Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama finds the ACA is a political positive for the Democrats.

Steve Benen has two interesting and fun posts up about the Affordable Care Act. First, he praised Mitt Romney for his work on health care policy as governor of Massachusetts. It's quite clear that Obama's health care plan was based largely on the system that Mitt Romney had previously installed in Massachusetts. Since Mitt is going to be running for President in the Republican Primaries, Obama's praise will create any number of right-wing attack ads against Romney.

The second post is also about Obama's efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act. Obama has announced that he is open to state-level changes in health care policy. The announcement says:
Seeking to appease disgruntled governors, President Obama announced Monday that he supported amending the 2010 health care law to allow states to opt out of its most burdensome requirements three years earlier than currently permitted.

In remarks to the National Governors Association, Mr. Obama said he backed legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law's mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017 as long as they could prove that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would and at the same cost. The earlier date is when many of the act's central provisions take effect, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.
Steve Benen points out what this means: If the Governors can come up with an alternate system that provides health care to as many people as the ACA does without adding to the deficit and in such a way that costs are controlled as well as the federal ACA does, great! Obama will support them.

Interestingly, the only states that might develop an effective alternate that meets the requirements are Vermont and Oregon, two Democratic states, who might try to implement a single payer system.

Both of these White House initiatives put the Republicans into the position where they have to explain the value of the ACA or offer an alternative to it that is somehow better.

We are in a world-wide war between the plutocrats and the networked people

Why are we seeing people's demonstrations taking on plutocratic governments from Tunisia to Madison, Wisconsin? Jon Taplin offers his explanation. It is quite compelling.
On October 14, 2008 I gave a speech at USC called "America 3.0 and The Interregnum". In it I argued that we were entering a global phase of extreme turbulence in which the bottom-up forces of a networked world battled the top-down hierarchies of centralized power. As the Italian philosopher Gramsci had noted,"The old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms." Although this upheaval was accelerated by the global financial crisis that I had been warning of since December of 2007, it was not caused by the crisis. It was rather a symptom of a technological revolution initiated with U.S. Defense department funding as early as 1958. We came to call this the Internet.

I am not a techno-utopian who believes that the mere existence of a globally networked culture will allow "the new to be born". In fact, as John Palfrey points out, dying regimes will do their best to use Internet surveillance to hold on to power.

The leaders of many states, like China, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan, have proven able to use the Internet to restrict online discussion and to put people into jail for what they do using the network. We should resist the urge to cheer the triumph of pro-Western democracy fueled by widespread Internet access and usage. The contest for control of the Internet is only just beginning.

What I do believe is that the sources of leadership innovation and change in the next decade will be the bottom-up networked culture, rather than centralized hierarchies dictating how people should organize their polities. This is why the events in Wisconsin are as important as the events in Tripoli. As the historian Joseph Ellis wrote, "The main story line of American History, cast Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in the lead roles of a dramatic contest between the forces of Democracy and the forces of Aristocracy (plutocracy)." The Punk'd phone call between Governor Scott Walker and what he perceived to be his aristocratic patron, David Koch, revealed the truth of Ellis's maxim. Like Hamilton, who he so admires, Koch is only interested in restoring the primacy of the plutocracy. His assault on the forces of democracy has three phases. First, by funding the Citizens United court case successfully, he freed the forces of the plutocracy to completely dominate political speech. Second, as Paymaster to governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich he is directly attacking the rights of workers to form unions and collectively bargain. By breaking the unions he eliminates the one institutional source of political money that might counter the plutocrats lock on campaign finance.

The final phase of Koch's plutocratic assault on democracy will come in the years to follow if he is successful in Wisconsin. We will return to an age of radical deregulation.
The plutocrats are primarily the people with great amounts of money together with their hirelings in government and in large corporations. As the Wall Street Banks (who make their money both by investing the funds of the plutocrats and by exploiting the people who are not wealthy and who do not understand financial exploitation methods like usury) know very well, they get their money by making financial deals, not by creating jobs that make life better for average workers. David Koch is one of many, and almost all of them in America are working to attack the American middle class and destroy it.

The Great Recession is the direct result of their efforts to free banks from government regulation so that banks would be free to create money without any limitation. (This is where the money supply comes from, not from the government.) The financial collapse is the direct result of that freeing up of banks and the growth of the shadow banking system outside of all regulation. Banks cannot be allowed to operate except under tight regulation and great transparency if we want a stable economy. Similarly, the plutocrats cannot be allowed to free themselves from taxation to support the government because it is the existence of government that creates their wealth and protects their privilege of using that wealth.

Madison Wisconsin is America's entry into the battle of the middle class around the world to take and keep control of their world.

Cats have a special bond with people, especially with women

Jennifer Viegas writes in Discovery News that there is a special bond between people (especially women) and their house cats. The cats attach to humans as social partners, not just as providers of food.
  • Relationships between cats and their owners mirror human bonds, especially when the owner is a woman.
  • Cats hold some control over when they are fed and handled, functioning very similar to human children in some households.
  • While the age, sex and personality of owners affect these relationships, the sex of the cat doesn't seem to matter.

The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.
This theory would seem to suggest that the practice of adopting cats as pets probably was a result of the earlier human association with domesticated wolves. The association with wolves had a very practical effect of making humans better hunters. Cats were less clearly useful, but required that agriculture develop. Only after agriculture developed was the use of cats to protect stored crops from rats important. The adoption of cats, then, would be useful in the female practice of farming and storing the food. This might explain why men tend to be more social with dogs (hunting) while women seem to be more social with cats (farming.)

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it's not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.

The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry "child" in nurturing homes.


"Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant," co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, told Discovery News. "Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!"

For the study, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, the researchers videotaped and later analyzed interactions between 41 cats and their owners over lengthy four-part periods. Each and every behavior of both the cat and owner was noted. Owner and cat personalities were also assessed in a separate test. For the cat assessment, the authors placed a stuffed owl toy with large glass eyes on a floor so the feline would encounter it by surprise.

The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other's behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail move, to signal desire for friendly contact.


While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats -- be they male or female felines -- more than men do.

"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna told Discovery News, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."

Cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later. If owners comply with their feline's wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner's wishes at other times. The cat may also "have an edge in this negotiation," since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact. So cats really are social animals and not solitary parasitic denizens in our human households. My old joke that our cat rules the household with an iron paw -- it's true!

For more information on cats, see my earlier blog post Where do cats come from?

See also A History of the Domestic Cat.

Addendum 11:38 AM CST

An earlier Discovery News article entitled Pets Vital to Human Evolution presents the theory that the evolution of human beings was strongly aided by the unusual practice of humans taking in and adopting animals.
Dogs, cats, cows and other domesticated animals played a key role in human evolution, according to a theory being published by paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Penn State University.

The uniquely human habit of taking in and employing animals -- even competitors like wolves -- spurred on human tool-making and language, which have both driven humanity's success, Shipman says.

"Wherever you go in the world, whatever ecosystem, whatever culture, people live with animals," Shipman told Discovery News.

For early humans, taking in and caring for animals would seem like a poor strategy for survival. "On the face of it, you are wasting your resources. So this is a very weird behavior," Shipman said.

But it's not so weird in the context something else humans were doing about 2.6 million years ago: switching from a mostly vegetarian diet to one rich in meat. This happened because humans invented stone hunting tools that enabled them to compete with other top predators. Quite a rapid and bizarre switch for any animal, Shipman said.

"We shortcut the evolutionary process," said Shipman, who published her ideas in the latest issue of Current Anthropology and in an upcoming book. "We don't have the equipment to be carnivores."

So we invented the equipment, learned how to track and kill, and eventually took in animals who also knew how to hunt -- like wolves and other canines. Others, like goats, cows and horses, provided milk, hair and, finally, hides and meat.

Managing all of these animals -- or just tracking them -- requires technology, knowledge and ways to preserves and convey information. So languages had to develop and evolve to meet the challenges.

Tracking game has even been argued to be the origin of scientific inquiry, said Peter Richerson, professor emeritus in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis.

