“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Revolution; Getting Rid of the Oligarchs

Background on the Neocon coup d’├ętat and the Failure of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies and U.S.Media

What has changed?

July 22nd, 2004

Dreyfuss Endorses Taliban Plan for Peace

Bob Dreyfuss

May 21, 2009
For a long time now, Obama advisers and administration officials have been repeating the idea that the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan won’t negotiate a deal because they think they’re winning. 
Now, thanks to the New York Times, we know that’s not true.
The Taliban is negotiating. And from the brilliant Times piece today by Dexter Filkins, we also know that what they’re asking for isn’t unreasonable. Here’s the bottom line:
The first demand was an immediate pullback of American and other foreign forces to their bases, followed by a cease-fire and a total withdrawal from the country over the next 18 months. Then the current government would be replaced by a transitional government made up of a range of Afghan leaders, including those of the Taliban and other insurgents. Americans and other foreign soldiers would be replaced with a peacekeeping force drawn from predominantly Muslim nations, with a guarantee from the insurgent groups that they would not attack such a force. Nationwide elections would follow after the Western forces left.
If that’s what the Taliban asking for, then the Taliban and the Dreyfuss Report are in precise agreement. Not on philosophy, of course. I hate the Taliban and everything they stand for. But it’s time for a deal.
Unless you think that sending Zal Khalilzad to Afghanistan to run the country as President Karzai’s CEO is a good idea. (If you think that’s a good idea, then maybe you’d propose sending Richard Perle to be Iraq’s CEO, Douglas Feith to be Israel’s CEO, and — why not? — pick a neoconservative to be king of Saudi Arabia, too. King Michael Ledeen? None of these ideas are stupider than Khalilzad as Afghan CEO.)
FIlkins’ piece — which you have to read in its entirety — says that the talks involve top leaders of the Taliban and its allies, including warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, all of whom have had representatives involves in talks with Karzai et al.:
While the talks have been under way for months, they have accelerated since Mr. Obama took office…. 
The talks under way now appear to be directed not at individual bands of antigovernment insurgents — the strategy suggested by President Obama — but at the leaders of the large movements.
And Karzai’s spokesman officially endorsed the talks:
Afghan officials said they welcomed the talks. “The government has kept all channels of communication open,” said Homayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai. “This includes the Taliban and Hekmatyar.”
There’s no question that such talks are difficult. But the Times piece underscores the vastly different approach between (1) escalating the war, sending tens of thousands more US troops in, and developing a village-by-village counterinsurgency effort, and (2) offering to exchange a pullout of US forces for a deal. 
Part of the solution lies in the United States working closely with conservative, even pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s Sharif brothers, who are very close to the Saudis, have already taken the lead in setting up Taliban talks with Karzai’s brother and other Afghan officials. 
Part of the solution involves persuading India, Iran, and Russia — who supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance — to accept the notion of a coalition government in Kabul. The United States might have to use some political capital with those three countries, and others, to bring them in. 
But it’s clear, now, that the Obama mantra — that we can’t talk to the Taliban until we’ve gotten the upper hand militarily — is both wrong-headed and false. (2009!)


The only US politician running for President that is not a Neocon is Bernie Sanders. Trump is a wild card. The Israeli Lobby will not be able to have its way with Sanders as they have with Clinton, Cruz and Rubio. What follows is another interview from 2009: 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

No Trump - Double - Re-double

The GOP's Spectacular Failure to Take Out Donald Trump

In the wake of Chris Christie’s bombshell endorsement of Donald Trump on Friday, the New York Times has published a must-read, in-depth report on the desperate Republican establishment’s many spectacular failures to counter the candidacy of Donald Trump. From the inability of mainstream Republicans to unite against such an obvious threat, to Marco Rubio’s haphazard efforts to gain the support of departed rivals, to Mitch McConnell apparently giving his fellow senators permission to run against Trump this fall, the report paints a shocking (yet somehow still unsurprising) picture of a party in complete disarray and horrified disbelief. Here are some highlights:

GOP Senators Up for Re-election Should Feel Free to Attack Trump
With the balance of power in the Senate at risk, Mitch McConnell is already getting ready to do serious damage control should Trump win the nomination and thus imperil contested down-ticket Senate races. According to the Times, the Senate Majority Leader has already given his colleagues permission to run negative ads against Trump this fall if they feel they have to distance themselves from the potential nominee in order to win reelection. “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” McConnell apparently said.

Marco Rubio’s Failed Courtships of Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney
Christie was reportedly really peeved by a “tentative” voicemail Rubio left for him after he dropped out following the New Hampshire primary. Rubio’s chosen approach was apparently to assure the New Jersey governor that he still had a bright future in politics:
Mr. Christie, 53, took the message as deeply disrespectful and patronizing, questioning why “a 44-year-old” was telling him about his future, said people who described his reaction on the condition of anonymity. Further efforts to connect the two never yielded a direct conversation.
In addition, efforts by Rubio and his campaign to attract the support of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney were also unsuccessful. “There’s this desire, verging on panic, to consolidate the field, but I don’t see and movement at all,” added Senator Lindsey Graham, who on Thursday night also half-joked that the GOP “has gone bat-shit crazy.”

