Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Blues

++SCOTUS rejected the Prop 8 supporters' petition to delay California's same sex marriages. 

++Jim DeMint and Gary Bauer appeared to argue that same sex marriages hurt kids and to argue for transvaginal probes on the Sunday talk shows. Luckily Rachel Maddow was there to shut them down on both items.

++Chris Christie vetoed Medicaid extension in New Jersey indicating he is touching the base to make way for the primaries. 

++The House's anti-abortion law was scored by the CBO and found that it would cost the government $75 to $400 million over 10 years.

++House Republicans are complaining that sequestration will mean that some military bases will not have enough money for July 4th fireworks.

++Republican members of the Senate sent the NFL a letter protesting the idea that they might run ads on Obamacare, claiming the Administration was strong-arming them on a "divisive "issue even though it is law.

++The NYTimes reports that Republicans have come up with a new strategy to fight Hillary Clinton--they claim she is too old to be President while the GOP has younger candidates who just happen to have really old ideas. 

++Linda Greenhouse has a column in today's Times about the real John Roberts. It's not pretty.

++House Republican leadership has sent out hugely mixed signals on immigration reform. Newsmax is horrified that Paul Ryan has spent hours trying to persuade the Republican Caucus that passage of immigration reform is necessary. Eric Cantor said that the "Dream Kids" have to have a country. But the House is going ahead with its own version of reform that would not include a path to citizenship. Stay tuned.

++Ray LaHood,Obama's Transportation Secretary,and former Republican Illinois Congressman, told the Washington Post that he feared the Republican Party was bordering on irrelevancy with regard to their Do Nothing Attitude. He pointed to the immigration bill and the farm bill. The failure to pass the Farm Bill,lingering for two years, will hurt House members. Dairy farmers will go out of business if it isn't passed. It is one of those routine bills that needs to be passed every few years. Like debt ceilings, it almost always has.

++One wise guy noted that Rand Paul's claim same sex marriage would lead to bestiality is strange because in Kentucky bestiality is legal, while same sex marriage isn't.

++The Daily Beast had a piece that said that Rand Paul's problem in winning the Presidency is because he is short. As Randy Newman sang, "Short people got no reason to live." Maybe Rand Paul can run as an incarnation of James Madison, who was also very short.

++In the Beltway, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul,Paul Ryan are considered serious presidential contenders. Forget it,we had only two Senators in my lifetime who made it. Lightening isn't going to strike three times. I bet the governors will lead the race--Chris Christie,Rick Perry (Oh, yes), Mike Huckabee,John Kasich, Gary Pence, and Vishnu Jindal. The question national Republicans are asking is "who can take Ohio?" 

++Most observers like myself believed that gerrymandering gave the GOP the House until at least 2020. Carville and Greenberg say,"Hold on." They have a poll this week that the American people identify Congress with Republicans and that Democrats stand great chances of picking up swing seats in the House. What's interesting is that their findings even baffled them who thought the same way as the rest of us. By the way, Charlie Cook wants to remind everyone that Obama has held a 50% approval rating the last two weeks.

++In their quest for the youth vote, the GOP is letting Elizabeth Warren's bill to cap interests rates die so the loans will double starting tomorrow.

++The New Yorker cover with Bert and Ernie cuddling and watching the television with the five judges who supported same sex marriages has come under flak. Heritage Foundation went out of its way to denounce Bert and Ernie "coming out" and of course this is another reason NPR should be defunded. Brian Fischer claims the New Yorker cover encouraged child sex abuse. 

++Not all evangelical Christians are wackjobs,the New York Times has a nice piece on Mariano Rivera,who keeps chugging along. The article details how in his 19-year career everyone on the field has always known where his pitch will go, even the batter, but he keeps saving games with a single pitch. Go figure!

++But some Christians are wackos. The World Nut Daily has called for a Christian revolution because of same sex marriage and Obamacare and says that the Gary Bauer type Religious Right is just misleading "real Christians" and accepting there is a separation not church and state.

++Sarah Palin is thinking of leaving the Republican Party if it keeps forgetting its platform and joining Mark Levin in the Freedom Party.

++In the Republican quest for the youth vote, they might like to know over 50% of 18-30 say they have no religion. A much larger percentage say they are for same-sex marriage. And even greater percent think dope should be legalized. Rand Paul is talking about the last item but don't hold your breath.

++Nancy Pelosi aims to put the GOP to the test about its minority outreach by sponsoring the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Senator Leahy says he is working on a draft in the Senate.

++The EU is going ballistic over revelations in Der Spiegel that the NSA has been eavesdropping on German citizens and the EU parliament. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Gay Keep Coming

++The 9th Circuit Court has lifted the stay on same-sex marriage in California and marriages can begin. San Francisco is already reporting weddings. Jerry Brown tweeted it's the law of the land. This is three weeks before my prediction in a previous post and what analysts had said.

++President Obama said the DOMA ruling didn't go far enough so he's extending federal benefits to same sex couples in non-same sex states.

++A federal court struck down the Michigan law denying public benefits to domestic partners.

++ENDA--the law to end discrimination in hiring gays has picked up 46 co-sponsors in the Senate.

++A CORRECTION: I said all Romney states allowed sex with horses. New Jersey also does and it went for Obama.

Down the Rabbit-Hole and into the Bleachers-Can the GOP Reform?

++First, gays are urging Andrew Sullivan not to go down the rabbit-hole since he urged gays to be generous to their adversaries. But Andrew has taken note of Bill Clinton's recent emergence in favor of gays rights when he signed DOMA and DADT into law. I'm with Andrew on this. DOMA was clearly a homophobic piece of legislation that Bill Clinton should be held responsible for. It occurred when Republicans got whiff that Hawaii might approve same-sex marriages in the 1990s. DOMA was aimed particularly to head this off at the pass. Clinton was looking to re-election so he didn't want the backlash if  he vetoed the bill. And we can credit Clinton with welfare reform, which he persuaded supporters he would correct once re-elected.

++John Oliver did a fun spot on the House Republican reaction to same sex marriage and wondered why Republicans when they think of it always descend into the area of bestiality. He can be forgiven because he is a Brit but all the Republicans come from states where Romney one--which all make it legal to have sex with a horse.