One of the signs that this happened is in petroglyphs and other rock art left by ancient peoples. At first they were abstract, geometric patterns that are impossible to decipher. Then they converge on one subject: animals.

"Think what isn't there: people, landscapes, fruit and edible plants," said Shipman. This implies that animals and information about animals was of great importance."Think what isn't there: people, landscapes, fruit and edible plants," said Shipman. This implies that animals and information about animals was of great importance.
This theory would seem to suggest that the practice of adopting cats as pets probably was a result of the earlier human association with domesticated wolves. The association with wolves had a very practical effect of making humans better hunters. Cats were less clearly useful, but required that agriculture develop. Only after agriculture developed was the use of cats to protect stored crops from rats important. The adoption of cats, then, would be useful in the female practice of farming and storing the food. This might explain why men tend to be more social with dogs (hunting) while women are most social with cats (farming.)

Addendum 03/11/2011 4:23 PM CST
This is also quite interesting. National Geographic has a video on the development of cats.

I found the video in a link from an AP article on cats. Here is a very interesting part of that AP article:
Dr. Leslie Lyons leads a research team studying the genetics of the domestic cat at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. In the interview excerpted here, she explores the origins and domestication of the house cat:

AP: Feline geneticists say cats "domesticated themselves." What does that mean?

Lyons: We say cats adapted themselves to us rather than the other way around. As humans became farmers, we started a civilization. And civilization has grain stores and refuse piles, two things that draw rodents. Cats started coming closer to households to eat the rodents, filling the niche that humans developed. Cats were the first to come close to humans. We tolerated them because they ate the rodents, and cats tolerated humans because we provided food.

Q: How is this different from the domestication of dogs?

A: Dogs were domesticated much longer ago when we were hunter-gatherers. Unlike cats, we actively domesticated them. Probably we took wolf cubs and tried to tame them, raised them to be companions and to use for protection. Horses are like that too, we had to go out and capture and tame them before we could use them.
I'm not sure that humans actually domesticated wolves. One story I have heard is that wolves began to come close to human encampments in order to eat from the trash found there. Wolves who had a natural tolerance for association with humans came in closer and closer so they ate better and survived better than did those wolves who ran whenever a human came into sight.

That would suggest to me that east Asian wolves became dogs by domesticating themselves, and humans began to care for their puppies. It intrigues me, though, that in both cases the present dogs and cats exist because as humans began farming they created ecological niches for dogs and cats to fill.

I guess I should look at the history of domesticating chickens, goats, cattle, sheep and llamas also.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Walker's very political attack on unionized workers will bring big blowback!

Howard Fineman at HuffingtonPost offers his explanation about why David Koch and his lap-dog Scott Walker are so dead set on breaking the public employee unions in Wisconsin. Keep in mind that a success is Wisconsin is expected to be followed by similar attacks on unions in many other states almost immediately.It's all about the 2012 elections and the conservative efforts to take over the United States for big corporations and for the wealthy.
WASHINGTON -- The real political math in Wisconsin isn't about the state budget or the collective-bargaining rights of public employees there. It is about which party controls governorships and, with them, the balance of power on the ground in the 2012 elections.

For all of the valid concern about reining in state spending -- a concern shared by politicians and voters of all labels -- the underlying strategic Wisconsin story is this: Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party-tinged Republican, is the advance guard of a new GOP push to dismantle public-sector unions as an electoral force.

Last fall, GOP operatives hoped and expected to take away as many as 20 governorships from the Democrats. They ended up nabbing 12.

What happened? Well, according to postgame analysis by GOP strategists and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi -- who chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2010 -- the power and money of public-employee unions was the reason.


The GOP strategic aim is simple enough. If they can abolish union collective-bargaining rights, they can undermine the automatic payment of dues to the public-employee union treasuries. Shrinking those treasuries and reducing the union structure and membership will make it harder for Democrats and their allies to communicate directly with workers.

And under the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, unions -- like corporations -- are free to spend as much as they want directly advocating for a candidate. That makes the math even more urgent as the 2012 election season approaches.
Remember, the battle in Wisconsin has nothing to do with state financing or any alleged deficit. Had the Republicans not immediately passed laws cutting taxes for corporations and for the wealthy, much of the projected deficit would not exist. And the public unions have already completely agreed to all of the wage and benefit cuts that Walker and his Republicans demanded. This battle is entirely a political power-grab by David Koch and his lap-dog Scott Walker!

The power-grab does not look like it will be successful, though. Here is what several other governors said in a recent press conference discussing Walker's attempted union-breaking:
"If you are a successful CEO of a company or of a state, the most important thing you can do is to build morale of the people who work for you," said Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.), citing his experience bargaining with Montana's public-employee unions, which agreed to forgo a salary increase two and a half years ago to avoid layoffs. "It is the people that work for you that make you successful, and when you do that to morale, you are cutting your own throat."

As for Walker's management style, "Every governor has to use his own model. But I don't know how this one ends in a good way," Schweitzer said. "How long do you think that CEO would keep his job and how successful do you think that business will be?"

Other governors offered similar sentiments, though with a little less bravado than the outspoken Montanan. Walker's push to effectively end collective-bargaining rights cuts against a fundamental plank of the Democratic platform and deals direct damage to one of the party's most reliable and powerful constituencies. And with poll numbers showing that the public, by and large, agrees with those protesting Walker's actions, there is little downside to Democrats speaking out.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Ill.), whose state has become the fleeing ground for Democratic lawmakers hoping to hold up anti-union legislative activity in Wisconsin and Indiana, said he had no problem providing political asylum.

"Illinois is open for tourism all the time," he told The Huffington Post. "We have Wisconsin legislators and I think Indiana legislators, I really think that everybody knows it is important to have collective bargaining. It is the best way to resolve differences, and what's happening in Wisconsin, I don't think will spread anywhere."
The other thing the Wisconsin Koch-fueled power-grab is is going to do is to energize unions across America to get political in 2012 - not just public employee unions, either. The demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin have demonstrated that workers can and will be mobilized, and politicians are going to be very wary of doing things that might bring out the kind of opposition that Scott Walker has brought down in himself.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The successful rescue of the American auto industry

This clip is from last night's Rachel Maddow Show where Rachel Maddow and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson point to the success of the Obama rescue of the American Automobile Industry and to the nay-sayers who still idiotically claim it was a failure. Also there is a discussion of the disaster that the Republican House is attempting to enforce on the American economy with their ridiculous and ignorant budget cuts.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Republican Party seems to be happily inhabiting the "No Fact Zone."

The clip came from Steve Benen's Political Animal.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Massachusetts Health Care administrator supports single payer

From Massachusetts we get this endorsement of single payer health care from a guy who should know:
A senior Patrick administration health care official said Friday that a single payer system may work more effectively and efficiently than Massachusetts’s existing insurance market, a high-profile endorsement that raised eyebrows at a legislative hearing.

“I like the market, but the more and more I stay in it, the more and more I think that maybe a single payer would be better,” said Terry Dougherty, director of MassHealth – the state-run Medicaid plan that insures nearly 1.3 million Massachusetts residents – when lawmakers asked for his “personal view” on a single payer system.

Dougherty’s comment, made during a budget hearing at the Boston Public Library, prompted his boss, Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby, to interject: “That’s his personal opinion.”

Dougherty noted that MassHealth, by far the largest program in state government, spends just 1.5 percent of its $10-billion-a-year budget on administrative costs – compared to about 9.5 percent by the private market, according to studies by the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy. That figure won plaudits from several lawmakers on the panel, including some who have supported implementing a statewide single payer system.

After his remarks, Dougherty told the News Service that he’s learned to appreciate “elements of single payer” during his 30 years in health care.

“It’s got to be better than this devil-may-be marketplace,” he said. “We don’t build big buildings. We don’t have high salaries. We don’t have a lot of marketing, which makes, to some extent, some of the things that we do easier and less costly than some things that happen in the marketplace. Overall, my point is, we have individuals who work in state government in MassHealth ... who are just as smart, just as tactile, just as creative as people who work in the private sector, but they work for a lot less money.”

