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Thursday, 29 March 2012

The law in its majesty

David Cay Johnston will be Jay's guest tonight on Virtually Speaking.

Dahlia Lithwick: "This morning in America's highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don't want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn't really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of 'liberty.' This case isn't so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It's about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It's about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that's been inspected. It's about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it's 1804."

This is the actual Stand Your Ground law in Florida. As you can see, it in no way covers Zimmerman's position, contrary to claims that he is protected against charges of stalking and murdering Trayvon Martin. "Stand Your Ground" addresses the degree of force you are allowed to use if someone invades your home or directly assaults you. The alternative, as Stuart discussed when we talked on Virtually Speaking Sundays, is Duty to Retreat, which is the law by which women who have been brutalized in their own homes can be convicted as murderers for failing to take every conceivable means to avoid killing their abusers even though it is clear that there is no real possibility of escape from their own eventual deaths if this guy is allowed to keep coming after them. It's interesting that people are attacking the Stand Your Ground laws, which have nothing to do with Trayvon's death, rather than discussing the myriad other issues involved. One of them, it should be noted, is that a real problem that applies here is the assumption that the police are exempt from any restriction on force or obligation to try to preserve life (or establish probable cause!) before stopping, arresting, assaulting or even killing someone. The police certainly should feel a duty to restrain themselves from using force, especially in situations where they are breaking into the homes of someone who is "suspected" of committing a non-violent crime (e.g., drugs). Stand Your Ground laws say people can defend themselves against home invaders, but for some reason if you do so and the invaders are cops (who seem to have the wrong address with remarkable frequency), you're the bad guy. And, even in the extreme situation where the police, with the wrong address, invade your home, if you try to defend yourself by shooting the people who've broken down your door in the middle of the night, you're not just guilty of manslaughter or some lesser charge, you're guilty of murder. Of murdering a cop. Of a capital crime. So someone like Zimmerman who sees himself in the role of a cop is thinking he shares this exemption with cops, this right to shoot people without taking any care against killing innocent people. "I'm a good guy so it's okay for me to shoot people I merely suspect of being bad."

Matt Taibbi, "Gangster Banks Keep Winning Public Business. Why?" Yes, why are these institutions too crooked to fail?

Matt Stoller writing at Naked Capitalism, "Who Wants Keep the War on Drugs Going AND Put You in Debtor's Prison? [...] Welcome to the for-profit prison industry. It's an industry that wants people in jail, because jail is their product. And they have shareholder expectations to meet." And when Krugman wrote about this, the insurance industry tried to intimidate him into shutting up. (via)

Culture Project: Blueprint for Accountability "Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Rolling Stone Contributor Matt Taibbi, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, Rebuild the Dream president Van Jones, Occupier Jesse LaGreca and Demos Washington Director Heather McGhee discuss corporate powers in the political and democratic life of the United States." It's not often you get to see a lengthy, in-depth discussion like this.

Bruce Schneier: "I was supposed to testify today about the TSA in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. [...] On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it's pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it's easier for them to do that if I'm not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them." Damn, wouldn't it have been good if Congress had been deluged with calls about that? (via) (Also, more curious "security" in protecting the Wall Street Bull.)

Let's not forget that Romneycare/Obamacare was invented by arch-conservatives to prevent a better system. That's why Obama and his "Third Way" buddies like it. Also, "Central premise of Obamacare not supported by evidence: 'Medicare's largest effort to pay hospitals based on how they perform - an inspiration for key parts of the 2010 health care law - did not lead to fewer deaths, a new study has found.'"

If our Founding Fathers didn't believe in government services to the public, why did Ben Franklin found the US Post Office? Jim Hightower says it was a good idea - and it still is, in spite of everything. (via)

Atrios is working on his Wanker of the Decade list. I assume he means the decade he's been blogging, and, as he says, his inclination is to go after media types rather than politicians, although they might get his vote, too. For me, the candidates are too numerous to fit. The leading "liberal" voices of The Washington Post and The New York Times all belong on the list, but so do Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, and the unbearable David Gregory. Then again, I admit that my first thought when I saw the phrase "Wanker of the Decade" was, "Barack Obama."

An honorable profession speaks up: "Madrid escorts declare sex war against bankers: Spanish banks have come under fire recently for many reasons, including foreclosures on thousands of homes. Madrid's high-class escorts are getting revenge. The ladies have taken it on themselves to regulate the Spanish banking sector by withholding sexual favours from bank employees." (Thanks to Danp for the tip.)

U.S. Plans No Charges Over Deadly Strike in Pakistan

It's probably easier to use the malaria defense than admit that our military fish is rotting from the top.

Cash for Cameron - Well, graft and corruption stopped being a surprise some time ago.

Crime Lord: "The witnesses allege a software company NDS, owned by News Corp, cracked the smart card codes of rival company ONdigital. ONdigital, owned by the ITV companies Granada and Carlton, eventually went under amid a welter of counterfeiting by pirates, leaving the immensely lucrative pay-TV field clear for Sky. The allegations, if proved, cast further doubt on whether News Corp meets the "fit and proper" test required to run a broadcaster in Britain. It emerged earlier this month that broadcasting regulator Ofcom has set up a unit called Project Apple to establish whether BSkyB, 39.1% owned by News Corp, meets the test." It's pretty clear by now that hacking has been an essential part of Murdoch's business model. This goes well beyond raising questions about whether his company meets the "fit and proper" test; it raises questions about why he isn't in jail. (via)

"What Connects Cellphones and Toilets?" (via) It's not "culture", it's the simple fact that, all over the world, it's cheaper and easier to get a cell phone than to build a toilet - and you don't even need a place of your own to put it on.

