The Watering Hole, Monday, June 24th, 2013: The Silence of the Dems

Pretty much every single day, Republicans do or say things that make us either laugh at their foolishness or gasp at their political machinations. On the one hand, we hear idiots like Michele Bachmann spout ‘history’ that she pulled out of her ass, or the ignorance of misogynists such as Trent Franks and Michael Burgess, or just about anything out of the mouth of Steve King. On the other hand, Republican governors and congresspersons are busily doing ALEC’s bidding, continuing and escalating their war on women’s reproductive rights, joined by the supposed “jobs, jobs, jobs”-focused Republican-controlled House. It would seem to be easy enough to just sit back and watch the Republican party descend into oblivion.

Yet, while some of their utterances can be amusing, the Republicans’ overall strategy of limiting citizens’ rights, particularly women and minorities, along with their disdain and antagonism towards the poor among us, is deadly serious. But what are the Democrats doing to stop them, or at least to draw the country’s attention to the medieval legislation being proposed and passed by the Republican governors? I, for one, am sick of the “State’s Rights” BS by which Republican governors and Congressmen swear. President Obama has talked about their divisiveness, and a few of the more left-leaning Democratic Senators have as well, but where are the majority of the Democrats?

But it’s not just Republican schemes that the Democrats need to decry: where are they on President Obama’s illegal (in my mind) drone program, or the NSA spying, or the continuation of the ill-begotten PATRIOT Act? While dinosaurs like Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer seem perfectly comfortable with spying on Americans, and denounce whistleblowers as traitors, where are the other Democrats speaking up for our rights as citizens? Where are the Democrats when it comes to the apparently untouchable big corporations, banks, etc.?

Since talk of the next round of elections started the moment the general election in November was over, it seems that most liberal pundits are focusing more on the self-destruction of the Republicans than on what potential Democratic candidates will offer as an alternative. Democrats need to start now to distinguish themselves from the Republicans on issues, and they’re going to need to speak loudly and carry a big stick. They cannot simply rely on pointing at Republicans and laughing from the sidelines. The time for them to speak up is now!

This is our Open Thread. What do you have to say today?

The Watering Hole, Saturday, June 8, 2013: Mother, Should I Trust The Government?

When your government, one that is supposed to be of the People, by the People, and for the People, appears to violate the Constitution and invade the privacy of the People without probable cause, should you really just trust them when they can just say they can’t tell you exactly what they’re doing because it would harm national security? Especially when, most of the time, they are not required to prove to any judge that national security really is involved? And this is despite the fact that when the Supreme Court ruled that the government can invoke such a privilege (it was not the first time it was used, simply the first time the Supreme Court said they could do it), they stressed that the decision to withhold evidence is to be made by the presiding judge and not the executive. Unfortunately, judges generally defer to the Executive. This is a bad idea. The government doesn’t always tell the truth, which is what happened in the very case that led to recognition of the state secrets privilege. “In 2000, the [withheld classified information from the 1953 case was] declassified and released, and it was found that the assertion that they contained secret information was fraudulent.” So the right of the government to claim that information shouldn’t be released because it contained details whose release might be harmful to national security was based on a case where the government lied and said the release of certain information would be harmful to national security when it really wouldn’t. Doesn’t that mean they can keep anything they want secret just by invoking “state secrets,” even if it doesn’t really apply? How do you convince a judge to look at the information and challenge the government’s claims?

We recently learned that our government has been collecting “telephony metadata” on every phone call made by Verizon customers (and let’s not assume that it only applied to Verizon customers) for several years now. It is important to note that they stressed that it was important to note that they were not listening to the phone calls themselves, nor were they recording the calls so they could be listened to later, and that they were only collecting the phone number of the caller, the phone number being called, the time of day, the length of the call, and possibly the location of the parties involved (! emphasis mine). Here’s why I’m concerned (from the second link):

“But civil liberties lawyers say that the use of the privilege to shut down legal challenges was making a mockery of such “judicial oversight”. Though classified information was shown to judges in camera, the citing of the precedent in the name of national security cowed judges into submission.

