Daily Archive: 01/06/2011

Jan 06 2011

Republican New Rulz Already Broken

Even before they were sworn in as the new overlords of the House of Representatives, the Republicans have already broken their own rules

Just hours after taking control of the House, Republicans passed a sweeping set of rules promising transparency and reform.

But the new majority is already showing these promises aren’t exactly set in stone.

After calling for bills to go through a regular committee process, the bill that would repeal the health care law will not go through a single committee. Despite promising a more open amendment process for bills, amendments for the health care repeal will be all but shut down. After calling for a strict committee attendance list to be posted online, Republicans backpedaled and ditched that from the rules. They promised constitutional citations for every bill but have yet to add that language to early bills.

Quel surprise!

I’m not a big supporter of the is law because of the lack of a public option or early buy in to Medicare and the gigantic give away to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I do recognize that repealing it would be a big mistake for the reason that it would add over $230 billion to the deficit that the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats are screaming to cut on the backs of those who can least afford it.

Republicans kicked off the first day of congressional proceedings to overturn health reform with unwelcome news: a Congressional Budget Office estimate that repeal would increase the deficit by $230 billion by 2021.

The nonpartisan CBO’s preliminary analysis of the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, released Thursday morning, bolstered Democrats’ claims that overturning the health law would wreak havoc on the deficit. The CBO score on the Affordable Care Act has it decreasing the deficit by $143 billion over 10 years. But that figure is disputed by Republicans.

“CBO and JCT estimated that the March 2010 health care legislation would reduce budget deficits over the 2010-2019 period and in subsequent years; consequently, we expect that repealing that legislation would increase the budget deficit,” CBO Director Doug Elmendorf wrote in his analysis.

One of the Republican “New Rulz” prohibits passing any bill that adds to the deficit.

And remember the rule that the Democrats passed in 2007 that prohibited the passage of tax cuts by reconciliation? You know those deficit busting tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that were just renewed for another 2 years. The only way Bush could get those cuts passed was to do it under reconciliation and in 2003, passed in the Senate by Dick Cheney’s tie breaking vote.

In 2007, just weeks after Republicans lost control of the House and Senate and six years after the first passel of Bush tax cuts were signed into law, Democrats made a key change to the budget rules to prevent that episode from repeating itself.

Republicans had used the budget reconciliation process — immune from a filibuster — to pass the cuts and explode the deficit: two things the reconciliation process was never meant to allow. To get away with it, Republicans were forced to include a 10-year sunset in package — planting the seeds for the tax cut fight we just saw on Capitol Hill. After Dems wrested control of Congress, they banned the reconciliation loopholes used by the GOP altogether.

That rule was rescinded in the House on Wednesday.

As Waldman at Daily Kos politely puts it

Rules, to Republicans, are largely pointless when they get in their way. And should Republicans in the Senate succeed in regaining the majority, they’ll surely attempt to make the same kind of change they’re setting their sights on in the House. In fact, there’s little reason to expect them to wait to win the majority before they try this one, though the odds of prevailing would surely be somewhat higher if they do.

Rulz for you but not for me.

Jan 06 2011

Atheists and Agnostics Need Not Apply

If you don’t believe in a “higher being” and you serve in the US Armed Forces, you may be determined to be “spiritually unfit” and forced to undergo “exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.” This program, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF), was designed by, Martin Seligman, an American psychologist and author of self-help books and the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Selgman came under heavy criticism for his involvement in the Navy’s SERE program in 2002 and his association with Notorious SERE/CIA interrogator-psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen who use Seligman’s theories of “learned helplessness” to interrogate detainees.

Since then, Seligman has managed to reinvent himself as “Dr. Happy” and devised a way using his untested “Learned Optimism” program to make a killing-$31 million in sole source funds.

From Jason Leopold who first reported this story on the Army’s “spiritual testing”

   Soldiers fill out an online survey made up of more than 100 questions, and if the results fall into a red area, they are required to participate in remedial courses in a classroom or online setting to strengthen their resilience in the disciplines in which they received low scores. The test is administered every two years. More than 800,000 Army soldiers have taken it thus far.But for the thousands of “Foxhole Atheists” like 27-year-old Sgt. Justin Griffith, the spiritual component of the test contains questions written predominantly for soldiers who believe in God or another deity, meaning nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly and will be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality.

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the director of the CSF program, has said, “The spiritual strength domain is not related to religiosity, at least not in terms of how we measure it.”

“It measures a person’s core values and beliefs concerning their meaning and purpose in life,” she said. “It’s not religious, although a person’s religion can still affect those things. Spiritual training is entirely optional, unlike the other domains. Every time you say the S-P-I-R word you’re going to get sued. So that part is not mandatory. The assessment is mandatory though and junior soldiers will be required to take exercises to strengthen their other four domains.”

But despite the verbal gymnastics Cornum seems to engage in over the meaning of “spiritual” and “religious,” it has been established that the spiritual component of CSF is deeply rooted in religious doctrine.

