Israel is a lunatic state

Norman Finkelstein discusses Israel's terrorist attack on the humanitarian flotilla:

Quote of the day

Today's winner sprung from Glenn Greenwald's keypad and refers to Israel's recent terrorist attack on a humanitarian aid ship sitting in international waters:

When exactly did Israel acquire the right not only to rule over Gaza and the West Bank, but international waters as well? Their rights as sovereign are expanding faster than the BP oil spill.

Indeed they are, and Israel's sovereign rights appear as pleasing to the world as BP's oil slick!


Guns and butter

As of May 30, 2010, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan passed the one-trillion dollar threshold, according to the National Priorities Project:

To date, the total cost of war that has been allocated by Congress is $1.05 trillion, with $747.3 to Iraq and $299 to Afghanistan. The numbers include both military and non-military spending such as reconstruction. Spending includes only incremental costs, those additional funds that are expended due to the war. For example, soldiers' regular pay is not included but combat pay is included. Potential future costs, such as future medical care for soldiers and veterans wounded in the war, are not included. These numbers do not account for the wars being deficit-financed or that taxpayers will need to make additional interest payments on the national debt due to these deficits.

In other words, this estimate might be a soft and forgiving one since it includes just a part of the cost of these wars to date. And, as of this moment, these wars look to be interminable.

In related news, the Associated Press recently reported that:

Laid off workers would lose subsidies to help buy health insurance and states would be denied billions in federal aid under a plan by House leaders Thursday to trim a bill extending jobless benefits.

Democrats struggled to extend jobless benefits for people who have been out of work for long stretches as lawmakers worried about the growing budget deficit balked at the price tag of the package.

The cuts would reduce the package by about $31 billion, to about $112 billion. Business tax increases would pay for some of the bill, which would still add more than $50 billion to the deficit.

For the reader to consider this information in its proper context, she would need to consider the current unemployment rate. Shadow Stats pegs it at 22%.

As of April, the official rate has sat at 9.9%.

The bill, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010 (H.R.4213), did pass from the House to the Senate. However, as Donny Shaw notes in his comments on the bill:

But they [the House were] a day late. The Senate adjourned this afternoon and won't be back to vote on the bill until Monday, June 7. The current unemployment benefits extension that was approved by Congress in April is set to expire on June 2. According to the Department of Labor, more than 300,000 unemployed people will exhaust their current tier of benefits and be left without a lifeline by the time the Senate gets back to take up the bill.

So, the long-term unemployed were again made to wait on a Congress that could not enact clearly needed legislation and to pass it in a timely manner, that balked at the cost of the bill, cut its healthcare provisions and managed to ensure that the benefit-eligible unemployed must wait for the Senate to return from vacation before it votes on the bill.

* * * * * *

Fiscal conservatism has long been a part of America's Civil Religion — the prudent use of money and the keeping of a balanced ledger being parts of a single cardinal virtue since Colonial times. This ethos has been so deeply entrenched in the United States that its fiscal conservatives could even find a home within the "bastard Keynesian" (Joan Robinson) consensus which dominated economic policy throughout the postwar era. They were the keepers of the sound budget after the Second World War. They even had a place among the builders and maintainers of America's welfare state, including Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, the postwar Social Security system, Medicare and Medicaid. But bastard Keynesianism as a theory and practice crashed hard during the interregnum of the 1970s, which were given their economic identity by the Stagflation and Oil Shock episodes which marked the decade and beyond. Fiscal conservatism, though, survived the decade. The imperatives it sponsored intensified when they were coupled to the race and status resentments which defined the emerging reactionary right. Market fundamentalism quickly took bastard Keynesianism's place as America's guiding economic paradigm.

It should come as no surprise that today fiscal conservatism provides coverage for an eccentric and brutal form of capitalism. It most notably does not have a place for the reticent welfare state project which Johnson and, surprisingly, Richard Nixon pursued according to their inclinations and interests. This is the capitalism which grew from the grand political choice which defined the Right Turn among America's elite and the appearance of a reactionary core at the base of the Republican Party. This has been a predatory capitalism with a predatory state (Galbraith, 208, pp. 130-132), a system which could not tolerate the cross-class compromise that marked the New Deal. After it had taken the executive office in 1980, the right quickly and emphatically chose empire and war, finance capital and a declining standard of living. (One even could argue that Jimmy Carter had already selected these paths.) The victory of the right has meant that Uncle Sam would always spare a trillion or two to make mindless and vile war and accumulate ostentatious weapons while the coarser citizens of America would always have an opportunity to learn that only achieving would entail having.

It seems as though Reagan's baser instincts have been liberated by his successors as the years have passed.


Derrick Crowe affirms conclusions akin to mine:

One trillion dollars, gone. And we're just getting warmed up…there are trillions more in future direct and indirect costs coming.

These two wars mutilated our economy. There's no other way to say it. We've taken a huge amount of wealth and done things with it that damaged the economy. People are out of work and hurting today because we chose to launch two wars that aren't worth the cost.

Last updated on May 31, 2010 at 1:31PM

Property rights trump civil and political rights

Surprise, surprise, surprise…

Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland wrote:

When I tell Barbara [Martin, a BP flack] I am a reporter, she stalks off and says she's not talking to me, then comes back and hugs me and says she was just playing [when Martin told McClelland that BP owned the local police departments]. I tell her I don't understand why I can't see Elmer's Island unless I'm escorted by BP. She tells me BP's in charge because "it's BP's oil."

