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« Liberal Outrage: May 2013 | Main | Liberal Outrage: July 2013 »

Liberal Outrage

Advancing Min's Vegan Dunkin Donuts Agenda

I don't know if Matthew Yglesias' "Maybe People Are Drinking Less Milk Because It's Poisonous to Many of Us" hypothesis is true, but looking at the PDF he links to, you definitely see that the focus of the study was entirely generational and doesn't look at all at changing demographics, lactose intolerance, people choosing alternatives like soy, rice, or coconut milk for health or ethical reasons as factors. Now maybe the reason for the decline is due entirely to people giving their kids Tinker Tea, and that would be a bad thing. But the report doesn't show that, and the assumption is that this trend is really a bad thing for the country and not just for dairy farmers, which is why Yglesias (who is no vegan!) says "entire federal government seems to be sufficiently locked down by the dairy industry".


By fnord12 | June 28, 2013, 4:04 PM | Liberal Outrage & My stupid life | Comments (0)| Link



Illegal

New York Times editorial says NSA program is illegal.


By fnord12 | June 28, 2013, 10:54 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



One step forward, one step back

So two critically important Supreme Court decisions on human rights in the past few days: the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act and (effectively) the striking down of the Voting Rights Act. Both decisions were 5-4 splits.

I don't pretend to be an expert, or even literate, in legalise, but as we saw before, the constitutional amendment seems quite clear ("Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation") and a 5-4 split indicates neither of these decisions were based on obvious technical readings of the law.

In immediate response to the VRA ruling, several former slave states renewed their efforts to prevent minorities from voting. In addition to those Voter ID issues, Texas is also moving forward on a new round of gerrymandering in response to this.

In theory Congress can fix this by passing a new law, but that won't happen because Congress is broken. It's broken thanks to a political party that stands to benefit from the new status quo.

Activism might help, but right now it seems like a lot of sites are celebrating the repeal of DOMA and not focusing on the repeal of the VRA. For example, here's what happens on Google right now when you search for the DOMA ruling:

The first time it happened, i wasn't sure what was going on.

Nothing similar for the VRA:

To be fair, what did i expect?  Klansmen?

Additionally, look at the pushback Kevin Drum got on making the same point i'm trying to make here. I'm not saying don't celebrate. The strikedown of DOMA is fantastic. But it shouldn't be at the expense of someone else's rights.


By fnord12 | June 27, 2013, 9:44 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



It's not about Snowden

There's no reason to care about Snowden's girlfriend or what he said on IM 5 years ago. It's barely relevant why he started working at the NSA. The fact that the US is having trouble arresting Snowden is a sideshow. The information Snowden has released is the same whether he is a saint or an asshole. That's the new information here. And that's what we should be focusing on. Everything else is just helping to obscure the point.

There's some important stuff that needs to be cleared up. Some people say the things Snowden has released are things we've known all along. Others are shocked by it (and mad at either the NSA or at Snowden for releasing it). I'd like to see more analysis of what's actually in the information that Snowden released.

It's annoying but expected that the character garbage is the focus of cable news. But it's really disappointing seeing sites likes Talking Points Memo focusing on this crap.


By fnord12 | June 26, 2013, 3:48 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Why is the TPP agreement classified?

There's a new "free trade" agreement on its way. It's been described by opponents as "NAFTA on steroids". But for the most part, people can't really debate it. Because the agreement is classified.

That is to say, the classification system, whose original stated purpose was to make it a crime to disclose military secrets to foreign enemies, is being used to make it a crime to reveal the government's proposed trade treaty to the American public.

I guess they liked the way that worked out for the NSA so it's now the standard technique. Why debate anything in front of the rabble?

Elizabeth Warren doesn't like it, though:

I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative's policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it.

And somehow someone let Alan Grayson see the agreement, and he says:

"What I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it," Grayson said, referring to the draft Trans-Pacific deal. "It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it's alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away."

...and...

The TPP is nicknamed "NAFTA on steroids." Now that I've read it, I can see why. I can't tell you what's in the agreement, because the U.S. Trade Representative calls it classified.

In any event, the Stop TPP (how they didn't call themselves "Stopp TPP" i'll never understand) has re-purposed a Gary Frank Hulk drawing as their logo, so you kind of have to support them.

Stop TPP!  And hurry up and get your comic timeline project up to 1993 so you can read some Peter David/Gary Frank Hulks!

By fnord12 | June 26, 2013, 9:54 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Obama's environmental speech

The TPM headline on Obama's big environmental speech yesterday was "Keystone Pipeline Will Only Be Built If It Does Not 'Significantly' Increase Carbon Pollution" to which Atrios responded that that's a low bar considering the State Department has already ruled that it doesn't. The other news was that we're going to fight global warming by fracking, which puts the story that the EPA stopped a study on the environmental damages caused by fracking in a new light.