The administration is saying that even if they are violating the constitution or committing a federal crime no court can stop them because it would compromise national security. That’s a very dangerous argument,” said Ilann Maazel, a lawyer with the New York-based Emery Celli firm who acts as lead counsel in the Shubert case.

“This has been legally frustrating and personally upsetting,” Maazel added. “We have asked the government time after time what is the limit to the state secrets privilege, whether there’s anything the government can’t do and keep it secret, and every time the answer is: no.”

That’s not how our country is supposed to work. We’re not supposed to have a Constitution that defines and limits our government’s powers, but then decide we’ll ignore it when it gets in the way of doing what we want to do. If you want to do a search on private information without a warrant and without probable cause, then amend the part of the Constitution that says in order to do a search on private information, you have to have a warrant and you have to have probable cause. And if you read the Constitution (which I know many Americans have not, as evidenced by what we’ve seen at Tea Party rallies), you will find that the only mention of secrecy in our government is to the part of each House of Congress’ daily journals they think should be kept secret. It mentions nothing about Executive Privilege, or state secrets, or even of any right of the President (or Vice President) to hold secret meetings and keep the advice of the unnamed guests secret. People (and by the term “People” I’m generously including Justices of the Supreme Court) seem to forget that the President of the United States, for all the power we give that office, is a Public Servant. So any advice given to the President, by anyone at all, that concerns what might be in the best interests of the People ought to be both available to the public and actually in the best interests of the people. Otherwise, the President is not being a servant of the public but a servant of a private interest, and this can not be allowed. But in order to make sure that isn’t happening, we have to have access to what was discussed in those meetings. [Discussions with military personnel would be an obvious exception, but only because the military personnel would be addressing their Commander in Chief, and would not be having domestic policy discussions.]

The argument that if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about is a ridiculous one because that isn’t the point. The point is that our Constitution clearly says that not only do you have a right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, but that if they want to begin one, they have to get a warrant, supported by oath or affirmation, and “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (The Constitution is unclear on whether the search they can now conduct can be an “unreasonable” one. If the TV shows I’ve seen showing cops cutting open furniture, spilling powders on the floors and tables, and emptying anything that might be a container are in the least bit realistic, then it seems they are then allowed an “unreasonable” search.) So who gave the FISA Court judge a statement under oath or affirmation that says it’s necessary to know what number was called from your phone, when the call was made, how long it lasted, and where the two of you were when the conversation was taking place? The authority to conduct any such search is supposedly granted under the USA PATRIOT Act, but that law, if you know what the letters mean, is about tools for fighting Terrorism. Is there some reason the government should have the idea that you’re a terrorist? Then what business do they have keeping track of how your phone is being used?

Another false argument is that you already give your personal information away to private corporations, so what’s wrong with the government asking them to give that same information to you? What’s wrong is that a private corporation does not have the authority to throw you in jail based on what it knows about you. And for all anybody knows, it’s probably in the tiny print of that credit card agreement that you gave them permission to share everything they know about your credit card use history the first time you used it. I think it says somewhere in there that you agree to any new Terms of Use by using the card. But that’s because you didn’t equate the private corporation with your government. Perhaps that’s where you went wrong. Is there really any difference any more?

A line from the following was the inspiration for the title:

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss government surveillance or anything else that keeps you up at night.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 18th, 2013: Ezra, Budgets, and Photographic Wonders

I’m hoping to hear that Ezra Klein will be taking over the “UP with Chris Hayes” weekend show. Ezra has his own wonky way of explaining things so that a topic which would normally make one glaze over becomes understandable and interesting. His ‘I can explain blank in 20 seconds or less (sic)’ bit is something that I now look forward to when he subs for one of the other MSNBC regulars. Ezra’s writing is just as eloquent as his speaking: here’s an excerpt from one of his recent WP posts regarding the Paul Ryan budget proposal (once again called “The Path to Prosperity”):

“Ryan’s budget is intended to do nothing less than fundamentally transform the relationship between Americans and their government. That, and not deficit reduction, is its real point, as it has been Ryan’s real point throughout his career”.

