Lazy Saturday Reads: #tRump – Bull in a China Shop

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Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening with my brother’s family–they invited me for a birthday dinner and family movie. Unsurprisingly, while I wasn’t paying attention for a few hours the president-elect did massive damage to U.S. foreign policy, overturning decades-long policies on China. And it appears this wasn’t about policy but about enriching the #tRump family business.

Ann Gearan at The Washington Post: Trump speaks with Taiwanese president, a major break with decades of U.S. policy on China

President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.

The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.

The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, ­­­Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.

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It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said….

A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”

Trump claimed the call was initiated by Taiwan’s president, but that was a lie, NBC News reports:

BEIJING — A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

“Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. “Both are in line with Taiwan’s national interest.”

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Apparently the call was carefully planned and scheduled by Trump staffers. It was also reported that bomb-thrower John Bolton was seen at Trump tower yesterday. Could he have helped instigate this?

After the media reported foreign policy experts’ heads exploding, Trump defensively tweeted again.

China was apparently on the phone with the White House right after the news broke, and they have now filed a complaint with the U.S. about this breach of diplomacy. The Guardian:

China has lodged “solemn representations” with the US over a call between the president-elect, Donald Trump, and Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

Trump looked to have sparked a potentially damaging diplomatic row with Beijing on Friday after speaking to the Taiwanese president on the telephone….

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically ruled island which Beijing regards as a breakaway province – in the late 1970s after the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Since then the US has adhered to the “One China” principle, which officially considers the independently governed island to be part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Saturday: “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing China.”

Geng added: “This is a fact that is generally recognised by the international community.”

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#tRrump is a real bull in a china shop, so to speak. But what was his real goal in talking to Taiwan? Think Progress: Trump’s unusual phone call is great for his business, dangerous for America.

Trump is mixing his business with the presidency. Today was a stark illustration that the combination is extremely dangerous — to Americans and the world.

The Financial Times, citing three sources, reports that Trump called Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan, on Friday. The call is a symbolic breach of the United States’ “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the only government and which has been in place since 1972.

The call will antagonize China and risks “opening up a major diplomatic dispute with China before he has even been inaugurated.”

The incident is raising eyebrows because the Trump Organization, in which Trump plans to maintain ownership as president, is actively seeking new business opportunities in Taiwan. The Shanghaiist reported on the Trump Organization’s interest last month:

A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.With the review process for the Aerotropolis still underway, Taoyuan’s mayor referred to the subject of the meeting as mere investment speculation. Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect’s second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

#tRump is trying to turn our country into a wholly owned subsidiary of the #tRump organization.

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In just the past couple of days, Trump has bumbled through bizarre phone calls with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte. Do you supposed #tRump even knows that China, Pakistan and sworn enemy India have nukes?

The Atlantic: Lessons From Trump’s ‘Fantastic’ Phone Call to Pakistan.

This week, the U.S. president-elect spoke with the Pakistani prime minister and, according to the Pakistani government’s account of the conversation, delivered the following message: Everything is awesome. It was, arguably, the most surprising presidential phone call since George H.W. Bush got pranked by that pretend Iranian president.

Pakistan, Donald Trump reportedly told Nawaz Sharif, is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president. Sharif was described as “terrific.” Pakistanis “are one of the most intelligent people,” Trump allegedly added. “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” ….

Like their problems with India?

It’s unclear how accurate the Pakistani government’s record of the discussion is, though the language does have a Trumpian ring to it (Trump’s transition team released a much more subdued summary of the call). But what’s surprising about the account is how disconnected it is from the current state of affairs. Everything is not awesome in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The two countries are the bitterest of friends. They have long clashed over the haven that terrorist groups have found in Pakistan and over U.S. efforts, including drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, to kill those terrorists. Pakistan, a nation with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, is the archenemy of India, another nuclear-armed state and a critical U.S. ally. U.S. officials see Pakistan—with its weak political institutions and suspected government support for militant groups in Afghanistan and the contested territory of Kashmir—as an alarming source of regional instability. The suspicion is mutual: Just a fifth of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Trump himself has argued that Pakistan “is probably the most dangerous” country in the world, and that India needs to serve as “the check” to it.

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The reports also provoked a caustic response from the Indian government, which opposes U.S. mediation in its border dispute with Pakistan. “We look forward to the president-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues: terrorism,” a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said. And, ultimately, they forced Pakistani officials to backpedal after initially publicizing the conversation. “Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities—it is about institutions,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified. In other words, a brief, breezy conversation had real reverberations on the subcontinent.One lesson of the phone call is that words matter, especially in international relations where information is patchy, things get lost in translation, rhetoric is often interpreted as policy, and a government’s credibility is only as good as its word. (Think of all the people in the United States puzzling over what policies Trump will pursue as president; now imagine trying to do that from Islamabad or New Delhi.)

 

And now Pakistan is sending an envoy to meet with the #tRump bumblers. The Indian Express reports:

Pakistan has decided to send an envoy to the US to hold meetings with Donald Trump’s transition team, two days after a “productive” telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the President-elect. Pakistani Prime Minister’s special assistant for foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi will visit the US this weekend to meet officials of the Trump transition team.

Fatemi’s meeting with officials of Trump transition team was confirmed by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. “Besides meeting members of the transition team, Fatemi will meet officials of the outgoing Obama administration,” said Jilani.

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Huffington Post: Donald Trump Praises Philippines Deadly Drug War And Invites Leader To White House.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump praised Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte for his war on drugs that has left thousands dead, Duterte said on Saturday after the two held a phone conversation in which Trump also invited Duterte the White House.

“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well … in my campaign and he said that … we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement. Duterte has conducted a severe crackdown on drugs in the country, where police and vigilante groups have killed thousands.

Trump’s brief chat with the firebrand Philippine president follows a period of uncertainty about one of Washington’s most important Asian alliances, stoked by Duterte’s hostility towards President Barack Obama and repeated threats to sever decades-old defense ties.

The call lasted just over seven minutes, Duterte’s special advisor, Christopher Go, said in a text message to media, which gave few details. Trump’s transition team had no immediate comment.

So #tRump is on the record supporting mass murder now. Awesome.

Two more links to check out:

The New York Times: How Trump’s Calls to World Leaders Are Upsetting Decades of Diplomacy.

The Washington Post: Donald Trump keeps confirming fears about his diplomatic skills.

Isn’t there anyone who can do something about this monster before he destroys our country and/or blows up the world? We are so screwed.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: What Do We Do Now?

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Good Afternoon!!

