Glenn Beck’s Site Takes on O’Keefe Video Accuracy

In some sort of strange reversal of normality, the first group that seems to have really dug into the NPR “sting” video in any detail appears to be The Blaze. The Blaze is a conservative website, which you can tell because every headline is in all-caps (seriously, Righties, why do this?). Although not agreeing with Ron Schiller’s statements, the writer of this piece shows very clearly that some of the statements are taken so far out of context that it boggles the mind. One example -he replies to a statement that isn’t shown in the edited video, but it makes it look as though he’s countering a completely different statement.

It’s really quite interesting and a good piece of investigative journalism. Schiller was still obviously unwise in making some of the statements he did to these near-strangers, but in context it appears to be yet another James O’Keefe cut-and-paste mess. That guy makes Mike Moore look like an honest videographer.

NPR Sting

James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart have no credibility whatsoever, after their various misdeeds of the past few years. In case they’ve completely escaped you, these stunts include “fake pimp going to ACORN offices,” which revealed nothing untoward within the organization and were nearly completely fictionalized after editing; “Shirley Sherrod is a racist” video, which was so deceptively edited that it showed the exact opposite of reality; and of course, attempting to illegally bug a Senator’s office. By this time, if you see O’Keefe or Breitbart mentioned in any sort of journalistic story, you would be justified in assuming there is no truth to it at all.

With that being said, how in the hell could this be any worse for NPR? NPR marketing droid Ron Schiller tells fake Muslims that the GOP and Tea Party are racists and entirely owned by the evangelical movement, as well as saying that NPR would be better off without federal money. Obviously, I believe his opinions have some validity – the current GOP has been in thrall to the Religious Right for decades, some in the Tea Party have a significant xenophobic streak, and NPR’s begging means they end up beholden to whichever way the political winds blow. But, I can say those things in public or in private because I have no authority or power in any significant way. A senior NPR executive should just shut the fuck up when dealing with near-strangers. It doesn’t help Schiller’s appearance much that he left NPR last week for another job. That may be true, but it sure does look like he’s running away and giving NPR deniability.

I’m very curious how this will end up playing out. There seems to be more than enough stupid to go around on both sides.

Egypt

Hosni Mubarak has run unopposed in all but one “election” due to the Egyptian constitution making any other candidates ineligible. Finally, after 24 years in office, he permitted a multi-candidate election in 2005. During that election, there was widespread election fraud and intimidation by Mubarak, abetted by the state-run media being completely filled with pro-Mubarak propaganda. After the election, the runner-up (and possibly the actual winner if a real count could have been taken) was arrested and imprisoned for the next four years. Egypt has been operating under emergency law that suspends most of the constitution since 1967, under the guise of protecting the people from terrorists. Under that emergency law, the government can imprison people for essentially no reason for any length of time, parliamentary elections are suspended, and assets can be seized on the word of the President with no recourse.

And VP Biden says Mubarak is not a dictator. Right. Biden’s just jealous.

Stimulus Disappointment


Back in January 2009, right after the inauguration, I posted a quick summary of views from economists about the expected effect of the stimulus.  The stimulus was expected to be about 20% bigger than it ended up, but the basic gist was that doing nothing would mean high unemployment rates (9%) through 2010, and beginning to drop in 2011, finally returning to historical norms by 2014.  Enacting the stimulus as it was planned was expected to lead to unemployment rates peaking at 8% in mid-2009, and dropping steadily through 2013.  The recovery plan was supposed to lessen the worst and shorten the duration of the employment loss.

In January of 2010, I posted the followup, which was cautiously optimistic, while pointing out that unemployment was actually at 10%, but did appear to be declining slightly.  Sadly, this trend was not borne out by the end of 2010.  Here we are, over two years after the Bush administration began the economic recovery plan, nearly two years since the Obama administration compromised its way to a smaller stimulus devoted largely to shoring up banks with no guarantees of lending to actual citizens, and it seems the results are actually worse than what was expected from doing nothing at all.  That’s just sad.

Here’s the latest unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I sincerely hope you’re not one of the 10%.  Happy New Year.

