Feb
20

Friday Open Thread

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Who else wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up, and I was brought up? “America’s Mayor” thinks it’s fine to cast aspersions. Fire away.


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Citizens United … yadda, yadda, yadda … we’re a plutocracy.

It seems our plutocrats want to buy America’s elections and, increasingly, we’re willing to let them. Their efforts — like Jeb Bush’s — to dominate the political donations battle space may be succeeding. Analyzing the results of “the most expensive midterm election in history,” costing a whopping $3.77 billion, the Center for Responsive Politics’s Russ Choma finds that fewer donors are choosing to participate. That is, fewer donors are giving more:

Every area of traditional campaign finance saw a decline in the number of donors. Despite the increased cost of this election, the records that a number of races set in terms of overall cost and a huge focus on fundraising, there were just 434,256 identifiable individual donors to candidates in the 2014 election. That’s 107,000 fewer than there were in the 2010 election.

The number of individuals giving money to national party committees also declined — although this was not the first time that happened.

Even when it came to outside spending groups, there were fewer donors. In 2010, there were 57,405 individual donors to outside spending groups (including 527s) who gave a total of $104.6 million, or roughly $1,800 apiece. In 2014, there were 53,725 donors to outside groups, whose average donation was $8,011. That’s an increase in the size of the average donation of almost 445 percent.

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Feb
18

Dishing on federalism

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The T-party’s creative interpretations of the constitution and federalism leave us with some amusing, if paranoid, legislative efforts. (I originally mistyped feralism, which also kinda works in this case.) Eric Stern gave some examples from Montana yesterday at Salon. Here are a few:

1) Prepare for National Ammunition shortage (SB 122). When Obama comes to get our guns and bullets, Montana will be ready. This bill cites the “serious risk” that America might run out of ammunition and exempts Montana’s ammo manufacturers from paying any taxes at all, as an incentive to produce more bullets so we can survive the Obama gun rapture. Its author, Matt Rosendale, was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in 2014 whose campaign ads featured him shooting drones out of the air with a rifle.

2) Establish Armed Militias in Every Town (SB 130). Even if we have enough bullets, Montana could still be in grave danger from the federal government. This bill would protect citizens by creating local paramilitary groups across the state, known as “home guards,” and would allow sheriffs to mobilize these troops for whatever reason they so choose, without the governor’s consent. This concept is supported enthusiastically by militia groups whose members enjoy stockpiling firearms but sometimes go to prison.

3) Require that nipples and areolae be fully concealed; prohibit “simulated genitalia” (HB 365). Our state already has a general law against indecent exposure but Montana’s social conservatives feel it isn’t enough. The new proposal lists body parts. Specifically, it would prohibit “exposing the anus, areola or nipple with anything less than a fully opaque covering.” Better yet, it would forbid the wearing of “any costume or covering that gives the appearance of, or simulates, the genitals, nipple or areola.” So much for my Halloween idea.

Somewhere I have a photo I shot a couple of years back of this sign outside the Radio Shack in the Bitterroot Valley town of Hamilton, Montana:

The tinfoil hats are free to every visitor.

Also striking, Eric Stern is Deputy Secretary of State in Montana. People in the legislature may have lost their minds, but a few in the capitol, at least, haven’t lost their sense of humor.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Categories : National
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Who was that masked man?


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This post will remain at the top until this coming Saturday. New material will be found below.

by Gordon Smith

Are you excited about the victories we celebrated in November? Brian Turner defeated Tim Moffitt. John Ager defeated Nathan Ramsey. Todd Williams is our new District Attorney. Buncombe Democrats won every local race we ran, and now it’s time to gear up for next year’s big elections for President, County Commission, and more. That’s where you come in. Are you a Buncombe County resident? Are you a registered Democrat? We want you and need you!

When we know that the Koch Brothers intend to spend nearly a billion dollars in 2016 to elect people who want to make the rich richer at the expense of the rest of us, then it’s clear we need to begin organizing now. The battle for North Carolina will be front and center next year, and Democrats will have to organize like never before in order to combat conservative efforts to buy our democracy.