I’m feeling even more confused than ever today. I hope I can think clearly enough to get some kind of post up. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it appears that Congressional Democrats have decided to try to “work with” incoming POTUS Trump.

NYT: Senate Democrats’ Surprising Strategy: Trying to Align With Trump.

Congressional Democrats, divided and struggling for a path from the electoral wilderness, are constructing an agenda to align with many proposals of President-elect Donald J. Trump that put him at odds with his own party.

On infrastructure spending, child tax credits, paid maternity leave and dismantling trade agreements, Democrats are looking for ways they can work with Mr. Trump and force Republican leaders to choose between their new president and their small-government, free-market principles. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, elected Wednesday as the new Democratic minority leader, has spoken with Mr. Trump several times, and Democrats in coming weeks plan to announce populist economic and ethics initiatives they think Mr. Trump might like.

Democrats, who lost the White House and made only nominal gains in the House and Senate, face a profound decision after last week’s stunning defeat: Make common cause where they can with Mr. Trump to try to win back the white, working-class voters he took from them, or resist at every turn, trying to rally their disparate coalition in hopes that discontent with an ineffectual new president will benefit them in 2018.

Mr. Trump campaigned on some issues that Democrats have long championed and Republicans resisted: spending more on roads, bridges and rail, punishing American companies that move jobs overseas, ending a lucrative tax break for hedge fund and private equity titans, and making paid maternity leave mandatory.

Some Democrats are even co-opting Mr. Trump’s language from the campaign. “Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.

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That’s just great. Trump’s infrastructure plan is nothing but an attempt to enrich himself with government funds, Ivanka Trump’s child care proposal will benefit only the wealthiest families who itemize their taxes, and Trump’s plan to install tariffs on foreign imports would bankrupt all of us. Not to mention the fact that Trump is reportedly considering a “Muslim registry” and quickly deporting or “incarcerating” up to 3 million immigrants.

And this garbage about winning back the white working class is hopeless and sickening. Without the support of people of color, the Democratic Party is history. The white working class men who supported Trump want to hold onto their white privilege a lot more than they worry about economic inequality. But the media and quite a few Democrats are focused on regaining the Reagan Democrats.

Joshua Holland at Rolling Stone: Stop Obsessing Over White Working-Class Voters.

Amid a spate of brutal hate crimes against people of color – with Muslim women shedding their hijabs to avoid random attacks, and the word “nigger” making an ugly resurgence in our discourse – the political press appears to have coalesced around the idea that we really need to understand the pain felt by the white people who elected Donald Trump.

It’s clear that white working-class voters in the Rust Belt provided Trump with a razor-thin margin of victory in the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote by historic margins. The data show that Trump won a number of Midwestern counties with lots of blue-collar whites that went for Obama in 2012, in some cases by large margins.

But how we interpret that data has important ramifications for how the Democratic Party moves forward. If, as a New York Timesheadline blares, Trump’s win was in large part a result of non-college educated white voters who supported Obama in 2012 defecting to the Republicans – perhaps for good – then the logical conclusion is that Democrats have to reach out to this group specifically or face the prospect of future losses. And that means speaking not only to their economic anxiety, but also appealing to their cultural and social grievances. It might mean, for example, moderating the party’s support for gun safety measures, which are an important wedge issue for many rural white people in those key states Trump flipped. The last time the party decided to chase blue-collar “Reagan Democrats,” it resulted in Bill Clinton’s push for welfare reform.

If, on the other hand, Trump energized just enough Republican-leaners who stayed home in 2012, and Hillary Clinton failed to turn out just enough Democratic partisans, then we can attribute this disaster to factors that aren’t specific to this group. It may be that she was an unpopular candidate who faced a perfect storm of media coverage tainted by a tendency toward false equivalence, hackers releasing her campaign’s internal emails, a clumsy intervention by FBI Director James Comey and latent misogyny – all of that while running against a celebrity who dominated nearly every news cycle. If that’s the case, then the solution, whatever it is, should be the same for blue-collar white Democrats as it is for Democrats in general – running a better candidate who’s more focused on a progressive economic agenda, for instance – and we shouldn’t indulge in a lot of handwringing over this one group of white people.

Based on what we now know, there’s good reason to believe this last analysis is the correct one.

Please go read the rest.

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It seems to me that a better project for Congressional Democats would be to investigate the Russian influence on our election and on the man who will be POTUS. There are a few who are interested in doing that.

David Corn at Mother Jones: Senior House Democrat Calls for Congressional Probe of Russian Meddling in 2016 Election.

On Tuesday, the chief of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, said a “nation-state”—meaning Russia—had intervened in the 2016 elections “to achieve a specific effect.” He was referring to the hacking of Democratic targets and the release of the stolen information via WikiLeaks. And on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for a congressional investigation of Russian meddling in the campaign. On Thursday, the call for a Capitol Hill inquiry gathered momentum, with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House government oversight committee, publicly urging the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), to launch such a probe.

In a letter sent to Chaffetz and released publicly, Cummings noted that he and Chaffetz had discussed opening such an investigation on Wednesday and that Chaffetz had told him he was “open to considering such an investigation” but wanted Cummings to “show the evidence” that Russia had tried to influence the election. Cummings did so in this letter, citing Rogers’ statement. Cummings also pointed to a statement issued on October 7 by the Office of Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, which said, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Read the full letter at Mother Jones.

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CNN: GOP senator: Investigate Russia.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the chamber’s most experienced foreign policy hands, said the attempt by a foreign country to interfere with the US voting process needs better understanding and a vigorous response.

“Assuming for a moment that we do believe that the Russian government was controlling outside organizations that hacked into our election, they should be punished,” Graham told reporters Tuesday. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graham added that, “Putin should be punished.”

Graham, who wants the hearings to examine all Russia’s “misadventures throughout the world,” has the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. As other Republicans issued warnings about Russian activities, the hearings could become a source of tension between the GOP and the new President.

“You could see, going forward, a Congress that’s really at loggerheads with the White House on policy toward Russia,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.

More at the link.

The biggest piece of news this morning IMO is that DNI James Clapper has announced his resignation. He’s not going work with Trump on the transition.

We’ll have to wait to see why Clapper resigned, but I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the apparent war between the FBI and the Intelligence community that has been the backdrop to this election. Once he out of the government, Clapper would have more ability to speak out publicly (or leak privately) about what has been going on behind the scenes.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll just give you two more links to check out.

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Joshua Foust: This Is Not Normal.

About the nicest thing you can say about President Trump’s incoming administration is that it is without precedent. But there is another way of looking at it: it is not normal.