Not sure if or when the entire Rolling Stone interview with Bruce Springsteen by Jon Stewart will be online, but some good quotes are available now, and some photos.

"Atheist's Lullaby"

My vote for silliest criticism of John Carter of Mars is the dismissal that it's "derivative" - obviously, coming from people who don't realize that everything they think it's derivative of is in fact derivative of John Carter of Mars - but "a flop of legendary proportions" is a close second.

A Collection of Kisses

"Chocolate 'may help keep people slim': It found those who ate chocolate a few times a week were, on average, slimmer than those who ate it occasionally."

16:27 BST

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Some rob you with a fountain pen

Tonight on Virtually Speaking Sundays, panelists will be Stuart Zechman and Avedon Carol.

Long-time Sideshow reader JHB put together some graphs showing the changes in the various tax brackets over the last century. This is actually more shocking than I thought: "In 1932 and 1933 there were over 50 brackets, and only 4 of them dealt with incomes below the equivalent of $200K. [...] Note how many brackets affected incomes above $200K before the Reagan era. Also note how there were more at lower levels below that level too. Also note how it collapsed after Reagan: both at the high end (though inflation took its toll earlier) and by hollowing out gradations at the low end. From 1988-1990 there were only two rates: 15% up to ~$34,000, and 28% on everything above that. Very nearly a flat tax, and the one which George Bush paid for that 'read my lips' line when it proved unsustainable. Even when higher brackets were implemented under Clinton, you can still see the fruits of the conservative's assault on the very idea of progressive taxation."

Obama isn't finished with trying to kill Social Security. David Dayen says the lame-duck Congress looks like it's headed for another Grand Bargain before January 20th. They will probably be able to pull this off because, as Bruce Dixon notes, "The second thing that happens when corporate Democrats steal the policies of Republicans is that, since they nominally represent the have-nots, who now have nowhere else to go, they are often more effective at imposing Republican policies upon the polity." (via)

Sam Seder talked to Matt Taibbi about the "corrupt culture of Bank of America; how CEO rivalry and government regulation created the banking behemoth that conned the American people into bankruptcy," on Thursdays Majority Report.

Bill Black and other financial criminologists want you to know: "The JOBS Act is so Criminogenic that it Guarantees Full-Time Jobs for Criminologists [...] "Our system worked brilliantly. America prospered. American businesses and investors prospered. Unfortunately, economists decided to destroy what worked and to replace it with a fraud-friendly, deregulated world. Among the many fraud-friendly policies that led to the deregulation that prompts our recurrent, intensifying financial crises, the undisputed most destructive aspect is the recurrent, intensifying embrace of the 'regulatory race to the bottom.' The 'logic' of the argument in the securities law context is that (1) dishonest issuers like bad regulation because it allows them to defraud with impunity, (2) our 'competitor' nations (typically described as the City of London) offer weaker regulation to induce the fraudulent issuers to locate abroad, and (3) we must not allow this to happen; we must make sure that fraudulent issuers are based in America. Of course, they never phrase honestly their 'logic' about dishonesty. Four national commissions investigated the causes of financial crises - the S&L debacle, the ongoing U.S. crisis, the Irish crisis, and the Icelandic crisis. Each of the commissions has decried the idiocy of the 'race to the bottom' dynamic and warned that it must end. The arguments advanced by industry in support of the JOBS Act reflect and worship at the altar of 'the race to the bottom.'"

Robert Reich on The Social Darwinist Budget Plan - and, of course, he's right, except that the contrast isn't between Democrats and Republicans, who don't actually vary that much in their policies, but between the political leadership of both parties (and their courtiers in the media), and pretty much everyone else.

I do not know why Paul Krugman imagines that the Very Serious People will ever admit that "fiscally responsible" people are not fiscally responsible at all and that destroying our economy is a bad idea. Pay attention, Paul: The "reasons" for doing it change, but the program never does. It's not like anyone ever learns anything.

Froomkin is worried about how Post-Citizens United Money May Swamp Congressional Candidates. I'm worried about how the entire establishment media has silenced intelligent discussion of policies for the last 30-odd years, long before the Citizens United decision made people actually start Viewing With Alarm. Look, you are not going to have an informed citizenry when the liberal end of the spectrum is a Rachel Maddow who has been turned into little more than a partisan mouthpiece who acts like the problem is just Republicans.

