July 2015 Archives

Sean Illing examines the plot to marginalize Bernie Sanders, writing that "Everyone is scrambling to make sense of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon:"

According to recent polls, the senator from Vermont is second only to Hillary Clinton among likely Democratic voters. Part of the confusion, it seems, has to do with Sanders' so-called "socialism." How, the pundits ask, can a self-described "socialist" gain any traction in American politics today?

I expect conservatives to pound this question down the throats of their audiences, but Democrats have latched onto this trope as well.

"Nothing in Bernie Sanders' platform qualifies as socialist," Illing observes, "if that term has any relation at all to its historical meaning:"

Obsessing over Sanders' socialist leanings is an exercise in distraction. The choice today, the only choice we really have, is between different species of capitalism. Republicans are absolutists; they fetishize the free market. People like Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal want no regulation, no safety nets, and no constraints on private power. They represent the true believers, the ones who despise government and make a divinity of the market. Sanders rejects this brand of capitalist theology, but that doesn't make him a socialist.

"He is," Illing summarizes, "a capitalist:"

What he - and many other Americans - reject is corporate welfare and monopoly capitalism and the complete financialization of the American economy. Again, that doesn't make him a socialist. Even the conservative columnist George Will has acknowledged that Sanders' vision is just a diluted version of the "social democracy" practiced in much of Europe.

That Sanders is dubbed a "Marxist" or a "socialist" is a testament both to the corruption of language, Fox News and the insidious propaganda machine in this country. The truth is that capitalism has won; no one seriously disputes that - certainly no one in government.

"Socialism" is now an epithet, something conservatives hurl at people who challenge corporate power - the term has been emptied of any real content.

That, of course, has been true for quite some time--but today's reality is this:

Conservatives want to eliminate government as much as possible, to let the market work its will. But we've seen the result of that. America, today, is much closer to a plutocracy than a democracy. Corporations write our laws, buy our elections, and dictate political discourse. That's nakedly anti-democratic, and Sanders is one of the few candidates proposing to do something about it.

He's not calling for a revolution. He wants to impose democratic checks on an increasingly undemocratic system. And he wants to do so in ways perfectly consistent with what most Americans actually desire.

Being more in line with voters than lobbyists appears to be Sanders' real sin:

The hysteria surrounding his candidacy is manufactured, a ploy to marginalize his voice, which is much more mainstream than his opponents would have you believe.

Conor Friedersdorf discusses the importance of end-to-end encryption, noting that "it's heartening to think of dissidents in authoritarian countries communicating and collaborating without repressive regimes eavesdropping on them:"

But end-to-end encryption will also help protect the communications of aspiring terrorists, child pornographers, and other evil-doers: The FBI and other law enforcement agencies won't be able to eavesdrop on them, even with a proper warrant.

Thus the question before policymakers: should technology companies like Apple be allowed to provide end-to-end encryption, such that no one but iPhone users--neither the company nor the government--can access their emails, texts and phone calls? Or should companies be required to build in a "back door" for the government, so that with a warrant in hand, the FBI could gain access to their communications? [...]

Technologists warn that there is no way to build in a "back door" just for law enforcement, much as there's no way to outfit a safe with a back door that only the FBI can open. If encryption is weakened so that government can, in theory, access anyone's data with a warrant, then in practice, everyone's communications will be vulnerable to Chinese hackers, the Russian government, and NSA employees operating beyond constitutional bounds without individualized warrants.

Over at Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes worries about tech creating "the world's largest ungoverned space," but Friedersdorf concludes that "Wittes's analysis is flawed:"

In the absence of end-to-end encryption--indeed, even if it becomes a universally available tool--the largest ungoverned space in the world won't be Somalia or the Internet, but the aggregate space between the ears of every human being on planet earth.