Normal, you might argue, is a bad thing when people are hurting. In fact, there is enough polling about why people voted for Trump to suggest that a vague “need for change” was a powerful motivator. Though opinions about what needed to change varied widely — from economic issues to vague fears of a wrong direction to naked white supremacy — the fact is enough Americans did not want a “third term” for Obama and voted the Democrats out of power. (That many did so apparently uncaring about the consequences for minorities is its own, separate discussion.) ….

“Normal,” as a concept, matters. The old adage that it is just the setting on a dryer is not just wrong but misleading. When something is abnormal it is important to understand why. If a person is not normal they could be brilliant or they could be sick, and knowing the difference is the distance between life and death. In politics, too, there is normal and there is abnormal. An insurgent candidate swinging a party or the country right or left is normal — Marco Rubio winning the GOP nomination and the general election would have been normal, for example. But Donald Trump is not normal. In fact, the things he represents, the decisions he has made and is continuing to make, and the entourage he has surrounded himself with, are not normal. They are so abnormal that they look like the opening stages of authoritarianism — something those of us steeped in the study of authoritarian countries recognize like a flashing light at a railroad crossing.

The one thing authoritarians want you to do is to accept that their conduct is normal, even when it is not. They do not want you to yearn for a freer, less oppressive and less corrupt time, and they do not want you to think it odd when, say, a government agency is purged or a bunch of protesters are arrested and vanish into the prisons without ever seeing trial. They want you to think it is normal when the President is openly selling your interests out to a foreign power, or when he is using the levers of government to materially enrich and empower his family. The presumption of normality during abnormal times is one of the most powerful weapons the authoritarian has, and that is why it is so important to recognize how profoundly abnormal Donald J. Trump will be as president. So I assembled a list.

Please go to the link and read the list ASAP.

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Matthew Yglesias’s hair is on fire: We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our institutions.

The country has entered a dangerous period. The president-elect is the least qualified man to ever hold high office. He also operated the least transparent campaign of the modern era. He gave succor and voice to bigoted elements on a scale not seen in two generations. He openly praised dictators — not as allies but as dictators — and threatened to use the powers of his office to discipline the media.

He also has a long history of corrupt behavior, and his business holdings pose staggering conflicts of interest that are exacerbated by his lack of financial disclosure. But while most journalists and members of the opposition party think they understand the threat of Trump-era corruption, they are in fact drastically underestimating it. When we talk about corruption in the modern United States, we have in mind what Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny define as “the sale by government officials of government property for personal gain.”

This is the classic worry about campaign contributions or revolving doors — the fear that wealthy interests can give money to public officials and in exchange receive favorable treatment from the political system. But in a classic essay on “The Concept of Systemic Corruption in American History,” the economist John Joseph Wallis reminds us that in the Revolutionary Era and during the founding of the republic, Americans worried about something different. Not the venal corruption we are accustomed to thinking about, but what he calls systemic corruption. He writes that 18th-century thinkers “worried much more that the king and his ministers were manipulating grants of economic privileges to secure political support for a corrupt and unconstitutional usurpation of government powers.”

We are used to corruption in which the rich buy political favor. What we need to learn to fear is corruption in which political favor becomes the primary driver of economic success….

This is how Vladimir Putin governs Russia, and how the Mubarak/Sisi regime rules Egypt. To be a successful businessman in a systemically corrupt regime and to be a close supporter of the regime are one and the same thing.

Those who support the regime will receive favorable treatment from regulators, and those who oppose it will not. Because businesses do business with each other, the network becomes self-reinforcing. Regime-friendly banks receive a light regulatory touch while their rivals are crushed. In exchange, they offer friendly lending terms to regime-friendly businesses while choking capital to rivals. Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.

All is not lost, but the situation is genuinely quite grave. As attention focuses on transition gossip and congressional machinations, it’s important not to let our eyes off the ball. It is entirely possible that eight years from now we’ll be looking at an entrenched kleptocracy preparing to install a chosen successor whose only real mission is to preserve the web of parasitical oligarchy that has replaced the federal government as we know it. One can, of course, always hope that the worst does not come to pass. But hope is not a plan. And while the impulse to “wait and see” what really happens is understandable, the cold, hard reality is that the most crucial decisions will be the early ones.

I’ve quoted more than I should, but this is vitally important. Now please head on over to Vox and read the rest.

Post your thoughts and links in the comment thread. I’ll be adding more too. Take care Sky Dancers.


Monday Reads

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Good Morning!!

 

Things are not going well in Iraq, to put it mildly. John Kerry arrived in Iraq this morning and is currently meeting with Iraqi leaders, according to CNN: John Kerry holds talks in Iraq as more cities fall to ISIS militants.

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — As radical Sunni militants snatch city after city in their march toward Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq on Monday during the country’s tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011.

Kerry is meeting with Iraqi leaders. He met Monday with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man who some observers say needs to step down.

With al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government losing more ground to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry has implored the leader to rise above “sectarian motivations” to become more inclusive and make the government more representative of Iraq’s population.

“I’m here to convey to you President Obama’s and the American people’s commitment to help Iraq,” Kerry said when greeting Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujayfi. “The principal concern is the integrity of the country, its borders, its sovereignty,” he said. ISIS “is a threat to all of us.”

Kerry will also meet with Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The discussions with the Maliki government are not likely to be particularly congenial. According to NPR:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Baghdad on Monday to personally urge the Shiite-led government to give more power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising. Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

Still, having suffered together through more than eight years of war — which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis — the two wary allies are unwilling to turn away from the very real prospect of the Mideast nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

“This is a critical moment where, together, we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry said a day earlier in Cairo. He was there in part to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to and discuss a regional solution to end the bloodshed by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Good luck with that. I wish Hillary were still in charge at State.

From Jay Solomon at The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Faces Opposing Regional Interests in Bid to Blunt Insurgency in Iraq.

AMMAN, Jordan—As the Obama administration’s top diplomat arrived in the Middle East to gather support to blunt a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. was colliding with the region’s ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions.

Deep gaps between U.S. and Arab views over the crisis have grown more obvious in recent days, say American and regional officials, hampering Washington’s response to the onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which this month seized control of territories straddling Iraq and Syria.

The task gained new urgency on Sunday when ISIS swept through new Iraq towns and overran two border crossings with Jordan and Syria, blocking the Iraqi government’s access to its western frontier, security officials said.

President Barack Obama raised the stakes on Sunday, telling CBS News that ISIS threatens American interests if it turns to global terrorism, two days after he announced plans to send U.S. military advisers and supplies to Iraq and called for a new, more inclusive government in Baghdad.

