Monthly Archive: July 2014

Jul 31 2014

Democracy Under Fire

In a joint statement, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch released a 120 page report documenting how mass surveillance by the US is undermining constitutional rights to freedom of the press and legal council

The 120-page report, “With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy,” is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior US government officials. It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions. The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public’s right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.

Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate sat down with Alex Sinha, Aryeh Neier fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, and Jeremy Scahill, staff reporter with The Intercept to discuss the threat to Americans’ liberties.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union warn that “large-scale surveillance is seriously hampering U.S.-based journalists and lawyers in their work.” The report is based on interviews with dozens of reporters and lawyers. They describe a media climate where journalists take cumbersome security steps that slows down their reporting. Sources are afraid of talking, as aggressive prosecutions scare government officials into staying silent, even about issues that are unclassified. For lawyers, the threat of surveillance is stoking fears they will be unable to protect a client’s right to privacy. Some defendants are afraid of speaking openly to their own counsel, undermining a lawyer’s ability provide the best possible defense.



Transcript can be read here

Journalism under fire: America’s freedom of the press is in danger

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

If there’s one thing that civil libertarians across the American political spectrum tend to agree upon, it’s that the Bill of Rights is a guiding document. It doesn’t say everything but it says a lot. The various political factions do sometimes differ in their emphasis and interpretation, with the right’s civil libertarians often tending to focus more closely on the 1st Amendment’s establishment clause and the 2nd Amendment while the left-leaning civil libertarians take a harder line on freedom of speech and the 4th amendment. This is of course a sweeping generalization which can be disproved in dozens of individual cases, but for the sake of argument, it can probably be stipulated that those who concern themselves with the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution all agree on the Bill of Rights’ importance to our constitutional order.  And they tend to agree across the board, with equal fervor, on the necessity of a free press to a functioning democracy. [..]

Considering the reaction of many people in the government toward reporters involved in the NSA revelation, it’s clear they have reason to be paranoid. There are government officials awho consider them to be spies and have said they should be punished as such. Even fellow journalists have brought up the question of “aiding and abetting” as if it’s a legitimate line of inquiry.

The atmosphere of mistrust is also rampant within the government, as with the administration having cracked down on contacts between the intelligence community and issuing threats of legal action even before the Snowden revelations. The institutionalized, government-wide initiative called the Insider Threat Program could have any federal employee looking over his  shoulder and worrying that his innocent behavior might be construed as suspicious. [..]

And it’s not just national security agencies that are subject to this program. They are in effect in departments as disparate as the Department of Education and the Peace Corps.

Top Journalists and Lawyers: NSA Surveillance Threatens Press Freedom and Right to Counsel

By Dan Froomkin, The Intercept

Not even the strongest versions of NSA reform being considered in Congress come anywhere close to addressing the chilling effects on basic freedoms that the new survey describes.

“If the US fails to address these concerns promptly and effectively,” report author  G. Alex Sinha writes, “it could do serious, long-term damage to the fabric of democracy in the country.”

Even before the Snowden revelations, reporters trying to cover important defense, intelligence and counter-terrorism issues were reeling from the effects of unprecedented secrecy and attacks on whistleblowers.

But newfound awareness of the numerous ways the government can follow electronic trails –  previously considered the stuff of paranoid fantasy – has led sources to grow considerably more fearful.

Jul 31 2014

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: Don’t Panic! We Can Expand Social Security and Medicare

Actuarial science is the art of prediction. And speaking of predictions, here’s one that hasn’t been wrong yet: No matter what new data emerges about Social Security and Medicare, the well-funded opponents of those two worthy programs will always insist that we’re on the brink of catastrophe – unless something is done right now to slash their benefits. [..]

We do have real problems, of course. We need to end our dependence on private insurers and rein in for-profit providers in order to get our health costs in line with other developed countries.Wealth inequality and the erosion of employer pensions will lead to a retirement crisis unless we increase our nation’s meager Social Security benefits.

