Democrats, Republicans just can’t quit Wall Street money

Ezra Klein. Just a reminder; I do hope that there’s nobody in the congregation today to whom this counts as news.

Democrats, Republicans just can’t quit Wall Street money

To think clearly about the overriding importance of money in campaigns, consider the degree to which politicians will court political disaster in order to raise a few more bucks. A couple of weeks ago, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn took some time out of bashing bank bailouts to meet with a bunch of Wall Street executives. Democrats reacted with glee, and have hammered the Republicans for the meetings ever since. “McConnell won’t provide details of Wall Street meeting,” read one recent DNC press release.

And then you read this:

While Democrats push Wall Street regulations on the Senate floor, Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will head to Manhattan on Monday for a fundraiser with deep-pocketed donors who have ties to the financial industry.

According to an invitation obtained by POLITICO, the fundraiser is billed as a “political discussion” for those who want to contribute up to $10,000 for Gillibrand’s reelection campaign and spend Monday evening with the two Democratic senators.

Democrats know exactly how politically dangerous it is to raise funds on Wall Street right now. But they’re doing it anyway. Both parties, in fact, know the risks and are choosing to take the hit rather than forgo the cash. This isn’t because they love being attacked or even think that the toxicity of Wall Street is overstated. It’s because, to use a metaphor that’s in vogue right now, our system of campaign finance turns politicians into vampire squids wrapped around the wallets of the rich, relentlessly jamming their blood funnels into anything that smells like money.

Which two Californias?

Traditionally, calls to split California in two have called for a north-south split, generally putting the SF Bay Area and Sacramento in the north, and LA in, well, Southern California along with its neighbors. (Though the proposed state of Jefferson would start roughly at Redding.)

Politically, though, it’s another matter altogether. It can be seen in the red-blue maps after statewide elections, and it can be seen in this map from the Sacramento Bee of how California’s representatives voted on the health-care reform bill.
California Split

The Democratic Party’s deceitful game

Glenn Greenwald:

The Democratic Party’s deceitful game

… Basically, this is how things have progressed:

Progressives:  We want a public option! Democrats/WH:  We agree with you totally!  Unfortunately, while we have 50 votes for it, we just don’t have 60, so we can’t have it.  Gosh darn that filibuster rule.   Progressives:  But you can use reconciliation like Bush did so often, and then you only need 50 votes. Filibuster reform advocates/Obama loyalists:  Hey progressives, don’t be stupid!  Be pragmatic.  It’s not realistic or Serious to use reconciliation to pass health care reform.  None of this their fault.  It’s the fault of the filibuster.  The White House wishes so badly that it could pass all these great progressive bills, but they’re powerless, and they just can’t get 60 votes to do it.   [Month later] Progressives:  Hey, great!  Now that you’re going to pass the bill through reconciliation after all, you can include the public option that both you and we love, because you only need 50 votes, and you’ve said all year you have that! Democrats/WH:  No.  We don’t have 50 votes for that (look at Jay Rockefeller).  Besides, it’s not the right time for the public option.  The public option only polls at 65%, so it might make our health care bill — which polls at 35% — unpopular.  Also, the public option and reconciliation are too partisan, so we’re going to go ahead and pass our industry-approved bill instead … on a strict party line vote.

This is why, although I basically agree with filibuster reform advocates, I am extremely skeptical that it would change much, because Democrats would then just concoct ways to lack 50 votes rather than 60 votes — just like they did here. …

via Glenn Greenwald

Presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens

Glenn Greenwald.

Presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens

… Just think about this for a minute.  Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests.”  They’re entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. …

Catastrophe tears us apart

Amen, Brother Ezra!

Catastrophe tears us apart

“It is amazing that some people here in Congress still don’t get it,” says Sen. Evan Bayh, who’s counseling Democrats to move to the right. “For those people it may take a political catastrophe of biblical proportions before they get it.”