++Likely states where same sex marriage will be approve sooner rather than later are states where 50%+ favor it. These include New Jersey at 60%+, Michigan at 57%+ Virginia at 57% and Illinois at 50%.  Grass-roots campaigns are hitting Arkansas,Ohio, North Dakota, Wyoming and Michigan.

++As Andrew Sullivan noted yesterday, the conservatives in the House plan to introduce a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. The problem is that enough states already legalized it to stop such an amendment.

++Nate the Great Silver has surfaced again to say that Hillary Clinton has a 60-70% advantage if she decides to run for President. He argued that her advantage is akin to a sitting President. He says she has to signal her desires sometime in 2014 to clear the way in the primaries or harm any Democrat who might run as a nominee.

++Now to the issue at hand. The Times They Are A Changin". Can Republicans reform themselves? Reince Preibus did an autopsy which showed that voters thought the GOP was anti-modern,intolerant, racist, sexist and ignore the youth vote. Michael Gerson explained to the party that supporting immigration reform was not really about winning the Hispanic vote but was about dispelling the image that the Republican party was against immigrants in general and were intolerant. Others have weighed in and Fred Malek told the Post Today that donors were hanging back because they wanted the party to appear pragmatic. John McCain morphed into a diplomatic politician yesterday after the immigration reform win in the Senate to suggest he would be politely conferring with House colleagues about passing reform. Asked whether Republicans could win without it,he gave a polite reply, the equivalent of "We're Toast".  Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast countered today with an article about how others in the GOP believe they can win through 2050 by doubling down on the white vote and exploiting xenophobia. 

++With the internet and television shows like Rachel Maddow, the escapades of the GOP at state levels are more prominent today than at any time and the picture is particularly nasty. Women's healthcare rights are being "disappeared" by Republican state legislatures dominated by men. Egged on by the Christianist fringe,this year has been the worst in terms of access to abortion procedures and even contraception. 

++With the gutting of the Voters Rights Act, states are now embarking on changes that the DOJ has said are "overtly racist". The Maddow show did a segment on how Texas' Voter ID law will further depress the Hispanic vote and how redistricting in Texas only benefited white legislators. These plans are now being implemented in about six other states right after the Supreme Court decision--don't wait, just GO.

++The once modernizing state of North Carolina has moved into reverse and became the first state not to receive federal aid to the long-term unemployed. 

++The GOP's obsession with Obamacare has led to 39 House votes to repeal it and States have turned down Medicare expansion that would have insured millions of poor people. The GOP's attempt to gut Obamacare and underfund it will just mean it will be implemented in about half the country, while the rest will again have no healthcare.

++In their appeal to the Young, every Republican in Congress is against stopping the increase in college loan payments from doubling.

++The fanatical anti-science attitude of the Republican base bodes ill for any constructive attempts at climate change policy.

++On the issue at hand, Republicans honestly believe they will garner 70% of the white vote so there is no incentive to change, particularly with a by-election creeping up where turnout if low and the electorate is predominately white. 

++So this leaves John Boehner between a rock and a hard place. Privately, Boehner has told close acquaintances he favors an immigration law and believes the House will pass some version. But in the last few days, his Caucus have been overt in denouncing the Senate bill and saying the Senate can go "stick it".  Politically, it does not matter to the sitting members because through gerrymandering people believe Republicans will keep the house, having lost the house by a million votes in 2012, so what does it matter. 

++Remember Republicans have lost the popular vote for election in 5 out of the last 6 presidential elections. You would think this would wake them up but it does not appear to be so. Currently,they have manufactured another urban myth that Romney would have won and the IRS acted like ACORN in thwarting the white vote. The problem with the party is that their donors base is wary about such ideas because they were assured by the party Romney would win. So the big donors are sitting on their wallets.

++Unless they have a conversion experience, I see the GOP sleepwalking into the future. They are not disappearing yet but they sure are creepy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senate Passes Immigration Reform 68-32

++For the first time in a generation,the immigration system got a make-over with the Senate passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill by an overwhelming margin. 

++Since everyone said it would fail, now the pessimists can focus on the House. House republicans made a lot of negative noise today but we will see in the near term how courageous they are.

The Day After

++Before Andrew Sullivan got smashed yesterday at Stonewall,he penned a moving, patriotic piece about what the day meant to him. People, even in the gay community, always said he was crazy to advocate same sex marriage as he has done over the years way before anyone thought this was a mainstream idea and they also said America was too bigoted to elect a black President. His piece is entitled "I Believe" because he saw. Congratulations for a struggle well-waged,Andrew.

++Court observers have since read Kennedy's majority opinion ruling DOMA unconstitutional and realized that it established the seeds of the argument when the Court will have to rule same-sex marriage the law of the land. The time frame is estimated at 4 to 5 years. Judge Scalia in his raving dissent thinks it will be sooner.

++Little mentioned is that the California Prop 8 case now rests with Judge Walker's original and wonderfully argued decision. Jesuit-trained Jerry Brown has ordered all county officials in California to ready the marriage licenses when the time is ready, which will be about 24 days from now.

++Rep. Steve Chabot asked the CBO to score the reversal of DOMA, expecting it would cost money. The CBO estimates it will save $450 million a year on the federal budget. Fox News Business claimed it will make social security costs soar.

++Rand Paul demonstrating his presidential qualifications said that the court decisions will lead to humans marrying non-humans. Senator Cornyn thinks that people will marry "turtles". 

++Mike Huckabee said that Jesus wept. Dan Savage said "I wept too".

++I thought NOM, the National Organization for Marriage had a delightfully bizarre statement. The slammed the Court's rogue decision and they said that millions of Americans will ignore it. Sure, because millions are heterosexual and it doesn't affect them.

++The Mormon Church, the Catholic Bishops, and the  Fundamentalists all worried about what the decision will mean to "religious freedom". "Will the Bible be banned as hate speech?" said one fundamentalist. Meanwhile, the National Cathedral rang its bells when the court decisions were announced and the Episcopal, Unitarian, Presbyterian also rang their bells here in the Beltway.