We can certainly meet these challenges. All that’s required is a rational conversation about revenue-generating alternatives. But groups like the Committee and the Concord Coalition exist to foster fear, not wisdom. Here’s another prediction we’re not afraid to make: No matter what next year’s Trustees Report says, they’ll tell us it spells catastrophe.

Simon Malloy: No Labels, no respect: The bipartisan “solutions” group embodies the worst of D.C.

No Labels is raising money largely for itself, and its attempts to break gridlock are silly and self-defeating

No Labels was once the embodiment of a dream. It was the dream of a bunch of wealthy and bored coastal elites who’d determined that the biggest problem facing America was “partisanship,” and that the answer was to give up “ideology” and instead pursue a “centrist” agenda composed mainly of moderately conservative budget reforms and gimmicky demonstrations of bipartisan comity. The fact that “centrism” itself is as much an ideology as liberalism or conservatism didn’t matter – the cause was righteous, and the donations were plentiful.

The No Labels dream is coming up on its fourth birthday, and in that time the group has made exactly zero progress toward its goal of untangling gridlock in D.C. It’s actually worse now than it was in 2010, in spite of No Labels’ frequent calls for bipartisan seating for legislators at the State of the Union address.

What is has succeeded in doing, however, is becoming exactly the sort of scummy, insider-D.C. institution that pretty much everyone expected it would be. Yahoo! News’ Meredith Shiner has all the ugly details on how No Labels doesn’t really do anything except raise money for No Labels:No Labels was once the embodiment of a dream. It was the dream of a bunch of wealthy and bored coastal elites who’d determined that the biggest problem facing America was “partisanship,” and that the answer was to give up “ideology” and instead pursue a “centrist” agenda composed mainly of moderately conservative budget reforms and gimmicky demonstrations of bipartisan comity. The fact that “centrism” itself is as much an ideology as liberalism or conservatism didn’t matter – the cause was righteous, and the donations were plentiful.

The No Labels dream is coming up on its fourth birthday, and in that time the group has made exactly zero progress toward its goal of untangling gridlock in D.C. It’s actually worse now than it was in 2010, in spite of No Labels’ frequent calls for bipartisan seating for legislators at the State of the Union address.

What is has succeeded in doing, however, is becoming exactly the sort of scummy, insider-D.C. institution that pretty much everyone expected it would be. Yahoo! News’ Meredith Shiner has all the ugly details on how No Labels doesn’t really do anything except raise money for No Labels: [..]

Heidi Moore: It’s the end of Argentina as we know it, and the world economy will be just fine

An entire country defaulting on its debt? After a fight with US hedge-funders? This is the stupidest ‘nuclear option’ yet

Every once in a while you get a crazy financial story that makes you wonder how smart the people in charge really are. Argentina’s recent flirting with economic default is proof that the average consumer, managing a few thousands, could probably do a better job than politicians with billions at their disposal.

If you read the papers, you would believe that the land of tango, gauchos, Malbec and great steaks is on the verge of self-destruction: “Argentina dances with default”, groused a Wall Street Journal headline. “Argentina nears cliff in risky debt game”, chided the Financial Times.

Sounds dire, doesn’t it? [..]

Absolutely nothing is riding on an Argentina’s default. The entire conflict is composed of absurdities.

Jessica Valenti: Feminism makes women ‘victims’? I think you’ve mistaken us for the sexists

Women are victimized in our society. #WomenAgainstFeminism doesn’t change that terrible reality

An old canard about feminists is that, in addition to being hirsute bra-burners, we want to turn all women into “victims” – and thanks to “Women Against Feminism“, this particular accusation has gained some moderately mainstream traction in recent weeks.

But feminism doesn’t make women victims. Sexism does.

That inconvenient truth hasn’t stopped conservatives and anti-feminists from using this supposed victimization to bash a movement that won women the rights to vote, have credit cards, not be legally raped by their husbands, use birth control and generally be considered people instead of property, among other things. [..]