A single payer system would replace the state’s patchwork of nonprofit and private insurers with a single, public insurer through which all health care dollars would flow to hospitals, doctors and other health care providers. Supporters say it would eliminate administrative waste and ensure that all residents receive adequate coverage.
So - no fancy buildings and the money that is wasted on excessive salaries is instead spent on providing health care. What's not to like - unless you are a health insurance executive drinking excessively from the health care teat.

Republicans marching lockstep into failure, taking America with them

The Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election as well as the governorships of a number of states. Generally the winners of these elections took office the first or second week of this year. They've had slightly over a month in office now. So what has happened?

Naturally being patriotic and well-meaning Americans they have quickly settled in and begun to work at the major problems of the country - the of which everyone knows is Great Recession and the resulting broad unemployment. So here is a brief sample of the major actions they have taken so far.

Governor Scott Walker, doing the bidding of his master David Koch, has initiated an all-out battle to kill the state employee unions in Wisconsin. Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey has declared that if the New Jersey legislature does not cut the budget sharply then he will refuse to send out the seniors property tax rebates. Conservatives love to "negotiate" by holding a gun to someones head and saying "Agree or else!"

A big part of the Republican agenda is to go after abortion providers. The House budget bill cuts all funds for planned parenthood since they provide medial services to low-income women including contraception. At the state level we get the true extremists, such as the proposed bill by State Rep. Bobby Franklin of Georgia which would require any woman who had a miscarriage to prove that it was a spontaneous miscarriage or be arrested and tried for a felony.

And of course, anyone who goes out and demonstrates against the extremist Republicans should be shot on sight. Ask Jeffrey Cox who was a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana until he was fired today for his tweet that told the Wisconsin police if they were to remove the demonstrators from the capital that the police should "Use live ammunition." Allen West, the insane Islamophobic just elected Congressional Representative from Florida told the FOX viewers "I think I’ve done my share to bring the light of freedom into the Islamic world." Yeh, he has fought against Muslims everywhere he could find them - Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was forced to retire from the Army for threatening to kill a prisoner and shooting his pistol off next to the man's head because he thought the prisoner could tell him about some alleged plot to assassinate West. But West says he is not an Islamophobe.

Besides settling old right-wing grudges and acting generally anti-social and even insane, how much is being done to create new jobs and to improve education in this country? Not very much.

Welcome the Republicans into office. They will give us a nation none of us want to live in.

Want a double-dip recession? Follow the Republican economic agenda and we will have the double-dip

This is what the Financial Times reported today according to Steve Benen.
The Republican plan to slash government spending by $61bn in 2011 could reduce US economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year, a Goldman Sachs economist has warned.
So Steve Benen pointed out
Remember, this analysis comes a week after additional research found that the Republican spending cuts could lead to roughly 1 million job losses. (Asked about this, Speaker John Boehner replied last week, "So be it.")

I'd gladly note the GOP response to all of this, but as best as I can tell, there isn't one. Republicans don't know -- and by all accounts don't care -- what the economic results would be if their plan was approved. They don't hold hearings to explore the effects of the proposal, and party officials haven't offered any economic projections they believe would result from their plan in implemented.

They just want to cut, no matter what it does the country. This isn't about consequences, it's about making the GOP base feel good about itself.
So the Republicans intend to cut government no matter what happens. As to what will happen, they don't know and have no interest in asking. They are just going to do it.

I guess they got their phone call from David Koch telling them what to do, and like slavish subservient dogs, they are going to do it. What happens after they slash the budget is up to their masters in the wealthy oligarchy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is Koch Industries' puppet

Scott Walker is not going after the public employee unions in Wisconsin because he doesn't like unions. He is going after them because Koch Industries doesn't like unions and because they spent millions getting him elected governor of Wisconsin. Here is another report from Think Progress:
As ThinkProgress has reported, the global conglomerate Koch Industries not only helped elect Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), but is the leading force orchestrating his union-busting campaign. Koch gave Walker over $43,000 in direct donations and its allies aired millions of dollars worth of attack ads against his Democratic opponent. Then, Koch political operatives pressured Walker to crush labor unions as one of his first priorities. Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner to Jack Abramoff and current president of
Americans for Prosperity, a front financed by David Koch, told the New York Times that Koch operatives “had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown.” A Koch-financed front group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has prepped Wisconsin GOP lawmakers with anti-labor legislative ideas.
Koch Industries is the company established by Fred Koch who, together with Robert Welch, went on to found the extremist right-wing organization The John Birch Society in 1958. His sons co-founded the Libertarian think tank, the CATO Institute and have continued his right-wing political crusaded.

Destroying unions has been a long term project for the Koch Brothers and for the CATO Institute. Walker is just one of their more recently purchased tools.

Addendum 02/23/2011 11:21 AM CST

When I tried to go to the I kept getting a "Database connection error" notice. But these are on utube now. This is allegedly a buffalobeast prank call to Scott Walker. Buffalo Beast is (apparently) the online presence of a political comedy operation from Buffalo, New York.

Essentially this is a politician bringing his boss and financial backer up to date.

and continued:

Note: I find it interesting that the comment I have received on this post was posted prior to the time that I posted these utubes.

Addendum II 02/23/2011 11:45 AM CST
Here is a report confirming that Scott Walker did, in fact, fall for the Buffalo Beast prank call.
UPDATE: Walker's office confirms governor pranked by blogger posing as Koch brother
Posted by scontorno at 2/23/2011 9:36 AM CST on

From Spokesperson Cullen Werwie:

"The Governor takes many calls everyday. Throughout this call the Governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. The phone call shows that the Governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having."

Addendum III 12:31 PM CST
Steve Benen has some interesting background on the phone call from Koch to Walker.
First, it's remarkable Ian Murphy, pretending to be Koch, even got through. He talked to Walker's chief of staff, Keith Gilkes, and said he couldn't leave a return number because, "My goddamn maid, Maria, put my phone in the washer. I'd have her deported, but she works for next to nothing." This, oddly enough, led Gilkes to invite "Koch" to call back and speak directly to the governor.

Second, and more important, is the fact that Walker talked about a scheme to bring state Senate Democrats back to the capitol.

"An interesting idea that was brought up to me by my chief of staff, we won't do it until tomorrow, is putting out an appeal to the Democratic leader. I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders -- talk, not negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn -- but I'll only do it if all 14 of them will come back and sit down in the state assembly. They can recess it... the reason for that, we're verifying it this afternoon, legally, we believe, once they've gone into session, they don't physically have to be there. If they're actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they'd have quorum because it's turned out that way. So we're double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that's the only reason why."

In other words, Walker's plan was to bring Dems back under false pretenses, set the trap, then screw them over. So much for the notion of acting in good faith

And third, when the Koch impersonator suggested a scheme involving "planting some troublemakers" among the protestors, Walker conceded, "[W]e thought about that," before explaining that he questioned its impact. Perhaps the governor's office can clarify this one -- it's certainly not what the governor has been saying "in public.

This call says a great deal about who Scott Walker is. He is an untrustworthy extremist ideologue who will screw over anyone who tries to deal with him - unless that person is providing money and support as David Koch is. He does not see himself as "public servant" who works for the people. He sees himself as a king or dictator who is there to get government to force others to do things his way.

Addendum IV 1:03 PM CST
By way of Blue girl here is a copy of the transcript of the converstation:
Walker: Hi; this is Scott Walker.

Koch: Scott! David Koch. How are you?

Walker: Hey, David! I'm good. And yourself?

Koch: I'm very well. I'm a little disheartened by the situation there, but, uh, what's the latest?

Walker: Well, we're actually hanging pretty tough. I mean-you know, amazingly there's a much smaller group of protesters-almost all of whom are in from other states today. The State Assembly is taking the bill up-getting it all the way to the last point it can be at where it's unamendable. But they're waiting to pass it until the Senate's-the Senate Democrats, excuse me, the assembly Democrats have about a hundred amendments they're going through. The state Senate still has the 14 members missing but what they're doing today is bringing up all sorts of other non-fiscal items, many of which are things members in the Democratic side care about. And each day we're going to ratchet it up a little bit.... The Senate majority leader had a great plan he told about this morning-he told the Senate Democrats about and he's going to announce it later today, and that is: The Senate organization committee is going to meet and pass a rule that says if you don't show up for two consecutive days on a session day-in the state Senate, the Senate chief clerk-it's a little procedural thing here, but-can actually have your payroll stopped from being automatically deducted-

Koch: Beautiful.