I’ll just note that the “catastrophe of biblical proportions” that Bayh is referring to is not that health-care reform doesn’t pass and hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessary deaths. It’s not that the Congress is unable to pass a second stimulus and millions of Americans are jobless, anxious and uninsured for years longer than necessary. It’s that Democrats lose a bunch of seats in the midterm elections.

Politicians have a tendency of talking about the consequences of elections as if they’re very real and the consequences of policy as if they’re very abstract, and as we’re seeing with the stalling of the health-care bill in the aftermath of Martha Coakley’s loss, they legislate that way, too. And then they wonder why voters don’t trust them and their initiatives.

U.S. enables Chinese hacking of Google

Bruce Schneier. Emphasis mine.

U.S. enables Chinese hacking of Google

… China’s hackers subverted the access system Google put in place to comply with U.S. intercept orders. Why does anyone think criminals won’t be able to use the same system to steal bank account and credit card information, use it to launch other attacks or turn it into a massive spam-sending network? Why does anyone think that only authorized law enforcement can mine collected Internet data or eavesdrop on phone and IM conversations?

These risks are not merely theoretical. After September 11, the NSA built a surveillance infrastructure to eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mails within the U.S. Although procedural rules stated that only non-Americans and international phone calls were to be listened to, actual practice didn’t match those rules. NSA analysts collected more data than they were authorized to and used the system to spy on wives, girlfriends and notables such as President Clinton.

And surveillance infrastructure can be exported, which also aids totalitarianism around the world. Western companies like Siemens and Nokia built Iran’s surveillance. U.S. companies helped build China’s electronic police state. Just last year, Twitter’s anonymity saved the lives of Iranian dissidents, anonymity that many governments want to eliminate.

In the aftermath of Google’s announcement, some members of Congress are reviving a bill banning U.S. tech companies from working with governments that digitally spy on their citizens. Presumably, those legislators don’t understand that their own government is on the list. …

What the Supreme Court got right

Glenn Greenwald, thoughtful as always.

What the Supreme Court got right

The Supreme Court yesterday, in a 5-4 decision, declared unconstitutional (on First Amendment grounds) campaign finance regulations which restrict the ability of corporations and unions to use funds from their general treasury for “electioneering” purposes.  The case, Citizens United v. FEC, presents some very difficult free speech questions, and I’m deeply ambivalent about the court’s ruling.  There are several dubious aspects of the majority’s opinion (principally its decision to invalidate the entire campaign finance scheme rather than exercising ”judicial restraint” through a narrower holding).  Beyond that, I believe that corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture.  But there are also very real First Amendment interests implicated by laws which bar entities from spending money to express political viewpoints. 

I want to begin by examining several of the most common reactions among critics of this decision, none of which seems persuasive to me. …

Update: in a follow-up, Greenwald points out that, while the case was decided 5–4, all nine justices agreed on two matters: that corporations have free speech rights (the question of personhood doesn’t arise, I think, in the speech clause) and that restrictions on spending do infringe on those rights:

… To the contrary, the entire dissent — while arguing that corporations have fewer First Amendment protections than individuals — is grounded in the premise that corporations do have First Amendment free speech rights and that restrictions on the expenditure of money do burden those rights, but those free speech rights can be restricted when there’s a “compelling state interest.” In this case, the dissenters argued, such restrictions are justified by the “compelling state interest” the Government has in preventing the corrupting influence of corporate money. That’s why the extent of one’s belief in the First Amendment is outcome-determinative here. Those who want to restrict free speech always argue that there’s a compelling reason to do so (“we must ban the Communist Party because they pose a danger to the country”; “we must ban hate speech because it sparks violence and causes a climate of intimidation”; “we must ban radical Muslim websites because they provoke Terrorism”). One can have reasonable debates over the “compelling interest” question as a constitutional matter — and, as I said yesterday, I’m deeply ambivalent about the Citizens United case because that’s a hard question and I do think corporate influence is one of the greatest threats we face — but, ultimately, it’s because I don’t believe that restrictions on political speech and opinions (as opposed to other kinds of statements) can ever be justified that I agree with the majority’s ruling. There are reasonable arguments on all sides of that question. …

Making lemonade in advance

This from Adam B at DKos. In the long run (hopefully not that long), the answer must be public campaign finance.