++Chuck Hagel immediately announced that gay couples in the military would have all the rights and benefits of others. President Obama said he expected federal benefits would be extended across state lines into those jurisdictions where same sex marriages are now allowed. Gay activists say that this is easiest for the IRS and federal income taxes but that with Social Security and survival benefits this will take a little juggling. 

++E.J. Dionne wants to remind us in today's Washington Post that whatever joys the Roberts Court provided with the gay decisions it is still ruthlessly trying to turn us back to the Gilded Age in terms of economic matters. His column is worth a read.

++Thom Hartman gave an excellent analysis that the United States is heading to a two society country analogous to the pre-civil war period. He points out the disparity between states with same sex marriage, health care innovations, labor rights and those who he calls the Reagan Red States who will move rapidly with the neutering of the Voters Rights Act to put up barriers to minority participation in government. 

++Republicans have been very tepid about correcting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Nancy Pelosi wants to introduce a bill the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill to restore protections for minority voters. Eric Cantor voiced support for a Voting Rights Act, citing his trip to Selma with John Lewis. John Sensenbrenner, a Republican House member, said that prejudice and racism are still roadblocks to voting and wants the act  revamped. John Boehner says the House doesn't have time--(especially before 2014) and Lindsey Graham says that South Carolina has progressed so far that there is no need for a Voting Rights Act.

++Meanwhile in Texas, Rick Perry has called a "special session" of the Texas Senate on July 1 for the sole purpose of passing the draconian anti-abortion bill since the GOP was caught out trying to fudge the vote after Wendy Davis' filibuster.

++Chris Christie signaled he would run by denouncing the same sex decisions of the Supreme Court.  I am also betting on Rick Perry making another run on the Christianist Nationalist Platform.

++Meanwhile we may be heading to immigration reform in the Senate today as that body keeps passing the 60 vote margins on everything from the border surge to cloture votes. The game here in D.C. is whether the House would ever pass such a thing. John Boehner has been warned by the Republican Caucus that his job is endangered if he allows a bill to be brought to the floor without a majority of Republicans supporting it. Will he break the Hastert rule again, which would enable the House to pass the Senate bill? Stay tuned.

++Can the Republican Party overcome its epistemic closure? There are some voices in op-eds urging them to deal with immigration reform and not to engage in cultural warfare because the tide has changed on these issues. I am not hopeful because there is a counter-push to double down on efforts to increase their white support, which the gutting of the Voters Rights Act gives them ample motivation. But remember they aren't running against Barack Obama anymore--although they did run against FDR until 1960. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Least We Can Do Is Wage A War Against Women

++For a complete and subjective view of the Supreme Court rulings on same sex marriage, read Andrew Sullivan's live blogging about it. And congratulations to Andrew, a pioneer in advocating same sex marriage as a conservative position. About Edie Windsor's reaction, check out the NewYorker's blog.

++In the interest of re-branding the Republican Party in Virginia, Ken "The Cooch",candidate for Governor,yesterday has petitioned the Supreme Court to reinstate Virginia's anti-sodomy law. This is a man who said he would run as a moderate. So no BJs for you guys.

++The patriarchy strikes back. Texas was minutes away from passing a draconian anti-abortion bill, which would have effectively closed all abortion clinics in the state. It even surpassed recent laws in North Dakota and elsewhere. A lonely State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered the bill the old-fashioned way--speaking for 13 hours straight without any breaks. Constantly challenged by the Republicans throughout her speech. They tried to say the testimony of women affected by the law was irrelevant. They actually did close down her speaking with 1 hour and 20 minutes remaining. But the clock ran out, even though they said the bill had passed in time. So now the issue is whether the bill passed after midnight is legal. The Texas Senate claims not and Governor Perry, straight after executing his 500th person,announced he would call the Senate back into special session just for this bill. Women circled the Senate and erupted in cheers as Wendy Davis seemed to have succeeded in stalling the bill. Naturally, the protestors had to be arrested.

++Meanwhile Ed Markey, veteran Democratic congressman, romped to victory, taking Senator Kerry's old Senate seat in Massachusetts.

++Immediately after the Supreme Court tossed out Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act,Texas announced it would immediately adopt its Voter ID law. Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina,also followed suit. John Lewis who had his head bashed in as a civil rights activist to get the law in the first place said he never thought he would see the day where he would have to fight this fight all over again. The only Republican who voiced dismay over the ruling was African-American Michael Steele, the former RNC chairman. What a sorry story!

++Yesterday, Senate Democrats challenged the IRS about why IRS investigators highlighted the targeting of tea party groups when in fact the IRS went after groups with Occupy,Progressive and Israel in their name. The answer was forthcoming--Republican staffers in the House asked them to. 

++But as the IRS scandal slides away from the White House and the Obama Administration, Rep. Issa's response is to subpoena State Department officials about Benghazi. Anything to keep the Right happy.

++President Obama gave a groundbreaking speech yesterday on Climate Change and outlined steps he was going to take to combat this threat. Michael Mann, who is a foremost Climate Change scientist who faced attacks by our Virginia Attorney General, called the speech and its plans the most important ever coming from the Executive Branch. Al Gore applauded the speech as the boldest ever coming from a President of the United States. The seminal speech at Georgetown University was only covered by the Weather Channel. This morning when the same sex marriage cases were announced, Fox instead covered a story about what companies would profit if the Keystone Pipeline were cancelled--naturally they are linked to President Obama. 

++We were told before the speech President Obama would not mention the Keystone Pipeline. But, he did. He said it would not be approved if it increased carbon emissions. Expect a lot of pushback from Republicans on this.

++Like a lot of President Obama's actions on climate change, the little initiatives add up to a lot. Buried in the speech were mundane sounding things like increasing the efficiency of appliances and better housing insulation,etc. His initiative in his first term to increase gas efficiency of cars would incredibly boring but significantly reduced carbon emissions already. 

++Now President Obama is in flight to Senegal and then will make a swing to South Africa and Tanzania. Potential stops in Nigeria and Kenya had to be ruled out because Nigeria faces an Islamic threat in the North and Kenya has a President wanted by the ICC for human rights violations.

++This week clearly showed the differences between Republicans and Democrats--the comparison did the GOP no good.

