Archive for National

Oct
18

Six Degrees of Ebola

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Kevin Bacon
(photo credit David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons)

Is America playing Six Degrees of Ebola yet? Connect yourself to someone on Amber Vinson’s Frontier Airlines flight in six steps or fewer, then run around freaking out? (Something to play on a cruise, maybe?)

Best wishes for a swift recovery, of course, to the two caregivers infected in Texas. Yet Ebola fever (the psychological kind) has so gripped the country that articles are popping up with titles like, Ebola hysteria is going viral. Don’t fall for these 5 myths. Fox News’ Shepard Smith went off script the other day and urged viewers, “Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and television or read the fear provoking words online.” Michael Hiltzik felt it necessary to write 6 ways to avoid being stupid about Ebola in this week’s L.A. Times. His number five is pithy:

5. Listening to Rush Limbaugh may be hazardous to your health. As a one-stop shop of Ebola misinformation, you can’t beat the guy. Limbaugh’s only purpose is to stir up fear, alarm and mistrust of government among his listeners. Inform them, not so much.

But informing listeners was never the point. Fear, mistrust, alarm, and misinformation is right-wing talk’s business model. It’s what listeners tune in for. It’s just not church in some circles — you haven’t been touched by the spirit — unless the preacher works up the congregation with a mind-numbing, shouted cant into a hair-standing-on-end, ecstatic state followed by emotional catharsis.

Perhaps right-wing talk works the same way. A kind of addictive drug, maybe it has begun to lose its zing (along with Limbaugh’s ratings). Perhaps over the years, the ginned-up, faux outrage peddled every day by Rush and his kin has lost its punch. Perhaps the fear-addicted (and fear peddlers) hungering for stronger stuff to give them that old rush again just found it in an ISIS and Ebola cocktail?

That and, as Digby pointed out yesterday, it’s crazy season.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Oct
18

And now?

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Categories : Immigration, National
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Oct
17

Privatized politics

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“President Hillary thanks you,” I used to say when Republicans saluted any expansion of presidential power under George W. Bush. As someone who watched lots of 1950s science fiction and monster films growing up, I have a healthy appreciation for how what at first seem like good ideas have a way of quickly spinning out of control. And the Citizens United ruling never seemed like a good idea. Yet it spun out of control faster than Frankenstein’s monster.

Jim Rutenberg looks at how the decision has allowed America’s oligarchs of whatever political persuasion to become “their own political parties.” Rutenberg sat in on a strategy session with hedge fund billionaire, Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate Action, itself “a capitulation to the post-Citizens United world.” Gubernatorial candidate and former Florida governor, Charlie Christ, could wait:

With the advent of Citizens United, any players with the wherewithal, and there are surprisingly many of them, can start what are in essence their own political parties, built around pet causes or industries and backing politicians uniquely answerable to them. No longer do they have to buy into the system. Instead, they buy their own pieces of it outright, to use as they see fit. “Suddenly, we privatized politics,” says Trevor Potter, an election lawyer who helped draft the McCain-Feingold law.

Now we have Michael Bloomberg, who has committed to spending $50 million to support gun-control legislation; his Independence USA PAC, meanwhile, is spending $25 million this fall to elect “centrists.” We have the TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his group Ending Spending, which has spent roughly $10 million so far this year to elect fiscal conservatives to Congress, an effort that has drawn support from the billionaire hedge-fund executive Paul E. Singer, who has also devoted tens of millions to Republican candidates who share his views on Israel. We have Mark Zuckerberg and his FWD.us, with a budget of about $50 million to push an immigration overhaul. In 2014, as of early October, when the campaigns had yet to do their big final pushes, overall spending was already more than $444 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Roughly $231 million was from the parties and their congressional committees, the rest from outside spending. The biggest chunk of that by far came from super PACs — more than $196 million. Looking at those numbers, it’s not hard to understand why Crist was willing to wait outside a conference room in Coral Gables for Steyer.

Citizens United has created new playgrounds for ideological billionaires where America’s quasi-democratic process used to be. Are there not enough islands for sale, or enough gulches?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Oct
16

Cut This

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The Throw Granny Off the Cliff People are back:

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Oct
16

Gaming Democracy

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Last night, judges once again struck down another state’s photo ID law. This time in Arkansas:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ highest court on Wednesday struck down a state law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, ruling the requirement unconstitutional just days before early voting begins.

In a decision that could have major implications in the Nov. 4 election, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that determined the law unconstitutionally added a requirement for voting.

The high court noted the Arkansas Constitution lists specific requirements to vote: that a person be a citizen of both the U.S. and Arkansas, be at least 18 years old and be lawfully registered. Anything beyond that amounts to a new requirement and is therefore unconstitutional, the court ruled.

Similar rulings have occurred with Republican voting laws in Pennsylvania (January), Wisconsin, and Texas, although the Texas ruling by the U.S. District Court was overturned yesterday by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The day before the Wisconsin ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed North Carolina to implement its ban on same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting. The state’s sweeping voting bill goes to trial next summer. The mixed rulings may have more to do more with timing than principle:

Despite the flurry of high court rulings, many legal analysts and some judges say the Supreme Court’s actions are less about broad voting rights principles than telling federal judges to butt out, particularly so close to Election Day. In each of the cases where the justices acted, lower federal courts had issued orders that would have changed the rules for elections just weeks away, potentially causing confusion among voters and election officials.