Dreaming of a Contested Convention
The campaigns of Rubio and John Kasich have both drafted plans to take out Trump via a brokered convention, going after Trump-committed delegates, who only have to vote for Trump in the first round of balloting. Then again, this type of scheming hasn’t been a factor up to now. As former Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt told the Times about the GOP apparatus thus far, “There is no mechanism [to stop Trump]. There is no smoke-filled room. If there is, I’ve never seen it, nor do I know anyone who has.”

Nobody Wants Kasich Around
Apparently, many Republicans are well-past tired of Kasich’s assertion that he has any path to the nomination, wishing he would just get out and let everybody get behind Rubio instead. Said one senior Republican senator, “He’s just flailing his arms around and having a wonderful time going around the country, and it just drives me up the wall.”

Governor LePage’s Rapid About Face
Maine Governor Paul LePage apparently “erupted in frustration” at a GOP luncheon earlier this month about Trump and wanted Republican governors to write an open letter rejecting him. That didn’t happen, and LePage just endorsed Trump on Friday.

Big Donor Absenteeism
Though GOP's big-money class seems to dislike Trump, efforts to corral them into an coordinated effort to take him out have mostly failed to gain any traction. A plan to eliminate Trump by airing ads showing he was unfit for the presidency did not attract donors like Sheldon Adelson or Paul Singer last fall. The Koch brothers, though they hate Trump’s health care rhetoric, have also skipped the fight, and a new ad effort by the dark-money conservative group American Future Fund is so late into the fray it might not have much of an impact on the crucial early-March primaries. 

So far, one of the most interesting reactions to Times report has been from Atlanticwriter and George W. Bush-speechwriter David Frum, who launched an inspired, 16-point tweet-storm venting about various GOP illnesses — both covered in the piece and not. Among his complaints:
Or maybe candidates should adopt jokes that late night hosts have been using for a decade:
So what can the GOP really do at this point? The Times emphasizes that — still — no cohesive strategy really exists, though the party mainstream seems to be trying to come up with one to execute. Along those lines, this week Republican strategist and former Romney-campaign manager Stuart Stevens tried to rally the party with both a piece in the Daily Beast and a follow-up interview with the Washington Post. From the latter piece, Stuart said the GOP’s plan should be to start beating up the bully:
What do we know about Donald Trump? He is extremely emotional and volatile and responds to any perceived slight. He knows almost nothing about policy and, like a lot of lazy people, tries to assert he doesn't need to know. He has little or no support staff that can help compensate for his weaknesses. And most importantly, Trump thinks he is going to win. That's a huge potential asset to an opponent if Trump starts to feel that his "victory" is in jeopardy. […]
When in a fight and an opponent doesn't fall down when hit, you don't stop hitting. To win, you hit harder and faster and look for any opening to land more punches. So it is with a campaign. Don't fall into the trap of thinking because a line of attack didn't work at first that it isn't effective. Repetition is key, and often attacks have impacts inside opponent's campaigns — or inside an opponent's head — that have an unseen but cumulative impact.
Then again, how do you fight if you can barely stand:
And as Chait notes, it's not like there are that many Trump coping strategies available to the GOP anyway:
Lastly, even if the establishment strikes back successfully, a defeated and rejected Trump just creates another problem, as Talking Point Memo's Josh Marshall quips, “The saving grace for the GOP is that if they're actually able to destroy Trump with a brutal, scorched earth total war which drives all the way to the convention, he'll definitely go away quietly.”
This post has been updated to incorporate additional outside commentary.

Fighting for the Scraps

Toeing the poverty line: Alabama blocks cities from increasing minimum wage

© Kevin Lamarque
Alabama, the second poorest state in the US, has effectively banned local governments from increasing the minimum wage. The governor and legislature approved legislation that retroactively prevents Birmingham from setting a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