No authority figure can see into my brain, or the brain of Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, or the brains of ISIS terrorists, or the brains of Black Lives Matter protestors, or the brains of child pornographers, or the brains of Tea Partiers or progressive activists or whoever it is that champions your political ideals. If government had access to all of our thoughts, events from the American Revolution to the 9/11 terrorist attacks would've been impossible. Reflecting on this vast "ungoverned territory," does Wittes still regard as uncontroversial the notion that "ungoverned spaces really suck"?

"To be clear," Friedersdorf writes, "I don't mean to assert that 'backdoor' access to digital communications is just like equivalent access to our brains:"

But say that end-to-end encryption is the norm going forward. Do readers think that America would be more like Somalia? Or more like today's America, only with greater privacy for thoughts, papers, and personal effects that enables both significant goods and harms?

As in contemporary America--and unlike in Somalia--terrorists, child pornographers and other serious criminals would have to operate outside "ungoverned spaces" to harm any innocents. The threats they pose can be adequately addressed there.

FreeThoughtBlogs discusses our Confederate flag problem:

We've heard from many of the least credible conservatives that the Confederate flag is really a problem for Democrats, not Republicans, an argument that can only be taken seriously if one erases the last 50+ years of American history.

At issue is this remark from Bryan Fischer:

Democrat Governor, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, presided over the first Confederate flag being hoisted above the South Carolina State House. The Confederacy was comprised of Democrats, and they're the ones who kept that flag flying. A Republican took it down.

FTB notes of other racist dumbasses that "if history ended in 1965, they might have a point. But it didn't and they don't:"

The passage of the Civil Rights Act was the official end of the Democratic party as the primary political home of racists and the launch of the Republican party's southern strategy. In today's world, is it Democrats who are defending the Confederate flag or is it Republicans? South Carolina just voted to remove the flag from public buildings the other day, with a total of 20 votes against doing so between the two legislative chambers. All of them were Republicans.

Those who support the public veneration of the Confederate flag today, as opposed to 50 years ago, are firmly part of the Republican party base. Anyone who claims otherwise is living in a fantasy world.

remembering W

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William Rivers Pitt lets us know what he thinks of George W Bush:

I think of almost 5,000 men and women who came home under the cover of his darkness as afterthoughts beneath folded American flags. I think of the tens of thousands more missing arms, legs, touch, taste, sight, skin, cognizance. [...]

I think of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX gas, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in a "robust" nuclear weapons programs. I think of those lies, and all the other lies besides.

I think of mushroom clouds as "evidence." I think of plastic sheeting and duct tape. I think of "Run on the war." I think of the sound of bodies hitting the ground from a long plunge of 86 floors up, and all those who ran in when others ran out, because someone was more interested in clearing brush and playing golf than in paying attention to the late-August Presidential Daily Briefing which said in no uncertain terms that something was about to happen.

"Some days ago," Pitt continues, "George W. Bush had the towering gall to speak at a benefit for wounded veterans for a fee of $100,000 ... plus $50,000 for his wife a year before, and $20,000 for the private chartered jet to get him there:"

I think of the shadow that must exist within the soul of one such as this, one who can so callously unleash such carnage and then make joking videos of that folly, one who breaks the dam on such bloodshed and then cashes checks penned in that dearly spilled ink. I think he was and remains the end of reason, the numb heel of the mailed fist which only halts its smashing when it extends its rust-painted fingers to collect the cash on the barrelhead.

I think he belongs in prison, beside his cohorts, as an example of precisely what not to do, a message to a nation still plowing out the wreckage of his passage.

Salon's Conor Lynch contextualizes Republicans' secret motto:

Since President Obama came into office, the Republican party has increasingly become the "Don't tread on me" party -- or, more accurately, the "Don't tread on my right to tread on others" party. Some of the most popular right-wing demagogues of today have achieved their political fame with this aggressive anti-federal government schtick, full of paranoid hostility and belligerence. From screaming of death panels to claiming socialist plots of wealth redistribution -- this modern form of what Richard Hofstadter once called the "paranoid style" of American politics has become the status quo in the Republican party. [...]

And so, conservatives have resurrected the classic Gadsden flag, with those strong -words, "don't tread on me" -- aimed directly at Obama and his imagined minority/socialist-run government.