You have to wonder when (and if) the light bulb will come on in the public consciousness. Our moneyed lords and their Republican vassals oppose the very idea of democracy for fear of the peasants peeing on the furniture. The succession of court challenges overturning photo ID laws and marriage equality bans follows a pattern seen in Republican-led states across the country, certainly here in North Carolina. GOP legislatures feel empowered (and directed) to push the constitution and established rules to the limits and beyond, and they dare anyone to stop them. As president-elect George W. Bush quipped, “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” Was that a Kinsley gaffe?

Charlie Pierce in Esquire on the GOP mining democracy [emphasis mine]:

Simply put, the Republican party deliberately has transformed itself from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of I’ve Got Mine, Jack. And it rarely, if ever, gets called to account for that. As a result, and without substantial notice or paying a substantial price, and on many issues, individual Republicans have been able to justify the benefits they’ve received from government activity that they now oppose in theory and in practice. This is not “hypocrisy.” That is too mild a word. This is the regulatory capture of the government for personal benefit. That it makes a lie, again and again, of the basic principles of modern conservatism — indeed, that it shows those principles to be a sham — is certainly worthy of notice and debate. It is certainly worthy of notice and debate that the conservative idea of the benefits of a political commonwealth means those benefits run only one way. Modern conservatism is not about making the government smaller. It’s about making the government exclusive.

They are bent on gaming democracy the way they game capitalism.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Oct
15

For thee, but not for she

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How are those Stand Your Ground laws working for ya? Well, if you’re a man like George Zimmerman and not a black man, just fine. And if you’re a woman?

“(The Legislature’s) intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” prosecutor Culver Kidd told the [Charleston, SC] Post and Courier. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”

In South Carolina, prosecutors are appealing a circuit judge’s ruling that under the state’s Protection of Persons and Property Act Whitlee Jones should not face trial in the stabbing death of her boyfriend two years ago. During a fight in which he dragged a screaming Jones down the street by her hair, reports Think Progress, neighbors called police.

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Categories : National, News, Race
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Oct
14

The Sudetenland will rise again

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Last October, Asheville, NC introduced America to Don Yelton on The Daily Show. You remember? The clip where Aasif Mandvi asked Yelton, “You know that we can hear you, right?” after the Republican precinct chair’s remark about “lazy blacks.”

This October, it’s a swastika photoshopped in front of city hall. Asheville is nothing if not colorful.

Known for its hipster arts scene, craft beer culture, and LGBT-friendly atmosphere, Asheville was dubbed “a cesspool of sin” in 2011 by James Forrester, the late Republican state senator. (You could buy tee shirts within hours.) As local gay couples on Thursday anticipated a federal order allowing same-sex marriages for the first time in North Carolina, city council members approved displaying a large rainbow flag from city hall. The local register’s office began issuing licenses late Friday.

So once more unto the breach, two Republican culture warriors — both known for publicity stunts — stepped up to strike back by photoshopping a Nazi flag in place of an image of the rainbow flag. The Sudetenland will rise again or something.

The two Republicans, former city councilman Carl Mumpower and former Buncombe County GOP chairman Chad Nesbitt, criticized the move saying the Asheville City Council’s decision to fly the flag (the council voted unanimously to display it) violated North Carolina open meeting laws.

“I am equating their methods with the Nazi movement,” Mumpower said according to the North Carolina newspaper. “They are indifferent to the rule of law and indifferent to the vote of the people. And that’s Adolph [sic] Hitler all over again in a different disguise.”

These proud, local characters stand as living proof that hippies and fall leaves are not the only local color in town.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Oct
13

The new corruption

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the system is rigged. Sen. Elizabeth Warren makes that point at every opportunity. But her most recent interview about that with Thomas Frank in Salon shifted too quickly from philosophy to process. Warren would rather talk about how the rigging hurts working people. She wants to explain how the system is rigged and by whom:

The system is rigged. And now that I’ve been in Washington and seen it up close and personal, I just see new ways in which that happens. But we have to stop and back up, and you have to kind of get the right diagnosis of the problem, to see how it is that—it goes well beyond campaign contributions.

Indeed it does. But “the question that lies at the heart of whether our democracy will survive” isn’t a matter of process or policy.

Janine Wedel comes closer to the mark in an excerpt (also in Salon) from her book, “Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security.” Everyday people know the system is rigged better than the elite. Wedel sees it in the comments section of Transparency International’s annual rankings of corrupt countries. “Ordinary people have an instinctual grasp of the real nature of corruption and the inequality that often results.” The United States, they believe, is “grievously under-scrutinized.”

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I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.

Sting

As other states across the country, North Carolina is looking at ways to implement legislation that would allow drone use in the state. The FAA is still attempting to define how they might safely share the skies with other aircraft. Equipped with a GoPro camera, small drones seem like nifty tools for photographers and hobbyists. But given the growing surveillance state revealed by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, it is natural that civil liberties groups – and even the T-party – are wary of their use by the government against civilians. It didn’t help that one of the sites chosen for early testing in the state belongs to the private security company formerly known as Blackwater.

This morning, the Winston-Salem Journal begins a 3-part series on how drones have been promoted in North Carolina, and by whom.

Imagine: You’re having an open-invitation BBQ in your own backyard. Friends can bring friends. Anyone can come. Thanks to newly enacted legislation, local and state law enforcement agencies are allowed to show up, too, without a warrant, to spy on you with drones.

It seems an unlikely scenario. Yet, a staff attorney at the state General Assembly’s Research Division, confirmed that it could happen. At a BBQ, “a Moral Monday planning session at a friend’s house” or “a conservative Tea Party gathering.”

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