Daily Archive: 05/17/2013

May 17 2013

Friday Night at the Movies

May 17 2013

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Simpson-Bowles Austerity Gang: Go Home

Simpson and Bowles, those two hired pitchmen for budget-cutting hysteria, are still hawking an economy-killing product called “austerity economics,” a product that’s designed to benefit their wealthy patrons at everybody else’s expense.  This philosophy provides some (very thin) intellectual cover for the Republicans’ lunatic bloodbath of spending cuts.

Of course, Simpson and Bowles and austerity’s other sales people aren’t really economic thinkers. They’re paid to pitch a product. They didn’t invent austerity any more than Alex Rodriguez invented Pepsi.

But what they’re peddling isn’t a soft drink. It’s a lot worse for you than that.

Ralph Nader: Patriotic Yardsticks for Unpatriotic Giant Corporations

Why are big, global U.S. corporations so unpatriotic? After all, they were created in the U.S.A., rose to immense profit because of the toil of American workers, are bailed out by American taxpayers whenever they’re in trouble, and are safeguarded abroad by the U.S. military.

Yet these corporate Goliaths work their tax lawyers overtime to escape U.S. taxes. Many pay less than you do in federal income taxes. Imagine corporations, like General Electric, have not paid federal income taxes on U.S. profits for years.

Mega corporations have abandoned U.S. workers by entrenching “pull-down” trade agreements that make it easier than ever to ship jobs and whole industries to fascist and communist regimes abroad which keep their workers near serfdom. Remember, the U.S. has run large trade deficits for the past 30 years as a result of anti-American trade deals pushed by these global companies. These Goliaths are pressing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that will further pull down our economy.

Jonathan Franklin; Is Obama the New Nixon?

Obsession with leaks, secret wars, enemies list. At least Nixon had no drones to take out the enemies

Without going over the edge to Rush Limbaugh territory, the internal spying on reporters and politicization of the IRS do raise the question. Could Obama be trumping “Tricky Dick” on the latter’s home turf? Few politicians can match Richard Milhous Nixon for obsession with leaks, propagation of secret wars and creation of a list of enemies.

Let’s consider the evidence thus far and remember first that an indignant bi-partisan Congressional investigation, a ferocious press well beyond Woodward and Bernstein and a public that was riveted to the hour-by-hour testimony exposed Nixon’s dirty tricks.

David Bromwich: Secrecy, Surveillance, and Public Safety

Three scandals have converged in the past week to preoccupy Congress and the press. Benghazi was the first to come, and it has surprised by its staying power. The larger issue in the background — the wisdom of the NATO destruction of the government of Libya which left an open field for anti-American militias — will probably never be discussed; and within the bounds of the intervention policy, it is unlikely that a satisfying American culprit will emerge. The abuse of power by the IRS may be, in the long run, the most damaging of these cases for the Obama presidency, but its outlines are only beginning to emerge. It is possible that IRS functionaries acted as they did without any systematic guidance from the top of the service; and possible, too, that over the many months of the harassment of anti-Obama groups, the executive branch never caught wind of the trouble and is as stunned as the rest of us. But the ugliest of the scandals has come from the revelation of the justice department’s seizure of two months of phone calls by 100 AP reporters. This was done to investigate the leak of a thwarted terrorist plot which the government itself had already decided to disclose in public.

Different as they are, the scandals all point to a single disorder that afflicts the Obama White House and the Holder justice department. The name of the disorder is paternalism, and its leading symptoms are suppression and secrecy. Paternalism is the ideology proper to a government that treats the governed as children.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The False God of ‘Narrative’

It’s a funny thing about media leaks: They are either courageous or outrageous, depending on whether they help or hurt your political party.

Forgive me for feeling cynical and depressed about our nation’s political conversation. Scandalmania is distorting our discussion of three different issues, sweeping them into one big narrative-everything is a “narrative” these days-about the beleaguered second-term presidency of Barack Obama. [..]

I know, I know: This “confluence” of “scandals” spells “trouble” for the Obama administration. Well, sure, this has been hell week for the president. But what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and the facts to the idol of political narrative. It’s a false god.

Robert Reich: The Problem With Obama’s Second Term

Less than six months into a second term and the Obama White House is on the defensive and floundering: Benghazi, the IRS’s investigations of right-wing groups, the Justice Department’s snooping into journalists’ phone records, Obamacare behind schedule, the Administration’s push for gun control ending in failure.

Should the blame fall mainly on congressional Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media, whose vitriolic attacks on Obama are unceasing? [..]

But surely some of the seeming disarray is due to the President, whose insularity and aloofness make him an easy target, and whose eagerness to compromise and lack of focus continuously blurs his core message.

May 17 2013

501 (c) 3s and 4s

First of all I’m not a lawyer, don’t even play one on TV.