Speaking of budgets, both Bill Maher and Chris Hayes recently brought up the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Budget Proposal, which previously hadn’t had much mention anywhere. That fact is surprising to me, as the CPC’s budget is one that every liberal would support. Matthew Yglesias has a good article about it in Slate; here’s the pdf of what the CPC calls the “Back to Work Budget.” For the rest of the budget options: you can check out the official White House budget page here; the Senate Democrats’ budget, prepared by Patty Murray, can be reviewed here.

In the meantime, on a local level, the Brewster School District (which all of Wayne’s family attended), despite a budget increase (to be paid for by a school tax increase), is cutting staff, programs, etc., partly due to the loss of stimulus funding, the effect of sequestration, and unfunded State mandates. Too bad that the only budget proposal from Congress which really invests in education is the CPC’s.

Enough about budgets…time to look at some spectacular photos, brought to you by The Weather Channel: first, a slideshow of unusual landscapes by photographer Marsel Van Oosten; then photographer Martin Rietz captures volcanic lightning in this group of photos.

This is our Open Thread. What’s on your mind today?

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 11th, 2013: From Morons to Marvels

Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has been in the news a lot lately, in part for having been one of the select few Republicans who were invited to the recent dinner meeting with President Obama. In an appearance yesterday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Senator Johnson stated,

“If we’re going to really get to an agreement, this is a good step…You have to start meeting with people. You have to start developing relationships. You’ve got to spend a fair amount of time figuring out what we agree on first.”

[Especially when the Republican “leaders” won’t tell their flock the truth about what the President has offered, and the flock and the media are too dumb or brainwashed to lift a couple of fingers and check whitehouse.gov!]

The same “This Week” appearance also saw Paul Krugman, in his inimitable manner, school Senator Johnson on the Social Security program.

Prior to that, in the debate over authorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Senator Johnson was one of a group of “…Republicans [who] have objected to new provisions in the law, including one allowing tribal courts for the first time to prosecute men who aren’t American Indians when they’re accused of abusing an American Indian woman on a reservation. . .”, according to ThinkProgress, which also quotes Senator Johnson as saying:

“the Senate has approved a piece of legislation that sounds nice, but which is fatally flawed. By including an unconstitutional expansion of tribal authority and introducing a bill before the Congressional Budget Office could review it to estimate its cost, Senate Democrats made it impossible for me to support a bill covering an issue I would like to address.”

Coincidentally and fortuitously (or not), when searching for a link on a completely different topic, I ran across this one about Ron Johnson from 2010. It includes a video of Johnson, demonstrating the average conservative’s love of fetuses but not actual children, while “…testifying against the Wisconsin Child Victims Act, which would have eliminated the statute of limitation on lawsuits brought by victims of abuse by priests against the Catholic Church.

Okay, as a palate-cleanser, I believe that there’s something for everyone in these photo slideshows from The Weather Channel.

For all of us who love space science and/or who have experienced various types of mind-enhancement, here’s (now think Muppets “Pigs in Space” voice) “Light Trails from Space.”

Staying in space for the moment, the Comet Pan-STARRS is in the ‘hood, and should start to be visible to the naked eye tomorrow. The chart shown in this article indicates where the large comet can be located (in the western sky at sunset) over the next two weeks or so.

Last from TWC (and getting back to ‘trails’…you’ll see): unusual (and occasionally claustrophobia-inducing) tunnels are highlighted in this feature. Although the first tunnel shown only has the one photo – see below – the rest of them have some amazing shots. Tunnel #18, Shanghai’s Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, described as “senseless, yet fabulous“, could likely induce trails even for persons who have never seen trails before. A youtube video of the entire ride is linked to under the description of the Shanghai tunnel, but I haven’t had the chance to watch it yet. Who’s gonna go first? :)

Enjoy!

Ukraine "Tunnel of Love"

Ukraine “Tunnel of Love”

This is our Open thread – what topic would you like to discuss?