But all the cringing and skepticism in the world hasn’t stopped the idea of “Women Against Feminism” from being taken seriously by at least some in the media.

Andrew Leonard: National Review declares war against the nerds

Why are conservatives so annoyed by Neil DeGrasse Tyson? Because, you know, science

If you prick a nerd, does he not bleed? If you wrong us, shall we not revenge? Like fire ants boiling out of their underground lair, overcome with rage at whatever dastard disturbed their slumber, nerds everywhere are taking to the streets, apoplectic at the most foul attack on entitled smarts this nation has seen since Dwight D. Eisenhower called Robert Oppenheimer a pencil-necked geek.

OK, I don’t actually have a link for that Eisenhower thing. Maybe it didn’t happen. But I do have a link for National Review’s cover-story assaulting nerd-dom, “Smarter Than Thou.” A cover story that begins by attacking none other than Neil DeGrasse Tyson – the Holy Roman Nerd-Emperor himself! – as the “the fetish and totem of the extraordinarily puffed-up ‘nerd’ culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States.”

John Nichols: Governor Cuomo Should Debate Primary Challenger Zephyr Teachout

Election seasons are supposed to provide an opportunity for sitting officials to explain their records, and for challengers to question them. And when a top official is facing intense scrutiny based on recent revelations-as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the aftermath of reports regarding his administration’s handling of a corruption inquiry-the need for election season accountability is that much greater.

So it only makes sense that Cuomo should accept the debate challenge posed by his Democratic primary foe, Fordham University Law School professor Zephyr Teachout. [..]

Debates are good for democracy. But they are not merely exercises in civil duty. Debates allow for the airing of complex issues of personal and political integrity that can never be adequately addressed in thirty-second attack ads on television.

A debate — preferably, multiple debates — before the Democratic gubernatorial primary in New York would allow capable candidates an opportunity to wrestle not just with questions about the Moreland Commission and money in politics but with a range of pressing issues.

Teachout wants debates on education, immigration and hydrofracking.

“But,” she adds, well aware of the turn New York’s 2014 campaign has taken, “all three would end up in a debate about corruption.”Debates are good for democracy. But they are not merely exercises in civil duty. Debates allow for the airing of complex issues of personal and political integrity that can never be adequately addressed in thirty-second attack ads on television.

A debate — preferably, multiple debates — before the Democratic gubernatorial primary in New York would allow capable candidates an opportunity to wrestle not just with questions about the Moreland Commission and money in politics but with a range of pressing issues.

Teachout wants debates on education, immigration and hydrofracking.

“But,” she adds, well aware of the turn New York’s 2014 campaign has taken, “all three would end up in a debate about corruption.”

Jul 31 2014

Meanwhile, at Fukushima…

NAS Fukushima report: Accidents will happen

by Gregg Levine, Al Jazeera

Jul 24 6:53 PM

If there is one message to take from the National Academy of Sciences report, Lessons Learned From the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving the Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants, released today, it is that accidents can happen, and it is essential for nuclear plant operators, regulators and public safety responders to all have plans for what to do when one does.



In the case of Japan, Fukushima operator TEPCO did not account for known seismic and tsunami risks, and, even if they had, they still did not have a plan of action for the total station blackout (known as an SBO) – that X+1 scenario or beyond design basis event.

In the months (and even years) after the beginning of the Fukushima crisis, advocates for American nuclear power commonly downplayed the implications of Japan’s experience, arguing it was a freak “one-two punch.” The NAS report appears to frown on that kind of blinkered assessment. As a case study for U.S. facilities – and the NAS study is meant to inform management of the U.S. nuclear fleet – analysis of the Fukushima disaster says that the earthquake and tsunami were far from unforeseeable, that there were experts that saw it, and that even if that specific chain of events was surprising, the consequences of it should still be considered and prepared for.



Case in point: vents.

The GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor, the design of the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, and similar Mark IIs, were built with very small containment vessels, making them vulnerable to over-pressurization, and without vents to relieve the pressure in an emergency. This problem was actually recognized by some engineers in the 1970s; still, it took until 1989 for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended adding the most basic vents to older reactors. (And, even today, one currently operating U.S. reactor – Fitzpatrick in upstate New York – still does not meet those requirements.)

The basic vents were back-fit to the Fukushima reactors prior to the 2011 earthquake.



There is still some debate on exactly how the vents at Fukushima failed and what role they played in the hydrogen explosions that so severely damaged containment buildings at Daiichi, but there has been little argument that the design modification recommended for all U.S. boiling water reactors failed the test.

The system “demonstrated a 100 percent failure rate for Mark I over-pressurization events,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear, a nuclear industry watchdog.

The need to retrofit the 23 Mark I and eight Mark II reactors still operating in the U.S. with “sever accident capable” vents and high-capacity filtration systems was a common finding in several post-Fukushima reports. Indeed, just such an upgrade was the firm recommendation of the NRC’s own Japan Lessons Learned Task Force.

But in March 2013, with the Fukushima disaster starting its third year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission bowed to industry objections, ignored its own task force’s findings and voted 4 to 1 to reject ordering the installation of the robust vents and filtrations systems on the ancient GE reactors.

It was an example of “regulatory capture,” said Gunter, which represents the “fundamental problem” with nuclear regulation. “Industry essentially rules the regulators.”



The incestuous nature of government and industry in Japan is much documented, and regulatory capture was oft cited as a contributing factor to the Fukushima crisis. But even in Japan, its Nuclear Regulatory Agency has been able to require a “lessons learned” upgrade that seems beyond the reach of the U.S. NRC.

Over Easy: Monday Science

By: BoxTurtle, Firedog Lake

Monday July 28, 2014 7:26 am

Another scientist moves off the reservation: We must do radiation testing of people outside Fukushima prefecture.   Government official: “I don’t want to discuss the issue.” They then proceed to “analyze” the data based on their intentionally flawed methodology, which has the effect of wildly underestimating the actual impact. Though in their defense, we really don’t know what the impact of this kind of radiation exposure is. But we will.

While officially there is little impact to people, Bad things are happening to our close relatives. Monkey blood in the area is showing abnormalities that could lead to plagues amongst them.

The ice wall ain’t gonna help much, just delay the day of reckoning. And I can make the case that the wall will actually make things worse by reducing cooling to the melts and/or turning the entire worksite into a swamp of radioactive water. Speculate on what the ground inside the wall will do when saturated.

Still, TEPCO seems determined that the laws of physics will not apply when they conflict with the press releases. They seem to think that they can order water to freeze at 5 degrees C.

Jul 31 2014

The Breakfast Club (Sailing on a Dream)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

The Breakfast Club Logo photo BeerBreakfast_web_zps5485351c.png

This Day in History

Breakfast Tunes

“Calypso”

To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean, to ride on the crest of the wild raging storm.

To work in the service of life and the living, in search of the answers to questions unknown.

To be part of the movement and part of the growing, part of beginning to understand.

Aye, Calypso, the place’s you’ve been to,

the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.

Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.

Like the dolphin who guides you, you bring us beside you

to light up the darkness and show us the way.

For though we are strangers in your silent world, to live on the land we must learn from the sea.

To be true as the tide and free as a wind swell, joyful and loving in letting it be.

Aye, Calypso, the place’s you’ve been to,

the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.

Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.

Aye, Calypso, the place’s you’ve been to,

the things that you’ve shown us, the stories you tell.

Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit, the men who have served you so long and so well.

Jul 31 2014

On This Day In History July 31

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 images to enlarge

July 31 is the 212th day of the year (213th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 153 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1948, the Broadway musical “Brigadoon” closed after 581 performances. It originally opened on March 13, 1947 at the Ziegfeld Theater. It was directed by Robert Lewis and choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Ms. De Mille won the Tony Award for Best Choreography. The show was had several revival and the movie starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse premiered in 1954.