The county is made up of voting precincts. You know which one you’re in? If not, check here: http://www.ncsbe.gov/webapps/pollingplace_search/

On the morning of February 28th, Democrats from across the county will come together to lay the foundation for victory in 2016. You’re invited. We need your energy, ideas, and effort. Glenda Overbeck is a volunteer who’s marshaling Buncombe Dems’ precinct organizing this year, and I asked her “what’s this all about?”

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by Barry Summers

Late in 2013, I was reading a press release from a local state legislator, which publicized his being named chair of a new NC House committee. At the bottom, he listed all the other committees he was currently on, and just on a whim, I compared it to the official list of committees on his legislative website. There was exactly one missing from the press release: “House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems”. That got me curious, and that’s how I eventually came to be the only member of the public sitting in an NCGA hearing room full of military, law enforcement, and drone industry representatives, and being stared at by an angry NSA contractor. Yikes…

2007 – 2012: “We want a fully integrated environment.”

RQ-4/MQ-4 Global Hawk. U.S. Air Force photo by Bobbi Zapka. Public Domain Image courtesy Wikipedia.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, it became clear to the Department of Defense that they would have to start planning for the day when most of those drones that they had come to depend on overseas, would have to come home. And they don’t have enough segregated, military airspace in the continental US to fly them all, for training, research, etc.

Pentagon working with FAA to open U.S. airspace to combat drones:

“With a growing fleet of combat drones in its arsenal, the Pentagon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to its robotic aircraft.”… “The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back,” Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, said at the conference. The Department of Defense “doesn’t want a segregated environment. We want a fully integrated environment.”

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Feb
16

Look! Up in the sky!

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Commercial drones. Those GoPro-equipped gadgets for hobbyists, news crews, professional photographers, and drunk, off-duty, intelligence employees. Maybe even for Amazon package deliveries. (In your fever dreams, maybe.) The FAA announced proposed rules governing their use on Sunday:

The U.S. aviation regulator proposed rules on Sunday for commercial drone flights that would lift some restrictions but would still bar activities such as the delivery of packages and inspection of pipelines that have been eyed by companies as a potentially breakthrough use of the technology.

The long-awaited draft rules from the Federal Aviation Administration would require unmanned aircraft pilots to obtain special pilot certificates, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the day. They limit flying speed to 100 miles per hour (160 kph) and the altitude to 500 feet (152 meters) above ground level.

Just a tentative toe in the water, a camel’s nose under the tent. But it’s an announcement that will send eager technophiles rushing to buy the latest in remote-control spy-ware, and encourage what NPR reported last night could be a $2 billion commercial drone sector. These rules also are meant to prepare the public for further expansion of the program and assuage privacy concerns, etc., etc.

Drone testing and approval has been in the pipeline since at least late 2013:

The FAA has already permitted approximately 300 “public organizations” to fly drones, said FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette in an interview with Common Dreams. This includes drones used by law enforcement and Customs and Border Enforcement for the purpose of aerial surveillance.

Duquette said she would not disclose the numbers of drones in U.S. airspace armed with military grade weapons or spying capabilities.

Excuse me? But worry not, officials said Sunday:

“Today’s proposed rule is the next step in integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our nation’s airspace.” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a conference call with reporters. “We are doing everything that we can to safely integrate these aircraft while ensuring that America remains the leader in aviation safety and technology.”

[snip]

“From entertainment, to energy, to agriculture there are a host of industries interested in using UAS to improve their business,” Anthony Foxx, secretary of the Transportation Department said. “But for us at U.S. DOT the first threshold always is and must be keeping the American people safe as we move to integrate these new types of aircraft into our skies.”

Yes, but. Lest you think — as yesterday’s reports suggest — we’re just talking about hobbyists, Eyewitness News, or even the police flying plastic toys in commercial airspace, there’s a little more to it (from February 2012):

“We’re going to bring aircraft back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re going to train in the [continental U.S.],” said Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, and executive director of the Defense Department’s FAA policy board. “So the challenge is how to fly in nonsegregated airspace.”

The Pentagon too has been working with the FAA to open up U.S. airspace to its fleet of big-boy toys, nearly 7,500 combat drones (also from February 2012):

The vast majority of the military’s drones are small — similar to hobby aircraft. The FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating these drones, which are being eyed by law enforcement and private business to provide aerial surveillance. The FAA expects to release the proposal on small drones this spring.