McClelland continues:

"But it's not BP's land."

"But BP's liable if anything happens."

"So you're saying it's a safety precaution."

"Yeah! You don't want that oil gettin' into your pores."

"But there are tourists and residents walking around in it across the street."


It’s back to the drawing board

The New York Times has reported that:

BP said Saturday that its latest attempt to stop the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was unsuccessful, and the effort, known as a "top kill," was being scrapped in favor of yet another maneuver to stem the flow spreading into the waters.


Toto tugs on the curtain

Dean Baker hopes to deprogram the credulous among us in his "Cult of the Subprime Central Bankers." He begins by stating that:

The world is suffering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The crisis has left tens of millions unemployed in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. The huge baby boomer generation in the United States, now on the edge of retirement, has seen much of its wealth destroyed with the collapse of the housing bubble.

It would be difficult to imagine a worse economic disaster. Prior periods of bad performance, like the inflation ridden seventies, look like mild flurries compared to the blizzard of bad economic news in which we are now enmeshed.

None of this is new. People don't need economists to tell them that times are bad. However, what the public may not recognize is that the same people who caused this disaster are still calling the shots. Specifically, there has been little change in personnel and no acknowledgment of error at the central banks whose incompetence was responsible for the crisis.

Remarkably, this crew of incompetents is still claiming papal infallibility, warning governments and the general public that bad things will happen if they are subjected to more oversight. Instead, the central bankers and their accomplices at the IMF are dictating policies to democratically elected governments. Their agenda seems to be the same everywhere, cut back retirement benefits, reduce public support for health care, weaken unions and make ordinary workers take pay cuts.

He continues:

It is important to be clear about the responsibility of the central bankers and the IMF for this totally preventable disaster. The first reason is accountability, something that is very important to economists who believe in economics. Economic theory teaches us that if workers are not held accountable for poor work, then they have no incentive to do their jobs well. If the central banker and IMF crew can mess up disastrously and continue to draw their paychecks as though everything is fine, what is their incentive to do better next time?

The other reason why it is important to recognize the responsibility of the central bankers and the IMF for this disaster is so that we don't continue to take advice from people who apparently don't have a clue. Before anyone listens to Ben Bernanke, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, or IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, they should first be forced to tell us when they stopped being wrong about the economy. We cannot afford to let these subprime central bankers control economic policy any longer.

One possible explanation which Baker does not discuss but which cannot be rule out as impossible or even highly improbable: These central bankers are succeeding because they are managing an economic system based upon elite predation, not social production that ensures social stability and collective well being.


Alan Grayson’s latest bill

His bill is entitled The War is Making You Poor Act (H.R. 5353). Grayson introduced H.R. 5353 on May 20, 2010. It was referred to the Ways and Means Committee and to the Armed Services Committee the same day. The purpose of the bill:

To reduce the $159.3 billion from the discretionary overseas contingency operations funds in the President's fiscal year 2011 budget for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (without preventing use of mandatory funds from the Department of Defense budget to execute the War on Terror), and amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide individuals a 'War is Making You Poor' tax credit against the savings attributable to the overseas contingency operations reduction.

The intent of the bill is clear both from its title and its introduction: It links war-making and thus war-spending to the taxes Americans pay. By connecting the dots, so to speak, Grayson and his co-sponsors mean to make America's empire and the imperial sorties it inspires a tangible reality for the common man and woman, one that they can experience directly. Currently, only America's veterans, their relatives and friends along with the institutions charged with serving their needs are aware only part of the human cost caused by these wars, albeit only in part. This points to the bill's didactic purpose. Its intended institutional effects are also clear: It means to eliminate taxes for the lowest brackets by forcing the Pentagon and its contractors to pay for these wars out of the Pentagon's budget and the guaranteed profits most defense contractors enjoy. Together, one may hope, both will place strong constraints on the President, Congress and the security-surveillance apparatus when it comes time to looting the fisc to prepare for or to actually make a war.


The following is a video of Grayson presenting his bill:

Last updated May 26, 2010 at 4:11PM


Sarah Palin is a western feminist?

Joan McCarter demolishes that trope here.


Ken Salazar rattles a saber

Salazar is Obama's Secretary of the Interior. The New York Times quotes Salazar as saying:

"I am angry and I am frustrated that BP has been unable to stop this oil from leaking and to stop the pollution from spreading," Salazar told reporters after visiting BP's U.S. headquarters in Houston.

"We are 33 days into this effort and deadline after deadline has been missed," Salazar added, referring to the failure of containment efforts attempted so far by London-based BP to control the gushing undersea well one mile down on the ocean floor.

Why is Salazar talking tough? The Times attributes his current line to the fact that:

President Barack Obama's administration is facing growing public and political pressure to take full charge of the oil spill containment operation as criticism against BP grows.

Quote of the day

It issues from LiberalHitGirl:

I didn't look today, did the free market clean up the oil yet?


Neoliberalism in action

While our President and his administration produce change we Americans can believe in, some of us — fishermen and women living in the Gulf region — are losing hope altogether (h/t): "The situation in the gulf is getting so dire for some in the seafood industry, they've thought about committing suicide. Steps to intervene are underway."