On Thursday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed a bill that blocked Alabama cities from setting their own minimum wage or require employers to provide leave or health benefits.
The bill, AL HB174, not only prevents local governments from setting a higher minimum wage than federally required, but also bars them from mandating benefits and leave, solidifying Alabama’s reputation as a right-to-work state. Right-to-work laws prohibit union security agreements and abolish requirements forcing workers in certain occupations to join unions. As a result, jobs that are frequently unionized are no longer protected.
With no state minimum wage, Alabama uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. An adult earning the federal minimum wage working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, would earn $15,080 before taxes.
However, that number only applies to those working full time jobs. Alabama has the fourth highest unemployment rate. Eleven percent of its potential employees are either seeking employment, or would like and are available for full time work, but can only find part-time jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Birmingham’s race to increase the city’s minimum wage began in August of 2015, when officials voted to raise it to $8.50 by July 1, 2016, and then to $10.10 by July of 2017. The state began attempts to repeal the bill in February, however, forcing the Birmingham city council to speed up the process. On Tuesday, the council voted to increase the minimum to $10.10, effective immediately. However, the law was to go into effect on March 1 and state legislators acted faster.
State Senator Jabo Wagonner (R-Vestavia) opposed Birmingham’s wage increase, claiming that a wage increase would hurt the economy more than help it. “We want businesses to expand and create more jobs – not cut entry-level jobs because a patchwork of local minimum wages causes operating costs to rise,” Wagonner told the Guardian.
Birmingham Council President Johnathan Austin told that, “It certainly is unfortunate and, if it stands up, it is a loss for those who deserve to earn a livable wage in the city of Birmingham and, for that matter, the state of Alabama,” adding, “But the state obviously disagrees.”
The average per capita income in Birmingham was about $19,650 between 2009 and 2013, the Guardian reports. Meanwhile, overall average per capita income in the US was $28,155 for that same period, according to the US Census.
Alabama’s struggle with poverty is very real. The US Census reports that 18 percent of Alabamians live below the poverty line. Johnathan Austin told the Guard, “People cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they can’t afford boots.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Christie for VP?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorses Donald Trump for president

Chris Christie endorses Donald Trump

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threw his support behind Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday, Feb. 26, saying Trump's "the best person" to run against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a general election. (Reuters)
FORT WORTH, Tex. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday received the high-profile endorsement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called the billionaire the best candidate to take on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“I've gotten to know all the people on that stage, and there is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world than Donald Trump,” the former GOP presidential candidate said during a press conference with Trump here in Fort Worth.
Christie said that he believes the party needs to elect the candidate most likely to beat Clinton. Trump, the governor said, is “undoubtedly” the best person for the job and “is rewriting the playbook of American politics.”
Campaign 2016 Email Updates 

Trump, who stood smiling next to Christie as the governor announced his support, called it "a very big endorsement." He said Christie's support means a lot to him and his campaign, calling it "the one endorsement" that he wanted most.
“Donald Trump is someone who when he makes a promise, he keeps it,” Christie said. "No one is going to get inside this guy's head. There is no better fighter than Donald Trump."
Christie’s endorsement comes as the Trump campaign seeks to charge forward toward the Republican nomination through a strong showing on the March 1 “Super Tuesday” primaries, when 11 states will cast ballots in the GOP primary. Christie’s support is a boon for the billionaire, whose critics have accused of being unprepared to take office.

Christie said that he finalized his decision to endorse Trump after ending his own presidential campaign. He said he sat down with his family to discuss their role in the campaign moving forward and concluded that “it was clear the only choice was Donald Trump, the best choice was Donald Trump.”
Both Christie and Trump emphasized that they have known each other for years both personally and professionally. Trump dismissed a question about whether Christie was being considered for the vice presidential nomination, saying that they never discussed that when Christie called to offer his endorsement.
The surprise backing is a blow to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is seeking to become the main challenger to Trump for the Republican nomination. On Friday, Christie blasted Rubio's escalating personal attacks against the billionaire, calling them an act of desperation. Christie added that Rubio represents the Washington establishment.
“I find it fascinating that somebody who barely shows up for work…is going to talk about somebody being unprepared,” Christie said.
“He’s a desperate guy,” Trump said of Rubio. “He is not presidential material. He doesn’t have the demeanor. He is a nervous Nellie.”

The Israel-firster’s Choice for US President: Marco Rubio

Rubio’s 7 Fallacies on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By  | Feb. 26, 2016 | – –