But Al Gore and ThinkProgress seem pretty pleased with the speech so obviously i'm being too cynical. On the other hand, ThinkProgress' optimism is based on a crytpo-lingo analysis (he said "tar-sands" instead of "oil-sands"!) so maybe i was right the first time.

In any event, at the risk of sounding like Charlie Brown with the football, one promising aspect of the speech was Obama saying:

So today for the sake of our children and the health and safety of all Americans, I'm directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

As Obama mentions in the speech the EPA is required by law to do this per a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, but both the Bush and Obama administrations dragged their feet on this. I've been on this soap box before. And if this is really happening (all i can find are reports on the speech; no telling how far along this actually is), better late than never.

But i'll always remember that on Bill Clinton's last day in office, he had the EPA raise the standards for arsenic in our drinking water. And then on the first day of Bush's term, he reversed that order. And all the Democrat organizations sent out these messages like "Bush is allowing arsenic in our drinking water!"

This obviously isn't the last day of Obama's administration, but i'm wondering if we're far away from actually implementing anything that it will still be reversible in 3 years. If requirements go into effect sooner rather than later, factories will already have implemented the necessary technological changes and a reversal of the order will have less impact. But they will drag their feet on this as much as possible in hopes of a Republican getting elected in 2016. That's why the Obama administration should have been ready with rules for the EPA to implement on day one in 2008. Still, even at this late date it would be nice to see some progress.

P.S. Paul Krugman addresses the "this will cost us jobs" complaint. He says it's actually the opposite.


By fnord12 | June 26, 2013, 9:16 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



You have to click on the link to get the joke

This looked interesting, and i was going to read it, but i figured i might as well wait until tomorrow and do it at work.


By fnord12 | June 24, 2013, 7:46 PM | Liberal Outrage & My stupid life | Comments (0)| Link



The hits keep coming

Say what you will about Josh Marshall's personal thoughts, his site is definitely covering the NSA stuff. Here's a third major report on the subject. This one is pretty damning because it shows that even Senators who had concerns about these programs were unable to say anything about it, let alone try to rally up some opposition.

The same set of rules that muzzled [Senator Wyden] after the votes had been cast had also thwarted his ability to build any kind of constituency -- in the Senate or the broader public -- for his legislation. They even prevented him from saying precisely what the committee's business was or when it would be conducted.

By fnord12 | June 21, 2013, 11:08 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



More on Congress' NSA oversight process

Good follow-up on the TPM article from yesterday. As Marshall says in his link from the main page, "congressional oversight of the intelligence community doesn't work very well and maybe isn't supposed to".

Some key points from the article: Congress gets spotty and often contradictory information from the briefings, the briefings are like "a game of 20 questions" where if "you don't ask exactly the right question, you don't get the answer", and Senators are not able to bring their staffers, who are usually the policy experts and less likely to be bamboozled, to the hearings. I'll note again this is all coming out thanks to Snowden's revelations (as acknowledged in the TPM article), so i continue to wonder if Marshall still thinks Snowden's actions were a "betrayal". Marshall certainly is getting a lot of mileage out of it, in any even.


By fnord12 | June 19, 2013, 11:18 AM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



So does that change anything?

When the Snowden news first broke, Josh Marshall at TPM put out an honest if surprising post where he said that he personally didn't see Bradley Manning as a whistleblower and while he's a little more on the fence about Snowden, he basically feels the same way.

Let me put my cards on the table. At the end of the day, for all its faults, the US military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I'm not a bystander to it. I'm implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I'm not sure that means you get off scott free. It may just mean you did the right thing.
...
The Snowden case is less clear to me. At least to date, the revelations seem more surgical. And the public definitely has an interest in knowing just how we're using surveillance technology and how we're balancing risks versus privacy. The best critique of my whole position that I can think of is that I think debating the way we balance privacy and security is a good thing and I'm saying I'm against what is arguably the best way to trigger one of those debates.

But it's more than that. Snowden is doing more than triggering a debate. I think it's clear he's trying to upend, damage - choose your verb - the US intelligence apparatus and policieis he opposes. The fact that what he's doing is against the law speaks for itself. I don't think anyone doubts that narrow point. But he's not just opening the thing up for debate. He's taking it upon himself to make certain things no longer possible, or much harder to do. To me that's a betrayal.

In response, Daniel Ellsberg, the guy that leaked the Pentagon Papers, said "I think what he said there is stupid and mistaken and does not do him credit."