But the Pentagon is concerned about flying hundreds of larger drones, including Global Hawks as well as MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, both made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway.

And last week Congress approved legislation that requires the FAA to have a plan to integrate drones of all kinds into national airspace on a wide scale by 2015.

The Department of Homeland Security announced its intention to double its fleet of Predators in late 2012. If Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Atomics have their way, there could be 30,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
in U.S. airspace by 2020.

Maybe like me, you first remember the phrase “unmanned aerial vehicles” from George W. Bush’s scaremongering, Cincinnati speech about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and WMDs in October 2002. Back then, we were supposed to soil ourselves and go to war over the prospect of military UAVs in our skies. Ah, but we were young and foolish then.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a Predator!

(h/t Barry Summers)

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Obama has requested that Congress give him permission to wage official war on ISIS/ISIL without regard to geographic constraints.

ISIS/ISIL claims to be a Caliphate and the official state of all muslims everywhere, so they are also anxious to take the fight wherever it may go. Paris, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, whatever.

The American Media machinery busily promotes the alienation and vilification of all things Mohammedan, while at the same time pretending to be surprised and shocked that individual Americans are out in the hinterlands performing violence against perceived enemies in the Homeland.

(Last week, a man in Chapel Hill shot three young Muslim students to death in what has been described as both a hate crime and an argument over parking. A Muslim school in Houston was burned. A Muslim American man was attacked at a Kroger store in Dearborn, MI. Etc.)

ISIS and the American Government are both playing the same game. They both want this conflict to rise above all others. They both want “the war”. And all we get to do is play along, and let our sons and daughters be killed in the process.

If the pattern seems familiar, it is, and it did not start with Bush I or Bush II. This has been the pattern of American foreign policy with only minor shifts in our level of engagement since the middle of the 19th century.

American thinking at its genesis included a healthy amount of isolationism. Thomas Paine, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many others held the notion that the new American states should regard the world as a place to join in commerce, but not in alliance or politics. We were to lead by example and make a profit, not push with a sword tip and make colonies.

Trouble is, commerce soon became the only thing that mattered politically. Our modern foreign policy looks and operates like a business, whereby war is waged for economic leverage. Which is why American involvement in the Middle East, especially as pertains to ISIS/ISIL, is a cluster fuck of epic proportions.

About a hundred years after we gave Britain the finger and established a more perfect union in the former colonies, the occasion presented itself for America to decide whether it wanted to take on the burden and responsibility of managing an empire abroad. In a move that permanently changed our trajectory in the world, the US found itself unable to resist the temptation to play absentee landlord over the Philippine Islands, a prize given to us at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war.

There is no substitute for the awakening of a people to the possibility of a better way of organizing society and governance. In the Philippines at that time there was a nascent move towards self-governance. They wrote a Constitution, and Emilio Aguinaldo issued a proclamation declaring the Philippines a free people. It should have resonated.

But the United States had just won the place in a war disguised as a poker game, or a poker game disguised as a war, and that just would not do.

The heady days of the American experiment in the Philippines in the first decade of the twentieth century created the blueprint for American intervention, and we have been doing it pretty much the same way ever since that first foray into empire abroad. The first phase is a brutal conquest against an inferior and badly managed alien force that tries to fight in conventional ways but is forced by circumstance to adopt a guerrilla style engagement. This is met with an unheralded brutality, adjusted for the inflation of brutality over time and with special incentives for technological advances.

This period is then followed by a social and psychological offensive, in every sense of the word, in which the American presence tries to present itself as the only logical protection from the barbarianism of the local revolutionaries. If you want a good laugh, you should look up the American Insular Government and the “Policy of Attraction”. It will be familiar to most. It is the first look America got of the future President Taft as well.

It was the birth of American adventurism. After several domestic trial runs in the western sections of North America, the US made the decision that we would play the same game other empire nations before us had so gloriously pursued. So much for a more perfect union, I guess.