The crisis in Iraq has exposed contradictions in traditional Mideast alliances, in some ways placing the U.S. alongside its sworn enemy, Shiite-ruled Iran, in a joint effort to halt ISIS, while in other ways putting Washington at odds with longtime Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf, who want to weaken Iran’s sway over Iraq.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Meanwhile, yesterday, according to Reuters:

Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States on Sunday of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove towards Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of U.S. action came three days after President Barack Obama offered to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi government. Khamenei may want to block any U.S. choice of a new prime minister after grumbling in Washington about Shi’ite premier Nuri al-Maliki.

The supreme leader did not mention the Iranian president’s recent suggestion of cooperation with Shi’ite Tehran’s old U.S. adversary in defense of their mutual ally in Baghdad.

On Sunday, militants overran a second frontier post on the Syrian border, extending two weeks of swift territorial gains as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) pursues the goal of its own power base, a “caliphate” straddling both countries that has raised alarm across the Middle East and in the West.

“We are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”

Will we ever be rid of these insane wars started by Dick Cheney and his puppet George W. Bush? At least Bush has the decency to keep quiet, but Cheney just won’t shut up even though he has no answers for the current crisis. From Raw Story: Dick Cheney doesn’t ‘intend any disrespect’ by suggesting Obama ‘guilty of treason’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday insisted that he did not “intend any disrespect” when he suggested that President Barack Obama was guilty of treason by trying to undermine the United States before leaving office.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, Cheney — and his daughter Liz — said that the president was “determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”

He went on to suggest that Obama was a “fool” if he intended to work with Iran to prevent violence in Iraq.

“In this op-ed, you suggest the president is a fool,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl pointed out during a Sunday interview with Cheney. “That is the word you used, ‘only a fool would take the approach he’s taking in Iraq right now.’”

“It almost seems like you’re accusing the president of treason, that he’s intentionally bringing America ‘down a notch,’” Karl noted.

Cheney did not deny that he had accused the commander-in-chief of the United States of treason, but he insisted that he had not just called Obama a “fool” over the violence in Iraq.

“It referred to the fact that we’ve left a big vacuum in the Middle East by our withdrawal from Iraq with a no stay-behind agreement,” the former vice president said. “By the commitment that he made just a few weeks ago, that we are going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan with a no stay-behind agreement.”

See also, Dick Cheney’s amazing chutzpah on Iraq, by Paul Waldman (CNN)

Cheney needs to STFU and go on a hunting trip or something. Maybe he could take Tony Scalia with him.

 

In other news . . .

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Right wing nut and birther Ed Klein has a new Hillary hate book out, and the New York Post has been publishing laughable excerpts. The trouble is, the wingnuts will believe the lies and the media won’t counter them. Be sure to read what Joseph Cannon has to say about the De-KLEIN of journalism.

Why does anyone still print or read right-wing pseudojournalist Edward Klein?

A while back, this fictioneer published a book alleging a lesbian relationship between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin — a work which one critic called “the sleaziest, most derivative, most despicable political biography ever.” Klein’s revelations always come from anonymous “informants” — one of whom, I’ve heard, is Slender Man.

Klein has a new book out and the NY Post is pushing it, even though the folks running the NY Post must know that they’re peddling garbage….

Anyone who takes this nonsense seriously must also believe that wrestling is real. Nevertheless, the right-wing propagandists are pretending to accept Klein’s work at face value. (See also here, especially the telling piece of “Hildebeest” research.)

This is a horrible story from the AP via Fox News: Researchers discover mass graves with bodies of immigrants in South Texas cemetery.

Volunteer researchers have uncovered mass graves in a South Texas cemetery that they believe contain the bodies of immigrants who died crossing into the U.S. illegally, according to published reports Saturday.

The discovery at Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias came in the last two weeks, as Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker and Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis, and their students worked as part of a multi-year effort to identify immigrants who’ve died in the area near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Teams unearthed remains in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags or without a container at all, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times (http://bit.ly/1qqH7CZ ). In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other. Skulls also were found in biohazard bags placed between coffins.

They exhumed 110 unidentified people from the cemetery in 2013. This summer, researchers have performed 52 exhumations, but because some remains were stored together, further study will be needed to determine exactly how many bodies have been recovered, Baker said.

These people just suddenly dropped dead as they crossed the border? Apparently this is the work of a local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, which the state has been paying $450 each to deal with bodies of immigrants that have been discovered all over Texas. The funeral home has been paid for this service for at least 16 and as long as 22 years! Were there any autopsies? Did anyone determine whether any of these deaths were homicides?

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped

We haven’t heard much about Bowe Bergdhal lately. Via The Boston Globe, the AP reports this morning that he has been “Shifted to Outpatient Care.”

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five years, has been shifted to outpatient care at a Texas military base, the U.S. Army said in a statement Sunday.

Bergdahl, 28, had been receiving inpatient treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is now receiving outpatient care on the base in San Antonio, according to the statement. The Army said his ‘‘reintegration process’’ is proceeding with exposure to more people and a gradual increase in social interaction.

He arrived at the Texas medical center on June 13 after nearly two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Army officials said then that Bergdahl was in stable condition and was working daily with health care providers to regain a sense of normalcy and move forward with his life.

The Army statement Sunday said Bergdahl is receiving counseling from ‘‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape’’ psychologists’’ to ‘‘continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.’’

The Army said specifics of Bergdahl’s location would not be made public.

That’s it for me for today, except that I’ve become a World cup fan and I might even watch some of the games the US team isn’t participating in. Ralph’s enthusiasm has sucked me in!

What stories are you following today? Please let us know in the comment thread.

 

 


The Tax Payer-Funded Dumbing of America

jesus_raptors It’s hard to believe that we’re living in a political environment where elected officials are bemoaning waste in all levels of government while sending so many public funds and assets to underwrite religious indoctrination and profit private businesses.  Southern states are the bottom crawlers of any measurement of academic outcomes. My state of Louisiana is no exception.  Texas is definitely a problem.  However, it’s a national problem so those of you that live in other parts of the country shouldn’t feel smug or think it couldn’t happen to your children or grandchildren.  Two fellow Louisianans–Melissa Harris Perry and Zack Kopplin– have found that vouchers spread creationism.  That cannot be good for a future that’s dependent on educated people who need to know real science.  Let’s examine exactly what our tax dollars are funding.

First, here’s the results of Zack’s study.  Zack is currently studying at Rice University.