A press release issued by Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in January 2010 said renowned “Psychology of Religion” expert Dr. Kenneth Pargament was tapped to develop the spiritual portion of the test in consultation with Army chaplains, BGSU ROTC cadets, graduate students and officials at West Point.

In examining this issue that bases a soldier’s fitness on his/her religious beliefs, Jeff Kaye, makes this observation and wonders what’s next?

The fact the Army is enforcing religious ideology upon soldiers is already outrageous enough, but the piquant irony by which the primary theorist of the program is also one of the primary theorists behind the use of certain techniques to break down and torture people, and whose theories were used by DoD/CIA psychologists to devise a diabolical torture program, well… one’s head could spin for days processing the internal contradictions. But that’s America today, a torturing country that uses huckster psychology to promote ersatz spirituality in soldiers sent to invade foreign countries for the purpose of selling arms and controlling oil and gas supplies.

What’s next? Will atheism be pronounced a new form of “material support to terrorism”? Will Elmer Gantry replace Robert Gates as next Secretary of Defense? Gates has been President Obama’s Secretary of Defense nearly as long now as he served as same in the administration of George W. Bush.

Truly, nothing can be considered strange anymore.

First they went after the gays . . . .

h/t to emptywheel at FDL

Jan 06 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Robert Reich The Shameful Attack on Public Employees

In 1968, 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to support them. That was where he lost his life. Eventually Memphis heard the grievances of its sanitation workers. And in subsequent years millions of public employees across the nation have benefited from the job protections they’ve earned.

But now the right is going after public employees.

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they’d like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.

It’s far more convenient to go after people who are doing the public’s work — sanitation workers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, federal employees — to call them “faceless bureaucrats” and portray them as hooligans who are making off with your money and crippling federal and state budgets. The story fits better with the Republican’s Big Lie that our problems are due to a government that’s too big.

Glenn Greenwald: Why Government Censorship of US Media is Unnecessary

In this week’s New Yorker, Peter Maass — who was in Iraq covering the war at the time — examines the iconic, manufactured toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, an event the American media relentlessly exploited in April, 2003, to propagandize citizens into believing that Iraqis were gleeful over the U.S. invasion and that the war was a smashing success.  Acknowledging that the episode demonstrated that American troops had taken over the center of Baghdad, Maas nonetheless explains that “everything else the toppling was said to represent during repeated replays on television — victory for America, the end of the war, joy throughout Iraq — was a disservice to the truth.

Working jointly with ProPublica on this investigation, Maass describes the hidden, indispensable role the U.S. military played in that event — which has long been known — though he convincingly argues that the primary culprit in this propaganda effort was the Americans media.  That is who did more than anyone to wildly distort this event.  As usual, the Watchdog Press not only happily ingests and trumpets pro-government propaganda, but does so even more enthusiastically and uncritically than government spokespeople themselves.

The reason there’s so little government censorship of the press in America is because it’s totally unnecessary; why would the government even want to censor a media this compliant and subservient?  Recall the derision heaped upon the media even by Bush’s own former Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, for being “too deferential” to administration propaganda.  As soon as an entity emerges that provides genuinely adversarial coverage of the U.S. Government — such as WikiLeaks, whistleblowers, or isolated articles exposing its malfeasance — the repressive measures come fast and furious.  But in general, it’s no more necessary for the U.S. Government to censor the American media than it would be for Barack Obama to try to silence Robert Gibbs.

Laura Flanders: Constitutional Lessons For the New Congress

Republican lawmakers who read the Constitution out loud as their very first act in the new Congress better bask in their Tea Party glow because they’re certainly not going to be feeling the love from Constitutional scholars.

It’s true, this nation’s founders were like most of those Congresspeople — mostly propertied, white and male; but their vision of government couldn’t be more different.

As scholar Lew Daly points out in Dissent, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams weren’t Hooverites. To the contrary, they pushed the idea that property and power should be widely distributed — even redistributed. In their day, “starve the beast” meant starve the elites, those monarchs and mega money men who’d concentrate power and undermine democracy.

Jan 06 2011

On This Day in History January 6

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 6 is the sixth day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 359 days remaining until the end of the year (360 in leap years).

On this day in 1838, Samuel Morse’s telegraph system is demonstrated for the first time at the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, New Jersey. The telegraph, a device which used electric impulses to transmit encoded messages over a wire, would eventually revolutionize long-distance communication, reaching the height of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born April 27, 1791, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He attended Yale University, where he was interested in art, as well as electricity, still in its infancy at the time. After college, Morse became a painter. In 1832, while sailing home from Europe, he heard about the newly discovered electromagnet and came up with an idea for an electric telegraph. He had no idea that other inventors were already at work on the concept.

Morse spent the next several years developing a prototype and took on two partners, Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail, to help him. In 1838, he demonstrated his invention using Morse code, in which dots and dashes represented letters and numbers. In 1843, Morse finally convinced a skeptical Congress to fund the construction of the first telegraph line in the United States, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. In May 1844, Morse sent the first official telegram over the line, with the message: “What hath God wrought!”