Walker: - into your checking account and instead-you still get a check, but the check has to be personally picked up and he's instructing them - which we just loved - to lock them in their desk on the floor of the state Senate.

Koch: Now you're not talking to any of these Democrat bastards, are you?

Walker: Ah, I - there's one guy that's actually voted with me on a bunch of things I called on Saturday for about 45 minutes, mainly to tell him that while I appreciate his friendship and he's worked with us on other things, to tell him I wasn't going to budge.

Koch: Goddamn right!

Walker: ...his name is Tim Cullen-

Koch: All right, I'll have to give that man a call.

Walker: Well, actually, in his case I wouldn't call him and I'll tell you why: he's pretty reasonable but he's not one of us...

Koch: Now who can we get to budge on this collective bargaining?

Walker: ...I think the paycheck will have an impact...secondly, one of the things we're looking at next...we're still waiting on an opinion to see if the unions have been paying to put these guys up out of state. We think there's at minimum an ethics violation if not an outright felony.

Koch: Well, they're probably putting hobos in suits.

Walker: Yeah.

Koch: That's what we do. Sometimes.

Walker: I mean paying for the senators to be put up. I know they're paying for these guy-I mean, people can pay for protesters to come in and that's not an ethics code, but, I mean, literally if the unions are paying the 14 senators-their food, their lodging, anything like that...[*** Important regarding his later acceptance of a Koch offer to "show him a good time." ***]

[I was stunned. I am stunned. In the interest of expediting the release of this story, here are the juiciest bits:]

Walker: ...I've got layoff notices ready...

Koch: Beautiful; beautiful. Gotta crush that union.

Walker: [bragging about how he doesn't budge]...I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders-talk, not negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn-but I'll only do it if all 14 of them will come back and sit down in the state assembly...legally, we believe, once they've gone into session, they don't physically have to be there. If they're actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they'd have we're double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that's the only reason why. We'd only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them...

Koch: Bring a baseball bat. That's what I'd do.

Walker: I have one in my office; you'd be happy with that. I have a slugger with my name on it.

Koch: Beautiful.

Walker: [union-bashing...]

Koch: Beautiful.

Walker: So this is ground zero, there's no doubt about it. [Talks about a "great" NYT piece of "objective journalism." Talks about how most private blue-collar workers have turned against public, unionized workers.]...So I went through and called a handful, a dozen or so lawmakers I worry about each day and said, "Everyone, we should get that story printed out and send it to anyone giving you grief."

Koch: Goddamn right! We, uh, we sent, uh, Andrew Breitbart down there.


Koch: Yeah.

Walker: Good stuff.

Koch: He's our man, you know.

Walker: [blah about his press conferences, attacking Obama, and all the great press he's getting.] Brian [Sadoval], the new Governor of Nevada, called me the last night he said-he was out in the Lincoln Day Circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me, he said, "Scott, don't come to Nevada because I'd be afraid you beat me running for governor." That's all they want to talk about is what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin. I talk to Kasich every day - John's gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with Vic Scott in Florida. I think, uh, Snyder - if he got a little more support - probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there's a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.

Koch: You're the first domino.

Walker: Yep. This is our moment.

Koch: Now what else could we do for you down there?

Walker: Well the biggest thing would be-and your guy on the ground [Americans For Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this [stuff about all the people protesting, and some of them flip him off].

[Abrupt end of first recording, and start of second.]

Walker: [Bullshit about doing the right thing and getting flipped off by "union bulls," and the decreasing number of protesters. Or some such.]

Koch: We'll back you any way we can. What we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.

Walker: You know, well, the only problem with that - because we thought about that. The problem - the, my only gut reaction to that is right now the lawmakers I've talked to have just completely had it with them, the public is not really fond of this...[explains that planting troublemakers may not work.] My only fear would be if there's a ruckus caused is that maybe the governor has to settle to solve all these problems...[something about '60s liberals.]...Let 'em protest all they want...Sooner or later the media stops finding it interesting.

Koch: Well, not the liberal bastards on MSNBC.

Walker: Oh yeah, but who watches that? I went on "Morning Joe" this morning. I like it because I just like being combative with those guys, but, uh. You know they're off the deep end.

Koch: Joe-Joe's a good guy. He's one of us.

Walker: Yeah, he's all right. He was fair to me...[bashes NY Senator Chuck Schumer, who was also on the program.]

Koch: Beautiful; beautiful. You gotta love that Mika Brzezinski; she's a real piece of ass.

Walker: Oh yeah. [story about when he hung out with human pig Jim Sensenbrenner at some D.C. function and he was sitting next to Brzezinski and her father, and their guest was David Axelrod. He introduced himself.]

Koch: That son of a bitch!

Walker: Yeah no kidding huh?...

Koch: Well, good; good. Good catching up with ya'.

Walker: This is an exciting time [blah, blah, blah, Super Bowl reference followed by an odd story of pulling out a picture of Ronald Reagan and explaining to his staff the plan to crush the union the same way Reagan fired the air traffic controllers]...that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall because the Communists then knew Reagan wasn't a pushover. [Blah, blah, blah. He's exactly like Reagan. Won't shut up about how awesome he is.]

Koch: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.

Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. [*** Ethical violation much? ***] Thanks for all the's all about getting our freedoms back...

Koch: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. [Laughs]

Walker: [Blah] Thanks a million!

Koch: Bye-bye!

Walker: Bye.
OK. So I am offering one-stop-shopping for this news event and commentary on it. Feel free to add comments yourself and even links to other good comments.

If you don't know how to embed a link, here is the trick.

<a href="link goes here">title goes here</a>

What can be expected to happen in Libya now?

What next for Libya? Ambassador Marc Ginsberg (former ambassador to Morocco) writes his predictions:
Unlike Tunisia or Egypt, Gadhafi will use as much brute force as he can import to quell the uprising... because there is no brake on his power other than the ability of the Libyan people to fight tooth and nail with their own wits and blood against him. This is truly a civil war, with the force of the empire aligned against the good people of Libya, a country afloat in incredible oil wealth, yet impoverished and as backward as any can imagine. Under Gadhafi Libya is a nation without a future. And you can be sure Gadhafi will fight to the last bullet. This is not someone inclined to flee the bunker.


One must understand that Libya is a colonial construct; stitched together by the allegiance of tribes, albeit for money and convenience.

In the short run, the eastern province, with the principal city of Benghazi, has traditionally been a hot bed of anti-Gadhafi activity and reports suggest it has fallen into the hands of his adversaries. Indeed, it is possible that Benghazi would declare itself an independent Islamic emirate. Too early to tell.

The key to Gadhafi's longevity is the city of Tripoli... Libya's capital to the west near the Tunisian border. A city controlled by Gadhafi's own tribe and by the paid allegiance of his police and mercenaries.

Tonight, Gadhafi lost the crucial support of two tribes vital to his rule -- the Awlad Soweija which has Islamist extremist elements in it and is based in around Benghazi, as well as the Awlad Waffala, which is the largest tribe south of Tripoli. The loss of the latter is a devastating blow to what passes as his regime.

In the event that Tripoli falls out of Gadhafi's control, Libya may descend in the short run into chaos and anarchy, since there is no one to take over unless a council of exiled democrats can come together, perhaps under the chapeau of the pretenders to deposed King Idriss. That may be Libya's best hope to prevent Libyans from having to die further once Gadhafi and his brood are banished. Memo to popular Libyans in exile: you will have to move quickly to catch the tail of this tiger before it becomes too late to do so.

What is clear is that there is a strong Islamist opposition that has targeted Gadhafi in the past. Ironically, the dictator who introduced conservative Shariah values is himself the target of their ire.