I first began investigating creationist school vouchers as my part of my fight against creationism in my home state of Louisiana. Over the past few months, I’ve learned creationist vouchers aren’t just a Louisiana problem—they’re an American problem. School vouchers are, as James Gill recently wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”

Liberty Christian School, in Anderson, Indiana, has field trips to the Creation Museum and students learn from the creationist A Beka curriculum. Kingsway Christian School, in Avon, Indiana, also has Creation Museum field trips. Mansfield Christian School, in Ohio, teaches science through the creationist Answers in Genesis website, run by the founder of the Creation Museum. The school’s Philosophy of Science page says, “the literal view of creation is foundational to a Biblical World View.”  All three of these schools, and more than 300 schools like them, are receiving taxpayer money.

So far, I have documented 310 schools, in nine states and the District of Columbia that are teaching creationism, and receiving tens of millions of dollars in public money through school voucher programs.

There is no doubt that there are hundreds more creationist voucher schools that have yet to be identified. The more than 300 CreationismWitchDoctorschools I have already found are those that have publicly stated on their websites that they teach creationism or use creationist curricula.

There are hundreds more voucher schools, across the country, that are self-identified Christian academies, that appear very similar in philosophy to the ones I’ve identified in my research as teaching creationism. These schools may not blatantly advertise that they teach creationism on their websites, or often don’t even have a website, but there is a good chance that hundreds more voucher schools are also teaching our children creationism. Some states, Arizona and Mississippi, haven’t even released lists of schools participating in their voucher programs for the public to audit.

Here are a few highlights from creationist voucher schools I have identified:

  • The Beverly Institute in Jacksonville, Florida, teaches “Evidence of a Flood,” and “Evidence against Evolution,” and ”The Evolution of Man: A Mistaken Belief.”
  • Creekside Christian Academy in McDonough, Georgia says,“The universe, a direct creation of God, refutes the man-made idea of evolution. Students will be called upon to see the divine order of creation and its implications on other subject areas.
  • Life Christian Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma says their life science class will “lead the student to recognize that God created all living things and that these living things are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Evolution is taught only in history class, where students “evaluate the theory of evolution and its flaws.” The school uses the creationist Bob Jones and CSI curriculums.
  • The principal of the Claiborne Christian School, in West Monroe, Louisiana, says in a school newsletter, “Our position at CCS on the age of the Earth and other issues is that any theory that goes against God’s Word is in error.” She also claims that scientists are “sinful men” trying to explain the world “without God” so they don’t have to be “morally accountable to Him.”
  • Trinity Academy, in Gary, uses the creationist A Beka curriculum and says it “presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution.”
  • Rocky Bayou Christian School, in Niceville, Florida, says in its section on educational philosophy, “God mandates that children be discipled for Christ. They must be trained in the biblical world view which honors Jehovah, the sovereign Creator of the universe. It recognizes that man was created in the image of God” and says “Man is presumed to be an evolutionary being shaped by matter, energy, and chance… God commands His people not to teach their children the way of the heathen.”
  • Wisconsin Lutheran High School, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says in its biology syllabus that it teaches, “evolutionists are ‘stuck’ because they have no god, therefore they must believe in evolution” and “young earth evidence a disaster to evolutionists.”

This year, we may see even more creationist school vouchers. Both Tennessee and Texas are considering passing voucher programs. Indiana and Georgia may expand their programs.

CreationismJobsWe’ve seen some horrible examples what now passes as “science” in Louisiana thanks to the LSEA or the Lousiana Science Education Act pushed and signed by Bobby Jindal and some of the whackier senators in the Louisiana Legislature in 2008.  You can learn more about the law itself in the youtube. We’re not the only state that’s having problems now with taxpayer funded religious screeds.

The Texas Freedom Network has documented examples in Texas.  Texas passed a law that lets schools teach bible courses under the guise of discussing the importance of religion in history and literature.  They don’t even have vouchers draining funds to their evangelical madrassas yet.  It’s in the works. Right now, all this is going on in regular public schools. The stories from TFNEF are not very pretty and includes a lot of students basically getting lessons in anti-Semitism.  Here’s some examples of what they’ve found being taught in Texas. 

Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report, authored by a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, that examines what students are learning in the 57 school districts and three charter schools that teach Bible courses. Examples from Texas public schools:

  • Instructional material in two school districts teach that racial diversity today can be traced back to Noah’s sons, a long-discredited claim that has been a foundational component of some forms of racism.
  • Religious bias is common, with most courses taught from a Protestant — often a conservative Protestant — perspective. One course, for example, assumes Christians will at some point be “raptured.” Materials include a Venn diagram showing the pros and cons of theories that posit the rapture before the returning Jesus’ 1,000-year reign and those that place it afterward. In many courses, the perspectives of Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews are often left out.
  • Anti-Jewish bias — intentional or not — is not uncommon. Some courses even portray Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion that has been replaced by Christianity.
  • Many courses suggest or openly claim that the Bible is literally true. “The Bible is the written word of God,” students are told in one PowerPoint presentation. Some courses go so far as to suggest that the Bible can be used to verify events in history. One district, for example, teaches students that the Bible’s historical claims are largely beyond question by listing biblical events side by side with historical developments from around the globe.
  • Course materials in numerous classes are designed to evangelize rather than provide an objective study of the Bible’s influence. A book in one district makes its purpose clear in the preface: “May this study be of value to you. May you fully come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.’ And may you have ‘life in His name.’”
  • A number of courses teach students that the Bible proves Earth is just 6,000 years old.
  • Students are taught that the United States is a Christian nation founded on the Christian biblical principles taught in their classrooms.
  • Academic rigor is so poor that many courses rely mostly on memorization of Bible verses and factoids from Bible stories rather than teaching students how to analyze what they are studying. One district relies heavily on Bible cartoons from Hanna-Barbera for its high school class. Students in another district spend two days watching what lesson plans describe a “the historic documentary Ancient Aliens,” which presents “a new interpretation of angelic beings described as extraterrestrials.”

How could such courses have gone so wrong? The 2007 law included numerous guidelines designed to help public schools create academically rigorous and constitutionally appropriate courses. But the Legislature failed to appropriate funding to develop in-service training for teachers of Bible courses, and most school districts simply ignored the requirement that teachers get such training. Moreover, the State Board of Education — under the control of religious conservatives at the time — refused to adopt serious curriculum standards to help guide school districts as they planned their courses.

Jindal’s voucher experiment was recently found unconstitutional but not for the reasons that you think.  It was basically a technicality of funding and educational funding guidelines prescribed in the state’s constitution that got the law thrown out.  Address this issue and the vouchers could stick and stay.  Here’s some of the more recent news concerning what’s draining tax payer funds and passing as ‘education’ in Louisiana.