Kalecki on labor under capitalism

MRZine published online by Monthly Review now has a version of economist Michal Kalecki's great "Political Aspects of Full Employment" on its site. For me the highlight of the essay is this gem:

We have considered the political reasons for the opposition to the policy of creating employment by government spending. But even if this opposition were overcome — as it may well be under the pressure of the masses — the maintenance of full employment would cause social and political changes which would give a new impetus to the opposition of the business leaders. Indeed, under a regime of permanent full employment, the 'sack' would cease to play its role as a 'disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined, and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow. Strikes for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create political tension. It is true that profits would be higher under a regime of full employment than they are on the average under laissez-faire, and even the rise in wage rates resulting from the stronger bargaining power of the workers is less likely to reduce profits than to increase prices, and thus adversely affects only the rentier interests. But 'discipline in the factories' and 'political stability' are more appreciated than profits by business leaders. Their class instinct tells them that lasting full employment is unsound from their point of view, and that unemployment is an integral part of the 'normal' capitalist system.

I believe this short paragraph neatly captures the essence of America's post-golden age political development. Labor, youth, blacks — each would be brought to heel by a political alliance between capital and government that imposed market discipline on them.

Obama needs to get off his skinny ass…

…and fix the mess in the Gulf of Mexico, as Rayne writing for FireDogLake suggest:

It's been more than 30 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the well nearly a mile below on the sea floor began to erupt oil and methane, killing 11 of our fellow citizens and injuring even more both immediately and in the continuing damage which followed.

And nothing has happened of any consequence since then.

Oh, we've had a Category 5 hurricane of hot air, some decent questions from Congressional hearings, but zippo-zilch-nada in the way of an effective solution. (I pity the people of the Gulf who had to deal with another hurricane they couldn't escape.)

We had a big metal box set over the leak, not to stop it but to try to capture the oil. Anybody with the wherewithal to Google could predict this was going to fail because of the hydrates. They crystallize on contact with a solid surface in deepwaters below the average depth of the Continental Shelf.

And then we've had a tiny little pipsqueak of a hose nosed into the well pipe, which might as well have been a toothpick stuck in our mouths.

Now the White House is having a hissy behind closed doors with the media because dammitall, they can't stop asking questions about the spill. Oh that'll work, that'll make a difference; the biggest environmental disaster our country has experienced will go away if only the media shuts up about it.

Screw that. This has been nothing but a corporate-induced environmental and socio-biological experiment perpetuated on our commons without our consent, and the American public doesn't take well to experimentation without debate in advance. Witness our slow-moving policy on stem cell research, for example. We don't frigging like it.

She follows this invective by enumerating the steps the Obama Administration should if it intended to address this crisis with the seriousness it demands. Her article is must reading for those concerned about the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the political disaster in Washington.


The times they are a changing…

Writing for that normally hyperbolic anarcho-syndicalist rag the Financial Times, the historian Simon Schama takes stock of the moment:

Far be it for me to make a dicey situation dicier but you can't smell the sulphur in the air right now and not think we might be on the threshold of an age of rage. The Spanish unions have postponed a general strike; the bloody barricades and the red shirts might have been in Bangkok not Berlin; and, for the moment, the British coalition leaders sit side by side on the front bench like honeymooners canoodling on the porch; but in Europe and America there is a distinct possibility of a long hot summer of social umbrage [emphasis added].

So we face a tinderbox moment: a test of the strength of democratic institutions in a time of extreme fiscal stress.

Schama is hardly complacent. He believes popular rage and distrust could threaten Europe's political project:

On the one hand, we should be glad that the mobilisation of public energy in elections can channel mass unhappiness into change. That is what we must believe could yet happen in Britain. Elsewhere the outlook is more forbidding. In the sinkhole that is the eurozone, animus is directed at unelected bodies — the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — and is bound to build on itself. Those on the receiving end of punitive corrections — in public sector wages or retrenched social institutions — will lash out at their remote masters. Those in the richer north, obliged to subsidise what they take to be the fecklessness of the Latins, will come to see not just the single currency but the European project as an historic error and will pine for the mark or franc. Chauvinist movements will be reborn, directed at immigrants and Brussels diktats, with more destructive fury than we have seen since the war.

To be sure, rampant internal political animosity — if not war per se — would terminate any Euro-wide political project. A democracy deficit seems to be one cause of the danger at hand.

Schama's take on the United States is less certain in general but ominous nevertheless:

The same kind of pre-lapsarian romanticism targeted at an elitist federal authority is raging through the US like a fever. The best way to understand the Tea Party, which has just scored its first victory with the libertarian Rand Paul defeating the choice of the official Republican party, is to see it as akin to the Great Awakenings and the Populist furies of the end of the 19th century. There are calls to abolish the Federal Reserve or in some cases Social Security, fuelled by the conspiratorial belief that it was an excess, not a deficit, of government regulation that brought on the financial meltdown. Claims that Washington has been captured for socialism are preached on rightwing talk radio as gospel truth. As they did in the 1930s with Father Coughlin, the radio demonisers are pitch-perfect orchestrators of hatred for listeners in bewildered economic distress.

Against this tide, facts are feeble. When Senate Republicans succeed in briefly blocking financial regulation by representing it as an infringement on liberty rather than as a measure minimally needed for the security of the commonwealth, you know the truth needs help from the Presidential Communicator-in-Chief. He is back on the stump, but as with the case for healthcare reform, his efforts are belated and cramped by misplaced obligations of civility. But if his government is to survive the November elections with a shred of authority, it will need Barack Obama to be more than a head tutor. It will need him to be a warrior of the word every bit as combative as the army of the righteous that believes it has the constitution on its side, and in its inchoate thrashings can yet bring down the governance of the American Republic.