Readers won't be surprised to learn that i side with Ellsberg over Marshall here, although i think the question of whether Snowden should be prosecuted is secondary to the matter of the program that Snowden is bringing newfound attention to, which i think needs to get shut down or at least greatly reduced in scope.

Today, though, TPM has an unusual story. They tried to put out what was meant to be a routine educational piece where they explain how the Senate Intel Committee provides oversight on the NSA program. It was just meant to explain to readers how the procedures work; if you want to attribute motive considering Marshall's earlier declaration of loyalties, you could view it as a propaganda piece that says to people "It's ok; your elected officials are supervising this, so you technically have control through the democratic process". But the person they reached out to for info on the article, the former General Counsel for the Committee, wound up getting gagged by the Committee and was disallowed from going on record about anything, which is really suspicious. Very strange story and worth a full read. Here's Marshall's lead-in and here's the full article.

One commentor speculates:

1. The committee has perhaps taken some things at face value, assuming they had a level of understanding of the information that in fact they did not have. Now that a whole bunch of people are saying "are you sure about that?" they have realized, that they are not, in fact, sure at all. They don't want to reveal details about the process because it could lead to questions like "at a briefing on date Z, you were told something classified about program X. Did you realize that your assent meant that consequence Y would become a certainty?

In other words, committee members have figured out that metadeta about their process might be just as useful as the data itself....irony anyone? I think that may be the "committee sensitive" part.

2. Given the discussion of the previous administration, there may have been some decisions to "let sleeping briefing policies lie" rather than bring them to light, change the procedure, and then take heat for being "soft on terror" in the event of a disaster. Again, information about how the briefing system worked would tend to shed light on this issue.... So that would be the "out-of-date" part, that Divoll would be working from a 2003 understanding, not realizing that the procedures had been secretly changed later by Bush officials, and then secretly changed again by Obama officials, but not perhaps as much as it should have been. These would not be good things to put down on paper when hundreds of thousands of wonky folk are paying attention.

Anyway, just wondering if all of this in any way affected Josh Marshall's confidence or opinions in any way.

(By the way if you want to torture yourself, read the comments in any TPM article about the NSA or PRISM programs. The mind-numbing "debate" between the Obama loyalists and the civil liberties-minded liberals is absolutely cringe-worthy.)


By fnord12 | June 18, 2013, 2:31 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



We're back

And all i want to know is how long before i can make a "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?" reference?

That, and Obama agreed to arm the rebels in Syria because Bill Clinton called him a wuss? Seriously?


By fnord12 | June 17, 2013, 2:40 PM | Boooooks & Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Free market for thee but not for me

It really is incredible how Congress can get motivated when it's about stuff that affects them personally.

But it's even more amazing how talk of the free market goes right out the window, too. I kind of give the Democrats a pass on this (although i don't agree with them here). But the free market Republicans like Joe Barton that want to dictate where airline companies should fly their planes? Even if there's no ROI in having a direct flight to their home town? You gotta be kidding me.

It's actually the same thing with the post office. I often bring up the fact that they legally have to overfund their pension when the issue of their solvency comes up. But there's also the fact that they have an obligation to keep post offices open, and deliver mail to, every tiny town in America. No business would do that. FedEx and UPS don't do that (they dump their stuff on the USPS). So they're criticized when they don't run their organization like a business, but they legally can't run their organization like a business. We should really be thinking about the USPS as a government service that we need to fund, not a business that has to stand on its own.

The airlines, by contrast, are nominally businesses but they are stuck dealing with this nonsense. And to be fair, a lot of regulation really is required for the airline industry. Not that "fly to my hometown" is defensible. But if Congress wants to go down this path, maybe they ought to consider nationalizing the air transport industry.


By fnord12 | June 5, 2013, 2:30 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Wanted: Assata Shakur

I've been meaning to blog this for weeks but i keep forgetting. We keep seeing a billboard like this on the Turnpike on our drive home on Friday nights.

Assata Shakur billboard.

I didn't take the above picture; it's from this site.

The first time i saw it i made a noise that made min slam on the brakes (sorry!). For anyone who doesn't know, Assata Shakur was a Black Panther that was convicted of shooting a state trooper. In the late 70s, she escaped from prison and and fled to Cuba, where she has been living for three+ decades. Shakur's story is difficult, and many people maintain that she was innocent or set up.

When i saw that billboard i thought she had for some reason come back to the US and maybe even launched some new attack or something (she's 66 years old). But that's not the case. For some reason, the FBI has recently added her to the terrorist watchlist and now they are putting up billboards in New Jersey.

I can't find any straight news organizations covering this. Here's the most comprehensive article i've found (note: a goddamn video will start playing as soon as you load the page). But it does seem to be an egregious and arbitrary decision to call her a terrorist and start putting up Wanted signs for her in May 2013.