Jindal defended vouchers without once using the oft-toxic term, instead calling them scholarships, or putting them under the broader umbrella of school choice. “It is my sincere hope that what we are now putting in motion in Louisiana can be done across the country,” Jindal said. “I believe we’ve got an economic and a moral imperative to provide school choice and a quality education to every child, every student in America.”

Jindal made the case for making vouchers bipartisan. “I do not accept the notion that equal opportunity in public education should be a partisan issue,” Jindal said. Vouchers have been a third-rail policy among liberals, causing the Obama administration to do rhetorical summersaults. They’re controversial among liberals because they funnel tax dollars to private institutions — often, parochial schools that teach religion. In Louisiana, the private schools accepting voucher money have been found to teach about both creationism and the existence of the mythical Loch Ness monster.

Additionally, the schools that receive vouchers are not subjected to basic standards required of public schools AND many don’t even meet basic federal standards for basic services to special needs students.

Jindal said private schools in and near New Orleans that accepted vouchers saw more growth in student proficiency rates recently than schools statewide. (Proficiency rates are rarely reliable, since they measure two different groups of students.) Jindal also asserted that the vouchers serve all students. “It’s the money of a grandmother who wants to make sure her special education grandbaby gets the education she needs,” he said.

But according to public records, several private schools that opened their doors to voucher students with special needs had no services for such students. For example, the St. Angela Merici school’s application indicated it had no services for students with autism, mental disabilities or learning disabilities.

As for Jindal’s claims about high performing “charter” schools. I can offer you just a few links that show charter schools really aren’t performing as Jindal claims.   Again, the biggest problem is that these schools do not effectively address children with disabilities.  Schools that don’t address children with the highest needs can hardly be called anything but dysfunctional and discriminatory.  There are currently many lawsuits and stories concerning children with special needs and various charter schools.  These schools are cherry-picking students.

Families have attempted to place their disabled children in schools, but they have either been told that the school doesn’t have special-needs services or been told, gently, that their child would be better served at another school. These problems occur often enough that a due-process complaint has been filed against the Louisiana Department of Education on behalf of 4,500 students in the city with disabilities.

These issues have conveniently been left out of a number of Pollyanna-ish media reports touting the messianic nature of charter schools, and how Hurricane Katrina was a “blessing” to New Orleans’ children. A recent article at The Grio, “New Orleans Charter Schools Redefine Education Reform,” reads: “The standardized test results for fourth, eighth and tenth grade public school students have gone up since the storm hit in 2005. This may have something to do with the increasing presence of charter schools, though it is not clear.”

But test scores in those grades were already rising before the storm hit. Between 2003 and 2005, fourth-grade math results grew by 9 percent. Between 2007 and 2009, those results grew by 9.5 percent. In eighth-grade math, the growth in the percentage of kids scoring above basic levels between 2003 and 2005 was greater than the gains between 2007 and 2009. There has been a slight improvement in eighth-grade English and in math at the high school graduate level, but in both categories, the improvement in test scores builds on progress that was already occurring before the mass chartering of New Orleans.

We’ve also had problems with charter schools deliberately cheating on tests.

There’s a natural conflict there, experts say, in that most school districts are less than eager to announce they’ve found corruption in their midst.

At charter schools, the conflict might be more acute, some say, because charter boards play a role in investigations. Board members can be recruited by a school’s administrators, which might make it even more difficult for them to take a hard look at allegations.

“If you are committed to finding out the truth, you need individuals who are not connected in any way to the individuals involved,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

In Louisiana’s current setup, there is “a conflict of interest all the way up the line,” and not just as it relates to charter schools, said Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational measurement at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “No one has a really strong interest in investigating in a really searching manner,” he said.

That’s why some states have started putting such investigations under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office or another independent entity, he said.

Asking the school’s own board of directors or district to handle a probe, Cizek said, is like having the IRS tell a taxpayer: “We have a problem with your tax return. Would you look it over?”

Studies of Arizona charter schools have found instances of tax payer “fleecing”.

In her examination of Arizona’s 50 largest nonprofit charter schools and all of Arizona’s nonprofit charter schools with assets exceeding $10 million, Ryman found “at least 17 contracts or arrangements, totaling more than $70 million over five years and involving about 40 school sites, in which money from the non-profit charter school went to for-profit or non-profit companies run by board members, executives or their relatives.” That says to me that in Arizona, at least, charter-school corruption isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. And that’s just in the nonprofit charter schools. Documentation for the for-profit schools is not publicly available. What are the odds that charter-school proprietors operating in the dark are less inclined to enrich themselves at public expense?

The self-dealing is entirely legal. All you have to do is get yourself an exemption from state laws requiring that goods and services be bid competitively. Clearly these exemptions aren’t difficult to acquire, because 90 percent of Arizona’s charter holders—not 90 percent of the charter schools surveyed by the Arizona Republic, but 90 percent of all the state’s charter schools—have acquired permanent exemptions from state competitive bidding requirements. No exemption has ever been withdrawn by the state. If you are a charter-school officer and you stand to benefit personally from some financial transaction with the school, you may not vote on whether to make the purchase. But that’s about the only rule.

The result? “The schools’ purchases from their own officials,” Ryman writes, “range from curriculum and business consulting to land leases and transportation services. A handful of non-profit schools outsource most of their operations to a board member’s for-profit company.”

Clearly, our state and many others have set up systems rife with self-dealing, cherry-picking and curricula that should stand in clear violation of the first amendment.  My bottom line here?  If any of these school reform initiatives come your way in your state, fight them like hell. They are just simply ways to bust teacher unions, deliver tax dollars to corporate cronies, and fund radical evangelical madrassas and religious indoctrination in the guise of science, literature, and history.  Of course, this means if you have a Republican governor, be prepared to vote and fight.


Temper Tantrum Tony

There’s a new book out by Jeffrey Toobin that confirms what we all think about SCOTUS and some of its right wing, political demagogues.  The most obvious conclusion of the many stories in the book is that Justice Scalia is temperamentally unsuited to be a judge. He should be a precinct boss from some thug district. He appears to actively bully other justices into his way of things and is the enforcer of right wing political correctness. He also throws extreme fits of temper when he doesn’t get his way. Scalia lost it over both the latest immigration suit and the health care law decision.

The book confirms previous reports that Roberts changed his vote in the landmark case over President Obama’s healthcare law after initially siding with the conservative justices. But Toobin reports — as others have implied — that what pushed Roberts away was the conservative justices’ insistence on striking down the entire health law.

“Scalia’s view of the justices as gladiators against the president unnerved Roberts,” Toobin writes.

The book describes Scalia as “furious” and “enraged” at Roberts — contradicting Scalia’s public statements brushing aside any tension.