In this power vacuum, waiting in the wings are the remnants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) -- now merged with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). LIFG is not the Taliban. It does not have the depth and breadth of support among the key tribes. But in the wake of the lawlessness that would inevitably take hold should Gadhafi fall, Libya could easily disintegrate into tribal redoubts and Somali-type Islamist insurgency where tribalism and Al Qaeda sympathizers battle it out. Think of Afghanistan in North Africa if a simplistic analogy is called for.
This is probably as good as any information currently in the media and better than most. It is, however, not going to be as relatively bloodless and democratic as Tunisia or Egypt have been so far.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A glimpse into the U.S. - Pakistan relationship

Remember Raymond Davis, the "consular employee" in Pakistan who was arrested and is being held by the Pakistanis for killing two armed individuals who apparently tried to kill him? Obviously it is a lot more complicated than that snippet of a story. It is at the core of the very explosive set of disagreements between the United States and Pakistan. emptywheel at firedoglake has an excellent analysis of what has recently been published on the subject.

Davis appears to be a spy of some sort, perhaps a contractor but now claimed by the CIA in Pakistan. Were the two men he shot security agents from the Pakistani ISI? Was Davis collecting targeting information on the Taliban in Northwest Pakistan? Was there a connection between the fact that American drone strikes in North Waziristan ended four days before the shooting Davis was involved in? Did John Kerry really ferry Davis' backup team out of Pakistan when Kerry returned from Pakistan? Those individuals were apparently supposed to protect or rescue Davis and failed to do so. According to ABC they are now back in the U.S. and the Pakistani authorities really want them.

For details go read emptywheel's article. It doesn't have all the answers, but it brings to light a lot of very interesting questions.The commenters add a great deal more information.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Obama White House is really dissapointing progressives.

Is the bailout of Wall Street bankers really grating your progressive soul? Is the tame rhetoric and failure to support progressive causes really irritating to you? It sure is to me. There are many things the Obama White House has done that I don't like, but it really irritates me that they bailed out the Wall Street bankers who caused this current Great Depression and are not doing a damned thing to reign them in now that they appear to be back in control of the economy. But I really don't begrudge the White House their actions to bail out the Wall Street banks in 2008.

If the Wall Street bankers had not gotten the bailout we would currently be deep into Great Depression II. The Wall Street bankers are assholes who deserve nothing better than to choose which will they line up in front of as they face firing squads, but the money they move keeps our world-wide economies working. If they had not started moving money again the entire world would have been in deep shit. So they got a bailout, got protected, got richer, and the rest of us are only in mildly deep shit. Hell of a trade-off, but it was done in the right direction.

And yep. The working class - as well as most of the middle class - got the shaft. Just not as badly as it could have been.

No, I am not a salesman trying to sell someone a product. I just think that anyone who tells you that things would have worked better if the Wall Street bankers had gotten what they deserve is lying to you. The salesmen want the Wall Street Bailout to go away and for the Wall Street banker to get what they deserve. Sorry! It ain't going to happen. There was no better outcome than we got, and it is amazing that we got as good as we did get.

The Obama White House is getting what it can realistically get. They are not shooting for the fences because the price of losing is too damned high. They are not perfect, though.

They have a real tin ear for how what they say and do will be portrayed by the media and they are unwilling to (swinging for the fences) support the progressive causes. Nor are they willing to try to change the public perceptions. I don't think they believe they have that level of bully pulpit. They may be right, but again it goes back to the fact that the guy who has it all to lose is not ready to risk it all to win.

That's where I think those of us who supported Obama's election are sitting right now.

More on the Koch borthers - Republican attack on unions in Wisconsin

How many people have been fooled into believing that the battle in Wisconsin is either necessary or about preventing a budget deficit? This piece of news should make things clear:
Earlier Friday, Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said his members would agree to pay more of their pension contributions and health insurance benefits as Walker is demanding. But Beil said his union would never agree to give up decades-old bargaining rights.

Beil's union is part of AFSCME, the largest state and local employee union in Wisconsin, which represents 68,000 workers for the state, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and other municipalities. An AFSCME spokesman said Beil was speaking for all the group's union locals in the state.

"We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state's budget into balance, but we will not be denied our God-given right to join a real union . . .  we will not - I repeat we will not - be denied our rights to collectively bargain," Beil said in a statement.

Mary Bell, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, said her group also would make the financial concessions to keep its bargaining rights.

"This is not about money," Bell said in a phone conference. "We understand the need to sacrifice."

No compromise seen

Walker flatly rejected the offer.
Everything is clear. The only thing the Republicans want is to destroy the unions. Don't expect any compromise that works in the public interest. This battle is not about the public interest. It is about Republicans destroying the unions.

Some background on the Wisconsin attack on unions

As described yesterday, Wisconsin governor Walker is essentially put into the governor's office by the Koch brothers. Much of the funding came from Koch Industries. Immediately upon taking office in January of this year Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans passed tax breaks for the corporations and for the wealthy that converted a projected government surplus into a fiscal deficit. Next Walker declared a fiscal emergency and demanded that the government employee unions accept decertification and effective emasculation through a proposed law that prevents them from negotiating with the state on pay or benefits. It's perfectly clear that the actions aimed at the public worker unions are nothing more than a union-busting tactics.

Walker is representing Koch Industries which provided the money that got him elected governor. Koch Industries is famously anti-union, having gone so far as the declare that they will shut down any business they operate that is unionized.

The Koch brothers own the second largest privately owned company in the United States. What we do not yet know is how much of the money that swept into Wisconsin politics last year was unleashed by the Supreme Court's recent made up law, the Citizen's United decision. What we do know is that at least two of the US Supreme Court Justices who enacted the Citizen's United decision have been meeting with the Koch brothers at their recent meeting of millionaires in Palm Springs. The likelihood that the Justices were colluding with the Koch brothers in fund-raising for a conservative anti-union program is very strong.

The attacks on unions by the conservatives have been building in recent years. It's not just the unions themselves, though. It's the fact that unions are one of the pillars of the Democratic Party. The conservatives have been able to destroy ACORN because it was so successful at getting minority voters to register and get out the vote was an earlier success of the conservatives in removing the institutional support behind the Democratic Party. The Koch Brothers - Governor Walker attack on unions in Wisconsin is one more effort in the same direction to make the conservatives politically dominant in American politics. It is very likely that the five Catholic US Supreme Court Justices are complicit in the political attack.

Politically this is an attack on the American people by the big money families and by the heads of large corporations.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Republican attack on unions in Wisconsin is directed by Koch Industries

Governor Walker of Wisconsin has been selling his effort to eliminate state employee unions as necessary in order to balance the Wisconsin budget. That is the budget that was going to produce a surplus until Walker was sworn in and the Republican legislature passed laws eliminating most taxes for corporations and the wealthy. So the Republicans gave away the state revenue and now are demanding that the state employees make up what was given away.

But it is much more than that. It is a complete union-busting exercise by Walker and the Republicans. Here is Ezra Klein's description of what is happening:
Walker proposes that the right to collectively bargain be taken away from most -- but not all -- state and local workers. Who's left out? "Local law enforcement and fire employees, and state troopers and inspectors would be exempt from these changes." As Harold Meyerson notes, these are also the unions that happened to be more supportive of Walker in the last election. Funny, that.

Walker tries to sell the change in collective bargaining as modest. "State and local employees could continue to bargain for base pay, they would not be able to bargain over other compensation measures." But that's not really true. Read down a bit further and you'll find that "total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum." In other words, they couldn't bargain for wages to rise faster than inflation. So, in reality, they can't bargain for wages and they can't bargain over other forms of compensation. They just can't bargain.

The proposal doesn't stop there, though. "Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues." These rules have nothing to do with pension costs or even bargaining. They're just about weakening unions: They make it harder for unions to collect dues from members, to negotiate stable contracts or to survive a bad year.

The best way to understand Walker's proposal is as a multi-part attack on the state's labor unions. In part one, their ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced. In part two, their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut. And in part three, workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year. Put it all together and it looks like this: Wisconsin's unions can't deliver value to their members, they're deprived of the resources to change the rules so they can start delivering value to their members again, and because of that, their members eventually give in to employer pressure and shut the union down in one of the annual certification elections.
If this survives and goes into effect it will mean the same kind of treatment to every union in the United States.