Never Served in the Military

John McCain mentioned this weekend that most of the people on talk shows have never served in the military.  He said this in the context of condemning them for being out of touch with the needs of the military vis a vis Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It made me curious.  What talk show hosts, if any, have served in the military?  I wandered through a truly stupendous number of reference articles and was completely unsurprised to find that the only current talk show host veteran is Regis Philbin, who was in the Navy.  Montel Williams, although not currently on television, had the most interesting military career – he was an enlisted Marine and went to Annapolis to become a Navy officer, eventually learning Russian at DLI and serving on submarines.  The only other surprise (because I was not at all surprised that Rush Limbaugh got a draft deferrment from Vietnam) was that Anderson Cooper spent a couple summers as an intern at the CIA.  Not military service, but did you know that Anderson Cooper worked for the intelligence community, even part-time?  Weird.

Senator McCain is correct that the talk shows are populated by people who have never served in the military.  But, they don’t make decisions about the military – Congress does.  I find it much more illustrative that 75% of the members of both houses are non-veterans.  Chickenhawks and bleeding hearts alike – odds are that they didn’t serve a day before spouting about what is best for the military.  As someone who generally finds the current GOP reprehensible, it annoys me further that only one of the freshman class of Democratic Senators is a vet, and none of the freshman Representatives.  Have liberal veterans simply given up on elected office?  One more data point added to my tally of “Reasons the Democratic Party is Spineless.”

How To Get Blocked by the USAF

I understand the USAF’s web filters must be working overtime right now, as they attempt to keep the “disclosed but still classified” documents from Wikileaks away from anyone in the military, while they remain available to everyone else on the planet.  Just nod and smile.  What I find particularly amusing is that there seems to be one way to ensure any arbitrary URL is blocked: add the word “wikileaks” to the path. I open up a news site and some of the images are red Xs – they are all named some variant of xxahbr-wikileaks.jpg or something similar.  There are articles in mainstream websites which are not available, even though other articles on the same site are – the articles which are blocked all have “wikileaks” in the URL somewhere.  I can’t even get to the Wikipedia article about Wikileaks, while I can otherwise wander Wikipedia with impunity.  It’s bizarre, and entertaining, and yet… A Fox News article my boss emailed me the other day, pointing out the USAF blocking which the USAF has not seen fit to tell us about – that article I could access, even though it had the offending term in its URL.  I guess Fox News is on the USAF’s “always trust” list, while CBS isn’t.  Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Taxes

Repeat after me: “Taxes are lower than ever before in this generation. We are NOT being overtaxed.”

It’s interesting that we’re shifting the tax burden to employment taxes rather than income taxes, and we’ve completely gutted the wealth taxes. But, we must ensure that the uberwealthy get an extra 100,000 dollars in tax relief, rather than the mere $4000 they would have without this capitulation. Remember, even without an extension of the tax cuts for income above $250,000 – everyone was set to have lower income taxes than before the “temporary” cuts of 2002. Marginal tax rates are not effective tax rates. Oh, and when Eric Cantor says half of all small business owners would have faced higher taxes (and therefore fired people obviously), that’s just a lie. The average small businees income is $40,000/year. That’s far below $250,000 for those who are bad at math (GOP – I’m looking at you). Now, here’s where it gets fun. Only 2.5% of business owners would have faced higher taxes, but those businesses account for 44% of the business income. So, if you want to claim that half the income from businesses would be taxed higher, you’re not far off. But, to claim that half of all small businesses would have been hit – that’s just bull. Also, there’s no solid definition of “small business” so maybe Cantor is thinking that Walmart and Best Buy are small. After all, Eric Cantor’s wife makes millions per year – wonder where his loyalties lie.

Miss him yet?

Dubya’s autobiography is out this week, so he’s finally come out of hiding to discuss his legacy. I thought that was something he was going to let historians do, but he just couldn’t wait or something.  You’ll never guess what he considers the worst moment of his presidency.  Maybe when the towers fell? Nope. How about when the banking industry just about ate the economy? Not that either. When the entire world found out that Rumsfeld has been supervising torture of random foreigners? Not even close. Oh, how about when one of the oldest cities in the country was erased by a flood which could have been prevented by decent maintenance and the people were forced to stay in the city at gunpoint while mercenaries roamed the streets looting people of their own firearms? Not that either.

Amazingly, George W. Bush believes the worst moment in a presidency filled with bad moments is when Kanye said he didn’t care about black people. He’s not tormented in his post-President retirement by the things he might have done differently or the thousands of people who died while he was in nominal charge, but by the fact that someone said something mean about him on television. WTF?

MATT LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And — it was a disgusting moment.

What an infantile and self-centered view of the most powerful office in the world.