SCOTUS Set To Overturn Corporate Speech Restrictions

It’s anticipated that the Supreme Court of the United States will be handing down its long-awaited opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission tomorrow morning.

D.  But corporations aren’t people!  

Sure, but the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause isn’t limited to people, though the assembly and petition clauses are.  (Other amendments are limited to “citizens,” for what it’s worth.)  One need not recognize corporations as “people” to respect their speech as “speech” which the First Amendment forbids Congress from interdicting without a compelling state interest.    

The AFL-CIO is a corporation. So’s the ACLU. Both support Citizens United in this litigation.

E. And is this the end of the world?

Not necessarily, but there will be a real potential for corporate-funded advocacy to distort the current market for political speech.  And we’ll talk about that as well as ways to balance against it.

What’s not at issue, by the way, are direct corporate financial contributions to candidates for public office — currently illegal under federal law, but legal in a good number of states.  That’s another potential battle years down the road.

Google in China


A new approach to China

… These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

Posted by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer

Blaspheming in Ireland

…will apparently cost you €25,000.

Irish atheists challenge new blasphemy laws

… The new law, which was passed in July, means that blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,000).

It defines blasphemy as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted”.

The justice minister, Dermot Ahern, said that the law was necessary because while immigration had brought a growing diversity of religious faiths, the 1936 constitution extended the protection of belief only to Christians. …

Near as I can tell, it’s not a joke. But media coverage, blogs excepted, appears to be nil. At least that’s what a search on Google News suggests.

Doing the terrorists’ job

Bruce Schneier.

Is aviation security mostly for show?

… We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice — not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer.

Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them. …

Slouching Toward Health Care Reform

What Robert Reich says.

Slouching Toward Health Care Reform

… Is the effort worth still worth it? Yes, but just. Private insurers will have to take anyone, regardless of preconditions. And some 30 million people who don’t now have health insurance will get it. But because Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and the AMA will come out way ahead, the legislation will cost taxpayers and premium-payers far more than it would otherwise. Cost controls are inadequate; in fact, they barely exist. If Wall Street’s top brass are “fat cats,” as the President described them last weekend, the top brass of Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and the AMA are even fatter. While they don’t earn as much, they’re squeezing the public for even more.

We are slouching toward health-care reform that’s better than nothing but far worse than we had imagined it would be. Even those of us who have seen legislative sausage-making up close, even those of us who never make the perfect the enemy of the better, are concerned. That two or three senators are able to extort as much as they have is appalling. Why hasn’t Reid forced much of the bill into reconciliation, requiring only 51 votes? Why has the President been so cowed? In all likelihood, the White House and the Dems eventually will get a bill they can call “reform,” but they will not be able to say with straight faces that the reform is a significant improvement over the terrible system we already have.

Political Philosophers Meet at the White House

Classic Dean Baker in media-critic mode.

Political Philosophers Meet at the White House

This seems to be how the NYT views the meeting between President Obama and the Republican congressional leadership at the White House yesterday. It told readers that they “aired philosophical differences,” in a meeting to discuss ways to increase job growth.

While it is possible that President Obama and congressional leaders discussed differences in philosophy, it is also possible that they simple exchanged political talking points. Since all of the people in the meeting were there because of the ability to garner political support, rather than their expertise in political philosophy, the talking point explanation might seem more likely.

—Dean Baker

How To Make The World’s Easiest $1 Billion

Henry Blodget, via Jorn Barger:

How To Make The World’s Easiest $1 Billion

With all the banks paying back the TARP money, some folks are assuming that the great Wall Street bailout is finally coming to an end.

But of course it isn’t!

Taxpayers are still guaranteeing all big bank bonds (Too Big To Fail) and subsidizing huge bank earnings and bonuses with absurdly low interest rates.