It is clear to some Americans, but not to the elitist Schama, that Obama intentionally broadly complies with the forces of reaction in the United States, is a fiscally conservative agent of the predatory fractions of American capital (the much despised FIRE sector), a dedicated leader and defender of the security-surveillance state in its most Kafkaesque form and, more importantly, a crisis manager of some skill. Given these qualities, it would be unrealistic, at best, to expect Obama to come to the aid of the commoner. Obama is not a man for all seasons but, rather, a man of his times, possessing the impulses of his peers and the goals of the American system as he found it. Although his considerable rhetorical skills might have gotten him elected to the Presidency, they may eventually prove deficient if Americans were to recognize the intentions of his administration and the social forces it represents. Hope elicited and then defeated can lead to resignation or to an explosive outburst buy those defeated by a country's normal politics. This situation is America's tinderbox, and it presently stands populated by arsonists, witless match lighters and deluded opportunists. We can thus anticipate an explosion even if we cannot rationally forecast its occurrence. Yves Smith concurs:

Having weakened faith in government and made considerable progress towards creating a social Darwinist paradise of isolated individuals pitted against each other, the oligarchs may be about to harvest a whirlwind.


If a powerful left movement were harassing Washington…

…Obama would declare a state of emergency

Luckily we need not worry about an Obama emergency regime. The left in America threatens no one. As David Sirota observes:

I'm always amused by popular references to the allegedly all-powerful American "left." The term suggests that progressives today possess the same kind of robust, ideologically driven political apparatus as the right — a machine putting principles before party affiliation.

This notion is hilarious because it is so absurd.

Yes, there are certainly well-funded groups in Washington that call themselves "progressive," that get media billing as "the left," and that purport to advocate liberal causes regardless of party. But unlike the right's network, which has sometimes ideologically opposed Republicans on court nominations and legislation, many "progressive" institutions are not principled at all — sadly, lots of them are just propagandists for Democrats, regardless of what Democrats do.

Everyone in professional "left" politics knows this reality "deep down in places they don't talk about at parties," as Jack Nicholson might say — and they don't discuss it for fear of jeopardizing their employers' nonprofit tax status or undermining their employers' dishonest fundraising appeals to liberal donors' ideals.

During the Bush years, this truth was easily obscured, as bashing the Republican president for trampling progressive initiatives was equivalent to aiding Democrats. But in the Obama era, the "the left's" destructive, party-over-principles motivation has become impossible to hide, especially recently.

It may still be a Nader Moment in America (see this, this and this), but the country, with the help of its progressives, elected Barak Obama to be its President. Sirota understands what this election means.

Pissing the night away…

Live, from the Gulf of Mexico

Webcam chat at Ustream


News from Pennsylvania

Joe Sestak, a former Navy Vice Admiral, Clinton National Security Council Director and current House member, will face Pat Toomey this fall in the contest to elect Pennsylvania's next junior Senator. The immediate significance of Sestak's victory is obvious. He beat a well-known and -connected six-term Senator in yesterday's primary. His opponent is the clue to understanding the election. Taken together they provide another data point supporting the claim that, as Glenn Greenwald stated, "…the electorate has contempt for Washington incumbents and the political establishment."

Only Washington and much of the punditocracy focused on the city finds this situation puzzling, according to Greenwald.

Sestak earned the right to face Toomey by crushing Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. Specter's defeat was so decisive and unexpected that Mike Madden could later quip that "[t]he Arlen Specter era ended with more of a whimper than a bang…." And so it was as Sestak gained 54% of the nearly 1.05 million votes cast. More important still is the fact that Sestak's victory can be counted as a partial defeat for the opportunistic Obama White House and the party operatives aligned with it. Obama had backed Specter's reelection bid after Specter had bolted the Republican Party (when he knew he would face another strong Toomey insurgency in the primary). They made this choice even though they knew that Specter would be 80 in November, had switched parties because of his opportunism and would not embrace the President's line if Obama's position did not suit him.

Despite Obama's support for Specter, Sestak should prove to be a better Democratic Senator than his predecessor, and this support would please the President if Sestak wins in November. We can expect this support from Sestak given his voting record as a member of the House along with his commitment to his Party and to Israel. My prediction about a Senator Sestak, reticent as it may be, gives us a glimpse at the silver lining for Obama hidden within the dark cloud produced by Specter's loss. A Senator Sestak will be a consistent partisan. He will not cross the aisle and he will not move to the left of the Obama administration. He will carry the water for his Party without carrying the enormous baggage that would always curse Arlen Specter had the incumbent managed to win another term. Sestak's victory is a hidden and unexpected victory for the Democratic Party.

Naturally, Sestak must defeat Toomey this fall if he is to make good on this hidden potential, a result that's far from certain given the dismay Obama's tenure in office has elicited from the hopeful voters who elected him President. The anti-incumbent mood of the day issues from a popular wish to punish Washington for being Washington, for being a servant of finance capital, for waging expensive and unpopular wars, for taxing the comparatively weak and numerous without also returning much of value for this expense, for aping the morality of Versailles, for being an enemy of hope. Americans are disgusted with both parties. But their anti-government sentiment finds a more obvious target in the Party in power. Sestak will have to work for a victory.

Sestak, if he is a savvy politician and if the public's mood remains sour, may prefer Obama to keep his distance during the fall campaign!


Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake draws a different conclusion from yesterday's primaries. Hamsher believes that:

The message being sent by the public could not be clearer. It's not so much an anti-incumbent sentiment as it is anti-Senate. People are tired of their arrogance, their sense of personal privilege, the way they completely dismiss the House and demand they swallow whatever Joe Lieberman wants. Over and over again, the Senate plays a game of "rotating villains" then manipulates their rules so that their big business contributors always win.