Political Influence Tracker

I’m sure that none of our elected representatives are unduly influenced by the truly stupendous amount of money lavished on them by corporate contributors.  But just in case you’re curious about where that money comes from, how about a cool interactive political whore influence tracker?

Interestingly, here in Texas, the two US Senators have vastly different records on this issue: John Cornyn has received nearly 3 million dollars, while Kay Bailey Hutchison has only raked in 15 thousand. I disagree with Senator Hutchison on many (most?) issues of substance, but she does appear to keep above the money-grubbing fray.

Joe Miller’s Private Police Force

Another in the list of strange things from Alaskan politics – Joe Miller’s security guards think they can arrest people. At a public event in a public school, private security guards handcuffed and detained a journalist because he had the audacity to ask the candidate questions. The Anchorage police were called, and told the security detail to uncuff the journalist (and hopefully to stop thinking they were cops). The guards even threatened to arrest other journalists for trespassing.  At a public school. During a “town hall” meeting. Open to the public.  WTF?

Justice v. “Justice”

Faisal Shahzad has been sentenced to life in prison this week by a federal judge in the United States.  Shahzad, if you don’t recall, was the Times Square Bomber back in May of this year. Total time from event to sentence in federal court: 5 months.

Omar Khadr remains in Guantanamo Prison, where he’s been since throwing a grenade at a U.S. soldier in 2002 (Khadr was 15 at the time). His trial started in August but was put on hold due to an ill attorney.  He has spent 8 years in prison, tortured and abused and threatened with gang rape by an interrogator, all waiting for his military tribunal for charges which were only levied after some ex post facto legislation was written four years after his detention began.

Which of these systems provides swift and efficient justice again?

We’re not as bad as the other guys

I found it disturbing when people would defend some of our mistakes in Iraq by claiming we were better than Saddam, as if our goal was merely to be somewhat less evil than an authoritarian dictator who gassed his own people and ran rape rooms in his torture prison.  It appears the Democrats are using a similar strategy going into November: at least we’re not as bad as the GOP, right?

When DNC chair Tim Kaine was on the Daily Show a week or two back, Jon Stewart rightly lambasted him for the absurdity of their “Don’t give them the keys” approach.  Kaine had no real retort other than the tired statements of GOP perfidy.  Sure, the GOP did a lot of stupid venal petty shit during their years in power.  So, Dems, what are you doing different? They don’t seem to have a very compelling argument in their favor.

I could list all the ways in which I’m disappointed in the current administration and the Democrats in Congress, but Glenn Greenwald has a great piece today which has many nice links and great points to make.  Unlike some of his articles, this one is not biased against the GOP.  Greenwald is very clearly documenting the failures of the Democratic party, and even if you’re happy to see the Dems fail, it’s interesting to see in one place all the many ways in which they are using fearmongering and low expectations to try to hold onto power (power they haven’t really taken advantage of while they had it).

Change you can…definitely not see.

Still more change

It’s a few weeks old, but I just noticed this story from the Associated Press (permalink via Wired), which sounds like something you’d have expected from the Bush administration:

Political Appointees Vetted FOIA Requests

Seriously, President Obama? This is what you consider change we can believe in? Yes we can?  We can filter FOIA requests through political advisers so they can keep track of the political party asking for the information? We can filter requests to keep track of whether the requester is a journalist?

When this president was just taking office, he said, “For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city.” He cited abuse of the Freedom of Information Act, in particular. And, to be fair, the administration has reduced the backlog of FOIA requests and there is no indication they’ve denied requests inappropriately. But, it’s actually rather obviously unethical to pass requests that are required to be handled expediently through a layer of bureaucracy which is unnecessary to the process.

Yay for Change™.

Once Upon A Time in Afghanistan

This photo essay provides an interesting look into the country Afghanistan was starting to become before the Soviets started the seemingly never-ending wars that have plagued the nation for forty years. Textile plants and women college students and cabinet meetings where the members actually had higher educations…sad to contrast that with today.

Change You Can’t Perceive

Senator Barack Obama, 2006:

Most of us have been willing to make some sacrifices because we know that, in the end, it helps to make us safer.  But restricting somebody’s right to challenge their imprisonment indefinitely is not going to make us safer. In fact, recent evidence shows it is probably making us less safe.