From or via Suburban Guerrilla:
Did you know that you can't sue a drug company that gave you gangrene if you bought the generic?
ALEC killed Treyvon Martin with a law to give paranoid minority-hating gun nuts a 'get out of jail free' card.
The banks are out to get Maxine Waters.
Hell freezes over: "Tea Party activists, Unions and Occupy Atlanta are in agreement to oppose Georgia Senate Bill 469 proposing to make protesting on private property an aggravated misdemeanor, carrying steep fines and prison time."
Misdirected outrage: "I'm talking about the scum who rise to the level of the Koch Brothers, and the scum who float on ponds that are slightly less exclusive. For example, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, whose compensation was recently tripled - from $7.2 million to $23.1 million a year - at the same time the company was trying to cut health care and other benefits for workers. Why is Limbaugh in the news rather than McAdam?"
The most important parts of strong national security are these: A free and honest press; economic freedom for the masses (not just the rich); a good educational system free to all; and clean energy: "Some of the most powerful voices in support of clean energy come not from starry-eyed entrepreneurs of solar start-ups or environmental advocacy groups - but from the U.S. military. Often at odds with the political conservatives who claim to have their interests at heart, the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy have all taken major steps to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and to expand the application of cleaner technologies."

I cannot affect to be surprised to learn that "The NYPD didn't just spy on entire Muslim communities -- a new report by The Associated Press reveals that cops also surveilled liberal political groups," Via Atrios.

Also from Atrios, "Wanted: Meddling Kids: I seem to be the only one focused on the likely consequences of everyone at MF Global getting away with it. There's now a blueprint for how steal billions of dollars without any consequences. That's a plan everyone can follow." Further, "Mattresses Will Work Just Fine: One reason to have a well-regulated financial system where stealing all the money is at least slightly difficult is so that you actually have a functioning financial system. If they can all steal with impunity then some of us might decide to put our money elsewhere. The point is that while individually I'd be better off if I could steal with impunity, I'm not better off if everybody can."

Over-funded, over-tolerated, and over here: The lies of the American right are making inroads on this side of the water and the liars themselves are permitted to use video for the purpose of lying to British schoolchildren about abortion. Naturally, the Torygraph ran a little sting operation against counselors that would have made Breitbart proud.

Due to sudden interest around my household, I was forced to find the link to this newsroom oddity.

I am amazed to learn that Robert Crumb likes Tommy James and the Shondells.

Boop against sexual harassment.

Baby elephant!

18:13 BST

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Almost cynical enough

Tonight on Virtually Speaking Tuesdays, I'm going to try to make Lambert talk about how an important conference on economics was put together by one small corner of the blogosphere, where real economists talked about the real economic issues we are dealing with, and what they said, and related issues. We should also have an always-fascinating Z-Files from Stuart to start off with.

This is a highly-recommended rerun of Stuart Zechman's discussion of what "a Senior Democrat" in the White House had to say about why they have to get rid of liberalism and the New Deal. I really think people should listen and absorb it, and understand just what we're dealing with.

These are only some of the reasons to return to the 90% top marginal tax rate. (Personally, I'd also like to make it illegal to be a billionaire.)

Review of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times: "Historical Account of Class, Race Wars Relevant for Organizers Today: [...] Racism could not be overcome by ignoring white communities any more than capitalism could be overcome by ignoring the poor."

Romney Admits GOP Education Policy is Intended to Kill Unions.

Diary of a Benefit Scrounger

If it's always just one lone individual who happens to be "deranged" who kills all the innocent civilians for no apparent reason, why did a general feel he had to warn the troops not to become murderers?

"You go to the war on women with the men you've got"
"How to make a pro-Obama graphic for use on Facebook!"

Obama is not Jesus.

Knit a Uterus to Donate to a Congressman in Need.

Mr. 1%

Trove of free, public domain HD video

Beatles rarity of the week: "Here, There, and Everywhere", take 7. (Oh, look, prostitutes and lesbians.)

18:20 GMT

Sunday, 18 March 2012

People are talking

Fantasie Belle underwired balconette braBra of the Week - just to settle your eyes down after seeing our latest installment in The Death of Fashion.

Marcy Wheeler and Susie Madrak are the panelists Virtually Speaking Sundays. The rest of this week's VS schedule is here.

Last week on The Majority Report, Sam Seder interviewed Richard Kahlenberg about unions as a civil right, Richard Wolff on the failure of capitalism, and Abigail C. Field on the latest horrors of the foreclosure deal.

Keith Olbermann's guest Sam Seder breaks down the effect of speculation and strategic reserves on the oil market.

How did our understanding of poverty shift so radically? It started off innocently enough, but it created a horror. "Fifty years later, a new discovery of poverty is long overdue. This time, we'll have to take account not only of stereotypical Skid Row residents and Appalachians, but of foreclosed-upon suburbanites, laid-off tech workers, and America's ever-growing army of the 'working poor.' And if we look closely enough, we'll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money."

Atrios on The Other Grand Bargain: "As stupid liberal bloggers have tried to explain for years, the anti-choice movement (not all anti-choicers, but the movement) is anti-female autonomy, anti-unapproved by them sex, and, yes, anti-sex without consequences, otherwise known as anti-contraception. Boy us stupid liberal bloggers were sure crazy for suggesting that! Almost as dumb as when we said the Iraq war was a dumb idea! Stupid liberal bloggers. So stupid."