In last night’s Republican debate co-sponsored by Telemundo, billionaire bigot Donald Trump, usually a resident of Mars, briefly came back to earth long enough to suggest he could broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians by being even-handed. It is not a matter, he said, of good guys and bad guys.
Trump appears momentarily to have forgotten that he thinks there is something very wrong with Muslims in general such that they should all be barred from the United States and their places of worship should be closed down until Trump can figure out what it is. Or perhaps he forgot that the majority of Palestinians is Muslims (worldwide, Christian Palestinians are probably 20% of those with this heritage, but the Christians have been absorbed by Lebanon and the West in a way that Muslim Palestinians have not). I’m not sure how he thinks he can do a deal with the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, if he won’t let him so much as come to Camp David because he thinks all Muslims are racially suspect.
Marco Rubio is known to be the favorite of corrupt casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who made his money bribing the Chinese communist party to let him take advantage of people with a casino in Macau. Adelson is a far-right Jewish exceptionalist and the chief backer of far-right Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Adelson illicitly dumps a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper on the poor Israelis, surely a violation of the WTO, in hopes of driving more even-handed newspapers out of business).
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, unlike repeated also-ran Mario Rubio, had to drop out of the GOP race for lack of deep enough donor pockets. One of the reasons Christie is no longer in the race is because he inadvertently offended Adelson by referring to the Occupied West Bank and Gaza as Occupied by the Israelis, which they have been since 1967. Those territories have 4.5 million stateless Palestinians whose air, water and land is controlled by the Israeli army. But one of the propaganda ploys of the Zionist right wing is to go into high dudgeon if someone so much as speaks this simple truth publicly. The Israeli bully-boys of the Right have gone after everyone from the secretary-general of the United Nations to the US ambassador to Israel, and from President Obama to the foreign minister of Sweden, for daring to say the word Occupation out loud. (In the US, professors have been spied on, smeared as terrorists, blackballed, fired, bullied and even sent death threats by Likudniks for not toeing the imposed party line). It is as though they think they can sweep an epic set of war crimes under the rug by multiple and loud tantrums of passive aggression.
So, to please Adelson and other donors of his ilk, Rubio immediately jumped in to make a series of completely false and self-contradictory pronouncements on the Palestinians, about whom he knows nothing at all.
1. RUBIO: “Because — and I don’t know if Donald realizes this. I’m sure it’s not his intent perhaps. But the position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position. And here’s why. Because you cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith.” 
That Adelson would tell Rubio to say that being even-handed on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is anti-Israeli is no surprise. And I guess that Robo Rubio would read his lines the way they were written by lobbyists is also no surprise. 
It is, of course, the Israelis who have consistently acted in bad faith. Netanyahu even proudly boasted about this bad faith when he thought he wasn’t on camera:
Rubio 2. “The Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple efforts to make peace, very generous offers from the Israels.” 
Rubio should look at Jeffrey Rudolph’s “The Hamas Quiz” 
“Who stated the following on February 14, 2006? ‘Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well.’”
 “Shlomo Ben-Ami: Israel’s Minister of Public Security in 1999, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2001, and Israel’s top negotiator at Camp David and Taba negotiations. (What Ben-Ami recognized was that Israel in fact offered the Palestinians an unviable Middle East Bantustan — several blocks of West Bank land with huge Jewish settlements in between.)
“Mainstream commentators continue to reproduce the baseless Israeli claim that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was very generous in the offer he made to the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000. The quote by Ben-Ami should be sufficient to end this harmful myth.”
Rubio: 3. “Instead, here’s what the Palestinians do. They teach their four- year-old children that killing Jews is a glorious thing.” 
Here again from Professor Jeffrey’s Quiz:
“True or False: The Palestinian school curriculum incites hatred and anti-Semitism.
-False. Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, after a detailed study on The Palestinian Curriculum, writes: “[T]he Palestinian curriculum is not a war curriculum; while highly nationalistic, it does not incite hatred, violence, and anti-Semitism.”
Right-wing supporters of Israel, seeking reasons why Palestinians harbor resentment against Israel and Jews, often point to Palestinian textbooks that purportedly instill such hatred. Prof. Brown demonstrates that a better explanation is to be found in the harsh occupation administered by Israel. As Prof. Brown writes in his conclusion, “With the effects of conflict felt on a daily basis, what textbooks and teachers say is probably irrelevant in any case.” 
Rubio: 4. “Here’s what Hamas does. They launch rockets and terrorist attacks again Israel on an ongoing basis.” 
First of all, Israeli intelligence built Hamas up as a rival to the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Israel agreed to let it run in the 2006 elections, which it won.
Second, here is what an Israeli newspaper wrote:
“Hamas maintains varying degrees of popularity due to Israel. Israel’s actions have shown “Palestinians that nonviolence and mutual recognition are futile….[H]amas’ greatest asset…is not rockets and tunnels. Hamas’ greatest asset is the Palestinian belief that Israel only understands the language of force….The people of Gaza will win [some] relief [after the 2014 ‘war’] not because Salam Fayyad painstakingly built up Palestinian institutions, not because Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist and not because Bassem Tamimi protested nonviolently in partnership with Israelis. Tragically, under this Israeli government, those efforts have brought Palestinians virtually no concessions at all. The people of Gaza will win some relief from the blockade – as they did when the last Gaza war ended [in 2012] – because Hamas launched rockets designed to kill.” 
Further, of course, the little home-made rockets, more or less high school science projects, that Hamas shoots out into the Israeli desert very seldom do any significant damage, though there has been some, and some lives lost. That there have been thousands is no more pertinent to military history than that thousands of rockets are set off on Fourth of July in the US (most of them more powerful than anything Hamas has). The Palestinians shooting the rockets belong to families expelled from what is now Israel in 1948, many of them crowded into refugee camps, who lost their land, their homes, all their money, and were then locked out of their former homeland in the world’s largest open-air prison. Many could walk home in a couple of hours if allowed to. Some are from Sderot, now populated by Ethiopians and Moroccans from abroad who are living in Palestinians’ former homes.
In contrast, Israeli F-16s have murdered thousands of Palestinians from the sky in the past decade, including thousands of innocent women and children and elders.
Rubio: 5. The bottom line is, a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, given the current makeup of the Palestinians, is not possible.
That is because Israel has flooded hundreds of thousands of Israelis onto Palestinian land in the Palestinian West Bank, and, indeed, keeps announcing more such outright theft on a colonial scale. 
“It is strictly illegal for the occupying power to attempt to annex occupied territory or to transfer its citizens into militarily occupied territory. Mussolini’s Italy pulled that stunt with the parts of France he occupied during WW II. When you hear that someone has violated the Geneva Convention, that isn’t just an abstract matter. It means that someone is acting the way the dictators acted during the war, because it is that kind of lawless behavior the conventions were attempting to forestall from happening again.” 
Rubio: 6. And so the next president of the United States needs to be someone like me who will stand firmly on the side of Israel. I’m not — I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, I’m not on either side.” I will be on a side. 
Rubio is just admitting that he is not and cannot be an honest broker in any such negotiations. In this, he is saying openly what the actual policy of the United States has been since 1948. 
Let’s quote his own words against him since he is admitting his bad faith: You can’t be an honest broker where one of the sides is acting in bad faith. In this case, both Washington and the Likud government are.
Rubio: 7. I will be on Israel’s side every single day because they are the only pro-American, free enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East.
You can’t be a democracy if you deny 4.5 million people the rights of citizenship or any significant say in how they are governed. The West Bank is ruled by the Israeli military on any issue that matters. Arbitrary imprisonment is routine. Torture has been credibly alleged. Live ammunition is deployed against protesters. Property is confiscated with no shred of legality. Neither the rule of law nor anything that could remotely be termed democracy exists under Israeli Occupation. 
As for the Israeli squatter economy, it is heavily subsidized by the Israeli government (which is to say, it is subsidized by American tax dollars), and in some ways is the last bastion of Israeli socialism. 
Since Rubio is so hot on free enterprise and on small government, maybe he would like to stop allowing Americans to take their donations to illegal Israeli squatting off their American taxes?
Related video:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Poor Kids and Patriots - The Moral and Ethical Impact of The US Recruitment of the Lowest 1% of Society