Of course, as President in 2010, Obama has now won the right (based on a DC Circuit Court of Appeals) to do just that. His administration has decided that detaining arbitrary people at Guantanamo was beyond the pale and not to be perpetuated, but detaining arbitrary people at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan is perfectly reasonable. And, the Circuit Court has said that, unlike the decision in Boumediene v. Bush (2008), no habeas appeals are needed for detainees in what any administration defines as a war zone. This ignores that Congress is the only organization allowed to declare war and they haven’t done so since 1941. So, war zones are arbitrarily defined by the executive branch, and any prison or detention facility they put there is out of the reach of all US justice, including the incredibly simple right to just have the judicial branch confirm that the executive branch has indeed detained someone with reason rather than without reason.

Change you can believe in.

Drug War Still a Failure

According to an in-depth AP article today, the War on (some) Drugs is an abject failure. This should surprise just about nobody, although apparently there are some who remain shocked to find gambling at Rick’s Cafe as well.

The current Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, even admitted on record that “In the grand scheme, it has not been successful.” Naturally, his predecessor, John Walters, takes the opposite tack: “To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous. It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.” Sorry to say, Mr. Walters, but you can’t change reality just by wishing it wasn’t just a giant waste of time and money.

One trillion dollars spent over forty years, in order to prove that Prohibition was not an anomaly? We’ve been inundated with “Just Say No” and DARE and other programs, yet high school kids have the same rate of drug use today as in 1970, when Nixon kicked this thing off. $450 billion has been spent to incarcerate drug offenders in federal prison (no mention of how much states spend in addition), where most data indicates incarceration leads to increased drug usage when released.

Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001. Decriminalization is not legalization – it just means a user won’t go to jail for doing drugs; the drugs themselves remain illegal to deal. I know, strange but that’s the legal system for you. In the years since, HIV infections from dirty needles have dropped by 70%, and drug overdoses have dropped by 30%. Also, the rate of young people using drugs has dropped, and the number of people seeking drug treatment has doubled. 10% of Portuguese have used marijuana in their lifetimes; in the USA that number is close to 40%.

The United States has 5% of the world population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. We must be doing something wrong.

Constitution Stupid, says McCain

Senator McCain, a man I once thought a decent and honorable human being, has become so enmeshed in the GOP machine he decried and rebelled against in previous decades, that he now says the law should be ignored when arresting American citizens for crimes in the USA. Astonishing.

Specifically, McCain says we should not inform suspects of their Constitutional rights if we think they’re guilty of terrorism. He says nothing about other crimes. What proves he’s engaging in simple “dog whistle” politics instead of actually saying anything of substance is that “Mirandizing” a suspect does not imbue them with any rights they didn’t already have. The only thing reading that list of Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights does is immunize the police from having confessional evidence thrown out in court. McCain must know these things, or he’s lost so much of his mental capacity the people of Arizona should remove him from office.

Let me state this very plainly for those who can’t remember their social studies and civics classes. The suspected incompetent NYC bomber, Faisal Shahzad, possesses certain rights from the mere fact of his being a legal resident and naturalized citizen of this country. Not telling him of those rights does not remove the rights. And, if he’s anything like the rest of us, he’s heard a version of the “Miranda Statement” a jillion times, besides being a naturalized citizen means he probably has actually studied the Constitution more than most natural-born citizens. But, and this is an important point, if the police fail to read him his rights and he then says something which could be considered incriminating, a judge may (not must, but may) disallow that statement from testimony. It all comes down to doing things the right way, so as to be more certain that a trial will bring about justice.

Meanwhile, Representative King (R-NY) says we should carefully consider where to place Mr. Shahzad before we indict him. I suppose that means the Congressman wants to leave open the possibility of sending Shahzad to a military detention facility and face a tribunal instead of a trial. Interestingly, those tribunals are incredibly inefficient, convicting only 3 people in nearly a decade – two of those people were later released during the Bush administration. During that same period, over 300 people were tried and convicted of terrorism charges in federal civilian courts. Sure seems to me, if you want to actually lock someone up for terrorism, you should try them in a federal court and lock them up in a federal super-maximum security prison when convicted. Nobody has ever escaped from a supermax prison. Ever.

Senator McCain would like to leave open the possibility that Shahzad will be released due to a piece of legal legerdemain, and Rep. King would like to lock Shahzad up in the most bizarre excuse for a legal system ever. Could the GOP come up with someone else to speak for them, please? It’s embarrassing, really.