"In truth, conservatives don't want the federal government to tread on them," Lynch observes, "because it tends to restrict their right to tread on others:"

Since the 1960s, conservatives have become obsessed with states rights for the simple fact that the federal government decided to crack down on certain state laws that restricted the freedom of particular individuals. In 1964, the government banned racial segregation and discrimination, which had been a staple of the south for over a century, while in 1973, the Supreme Court forbid the state to restrict a woman's right to an abortion. These major events basically restricted the state/communities right to oppress and limit the freedoms of individuals, mostly minorities and women. Up until then, states had the right to stomp on individuals liberty because of their archaic and racist values.

Lynch points out that "whether it is a big businessman or a community of evangelicals, the federal government has limited their rights to harm and oppress others for the betterment of society, and they feel like victims:"

To provide a simple analogy, conservatives are like bullies in grade school who end up being punished for their bullying, and suddenly feel like victims. It is now the teacher who is a bully! Or the federal government.

"Don't Tread on My Right to Tread on You" is their true sentiment, because "they want the federal government to stop bullying them so that they can bully others."

sexy success

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Artist/writer Amanda Conner, writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Chad Hardin discuss sexy comics that aren't gross. Here's a snippet of their conversation:

And it's sexy without being sexualized, which a lot of other comics try and fail to do. How do you guys succeeded at that so well?

AC: I think being sexy is a lot of an attitude rather than just--you know, I can see a character portrayed in shredded clothing with really big boobs, and if they're just eye candy, it's not a turn-on. But if they have attitude and personality, that's what I think is sexy.

CH: If you think of them as a person and not an object, it's easy.

This sequence from Harley Quinn #15 a few months ago is one example:

20150714-harleyquinn15.jpg

Conner's artistry, especially her talent for facial expressions, really sells the moment.

Yves Smith remarks that "One of the class markers of the private equity industry is that its members routinely fly on private jets," but reminds us that "the cost is borne first and foremost by investors:"

Given that private jet use is widespread among private equity general partners and pervasive among the biggest firms, one might conclude that general partners are taking undue liberty with the control they have over portfolio company checkbooks and the lack of transparency and oversight.

"While private jets are far from the biggest offense in private equity," Smith continues, "they represent one a galling example of fiduciaries not merely ignoring their duties, but thumbing their noses at them:"

It's important to crack down on this abuse, not just as a starting point for cracking open the unjustifiable lack of disclosure of fees and costs borne by portfolio companies, but also to start to cut the industry's overweening sense of entitlement down to size.

hacked

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The OPM hacks represent the hyper-personalization of war, writes Lauren C. Williams at ThinkProgress:

Heads have started to roll after the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) resigned Friday, but the aftermath of the agency's massive data breach are far from over. The breach was one of two OPM experienced since 2014 -- one involved the loss of over 4 million Social Security Numbers, and the other exposed 21.5 million government background check records used for security clearances. Both breaches have been linked to the Chinese government.

China has held onto the seized employee data for a year, and there is no evidence the stolen data has been used. Information from typical breaches involving private companies, such as social media or retail sites, are used for phishing scams or financial gain. However, the agency's breach points more toward political leverage than identity theft for profit.

Cybersecurity legal consultant Paul Rosenzweig, who "holds a top secret security clearance and was personally affected by breach," comments that "It's everything:"

Everywhere I've lived for the last 10 years, where I went to school, every job I ever had, my 10 closest friends and coworkers -- supervisor included -- and their information. It's an in-depth biographical. If they actually lost my fingerprints, there goes my ability to be bio-metrically secure," he said, alluding to the iPhone's fingerprint-scanning Touch ID feature. [...]

For the 7 percent of the U.S. population caught in the OPM breach, he said, the effects are akin to "voluntarily giving up" everything the National Security Agency (NSA) wants to know.

Disturbingly, the piece notes that "The true extent of the OPM breach and its ramifications are still unknown, and hard to quantify."