Brigadoon is a musical with a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Songs from the musical, such as “Almost Like Being in Love” have become standards.

It tells the story of a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years, though to the villagers, the passing of each century seems no longer than one night. The enchantment is viewed by them as a blessing rather than a curse, for it saved the village from destruction. According to their covenant with God, no one from Brigadoon may ever leave, or the enchantment will be broken and the site and all its inhabitants will disappear into the mist forever. Two American tourists, lost in the Scottish Highlands, stumble upon the village just as a wedding is about to be celebrated, and their arrival has serious implications for the village’s inhabitants.

Jul 31 2014

TDS/TCR (Damn Dirty Apes)

TDS TCR

Johnny Missileseed

The News is Broken

For tonight’s guests, the web exclusive Sara Firth extended interview, and the real news join me below.

Jul 30 2014

USA Freedom Act Still Won’t Protect Americans’ Liberties

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-NH) introduced the version of the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday.

Leahy’s bill, like the House’s, would still provide the NSA with access to enormous amounts of American phone data. Though it would require a judge to issue an order to telecos for “call detail records” based on a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of association with terrorism or a foreign power, the NSA will be able to use that single order to obtain the “call detail records” of a suspicious entity, as well as those of entities in “direct connection” with it and entities in connection with those.

While that would permit the NSA to yield thousands of records off of a single court order, on a daily basis for six months, the NSA and the bill’s architects contend that it bans “bulk collection.”

Leahy’s bill would go further than the House version in narrowing the critical definition of “specific selection term,” a foundational aspect of the bill defining what the government can collect. The House definition is a “term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device,” which privacy groups have lambasted as unreasonably broad.

Seeking to plug that loophole, Leahy would prevent the NSA or the FBI from accessing a service provider’s entire clientele or a wholesale “city, state, zip code, or area code.”

Although the Leahy bill has the support of several civil libertarian groups and major tech firms like Facebook and Google, it does not revive some privacy proposals that those organizations considered crucial but the intelligence agencies and their advocates in Congress stripped from the House measure.

There are still some really big loopholes, as noted by emptywheel’s Marcy Wheeler:

Leahy’s bill retains the language from USA Freedumber on contact chaining, which reads,

   (iii) provide that the Government may require the prompt production of call detail records-

   (I) using the specific selection term that satisfies the standard required under subsection (b)(2)(C)(ii) as the basis for production; and

   (II) using call detail records with a direct connection to such specific selection term as the basis for production of a second set of call detail records;

Now, I have no idea what this language means, and no one I’ve talked to outside of the intelligence committees does either. It might just mean they will do the same contact chaining they do now, but if it does, why adopt this obscure language? It may just mean they will correlate identities, and do contact chaining off all the burner phones their algorithms say are the same people, but nothing more, but if so, isn’t there clearer language to indicate that (and limit it to that)? [..]

I remain concerned, too, that such obscure language would permit the contact chaining on phone books and calendars, both things we know NSA obtains overseas, both things NSA might have access to through their newly immunized telecom partners.

In addition, Leahy’s bill keeps USA Freedumber’s retention language tied to Foreign Intelligence purpose, allowing the NSA to keep all records that might have a foreign intelligence purpose.

That’s just for starters. She is also concerned about the vague language will still be used to allow bulk collection. She doesn’t think it’s strong enough

The question is whether this “agency protocol” – what Chief Justice John Roberts said was not enough to protect Americans’ privacy – is sufficient to protect Americans’ privacy.

I don’t think it is.

First, it doesn’t specify how long the NSA and FBI and CIA can keep and sort through these corporate records (or what methods it can use to do so, which may themselves be very invasive).

It also permits the retention of data that gets pretty attenuated from actual targets of investigation: agents of foreign powers that might have information on subjects of investigation and people “in contact with or known to” suspected agents associated with a subject of an investigation.

Known to?!?! Hell, Barack Obama is known to all those people. Is it okay to keep his data under these procedures?

Also remember that the government has secretly redefined “threat of death or serious bodily harm” to include “threats to property,” which could be Intellectual Property.

So CIA could (at least under this law – again, we have no idea what the actual FISC orders this is based off of) keep 5 years of Western Union money transfer data until it has contact chained 3 degrees out from the subject of an investigation or any new subjects of investigation it has identified in the interim.

In other words, probably no different and potentially more lenient than what it does now.

And one more thing from Marcy: Leahy’s version still will allow the FBI uncounted use of backdoor searches:

I strongly believe this bill may expand the universe of US persons who will be thrown into the corporate store indefinitely, to be subjected to the full brunt of NSA’s analytical might.

But that’s not the part of the bill that disturbs me the most. It’s this language:

   ‘(3) FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION.-

   Subparagraphs (B)(iv), (B)(v), (D)(iii), (E)(iii), and (E)(iv) of paragraph (1) of subsection (b) shall not apply to information or records held by, or queries conducted by, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The language refers, in part,  to requirements that the government report to Congress [..]

These are back door searches on US person identifiers of Section 702 collected data – both content (iv) and metadata (v).

In other words, after having required the government to report how many back door searches of US person data it conducts, the bill then exempts the FBI.

The FBI – the one agency whose use of such data can actually result in a prosecution of the US person in question.

We already know the government has not provided all defendants caught using 702 data notice. And yet, having recognized the need to start counting how many Americans get caught in back door searches, Patrick Leahy has decided to exempt the agency that uses back door searches the most.

And if they’re not giving defendants notice (and they’re not), then this is an illegal use of Section 702.

While the Senate version may be a good enough reason for some civil libertarians, privacy groups and technology firms to back, it still falls far short of what is needed to protect Americans’ constitutional rights and privacy.

Jul 30 2014

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

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Building a progressive alternative to ALEC

When it comes to moments in history, 1973 was not exactly a banner year for the Republican Party. The Senate Watergate Committee began its televised hearings in May. Spiro Agnew resigned in October. And President Nixon used a pre-Thanksgiving news conference at Disney World to unconvincingly assure the country that he was not, in fact, a crook. A tough year, indeed, for the grand old party.

But if you were a corporate conglomerate who dreamed of lower taxes and lax regulations and lesser rights for workers, 1973 was, ironically enough, a well-spring of new opportunity. That’s when a group of conservative activists joined together to engineer a different kind of burglary – one that involved forcibly entering cities and states with the intent to loot their working and middle classes.

The mechanism? A new organization dubbed the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The idea? Don’t just lobby state and city governments; write the actual laws you want them to pass and then hand it out as model legislation. In the decades since its inception, ALEC has dismantled environmental regulations, pushed for school vouchers, compromised public safety by backing “stand your ground” laws and crippled unions with right-to-work legislation. [..]

Recently, the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange and the Progressive States Network announced a merger to build an organization that will be focused on moving a progressive policy agenda in the states. While the goals of the new undertaking may resemble those of ALEC, their methods are vastly different. They will operate transparently, use no lobbyists, and make their model legislation and resources available to everyone; their database already showcases 1,800 examples of progressive legislation. And they will engage with people, not corporations.

Ana Marie Cox: The problem with the Koch brothers isn’t their politics. It’s their copycats

Billionaire mega-donors care less about funding parties than enacting policies. Others are following suit

Did you see the “Creepy Carnival” from the Koch brothers on the Washington Mall the other day? Sponsored by the youth-outreach tentacle of the brothers’ operation, it featured Pennywise the Clown doppelgangers dunking millennials into “High-Risk Pools” – though, surely, they missed an opportunity to nail some old people to death panels. (There was no word about the presence of funhouse mirrors to artificially shrink the outsize influence of the Kochs on our national agenda.)

These two men have commanded center stage in the dark-money circus since the US supreme court started the political money free-for-all four and a half years ago. The Kochs have become the focus of electoral campaigns themselves.

But however effective they may be as conservative bogeymen, the real problem with the Kochs is not that they are ultra-conservative. The problem is that they are a leading indicator that our political system is morphing from elections based on ideology to elections based on the preferences of individual donors.Did you see the “Creepy Carnival” from the Koch brothers on the Washington Mall the other day? Sponsored by the youth-outreach tentacle of the brothers’ operation, it featured Pennywise the Clown doppelgangers dunking millennials into “High-Risk Pools” – though, surely, they missed an opportunity to nail some old people to death panels. (There was no word about the presence of funhouse mirrors to artificially shrink the outsize influence of the Kochs on our national agenda.)

These two men have commanded center stage in the dark-money circus since the US supreme court started the political money free-for-all four and a half years ago. The Kochs have become the focus of electoral campaigns themselves.

But however effective they may be as conservative bogeymen, the real problem with the Kochs is not that they are ultra-conservative. The problem is that they are a leading indicator that our political system is morphing from elections based on ideology to elections based on the preferences of individual donors.

Raina Lipsitz: Does feminism need men?

There’s no point in relying on men to rescue women

“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” a phrase coined by Australian activist Irina Dunn in 1970 and commonly attributed to Gloria Steinem, expressed a primary goal of second-wave feminism: female independence. Liberal feminists of that era, including Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, spoke of men as partners and potential allies, not enemies and oppressors. Their kind of feminism wasn’t about rejecting men entirely; it was about freeing women to live without them (or, for those who wanted men in their lives, to enjoy their company on equal terms). Men were nice to have around, if you were straight and found a good one, but come the revolution, no woman would have to stick with a bad one out of economic, social or emotional necessity. [..]

Women who aspire to positions of power are today advised to marry well, not advocate for themselves too forcefully and garner the support of powerful men. This isn’t bad advice: Having a partner does make it easier to devote yourself to work; you are likelier to advance as a woman or minority if you’re not seen as a pushy whiner, and currying favor with men in power probably helps more than it hurts (unless you’re perceived as sleeping your way to the top). 



But relying on a man for money and power, whether he’s your husband or a senior executive at your company, is not a bold feminist act. It may or may not leave individual women stronger, but it leaves women as a group weaker.

Kari Lydersen: Is Rahm Emanuel doomed?

The Chicago mayor’s political capital is drying up, thanks to his autocratic style and unpopular education policies

In some ways, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Karen Lewis, the fiery president of the Chicago Teachers Union, are very much alike – profane, tough, outspoken, unapologetic. Both are Jewish, and both are ardent fans of ballet.

But a face-off between the two in the city’s 2015 mayoral election – should Lewis decide to run – would be a clear referendum on two wildly different versions of politics and views of the city’s future.

That such a contest might be on the horizon shows how Emanuel’s cavalier, steamroller style of governance has alienated Chicago voters, invoked racial and class tensions and made one of the country’s most feared political operatives potentially vulnerable to an unorthodox challenger out of left field.

A poll released by The Chicago Sun-Times on July 14 showed Lewis – an outspoken former chemistry teacher who has led the teachers’ union for four years – beating Emanuel by 9 percentage points in a one-on-one matchup, with 45 percent of voters choosing Lewis and 36 percent choosing Emanuel.

The result came as a shock to many political observers. Lewis, who is African-American, has no previous experience with electoral politics outside the union. Some are repulsed by her brash demeanor. [..]

That an unconventional contender such as Lewis is winning over people across the demographic spectrum shows just how upset Chicagoans are with Emanuel’s autocratic style, his dedication to Big Business and flashy downtown startups at the expense of regular residents and neighborhoods and – perhaps most significant, given Lewis’ standing in the teaching community – his drastic moves to restructure the public school system.

Donna Smith: Churning for Dollars – There Ought to Be a Law

Remember Liz Fowler? She was the Wellpoint executive who took a brief sabbatical from her direct paychecks from the private health insurance industry to write the Affordable Care Act while working for Senator Max Baucus. Once that project was wrapped up, Liz went to work briefly for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as she transitioned her way back to work as a lobbyist for health industry giant Johnson & Johnson. [..]

Now, in Colorado, we’re seeing Patty Fontneau, the CEO of the health insurance exchange, making her departure to return to private industry. Fontneau will take a position as president of health insurance giant CIGNA’s private exchange business. Prior to heading up the exchange, she worked for a law firm and in finance. No doubt her new role at CIGNA will provide her an income that supports the lifestyle to which she became accustomed while earning nearly $200,000 annually (plus bonuses) as the head of the Colorado exchange. It’s a safe bet she never had to apply for or worry about any tax credits or subsidies to cover her own health insurance premiums. [..]

Health care needs to be treated as a public good and a human right. CIGNA certainly is not in the business of providing that. Health insurance is not health care. Health insurance is a financial product sold to us to protect health and wealth which may do neither thing very well at all. So we weren’t duped by Fowler or Fontneau as they worked to help the health industry from the inside or as they left to do similar work more directly from outside the public administration of Obamacare. We patients and private citizens were always the means to an end – higher profits for the health industry and bigger salaries for those who help make it so. As an old adage goes and has ever stayed true, ‘Follow the money.”

Naomi Oreskes: Wishful Thinking About Natural Gas

Why fossil fuels can’t solve the problems created by fossil fuels

Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy.  The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels.  We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel — even a “green” fuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth.

That truth is basic chemistry: when you burn natural gas, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced is, other things being equal, much less than when you burn an equivalent amount of coal or oil. It can be as much as 50% less compared with coal, and 20% to 30% less compared with diesel fuel, gasoline, or home heating oil. When it comes to a greenhouse gas (GHG) heading for the atmosphere, that’s a substantial difference.  It means that if you replace oil or coal with gas without otherwise increasing your energy usage, you can significantly reduce your short-term carbon footprint.Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy.  The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels.  We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel — even a “green” fuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth.

That truth is basic chemistry: when you burn natural gas, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced is, other things being equal, much less than when you burn an equivalent amount of coal or oil. It can be as much as 50% less compared with coal, and 20% to 30% less compared with diesel fuel, gasoline, or home heating oil. When it comes to a greenhouse gas (GHG) heading for the atmosphere, that’s a substantial difference.  It means that if you replace oil or coal with gas without otherwise increasing your energy usage, you can significantly reduce your short-term carbon footprint.[..]

So if someone asks: “Is gas better than oil or coal?” the short answer seems to be yes.  And when it comes to complicated issues that have science at their core, often the short answer is the (basically) correct one. [..]

In the case of gas, however, the short answer may not be the correct one.

Jul 30 2014

The Breakfast Club 7-30-2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Everyone’s welcome here, no special handshake required. Just check your meta at the door.

Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Jul 30 2014

On This Day In History July 30

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 images to enlarge

July 30 is the 211th day of the year (212th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 154 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare, a health insurance program for elderly Americans, into law. At the bill-signing ceremony, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, former President Harry S. Truman was enrolled as Medicare’s first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. Johnson wanted to recognize Truman, who, in 1945, had become the first president to propose national health insurance, an initiative that was opposed at the time by Congress.

The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older, was signed into law as an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935. Some 19 million people enrolled in Medicare when it went into effect in 1966. In 1972, eligibility for the program was extended to Americans under 65 with certain disabilities and people of all ages with permanent kidney disease requiring dialysis or transplant. In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which added outpatient prescription drug benefits to Medicare.

Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage to certain low-income people, was also signed into law by President Johnson on July 30, 1965, as an amendment to the Social Security Act.

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