The Philippine experiment was eventually a great success, as those things are measured, mostly premised on the lucky happenstance of an invasion by Japan in the second world war. The philippine state still has a GDP roughly the size of Atlanta, Georgia, but hey, that’s not so bad considering they spent fifty plus years working America off it’s back.

But what would happen if we broke the cycle of  the last hundred-plus years of foreign adventurism, and we instead let the Middle East evolve without the interference of our petro-political and quasi-religious free-market fanaticism? We might find that offering a better vision from afar does much more to inspire a wave of self-rule along democratic lines than does our constant self-serving economic and political meddling.

Instead of asking for a declaration of war, Obama should be asking for a flotilla of ships to receive refugees, an army of planes to fly families to safety, food assistance for the entire subcontinent, and a Congressional permission to label the area completely off-limits to American corporate shenanigans, and thereby divest America permanently from its compulsion to desert adventure, which has robbed us of fortune, integrity and blood for twenty-five years (if you only count the current mess from Gulf I, which is a highly charitable accounting).

Can you even imagine the outcry? I’m obviously holding my breath on this.

It is possible to affect with great prejudice while abstaining from the position of active combatant. It was an opportunity lost in 1899, it was an option ignored in 1956 in Vietnam. It is absent in current American policy in the Middle East, and it will continue to cost us lives, treasure and integrity until we learn the fucking lesson the architects of our democracy saw fit to warn us about. Or until the art of diplomacy somehow makes a comeback.

If we do not allow the Middle East to evolve on its own terms in its own way as a Domestic struggle – no less real than our own genesis – and the Japanese don’t conveniently invade, we will be fighting this war for another hundred years. As long as we HAVE to be there, because we imagine ourselves crucial to everything, we won’t afford it a logical end.


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Is there something in London’s water? From the Not Gonna Happen Here Dept.:

The Conservative party needs to break its dependence on millionaires, the former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke has told the Observer, amid a growing furore over the tax affairs of the party’s donors.

After a week of some of the most intense fighting between the parties in recent years, Clarke said the Conservatives would be strengthened by loosening the hold of rich men on their financial survival.

He called on David Cameron to cap political donations and increase state funding of political parties to put an end to damaging scandals and rows. The Conservatives have been rocked in the past week by a potentially toxic combination of allegations of tax evasion by clients of the HSBC bank, whose chairman, Lord Green, became a Tory minister; tax avoidance by party donors; and leaked details of the secretive black and white fundraising ball.

Meanwhile here in the Colonies, The Man Who Would Be Bush III is looking to lock in Mitt Romney’s network of presidential campaign donors from the “private equity and investment worlds.” It’s a trick Jeb Bush learned from his no-accountability brother, George. Suck all the air out of the GOP candidates’ Green Room room along with the money:

“It’s absolutely a kind of aggressive shock-and-awe strategy to vacuum up as much of the fund-raising network as you possibly can,” said Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and a prolific Romney fund-raiser now helping Bush. “And they’re having a large measure of success.”

On the other side of the pond, however, the conservative Ken Clarke has had the scales fall from his eyes:

“What happens is that the Conservatives attack the Labour party for being ever more dependent on rather unrepresentative leftwing trade union leaders, and the Labour party spends all its time attacking the Conservative party for being dependent on rather unrepresentative wealthy businessmen. In a way both criticisms are true. And the media sends both up.

“The solution is for the party leaders to get together to agree, put on their tin hats and move to a more sensible and ultimately more defensible system.”

As previously noted, Clarke wants to see a cap on political donations. And it’s not just Tories having attacks of common sense:

Announcing that a Labour government would launch an independent investigation into the culture and practices of HMRC [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs service] with regard to tax avoidance, [Labour leader Ed] Miliband told a Welsh Labour conference in Swansea: “The government’s failure to tackle tax avoidance is no accident. It has turned a blind eye to tax avoidance because it thinks that so long as a few at the top do well, the country succeeds. It thinks that wealth and power fence people off from responsibility. It thinks the rules only apply to everybody else.”

Imagine that.

Could any of this be contagious? Maybe there’s a vaccine they’re not taking in London that Villagers can not take here.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Feb
15

Sunday Morning Music

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Tonight with Emma Swift at the Grey Eagle:


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