I might agree with Hamsher's position on the Senate if Congress as a whole had favorable polling numbers (it does not) and if I knew of a rational reason to believe that the Senate alone caused Congress' dismal approval ratings. But I know of no reason to believe that the Senate is the sole source of America's disdain for Congress. That said, it is still true that the Senate along with America's generic and oppressive (two-) party system and the Fifth Article of the Constitution effectively constrain citizen control of their government. Each must change for the better if popular democracy is to flourish in the United States.

Update II

The New York Times reports that Obama team made a new friend in a Washington minute:

Shortly after Representative Joe Sestak won an improbable victory Tuesday over Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary, President Obama called Mr. Sestak to congratulate him. The president pledged his full support, aides said later, and offered to campaign for him in the fall — if Mr. Sestak believes it will help.

Nothing makes friends like winning. It was not long ago, Mr. Sestak said Wednesday in an interview, that White House officials were so eager to muscle him from the race that they offered him a job if he would drop out.

Mr. Sestak remains mum on the details, except to say that it was a high-ranking post — secretary of the Navy has been mentioned as a possibility — and that it happened last summer. The White House, which had backed Mr. Specter, has denied the assertion.

A politiker's maxim: Befriend your opponents if you can't beat, intimidate or buy them off.

Last updated on May 20 at 12:40AM


Noam Chomsky — persona non grata in Israel

The Associated Press reports:

An Israeli official says academic and polemicist Noam Chomsky, who is a fierce critic of Israel, has been denied entry to the country.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Chomsky was turned away for "various reasons" but declined to elaborate. Chomsky was trying to cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. He was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.

Haddad said her ministry was looking into allowing him to enter only the West Bank.

Chomsky told Channel 10 TV from Jordan Sunday: "I've often spoken at Israeli universities."


The security-surveillance apparatus running amok

Glenn Greenwald points out that:

It really is the case that every new Terrorist incident reflexively produces a single-minded focus on one question: which rights should we take away now/which new powers should we give the Government? We never reach the point where we decide that we have already retracted enough rights. Further restrictions on rights seems to be the only reaction of which our political and media class is capable in the face of a new attack. The premise seems to be that if we keep limiting rights further and further, we'll eventually reach the magical point of Absolute Safety where there will be no more Terrorism. For so many reasons, that is an obvious myth, one that ensures that we'll reduce rights infinitely and with no discernible benefit. We're not the target of Terrorist attacks because we have too many rights; we're the target because of our own actions, ones that we never reconsider in light of new attacks because we're too busy figuring out which rights to erode next.


The White House goes to the mats

Party discipline in action

Sam Stein of Huffington Post reports that:

In the hours following the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the predominant feature of the debate has been the swift, campaign-like operation of Washington's Democratic establishment.

Since President Obama introduced his Solicitor General as the choice to replace retired Justice John Paul Stevens, national airwaves and DC inboxes have been littered with a steady stream of material from Kagan backers. One party official compared it (favorably) to a presidential campaign war room, with caffeine-aided staffers shooting out "rapid response" messages to Republican attacks and driving narratives either supportive of Kagan or mocking of the GOP.

It has been by design. At the White House, a team of aides overseen by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and run out of the office of the President's Counsel had already outlined many of the key arguments they want to dominate the Kagan conversation: her eminent scholarly qualifications, her consensus-driven leadership qualities, and her bipartisan support. The team includes Ron Klain and Cynthia Hogan on the Vice President's staff, Susan Davies (an Associate Counsel to the President) and press officials Josh Earnest, Jesse Lee and Ben LaBolt — all of whom pitched stories and monitored media throughout the day.

At the Democratic National Committee, the campaign atmosphere was even more robust.

And so on….


Some folk are just plain lucky…

With his tongue in his cheek, Lambert of Corrente asks:

126 riggers were on the Deepwater Horizon when it blew; 11 died. 7 BP executives were also on the rig; all lived. WaPo interviewed riggers on Friday; AP interviewed riggers today. Neither AP nor WaPo explains how the executives escaped the rig; nor does NOLA's Times-Picayune.

Yet surely it's important to know why all the executives lived, even though eleven workers died? If only so the same procedures that the executives followed can be generalized to make the odds better for everyone?

Obama remains true to his principles

Glenn Greenwald's gloss on Barak Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan for John Paul Stevens' Supreme Court seat:

It's anything but surprising that President Obama has chosen Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Nothing is a better fit for this White House than a blank slate, institution-loyal, seemingly principle-free careerist who spent the last 15 months as the Obama administration's lawyer vigorously defending every one of his assertions of extremely broad executive authority. The Obama administration is filled to the brim with exactly such individuals — as is reflected by its actions and policies — and this is just one more to add to the pile. The fact that she'll be replacing someone like John Paul Stevens and likely sitting on the Supreme Court for the next three decades or so makes it much more consequential than most, but it is not a departure from the standard Obama approach.

Marjorie Cohn concurs:

Elena Kagan, Obama's choice to replace Justice Stevens, has never been a judge. But she has been a loyal foot soldier in Obama's fight against terrorism and there is little reason to believe that she will not continue to do so. During her confirmation hearing for solicitor general, Kagan agreed with Senator Lindsey Graham that the president can hold suspected terrorists indefinitely during wartime, and the entire world is a battlefield. While Bush was shredding the Constitution with his unprecedented assertions of executive power, law professors throughout the country voiced strong objections. Kagan remained silent.