Prop 8 Case Tossed 5 to 4

++By 5 to 4, Roberts,Scalia,Breyer, Ginsberg and Kagan being the majority punted and dismissed the case because the plaintiffs did not have standing in the court because the State of California would not defend Prop 8. The Supreme Court orders the U.S. Court of Appeals decision has no legal force and sent the case back and ordered the Court to dismiss the case. So same sex marriage stands in California and people can still marry. But the Court avoided the broad decision to make same sex marriage constitutional everywhere. The decision was telegraphed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the early days of the argument that Roe versus Wade was a sweeping Court decision that created an endless backlash that lasts until this day and that the Court should avoid sparking the same in same sex marriage. 

DOMA DEAD 5 to 4

++The 5-4 ruling on Doma that it is unconstitutional was broad and Justice Kennedy got it right. The law, according to Kennedy, was a deliberate act whose sole purpose was to disparage some persons' marriages as less than others and so violated the Fifth Amendment equal protection clause. The majority opinion was so broad that it paves the way for more progress in the area of same sex marriage and the protection of gay rights. As I write this, Tony Scalia is still reading his dissent from the bench. 

++Bravo Edie Windsor, the brave woman who lost her partner and survived to challenge DOMA, which cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes because the federal government could or would not recognize her marriage. She was a gallant voice for justice.

++President Obama en route to South Africa tweeted that it was a move forward--"Love is love" hashtag. 

++For straight married couples, it should be an affirmation that the procreation argument as essential for marriage was rejected. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


++SCOTUS couldn't deal with affirmative action in this court. It thought it made a compromise solution on the Voting Rights Act by affirming it with gutting Section 4 which makes Section 5 dormant as Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote. So what about the gay rights cases?

++Remember the huff and puff on whether Prop 8 gang has "standing"? I expect a weasel worded decision that in effect allows same sex marriage to stand in California but be limited to that state. One way to do this is to argue the "standing" issue and affirm the lower court's decision with specific words about it only applying to California.

++DOMA could be the landmark case. Here Judge Kennedy raised the fundamental issue of whether Congress had the constitutional right to pass any law concerning marriage since this is not the purview of the federal government. The Obama decision didn't defend the law but instead allowed the House to mount a defense of it. The implications are wide-ranging for benefits of spouses in same sex states. Since the issue in this case revolves around a widow of a same sex spouse getting hit up with estate taxes I expect DOMA to be struck down. 

++But in the long-run public opinion is running so far ahead of the Court and that any negative decision will not have an impact that can not be over-run by state's passing laws to protect same sex couples.

++The Voting Rights decision is awful. The court made a point that in its 50 years it was successful. So if it works, you must gut. The advocates of voter suppression will take the decision and run with it for the next two elections. The problem now is that individuals deprived on voting rights must sue individually so the burden falls on the suppressed voter. 

++President Obama and Joe Biden ripped the decision immediately and vowed to correct the situation. Nancy Pelosi did the same and Senate Democrats also vowed immediate action. But no Republicans have come to the support of the ACT. Instead, House Southerners hailed it and the conservative blogs thought it was fair. So much for outreach.

Back to the 1950s.

**SCOTUS cancels Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. For an excellent analysis, go to SCOTUSBLOG.COM. They affirmed the Voting Rights Act but said Section 4 was out of date and said Congress should pass a bill with a new list of jurisdictions to monitor. Fat chance on that. 

**Ruth Bader Ginsberg filed the dissent for the 4 judges opposing the decision.

**When the case was being debated, President Obama had called in civil rights leaders to assure them that a SCOTUS decision like today's would not be the end of the world and that DOJ would continue to protect the right to vote. He thought Section 5 would be thrown out.

**Early comments suggest that the SCOTUS decision might boomerang on white voters in the near future as they sink into the minority in certain districts. Others suggested Jim Crow is back.

**Meanwhile the Border surge passed the Senate prompting Senator McCain that the United States will now have the most militarized border since the Berlin Wall. He meant it as a good thing. 

**Tomorrow will be the final three cases of this session of SCOTUS. Two gay cases and one on whether legal advice is private property. Bet on private property since this court loves property, not rights.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

No Drama Obama--Steady As He Goes

++Pew has Obama's approval rating at 49 in contrast to CNN recording it plummeting. After weeks of faux scandals and the NSA revelations,President Obama seems to be just a little less than where he was when he was inaugurated. So far the bombardment from the Right hasn't taken its toll like the Congress' approval, which in Gallup stands at 10%, or Rasmussen's 8%.

++Through the noise coming out of Washington, it is hard to realize that progress is occurring. Joe Biden reported on the actions on President Obama's 23 executive actions on gun control. We are expecting major decisions soon from the EPA on regulating CO2 from power plants and the small decision on microwaves and household appliances are expected to yield greater benefits than advertised.

++A major legacy item is immigration reform. While conservative Republicans continue to play games with the draft bills, Senator Grassley , a major anti-reform Senator, had the CBO score two decades of the bill. He was concerned that the first decade would be favorable but the second would reveal the "true costs". He said the CBO was like God. Surprise! The second decade would save the government about $800 billion, making this a trillion dollar savings.

++President Obama says he will redouble his efforts to close GITMO. There are now 48 prisoners, who have been named, who will remain indefinitely detained. 

++Perhaps forced to have the debate, which he said he welcomed, President Obama has announced that the secret court decisions on the NSA might be declassified. On the Charlie Rose show, President Obama defended the NSA programs--there are two--saying that over 40 terrorist plots here and abroad were broken up. The day after the interview, the NSA announced it was considering suspending the collection of data from American phone calls and internet traffic. President Obama claimed there were sufficient checks and balances in the surveillance system within the executive,the Congress and the Judiciary. Since that statement, critics claim the checks and balances are a sham. President Obama also promised to look at declassifying as much of the programs as possible. 

++President Obama spoke today at the Brandenberg Gate. Here is promised he would pursue a 33% reduction with the Russians on our nuclear stockpile. And emphasized his concern on nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran. He also spoke about climate change, gay rights and social justice.

++NATO has relinquished military control of the Afghanistan war to the Afghans. The United States announced it would soon negotiate with the Taliban. President Karzai has thrown a shit fit over these bilateral talks.