“Major General Dennis Laich is a citizen, a soldier, and a patriot. In Skin in the Game, he invites Americans to reflect on this very hard truth: the all-volunteer force is a bad bargain. Basic US military policy needs changing. Here is an essential guide on where to begin.” —Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country Major General Dennis Laich makes a compelling case that the all-volunteer force no longer works in a world defined by terrorism, high debts, and widening class differences. He sets up his argument by posing three fundamental questions: Is the all-volunteer force working? Will it work in the future? 

 The answers to these questions become all too clear once you learn that less than one percent of US citizens have served in the military over the last twelve years—even though we’ve been fighting wars the entire time. What’s more, most of that one percent comes from poor and middle-class families, which poses numerous questions about social justice. 

This one percent—the ones that survive—will bear the scars of their service for the rest of their lives, while the wealthy and well-connected sit at home. Fortunately, there are alternatives that could provide the manpower to support national security, close the civil-military gap, and save taxpayers billions of dollars per year. It’s possible to fight for what’s right while ensuring a bright future, Laich offers a wake-up call that a debt-burdened nation in a dangerous world cannot afford to ignore.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trump Will Be The Republican Candidate - Now to Get Rid of the Corrupt Hillary Clinton

The Big Government Corruption of Obama/Clinton

The key 2016 issue is outrage over a rigged system by special interests. Theres a reason Hillary doesn't get it


“It’s the corruption, stupid”: Hillary’s too compromised to see what Donald Trump understands