Jan 06 2011

Six In The Morning

Big Brother Meets McCarthyism  



Israeli parliament backs ‘McCarthyite’ investigation into human rights groups

A right-wing proposal to investigate some of Israel’s best-known human rights organisations for “delegitimising” its military was approved by the country’s parliament yesterday amid left-wing charges of McCarthyism.

After a highly charged and noisy debate, the Knesset approved by 41 votes to 16 the plan for a parliamentary panel of inquiry into the funding of a series of organisations which have criticised and documented human rights abuses by Israeli authorities, mainly in the occupied Palestinian territories. The vote is a political victory for the hard-line nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party led by the country’s controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one of whose Knesset members, Faina Kirshenbaum, introduced the proposal and is likely to chair the panel.

Jan 06 2011

Obama Finds Another Cave: End of Life Counseling

Our Spelunker-in-Chief has discovered another cave. Just when I thought there was some hope that he would start standing up to his Republican critics, my optimism was dashed. On December 24th it was announced that outlined a new policy that would pay doctors to council patients about end of life care that was outlined in Medicare.

When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

Then there was the disheartening news that the President had decided to reverse his decision

The Obama administration, reversing course, will revise a Medicare regulation to delete references to end-of-life planning as part of the annual physical examinations covered under the new health care law, administration officials said Tuesday.

The move is an abrupt shift, coming just days after the new policy took effect on Jan. 1.

Many doctors and providers of hospice care had praised the regulation, which listed “advance care planning” as one of the services that could be offered in the “annual wellness visit” for Medicare beneficiaries.

While administration officials cited procedural reasons for changing the rule, it was clear that political concerns were also a factor. The renewed debate over advance care planning threatened to become a distraction to administration officials who were gearing up to defend the health law against attack by the new Republican majority in the House.

This reversal removes this valued conversation with your doctor from your annual physical. This is the government getting between you and your doctor about your treatment, the treatment that you want, or in some cases might not want, when you reach the end of your life and might not be able to make those decisions for yourself.

Paul Waldman summed this up

Rule No. 1: When you make policy decisions based on “The Republicans might attack us on this!” then you haven’t just lost politically; you’ve betrayed the things you allegedly believed in.

What’s particularly maddening about this isn’t just the cowardice; it’s the fact that this is a debate Democrats can easily turn to their advantage. First, it’s important to note that unlike in many cases, the press has taken a pretty firm pro-truth position on this issue, which sets an important context for how whatever discussion there ends up being would play out. Reports about it have overwhelmingly declared the “death panel” line to be false. It was PolitiFact’s 2009 “Lie of the Year.” Seriously — take a look at how it’s been reported. The press has done a good job on this one. And the main proponent of the idea, Sarah Palin, is one of the most unpopular politicians in America

(emphasis mine)

If this is Obama standing up to Republicans, I don’t have a lot of positive feelings about the next two years.

Jan 06 2011

Social Security: Beyond Red and Blue

George Carlin said it bluntly a few years ago, and it was dismissed as comedy by more than a few who saw that it wasn’t – who saw that he he was using the comedic stage as a platform to deliver a serious warning, to pass on the truth as he saw it clearly:

They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations, they’ve long since bought and paid for the senate, the congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets, and they own all the big media companies so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear.

They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying. Lobbying to get what they want. Well we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else.

But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting f*cked by a system that threw them overboard 30 f*ckin’ years ago. They don’t want that.

You know what they want? They want obedient workers – obedient workers – people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paper work, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

And now they’re coming for your social security money.

They want your f*ckin’ retirement money. They want it back. So they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street.

Carlin was a unique talent – he had a stage presence that was fun to listen to and he had a way with phrasing and delivery that made the depressing message he had to pass on a little easier to swallow than dry facts would have.

But the dry and cold hard facts of the situation Carlin so eloquently described, unpleasant as they may be, are as much if not more important to know if anything is to be done, if the American people are ever to rise up, exert the power they have, and take back control of their country and their own destiny.

Jan 06 2011

Prime Time

More Awards Shows.  The most boring form of television ever unless you have some action going.  Lots of premiers if you’re into that sort of thing.

Later-

Dave hosts Jennifer Connelly, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Justin Townes Earle.  Jon has Jimmy Wales, Stephen Atul Gawande.  Conan in repeats from 12/2.

Jan 06 2011

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Gbagbo lays down terms for lifting siege of I. Coast rival

by Christophe Koffi, AFP

1 hr 13 mins ago

ABIDJAN (AFP) – Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo will lift a siege on his presidential rival if former rebels protecting him go, a minister said Wednesday, insisting an amnesty for the embattled leader was not on the cards.

Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje said that strongman Gbagbo, who most of the world says lost November’s presidential run-off but has refused to relinquish power, would not go into exile despite offers aimed at ending the crisis.

“It was a question of the New Forces soldiers leaving the hotel, a condition for lifting the blockade,” Djedje told journalists, denying Gbagbo had said he would lift the siege as reported by African mediators.