But instead of bellyaching about it, you might as well just smile and cash in. After all, that’s what Wall Street’s doing.

So here’s how to make the world’s easiest $1 billion: click

Rick Warren repudiates Ugandan homophobia

Well, good for him. This from Andrew Brown:

Rick Warren repudiates Ugandan homophobia

The most important evangelical preacher in America has denounced the Ugandan anti-gay law

Who would have thought that Rick Warren, the most influential Evangelical in the USA, would be quicker to denounce the Ugandan anti-gay law than Rowan Williams? Yet after weeks of mounting pressure in which he has held to the line that, as a pastor, he doesn’t tell foreign governments what to do, he has just issued a statement denouncing the odious Ugandan law.

This is I think a historic moment. It shows the huge social change that has taken place even in the mainstream of evangelical America, that they realise that gay people are almost entirely human like them and not to be used as the victims of witch-hunts. Warren’s statement says

there are thousands of evil laws enacted around the world and I cannot speak to pastors about every one of them, but I am taking the extraordinary step of speaking to you — the pastors of Uganda and spiritual leaders of your nation — for five reasons:

First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.

Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.

Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation …

I suspect that this will kill the bill, or at least its most obnoxious provisions. There is already a report on Bloomberg news that the minister of ethics has said the death penalty must go from the bill. But Warren seems to be denouncing even prison sentences for homosexual acts. Since the bill seems to have arisen from the efforts of American evangelicals to stir up the witch-hunting passions of Ugandans, it matters immensely that the most influential of them (and probably the richest) should now have spoken out so clearly.

No time for more now, but I will follow this story tomorrow.

Update: Rowan Williams follows suit. Actually, this interview precedes the Warren statement, though it became public later.

“Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can’t see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades,” says Dr Williams. “Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers.” He adds that the Anglican Church in Uganda opposes the death penalty but, tellingly, he notes that its archbishop, Henry Orombi, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference last year, “has not taken a position on this bill”.

A nation of torturers

Torture enablers, at least. Glenn Greenwald:

America’s regression

… Just think about that.  Torture is one of the most universal taboos in the civilized world.  The treaty championed by Ronald Reagan declares that “no exceptional circumstances” can justify it, and requires that every state criminalize it and prosecute those who authorize or engage in it.  But only 25% of Americans agree with Ronald Reagan and this Western consensus that torture is never justifiable.  Worse, 54% of Americans believe torture is “often” or ”sometimes” justified.  When it comes to torture, the vast bulk of the country is now to the “right” (for lack of a better term) of Ronald Reagan, who at least in words (if not in deeds) insisted upon an absolute prohibition on the practice and mandatory prosecution for those responsible.

With these new numbers, it’s virtually impossible to find a country with as high a percentage of torture supporters as the U.S. has.  In Iran, for instance, only 36% believe that torture can be justified in some cases, while 43% believe all torture must be strictly prohibited.  Similarly, 66% of Palestinians, 54% of Egyptians, and over 80% of Western Europeans believe torture is always wrong.  The U.S. has a far lower percentage than all of those nations of individuals who believe that torture should always be prohibited.  At least on the level of the citizenry (as opposed to government), we’re basically the leading torture advocacy state in the world.

Is Everybody Disappointed In Obama?

M J Rosenberg asks, and answers his own question, “Yes.”

There’s a ton of comments, many of the form “McCain-Palin would have been worse” (which really isn’t the point), or asserting that our expectations shouldn’t have been high enough to be seriously disappointed. Rationally, I fall into the latter camp, but I’m disappointed not to be proven unduly pessimistic.

Yes, Sarah, There is a Media Conspiracy

I’ll give you a couple of sentences from Matt Taibbi, and then you can go read the rest for yourself.

Your average political reporter is a spineless dweeb who went to all the best schools and made it to that privileged seat inside the campaign-trail ropeline by being keenly sensitive to the editorial wishes of his social and professional superiors. … It’s the same press corps that rolled out the red carpet for someone very nearly as abjectly stupid as Sarah Palin to win not one but two terms in the White House.