"It's the corruption, stupid": Hillary's too compromised to see what Donald Trump understands
In 1992, James Carville, Bill Clinton’s senior campaign strategist, scribbled a terse memo containing three instructions. Two are long forgotten. The third may live forever. “It’s the economy, stupid” became a meme because it nailed the issue that drove that election. One overarching issue drives this election, but neither Hillary Clinton’s campaign nor the Democratic Party got the memo. Any swing voter could tell them what it says: It’s the corruption, stupid.
Donald Trump got the memo. What you notice first about Trump is his xenophobia, but he also speaks more about corruption than immigration. For example: when he falsely claims to self-fund his campaign, blames Bush’s donors when he gets booed, shames his opponents for crooking the knee to the Kochs, or belittles the Clintons for attending his wedding. He brags of buying influence as if buying it were less corrupt than selling it. He gets away with it because few in the press see the issue’s centrality to the race — or would know what questions to ask if they did.
Deep in their unconscious, even Trump’s most ardent fans must know that such a colossal liar couldn’t possibly be a reformer. Asked to explain their enthusiasm, they invariably cite his independence. Doubtless many are also drawn to his racism — but corruption is what Trump and his backers talk most about. In any event, the only real reformer in the race is Bernie Sanders. Even he must broaden his message beyond cracking down on Wall Street and repealing Citizens United. All Democratic candidates call for repealing Citizens UnitedDemocratic audiences cheer when they do. Other audiences doze off, and for good reasons.
One reason is that people don’t know what they mean. If you talk about Citizens United or Glass Steagallyou must tell us what they are. The key to campaign finance is discussing how much money flows into the system, where it comes from and how it’s spent. For financial regulation, talk about how without it, banks can bet their depositors’ money — and if they lose big enough, even with Dodd Frank, we taxpayers end up bailing them out.
Another reason is that Democrats who bewail Citizens United so often depict corruption as a right-wing plot of which they themselves are mere victims. Not even the base buys that. Citizens United arrived in 2010. Pay-to-play politics took off in the mid-’70s, right about the time the middle class stopped getting raises. The sad truth is elite Democrats like the current system a lot. Here’s a well-guarded secret: They even see a lot to like in Citizens United
Poorly written and atrociously reasoned, Citizens United rests on three simple, absurd precepts: Money is speech; corporations are people; and corruption is OK so long as it is sanctioned. OK, the third one isn’t so simple, but it sure is absurd. It pertains to what Justice Kennedy, the opinion’s author, calls “soft” corruption, by which he means the entire system: big donors, lobbyists, lush retreats, revolving doors, exorbitant speaking fees. The whole shebang.
Kennedy says that unlike “hard” corruption (bribery, mainly), “soft” corruption harms and offends no one, so Congress can’t regulate it. The issue hadn’t come up at trial, so there was nothing about it in pleadings. There’s tons of data about how evil it is and how much we hate it, but Kennedy ignored it. He offered no proof to support his “finding.” He just said it was so and now it’s the law.
I’d rate Citizens United the second most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history after Bush v. GoreBlind partisanship drove Bush v. GoreRight-wing ideology informs both decisions. But Citizens United’s key findings, that our politics isn’t really corrupt and we don’t care anyway, is neither partisan nor extreme. It is in fact the bipartisan consensus of Washington’s soul-sick, brain-dead establishment.
If you doubt it, consider Barack Obama. In 2008, America was almost as angry at its government as it is today. Then as now, the media and political consultants to both parties were blind to the issue. But Obama and strategist David Axelrod sort of got it. Axelrod wasn’t much for specificity. He preached the “politics of biography” (sell the person, not the policy). So Obama spoke of transforming “Washington’s culture.” It was powerful stuff, but not quite powerful enough.
Voters knew the problem wasn’t “partisan gridlock” but a hammerlock of special interests. They could abide politicians’ incivility but not their corruption. Obama added some policy meat to the metaphorical bone of his message. He called whistle-blowers heroes and vowed to strengthen freedom of information, to let C-SPAN cameras film healthcare negotiations, end no-bid contracts, close revolving doors and never hire lobbyists to handle matters of special concern to their ex-clients. By late fall, nearly every speech he gave ended in a rousing call for reform.
Breaking those vows was the original sin of the Obama administration. No C-SPAN cameras ever filmed a meeting. He didn’t treat whistle-blowers as heroes; he broke records prosecuting them. He didn’t end no-bid contracts; he increased them. He didn’t ban lobbyists; he recruited them. (Healthcare industry consultants drove that team; he even hired a defense lobbyist to oversee Pentagon procurement policy.) Revolving doors kept swinging; every ex-Obama staffer you ever heard of now sits on some comfy corporate perch.  Republicans didn’t kill the reforms. Obama had the power to implement each one by executive order, but chose not to.
In 2008, Obama raised more money from big business than any candidate in either party’s history and in 2009 he hired the most conservative economic team of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland. He then sided with insurers against a public option, with banks against rescuing homeowners and with business against raising the minimum wage. If you’re highly educated and care more about cultural than economic issues, you may not have noticed. If you’re financially pressed, you may be torn between Sanders and Trump, or have given up on politics altogether.