Erwin Chemerinsky likewise:

No one is surprised that Elena Kagan is President Obama's pick to replace Justice John Paul Stevens. Like Sonia Sotomayor last year, she is someone sure to be confirmed by the Senate and will require little of the president's political capital. Kagan is impeccably qualified. Unlike other recent nominees, she has a small paper trail. She's never been a judge, so there are no prior opinions to scrutinize. She's written only five major law review articles, and none are controversial.

On the other hand, that is the risk in Obama's selection of Kagan: no one is sure of her views on key issues.

The SCOTUS blog provides its readers with its Kagan research.

And the New York Times provides us with one odd tidbit:

If the Senate confirms Ms. Kagan, who is Jewish, the Supreme Court for the first time will have no Protestant members. In that case, the court would be composed of six justices who are Catholic and three who are Jewish. It also would mean that every member of the court had studied law at Harvard or Yale.

Surely Know Nothing stalwarts are turning in their graves with this prospect looming over their native land.

Anyway, chalk up another thrilling victory for Team Obama.


This quote comes from the White House press release for the Kagan nomination:

The President has always viewed nominating new Justices to the Supreme Court as one of his most important responsibilities, and his nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan reflects the results of a careful and thorough search across America's exceptional pool of legal talent.

Widely regarded as one of the nation's leading legal minds, Solicitor General Elena Kagan has forged a path-breaking career in the law and in government service, distinguishing herself throughout by her penetrating intellect, unwavering integrity, sound judgment and prodigious work ethic.

Kagan is one of America's "leading legal minds"? But I thought Kagan lacked a credible body of legal scholarship…

Last updated on May 10, 2010 at 12:11 PM


Quote of the day

This one comes from Alexander Cockburn:

One of the more piquant spectacles in politics today is the somewhat nervous emergence of Obama as hammer of the robber barons.


More bad news from the Gulf of Mexico

Living through America's Chernobyl moment

How dangerous is the BP disaster? After cogently describing the problems posed by the disaster, a collection of derivative calamities which include a growing and unstoppable oil slick polluting the oceans around the world, James Moore concludes:

Anyone who thinks this tragedy is not going to result in massive kills of marine life is either blind, ignorant, or in denial. The one scenario that we all refuse to confront is the possibility that it is beyond our capabilities to stop this undersea blast of oil. If that is the case, the flow continues until the pressure eases, which might be years. How much ecological injury will that cause our planet?

Nobody knows.

An arrest in the New York terrorist bombing

The New York Times provides the details:

A naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan who lives in Connecticut was pulled off a jet bound for Dubai at Kennedy Airport just before midnight on Monday and arrested for driving a car bomb into Times Square, in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attack, Justice Department officials announced.

The man, Faisal Shahzad, 30, was taken into custody at Kennedy Airport aboard an Emirates flight to Dubai along with three other men, one of whom was believed to be his roommate, according to a law enforcement official. The pair had apparently driven to the airport in a white Isuzu Trooper that was found in a parking lot with a handgun inside, the official said.

Four dead in Ohio

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the Kent State Massacre. A state terrorist event, the Kent State victims were shot while protesting the Cambodian invasion authorized by President Richard Nixon or while lucklessly finding themselves in the neighborhood of the crime. Student antiwar protests followed the Massacre and the event solidified civilian opposition to the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration treated the Massacre as a warning signal which dissidents ought to heed.

The somewhat obscure Jackson State Massacre would take place a mere ten days after the Kent State Massacre. Two died and twelve were injured. Jackson State College was a historically black institution in Jackson, Mississippi.


Sometimes it’s hard to tell…

…whether Alan Greenspan is a moral idiot or just an idiot. Perhaps he is just so arrogant that the two forms of idiocy congeal into one reality-challenged character disorder. Consider Ryan Grim's Huffington Post report based on newly released Federal Open Market Committee meeting transcripts from 2004:

As top Federal Reserve officials debated whether there was a housing bubble and what to do about it, then-Chairman Alan Greenspan argued that the dissent should be kept secret so that the Fed wouldn't lose control of the debate to people less well-informed than themselves.

"We run the risk, by laying out the pros and cons of a particular argument, of inducing people to join in on the debate, and in this regard it is possible to lose control of a process that only we fully understand," Greenspan said, according to the transcripts of a March 2004 meeting.

Why is public accessibility to these debates important? Greenspan provides a strong clue:

I must admit that I didn't think about some of these issues [regarding publicity and access to information] until I saw the comments others made, but I'm a little concerned about other people getting into the debate when they know far less than we do. I don't know what [Assistant Secretary of the Treasury] Michelle [Smith] has to say on this but my impression is that, if we go in that direction, we may find ourselves coming to a conclusion that is not based on our best judgment. She's nodding in agreement.

In other words, publicity or transparency about this decision was thought to pose a threat to the autocratic character of the Federal Reserve. Why would these financiers and their experts believe this? They might believe it because it is true, for one thing! Publicity does threaten the autocratic isolation of the Federal Reserve, as it does to any authoritarian institution.

More importantly, just look where the lack of publicity and thus accountability got the country and the world: Financial Hell. Thus the compelling issue raised by the minutes. As the Huffington Post suggests:

The release of the transcripts comes at a bad time politically for the Federal Reserve, as it works to prevent Congress from authorizing the Government Accountability Office to audit the central bank.