++Elijah Cummings released the full transcripts conducted by Issa's committee with the IRS personnel and --lo and behold--none of those interviewed believed the white house was involved in tracking Tea Party groups.

++President Obama spoke again of repealing the Authority to Use Military Force Act, which basically declares the United States to be in an endless war against terrorism and has been used to suspend key civil liberties. 

++President Obama must be doing better than we give him credit for. The birther nonsense has re-merged in the House and conservative websites are pursuing claims people don't remember him going to Columbia. Evangelical radio stations, as Rachel Maddow showed, now refer to him as Belzebub and evil and claim locust follow him where ever he goes.

++In my mind, the stinker in the equation is increased American involvement in Syria. On Charlie Rose, President Obama was the model of rationality talking about his desire to avoid backing strict sectarian violence and avoiding the slippery slope to massive involvement. Here was a rational, deliberate man speaking of a totally irrational situation.

++The Economist hails the trans-Atlantic Trade Pact that is being negotiated as Obama's lasting legacy. Jared Bernstein writes that this is probably over-hyped.

++When some of us thought, the North Koreans would go nuts this time around, apparently the Chinese stepped on them to begin talks with the United States about de-nuclearization.

++If you would rather someone else as President, you might consider the last House jobs creation bill--the Masturbating Fetus bill, which bans abortion after 20 weeks nationally. At the last minute, they inserted the traditional rape and incest clause. But abortions would only be allowed in this circumstance if the woman reported to the police incest or rape. The name I choose for the bill comes from the observation for a Texas Republican that male fetuses "pleasure" themselves while in the womb. This is now the mainstream of Republican thought. A Republican wrote Talking Points Memo that his females colleagues were appalled by this bill since they were in their 30s and contemplating having kids and normal concerns are about grotesque birth defects that emerge after 20 weeks.

++Bobby Jindal doesn't think that the GOP has to change at all. America will revolt against the state in 2016 and they will rebel against the "leftism" of the Obama administration. Lindsey Graham thinks the GOP is in a death spiral because of demographics. Stay tuned.

++Here in Washington, teabaggers convene to protest against the IRS and intervention in Syria. As 2014 lines up, expect another round of appeal Obamacare,anti-IRS, and isolationist candidates. Will this resemble 2010--another white reaction against Obama's re-election? My gut tells me that they will get some mileage out of these stunts but nowhere near 2010 because the tea baggers have a sorry record of accomplishment in the House and have offended the Senate.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The NSA Controversy

++Since Snowden released NSA documents to investigative journalist Clem Greenwald,the story has taken many turns.

++Snowden's second interview triggered accusations from the right that he was a spy for China. Peter King went on the floor of the House to point to his study of Chinese. Meanwhile,pro-Communist papers in China said he would be valuable to the government. In Hong Kong, there have been rallies for Snowden and a poll said a majority of Chinese say they don't want him sent back to the United States. The Chinese government has been mum about the subject. The British, who have retained interests in Hong Kong, put Snowden on a no-fly list and both the UK and US have urged airlines not to allow Snowden to travel by air. Christopher Boyce, famed spy from the Snowbird and the Falconer, said that Snowden by his interviews keeps putting nails in his coffin. Snowden upset his American supporters by revealing American programs of surveillance in precise targets in Hong Kong and China. As of today,the US has not made a move on extradition but the FBI says that a case is being made against Snowden.

++Snowden's Chinese actions have triggered some interesting commentary. Charles Pierce who writes for Esquire was turned off by Snowden's revelations of America's spying on China. Naomi Wolf,certainly no neo-conservative, posted a fascinating set of observations on Snowden on her Facebook page. Ms. Wolf just wanted us to consider how Snowden has acted compared to other whistleblowers. He does not exhibit the usual signs of nervousness and he speaks in full paragraphs as if a PR firm wrote his talking points. His roll-out of a materials seemed deliberate and planned. And Naomi raises the most interesting point--where are his lawyers? Julian Assange and other whistleblowers always have lawyers hovering in the background whenever a reporters interviews them. But none are here. She's not arguing that he is not genuine but suggests we should be cautious and watch how he behaves and notice the differences between him and true blue whistleblowers before we make our conclusions.

++Clem Greenwald has been attacked. Rep. Peter King wants him tried and said he threatened to expose CIA agents--which he did not. On the other side, he has been blasted because he is anti-Obama and was for Ron Paul. But the criticism that I think is most cogent is from the techies. Verge,Wired and other internet magazines have said that he failed to get either Snowden or an expert to walk him through the Prism program and write accurately what he was proclaiming. Was his Prism confused with the Blarney program? While the internet giants claim the NSA does not have an automatic way to Hoover the contents of your e-mail,does this contradict Greenwald's reporting. Facebook and Microsoft have released tabulations of how many requests they have received from the NSA, a number which is minuscule to the number of their customers. Is this meaningful or not?

++Kevin Drum of  Mother Jones has raised questions about the "scoop-ness" of Greenwald's reporting since these programs were public knowledge for years. Is the scope of them as large as Snowden claimed? 

++Baby boomer lefties have been invoking the Church Hearings, etc. Are we all so yesterday? A dissent on all this appeared on the DailyKos that argued with lost all privacy but didn't we gain so much more. As individuals we can data-mine and aggregate information in ways we as individuals couldn't before. That's the price of the Internet and private computing.

++To me the real issue lies in the fact that 1,900 private corporations are conducting the intelligence work of the United States and they have immunity from any lawsuits. Now I have written along with others how the 4th Amendment has disappeared. But consider this,can a corporation violate the 4th Amendment or can only a government?

++Today, it was announced that Booz-Hamilton, a subsidiary of the Caryle Group, has the contract to erect an NSA for the United Arab Emirates. UAE spokespeople said that Booz-Hamilton is teaching data-mining and creating the infrastructure for surveillance. Doesn't this pose a security risk to the United States? What prevents the UAE from using this system against their own opposition?

++The NSA has surprised many by admitting that,yes, system administrators and conduct surveillance on anyone without a court order. The NSA, however,said that the number of Americans this applies to is minimal. Rep. Jerrold Nadler made it clear that his classified briefings showed the NSA could monitor everyone.