Clinton calls it an “artful smear” to suggest that she, Obama or any Democrat is influenced by the money they say corrupts every Republican. Her anger is partly a pose. But any card-carrying member of the establishment will take any suggestion that the system is compromised as a personal insult. This is true of elite reporters as well as politicians.
The Times’ David Brooks recently praised Obama’s “superior integrity,” calling his years in office “remarkably scandal free.” It’s all true, but recall Anthony Kennedy’s clueless distinction between hard and soft corruption. He said soft corruption was better but it’s worse really. Soft corruption is systemic corruption; a cancer on the body politic. We kill it or it kills us, and sooner than you may think.
Asked about her Goldman Sachs speaking fees, Hillary offered two rationales. One was the perennial favorite “everyone does it.” The other was equally flippant. (“That’s what they offered.”) Since leaving the White House she and Bill have hauled in $153 million in speaking fees. Her deepest flaw is she doesn’t know it’s wrong. As I’ve written twice here and said often elsewhere, I’ve great respect for her. Her flaw is denial, not dishonesty — but her denial runs deep.
Back when Bill was governor of Arkansas, she began trading cattle futures. She put up hardly any money but a Tyson Foods lawyer arranged credit and did the trading. She made $100,000 in 10 months. She joined the well-wired Rose Law Firm, appeared before legislative committees, went on Wal-Mart’s board and got a loan for the ill-fated Whitewater deal from a bank she represented before regulators Bill had appointed.
For all this she was hounded by prosecutors, many of them vicious partisans. Kenneth Starr ran a sting operation on the president of the United States hoping he’d lie if caught in an affair, an abuse of process for which Starr himself should have been investigated. But the issue isn’t whether the Clintons broke the law. It’s whether any governor’s spouse should rep corporate clients before state agencies, hop on corporate boards or take favors from corporate “friends.” The answer’s simple. No. The reason’s also simple. It’s wrong.
It’s all ancient history, unless of course it isn’t. An ongoing FBI probe is now being overseen by James Comey, the former George W. Bush deputy attorney general whom Obama, inexplicably, appointed director of the bureau. Here’s hoping he wraps it up soon, lest Clinton make history not only as the first woman presidential nominee but as the first person ever nominated while under criminal investigation. The media’s near silence on the matter reflects a concern for due process but also a failure even now to grasp how heavily the integrity issue weighs on her candidacy and the election. Democratic elites await the outcome with preternatural calm.
Clinton bristles at any implication she’d ever stoop to a policy quid pro quo. I don’t think she would. But that’s not how soft corruption works. Politicians spend more time talking to their donors than to their children. As in all intimate relations, each learns to see the world through the other’s eyes. It affects everyone: pollsters, policy advisers, reporters, pundits. You can hear it in the current healthcare debate.
On the topic of single payer, Clinton sounds like Dan Aykroyd in “Ghostbusters” (Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!). Bill calls it a “fairy tale.” Hillary rails, “I don’t want us thrown back into a terrible, terrible national debate … about some ‘better idea’ that will never, ever come to pass!” Alleged experts regurgitate Clinton campaign talking points: It’s unattainable, unaffordable and scares voters half to death.
Rubbish. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, respondents backed “Medicare for all” by 58 percent to 34 percent. One reason people like it is that it will save them a bundle. All other developed nations use a form of it and spend half what we do per capita. As for the politics, no Republican Congress will pass any Democratic healthcare bill and no Democratic Congress can resist an aroused public demanding change. The very idea of the debate being too disruptive insults our democracy.
Clinton likes to say “before it was Obamacare it was Hillarycare,” but really it was Romneycare, which speaks to its defects, many of which are systemic. Curing them requires other systemic reforms, or what Bernie calls a revolution. Clinton says she’ll “partner” with the insurance and drug industries. That’s a fairy tale. The numbers will never work, which is why she can’t say how she’d get us to universal coverage. What she’s really saying is we can’t get there from here. It’s like American Exceptionalism but in reverse; America, the really big country that can’t.
Clinton knows she can’t convince a trade unionist or a single mother that her neoliberal world order is better for them than Bernie’s revolution so she avoids side by side policy comparisons and paints him as the “other.” In Nevada it worked. She accused him of being disloyal; he cited the times he was loyal or spoke loftily of his right to dissent. He might have said loyalty to principle meant as much to him as party loyalty did to her, that he loves Obama too but that it’s time to give all people decent healthcare and a living wage; to break up the big banks and clean up the corrupt politics they feed on. He didn’t say it. He needs to say it soon.
The soft corruption of establishment politics is what we mean when we say the system’s rigged. It is Sanders’ great advantage; on the overarching issue of the election he alone among all the candidates wants what we want: an end to politics as we know it. The best place for him to start is with Obama’s 2008 reform agenda; an end to back rooms revolving doors and no-bid contracts, to hiring lobbyists and persecuting whistle-blowers. No one could question the agenda’s popularity or his ability, once in office, to deliver it. He wouldn’t need a new Court or Congress. He could just order it done. Nor could anyone question his loyalty, at least not out loud. He’d be keeping the biggest promise Obama ever made.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Republican Wars Against Science - The Rising Seas - Maybe Moses Will Help