The audit language has already passed the House, despite White House and Fed opposition, and a Senate amendment by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is gaining momentum, cosponsored as of Monday morning by ten Republicans and five Democrats.

But the Fed also benefits from the timing. "Transcripts of meetings for an entire year are released to the public with a five-year lag," according the Fed's own policy. Had the transcripts been released on time, they could have influenced the confirmation of Ben Bernanke for a second term as chairman. Meanwhile, the Fed policy of releasing a full year at once deprives the public of transcripts from the first four months of 2005, which are now five years old.

What would Forest and Bubba do?

Quote of the day

From a recent digby article that discusses Arizona's reactionary immigration law:

The American Dream has been patented for use only by Real Americans, I'm afraid. But immigrants shouldn't feel slighted. According to the right wing anyone who doesn't vote Republican is "foreign" too.

Our reactionaries, it seems, believe that the set of all real Americans, when measured by the number of individuals it contains, is smaller than the set of all American citizens and much smaller than the set of all individuals who reside within the boundaries of the United States. Now, let us suppose that 100M of us are Real Americans. (I know I'm not a real American, not that that admission amounts to much.) And let us next consider the possibility that these real Americans might someday make a claim on the government to purify the country they love by cleansing it of every non-American living within its boundaries. If the federal government were to meet their demand, it could do so only by expelling, jailing, killing, etc. over 200M individuals (I base my crude arithmetic on the Census estimate of July 2009). An obvious question follows from these considerations. Would this purification project not be a human catastrophe so immense that would surpass the aggregate suffering generated by the Second World War?

Real Americans for genocidal cleansing….

British Petroleum cares

Yes, it does care. It cares deeply about its bottom line. As the Globe and Mail reports (link courtesy of FDL):

British Petroleum has withdrawn one of its waiver forms after fishermen in Venice, a town bracing for the arrival of an oil slick from the company's leaking rig, complained BP was trying to "pull the wool over our eyes" by asking them to sign away all rights to sue.

The waiver form was distributed Saturday at a Venice public school, where the company was offering a health and safety class for locals whom it says it will hire. Though a spokeswoman said the company does not yet know exactly what positions it's hiring for, it was accepting applications and, with them, the signed waivers.

The form reads: "I hearby agree on behalf of myself and my representatives, to hold harmless and indemnify, and to release, waive, and forever discharge BP Exploration and Production Inc., its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, regular employees and independent contractors …"

The Times Square bomber spotted?

The New York Times reports:

The surveillance video shows an unidentified white man apparently in his 40s slipping down an alley and taking off a shirt, revealing another underneath. In the same clip, he's seen looking back in the direction of the smoking vehicle and furtively putting the first shirt in a bag, Kelly said.

The New York Police Department has released surveillance video:

The motive for the attack remains unclear.


More bad news from the Gulf

The Associated Press reports that "[s]cientists fear if the oil spill isn't contained and the underwater well continues to spew unstopped, it could grow so large that it may be sucked with the currents around the Florida Keys and up the East Coast."

Gee, the oil slick might even destroy blue crab fishing in the Chesapeake Bay region. How horrible. So horrible, in fact, that a potential blue crab disaster might prove to be too much for the insiders living in the Washington metro area, thus forcing them to act intelligently on the issues raised by the Gulf disaster. Still, I will not risk holding my breath waiting for Washington to make an intelligent decision. Such a decision is so unlike our political caste.

The Gulf oil disaster timeline

Courtesy of Talking Points Memo.

Terror returns to NYC

Manhattan suffered a failed terrorist attack yesterday evening, according to news reports (this, this, this, this and this). The attack began around 6:00 PM. According to the New York Times' report:

A crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks was discovered in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on Sunday the authorities were still seeking a suspect and motive.

A large swath of Midtown — from 43rd Street to 48th Street, and from Sixth to Eighth Avenues — was closed for much of the evening after the Pathfinder was discovered just off Broadway on 45th Street. Several theaters and stores, as well as the South Tower of the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated.

At this time no one has taken credit for the attack and there are no suspects.

Finally, Mayor Bloomberg disgraced himself by proclaiming:

"Terrorists around the world who feel threatened by the freedoms that we have always focus on those symbols of freedoms and that is New York City," said Bloomberg, who had been in Washington D.C. attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.


The most recent New York Times report informs us that the:

Federal authorities have joined the search for a suspect who planted a crude car bomb of propane, gasoline and fireworks in a smoking Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square on Saturday evening, prompting the evacuation of thousands of tourists and theatergoers on a warm and busy night. Although the device had apparently started to detonate, there was no explosion, and early on Sunday the authorities were reviewing surveillance tapes and forensic evidence as they sought out a motive.

Federal authorities said the incident appeared to be an isolated one, and that there was no evidence of an ongoing threat to the city.

"We are treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack," Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, told CNN, one of several television appearances she made on Sunday morning.

The bomb itself was not a sophisticated device, Ms. Napolitano said on ABC's "This Week." She said there was no clear sense about how large the explosion might have been. "Right now, we have no evidence other than it is a one-off," she said.

Last updated on May 2 at 12:35 PM


Drill, baby, drill

As Louisiana faces another catastrophe, one that is wholly the product of human hands, an always courageous Sarah Palin publicly defends off-shore drilling:

We've all been shocked and saddened by the tragic events in the Gulf of Mexico. My heart breaks for coastal residents who are facing fears of the unknown impacts of the oil spill.