++But the issue of private contractors is extremely important. Booz-Hamilton subcontractors were hired by the Chamber of Commerce to conduct intelligence operations against Clem Greenwald, Lee Fang, and others when they were investigating corporate mis-doing. Where is the firewall here between government spying and corporate spying? There are approximately 500,000 people working in this field. 

++Except for short remarks on the NSA issue, President Obama has been strangely quiet. Today, his spokesman reiterated that the government did not invade any American's privacy. The President is supposed to speak about these matters this week. Stay tuned.

Domestic Affairs

++Gay D-Day is approaching, according to Scotusblog. Decisions on DOMA and same sex marriage will be delivered by June 24th according to court observers. President Obama is sending ENDA back up to the Senate for a vote to end employment discrimination against gays. Marco Rubio says it is alright to fire someone because he is gay and will remove himself from supporting Immigration Reform if gay immigrants are included. 

++On immigration, Senator Grassley is putting the slow-motion moves on the bill by his version of mini-filibusters on Amendments. The Gang of 8 slapped down Marco Rubio when he said he supported Cornyn's amendment about beefing up border security before the normalization of undocumented workers begins. According to the amendment you can always say the Border is not completely secure and delay the process indefinitely. Harry Reid called it a poison pill. Now Rubio claims normalization should come first so that the fees aid by undocumented workers could finance the border fence.

++The nativist factions of the GOP are trying to kill immigration reform in the House. Rep. Steve King tweeted this week that his office had been occupied by self-proclaimed illegal aliens. He was, of course, talking about the Dream generation kids who have a stay in their deportation because of President Obama's executive order. King also went to Russia on a fact-finding mission on the Boston Bomber and came home concerned that Chechens were given residence in the United States without vetting from the FBI. Michelle Bachmann, Steven King and Louis Gohmert have called for a rally against "Amnesty" and a series of "Lincoln-Douglas" debates on immigration. Despite all this, John Boehner claims immigration reform could pass by the end of the year. Given the lack of issues for the GOP in 2014, this seems dubious to me. Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter are pointing to the demographics that whites are dying at rates higher than they are being replaced as an argument against immigration reform. Others say if the GOP doesn't get on the train, they are doomed in all national elections. Supporters of immigration reform are concerned that the price of pursuing citizenship will be too high for the undocumented who are here. The House last week voted to deport all undocumented workers here. Good Luck with that.

++The GOP continues to gut Obamacare. The Senate ,fueled by the IRS scandal,wants to make sure that the IRS has nothing to do with figuring out the subsidy for healthcare to low-income workers or the tax on those Americans with a Cadillac healthcare plan. The GOP is putting out rumors that healthcare would be too expensive for Congress and their staffers if  Obamacare is enacted. Conservatives are citing Democrat Max Baucus that implementing Obamacare will be a "train wreck". Others are arguing that younger males will see their insurance bill sky-rocket. 

++Meanwhile, California has pleasantly surprised by showing that insurance rates are plummeting because of Obamacare. Arizona's Jan Brewer has extended Medicaid in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, which will cover an additional 300,000 in the state. While Ohio is balking at Obamacare by saying it will increase the health insurance premiums.So far,no news on my own.

++You can see this train coming down the track. The GOP is preparing for 2014 on the issues of Obamacare,Abortion and Obama's culture of corruption. 

++The House is about to pass a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks in all fifty state,including Washington,D.C. Gov. Walker has signed a new abortion bill that requires a transvaginal probe, mirroring Virginia's botched attempt of the same. The ACLU has announced 2013 as the worst year for reproductive rights as states like Ohio continue their march to ban abortion. The Virgina state GOP ticket this year is a trifecta of anti-choice candidates that make the present governor look like a moderate.

Down The Rabbit Hole

++President Obama finally declared that Syria had crossed the red line by using chemical weapons against the opposition. Just as he announced plans for arming the non-Islamist opposition, Iran sent 4,000 troops to bolster the Assad regime. Qatar has sent $1 billion worth of arms to the opposition and the Saudis were begging Washington to send surface to air missiles. While McCain and others were lobbying for a no-fly zone, the White House said it was more complicated than in Libya since the Russians in the past month sent Damascus surface to air missiles to bolster their anti-aircraft defense. Yesterday,Secretary of Defense Hagel allowed F-15s to stay in Jordan as some suggested the United States would create a half-fly zone for 25% of the country.

++President Obama had held off the pressure to arm the opposition from Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, and the McCain-Graham duo for some time. People in Washington felt the pressure was too much when Bill Clinton came out criticizing the President's lack of action. Clinton, Obama's new ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, and current ambassador and NSC director-designate Susan Rice made the case for intervention on humanitarian grounds citing Bosnia and Rwanda. Others felt this more like Reagan's policy of arming the Afghans against the Soviets, which did aid in the collapse of the Soviet Union but generated Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region and the rise of Al Qaeda.

++The interventionist Washington Post thought it might be too little, too late. Zbig Brezinski couldn't figure out what the purpose was. Andrew Sullivan came out blistering with a tough piece on his blog entitled Obama Betrayal. Josh Marshall opposed with slightly less vehemence. Thom Hartman gave a very reasoned argument against intervening in other people's civil wars. Doug Bandow from the CATO Institute also opposed. Opposition was based on two arguments. One President Obama is going down the Neocon slippery slope to another Middle East War when he had frequently promised withdrawal from the two wars we have and are fighting already. Our intervention at the level he contemplated can not tip the balance in favor of the opposition and would need actual military troops on the ground, which would put us square against Russia and Iran. The second argument is that the Syrian civil war is a 1,000 year war between Sunnis and Shiites, which we don't understand and should not get involved with.

++While I am all for beefing up humanitarian efforts because of the huge number of refugees this conflict is generating, I refrain from supporting further arms supplies into this country which is already bristling with arms. The White House claims that the CIA in the last two months has gotten a handle on distinguishing the radical Islamists from the more moderate opposition. Having gone through this before in the late 1980s with Afghanistan,I am dubious they want to or can make the differentiation.

++Given our disastrous war in Iraq,I can not see a viable endgame, which will not cost even more lives and much more money. But I have been wrong before. My appetite and the American People's for more intervention in the Middle East is evaporating.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Evening Tides

++Huffington Post has an historic video clip of a grey-haired 63-year old Dr.J, Julius Erving, making a smooth slam dunk. I remember the Dr when he played at U.Mass. 