Green Party candidate Jill Stein says Obama is betraying American workers by signing the FAA Reauthorization bill: "What has this legislation set in motion? It erases long time protections of THOUSANDS of railroad and airline workers. The Democrats claim they 'compromised' on the bill. Isn't that rich once again? Taking care of the one percenters for the nth time. For one thing, the percentage of workers who must sign cards authorizing a union representation election is raised from 35% to 50%. It also helps employers delay union elections and collective bargaining, removes PRIVACY protections for union authorization cards so companies can identify and INTIMIDATE workers who might vote to unionize. Stein sees this as a 180-degree flip-flop of Obama's promise last March to veto any FAA Reauthorization Bill that contained anti-union provisions."

"A South Carolina Teacher's Been Suspended for Reading 'Ender's Game' to His Class: A middle school teacher who read to his students from Ender's Game is on 'administrative leave' because a parent complained to the school that Orson Scott Card's classic novel is 'pornographic.' The parent also went to the local police, who have not yet pressed criminal charges against the teacher, according to the Aiken, SC Standard." (To me, the oddest thing about this story is that the teacher was reading to 14-year-olds. That's well past the age when teachers started making students read aloud in class or read on their own. I don't think I had a teacher read fiction to the class after about the 1st grade.)

This kind of thing was disgusting when the Bushistas did it, and it still is. Digby reports.

Ira Glass is one of the better journalists still allowed on our airwaves, and he's done some great stuff. But for some reason, he freaked out when he discovered that a theatrical work was a work of fiction. And then he overreacted.

I had fun trying to guess what this is an ad for before it got to the end.

23:53 GMT

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Playing Monopoly

Until it was hijacked by crooks, the term "free-market capitalism" meant the very opposite of monopoly/duopoly capitalism - regulations were there to prevent giant corporations from squeezing out innovation and competition. Funny how our "free-market" advocates only want the freedom to eliminate those real, productive, free markets:

Municipal wifi under attack

Municipal wifi networks in states across the nation are under attack as they try to move forward. A new bill in Minnesota would limit the ability of cities in the state to move forward on their own broadband networks. A Georgia bill with similar restrictions, however, has been shelved despite support from Republicans in the state senate. There are some bright spots however, a new initiative in San Jose, California may be changing how municipal wifi is managed.

CivSource has been following a bill championed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, that would seek to limit municipalities in rural Georgia from creating their own municipal wifi networks, despite open admissions from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson that they have no intention to continue building in those areas. On a conference call discussing the company's earnings, Stephenson said "We've all been trying to find a broadband solution that was economically viable to get out to rural America, and we're not finding one to be quite candid. The best opportunity we have is LTE."


Similar bills are still on the move in Minnesota and South Carolina. Following a playbook initially established by incumbent telecom providers in North Carolina. The Minnesota bill explicitly bans communities from creating their own networks to meet their needs. A surprising move, considering the state is already pushing forward on a large broadband expansion.

In South Carolina, the story is roughly the same. Although no movement is happening on the bill right now, the language suggests that telecom providers are seeking to keep municipalities from creating their own networks even when private providers have indicated that they will not bring services to the area.

Private providers are arguing that municipal networks create unfair competition, forcing them to lower their rates because municipalities have the ability to offer rates below cost. Even if true, we are left to wonder why this is a concern in areas where the providers themselves have said they do not plan to do business. According to a post on Ars Technica yesterday, Charter Communications in Minnesota has done this and apparently so quickly that they put hand written fliers in residents mailboxes. (See the image here.)

It's worth clicking through to that last link, by the way, for more details on that particular story.

But look at all the phrases above that tell us that legislators believe it is their business to protect the ability of private interests to overcharge customers for internet service and prevent service where commercial interests can't be bothered to provide it. That corporations are coming up with these ludicrous arguments is bad enough, but why do elective officials think they should help them scalp some customers and prevent service in areas that are not covered by commercial providers?

* * * * *

What are contracts worth? Not a lot to big companies like, say, AT&T, who offer unlimited service and then limit it. Everything else in the story is a side issue - the fact is, they lie about what they are providing. They shouldn't just be paying $800, they should be paying punitive damages for putting people in a position where they have to go to court to get redress, and they should be paying hefty fines for making it SOP to lie about what they provide. Can't help but be curious about how they found out he was tethering, though. Could it be like this?

Employers demanding the keys to your house. OK, not yet, but if they can demand your Facebook password, what's next? And how soon will they insist on casting your online vote in elections for you?

Campaign finance law will continue to be a joke as long as Rupert Murdoch can sell his favored candidates free advertising.

The Irish Begin to Wake Up to the Fact That They are Repaying Money That is Then Burned. (via)

How sick is it that we're sentencing children to life in prison for decisions they made when our same revolting society says they are too young to make an intelligent decision to have sex?

Jack Cafferty discovers military industrial complex. (via)

"Yes, they knew: The HUD Inspector General report appended to the mortgage foreclosure fraud settlement filed Monday shows that yes, managers were actively directing fraud. What you may not know? The robosigning continues. [...] They got away with it, all of it."

Disgusting people who are destroying their own count ires have mutual admiration society. I just want to throw up.

I don't usually quote Heinlein, but he was far and away smarter than Ricardo when he said, "Specialization is for insects."

"I'm a Mac...and I've got a dirty secret." Story here.