The Watering Hole, Thursday, January 24th, 2013: A Brief Glimpse into FauxGnus

I decided to hold my nose and take a look at some of the recent stories on foxnews.com, to see what the current spin looks like. While Media Matters is the best source for the real low-down and dirty lies from Fox, I’m just going to skim a bit of the scum off the surface of their cesspool:

First, so-called journalist Wayne Allyn Root discusses “Why I am a newly-minted Member of NRA” (basically because he believes the right-wing hype, and that he’s always been anti-Obama), and uses ‘facts’ and ‘statistics’ helpfully provided by Gun Owners of America, along with referencing a Rasmussen poll. A brief, but telling, excerpt:

“I want to protect the Second Amendment. And I don’t want government telling me what to do. And if any of those rights are going to be threatened, then I realized it’s time for me to stand up for the NRA…Leftist, big government, Nanny State politicians always come to the wrong conclusion about most issues.”

and, after the obligatory Hitler reference:

“The reality is that throughout history, the first thing all tyrants do is disarm the citizens. Then the mass killings begin.”

In another reverse-reality story by entitled “Crabby Obama Caught in Budget Trap” by Chris Stirewalt, the author, who must have come out of a coma after the Bush Administration, unblushingly pulls this bit of hypocrisy out of his posterior:

“But it was the political calculation by Democrats to spend without budgeting – to avoid the process by which the pleasure of spending and pain of borrowing and taxing are intertwined – that has left the president in this bind.”

In “Barack Obama–our Imperial Emperor In Chief”, Cal Thomas shows the depths of his delusion:

“At his news conference Monday [January 14th], a petulant, threatening and confrontational President Obama spoke like an emperor or supreme ruler. All that was missing was a scepter, a crown and a robe trimmed in ermine.
This president exceeds even Bill Clinton in his ability to evade, prevaricate and dissemble. I didn’t think that possible.”

“Judge” Anthony P. Napolitano brings us his particular and somewhat unique interpretation of the Constitution and, in particular, the 2nd Amendment in “Guns and the Government.” Here’s something I’ve never heard floated before:

“The opening line of the Constitution contains a serious typographical error: “We the People” should read “We the States.”

and then the tired old right-wing bullshit (and this man was a JUDGE?):

“The Constitution expressly prohibits all governments from infringing upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This permits us to defend ourselves when the police can’t or won’t, and it permits a residue of firepower in the hands of the people with which to stop any tyrant who might try to infringe upon our natural rights, and it will give second thoughts to anyone thinking about tyranny.”

Just for fun, we have crazy ol’ Tom Tancredo promising to smoke a joint.

Lastly (since even I couldn’t stand any more), more fantasy about the United Nations, this time regarding gun control, in “Does UN Arms Trade Treaty Figure in Obama Administration’s Gun Control Plans?” This piece includes the lie:

“The Administration first agreed to take part in the U.N. arms treaty negotiations in 2009—the same year in which it launched the now-notorious Fast and Furious operation, which provided weapons to illicit gun traders, ostensibly to track gun-running operations to Mexican drug cartels.”

[The FandF operation started in 2006 under the Bush Administration.]

This is our Open Thread. Try not to catch teh Crazy!

The Watering Hole, Thursday, January 17th, 2013: The NRA

Today’s thread provides a look at some recent activity from the NRA’s website, along with some background and statistical information from the ATF’s website, plus a few other odds and ends.

From the NRA’s website:

January 16, 2013
NRA RESPONSE TO PRESIDENT OBAMA’S GUN CONTROL PROPOSALS
Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.

The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America’s most valuable asset — our children.

Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.

[“inevitability?]
– and -

January 10, 2013
STATEMENT FROM THE NRA
The National Rifle Association of America is made up of over 4 million moms and dads, daughters and sons, who are involved in the national conversation about how to prevent a tragedy like Newtown from ever happening again. We attended today’s White House meeting to discuss how to keep our children safe and were prepared to have a meaningful conversation about school safety, mental health issues, the marketing of violence to our kids and the collapse of federal prosecutions of violent criminals.

We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment. While claiming that no policy proposals would be “prejudged,” this Task Force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners — honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans. It is unfortunate that this Administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen. Instead, we will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not.