I wonder if the media will realize what is happening and start actually reporting on it instead of jut transcribing the Republican propaganda.

Addendum 4:27 PM

This is from Lee Fang at Think Progress:
Wisconsin’s newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is facing a growing backlash over his attempt to cut pay and eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in his state. Although Walker is claiming his power grab is an attempt to close a budget gap, the budget “crisis” was engineered by Walker as soon as he got into office. As Brian Beutler reported, half of the budget shortfall comes from Walker’s own tax cuts for businesses and other business giveaways enacted in January.

A number of the big business interests standing with Walker are beneficiaries of his administration’s tax giveaways. But the greatest ally to Walker is the dirty energy company Koch Industries. In response to the growing protests in Madison, Koch fronts are busing in Tea Party protesters to support Walker and his union-busting campaign. Last night, MSNBC’s Ed Schultz reported on the involvement of Club for Growth and the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity in the pro-Walker protest scheduled tomorrow.
Nothing good can come from the Koch Industries involvement.

Addendum II 5:13 PM

Here, from Alternet, is some more on the background behind Wisconsin governor Walker's effort to destroy the unions:
Walker is carrying out the wishes of his corporate master, David Koch, who calls the tune these days for Wisconsin Republicans. Walker is just one among many Wisconsin Republicans supported by Koch Industries -- run by David Koch and his brother, Charles -- and Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch. The Koch brothers are hell-bent on destroying the labor movement once and for all.

During his election campaign, Walker received the maximum $15,000 contribution from Koch Industries, according to Think Progress, and support worth untold hundreds of thousands from the Koch-funded astroturf group, Americans For Prosperity. AlterNet recently reported the role of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Americans For Prosperity in a vote-caging scheme apparently designed to suppress the votes of African-Americans and college students in Milwaukee. In 2008, Walker served as emcee for an awards ceremony held by Americans For Prosperity. There, he conferred the "Defender of the American Dream" award on Rep. Paul Ryan, now chairman of the House Budget Committee.

On Monday, AlterNet reported on the gaggle of Koch-sponsored politicians who individually graced the podium at last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (including several from Wisconsin: Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson). Rep. Michele Bachmann, also a Koch favorite from next-door Minnesota, kicked off the conference.
Since the Koch brothers are also funding the Tea Party Express and are spending as much as they can based on the Citizens United Supreme Court decision so that they can overthrow America's democracy, it is no surprise that one of the Koch Industry's candidates (Walker) is doing what he can to destroy the unions in Wisconsin. From there they will move to other states and destroy the right to unionize there.

Addendum 2/19/2011 2:00 PM
Ezra Klein and Naomi Klein discuss the practice of the "Shock Doctrine."

The Shock Doctrine is what Gov. Walker is practicing. He manufactured a crisis, then he is using that crisis to destroy the unions which have no connection to the crisis he manufactured.

[This is the Wikipedia article that summarizes Naomi Klein's book "The Shock Doctrine." It describes the tactic Walker is using to a "T."]

Global warming provides a rational explanation for all the snow in the U.S.

The nasty snow last week can be explained by global warming. From Kevin Drum:
"The main hypotheses for why we have so much snow, [...] involve heat coming out of the now-open Arctic ocean in early winter. Once the ice cap freezes over temporarily, the wild weather calms down."
Remember the melting Arctic ocean ice cap?

Short description: The ice cap used to protect the Arctic Ocean water and keep it under the ice. But radical climate change has melted much of the Arctic Ice Cap. It has also warmed the atmosphere above the Arctic Ocean and warm air hold more water than cold air.

But water in the atmosphere is going to drop as either rain or snow. It is
Winter in North America, so when the warmer air moved South an hit colder conditions it became snow.

Voila! Snow storms caused by the misnamed "global warming." The core of the problem is rapidly rising temperatures on a planetary scale. That is leading to radical climate change and as the temperature increases the climate will change even more radically.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bill Moyers describes the problems of informing the public about political and business corruption

Bill Moyers has published an article that says a great deal about the reason why America's government is no longer working. Here is a key paragraph:
The late scholar Cleanth Brooks of Yale thought there were three great enemies of democracy. He called them "The Bastard Muses":
  • Propaganda, which pleads sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth;
  • sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and
  • pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality.
The poet Czeslaw Milosz identified another enemy of democracy when, upon accepting the Noble Prize for Literature, he said "Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember." Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.

Against these tendencies it is an uphill fight to stay the course of factual broadcasting. We have to keep reassuring ourselves and one another that it matters and we have to join forces to defend and safeguard our independence. I learned this early on.

[Formatting added by the editor of WTF-o]
Bill Moyers goes on to describe some instances in which he helped expose corruption in politics, but one item in the story is especially memorable. It involves exposing wrong-doing by corporations.
But shining the spotlight on political corruption is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington, as my colleague Marty Koughan and I discovered when we produced a program for David Fanning and "Frontline" on pesticides and food. Marty had learned that industry was attempting behind closed doors to dilute the findings of the American Academy of Sciences study on the effects of pesticide residues on children. Before we finished the documentary, the industry somehow purloined a copy of our draft script - we still aren't certain how - and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit our program before it aired. Television reviewers and editorial pages of key newspapers were flooded with propaganda. Some public television managers were so unnerved by the blitz of misleading information about a film they had not yet broadcast that they actually protested to PBS with letters that had been prepared by the industry.

Here's what most perplexed us: the American Cancer Society - an organization that in no way figured in our story - sent to its 3,000 local chapters a "critique" of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not seen, that had not aired and that did not claim what the Society alleged? An enterprising reporter named Sheila Kaplan later looked into those questions for the journal Legal Times. It turns out that the Porter Novelli public relations firm, which had worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. Kaplan found that the firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that "charitable" work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the Society to distribute some harsh talking point about the documentary before it aired - talking points that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter Novelli. Legal Times headlined the story "Porter Novelli Plays All Sides." A familiar Washington game.

Others also used the American Cancer Society's good name in efforts to tarnish the journalism before it aired, none more invidiously than the right-wing polemicist Reed Irvine, who pumped his sludge through an organization with the Orwellian name Accuracy in Media. He attacked our work as "junk science on PBS" and demanded Congress pull the plug on public broadcasting. Fortunately, PBS once again stood firm. The documentary aired, the journalism held up and the publicity liberated the National Academy of Sciences to release the study that the industry had tried to cripple.
This is really a long way from the ideal of representative democracy we were taught about in civics. This is the corporations working to take control of America and simply do whatever they want to do in the name of increased profit. It is the story we all know of Wall Street which, in its greed, sold mortgage backed securities with essentially fake financial insurance that made the securities seem like a sure route to wealth for the investors. Instead they were the destruction of the Wall Street banks and the world economy. For a while in the fall of 2008 Wall Street was literally dead.

Only amazing efforts by governments around the world and handouts of lrge sums of taxpayer money to the very banks that caused the problem saved the world economy from the second Great Depression. We still call the residue of that period the Great Recession and we will not recover for years.

Wall Street and the American corporations do not want that story told. Go back and look at the list of four highlighted items above. All of them are in play, especially propaganda and the strange amnesia of the public.

Go read Moyer's entire article. As usual it is both very good and highly entertainikng.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Curveball lied; American soldiers died; The Iraq War was a waste.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials, had powerful stories to tell American and German Intelligence officials about the Saddam Hussein regime's mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell used Curveball's stories as much of the basis for his speech to the United Nations justifying war against Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld relied heavily on Curveball's stories when he pushed for the American invasion of Iraq.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi lied so that America would take down Saddam Hussein for him and for his sons. There were no weapons of mass destruction. America has squandered thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on the invasion of Iraq based largely on those lies and on the overwhelming desire of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to invade that oil-rich country and to "finish" what George H. W. Bush had left "unfinished" after the Persian Gulf War.

Curveball is proud of his lies. Are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell proud of their gullibility?