Uh oh, the dirty hippies are having their own Tea Party! Extremists from both sides! Help! (via)

"Probably Gay"

Definitely not work-safe, but worth reading, Susie bright on Hasbian Pride, Worn-Out Sluts, and Bisexuality; on Rape Scenes: Anatomy of Forced Sex Fantasy Vs. Reality; and on How A Teenage Femme Snuck Her Way Into the Mineshaft- NY's Legendary Men's S/M Club.

Carl Perkins, with a little help from some friends.

14:37 GMT

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Dogs flew spaceships

Looks like I'll be doing an emergency step-in with Virtually Speaking Susie tonight.

I highly recommend last Thursday's Virtually Speaking discussion with William K. Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Bill Black was a central figure in the prosecution of the S&L scandal, and is also the person who explained that "Liars Loans" was an industry term for mortgages that the banks fraudulently pushed to help create the current crisis.

NBC's strange pushback against Greenwald's story about their "independent experts"

Bob Somerby on the distribution of soma.

At The Baltimore Sun, David Simon follows up a new development in a story he wrote 25 years ago. "Now, Gene Cassidy is once again dying from what happened at Appleton and Mosher."

Violence, war, rape, and the Protection Racket

Libertarians want to take away your right to pee! And, of course, treat you like slaves....

Some of you may be amused to know that the subject on Virtually Speaking Science was "Who is John Carter and what have we learned about Mars in the past century?"

The Solar System in perspective

Ooh, look who was in the Independent crossword puzzle! (The puzzle gets big enough to read if you keep clicking it. The answers are here.)

People are always confusing me by having the same names as people who aren't horrible. I hear "Steven Landsburg" and think, "What? But he was so much fun in Barney Miller!"

Even Archie Comics knows that the AFA is a load of old bollocks.

I just totally had a giggling fit reading the post about The Bloggess trying to get Nathan Fillion to send her a picture of himself holding twine - and thought Nathan has failed in this regard, damn, but I finally know what Brian Boitano would do!

RIP Moebius

RIP Peter Bergman of Firesign Theater, who taught us that Everything You Know Is Wrong (Side 1, Side 2).

16:40 GMT

Wednesday, 07 March 2012

Nothing succeeds like excess

Apparently, Rush Limbaugh set the liberal agenda for the last day or so. Digby talked to Sam Seder about the War on Women on The Majority Report, and Spocko and Mike Stark discussed the reaction to Limbaugh's overt misogyny, and the successful boycott effort against him, on Virtually Speaking Tuesdays. Stuart Zechman says Rush didn't lose as much as we might think:

I'm Stuart Zechman, and I just can't believe how successful Rush Limbaugh has been lately.

Man, that guy is good.

I mean, I know he's lost, like 20 sponsors already, that's true, but it has been totally worth it.

Sure, he's had to apologize twice in one week for calling a Democrat a "slut" and a "prostitute," but boy, has his apparent political mission been fulfilled.

In fact, I can't think of another week in which Rush has been as successful at what I imagine to be the political goal of his program, not even counting his financial goals.

What do I mean by "political goals"?

Well, I mean the effect that Limbaugh and other shows like his are designed to have on mass audiences of Americans.

Now, you might think that the effect I'm talking about is to shock people, or to disgust them, or to raise controversy, or to, you know, give voice to some of the things some guys in our country would really like to say, if they weren't constrained by manners, or workplace rules, or having to go home and eat with their families every night.

But even that's not the effect I'm talking about, this major thing that Rush was so successful at creating this week.

What Rush is really going for, what his political goal truly is, what he's really so very good at, is distracting people...and, while they're distracted, spreading misinformation as far as it can go in American news culture.

He's helping to distract and misinform millions of people right now, which is what his show is about, from a political perspective. And, in this respect, he's not just an entertainer, he's a master.

So let's review how this misinformation spreads:

1) the Obama Administration announces that they're drafting HHS regulations in a way that somehow mandates the state-based insurance oligopolies to pay for prescription birth control "at no extra cost" for those expensive pharmaceuticals.

2) Rush says he's really unhappy about the Obama/Romney health care law, because he says it somehow mandates free birth control, and so he called somebody on the Democratic side a "slut" and a "prostitute."

3) liberals and Democrats jump up and down about Rush's language, Rush apologizes for his language, the Republican presidential candidates disavow Rush's language, Obama gets asked in a press conference about Rush's language.

4) movement conservatives still believe that they're somehow paying for someone else's free birth control, movement liberals also still believe that they're getting free birth control, and the political media get to focus on sensationalizing bad, sexy-time language, instead of explaining how health care policy works to the American people.

See how that works?

We stopped asking a basic question: if the Obama/Romney health care law mandates birth control coverage at no out of pocket cost, meaning no copay or co-insurance, then...who's going to end up paying for it?

And there's nothing in the law or regulations whatsoever, that prevents premiums from being raised however much the private insurance companies feel like increasing them. The Obama Administration just says that premiums should stay about the same. And that's just not how these health insurers work, at least not in practice. Do we really believe that health insurers will just pick up the tab for birth control now without raising prices for other care, and just wait around for the savings from slowed-down maternity costs to materialize over the long run? Is that how it really works with health insurers in the real world?