Back in December, the NRA-ILA (Institute for Legislative Action) – self-described as “The Lobbying Arm of the NRA” – commented on Senator Diane Feinstein’s draft for proposed new gun legislation. And on January 4th, the NRA-ILA began to gin up fear over proposed House gun control bills.

From the ATF (which the NRA refers to as the BATFE, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), here’s a brief history of the National Firearms Act. The ATF website also includes information regarding Firearms Trace data (“state-by-state reports utilizing trace data which is intended to provide the public with insight into firearms recoveries”) as well as graphs and links for “Number of NFA Firearms Processed by Fiscal Year” Take a look at the jump in the numbers of “firearms processed” in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012, when the NRA, in the person of Wayne LaPierre, was strongly pushing the “Obama’s going to take your guns away” meme. The website also provides a list (including photos and descriptions) of firearms which are covered under the National Firearms Act and subsequent additional gun control legislation.

Let’s go back to the NRA again. Here’s a brief introductory excerpt from a fascinating Alternet article by Steven Rosenfeld entitled “The Surprising Unknown History of the NRA”:

“For nearly a century after, its founding in 1871, the National Rifle Association was among America’s foremost pro-gun control organizations. It was not until 1977 when the NRA that Americans know today emerged, after libertarians who equated owning a gun with the epitome of freedom and fomented widespread distrust against government—if not armed insurrection—emerged after staging a hostile leadership coup.

In the years since, an NRA that once encouraged better markmanship and reasonable gun control laws gave way to an advocacy organization and political force that saw more guns as the answer to society’s worst violence, whether arming commercial airline pilots after 9/11 or teachers after the Newtown, while opposing new restrictions on gun usage.

It is hard to believe that the NRA was committed to gun-control laws for most of the 20th century—helping to write most of the federal laws restricting gun use until the 1980s.”

The NRA claims to have over four million members, a number disputed in this article from motherjones.com. There have also been claims made by the NRA that, since the Newtown tragedy, the NRA is gaining 8000 new members a day, supposedly over 100,000 total. However, when I tried to find more information to back up these claims, all I found were links to Fox News, Breitbart, and to some site called “The Daily News Report” (no relation to the NY Daily News.) And since this Daily News Report article contains the sentence “Unlike many who are using the school shooting as a political club, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been staying quiet out of respect for the Newtown victims“, I think we can safely dismiss this ‘report.’ BTW, tomorrow night, FoxNews will be presenting “Hannity Special: Inside the Gun Debate, featuring Wayne LaPierre.” I wonder if they’ll have any of the parents from Newtown on for this “fair and balanced” Hannity “Special.”

And lastly, also from motherjones.com, here’s Frank Smyth’s article “Unmasking the NRA’s Inner Circle”, as discussed last night on Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word.

This is our open thread…better put your reading glasses on!

The Watering Hole, Thursday, January 3rd, 2012: Thank You, Mr. President

Gee, I feel so special: the President’s Campaign Manager wrote directly to ME! Yeah, I know, everyone on their mailing list received this email, but…anyway, here’s Jim Messina’s email, featuring President Obama’s explanation of the deal that he made to ruin John Boehner’s career keep middle-class Americans from being hit with a tax increase:

Jane –

The President reached an agreement with Republicans and Democrats in Congress on the “fiscal cliff” that prevents a tax hike on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses, while fulfilling the President’s promise to ask the wealthiest Americans to begin to pay their fair share to reduce the deficit.

President Obama recorded a video to update supporters like you on what’s in the agreement and what it means for you — watch it and share it with friends and family:

It’s thanks to people like you who spoke up and contacted your members of Congress throughout this debate that we were able to avoid a crippling tax hike.

As we address our ongoing fiscal challenges, the President will do exactly what he said he would on the campaign trail — working for the middle class and all those fighting to get into it, and building an economy from the middle out, not the top down.

There will be more soon. For now, thanks for all you do, and happy new year.

Jim Messina
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

This is our Open Thread. What’s on your mind today?