Harbor seal pup.Harbor seal pup. Source: http://www.public-domain-image.com/fauna-animals-public-domain-images-pictures/seals-and-sea-lions-public-domain-images-pictures/harbor-seal-pictures/harbor-seal-mammal-phoca-vitulina.jpg.html

“Super seals” are not the navy’s newest secret weapon, but they are double super-secret:

For your “I can’t believe this stuff happens in America” files:

Calling their conduct “constitutionally abhorrent,” a federal judge recently chided government prosecutors for working in secret to keep millions of dollars in cash and assets seized from a Las Vegas gambler and his family in a decadelong bookmaking investigation.

In his 31-page opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach cast light on the little-known court process that allowed the government to file civil forfeiture actions against Glen Cobb, his 82-year-old parents and his stepdaughter under “super seal” with no notice to anyone — not even the family it targeted.

The documents remain sealed in the court’s vault and not logged into any public database —
secret from both the public and affected parties:

“This is unacceptable,” Ferenbach wrote in court papers only recently made public. “Relying on various sealed and super-sealed filings, the government asks the court to rule against private citizens, allow the deprivation of their property and deny them a process to redress possible violations of their constitutional rights through a secret government action that provides no notice or opportunity to be heard.

“Saying that this would offend the Constitution is an understatement. It is constitutionally abhorrent.”

Civil-asset forfeiture laws sanction “official thievery,” as Digby put it, “yet another symptom of a justice system that is corrupt and unaccountable.” I first ran across the practice on 60 Minutes in the early 1990s, and can’t believe it still continues. (Maybe it’s the secrecy?) Victims face a “Kafkaesque world” of litigation, attorneys fees, bankruptcy, and blacklisting. The icing on the cake? Hiding the seizures from the public via a “super seal.”

Welcome to the land of the free, y’all. Star chambers and stripes forever.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Categories : National
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Oct
21

Warren on message

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Not unlike ghosts in The Sixth Sense, The Village hears just what it wants to. Itself, mostly, and the jangle of coins. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson hears in Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts something different, something many Democratic politicians lack: a clear message.

Stumping for Democrats across the country, Warren has a powerful message that ordinary persons can hear if the Village cannot. Like South Dakotan Rick Weiland’s
prairie populism
, Warren (born in Oklahoma) gets traction from a populist narrative:

There once was consensus on the need for government investment in areas such as education and infrastructure that produced long-term dividends, she said. “Here’s the amazing thing: It worked. It absolutely, positively worked.”

But starting in the 1980s, she said, Republicans took the country in a different direction, beginning with the decision to “fire the cops on Wall Street.”

“They called it deregulation,” Warren said, “but what it really meant was: Have at ’em, boys.”

Americans who have been had by the boom-and-bust economy that resulted (and which Democrats abetted) are tired of being lectured about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps by a Wall Street elite wearing golden parachutes. Warren says plainly what the faltering middle class knows in its gut, “The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it.” Warren is ready to fight when it seems many Democrats — including the incumbent president — just want to go along to get along.

Robinson writes:

So far this year, Warren has published a memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” that tells of her working-class roots, her family’s economic struggles, her rise to become a Harvard Law School professor and a U.S. senator, and, yes, her distant Native American ancestry. She has emerged as her party’s go-to speaker for connecting with young voters. She has honed a stump speech with a clear and focused message, a host of applause lines and a stirring call to action.

A Democratic candidate with a stirring message derailed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid eight years ago, Robinson concludes. It might just happen again.

The Village parachute riggers are on notice.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Categories : Action, Education
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As early voting gets started here this week, more thoughts about new voting restrictions.

Call a gun rights advocate’s AR-15 an assault rifle and he’ll think you’re a dumbass liberal who a) doesn’t know the first thing about weapons, and b) has no business anywhere near laws affecting his right to bear arms. What should voting rights advocates think of voter fraud vigilantes who call any and every form of election irregularity voter fraud?

Imposing new gun laws is counterproductive, many Republicans believe, because most criminals get guns illegally. More regulation just infringes upon honest Americans’ rights. But more regulations passed to prevent voting illegally? A nonissue.

The University of Texas-Austin’s Daily Texan weighed in on that last week:

The fact that over half a million Texans do not have the proper form of ID in order to comply with the law and will thus be disenfranchised this November is apparently a nonissue. That these Texans belong to groups that historically vote Democratic is also a coincidence.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker this month:

“I was at a town hall meeting yesterday in Appleton, and took questions from the crowd, and one person asked me how many cases of fraud there have been in the state. I said, does not matter if it was one or a hundred or a thousand. I ask amongst us, who would be that one person who would want to have our vote canceled out by a vote cast illegally?”

How many married couples who “cancel out” each others’ votes each election advocate laws preventing spouses from “stealing” their votes? Who amongst the tens of millions of real Americans without photo IDs would want to be kept from voting because of vigilantes’ “downright goofy, if not paranoid” fears about what they insist might be a “widespread problem“?

Mark Fiore takes on the Voter Fraud Vigilantes here.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Psychologists at the Yale Mind and Development Lab explore the human tendency to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” Not just religious believers think this, either. They found many atheists believe it as well:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

That maybe puts too fine a point on it. People don’t just do this in relation to others and to events. Growing up, I heard the quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Man is a tool-making animal.” Man is also a pattern-seeking animal. We see faces in ink blots, madonnas in toast and in stains on buildings. We find animal shapes in the clouds and in the stars. We read messages in palms and tea leaves. And after a tragedy, we ask reflexively, “Why did this happen?” As if there is a why.

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Oct
19

Sunday Morning Music

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Always thought that car ad tune was catchy. Here is the full track.


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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.)


Categories : National
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Oct
17

Friday Open Thread

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Oh, there’s bound to be things to talk about this week.


Categories : Open Thread
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