And what about the price of that prescription birth control itself. Already, Americans pay twice and even three times as much as any citizen in any country in the healthy, wealthy world for prescription drugs. Remember when the Republicans passed Medicare Part D, that specifically prevented Canadian-style negotiations with Big Pharma over drug prices for Medicare? Remember when the Obama Administration supported a filibuster of the Dorgan Amendment that would have allowed drug re-importation during the health care fight?

So what about the Romney/Obama-care law makes that problem --the price problem-- go away?

Are we really getting free birth control out of this? Or is something else happening to US health care here, something that's hidden far, far away from the debate over who called somebody else a "prostitute?"

And that's what I mean, folks.

Rush's contribution is to help everybody forget that citizens of the United States are being charged almost 8 thousand dollars per person per year, while Canadians paying $4300 or German people paying $4200 for the same doctor's visits and hospital stays and lab tests and birth control pills. Rush's contribution here is to help us forget to be angry about being ripped off, and, instead, get some people angry about supposedly "free" birth control being handed out, and some people angry about calling a woman a "slut." [.pdf]

And that's why he's a master. Journalists will note the controversy, and move on, and we are no better informed for this episode than before Rush said a word.

Well, ask yourself: Is Rush telling the truth when he says that people will somehow get free birth control paid for by somebody else? Is the Obama Administration telling the truth whey they say that people will somehow get free birth control paid for by somebody else?

Are they both telling the truth? Or are they both not-quite-telling-the-real-truth about health care policy? And how do you know, one way or the other?

So my advice to my fellow movement liberals is this: don't let Rush be this successful. Because, if you find yourself getting mad at Rush Limbaugh, instead of getting mad at the price of health care in America...well, then Rush Limbaugh has succeeded at his most important political goal: distraction and misinformation. It's how everybody who isn't actually affected by these policies one way or the other wins, instead of you.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.

* * * * *

On last Thursday's Virtually Speaking, Jay talked to filmmakers Frances Causey and Don Goldmacher about Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?, following Jay and Stuart's Virtually Speaking A-Z (with What Digby Said).

So we ended up with Kucinich vs. Kaptur in the primary, which emphatically bites. Kaptur won, and will face Joe the Plumber in the general election.

Glennzilla in the NYT dismissing the idea that the Republican Party is doomed. He's mostly right as far as he goes, but I think he misses the important point that no one has done more to revive the Republican Party than Barack Obama, who not only refuses to condemn (or prosecute) their outrageous conduct and promote a better policy regime, but actually pursues an even uglier course.

Glennzilla back at his own place: "UN top torture official denounces Bradley Manning's detention [...] Yesterday, the U.N. official overseeing the investigation pronounced that 'Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation' to which he was subjected at Quantico. [...] Over the past year, the U.N. torture investigator repeatedly complained - including in official reprimands - that his investigation was being obstructed by the Obama administration, which refused to provide unmonitored access to interview Manning"

Strangely, there is some good reporting at Politico by Josh Gerstein on Obama's crummy version of "transparency": "'Obama is the sixth administration that's been in office since I've been doing Freedom of Information Act work. ... It's kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There's just no question about it,' said Katherine Meyer, a Washington lawyer who's been filing FOIA cases since 1978. 'This administration is raising one barrier after another. ... It's gotten to the point where I'm stunned - I'm really stunned.'"

Atrios on Great Evil: "We can debate forever the stupid or evil question, but whatever the intentions of the various governments and powerful non-governmental actors, their actions are incredibly destructive. I'd lean a bit more toward stupid for many of them, as opposed to evil, if ever many of them could demonstrate a credible "feel your pain" moment. They don't seem to care." He links to Mehdi Hasan, who points out that Unemployment matters more than GDP or inflation.

"I have an entirely well-deserved tax deduction. You are a lazy welfare bum. [...] Design matters. Design, as it happens, currently makes it extraordinarily easy for better-off Americans to not notice that most of them are as much beneficiaries of 'government handouts' as anyone else.* It's hard to think this is entirely accidental."

The difference is that when Bush originally campaigned for president, he actually did claim that his relationship with those Saudi princes meant he actually could bring down gas prices. Ten Things Not to Say to People in Financial Need. Also, Boost Your WiFi Signal Using Only a Beer Can. Oh, and Whisperado has a video.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (I loved this - thanks, Anna!)

16:15 GMT

Monday, 05 March 2012

Once more into the breach

I'll be talking to Culture of Truth on Virtually Speaking Sundays at 9:00 PM GMT. The rest of the this week's VS schedule is here, and includes the video for Stuart's "Extremists" Z-Files. (I'm still amazed that after what the Republicans did with Clinton, anyone can claim the Republicans are crazier and more extreme than they've ever been. They're more partisan than the Democratic leadership, but they're both pretty extreme and crazy.)

