that attempts to lay all the blame on "The Other". A slow, comfortable descent into class-based Social Darwinism seems less likely than either option, though it's certainly possible.
The problem is that history might well fail us this time: the ability of capital and the plutocratic caste to move about the globe is unprecedented. Rather than allow a more just society to emerge I believe it more likely that they will simply abandon the United States for, as I've put it numerous times, more congenial climes.
And both Cowen and Atkins ignore the consequences of a warming planet, the social effects of which are impossible to predict.
That said, Cowen's vision of the future is more likely to come to pass. Not as an inevitability, mind you, but as a wholly manufactured result.
Apparently the Cheney family is full of Dicks:
The relationship between the two sisters used to be quite different. The daughters drew especially close when their father ran as Mr. Bush’s running mate in 2000 and eventually became a figure of great controversy and enormous power as vice president. After Mr. Cheney left office in 2009, politically bruised and physically ailing, the sisters, who lived 15 minutes apart in Washington’s tony Northern Virginia suburbs, would join their parents for a standing Sunday dinner at Liz’s house in McLean each week, along with their families, including Ms. Poe.
Mary Cheney, 44, said in a phone interview Sunday that she presumed her sister shared her father’s views on marriage, and that view was reinforced because Liz Cheney “was always very supportive” of her relationship with Ms. Poe and the couple’s two children. She learned otherwise in August when Liz Cheney declared, shortly after announcing her Senate candidacy, that she was opposed to same-sex marriage rights. Mary Cheney said it is now “impossible” for the sisters to reconcile as long as Liz Cheney maintains that position.
And the pièce de résistance:
...Mary Cheney … said she would continue to raise the matter. Reminded by a reporter that such criticism could complicate her sister’s Senate campaign, Mary Cheney offered a clipped answer reminiscent of her father’s terse style. “O.K.,” she said, before letting silence fill the air.
Perhaps Mary, Liz, Dick, and Lynne will do the decent, patriotic thing and utterly destroy each other. But at the very least this makes it much more likely that we won't have to deal with another Cheney holding high office.
posted by gyma
This is why you need to insure Wall Street never, ever, gets its greedy little paws on Social Security.
Our flying killer robots are turning on us:
An aerial target drone malfunctioned and crashed into a United States Navy ship off the coast of southern California on Saturday, leaving two sailors with minor burns, a Navy spokeswoman said.
There's no indication that they've developed a taste for human blood. Yet.
posted by gyma
If you are inclined to be a church goer, then I can think of worse ways to spend an evening. But will Jesus come bail you out when you get stopped for a DUI on the way home?
In Portland, Oregon, you can seek Jesus at the old First Christian Church, downtown. Once a month, they hold a Beer & Hymns night. Some in this beer-loving community find it confusing that the event is sponsored by an anti-alcohol denomination, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. But no one should let a little disorientation keep them away from the joy of finding Jesus in the bottom of a 16-ounce, red plastic cup.
Despite recent reports (and the statistical unlikelihood of resurrection) Andy Kaufman is still dead.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership may well be the worst treaty every negotiated by the United States - and that's saying something:
The United States Trade Representative and the Obama administration have kept the treaty texts secret from the public. However, they have shared texts with 700 or so “cleared advisers,” all of whom come from intellectual property rights holders’ industries. Members of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property Rights have had access to texts all along. These members include representatives of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Entertainment Software Association, as well as firms such as Gilead Sciences, Johnson and Johnson, Verizon, Cisco Systems, and General Electric.
But not you or me, of course, and "select" members of Congress are only being allowed "limited access".
But this does go to show that we need groups like WikiLeaks, however distasteful some in such organizations might be.
So someone at JPMorgan Chase thought it would be a good idea to invite Twitter users to ask one of the company's top execs for career advice. In the end, this was the thoroughly unsurprising result: