Monday Reads: We Do Not Welcome our Corporate Overlords

Beetlegeuse Chewbacchus 2015Good Morning!

The Krewe of Chewbacchus rolled through my neighborhood Saturday night.  I decided to post some of the photos I took of the participants to liven up the thread today.  The parade is a celebration of Fantasy and SF books, movies, games, and TV series.  More professional pictures can be found here. See if you can recognize them!  I only wish the celebration of fantasy was limited to movies and books.  Unfortunately, it isn’t and the Koch Brothers fantasy economics plans are ruining states around the country.

I keep having conversations with people who are either politically active or politically knowledgeable about finding a way out of our current mess.   There are several key problems that seem out of the hands of voters to solve. At least, those voters that actually vote.

Things have been on the down slope since the Reagan administration but have really picked up steam with the final fifth vote locked into the Supreme Court. The Citizen’s United Decision is throttling American Democracy which is why we really need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine among other things.  It seems odd that Brian Williams can be hounded out of journalism for one mistaken memory when at least 60%–if not more–of what Fox broadcasts daily is an out and out lie.  Is Facism on the rise in America and what can we do to stop it?

As the American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

Well, it it may well on our doorstep.  And the oligarchs are plotting their final takeover by using their economic dominance to capture governmental power – specifically, the governmental power which sets the rules for the very marketplace that provides the oligarchs with such massive wealth.

Once the American corporate barons own the institutions that are meant to regulate them, it’s game-over for both rational capitalism (including competition) and for democracy.

Last week, at David and Charles Koch’s annual winter meeting near Palm Springs, California, it was announced that the Koch Brothers’ political organization would spend close to $900 million on the 2016 election.  If this goal is met, the group of corporate leaders will spend far more than the Republican Party and its congressional campaign committees spent, combined, in the 2012 campaign.

Once upon a time, it would have been illegal for the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs to buy an election.  Of course, that time was before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, presented the best opportunity for the Roberts Court to use its five vote majority to totally re-write the face of politics in America, rolling us back to the pre-1907 era of the Robber Barons.

As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”): “In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.

You can see the influence of the Koch Brothers money in the states that have Republican Governors.  It is pimp darth chewbacchus 2015especially true of those Republican Governors with presidential aspirations who want the promised $1 billion the Kochs have pledged for the next campaign cycle.  I want to cover Bobby Jindal, Louisiana, and the horrible budget problems that we have from Jindal’s campaign to please the Kochs.  But first, I’d like to tell you what Scott Walker is doing to one of the nation’s premier public universities.

One of the major things the Kochs hate is people that aren’t miseducated or trained to be working zombies.  This fits right in with their agenda.This is similar to what’s going on with the destruction of public education and universities in Louisiana and similar issues in Kansas, both of which have Koch sucking Governors.

More than 35,000 public employees would be removed from state government rolls if Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal stays intact through the legislative process.

Walker’s 2015-17 budget proposal, which was introduced Tuesday, makes major changes to the operation of the state’s University of Wisconsin System. The second-term governor’s plan would split off the system into its own public entity.

By creating a separate authority for the University of Wisconsin System, it would no longer be under the direct management of the state.

According to Walker, University of Wisconsin System supporters have been asking for more autonomy for years, claiming it would help cut costs and better serve students. The Republican governor’s plan also includes a $150 million funding cut in each year of his biennial budget in exchange for the greater autonomy.

The annual reduction is equivalent to a 2.5 percent cut in total public funding. Opponents of Walker’s reform have claimed aid is being cut by 13 percent. That, however, only takes into consideration general fund spending from the state.

He also tried to actually change the mission of the University.

You might think that changing the mission of a flagship public university would be an issue put up for public discussion. Not in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker submitted a budget proposal that included language that would have changed the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system — known as the Wisconsin Idea and embedded in the state code  — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker, in a budget speech given earlier this week, didn’t bother to mention the change, which is more than a simple issue of semantics. There is a national debate about what the role of colleges and universities should be. One group, including Walker, see higher education in big part as a training ground for workers in the American workplace; another sees college education as a way to broaden the minds of young people and teach them how to be active, productive citizens of the country.

brainsHe earlier tried to tell University faculty and staff that they needed to work harder and not include “service” in their list of duties.   This is all part of the privatization craze that attempts to put union workers and public servants into the parasite category.  However, when privatized, the same workers suddenly are doing something valuable with lower compensation so that management and stockholders can skim profits from the actual work being done.

Governor Scott Walker–whom Charlie Pierce refers to as “the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to run their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin”–plans to unveil a budget on Tuesday evening that will reportedly “slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s public universities over the next two years.” Alice Ollstein of ThinkProgress said that students, professors and state lawmakers “are already blasting the plan — the deepest cut in state history…” They told ThinkProgress that they are “organizing to block its passage.”

Even a Gannet owned newspaper complained about the cuts and the entire attitude towards faculty and higher education in general.  Oh, and he’s calling for nearly $500 million tax dollars for a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Gannett Central Wisconsin Media Editorial Board thinks that Walker’s proposed cuts to the university go too deep. With regard to economics, the board wrote “the more educated our workforce, the higher our state’s overall standard of living will be. And in all sorts of intangible ways the university system improves our quality of life — injecting culture into communities, offering broad-based liberal education, helping define our sense of Badger identity.” The board added that “Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed Draconian cuts to the system will undermine those values and hobble future economic growth.”

Gannett Central Wisconsin Media Editorial Board:

Walker compounded the sense that cuts are driven by political animus when, on Wednesday, he told a conservative radio host that faculty and staff should simply increase their workload to make up the difference. It was a condescending, somewhat nasty thing to say, and it was not based in fact. UW-Madison professors, a February study showed, work on average 63 hours a week; we see no reason to assume profs on stretched-thin regional campuses work less… 

Taking a chainsaw to the UW budget now is no way to make smart, lasting reforms. Insulting UW faculty is no way to demonstrate an interest in positive reform.

And $300 million in new cuts is too much to swallow.

In a commentary published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday, members of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Faculty Senate Executive Committee said that news reports had confirmed  that the “UW System campuses are slated to take a combined $150 million base budget cut (over two years, so $300 million total) in his upcoming 2015-’17 biennial budget proposal.” The Journal Sentinel claimed that the numbers were “staggering.” This will reportedly be “the largest cut in the 45-year history of the system.

Well, Wisconson, welcome to the world of Governors owned by the Koch Brothers.  Here’s our reality down here in Lousyana. We’re on our 8th of year the same kind of BS.  We’re sending tax dollars to Chinese falcor the luck dragon chewbacchus 2015corporations, Arkansas Corporations, and Hollywood, but taking money away from every school but the religious madrassas and for-profits preferred by Jindal and the Kochs.

Widespread layoffs, hundreds of classes eliminated, academic programs jettisoned and a flagship university that can’t compete with its peers around the nation — those are among the grim scenarios LSU leaders outlined in internal documents as the threat of budget cuts loom.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is considering deep budget slashing to higher education for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to help close a $1.6 billion shortfall.

LSU campuses from Shreveport to New Orleans were asked to explain how a reduction between 35 percent and 40 percent in state financing — about $141.5 million to the university system — would affect their operations. The documents, compiled for LSU System President F. King Alexander, were obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

The potential implications of such hefty cuts were summed up in stark terms: 1,433 faculty and staff jobs eliminated; 1,572 courses cut; 28 academic programs shut down across campuses; and 6 institutions declaring some form of financial emergency.

At the system’s flagship university in Baton Rouge, the documents say 27 percent of faculty positions would have to be cut, along with 1,400 classes, jeopardizing the accreditation of the engineering and business colleges. Some campus buildings would be closed.

“These severe cuts would change LSU’s mission as a public research and land-grant university. It will no longer be capable of competing with America’s significant public universities and will find itself dramatically behind the rest of the nation,” the documents say.

Leias chewbacchus 2015One of the first things these folks want to do is to dumb up the population and get rid of faculty and schools that won’t teach the crap they want to continue to force their economic fairy tale.  No amount of peer review is ever going to make the trickle down economics crap do anything but float in septic tanks.  But, they’re sure doing a great job of forcing it into things by owning politicians.  Both Kansas and Louisiana are in freaking budget nightmares.

The country is full of examples illustrating the failure of Republican economic policies. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Sam Brownback’s Kansas have become poster children for the job killing, budget busting, folly of pursuing supply side economics. Were it not for the damage that right-wing policies inflict upon working families, the Laffer curve would be simply laughable.

Yet, Grover Norquist’s army of tax-hating Governors continues to run roughshod over red state budgets promising a fiscal utopia. The fact that the utopia never materializes apparently doesn’t matter. Red state voters re-elect them anyway. The words “tax cut”, like an elixir, cures their fears, even if the people whose taxes are being cut are not the ordinary voters, but rather the ultra wealthy.

Joining Brownback and Walker on the list of Governor’s facing serious budget problems, is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Louisiana is anticipating a 1.6 billion dollar budget shortfall for next year, and that the deficit will remain in that range for years to come. When Jindal took office in 2008, the state had a 900 million dollar surplus, and the unemployment rate was just 3.8 percent. Now, in addition to having a gaping budget shortfall, Louisiana’s unemployment rate is at 6.7 percent, above the national average.Despite the state’s budget woes, Jindal has continued to resist any tax increases. He has depleted the state’s reserve funds to fill budget holes and is still coming up short on the needed revenue. Louisiana has one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, and as a consequence, the state ranks near dead last in quality of education and health care. Nevertheless, the supply side dogmatism of Governor Jindal virtually guarantees that the state will continue on its current path to economic perdition.

Jindal is often mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for President. However, Jindal’s fiscal mismanagement has made him deeply unpopular even in his own state. A November 2014 Public Policy Polling survey found that only a third of Louisiana voters approved of the Governor’s job performance while 56 percent disapproved. Supply side economics has been a nightmare to the residents of Louisiana.

Notice the similar policies?  Kill the Universities or warp them into places to train the zombie drone workers of the future?    Anyway, I really hope that the 2016 voters change some of this.  I can’t wait for Hillary to tackle the Republican that tries to mainstream this crap.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to get off the topic of the midterm elections specifically and get on to some general things about why the U.S. Political System seems so completely screwed up right now.  What exactly has led us to the point where the Republicans seem to be a combination of the John Birch banksy-dreams_00349040Society and Theocrats and the Democratic Party sits idly by and twiddles its thumbs hoping the process works like it used to?

William Pfaff has a few things to say about this in an article titled “How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool”.   One of the things that does completely amaze me is how the entire Reagan Presidency has turned into a narrative that’s more saga and drama than reality.  There’s some really interesting points here.  How did this election get so removed from reality in that people voted for one set of priorities when it came to issues like marijuana legalization and the minimum wage but then sent people to the District diametrically opposed to these policies?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

BanksyCleaningUpWhat role has Citizen’s United played in our elections? 

Don’t think Citizens United made a difference for the GOP in Tuesday’s midterms? The plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case thinks so.

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election,” said David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy organization.

He complained that Democratic lawmakers were trying to “gut the First Amendment” with their proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling, reported Right Wing Watch, which allowed corporations to pour cash into campaigns without disclosing their contributions.

Bossie said this so-called “dark money” was crucial to Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate and strengthening their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A robust conversation, which is what a level playing field allows, really creates an opportunity for the American people to get information and make good decisions,” Bossie said.

Besides the role of dark money, the number of states that will continue to enact voter suppression measures between now and 2016 is expected to increase.

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states’ respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

Suppression of voting rights and purposeful spread of lies, propaganda, and disinformation are likely to continue as the 2016 Presidential Political season begins.Will the Democratic Party learn anything from the last two disastrous mid term elections? banksy-w1200

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

I’m not claiming that such displays would have changed the outcome. Given President Obama’s unpopularity, Democratic victories, especially in red states, may have been impossible.

But there is a crucial lesson here for 2016. In recent years, some Democrats have convinced themselves they can turn out African Americans, Latinos, single women, the poor, and the young merely by employing fancy computer systems and exploiting Republican extremism. But technologically, Republicans are catching up, and they’re getting shrewder about blunting, or at least masking, the harshness of their views.

We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

If Hillary Clinton wants to reverse those numbers, she’s going to have to inspire people—people who, more than their Republican counterparts, are inclined toward disconnection and despair. And her gender alone won’t be enough. She lost to Obama in 2008 in part because she could not overcome her penchant for ultra-cautious, hyper-sanitized, consultant-speak. Yet on the stump this year, she was as deadening as the candidates she campaigned for. As Molly Ball put it in September, “Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.”

Then, there is this: Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP. banksy-wallpaper-tumblr-12-wide

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.

One says it happened at a temporary campaign headquarters at 8140 S. Western Ave, which we’ve confirmed it was rented by the Republican Party where election judges reported they were falsely told they had to appear for additional training.

And a former 7th ward committeewoman says she witnessed the same thing at 511. E. 79th Street campaign workers calling judges to come in for additional training. She says there wasn’t any training.

“They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party,” said Charon Bryson.

She says she is a Republican but objected to the tactic used on the judges.

“They should not be be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment,” said Bryson.

Bryson says she thinks it is like “buying a vote.”

“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.

imagesScared by polls that show that people do not want Republican policies and by changes in demographics, Republicans have been pulling out the stops to turn back the tide.  However, none of these fundamentals seem to be driving voting trends or turnout.  WTF is wrong with people?  As a member of the White Women Constituency who seem to be one of the groups that continues to vote against their own interest, I can agree that we should all get our acts together now.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Wendy Davis campaign.

Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.

The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.

But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.

Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.

On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.

White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.

We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.

Is white privilege such an enticing thing to us that we’ll sell ourselves out just to protect what scraps we’re thrown?

Anyway, between dark money, voter suppression, and the number of voters willing to vote against their policy beliefs and interests, we’re in trouble as a nation.  The Democratic Party just bailed on Mary Landrieu and I’m about to get a Senator that wants to raise Social Security eligibility to age 70, privatize Medicare with vouchers,  and defund student loans.  This doesn’t even count that he voted no to hurricane relief for his own constituents after Hurricane Isaac. At this rate, every white person in the country should get a tube of astrolube with their ballot.  Bend over folks, cause you’ve done it to yourselves!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Thursday Reads

A woman wearing a turban while drinking a chocolate shake and reading the newspaper

Good Morning!!

The news that bleeds this morning is the shooting at Fort Hood.

So here’s the most recent article on that from the Boston Globe: Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment.

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

Within hours of the Wednesday attack, investigators started looking into whether the man’s combat experience had caused lingering psychological trauma. Fort Hood’s senior officer, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, said the gunman had sought help for depression, anxiety and other problems.

How is that even a question? I’ve written for years that we’ll pay a terrible price for these pointless wars and the way the men and women sent to fight in them. Massive numbers of Vietnam vets suffered from PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, drug addiction, and unemployment; and those guys mostly just went for one two-year deployment. But we didn’t have a draft when Bush decided he just had to act out his daddy issues and go back into Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein like his father failed to do. Talk about psychological problems!

The volunteer army wasn’t big enough for that, and they redeployed men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan again and again even when they were obviously had head injuries or PTSD. Now we’re all going to keep paying the price for Bush and Cheney’s folly, and the way they treated human beings like cannon fodder.

Back to the Globe article on the latest shooting:

The shooter was identified as Ivan Lopez by Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. But the congressman offered no other details, and the military declined to identify the gunman until his family members had been notified.

Lopez apparently walked into a building Wednesday afternoon and began firing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He then got into a vehicle and continued firing before entering another building, but he was eventually confronted by military police in a parking lot, according to Milley, senior officer on the base.

As he came within 20 feet of an officer, the gunman put his hands up but then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. The officer drew her own weapon, and the suspect put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger a final time, Milley said.

The gunman, who served in Iraq for four months in 2011, had been undergoing an assessment before the attack to determine if he had post-traumatic stress disorder, Milley said.

He arrived at Fort Hood in February from another base in Texas. He was taking medication, and there were reports that he had complained after returning from Iraq about suffering a traumatic brain injury, Milley said. The commander did not elaborate.

One more from the Washington Post: Pentagon grapples to understand how yet another insider threat went undeterred.

Wednesday’s mass shooting by an Army specialist in Fort Hood, Tex., put the Pentagon on a dreaded, if increasingly familiar, footing as officials grappled to understand how yet another insider threat went undeterred.

It unfolded just two weeks after the Defense Department unveiled the findings of threeinvestigations into last year’s fatal shooting at a Navy Yard building in Washington, D.C., by a contractor and four years after a similarly extensive inquiry into a massacre at Fort Hood by an Army psychiatrist led to vows of sweeping reforms.

“We do not yet know how or why this tragedy occurred, but nearly five years after the Nidal Hasan shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, it is clear that we must do far more to ensure that our troops are safe when they are at home on base,” Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), a former Army lawyer who was based at Fort Hood, said in a statement. “We must thoroughly investigate what happened today so that we can take whatever action is necessary to prevent something like this from ever occurring again.”

Yeah right. Keep on telling yourself that. To use an old military expression, “Situation Normal, All Fu*cked Up” (SNAFU).

Now let’s move on to the latest outrage from our right-wing, “religious” Supreme Court.

scotus blank check

From Adam Liptak at the NYT: Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Political Donation Cap

The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle….

The 5-to-4 decision, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority, echoed Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Wednesday’s decision seemed to alter campaign finance law in subtle but important ways, notably by limiting how the government can justify laws said to restrict the exercise of First Amendment rights in the form of campaign contributions.

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Tuesday Reads: Are Women People?

women people2

Good Morning!!

Question for today: Are women human? Are we people in the eyes of our government? We’ve been told that corporations are people. We know that white men are people–that was established by the U.S. Constitution when it was ratified in 1789.  Since that time, there have been amendments that granted some rights to non-white men and to women. We can vote now. Does that mean our government recognizes our humanity?

Today our ultra-conservative, mostly Catholic Supreme Court will hear two cases that bring this question to the forefront, and the Court’s decisions may give us some answers to the question of whether American women are officially people with individual rights.

From MSNBC: Supreme Court to hear birth control case

Depending on whom you ask, Tuesday morning’s oral argument at the Supreme Court is about whether Obamacare can keep treading on religious liberty – or it’s about a woman’s right to access contraception on her employee insurance plan, no matter what her employer thinks of it. Either way, it is the first time the Affordable Care Act will be at the nation’s highest Court since it was first largely upheld as constitutional. The same two men as in that case, current Solicitor General Don Verrilli and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement, are facing off to argue over a narrower provision.

Before the Supreme Court decides whether the contraceptive coverage required of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law governing religious liberty, it has to settle the threshold question: Does a corporation even have religious liberty?

women human

I think the question about the rights of women is far broader than that. Without access to birth control and abortion, a woman has no real autonomy as a human being. If she becomes pregnant–even through rape–she loses the ability to make choices about her future life. It has been a relatively short period of time since women have had the power to make those choices. But that power has led to other advances for women–such as the right to prosecute a rapist or an abusive boyfriend or husband, the right to have credit in her own name, the right to an education, and entry into careers from which women were previously blocked. We can only hope that the justices see clearly what their decisions will mean for women’s lives and women’s personhood.

Back to the MSNBC article:

Hobby Lobby Stores, an Oklahoma-based, evangelical-owned craft chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Mennonite-owned cabinet maker in Pennsylvania, sued the administration and got two very different answers from the lower courts. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared of Hobby Lobby that “such corporations can be ‘persons’ exercising religion.” In ruling on Conestoga’s bid for exemption from the requirement, the Third Circuit disagreed: “For-profit secular corporations cannot exercise in religious exercise.”

The companies are among the 47 for-profit corporations that have objected to their company plans complying with the minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Under those regulations, contraception is covered fully, without a co-pay, as preventive care. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood object to a handful of contraceptives that they speculate can block a fertilized egg, which is neither documented in the science nor the medical definition of abortion. Other for-profit plaintiffs object to any birth control coverage at all….

The Obama administration says that the government has a compelling interest in women’s health and in gender equality. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to classify contraceptives as preventive care after considering testimony from medical experts, who cited the country’s high rate of unintended pregnancy and the persistence cost barriers to accessing effective birth control.

Some legal experts argue that to rule for Hobby Lobby would be imposing religion on others, by forcing the women who work for such companies to pay the cost of their employers’ religion. Frederick Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young, has even argued in a brief before the Court that doing so would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

What will SCOTUS decide?

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At NPR, Nina Totenberg offers some scary quotes from Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby:

“We believe that the principles that are taught scripturally is what we should operate our lives by … and so we cannot be a part of taking life,” explains Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.

“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” adds CEO and founder David Green.

Using birth control is “taking a life?” Apparently one of the arguments Hobby Lobby is using that–contrary to scientific facts–some forms of birth control are equal to abortion. So is every sperm is sacred too? Should men be prosecuted for masturbating? But those questions are not likely to be asked, because it is already legally established that men are people.

 

At the WaPo, Sandra Fluke writes: At the Supreme Court, a potential catastrophe for women’s rights.

Unlike my congressional testimony in 2012, which was about Georgetown University — a Catholic-affiliated university — refusing to include contraception in student insurance because it was a religiously affiliated school, the institutions arguing before the Supreme Court are not houses of worship or religious non-profits. The Affordable Care Act already includes special arrangements for those types of organizations. These are private, for-profit corporations — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — that want to be excluded from health insurance and employment laws because of bosses’ personal views.

Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.

Depending on the court’s rulings, the cases’ outcomes could deny millions of women coverage of any or all forms of birth control, limiting women’s ability to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. As I testified, women also need birth control for many other medical reasons, including relief of painful health problems like endometriosis.

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And, Fluke argues, recognizing a right for corporations to hold religious views will open the door to

Allowing any private employer to dictate which laws fit inside its religious beliefs could upset the necessary balance of both religious liberty and employee health and safety laws. Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees’ insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment — all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn’t agree with could be eliminated.

Furthermore, SCOTUS could not limit these proposed “religious freedoms” to Christians.

Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition, our valuable religious protection laws ensure that anyone is free to practice any religion they want, including religions whose belief systems and practices many of us would disagree with vehemently. In fact, far-ranging beliefs that are not associated with any organized religion could be used to justify a corporation’s practices as well.

Sahil Kapur of TPM points out that Justice Scalia, who might be expected to vote in favor of a corporate “right to religious freedom,” will have to deal with one of his previous rulings: Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness and that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

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At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser addresses the right wing organizations that have waged a concerted war against women’s rights during the past several years: Read This One Document To Understand What The Christian Right Hopes To Gain From Hobby Lobby.

2009 was a grim year for social conservatives. Barack Obama was an ambitious and popular new president. Republicans, and their conservative philosophy, were largely discredited in the public eye by a failed war and a massive recession. And the GOP’s effort to reshape its message was still in its awkward adolescence. If the conservative movement had a mascot, it would have been a white man dressed as Paul Revere and waving a misspelled sign.

Amidst this wreckage, more than two hundred of the nation’s leading Christian conservatives joined together in a statement expressing their dismay at the state of the nation. “Many in the present administration want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development,” their statement claimed, while “[m]ajorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.” Meanwhile, they feared that the liberals who now controlled the country “are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”

The signatories to this statement, which they named the “Manhattan Declaration,” included many of America’s most prominent Catholic bishops and clergy of similar prominence in other Christian sects. It included leaders oftop anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, and of more broadly focused conservative advocacy shops such as the Family Research Council. It included university presidents and deans from Christian conservative colleges. And it included the top editors from many of the Christian right’s leading publications.

Perhaps most significantly, however, the document’s signatories includes Alan Sears, the head of one of the two conservative legal groups litigating what are likely to be the two most important cases decided by the Supreme Court this term. Indeed, the Manhattan Declaration offers a virtual roadmap to understanding what religious conservatives hope to gain from Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, two cases the justices will hear Tuesday which present the question whether a business owner’s religious objections to birth control trump their legal obligation to include it in their employee’s health plan.

Read the gory details at the link.

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Finally, I ask that everyone read this year-old article at Time Magazine by Jessica Winter, Subject for Debate: Are Women People? It is both darkly humorous and deadly serious.

All my adult life, I’ve been pretty sure I’m a sentient, even semi-competent human being. I have a job and an apartment; I know how to read and vote; I make regular, mostly autonomous decisions about what to eat for lunch and which cat videos I will watch whilst eating my lunch. But in the past couple of months, certain powerful figures in media and politics have cracked open that certitude.

You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)

Please go read the whole thing. It’s not long.

So . . . those are my recommended reads for today.  What stories are you following? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.

 


Thursday Reads: Romney Campaign Tactics and Debate Reactions

Good Morning!

Before I get started, don’t forget that Ann Romney is scheduled to be on The View today at 11AM Eastern.

Now to the news.  I think I have some interesting links for you today. I’m going to focus mostly on some aggressive Romney campaign tactics and on reactions to the second presidential debate.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the stories that have been coming out about corporate CEOs trying to intimidate their employees into voting for Mitt Romney, see here, here, here, and here.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mike Elk of In These Times revealed that Romney himself has suggested that business owners instruct their employees–and their families–how they should vote. I hope you’ll read the whole article, but I’m going to post the audio of a conference call that Romney held, sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business. The whole call is quite interesting, but the relevant part is at the end, around the 26:00 point.

Here the transcription, from Mike Elk’s article (emphasis added):

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.

Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

I particularly think that our young kids–and when I say young, I mean college-age and high-school age–they need to understand that America runs on a strong and vibrant business [sic] … and that we need more business growing and thriving in this country. They need to understand that what the president is doing by borrowing a trillion dollars more each year than what we spend is running up a credit card that they’re going to have to pay off and that their future is very much in jeopardy by virtue of the policies that the president is putting in place. So I need you to get out there and campaign.

Elk writes that this actually is legal now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He also asks whether Romney is behind the recent rash of reports of CEOs putting pressure on their employees to vote for the Republican ticket.

The call raises the question of whether the Romney campaign is complicit in the corporate attempts to influence employees’ votes that have been recently making headlines….

Beyond Romney’s statements on the call, it’s unclear whether his election operation is actively coordinating workplace campaigning by businesses. Romney press secretary Andrea Saul did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment.

However, the conference call raises troubling questions about what appears to be a growing wave of workplace political pressure unleashed by Citizens United.

At Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein has another story about aggressive Romney campaign tactics. Weinstein obtained some e-mails between the Romney campaign and the Virginia Military Institute, where Romney recently gave a foreign policy speech. The military is required to be nonpartisan and stay out of politics, but Romney pressured the school to allow him to use his speech as what would have in essence been a campaign event.

When Mitt Romney addressed a crowd of cadets at Virginia Military Institute on October 8, he was supposed to give a major foreign policy speech that steered clear of partisan politics. That’s because VMI personnel observe the US military’s tradition of political neutrality when in uniform. But internal emails obtained by Mother Jones show that Romney’s campaign pushed to burnish his commander-in-chief credentials by maximizing military optics around the event. Members of Romney’s staff sought to use the VMI logo in their campaign materials, requested that uniformed cadets be let out of class early to attend Romney’s speech, and asked VMI “to select a few cadet veterans and give them a place of honor” standing behind Romney during his address.

As the campaign pushed for these requests, VMI officials pushed back, concerned that they were for partisan purposes. Each request was denied by the state-run institution, whose students serve in the US military’s Reserve Officers Training Corps, so that VMI would not be seen as endorsing Romney’s candidacy. The Romney campaign also pressured VMI to play host to “15 to 20” retired admirals and generals at the school who traveled there to endorse Romney; VMI eventually relented to that request.

Please do read the whole article at the link.

Remember Mark Leder? He’s the private equity billionaire who hosted the private fund-raiser at which Mitt Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks. Leder is giving another fund-raiser for Romney in Florida on Saturday night, according to Ryan Grim and Laura Goldman at HuffPo.

Leder has been telling potential donors that given the uproar following his last fundraiser, he feels an obligation to make the situation right by raising more money for Romney, according to people who have discussed the matter with Leder. One donor, asked if Leder had been noting that he’d been “taking heat” for the last fundraiser, said, “That was the basic pitch, except the word ‘heat’ was replaced by another four-letter word that begins with s.”

Saturday night’s event, unlike his now-famous May fundraiser, will not be held at Leder’s home. It will be in Palm Beach, Fla., and will include other hosts in addition to Leder.

Leder is a leveraged-buyout specialist, much like Romney. He owns Sun Capital Partners, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla. — the site of the upcoming presidential debate, which will be held on Monday. Leder is the co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and has been characterized in the press as a “party animal.”

I imagine all of the guests and staff will have to surrender their cell phones before the event. Will there be body searches too?

Contraception came up in the debate on Tuesday night, and Mitt Romney seems to be feeling a bit defensive about it. Abortion rights weren’t addressed, but Romney must be feeling defensive because he released a new ad yesterday.

Apparently Mitt thinks this ad proves he’s “moderate” on abortion. He wants to ban all abortions except in cases where women have been raped, are victims of incest, or whose lives are in danger if they carry the child to term. That seems pretty extreme to me, since abortion is legal, at least for now.

But Romney has also said he supports states passing personhood amendments, he has clearly stated that he will appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and he has repeatedly promised to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood released a statement in response to the ad (h/t Jezebel)

“This is an ad designed to deceive women. The Romney team knows that Mitt Romney’s real agenda for women’s health is deeply unpopular – ending safe and legal abortion, ending Planned Parenthood’s preventive care that millions of people rely on, and repealing the Affordable Care Act and the coverage of birth control with no co-pay. Romney can run from his own agenda, but he can’t hide – women will hold him accountable at the polls on election day.”

I don’t understand how these exceptions that Romney and Ryan keep talking about could work anyway. Would a pregnant girl or women have to prove that she was raped or sexually victimized by a relative? How would that work? Would there have to be a confession by the perpetrator? There certainly wouldn’t be time for the crime to be prosecuted in a court of law in time for an abortion to take place. What about the claim of danger to the mother’s life? Will doctors have to prove the claim to government inspectors? I just don’t think any of this would be realistic. I think we have to assume that these “exceptions” are just more bait and switch from the flim flam ticket.

Romney and his campaign advisers might want to take a look at the results of a new Gallup poll of women in swing states. The poll asks “What do you consider the most important issue for women in this election?” Here are the results:

For men, the top four issues on the list were jobs, the economy, the Federal deficit/balanced budget, and health care. For women, abortion was number one, and the deficit didn’t even make the list! Generally speaking, women had quite different interests than men.

On contraception, Romney surrogate and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy told Andrea Mitchell yesterday that contraception is just a “peripheral issue” for women.

Mitchell pressed Healy on the financial considerations for women whose employers refuse to cover contraception on religious grounds. “That is a pocketbook issue,” Mitchell said. “It’s dollars and cents.”
“The problem here is that we are talking about these peripheral issues,” Healy said. ”We need to really be talking about employment, jobs. That’s what women care about.”

Laura Bassett has more on the interview at HuffPo. Bassett notes that during the debate Tuesday Romney tried to gloss over his past statements on the issue of employers making contraception coverage available to employees by during the debate on Tuesday by claiming that

“I just know that I don’t think bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they have contraceptive care or not,” Romney said during Tuesday night’s debate. “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives and the president’s statement on my policy is completely and totally wrong.”

Romney’s answer subtly changes the subject from insurance coverage of contraception to the more general issue of access to contraception, and it strategically leaves enough wiggle room for his campaign to say that his position has not changed.

Healy followed suit with Andrea Mitchell.

Romney did “not in any way” change his position, Healey said. “Governor Romney is both a strong supporter of religious freedom and also believes in access to contraception for American women.”

Pressed on the details of the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers to refuse to cover birth control on moral grounds and which Romney previously said he would support, Healey changed the subject. “The question of whether or not we should force someone to give up their religious freedom to provide insurance coverage in some hypothetical situation is not really the point to most women out there,” she said. “There are 5.5 million unemployed women in the country.”

What’s lost in both Romney’s and Healey’s answers on the contraception issue is the point that President Barack Obama made Tuesday night, which is that for many women, having birth control fully paid for by their insurance plans is an economic issue.

Yesterday afternoon the MSNBC show “The Cycle” had a body language expert, Chris Ulrich on to talk about the interactions between Obama and Romney during the debate. It was fascinating. I can’t embed the video, but I hope you’ll watch it at the link. You won’t regret it.

In a similar vein, if you didn’t see Chris Matthews’ interview with James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio last night, be sure to watch that too. Lipton analyzed the behavior of the two debate participants, and said that he thought he had finally figured out who Mitt Romney is. He’s the boss who tells dumb jokes and expects you to laugh at them–or else. Lipton said that the choice for voters is between a president (Obama) and a boss. Do we want a boss running the country? Lipton said that some people might like that, but he seemed to find it frightening.

I’ll end with the most recent confrontation between ugly, nasty troll John Sununu and Soledad O’Brien, which took place yesterday morning on CNN.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Tuesday Reads: Crime and Movies, Obama’s Second Term, How the Wisconsin Uprising Got Hijacked, and Other News

Good Morning!!

I’ve got a selection of interesting reads for you today.

Late last night, the top story on Google news was this:

Coroner rules dingo to blame for Australian baby’s death.

A coroner ruled Tuesday that a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, caused the death of a baby more than 30 years ago.

Azaria Chamberlain was just two months old when she disappeared from a tent during a family holiday to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, sparking one of the country’s most sensational and enduring murder mysteries.

“The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo,” Elizabeth Morris, coroner for Northern Territory, announced to Darwin Magistrates court early Tuesday. “Dingos can and do cause harm to humans.”

The girl’s mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, long maintained that a dingo took her baby, even as she was sentenced to life in jail for daughter’s murder, a conviction that was later quashed.

Meryl Streep played Lindy in a movie about the case, A Cry in the Dark.

The movie was satirized in a Seinfeld episode.

Seriously, though, I’m glad that Lindy has finally received justice.

Another long-ago crime story has been in the news: the mysterious escape from Alcatraz by three convicts 50 years ago yesterday, June 11, 1962.

Fifty years ago, on the night of June 11, 1962, the three convicts were locked down as usual. Guards walking the tier outside their cells saw them at 9:30 and checked on them periodically all night, looking in at the sleeping faces, hearing nothing strange. But by morning, the inmates had vanished, Houdini-like.

Guards found pillows under the bedclothes and lifelike papier-mâché heads with real hair and closed, painted eyes. Federal agents, state and local police officers, Coast Guard boats and military helicopters joined the largest manhunt since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932, scouring the prison complex on Alcatraz Island, the expanse of San Francisco Bay and the surrounding landscape of Northern California.

A crude raft made of rubber raincoats was found on a nearby island. But the fugitives were never seen again. Federal officials said they almost certainly drowned in the maelstrom of riptides, undertows and turbulent, frigid waters of the 10-mile-wide bay, their bodies probably swept out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge.

But for aficionados of unsolved mysteries, the fantasy that Frank Lee Morris and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin had successfully escaped from the nation’s most forbidding maximum security prison and are still alive, hiding somewhere, has been a tantalizing if remote possibility for a half-century now.

The escapees would be in their 80s if they are still alive. According to this NPR story, there was a legend that they would meet again at the prison on the 50th anniversary of their escape. Believe it or not, U.S. Marshalls were there to meet them just in case. I haven’t heard of any old men being captured yet, but I’m writing this at 11:30PM, so I guess it could still happen.

Fifty years ago, three men set out into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay in a raft made out of raincoats. It was one of the most daring prison escapes in U.S. history.

As one newsreel put it: The spoon proved “mightier than the bars at supposedly escape-proof Alcatraz prison.”

“Three bank robbers serving long terms scratched their way through grills covering an air vent, climbed a drainage pipe and disappeared from the forbidding rock in San Francisco Bay,” the report continued.

The men — Frank Morris and two brothers, John and Clarence Anglin — were never seen again. It was a brilliant plan, carried out with meticulous care and patience, but with such an unsatisfying ending. Did they make it? Or are they, as most people assume, at the bottom of the bay?

The legend has always held that if the men are alive, they will return to Alcatraz on the 50th anniversary of their breakout. There’s little chance that’s going to happen. But the anniversary is Monday, and I’m headed to the island to see if they show up. The U.S. Marshals say they will be there, too.

There have been a number of movies made about the daring escape. Clint Eastwood made a good one.

In political news, I’ve got a couple of long reads for you.

Ryan Lizza has a piece in The New Yorker about Obama’s second term: What would Obama do if reelected? In case you don’t want to plow through the whole thing, Atlantic Wire has a Reader’s Digest version: Obama’s Advisers Want You to Know He’ll Be a Lame Lame Duck President

If The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza is right, we might be in for four more years of compromise on things like climate change and nuclear proliferation. Lizza has an article this week forecasting Obama’s second term, or rather, what Obama’s advisers want you to know about the President’s second term.

Don’t expect much. Obama and his team aren’t revealing their cards on the pressing issues like the economy (Lizza mentions there’s time for one big policy change) or inflammatory issues like same-sex marriage. And their lack of specifics about the President’s second term has been a story in itself, especially when contrasted with Mitt Romney who has already imagined his first days in the White House. As Lizza reports, the message that the president’s team wants out there is that Obama will be banking on bipartisan support (a word that’s peppered the president’s first term) to maybe get things done in the short time he has.

It sounds a lot like the first term.

At TomDispatch, Andy Kroll has a lengthy article about how Wisconsin was hijacked.

The results of Tuesday’s elections are being heralded as the death of public-employee unions, if not the death of organized labor itself. Tuesday’s results are also seen as the final chapter in the story of the populist uprising that burst into life last year in the state capital of Madison. The Cheddar Revolution, so the argument goes, was buried in a mountain of ballots.

But that burial ceremony may prove premature. Most of the conclusions of the last few days, left and right, are likely wrong.

The energy of the Wisconsin uprising was never electoral. The movement’s mistake: letting itself be channeled solely into traditional politics, into the usual box of uninspired candidates and the usual line-up of debates, primaries, and general elections. The uprising was too broad and diverse to fit electoral politics comfortably. You can’t play a symphony with a single instrument. Nor can you funnel the energy and outrage of a popular movement into a single race, behind a single well-worn candidate, at a time when all the money in the world from corporate “individuals” and right-wing billionaires is pouring into races like the Walker recall.

Colin Millard, an organizer at the International Brotherhood of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, admitted as much on the eve of the recall. We were standing inside his storefront office in the small town of Horicon, Wisconsin. It was night outside. “The moment you start a recall,” he told me, “you’re playing their game by their rules.”

Check it out. It’s well worth the read.

In other news,

Yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from some detainees at Guantanamo. At Mother Jones, Adam Serwer asks: Did the Supreme Court Just Gut Habeas Rights?

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday not to hear appeals from a group of Gitmo detainees leaves the remaining 169 detainees at the facility with little chance of securing their freedom through US courts.

In the 2008 case Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled detainees at Gitmo could challenge their detention in US courts. That decision was seen as effectively ending the Bush administration’s attempt to carve out a legal black hole for suspected terror detainees. Shortly thereafter, Gitmo detainees began appealing their detentions—and frequently winning in court. But in the years since the decision, conservative judges on the DC Circuit have interpreted the law in a way that assumes many of the government’s claims are true and don’t have to be proven in court. By not taking any of these cases, the Supreme Court has ensured these stricter rules will prevail. Civil-libertarian groups say that essentially leaves detainees at Gitmo with habeas rights in name only, since the rules make it virtually impossible for detainees to win in court. A Seton Hall University School of Law report from May found that, prior to the DC Circuit’s reinterpretation of the rules, detainees won 56 percent of cases. Afterwards, they won 8 percent.

The march toward fascism continues. In other cheery news, a new Federal Reserve report says that the “Great Recession erased nearly 40% of family wealth.”

The Great Recession took such a heavy toll on the economy that the typical American family lost nearly 40% of its wealth from 2007 to 2010, shaving the median net worth to a level not seen since the early 1990s.

The Federal Reserve said in a new report Monday that median family net worth, the point smack in the middle of those richer and poorer, fell to $77,300 in 2010 from $126,400 three years earlier after adjusting for inflation.

The fall came with the collapse in the housing market and massive layoffs that slashed people’s incomes, and the pain was felt by families across the board — young and old, well-educated and less so, with children or not.

But the biggest impact was felt by young middle-age families, those headed by people ages 35 to 44. For this group, the median net worth — total assets minus debts — fell a whopping 54% in the three-year period to $42,100 in 2010. Such was their financial hardships that only 47.6% of these families said they had saved money in 2010; that was the lowest among all age groups, where an overall average of 52% of families saved some money that year.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) is “‘worried’ by influx of dark money” in the 2012 election because of the Citizen’s United decision.

“The thing that worries me frankly the most is the huge amount of hidden money which is going to get into — it already is in — the Romney campaign,” he said on Current TV’s War Room.

“The Super PAC money worries me. The fact that Mr. Romney will not disclose who is bundling his money, he is keeping that secret as well… It’s bad enough that we have these unlimited amounts of money that go into Super PACs.”

Levin says that Congress could force SuperPacs to reveal the names of donors, but so far the Republicans have blocked his bill to do that.

At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart asks why Bashar al-Assad isn’t on President Obama’s “kill list.” After all, he claims the right to kill just about anyone in the name of terrorism. If Assad isn’t a terrorist, who is?

Fine, you say, but there’s an executive order against assassinating heads of state. That’s true, but we don’t exactly abide by it. During the Cold War, the United States helped orchestrate coups that led to the deaths of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem and Chile’s Salvador Allende. The Bush administration launched the 2003 Iraq War with a decapitation strike aimed at killing Saddam Hussein. And whether or not the United States had a hand in Muammar Gaddafi’s death last fall, it was the predictable—and perhaps desired—result of the war we launched.

But doesn’t assassinating foreign leaders set a worrisome precedent? If we can kill Bashar al-Assad, what’s to stop the Syrian government from trying to kill Barack Obama? We might ask the same question about the sanctions we impose and the wars we launch. The point is that the U.S. violates other countries’ sovereignty in all kinds of ways we wouldn’t appreciate if they did it to us. And the reason they don’t is not because they lack a precedent; it’s because they lack the power.

I’m speechless.

So what is on your reading list today?


Tuesday Reads: Gordon Gekko for President?

Good morning! Today is the New Hampshire primary. We’ll live blog the returns later tonight. As of last night, Gordon Gekko Mitt Romney had a big lead in the polls, with Ron Paul second and John Huntsman and Rick Santorum tied for third place.

Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, holds a 24 percentage point lead over his closest rival, with 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters indicating they’d vote for him, the WMUR New Hampshire Primary Poll said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul from Texas was favored by 17 percent of likely primary voters, followed by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, each with 11 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich collecting 8 percent.

Several polls indicated Gingrich would finish in the top three.

“All of the candidates behind Romney have a good chance finishing anywhere between second and fifth place,” said Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center in Durham.

Yesterday Romney stepped in it again when he told an audience that he really likes firing people.

The final day of campaigning saw Romney under fire for a comment about health insurance that quickly became fodder for criticism.

Asked about the issue in Nashua, New Hampshire, Romney said he wanted a person to be able to own his or her own policy “and perhaps keep it the rest of their life.”

“That means the insurance company will have the incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them,” he said.