Seas are now rising faster than they have in 2,800 years, scientists say

Waves driven by a cyclone appear in the Elbe estuary near the North Sea close to  northern Germany. (Christian Charisius/European Pressphoto Agency)
A group of scientists says it has now reconstructed the history of the planet’s sea levels arcing back over some 3,000 years — leading it to conclude that the rate of increase experienced in the 20th century was “extremely likely” to have been faster than during nearly the entire period.
“We can say with 95 percent probability that the 20th-century rise was faster than any of the previous 27 centuries,” said Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who led the research with nine colleagues from several U.S. and global universities. Kopp said it’s not that seas rose faster before that – they probably didn’t – but merely that the ability to say as much with the same level confidence declines.
The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Seas rose about 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) from 1900 to 2000, the new study suggests, for a rate of 1.4 millimeters per year. The current rate, according to NASA, is 3.4 millimeters per year, suggesting that sea level rise is still accelerating.
Unsurprisingly, the study blames the anomalous 20th-century rise on global warming — and not just that. It also calculates that, had humans not been warming the planet, there’s very little chance that seas would have risen so much during the century, finding that instead of a 14 centimeter rise, we would have seen somewhere between a 3 centimeter fall and a 7 centimeter rise.
The new work is particularly significant because, in effect, the sea level analysis produces a so-called “hockey stick” graph — showing a long and relatively flat sea level “handle” for thousands of years, followed by a “blade” that turns sharply upwards in very recent times.
The discovery of such patterns itself has a long history, going back to a 1998 studyby climate researcher Michael Mann of Penn State University and two colleagues — who found a “hockey stick” graph for the planet’s temperature, rather than for its sea level. Since then the “hockey stick,” in its various incarnations, has come in for voluminous criticism from skeptics and doubters of human-caused climate change — even as multiple scientists have continued to affirm the conclusion that the last 100 years or so are way out of whack with what the planet has seen in the past thousand or more.
The new research also forecasts that no matter how much carbon dioxide we emit, 21st-century sea level rise will still greatly outstrip what was seen in the 1900s. Nonetheless, choices made today could have a big impact. For a low emissions scenario, it finds that seas might only rise between 24 and 61 centimeters. In contrast, for a high emissions scenario — one that the recent Paris climate accord pledged the world to avert — they could rise as much as 52 to 131 centimeters, or, at the very high end, 4.29 feet.
However, Kopp notes that the methods used to project these totals may not fully capture what happens over the course of this century. “We have a model that’s calibrated against a period when a certain set of processes, largely thermal expansion and glaciers, were dominant,” he says, “and we’re looking forward to a period when other factors will be dominant.”
As Kopp’s words acknowledge, the major contributors to sea level rise in the 20th century were the melting of mountain glaciers around the globe and the natural expansion of ocean water as it warms. However, in the 21st century, researchers think that the truly major players in potential sea level rise, the huge ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, will come to play a larger role. (Just how large remains unclear.)
The current study was based on combining a variety of so-called “reconstructions” of past rates of sea level from 24 locations around the world with more recent measurements from 66 global tide gauges. That’s necessary because you can’t just measure sea level change in a single place and get a global picture — over long time periods, factors ranging from whether land is rising or sinking to changes in ocean currents and the gravitational pull of the planet’s ice sheets mean that different regions can see different amounts of sea level rise (or fall).
One of the sites where past sea levels were reconstructed by scientists is pictured below:
Coastal wetland in Newfoundland, Canada, that harbors a record of sea level for the past 2,000 years. (Courtesy of Ben Horton)
The new study follows in the footsteps of a 2011 study that looked at the ocean and climate records contained in salt marshes in North Carolina to infer the history of sea level rise over the past 2,100 years — research that had many of the same authors. That study, too, found that the recent sea level rise is unprecedented over that time period.
Mann of Penn State, one originator of the “hockey stick” reference and a co-author on the 2011 study (but not the current one), said by email that he thinks the current work is an “incremental advance” on that prior study, albeit one he agreed with in broad outline
Mann continued by email:
The study nonetheless reiterates the conclusion we reached [in 2011] that the acceleration in sea level rise over the past century is unprecedented over at least the past millennium, and that this acceleration is directly related to the spike in surface temperature over the past century (i.e. the “hockey stick”).
The new paper emerges even as another study, also published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, produced very similar 21st-century projections of sea level rise. That paper, led by Matthias Mengel of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, also calculated that with unconstrained emissions, the Earth could see a maximum of some four feet of sea level rise by 2100. But it too acknowledged that the approach “cannot cover processes” like the possible collapse of the oceanfront glaciers of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which, it said, “is hypothesized to be already underway.”
Such calculations are roughly in line with the 2013 projections of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for expected sea level rise by 2100, although they rely on a different, more simple type of model than that body used. However, Princeton climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who was not involved in the current work but collaborates with Kopp and was his postdoctoral adviser, says that this agreement between approaches still “begs the question of just how much disintegration of the polar ice sheets will contribute to sea level during the 21st century since neither type of model is adequate for capturing this growing and potentially disastrous contribution – and that is ultimately the most important unknown, both with regard to sea level and potentially with respect to the whole field of climate change.”
Capping a major day for sea level rise news, Kopp also released a report Monday along with Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central and two other researchers, using the current study’s approach to determine that thousands of coastal “nuisance” floods in the United States over the 20th century would not have happened without human-caused global warming.
Based on just four inches of sea level rise attributed to humans in the 20th century, and another two inches so far in the 21st, Strauss said he “was really surprised to see that there are human fingerprints on thousands of coastal floods that we’ve already had in the United States.” The reason is that such nuisance floods — King Tide flooding in Miami would be a good example — represent what Strauss calls a “threshold” phenomenon, which is caused after sea level rise reaches a certain level.
“I think these studies really put the human fingerprint on Miami Beach’s hundred-million-dollar saltwater flooding problem, and really a lot of what’s going on in South Florida,” Strauss said.
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