As we watch the President and Congress go into negotiations about what American Federal programs to cut, remember that the deficit was based to a large extent on the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan is still going on because America did not have the military capability to fight two wars at the same time, so they starved the war in Afghanistan to fight the war in Iraq!

There is an informative five minute video with the Guardian article. I wonder how many duped American media outlets will run this news?

Monday, February 14, 2011

More on the hacker war in the Internet

Here is some more background on the Internet war being battled around WikiLeaks. This is an Internet story with good guys, bad guys and no end of confusion regarding who is which.

Aaron burr of the security firm HBGary Federal has paid a high price for trying to expose the individuals behind Anonymous. so has HBGary Federal. I wrote last Friday about the The secret cyberwar being carried on by government and businesses to destroy Wikileaks. Aaron burr is the individual who named names behind Anonymous. This story shows what he was trying to do. The fact that he listed Glenn Greenwald as one of the Anonymous individuals certainly brings his methods and information into question.
Aaron Barr believed he had penetrated Anonymous. The loose hacker collective had been responsible for everything from anti-Scientology protests to pro-Wikileaks attacks on MasterCard and Visa, and the FBI was now after them. But matching their online identities to real-world names and locations proved daunting. Barr found a way to crack the code.


"At any given time there are probably no more than 20-40 people active, accept during hightened points of activity like Egypt and Tunisia where the numbers swell but mostly by trolls," he wrote in an internal e-mail. (All e-mails in this investigative report are provided verbatim, typos and all.) "Most of the people in the IRC channel are zombies to inflate the numbers."

The show was run by a couple of admins he identified as "Q," "Owen," and "CommanderX"—and Barr had used social media data and subterfuge to map those names to three real people, two in California and one in New York.

Near the end of January, Barr began publicizing his information, though without divulging the names of the Anonymous admins. When the Financial Times picked up the story and ran a piece on it on February 4, it wasn't long before Barr got what he wanted—contacts from the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US military. The FBI had been after Anonymous for some time, recently kicking in doors while executing 40 search warrants against group members.


When the liberal blog Daily Kos ran a story on Barr's work later that day, some Anonymous users commented on it. Barr sent out an e-mail to colleagues, and he was getting worked up: "They think all I know is their irc names!!!!! I know their real fing names. Karen [HBGary Federal's public relations head] I need u to help moderate me because I am getting angry. I am planning on releasing a few names of folks that were already arrested. This battle between us will help spur publicity anyway."


But within a day, Anonymous had managed to infiltrate HBGary Federal's website and take it down, replacing it with a pro-Anonymous message ("now the Anonymous hand is bitch-slapping you in the face.") Anonymous got into HBGary Federal's e-mail server, for which Barr was the admin, and compromised it, extracting over 40,000 e-mails and putting them up on The Pirate Bay, all after watching his communications for 30 hours, undetected. In an after-action IRC chat, Anonymous members bragged about how they had gone even further, deleting 1TB of HBGary backup data.

They even claimed to have wiped Barr's iPad remotely.


Were Barr's vaunted names even correct? Anonymous insisted repeatedly that they were not. As one admin put it in the IRC chat with Leavy, "Did you also know that aaron was peddling fake/wrong/false information leading to the potential arrest of innocent people?" The group then made that information public, claiming that it was all ridiculous.

Thanks to the leaked e-mails, we now have the full story of how Barr infiltrated Anonymous, used social media to compile his lists, and even resorted to attacks on the codebase of the Low Orbit Ion Cannon—and how others at his own company warned him about the pitfalls of his research.
This is a very modern story and it looks like it is not over yet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What has happened to the Democratic Party as a national organization?

Should the Democrats be nationalizing the Democratic political message the way the Republicans have or should the Democrats continue to run primarily a district-by-district set of campaigns with each candidate crafting the message to match what he or she thinks his voters want to hear from him?

The following was posted yesterday by at MyDD. November, I was angry. The Democrats had just backed away from the only winable fight on the Bush Tax Cuts, and seemed hell bent on heading into the election with nothing much to get voters, at home either content or disenfranchised, out to the polls to fight back. Part of that was the policy they were defending, and part of it was the lack of any unified, consistent message. You can't campaign on principle your policy doesn't back up, and the principle the policy does portrays -- Eh, we sorta tried? -- isn't a winning slogan. Ta-da! GOP "mandate."
Jason is right. It appeared to me that the national Democratic Party did not want to put out a national Democratic message because it would have damaged too many already threatened blue dogs. So the Democrats ran district by district while the Republicans nationalized their message. Then, of course, the Citizens United decision allowed the national Republicans to throw tons of money into the election, and FOX News is one massive propaganda organization. They all demonized the Democrats.

Remember 2008 right after Obama was elected when the talk was that Bush/Cheney had made the Republican Party so toxic they wouldn't be able to win elections for decades and might even have to change the name of their party?

It didn't help a bit that the Republicans in Congress ran a two year program to stop the Democrats from doing anything to alleviate the problems caused by the Great Recession, especially unemployment. That worked for them also. The Republicans caused the Great Recession and the Wall Street collapse, so they lost in 2008. Obama came in and in two years was unable to break the lock the Republicans have had on the Senate so Obama and the Democrats were in office and got blamed for the problems the Republicans caused either through greed or through political calculation.

Well, with the Republicans in charge of the House a lot of the political terrain has changed. Now the Democrats can sit on the sidelines and expose the less than photogenic behavior of the conservatives. Take a look at what Steve Benen wrote today:
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended proposed Republican budget cuts to popular domestic programs Sunday as necessary to maintaining fiscal health.

"No matter how popular sounding these programs are, they jeopardize our children's future," the House Budget Committee chairman said on "Fox News Sunday."
So, let me get this straight. In order to help protect the interests of our children, we have to cut Head Start, student loans, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children.

By making these cuts, Paul Ryan believes he's helping make children's futures brighter. Presumably, the House Budget Committee chairman also intends to teach kids about fire safety by handing them matches and lighter fluid, and encouraging them to play.

Indeed, as far as Ryan is concerned, we just can't afford Head Start, student loans, Title I grants, and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, but we can afford tax breaks for people who don't need them, costing far more money.
But it gets better. Steve also pointed out:
The DCCC targeted 19 GOP House incumbents, nearly all of whom represent districts won by President Obama in 2008, blasting their support for a spending-cut plan that would "cut education" and "cut science and technology research," which would in turn cost jobs. Soon after, some of the Republicans facing the heat felt a little defensive.

In other words, the ads had the intended effect. GOP lawmakers in competitive districts wanted to be seen as cutting spending, but started getting nervous when Dems told their constituents about the breadth of the possible cuts.

This is a step toward nationalizing the 2012 campaign, something that Obama is going to have to do anyway if he is going to win reelection. But will Obama then shut down the Democratic national messaging machine again after 2012 and force the individual Democratic candidates to run mostly on whatever message each of them can craft?

Consider what Jack Balkin wrote on this subject:
What we are facing today is likely to be importantly different from previous periods of divided government before the George W. Bush Administration. The reason is that at the national level, contemporary American politics suffers from a pathological and debilitating condition: the emergence of parliamentary parties in a presidential system.

Democracy in the United States is based on a presidential system, in which different parties can control the presidency and the houses of Congress. In a parliamentary system, by contrast, the prime minister is head of government and also a member of either the majority party or a party in the majority coalition. Presidential systems have regular elections; there is no possibility of bringing down a government with a vote of no confidence (other than the possibility of impeachment and removal). In parliamentary systems, the head of government can call for new elections at different times, and the legislature can dismiss the head of government by a vote of no confidence.

The American system has long presumed that in periods of divided government, the President will be able to create coalitions with members of both parties in order to pass legislation. This is possible in part because, at least since the Civil War, and until very recently, American political parties have been agglomerations of heterogenous interests, and relatively ideologically diverse. (During the New Deal, for example, northern liberals, Catholics, and blacks coexisted in the same Democratic party as Southern whites). The heterogeneity of American parties is due partly to historical contingencies, and partly to the fact that candidates run to represent particular geographical constituencies in different regions of the country (rather than having seats assigned to them based--in whole or in part--on a party list). Parliamentary parties in most countries, by contrast, tend to be more ideologically coherent and centrally controlled. (Unlike the United States, with its first-past-the-post system, many parliamentary democracies also have some seats awarded by proportional representation, which also tends to concentrate power in the central party apparatus.)