By fnord12 | June 3, 2013, 3:11 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (2)| Link



Did Chris Christie increase or cut education funding?

While we were out this weekend, we saw a campaign ad by Chris Christie saying that he provided "the most education funding ever". That was a bit unexpected, so i looked it up when we got home, but i can't really figure it out.

The NJ Star-Ledger and Politifact have a piece on this. Politifact rates the ad "Half true" but that's because of a separate claim on merit pay for teachers that i'm less interested in. Regarding the budget claim, the article says:

As for "most education funding ever," Christie's proposed fiscal year 2014 budget calls for nearly $9 billion in education funding, about $1 billion more than the previous year. State aid to schools would increase $97 million. While no district saw a state aid decrease, many either received a nominal increase of $1 or their funding remained flat.

Wollmer agreed that in terms of dollars, the ad's claim is correct, but points out that there's more to Christie's education funding story.

"But what he doesn't mention is that he cut $1.3 billion from state aid in his first year - Withholding $475 million in aid in January, which was the amount that the state's nearly 600 districts had in total surpluses for unanticipated expenses (a new roof, a bus that needed replacing, an unanticipated special ed placement), and another $820 million in the FY11 budget (which began for schools in September of 2010)," Wollmer said. "Districts cut back dramatically, and 10,000 teachers and staff were laid off, programs were cut, and class sizes increased."

The state Supreme Court in 2011 also ordered Christie to increase aid to the now-former Abbott districts by about $500 million.

And then:

Also, Christie may have a history of slashing education funding as a way to close budget holes, but the ad's claim about the most education funding, ever, is correct.

Ok, what? Forget the $1.3 billion he cut from state aid in the first year; this claim is about FY 2014. So he increased aid by $1 billion, but aid to schools only increased by $97 million. What's the rest of it for? The article doesn't say. And all of Wollmer's paragraph seems to be about an earlier budget; is any of it relevant to this discussion?

By the way, Wollmer is from the New Jersey Education Association, and they are pretty clearly anti-Christie. That's understandable, but this is supposed to be a fact-checking article. The point wasn't to balance Christie's claims with claims from someone on the opposite side of the issue. A fact checking article should just be checking the facts, not giving equal time to both sides. Couldn't they have found anyone who would just objectively say "Yes, this is a larger budget than ever" or "No, it's not."?

I expected this article to be looking at inflation or other technical details. Instead i got a mishmosh of details that don't add up to anything. It comes down to "Christie says this, Wollmer says that, believe what you like."

Compound that with another Ledger/Politifact article rating the AFL-CIO claim that Chris Christie cut education funding by $1.6B while giving out $2B in corporate tax breaks as "Mostly True", and only mostly because Christie's education cuts were $1billion, not $1.6 billion. But wait, that was in 2010.

Sussing things out further, here's an article from a different site, saying:

It's not easy to tell whether this is the most generous education budget in history or one of the most egregious, given the rhetoric coming from both sides in the debate.

Actually there is a bit of truth in each.

The governor is in full reelection mode, pitching the state's investment in school aid as the highest ever. And strictly by the numbers, the amount is indeed the most the state has directly paid.

But that's hardly the full picture. In fiscal 2010, schools actually received more in overall aid, helped by an additional $1 billion in federal stimulus money. The year after, without that help, Christie made deep aid cuts to schools, leading to unprecedented layoffs and decimated programs.

Three years later, districts are getting close to returning to those 2010 totals under Christie's latest budget, but the financial wounds were deep and with a 2 percent tax cap in place since then, few would say they have healed.

Really, a dollar?

Christie has made a big point that two-thirds of all districts will see an increase in state aid this year, and none will see cuts. But that's not exactly true, on a couple of counts.

For one thing, 41 districts are seeing a $1 boost in their aid. Not $1 per student, a small figure in itself when per-pupil spending is in the thousands, but a single dollar overall.

Doubly stinging, another nearly 500 districts are seeing an increase in their required contributions to the debt service on grants they received for new construction costs, not a sizable amount for many of them, but a significant six-figure hit for more than a dozen.

That seems to answer some questions. The overall education budget for NJ is catching up to its 2010 levels, but the contribution from the state government is the largest ever. Right? And maybe the remainder of the $1 billion - $97 million is going to grants for construction costs?

It seems like someone can get the details if they really work at it, but that fact checker article doesn't do a bit of good.


By fnord12 | June 3, 2013, 2:39 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



Turkey background

Talking Points Memo surprisingly (for a site focused on politics) has some nice background for what's going on in Turkey.


By fnord12 | June 3, 2013, 2:37 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (0)| Link



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