++A Philadelphia couple,who are Verizon customers, are suing President Obama and the NSA for targeting their cellphones because they are critics of Obama and the military. They have sued unsuccessfully before because their son was a Navy Seal, who was killed in a helicopter attack in Afghanistan. 

++Larry Klayman, ambulance chase par excellence, is suing all Internet companies who are involved in the Prism program in a class action suit. Klayman certainly knows that lobbyists won the Telcom companies immunity from all suits from spying allegations.

++More promising ,however, is that Edward Snowden did reveal a list of Americans targeted for surveillance,which he has given over to the Guardian. This would provide evidence for ACLU lawsuits. The Supreme Court rejected the ACLU's bid to close down the surveillance program because it argued it could not prove their clients were actually targets. This time they will be able to move the ball forward.

++In an astonishing move, the national security agencies actually briefed the entire House of Representatives on their programs and safeguards. Impressive display of CYA.

++Frank Gaffney writes in the Washington Times today that Obama is spying on all Americans instead on jihadis. Naturally, he claimed that the IRS director met a record number of times with President Obama at the White House to target conservatives.

++It has been a month since President Obama outlined his policy on national security at the National Defense College. In the speech, he wanted to establish legal guidelines for drone attacks among other things. Maybe now is the time to pivot on the surveillance state and reign it in before a Bobby Jindal becomes President. 

++Rep. Issa refused today to release the transcripts of interviews with IRS officials like Rep. Cummings demanded. Wait until the weekend for them to be released.

++Former congressman Ron Paul warned that his supporter Edward Snowden might be killed by a drone attack. 

++Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame urged Snowden to seek asylum in Latin America. Others have urged the Scandanavian states or Iceland. The local Hong Kong authorities want him to leave that enclave. People believe that he can get asylum by using the treatment of Private Manning as an example.

++A former military contractor with a Top Secret clearance wrote at the Democratic Underground that don't be naive about the surveillance program. The only practical way to modify it is to repeal the Patriot Act, which paved the way for abuses since 9/11.

++The EU wants briefings by the Obama Administration and guarantees that their citizens' rights to privacy would be observed.

++The Obama Administration has announced they will be tapering off any prosecutions of detainees held at Gitmo. Senator McCain publicly floated out the trial ballon of closing the base down and sending the remaining detainees to upstate Illinois as the Obama Administration wanted to do in the first months after President Obama took office the first time.

++Missing in all the outrage over the surveillance program is any coverage of the Chinese stealing the plans and blueprints of all the future weapons planned by the United States. Also missing is any coverage of the Pentagon putting on its internet the plans to build a rocket base in Israel, which prompted fury by the Israeli government.

++The State Department is fighting back hard on the memo of the Inspector General saying that there has been cover-ups of misdeeds by State Department personnel. The Ambassador to Belgium fought back saying that he did not consort with prostitutes in the park outside his home.

++The Pentagon did successfully test their new bunker buster bombs to demonstrate they can destroy Iranian nuclear sites buried in the mountains north of Tehran.

++Conservatives are saying that Gallup shows that W is now more popular than President Obama. Ah, no, not quite. W is at 49% people liking him. Obama is at a 47% approval rating for the job he's doing. His popularity is always significantly higher as I noted throughout election year. Apples and oranges.

Light Fare

++Mariano Rivera has 23 saves out of 24 chances this year. He appears on this week's cover of New York magazine.

++Sandy Koufax appeared at the Dodgers-Yankees' Old Timers game at Chavez Ravine. Sandy looked great and ready to pitch again. On the Yankee side Ricky Henderson appeared.

++I wish the NSA would data-mine the Washington Post's baseball writers. With 100 games left in the season, these guys are all gloom and doom because the Nats are at .500 ball. What would happen to these writers if they had to cover the 1962 Mets?

++The really great writer Iain Banks died this week,only a few weeks before his last book "The Quarry" appeared. His publishers told his fans that he received a copy before he died. Iain Bangs was probably one of the few writers who could understand Prism and make something fabulous out of it.

++For reading about the NSA flap,look at Jane Mayer's piece in this week's New Yorker on why Data-mining is more intrusive than your Gene Hackman wire tap. On these matters, I trust Ms. Mayer than the Washington pundits.

++The ACLU today sued the Obama White House for its "dragnet" approach to communications saying it violated the 1st and 4th amendments. The last time they tried this with the Bush Administration they lost at the Supreme Court 5 to 4.

++Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch is suing the Obama Administration over the Verizon court order.

++Google has requested the administration allow them to publish the NSA requests for their cooperation.

++Having struggled with Google for the past several months, I wonder whether there are real humans working there. Maybe they can forward me my passwords.

++Immigration Reform passed the Senate subcommittee. The Senate also approved by wide margins it coming to the floor and again agreed to debate the issue. Before I left for Africa, the House had passed legislation to deport all the Dream Act kids. Senator Cruz complained that Obama was the biggest obstacle to immigration reform because he insisted on a pathway to citizenship. I thought that was the point. Still 13 years to citizenship looks long.
The GOP is expected to flood the bill with amendments that include prohibiting new immigrants from receiving Obamacare. 

++The Salvation Army said that parents of gay children should die. And gays should be put to death. Not the kinder, gentler Salvation Army I used to know with their Christmas kettles.

++Expect all the same-sex marriage decisions from the Supreme Court this month. Also the Voting Rights decision.

++Check out Josh Marshall's writings about Edward Snowden at He's taken some heat but raises the good questions from private contractors in intelligence to whether Snowden really had access to what he claims. He is not persuaded that Snowden is a martyr.

++Today marks the first time since 2005 that more Americans like George W. Bush than dislike him. 

++Today also marks six months after Newtown and with the Santa Monica shootings, the NRA now surpasses the deaths of Americans in Iraq with shooting deaths here in the States. Congratulations! A convict wrote the NRA a thank-you letter saying when he is out of prison he now can buy a gun and restart his life of crime.

++The background check bill will make a recurrence soon.