In the past several decades, however, American political parties have come to resemble European-style parliamentary parties, as the old party system inherited from the New Deal has broken down. Each party is increasingly ideologically cohesive, and strongly differentiated from members of the other political party.

The way this point is usually expressed is that the parties are increasingly polarized. But a more appropriate way of saying this is that representatives of the two parties in Congress are behaving more like parliamentary parties. Perhaps ironically, given their anti-European rhetoric, the Republicans behave more like a European-style parliamentary party than the Democrats, who still retain more moderates in the House and Senate.

There are many overlapping reasons for this polarization. One is the primary system, which tends to produce less moderate, more ideological candidates. A second is the system of campaign finance. The national parties have more control over individual members because of the amount of money they can bring to bear (or withhold) to promote (or punish) candidates in the primary and general elections.

Parliamentary-style parties may work well in parliamentary systems, but their emergence in a presidential system is a particularly worrisome development.
I think we will see more nationalized politics from the Democrats because they have to match what the Republicans are already doing. This is going to be one more major strain on our political system, something which will cost the United States in both international power and in economic power. I'm not sure how long it will take the denizens inside the Washington beltway (what Paul Rosenberg called Versailles) to realize that the old rules really aren't working properly and the Republicans are actively screwing everything up for the rest of us. America is off in unknown territory without a guide.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The secret cyberwar being carried on by government and businesses to destroy Wikileaks.

I wasn't too sure what to make of the recent reports that Wikileaks has a bunch of documents about a major American bank that will demonstrate its corrupt activities. Apparently Bank of America is quite certain that the threat is real and that they are the target. It seems that there is a cyberwar going on right now. Glenn Greenwald, the human rights lawyer/blogger has written an interesting article at Salon that pulls together a lot of the story.
The story, first reported by The Tech Herald, has been been written about in numerous places (see Marcy Wheeler, Forbes, The Huffington Post, BoingBoing, Matt Yglesias, Reason, Tech Dirt, and others), so I'll provide just the summary.

Last week, Aaron Barr, a top executive at computer security firm HB Gary, boasted to the Financial Times that his firm had infiltrated and begun to expose Anonymous, the group of pro-WikiLeaks hackers that had launched cyber attacks on companies terminating services to the whistleblowing site (such as Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and others). In retaliation, Anonymous hacked into the email accounts of HB Gary, published 50,000 of their emails online, and also hacked Barr's Twitter and other online accounts.

Among the emails that were published was a report prepared by HB Gary -- in conjunction with several other top online security firms, including Palantir Technologies -- on how to destroy WikiLeaks. The emails indicated the report was part of a proposal to be submitted to Bank of America through its outside law firm, Hunton & Williams. News reports have indicated that WikiLeaks is planning to publish highly incriminating documents showing possible corruption and fraud at that bank, and The New York Times detailed last month how seriously top bank officials are taking that threat. The NYT article described that the bank's "counterespionage work" against WikiLeaks entailed constant briefings for top executives on the whistle-blower site, along with the hiring of "several top law firms" and Booz Allen (the long-time firm of former Bush DNI Adm. Michael McConnell and numerous other top intelligence and defense officials). The report prepared by these firms was designed to be part of the Bank of America's highly funded anti-WikiLeaks campaign.

The leaked report suggested numerous ways to destroy WikiLeaks, some of them likely illegal -- including planting fake documents with the group and then attacking them when published; "creat[ing] concern over the security" of the site; "cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters"; and a "media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities." Many of those proposals were also featured prongs of a secret 2008 Pentagon plan to destroy WikiLeaks.

One section of the leaked report focused on attacking WikiLeaks' supporters and it featured a discussion of me. A graph purporting to be an "organizational chart" identified several other targets, including former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 Lee, Guardian reporter James Ball, and Manning supporter David House. The report claimed I was "critical" to WikiLeaks' public support after its website was removed by Amazon and that "it is this level of support that needs to be disrupted"; absurdly speculated that "without the support of people like Glenn, WikiLeaks would fold"; and darkly suggested that "these are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause." As The Tech Herald noted, "earlier drafts of the proposal and an email from Aaron Barr used the word 'attacked' over 'disrupted' when discussing the level of support."

Then there is this interesting report from Think Progress.
ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.

According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Hunton And Williams’ attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms — HB Gary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and

According to one document prepared by Team Themis, the campaign included an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win.
Digby has weighed in with her take on the story. She focuses on Aaron Barr, an executive at the private security firm HB Gary, who obtained and published detailed information about political opponents’ children, spouses, and personal lives. When Anonymous, in defending WikiLeaks, learned what he had done they hacked into his accounts and published some 40,000 documents on his activities and on his family. After having done the same thing to other, Barr was very upset that someone might have named his family on line.

This is stuff that is not going away. We are going to see more of organizations like banks, governments and criminal organizations going after other people on the Internet. Think not? Here is more from Glenn Greenwald: turns out that the firms involved here are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the U.S. Government and the nation's largest private corporations (as but one example, see this email from a Stanford computer science student about Palantir). Moreover, these kinds of smear campaigns are far from unusual; in other leaked HB Gary emails, ThinkProgress discovered that similar proposals were prepared for the Chamber of Commerce to attack progressive groups and other activists (including ThinkProgress). And perhaps most disturbing of all, Hunton & Williams was recommended to Bank of America's General Counsel by the Justice Department -- meaning the U.S. Government is aiding Bank of America in its defense against/attacks on WikiLeaks.

That's why this should be taken seriously, despite how ignorant, trite and laughably shallow is the specific leaked anti-WikiLeaks proposal. As creepy and odious as this is, there's nothing unusual about these kinds of smear campaigns. The only unusual aspect here is that we happened to learn about it this time because of Anonymous' hacking. That a similar scheme was quickly discovered by ThinkProgress demonstrates how common this behavior is. The very idea of trying to threaten the careers of journalists and activists to punish and deter their advocacy is self-evidently pernicious; that it's being so freely and casually proposed to groups as powerful as the Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce, and the DOJ-recommended Hunton & Williams demonstrates how common this is. These highly experienced firms included such proposals because they assumed those deep-pocket organizations would approve and it would make their hiring more likely.

But the real issue highlighted by this episode is just how lawless and unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power. I've written many times about this issue -- the full-scale merger between public and private spheres -- because it's easily one of the most critical yet under-discussed political topics. Especially (though by no means only) in the worlds of the Surveillance and National Security State, the powers of the state have become largely privatized. There is very little separation between government power and corporate power. Those who wield the latter intrinsically wield the former. The revolving door between the highest levels of government and corporate offices rotates so fast and continuously that it has basically flown off its track and no longer provides even the minimal barrier it once did. It's not merely that corporate power is unrestrained; it's worse than that: corporations actively exploit the power of the state to further entrench and enhance their power.

That's what this anti-WikiLeaks campaign is generally: it's a concerted, unified effort between government and the most powerful entities in the private sector (Bank of America is the largest bank in the nation). The firms the Bank has hired (such as Booz Allen) are suffused with the highest level former defense and intelligence officials, while these other outside firms (including Hunton & Williams and Palantir) are extremely well-connected to the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government's obsession with destroying WikiLeaks has been well-documented. And because the U.S. Government is free to break the law without any constraints, oversight or accountability, so, too, are its "private partners" able to act lawlessly. That was the lesson of the Congressional vesting of full retroactive immunity on lawbreaking telecoms, of the refusal to prosecute any of the important Wall Street criminals who caused the 2008 financial crisis, and of the instinctive efforts of the political class to protect defrauding mortgage banks.

The exemption from the rule of law has been fully transferred from the highest level political elites to their counterparts in the private sector. "Law" is something used to restrain ordinary Americans and especially those who oppose this consortium of government and corporate power, but it manifestly does not apply to restrain these elites.