What I have been (and still probably am on some obscure piece of paperwork) is an officer or director of a community group (told you I was a community organizer), a 501 (c) 3.

Now a 501 (c) 4 is flat out allowed to lobby and endorse candidates.  Think Sierra Club (more on their Keystone sellout later maybe).  In return contributions are not tax deductible for the contributor.  For a 501 (c) 3 it’s more problematic but as a practice when we were pan handling in front of grocery stores (poor day when I couldn’t make my $35 an hour) we promised nobody nothing.

Can you make money?  I just told you it was a poor day I couldn’t rattle my can for $35 an hour.

In fact some of the organizations I’ve worked with had cash flows of 10s of millions.  It’s not as much as it seems when the money goes right out the door as expenses.  Non-profit?  I funded one club out of my pocket $10,000 to keep them going.

Now, is this money going to a worthy cause?  Hell no.

A lot of them are just subsidized bars where well drinks are a dollar and top shelf $2.50 (no, you can’t drink if you’re not a member or guest, that will be $100 and I’ll swear you in right here).

Do they bring value to a community?

I dunno.  How valuable is your Town Fair or Carnival?  Your Parade or Craft Show?  Your Community Theater?

Umm… these are all projects I’ve worked on.  For weeks or years.  For nothing.

I do it because it’s fun and I love Stars Hollow.  I do it because I get to hang out with my buddies who are similarly “community minded”.

And there’s usually free beer.

But my point is that, for a club, 501 (c) 3 or 4 mostly means that you don’t have to keep a lawyer and accountant on retainer and the problem is not your tax status- it’s that the IRS has targeted particular clubs for political purposes.

And that’s just Nixonesque (2.2).

May 17 2013

On This Day In History May 17

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.

Click on image to enlarge

May 17 is the 137th day of the year (138th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 228 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1954, in a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which allowed state-sponsored segregation. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous (9-0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.

Supreme Court Review

The case of Brown v. Board of Education as heard before the Supreme Court combined five cases: Brown itself, Briggs v. Elliott (filed in South Carolina), Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (filed in Virginia), Gebhart v. Belton (filed in Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (filed in Washington D.C.).

All were NAACP-sponsored cases. The Davis case, the only case of the five originating from a student protest, began when sixteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns organized and led a 450-student walkout of Moton High School.

The Kansas case was unique among the group in that there was no contention of gross inferiority of the segregated schools’ physical plant, curriculum, or staff. The district court found substantial equality as to all such factors. The Delaware case was unique in that the District Court judge in Gebhart ordered that the black students be admitted to the white high school due to the substantial harm of segregation and the differences that made the schools separate but not equal. The NAACP’s chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall, who was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, argued the case before the Supreme Court for the plaintiffs. Assistant attorney general Paul Wilson, later distinguished emeritus professor of law at the University of Kansas, conducted the state’s ambivalent defense in his first appellate trial.

Unanimous Opinion and Key Holding

In spring 1953 the Court heard the case but was unable to decide the issue and asked to rehear the case in fall 1953, with special attention to whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools for whites and blacks.

The case was being reargued at the behest of Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, who used re-argument as a stalling tactic, to allow the Court to gather a unanimous consensus around a Brown opinion that would outlaw segregation. Chief Justice Vinson had been a key stumbling block. The justices in support of desegregation spent much effort convincing those who initially dissented to join a unanimous opinion. Even though the legal effect would be same for a majority versus unanimous decision, it was felt that it was vital to not have a dissent which could be relied upon by opponents of desegregation as a legitimizing counterargument.

Conference notes and draft decisions illustrate the division of opinions before the decision was issued. Justices Douglas, Black, Burton, and Minton were predisposed to overturn Plessy. Fred M. Vinson noted that Congress had not issued desegregation legislation; Stanley F. Reed discussed incomplete cultural assimilation and states’ rights and was inclined to the view that segregation worked to the benefit of the African-American community; Tom C. Clark wrote that “we had led the states on to think segregation is OK and we should let them work it out.” Felix Frankfurter and Robert H. Jackson disapproved of segregation, but were also opposed to judicial activism and expressed concerns about the proposed decision’s enforceability. After Vinson died in September 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice. Warren had supported the integration of Mexican-American students in California school systems following Mendez v. Westminster.

While all but one justice personally rejected segregation, the self-restraint faction questioned whether the Constitution gave the Court the power to order its end. The activist faction believed the Fourteenth Amendment did give the necessary authority and were pushing to go ahead. Warren, who held only a recess appointment, held his tongue until the Senate, dominated by southerners, confirmed his appointment.

Warren convened a meeting of the justices, and presented to them the simple argument that the only reason to sustain segregation was an honest belief in the inferiority of Negroes. Warren further submitted that the Court must overrule Plessy to maintain its legitimacy as an institution of liberty, and it must do so unanimously to avoid massive Southern resistance. He began to build a unanimous opinion.