There's a good exchange about "merit" hiring and advancement in the thread attached to this post, illustrating the ridiculousness of the whole "merit" mirage. Commenter ks alerted me to a quote from this chilling Democracy Now! a segment on the assault on education in our country, led not by Republican movement conservatives, but by our "Centrist" leaders, whose lust for that idealized "public-private partnership" seems to be about installing a giant kick-back scheme run by people whose mission has nothing to do with education. Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union: "Yes. When I first met [Rahm Emanuel], we had dinner together, and he said, 'Well, you know, 25 percent of these kids [in schools slated for closure] are never going to be anything. They're never going to amount to anything. And I'm not throwing money at it.'" So Rahm wants to write them all off, I guess. (Hey, have you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecy, Rahm?)

Comments to that post also yielded these interesting links on another subject:

WikiLeaks Uncovers Report Showing Homeland Security Monitored Occupy Movement
Infiltration to Disrupt, Divide and Misdirect Is Widespread in Occupy (Part I)

Further details on Koch's lawsuit against CATO, from Jane Mayer.

America: The Best Country in the World at Being Last

Ta-Nehisi Coates probably wrote the kindest reflection on Breitbart that a decent human being can make upon the demise of a man whose public life was one of lies and destruction.

Bill Moyers talks to Neal Gabler on How Pop Culture Influences Political Expectations.

I just saw the strangest ad for the Guardian on my TV.

Nathan Fillion proves once and for all he shoulda been Green Lantern.


The original Artful Dodger, in his first American television appearance.

00:55 GMT

Thursday, 01 March 2012

Oh what can it mean?

Virtually Speaking Tuesdays featured Dave Johnson and Natasha Chart, something I'd been looking forward to, but I'm not sure they took the full meaning of Stuart Zechman's point in his most recent Z-Files:

Z-Files, 02/28/2012 "Extremists"

I'm Stuart Zechman, and I've heard something that really disturbs me.

I've heard that the Republican Party is now populated with wild extremists, right-wing lunatics who are completely divorced from reality, and so, like never before in American history, the GOP is now totally unreasonable and insane, and, if they get into power in Washington, the will enact the most dreadful, terrible, awful policy...ever.

Have you been hearing this, lately, too?

See, I thought that the Republican Party has always advocated the worst kind of policies and agenda.

Since, like, as far back as the 1990s, I remember Republicans being in favor of all kinds of anti-Bill of Rights, pro-endless war, anti-New Deal and pro-big corporate monopoly proposals, and performing all of these crazy political hostage-taking maneuvers to try to get that horrifying agenda through the government.

I vaguely --really vaguely-- remember way back when that Christian fundamentalist and televangelist fraud Pat Robertson actually ran for President as a Republican, I think that was in the 1980s, actually.

I remember, in the late 90s, when Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, was so freaking nuts that he actually staged a supposed "re-enactment" of how Hillary Clinton murdered a White House staffer named Vince Foster, by shooting a pumpkin in his back yard, and telling reporters to imagine that this was Foster's head. I remember when he said things like "If I could prove 10 percent of what I believe happened, he'd [Clinton] be gone. This guy's a scumbag. That's why I'm after him."

Just to give you some idea of what I'm talking about, Dan Burton, I swear to you, once proclaimed in a 1995 House hearing on the War on Some Drugs, that

"the US military "should place an aircraft carrier off the coast of Bolivia and crop dust the coca fields." It was later pointed out to him that a) Bolivia is landlocked and has no coast (Burton was chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee); b) the Bolivian coca fields (in the yungas and Amazon lowlands) are beyond the reach of any carrier-borne crop-duster, being separated from the nearest coastline (the Pacific coast of Peru and Chile) by the 20,000+ feet high peaks of the Andes; and c) F-18s cannot crop-dust." [Link]

I'm telling you, this is well-documented. The Republicans from the 1990s were like this. If you listened to talk radio, like I did, or had enough time on your hands to watch the Christian conservative religious broadcasters, like I did, you were more than likely to hear Hillary Clinton referred to as a secret lesbian murderess. I'm not kidding. They literally told people that Clinton was Satan. These guys made today's "War on Religious Freedom" hucksters look like college Democrats. It makes Romney's references to Obama as a "European-style socialist" look like an endorsement.

And then they were so suicide-bomber insane, that they actually impeached a sitting president over a blow-job. Bob Livingston, the Speaker of the House to be actually resigned when he was caught having an affair, so that they could more easily go after Clinton, they were that kamikazi. (His successor was a straight-shooter from Louisiana named David Vitter.) I'm not making this up. You think that the debt-ceiling debate was Republicans at their craziest? I'm telling you, back in the 1990s they stopped the whole government, held a trial in which the now Very Serious Lindsey Graham got up on the House floor to carefully consider the nature of semen stains. This was the Republican Party of the 1990s...totally f-ing crazy. [Link]

And in the policy realm, it was unbelievable...their policy agenda, the policy proposals that came out of conservative think tanks like Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, was even worse for America than all the phony investigations, and fake scandals and even the blow-job impeachment.

These guys, these Republicans, actually proposed things like turning Medicare into a "premium support" system kind of like the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage we got that exploded drug prices when the crazy GOP controlled all three branches of government, and proposed --get this-- creating this vast, privatized health insurance scheme where, state-by-state, the private health insurance monopolies would sell people junk insurance who were forced by law to buy their crappy coverage. It would all be means-tested and funded through HHS, so the federal government would end up actually paying insurance companies to stay in business, and only the deserving poor would get any help. And this regime would somehow make health care "affordable care." Yeah, I know. Crazy, isn't it? [.pdf]

Or, talk about nuts, they proposed repealing the New Deal laws that stopped savings banks from becoming investment banks and even financial insurance companies. They basically said that the government needed to get out of the way of the giant banks gambling with all of our money, and should essentially let these geniuses create whatever debt they felt like making and selling, and then insuring themselves against default. [Link]

Now that's insane.