++Mitt Romney, he who paid no income taxes for ten years,has called for a Special Prosecutor for the IRS "scandal". The problem with this faux scandal is that all the perpetrators are Republicans. The supervisor in charge of ordering the review of Tea Party applications is a self-proclaimed conservative Republican. And he said there was no evidence that the White House knew anything about what he was doing.

++Conservatives are lusting for the new batch of e-mails from previously unknown State Department personnel on Benghazi. The great scandal has petered out. While I was away Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who headed the Review Board on the shooting, protested that he was never asked to present his recommendations about embassy security.

++Apparently, the State Department's Inspector General has issued a report on State Department personnel procuring prostitutes, buying drugs, and sexually harassing local women. He said that further investigations were stopped by higher-ups. While one ambassador was involved, the bulk of the complaints seemed to be against "private security contractors".

++President Obama has backed away from appealing the court decision on the Plan B pill. Instead, it will be  offered to women of all ages.

++Susan Rice and Samantha Powers appear to be moving to their new posts--as NSC director and UN Ambassador respectively. Republicans are apoplectic over Rice because of her role in the great Benghazi talking points scandal. Michael Gerson and Senator John McCain like Samantha Powers, while other conservatives claim she is anti-Israel, in the manner of Hagel. 

I Am Not A Number--I am a Free Man--The Prisoner

Or Paranoia is having all the facts--Bill Burroughs.

Back from Africa,I have been offline for nearly two weeks and without a cellphone. I would advise the same for some breathing space for your brain but the news on reaching home shows you why this might be a necessity.

Ron Paul supporter,temporary hire at Booz, Hamilton and former NSA tech support guy leaks to another Ron Paul supporter, Glenn Greenwald, a court order allowing the NSA to collect data on all cellphones by one company, the power points about the NSA program called Prism and President Obama's decision to draw up a list for cyberwarfare. Edward Snowden flees to Hong Kong because he can't live in a society that does to its citizens what he was doing and holds up in a hotel. Yesterday,Booz Hamilton fired him and said that he didn't make $200,000 as reported but only about $110,000--clearly a shrewd move by the company to neutralize a huge PR disaster(Cough).

Edward Snowden left his girlfriend in Hawaii where he was living and fled the country. Depending on whether you think he is a hero or a traitor, the girlfriend is portrayed as either a ballerina,which she is, or a lap dancer. While Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S.,Snowden has expressed interest in seeking asylum in Iceland and today Putin said Russia may offer him asylum.

The release of the materials came as President Obama was meeting with the new Chinese leader to discuss among other things the cyberwarfare of the Chinese against American Corporations and our military. 

Rand Paul immediately said he would take the issue to the Supreme Court to have Prism ruled unconstitutional. Democratic Senators like Bernie Sanders weighed in protesting the idea of the U.S. spying on its citizens. And the political debate refreshingly became diverse and not as polarized as the last five years.

A lot of the problem stems from the original Patriot Act and its renewals, the latest being 2011. Ignorance of the law may not be an excuse but with national security matters it would be useful to know what the law is and even our Congresscritters don't know because the law is secret. After years of permanent war, it is a perfect time for a fully, more open debate on the whole issue of data mining and the use of data by the U.S. Government. 

The big glaring issue in the Snowden controversy is the role of private contractors in intelligence and counter-terrorism. Over 1,900 companies are involved in this business and over 500,000 individuals  are employed. If a "temporary" worker like Snowden had access to all he claims, this is a massive problem.

Do all the internet companies cooperate with the NSA on these matters? Sure. Do they provide all your details to the NSA. You betcha. Since the late 1980s, all software has entry points for the NSA or they could not be approved. 

The issue of privacy now becomes complicated with the technological advances but a national discussion is warranted. However,I fear that it will not happen because there are very few people who understand,let alone can explain the implications of things like data-mining and the like. We have created a monster that we do not control and there are no authorities who can either. 

This week I have been reading geek literature on Data Mining, which is now a bonafide speciality and I can tell you I only understand the vaguest outlines of the subject. It makes you long for the days of "The Conversation" and Gene Hackman, a man who is disgusted with eavesdropping on people. 

The immediate fallout of these revelations has been diplomatic. The German government wants to know why they are the biggest target for the NSA among allied countries and the UK has had to explain before parliament what protections they are affording British citizens. The world most sympathetic to the United States is getting fed up with spending time trying to rationalize their relationship with us as new revelations come out via Wikileaks, Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden.

The American public is pretty sanguine about all this as polls show support for more government monitoring of communications. My question is what can you do with all this data? A terrorist-watch list of over 600,000 people and no one can seem to use it to locate terrorists. Information more than all the libraries of human existence combined stretching back to Alexandria and virtually undigested.

And are specific domestic groups targeted? What we know is that Occupy Wall Street had all its phones targeted and combine with the coordination of the various police forces and the federal government this represents a form of repression. Tea Party groups. Not so much despite Glenn Beck's hysteria that the IRS information combined with NSA data can be downloaded with a push of a finger and all teapartiers will be arrested.

Jonathan Turley at George Washington University said at the beginning of the Obama administration that he would rue the day he did nothing to roll back the surveillance state and punish the culprits of the Bush Administration. I think he is right. The expansion of the surveillance state does soil President Obama's legacy and if not corrected portends ill for the future.

Congress pretends it has not been fully briefed on these programs. Hogwash, they have received nearly two dozen briefings by the NSA and FBI in the last year alone. The initial approval of these programs received large bipartisan support. Complaints that "we didn't know they were so extensive" are nonsense. Senators Udall and Wyden has been obliquely warning people about the dark side of these programs for the last few years. The problem has been they have been constrained from forthrightly talking about them because they are "secret". 

And the judiciary has basically ratified these programs. Unlike the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has gone to the FISA court for approval. But that's no great shakes either because the administration is batting close to 1,000 in the cases, which makes it appear FISA is a rubber stamp to whatever the Administration wants.

At a minimum, the court's decisions should be made public. Hearings on these controversial programs also should be public so we know what they are and what they are not. And the whole subject of private contractors carrying out the intelligence for the state needs to be debated. I can not see how you can privatize intelligence and have both transparency and accountability. And Congress should hold hearings on the Snowden case. Did he really have access to all what he claims or not and if he did, how was that possible and can that be prevented in the future.