Evidently Scalia and his cronies are so temperamentally unsuited for their jobs that they are even recognized as being more political hacks than judges by most Republican stalwarts.  This includes retired members of SCOTUS.

Much like the Republican Party, the conservative wing of the Supreme Court has gotten staunchly more conservative over the past several years, Toobin notes. He says the old guard of recent Republican justices has been deeply upset by the Roberts court.

Toobin notes the long, stammering dissent John Paul Stevens wrote and then read for the Citizens United campaign-finance case, which he said “captured everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts court.”

It had the same effect for Justice David Souter.

“He abhorred the views of Roberts and Alito. Souter didn’t like what the Republican Party — his party — was doing to the court, or to the country,” Toobin writes.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor “had projected onto Roberts her idea of what a chief justice, and a Republica, should be,” Toobin writes, but her reservations grew as she watched the court overturn core pieces of her legacy. Toobin also recounts O’Connor talking to Souter about her decision to leave the court.

” ‘What makes this harder,’ O’Connor told Souter, ‘is that it’s my party that’s destroying the country.’ “

I refuse to call these people deeply conservative.  It runs contrary to the very definition of the word conservative.  These folks are just plain reactionary activists.

Although Toobin says Scalia has descended from scholar to “right-wing crank,” he notes that Scalia came to the court with a unified theory of law — originalism — and has helped recenter important cases and more general discussions around what the Founding Fathers might have intended.

Justice Clarence Thomas, known primarily for his silence during oral arguments, is the court’s “pathbreaker,” always pushing for more, driving the court to the right in much the same way the Tea Party has pushed Republicans, Toobin says.

Justices Thomas and Scalia are clearly candidates for impeachment in their refusal to recognize their conflicts of interest as well as their political thuggery of our law and Constitution. We’ve written about this before as have others.

But that’s what happened at the Supreme Court earlier this week in what Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank described as “an extraordinary display of judicial distemper” — “more campaign speech than legal opinion” – as Antonin Scalia did what Scalia usually does when things don’t go his way: he threw a temper tantrum.

In his scathing dissent in United States v. Arizona, where a 5-3 Court majority struck down that state’s infamous “papers please” immigration statute, Scalia put aside the law and launched into a highly-partisan, ad hominem, rant against the Obama administration over policies, such as the presidential directive on the DREAM Act, totally unrelated to the issues before the Court.

According to Milbank, Scalia thundered that the Obama administration “desperately wants to avoid upsetting foreign powers;” that it was acting with “willful blindness or deliberate inattention” to Arizona’s illegal immigrants; that the majority’s opinion “boggles the mind;” and that the states are “at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.”

Salon’s Nathan Pippenger added that Scalia offered “plenty of FOX News-ready invective” about Arizona residents who “feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy.”

As Scalia’s stunned audience listened to what Pippenger described as Scalia’s “bellowing, bullying and bombastic” screed, the Justice came off sounding like some crazed neo-Confederate re-enactor reminiscing about the Lost Southern Cause and “the jealousy of the states with regard to their sovereignty.”

Scalia also made the astonishing claim, as Pippenger notes, that had the Court issued its decision in the 1780s, the United States might never have happened at all since no state would have been willing to enter the Union under the conditions set by the Court.

Commentators have properly scolded Scalia for displaying an utter lack of judicial temperament, which has once again compromised the Court’s standing with the public.

Dems have been calling out Thomas and his Teabagger wife for some time for both conflicts of interest and gift taking of an extraordinary nature.

As the Supreme Court begins its fall session, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and some of their colleagues are asking the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on alleged ethical violations and raising questions on whether the justice can be impartial.

Among their charges against Thomas: that the justice failed to report at least $1.6 million that his wife, Ginni, had earned since 1997; that he might have failed to report gifts from rich supporters; and that he inappropriately solicited donations for favored non-profits, according to their letter sent to Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.).

“The Supreme Court’s greatest assets are its integrity and the public trust,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Yet for months now, concerns have been building about the unwillingness or the inability of the Supreme Court to address allegations of potential ethics violations by Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Blumenauer was still collecting signatures on Wednesday night, and told POLITICO that 45 lawmakers have so far attached their names to the letter.

The Democrats’ concern over Ginni Thomas’s income stem from 13 years’ worth of revised disclosure reports that Thomas released in January, which detailed his wife’s earnings from Hillsdale College, the Heritage Foundation, and House Republican leaders, among other sources. Those figures had been left off Thomas’s previous disclosure forms because, the justice said at the time, he had a “misunderstanding of filing instructions.”

Wednesday’s letter is the second time Democrats have taken aim at Thomas in the last week over what they say are troubling ethical concerns. Last Thursday, 20 House Democrats called on the Justice Department to investigate the same allegations into Thomas in a letter to Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversee the federal court system.

“To believe that Justice Thomas didn’t know how to fill out a basic disclosure form is absurd,” Slaughter said last week.

Unfortunately, ideological and cowed Republicans let them slide and Dems never follow through with anything.  So, these guys get to sit in judgement of extremely important things in extremely political and unfit ways.

What on earth would it take to get them both impeached?  I would put this high on any humanitarian and patriot’s wish and activist lists, frankly.


More Congressional Sleaze: Boehner and Cantor own stock in Goldman Sachs

Seth Cline of Open Secrets Blog reports some extremely disturbing connections between Congressional leaders and Goldman Sachs.  I think it’s time for a law that places congressional investment accounts into a blind trust.

According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 current members of Congress reported holdings in Goldman Sachs during 2010. Whether by coincidence or not, most of these 19 Goldman Sachs investors in Congress are more powerful or more wealthy than their peers, or both.

Nine of them sit on either the most powerful committee in their chamber or committees charged with regulating the Wall Street giant. Moreover, seven of them are among the 25 wealthiest members of their respective chambers, according to the Center’s research.

And of the six lawmakers who fall into neither category, two are the most influential Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Altogether, the 19 had at least $480,000 and as much as $1.1 million invested in Goldman Sachs in 2010, the most recent year personal finance data are available. That’s an average of about $812,900 for these 19 lawmakers’ holdings combined.

Lawmakers are only required to report their personal assets and liabilities in broad ranges, meaning it’s impossible to know the precise value of these holdings. The Center uses the minimum and maximum values listed on the filings to calculate an average value for each asset and liability.

But these financial interests are not a one-way street: Goldman Sachs employees and its political action committee have contributed about $124,000, combined, to a dozen of the lawmakers who reported holdings in the company in 2010, according to the Center’s research. This includes all money given during the 2010 election cycle and thus far in 2011.