You really can't get more out of touch with reality than this, folks.

And they were just as crazy in the 2000s, too. You had best-seller books, like Ann Coulter's "Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism" or Michelle Malkin's "In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror."

I mean, how do you reason with people like this, people who want to, say, institute a massive program to infiltrate Muslim mosques with law enforcement agents, and put grade schools for African-American Muslim kids under constant state surveillance? [Link]

Remember when they said that the President had the power to do virtually anything to "keep us safe," and we just had to basically trust that he wasn't going to abuse that virtually unlimited power?

What kind of lunatics believe that this sort of due-process-less regime is somehow compatible with small-d democratic government? It's obviously the path to oligarchy and tyranny, right?

It's like we might all have to pack up and move to Canada, if extremists like that ever got into power.

So, when I was reading the New York Times the other day --you know, they're so much more reality-based than Fox News, despite the whole Judy Miller/Iraq war thing-- anyway, and I saw Paul Krugman say that the party of American conservatism is divorced from reality, quote:

How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!

"The truth, of course, is that he was not a "severely conservative" governor. His signature achievement was a health reform identical in all important respects to the national reform signed into law by President Obama four years later. And in a rational political world, his campaign would be centered on that achievement." [Link]

And I thought: wait a second...Krugman is openly declaring that Heritage Foundation health care policy, the policy that flowed from those same insane, pumpkin-shooting Republicans in the 1990s, is an "achievement."

The argument in elite, big-D Democratic circles seems to be that the scary Republicans are scarier than ever before, so scary, with their Tea Party and their conservative media, that they make the Republicans of the late 1990s look reasonable.

So reasonable, in fact, that conservative Republican policies from the late 1990s, policies that are completely at odds with the philosophy of the New Deal, a functioning government, a federal state that doesn't spy on anybody it feels like, and a free and fair market for everybody, policies that reject everything that movement liberals stand for are now considered to be "achievements" when enacted into law by today's centrist Democrats.

Now, if you think about it, that is, itself, quite detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality. And, it was not always thus.

But it does seem to be the argument that national Democrats are using to win over people like Dr. Krugman.

How could it be that the passage of policy identical in all important respects to conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation's, policy we movement liberals would have recognized in 1998 as an obviously, deeply unpopular non-solution, the product of bankrupt ideological premises regarding the superiority of "markets", certain to bring tragic consequences to the people of our country, and discredit to the party which promoted it, how could this ever be rationally called an "achievement?"

It can't be. Not unless one jumps through extraordinary intellectual hoops to rationalize voting for a Democratic politician whose own "signature achievement" is Mitt Romney's health care policy.

And that's what this line is about, folks. We movement liberals are being told from on high that the reason why centrist Democrats' failures are actually achievements...is because the Republicans of today are super-scary.

And that's just not true. The movement conservatives are just as frighteningly wrong today as when Ann Coulter became a millionaire writing a book entitled "Godless" about liberals, and when Ramesh Ponnuru wrote "The Party of Death" about Democrats a few years ago. Quote-unquote "market-oriented" policies from the 1990s and 2000s are just as bad for America today as they were back when the majority of Democrats actually opposed them, instead of arm-twisting "progressive caucus" members into shilling for them.

So when you hear this line, that Republicans of today are like Congressional Ahmadinejads because they won't vote for Newt Gingrich's old agenda when it's proposed by Democrats, just remember: it's pretty likely that you're going to read Dem-leaning pundits in the Washington Post consider how reasonable Newt Gingrich's old agenda actually is, compared to the new Newt Gingrich's agenda.

And then ask yourself: is the political price that you're being asked to pay to protect yourself from these terrifying new Tea Party-style Republicans that you now have to vote for old, Dan Burton-style Republicans' agenda, and...

...what did FDR say about "fear itself"?

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.

* * * * *

There are all kinds of evil things that this administration was against before they decided they were okay after all. Here's an expensive example from 2009 that Stuart recently brought to our attention:

Repealing the Antitrust Exemption for Health Insurance Companies

[T]oday the President announced the administration's strong support for repealing the antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by health insurers. At its core, health reform is all about ensuring that American families and businesses have more choices, benefit from more competition, and have greater control over their own health care. Repealing this exemption is an important part of that effort.

Today there are no rules outlawing bid rigging, price fixing, and other insurance company practices that will drive up health care costs, and often drive up their own profits as well.

Julian Assange interview on Newshour - if Iran's nuclear program was already destroyed by Israel, what's the real reason behind the war drums?

Koch Brothers sue Cato Institute - I'm not making it up, but there aren't a lot of details.

Photography from the Civil War

Once upon a time, there was a TV show about a singing group...and they had lots of hit records...and they went on.... Rest in peace, Davy.

15:14 GMT

Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, March 2012

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