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” Romney added. “If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say I am going to get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

Romney complained that everyone was taking his remarks out of context, but when you’re a former corporate raider worth $250 million, it’s probably a good idea to watch what you say about putting people out of work.

Anyway, the latest meme about Romney is that he’s Gordon Gekko brought to life. I think it’s a pretty good comparison. I don’t know if you recall the quote from the recent Vanity Fair profile of Romney that I included in a recent post:

Romney described himself as driven by a core economic credo, that capitalism is a form of “creative destruction.” This theory, espoused in the 1940s by the economist Joseph Schumpeter and later touted by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, holds that business must exist in a state of ceaseless revolution. A thriving economy changes from within, Schumpeter wrote in his landmark book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But as even the theory’s proponents acknowledged, such destruction could bankrupt companies, upending lives and communities, and raise questions about society’s role in softening some of the harsher consequences.

Romney, for his part, contrasted the capitalistic benefits of creative destruction with what happened in controlled economies, in which jobs might be protected but productivity and competitiveness falters. Far better, Romney wrote in his book No Apology, “for governments to stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in a free economy.” He acknowledged that it is “unquestionably stressful—on workers, managers, owners, bankers, suppliers, customers, and the communities that surround the affected businesses.” But it was necessary to rebuild a moribund company and economy.

That sure sounds Gekko-like, doesn’t it?

Yesterday, Rick Klein of ABC News addressed the Romney/Gekko issue.

Virtually all of Romney’s rivals are now sensing a powerful issue. Jon Huntsman said today that the firing comment shows that Romney is “completely out of touch” with the American economy.

Rick Perry, skipping ahead a state, is calling it the “ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina and tell you he feels your pain, because he caused it.”

Gingrich is equating Romney’s business style with finding “clever legal ways to loot a company.” Rick Santorum’s stump speech includes a line about not needing a CEO as president, and he suggested at ABC’s Saturday night debate in New Hampshire that Romney’s background calls into question whether he “can inspire and paint a positive vision for this country.”

Romney hasn’t made matters easier for himself as he’s tried to connect with voters on the economy. The son of a millionaire business titan said over the weekend: “I know what it’s like to worry about whether or not you are going to get fired.”

Klein claims it’s too late for any of this to affect the New Hampshire primary results. I wouldn’t be so sure. New Hampshirites are famous for making up their minds at the last minute. Remember Hillary’s surprise win in 2008?

Romney has been expecting the Gordon Gekko comparisons, so you have to wonder why he hasn’t managed to curb some of these Gekko-like remarks.  I guess he just can’t help himself.

Mitt Romney says he knows a photo in which he appears with other executives at Bain Capital LLC posing with cash in their hands, pockets and mouths will be used against him if he wins the Republican presidential nomination.

The 1980s image — called the “Gordon Gekko” photo by some Democrats, a reference to the Michael Douglas character in the movie “Wall Street” — offers an easy attack line at a time of high unemployment and sharp rhetoric against the nation’s top money managers, investors and bankers.

“We posed for a picture, just celebrating the fact that we had raised a lot of money and then we hoped to be able to return it with a good return,” Romney said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Here’s Romney’s defense of the photo on Fox News Sunday.

Andrew Leonard of Salon also discussed the comparison of Romney with Gekko.

Like Gekko, Romney made his fortune buying and selling companies; and like Gekko, he believes that his “greed is good” version of rough-and-tumble creative destruction is a positive force for America, weeding out the bad performers and nurturing lean-and-mean profit engines. If you are looking for the paradigmatic exemplar of the new style of capitalism mogul launched by the Reagan revolution, Romney is your man. Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko is merely ersatz.

But what Leonard finds so amazing is that this attack on Romney and his leverage buyouts is being led Newt Gingrich.

The shock is to see Newt Gingrich and his financial backers channeling the Oliver Stone critique so passionately and wholeheartedly. If you have not seen the three-minute advertisement “When Romney Came to Town,” the soon-to-be debuted documentary lambasting Romney as the enemy of the American worker, prepare to be flabbergasted.

“Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits.”

“This film is about one such raider and his firm.”

“His mission: To reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.

“Romney took foreign seed money from Latin America, and began a pattern exploiting dozens of American businesses.”

And so on. Michael Moore doesn’t sting this hard, and MoveOn isn’t this angry. If Romney, as expected, ends up winning the Republican nomination, Obama’s campaign team can relax. Their work has already been done.

Here’s the trailer for the 27-minute documentary that Gingrich backers have purchased.


Politico calls it “the Bain Bomb.”

While conservatives look unlikely to unite around one alternative to Romney, the campaigns themselves are uniting around the theme that the former head of Bain Capital looted companies, tossed people out of jobs and is now exaggerating his success at the venture capital firm.

In the context of this moment in American politics, in which frustration with the privileged is boiling hot, the attack, from Republicans on one side and the Obama campaign on the other, will test Romney. If he ends up looking more like an opportunist who profited for the few than like a man who created jobs for the many, it’s hard to imagine his polls numbers won’t drop.

Conservative bloggers, who generally can’t stand Romney have begun defending him against his rivals attacks, and Dana Millback called Romney “the Scrooge McDuck of the 2012 presidential race. Bloomberg reports that buyout firms are getting nervous about damage to their reputations.

This could be fun to watch. I thought Newt’s attack on Romney yesterday was spot on.

Is Romney full of shit or what? He even makes Newt Gingrich look good. I hope Newt sticks around and continues letting it all hang out. Every single word he said about Romney was the truth.

I’m going to wrap this up with a more serious take on Romney from Robert Reich: Mitt: Son of “Citizen’s United.” I had forgotten that Reich ran for governor of Massachusetts in the the Democratic primary in 2002. Please go read the whole thing and try not to weep while you’re doing it.

As Reich says, Romney is the ultimate big money candidate. He was in 2002, and now with the help of the Roberts Court, he has more money than any candidate ever dreamed of before. If you thought Obama was the candidate of Wall Street–and he was in 2008–Romney is soooo much more so. He has money and connections that make Obama’s fundraising look pathetic. And none of this money even needs to be reported–it could be coming from overseas, even from foreign governments, and we’d never know.

Tonight we’ll find out of any of this barrage of Gordon Gekko/Mitt Romney comparisons will have any effect. I’m rooting for Romney to be taken down a peg. And then on to South Carolina!

Please share your links in the comments, and I hope to see you tonight for the live blog.