As an Alaskan, I can speak from the heart about the tragedy of an oil spill. For as long as I live, I will never forget the day the Exxon-Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and millions of gallons of North Slope crude poured into the waters of our beautiful Prince William Sound. The spill was devastating to so many Alaskans who, like my own family, make their living on the water from our commercial fishing industry. "Heartbreaking" was the word my husband Todd, an Alaska Native and trained oil spill responder, used to describe the scene as we watched it unfold on land and water that we feel is sacred.

Alaskans understand the tragedy of an oil spill, and we've taken steps to do all we can to prevent another Exxon tragedy, but we are still pro-development. We still believe in responsible development, which includes drilling to extract energy sources, because we know that there is an inherent link between energy and security, energy and prosperity, and energy and freedom. Production of our own resources means security for America and opportunities for American workers. We need oil, and if we don't drill for it here, we have to purchase it from countries that not only do not like America and can use energy purchases as a weapon against us, but also do not have the oversight that America has.

Is Palin suggesting that British Petroleum engaged in responsible drilling? that the American federal government ensures adequate environmental oversight in the drilling sites it governs? that the residents of the Gulf were made secure by the oil industry located in their region? and that they will remain secure after the initial phase of the disaster concludes?

Do any of these questions matter, as Palin sees the issue? It looks like they do not:

All responsible energy development must be accompanied by strict oversight, but even with the strictest oversight in the world, accidents still happen. No human endeavor is ever without risk — whether it's sending a man to the moon or extracting the necessary resources to fuel our civilization. I repeat the slogan "drill here, drill now" not out of naiveté or disregard for the tragic consequences of oil spills — my family and my state and I know firsthand those consequences. How could I still believe in drilling America's domestic supply of energy after having seen the devastation of the Exxon-Valdez spill? I continue to believe in it because increased domestic oil production will make us a more secure, prosperous, and peaceful nation.

It's all for the best except for those unfortunate people who live along the Gulf Coasts. For one thing, they will have the opportunity to observe the responsible folk wielding authority over the matter set ablaze one of the world's greatest natural environments so that they can practically minimize the damage the slick causes to the region as a whole. This effort will not be without perverse effects. Gulf residents can expect polluted water, foul air, decimated shorelines and much else. Yet these effects, bad as they might be, will only prove a lesser harm than the one produced by doing nothing but stopping the oil at its source. In any case, the people of the Gulf will likely have the opportunity to prepare for the next oil disaster since oil drilling in their neighborhood will not stop because it is risky and because we all know accidents will happen, as Palin points out. Their prosperity, security and peace may suffer for it, but the rest of the country will enjoy the benefits which oil provides to those with the right technology and access to the stuff. Of course, these benefits will seem like a witless diversion once the ecological crisis goes global and becomes decisive.

Obama’s Katrina moment?

The oil leak catastrophe in the Gulf

While internal debate continues over the efficacy of setting the Gulf of Mexico afire in order to destroy the oil slick which now threatens the region, local and federal government officials made a public show of their solidarity with British Petroleum officials. This incident prompted Bill Quigley to wonder:

Why then would federal and state officials hold a joint press conference with BP, given the multinational corporation's role in the unfolding disaster? Perhaps the reason was hinted at by a comment from the Secretary of the Interior in which he cautioned that the U.S. depends heavily on oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though the White House protested that the oil spill is not President Obama's Katrina, a public partnership between the perpetrator BP and the government certainly has the potential to become a "Katrina moment."

In other words, a disaster of this magnitude will not deter Obama and his people from pursuing their corporatist agenda.

Louisiana must now prepare to weather another preventable catastrophe.

Show us your papers

As Bill Quigley rightly points out:

While people protest the terrible Arizona state law that uses local law enforcement to target immigrants, the federal government is expanding its efforts to use local law enforcement in immigration enforcement and has launched a major PR campaign to defend it.

Why is Quigley right to point to the federal government's efforts in this matter? Consider:

One example of the out-of-control federal program occurred last week in Maryland. Florinda Lorenzo-Desimilian, a 26 year old married mother of three, lives in Prince George's County Maryland. Last week she was arrested in her home by local police on a misdemeanor charge of selling $2 phone cards out of her apartment window without a license. Ms. Lorenzo-Desimilian was booked at the county jail. During booking, she was fingerprinted. Local police sent her prints to the FBI who in turn notified ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that she had overstayed her work visa. Even though her three children are U.S. citizens, ICE kept her in jail for two days and is now trying to deport her. This is the result of a federal ICE and Homeland Security program called "Secure Communities" which is supposed to be targeting violent criminals. Instead, the program is really operating a dragnet scooping up and deporting tens of thousands of immigrants, like Ms. Lorenzo-Desimilian, who are no security risk to anyone.

Congress provided funding to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 to "identify aliens convicted of a crime, sentenced to imprisonment, who may be deportable, and remove them from the US once they are judged deportable." ICE says this program "supports public safety by strengthening efforts to identify and remove the most dangerous criminal aliens from the United States." However, ICE is not actually targeting convicted criminal aliens, dangerous aliens, or even violent aliens. They are targeting everyone.

ICE, through Secure Communities contracts with local law enforcement offices, runs every accused person's fingerprints through multiple databases regardless how minor the charges. Thus, people like Ms. Lorenzo-Desimilian are subject to ICE investigation, detention and deportation.

America's security fetish points to a dictatorship to come. Labeling a program of this kind a police state operation is to us a cliché as the program's identifying mark. Yet, what else could it be but a police state operation?