So, not only do Boehner and Cantor get donations from Goldman Sachs, they are also stock holders.  No wonder they want to get rid of the Volcker Rule.  Looks like Paul Ryan is an investor also.

In the leadership category are names such as Boehner and Cantor, each of whom has an average $32,500 invested in Goldman.

Goldman Sachs’ employees, meanwhile, have also contributed heavily to Boehner and Cantor.

Boehner has received $29,500, and Cantor $48,000, from them since 2009, according to the Center’s research.

Other Goldman investors with this kind of power include two members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, better known as the debt supercommittee.

The first, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), reported $1,177 invested in Goldman in 2010, and, as minority whip, is the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.

And not only is Kyl a member of the supercommittee and party leadership, he also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which regulates Goldman Sachs and its peers on Wall Street.

Another one of Kyl’s colleagues on the supercommittee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is also a Goldman investor.

Upton had an average of $8,000 invested in the company in 2010, according to the Center’s research.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is another influential Goldman shareholder in Congress.

Ryan sits on two very important House committees: the Budget Committee, which he chairs, and the Ways and Means Committee.

Ryan reported an average of $8,000 invested in Goldman and has received $5,800 from the company’s employees so far this year after receiving $10,000 from them during the 2010 cycle, according to the Center’s research.

One of Goldman Sachs’ most valuable congressional investors is Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), whose average of $550,000 in investments in the company is far and away the most in Congress.

Additionally Neugebauer sits on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street and the securities and investment industry of which Goldman is a part.

That also helps explain the $9,500 Goldman Sachs employees have contributed to Neugebauer since January 2009 through the company’s political action committee.

Rep. Gary Peters (R-Mich.) is another Goldman Sachs investor on the Financial Services committee. He has an average of $8,000 invested and has received $4,500 from the company this year from its PAC.

There’s a substantial list of Republicans listed that I didn’t include in the list above..  Democrats holding GS stock include  Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).   The details are on a spreadsheet here.

Can you really believe that they’re acting in our best interest when their wealth is vested in stopping GS from doing suspect things like selling lemons to clients and placing side bets that the lemons lose?  I sure don’t.  The Volker Rule places trading restrictions on institutions like GS. It controls the types of transactions that GS can do in its proprietary trading like the example I just gave you. They settled fraud charges in the US with the SEC and are under investigation in the UK and some of Europe.  You may recall the unit and testimony before congress.  The US settlement came in 2010.  That’s the same year that these holdings were found by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The FSA opened its investigation into the bank in April after the SEC charged Goldman with misleading investors in a complex mortgage-backed security known as Abacus. The SEC claimed that Goldman had failed to disclose that a hedge fund that was betting against the security had selected some of the mortgage loans included in the portfolio, costing investors as much as $1bn.

The largest fine handed down by the UK regulator came three months ago, when JPMorgan paid a £33.3m for failing to keep client money in separate accounts.

Goldman, the world’s best-known investment bank, has seen its reputation tarnished in recent months as questions continue to swirl over whether it favoured the interests of some clients at the expense of others during the financial crisis.

The bank’s business model is also under pressure amid volatile markets and regulatory reforms that have forced it to shut some of its highly profitable “proprietary” trading operations.

No wonder we don’t see perp walks.  These folks have skin in GS.  We are so f’d.


Late Night Post: a Rogue and/or Broken Nation

There’s a pretty good amount of twitter chatter and blog posts on these thoughts at interfluidity by steve randy waldman. I understand the draw because I’ve had very similar thoughts and expressed many of them recently. I thought this would be a good discussion post to follow BostonBoomer’s last post too since it’s very much related to the post called “an echo”.

I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership. Whenever I hear the President speak and am impressed by the quality of his intellect, by his instinct towards diplomacy and finding common ground and rising above petty struggles, I despair more deeply. Not just because a leader of high quality failed to restore passably clean and beneficient government. It is worse than that. The kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities and made them a powerful weapon for its own ends. He has rebranded as “moderate”, “adult”, “reasonable”, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities. He has demostrated that the way grown-ups get things done in Washington is by continually paying off thieves in suits. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Barack Obama for all this. Maybe he has done the very best a person could do under our present institutions. But then it is not unfair to detest the institutions, to wish to see them clipped, contained, or starved.

This message is followed by a mea culpa expressing profound regret for supporting the Bush Administration and the Iraq War.  Also, there’s a link to the Salon article“The due-process-free assassination of US citizens is now a reality” from Glenn Greenwald which is something we’ve previously discussed.  What drug me to the post was a response over at The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorfer who was just quoted on BB’s post.  We’re treated to some of the top ten abysmal hits of the past few years.  The bailout of banks while their bad business models still wreck havoc on our neighbors and in our cities and towns is there.  The normalization of torture and spying on citizens is listed plus a few other things that I’ve come to view as a bigger problem now than the issues surrounding Watergate and Vietnam were then.

We’ve been lied to before.  We’ve had a few of our citizen’s rights stomped about but nothing quite so systematic and unchecked.  It also seems that our institutions and especially our courts were resilient enough to stand their grounds in the past.  There were people who stood on our principles.  I’m not seeing any institutional response to the lying and executive branch power grab from Congress or the Courts or the loudest and most followed parts of the Media.

We’ve had absolutely no recompense or justice for the atrocities against liberty that we’ve experienced since 9/11. None at all.  This is what led Fiedersdorfer to ask if we were suffering from rogue leadership or broken institutions.  What ever the source, we’ve been acting like a rogue and broken nation for nearly a decade and it’s as worrisome as it is depressing.  He argues that we’ve had broken leadership during this century and that our institutions will heal.  I only wish I had his optimism.

Before pinning the blame on American institutions, let’s ponder how radically different the status quo would be if we merely adhered to longstanding laws and norms, rather than permitting our leaders to flout them in the name of protecting us from terrorism or financial collapse.

Had the Bush Administration followed the law, it never would have tortured prisoners or started secretly spying on American citizens without a warrant. If Barack Obama was as committed to fulfilling our treaty obligations as pushing his domestic agenda in an optimized political climate, he’d have investigated and prosecuted the Bush officials complicit in torture. As President Reagan wrote upon sending the Convention Against Torture to the Senate that ratified it, “Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today. The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

In Libya, where Obama violated the War Powers Act, and in various countries where President Obama is waging undeclared drone wars, more scrupulous adherence to the law would force radical changes in American behavior — as would a modicum of congressional leadership, since the body has for years abdicated its responsibility. The Founders envisioned three branches of government acting as checks on one another, the members of each zealously guarding their authority and pushing back against excesses committed by their fellow branches.

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