It's not news that conservatives often misinterpret Adam Smith, but Hrafnkell Haraldsson's look at Adam Smith, Rush Limbaugh, and Pope Francis quotes Limbaugh's comment about Pope Francis making "another one of his anti-capitalism remarks." Limbaugh went on to insist that, additionally, "Obama is not a capitalist:"

This country's economy is not slowed down because of capitalism. The closest we've had to the capitalism that the Pope and these clowns are talking about is the Reagan years and looked what happened. Look at the economic boom that last practically 20 years!

Haraldsson continues the thread from a more accurate standpoint:

This would be the same Reagan who raised taxes 11 times and grew the size of government and increased military spending while cutting non-defense discretionary spending, the same Reagan who tripled the federal budget deficit. For all Limbaugh's blustering, Obama is more of a fiscal conservative than his hero Reagan. [...]

Republicans who have no problem ignoring what Jesus actually said, have no problem ignoring the fact that before The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), in which he stressed the natural compassion and empathy of human beings for one another... [...]

Smith was writing on the cusp of the Industrial Age, before all its evils became apparent, but there was enough evil even then for him to write in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that of the "disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition."

"A reading of Adam Smith shows who is the real clown here," summarizes Haraldsson, "and it is not the Pope, or President Obama, but Rush Limbaugh himself."

Elias Isquith demolishes the flat lie of neo-Confederate flag veneration, reminding us that "on Friday morning, something truly amazing happened:"

South Carolina, the birthplace of the Civil War and Southern rebellion, finally removed the Confederate battle flag from its capitol grounds. It did so in broad daylight, with the full backing of its conservative governor as well as the clear majority of its legislature, itself also quite conservative.

It appears that the Confederate battle flag, which lingered in the American mainstream for decades, is finally beginning to be widely understood for what it really is.

Isquith talks to historian James Loewen, and observes that "I think now the neo-Confederate position is coming down like the house of cards it always was:"

It was always based on a flat lie, the claim that the South had seceded for states' rights, and not for slavery. In truth, every single document of secession shows that the South seceded for slavery, and against states' rights.

LIBOR

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Economics professor/author Bill Black (author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One) digs into
LIBOR, history's largest financial crime which involved "manipulating the prices of an estimated $300+ trillion in assets:"

I read a BBC story about the LIBOR criminal trial in the UK and was going to write to criticize its woeful analytics. In preparation I checked the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to see how they reported the devastating testimony in the trial. I could not, however, find any coverage in my electronic searches and viewing their web pages.

He reviews court statements, and notes that "the people involved sound exactly like what they are - blatant, privileged crooks."

Dissent's Timothy Shenk writes that "Americans revere the Declaration of Independence, but most of us don't read it:"

The iconic opening has been dulled by repetition, and it's followed by a lengthy recitation of forgotten crimes George III allegedly visited upon the colonists. Danielle Allen resurrects the document's power in her latest book [Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality], turning a historical relic into a philosophical inquiry with profound relevance for how we understand liberty and equality today--along with the country whose founding document commits it to ideals that still remain out of reach.

Here's a passage from the interview:

Shenk: As anyone who has paid cursory attention to American politics in the last year knows, inequality is back on the agenda. Just last month, a New York Times/CBS News Poll found that two thirds of Americans believed wealth "should be more evenly distributed among more people." But in these discussions, "inequality" is often conflated with "economic inequality." Both in this book and in some of your other writing, you're concerned with a broader interpretation of inequality. What do we miss when we view "economic inequality" as identical with inequality itself?

Allen: First, I take the existence of meaningful opportunities to participate in politics to be a fundamental human right. Protecting this right requires focusing on political equality as such. Thinkers who focus exclusively on economic inequality are sometimes willing to sacrifice that participatory right in favor of material distributions. Second, I take it that ensuring that meaningful political participation is as broad and egalitarian as possible will in itself be a force for ensuring that political institutions are more likely to direct economic policy in egalitarian directions.

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