Although most justices were immediately convinced, Warren spent some time after this famous speech convincing everyone to sign onto the opinion. Justices Robert Jackson and Stanley Reed finally decided to drop their dissent to what was by then an opinion backed by all the others. The final decision was unanimous. Warren drafted the basic opinion and kept circulating and revising it until he had an opinion endorsed by all the members of the Court.

Holding

The key holding of the Court was that, even if segregated black and white schools were of equal quality in facilities and teachers, segregation by itself was harmful to black students and unconstitutional. They found that a significant psychological and social disadvantage was given to black children from the nature of segregation itself, drawing on research conducted by Kenneth Clark assisted by June Shagaloff. This aspect was vital because the question was not whether the schools were “equal”, which under Plessy they nominally should have been, but whether the doctrine of separate was constitutional. The justices answered with a strong “no”:

   Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does… Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system… We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

May 17 2013

Keeping the Government Transparent, Anonymously

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Thomas Jefferson to Dr. James Currie, January 28, 1786

Since the news broke that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of phone records of the Associated Press reporters and editors, it has had chilling effect on the future ability of reporters to gather information from anonymous sources. On May 15, The New Yorker launched Strongbox “an online place where people can send documents and messages to the magazine,” affording a reasonable amount of anonymity:

It was put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen. Kevin explains some of the background in his own post, including Swartz’s role and his survivors’ feelings about the project. (They approve, something that was important for us here to know.) The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented.

 photo Strongbox_zps8e4c0447.jpg

Click on image to enlarge

To get to Strongbox and begin using it to contact writers and editors at The New Yorker, just follow these two steps:

   (1) Download and install software to access the Tor Project: https://www.torproject.org/ This should only take a few minutes.

   (2)Once you have access to the Tor network, go to Strongbox at http://tnysbtbxsf356hiy.onion, where you will find further instructions on how to submit files and messages to The New Yorker.

Strongbox and Aaron Swartz

by Kevin Poulson

Aaron Swartz was not yet a legend when, almost two years ago, I asked him to build an open-source, anonymous in-box. His achievements were real and varied, but the events that would come to define him to the public were still in his future: his federal criminal indictment; his leadership organizing against the censorious Stop Online Piracy Act; his suicide in a Brooklyn apartment. I knew him as a programmer and an activist, a member of a fairly small tribe with the skills to turn ideas into code-another word for action-and the sensibility to understand instantly what I was looking for: a slightly safer way for journalists and their anonymous sources to communicate.

There’s a growing technology gap: phone records, e-mail, computer forensics, and outright hacking are valuable weapons for anyone looking to identify a journalist’s source. With some exceptions, the press has done little to keep pace: our information-security efforts tend to gravitate toward the parts of our infrastructure that accept credit cards.

Rachel Maddow interviewed the editor of The New Yorker magazine’s web site, Nicholas Thompson, about their “Strongbox” submission tool that allows sources to remain anonymous and untraceable when they submit a story tip.

This is how far we have come to protect the press and our constitutional right to know what the government is doing in our name. Thank you, Aaron and Kevin.

May 17 2013

The Mountain That Was Benghazi

The Republicans have been screaming cover-up for months over the attack on the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, in Libya on September 11, 2012 that took the lives of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. One of the accusations surrounded e-mails between the White House, the State Department and the CIA was that there was an intentional downplay of the motive for the September 11 attack.

Based on e-mails that were leaked, the Republicans claimed that the White House had changed the talking points to edit out “terrorism” in an effort to down play the attack just before the election. In an attempt to quell the GOP’s uproar, the White House released a 100 pages of e-mails to the public to disprove the cover-up allegations. Guess what, like true to from politicians trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, they fabricated the so-called quotes to create a scandal. The quotes that were cited by Republicans as accurate are far different than which is in the actual emails.

CBSNews‘ Major Garrett broke the story on its Evening News:

On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from (deputy national security adviser Ben) Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”

But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.

It read: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”

Republicans also provided what they said was a quote from an email written by State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.

The Republican version quotes Nuland discussing, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”

The actual email from Nuland says: “The penultimate point could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”

There is no indications that the White House “fixed” the talking  points. This is a purely manufactured conspiracy by the Republicans to discredit, not just the White House, but the State Department and Hillary Rodham Clinton for political advantage.

This isn’t Watergate this is Whitewater. There nothing there, never was but that won’t stop the right wing lying smear machine from wasting millions of tax payer dollars digging more holes:

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican House speaker John Boehner, made it clear that it will not be giving up the fight. “This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more co-operation to come,” Buck said.

Never mind that they lied. Keep digging your own grave, guys.

h/t John Aravosis at Americablog