Saturday, November 13, 2010

Catfood Commission proves we are at the political and economic mercy of the financial-services sector

-- by Dave

Americans really want to know why we don't make stuff anymore. What happened to American manufacturing? Why is everything made in China now?

The answer: Because we are now at the economic -- and political -- mercy of the nation's financial-services sector.

Here's an illustration of what's happened to America in the past 30 years, taken from page 33 of Kevin Phillips' fine book, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, which predicted the global economic crisis well before it happened:

As Phillips explains, this shift came about because both political parties in Washington -- well fed with Wall Street money -- decided America's economic future lay in the financial sector, not in manufacturing.

Phillips describes in detail how the financial-services sector came to be seen within the Beltway as "the winner" for politicians to back as the nation’s economic workhorse, fueled in no small part by the ongoing activities of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, even as the nation’s manufacturing capacity was slowly being gutted. He explores how this was facilitated by Republican governance this past decade, particularly from a Bush White House that favored the familial oligarchical approach to economics, and rapidly accelerated during the post-9/11 push to expand credit. This was manifested in the "securitization" mania that took root in the context of a "Wild West" milieu for all kinds of moneymaking devices, especially low-interest adjustable-rate mortgages.

In the process, both of America's political parties have largely been subsumed by the financial-services sector. The most recent manifestation of this is the work of the supposedly bipartisan Catfood Commission, whose recommendations, if followed, would produce "a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans," according to Paul Krugman.

What's particularly striking about its work is that it quite patently intends to place all the burden for solving the deficit on the backs of working people (mainly through serious Social Security cutbacks) while steadfastly refusing to consider new ways of improving its revenues, as Matt Yglesias has observed.

And atop that list of ignored potential revenue sources: The financial sector.

Dean Baker made an acute observation about this:

The deficit report put out by the commission's co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, had one striking omission. It does not includes plans for a Wall Street speculation tax or any other tax on the financial industry.

This omission is striking because the co-chairs made a big point of saying that they looked everywhere to save money and/or raise revenue. As Senator Simpson said: "We have harpooned every whale in the ocean - and some minnows." Wall Street is one whale that appears to have dodged the harpoon.

This omission is made more striking by the fact that at least one member of the commission, Andy Stern, has long been an advocate of such taxes. Presumably he raised this issue in the commission meetings and the co-chairs chose to ignore him.

The co-chairs apparently also chose to ignore the I.M.F.. Noting the waste and extraordinary economic rents in the sector, the I.M.F. has explicitly recommended a substantial increase in taxes on the financial industry. It is even more striking that the co-chairs apparently never considered a speculation tax since Wall Street's reckless greed is at the center of the current economic crisis.

Indeed. You always hear from "fiscal conservatives" that taxes should only be applied to activities that you want to discourage or hold in check. Well, there you go.

In this context, it is worth noting that one of the co-chairs, Erskine Bowles, is literally on Wall Street's payroll. He earned $335,000 last year for his role as a member of Morgan Stanley's (one of the bailed out banks) board of directors. Morgan Stanley would likely see a large hit to its profits from a financial speculation tax.

It would have been appropriate for the reporters covering the report to ask about a financial speculation tax. It would also be appropriate to explore the connection between Mr. Bowles role as a Morgan Stanley director and the absence of any financial taxes in this far-reaching report.

Until we start electing Democrats who really want to put Americans back to work making things and recognize that Wall Street's speculative utopia is a global nightmare, we're going to be caught in this trap, and real economic recovery will remain out of reach.

Time for a left-wing populist uprising, perhaps?

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Fox's 'toughest' sheriffs are also the most corrupt -- not to mention tough on taxpayers' wallets

-- by Dave

Well, for anyone who's watched the saga of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's corruption bubbling along, this won't be a big surprise:

On November 10th, Fox News released their list of America's "toughest sheriffs" on immigration, applauding local law enforcers who want to file suit against Mexico and are encouraging armed vigilante groups in their Counties to name a few notable mentions. Not coincidentally, those named are also America's Worst Sheriff's with Sheriff Arpaio at the top of both lists.

The Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona runs an unaccredited jail facility due to poor standards and is the subject of more than 2,700 lawsuits for civil rights and other violations. Additionally, he's the subject of a two year Department of Justice investigation and an additional criminal investigation for misuse of funds.

The other mentions on the list share a similar profile. Frederick County, MD Sheriff Jenkins is the subject of a one million dollar civil rights racial profiling suit. Similarly the Cobb County, NC Sheriffs earned a lawsuit when their "toughest" officers stopped a 23 year old Latino man riding his bicycle and beat him up, breaking his nose and eye socket in the process.

That's pretty much backed up by the latest revelations regarding Arpaio's corruption. Eric W. Dolan at Raw Story has the rundown:

A hidden computer database recently discovered in the course of a racial profiling investigation shows Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio misspent up to $80 million in funds intended for jail operations, according to Maricopa County supervisors and budget officials.

The hidden database contained payroll logs that detailed staff assignments and payments which were different than the staff assignments and payments reported in the official county-run database, they said.

"They've developed a system that basically tracks where they are working versus where they are being paid, and they did not update the official database, which led to the potential problems," Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson told The Arizona Republic. "I think they deliberately hid this info from us."

This is a guy Arizonans revere. His approval ratings this summer reportedly were around 70 percent.

Maybe it's something in the water. Or something like that.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Hey, at least we can DREAM: Will Democrats do the right thing and pass it now?

-- by Dave

So Sen. Harry Reid, having won his election thanks to a wave of motivated Latino voters, is now planning to push for a vote on the DREAM Act in the lame-duck session of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was re-elected last week with strong support from Hispanic voters, will make one last push in the final days of the 111th Congress to pass legislation allowing illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to earn legal status if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military.

Advocates of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act - better known as the DREAM Act - say Reid has a better chance of passing the bill in the "lame duck" session than he would when the new, divided Congress is sworn in this January.

Nancy Pelosi is on board in the House, and there's also substantial popular support as well:

The DREAM Act enjoys strong support across party lines. After hearing a brief description, sixty-six percent of voters support the DREAM Act, including majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (60%), and Republicans (57%).

All of which means, of course, that the American Right will throw a hissy fit and do their damnedest to shout the bill down. Leading the shouting, as always, will be the chief organ in their propaganda Wurlitzer: Fox News.

With Jon Scott doing a "fair and balanced" report yesterday on Happening Now, we got a sample of what we've come to expect from Fox's reportage on the DREAM Act: falsehoods and distortions, particularly from Iowa's favorite nutty nativist, Republican Rep. Steve King, who was permitted to lie blatantly about what the act would do.

Just for the record, the law would not "grant amnesty" or create "preferences" for these students:

In fact, Dream Act would allow eligible immigrants to apply for "conditional permanent resident status." The versions of the Dream Act legislation pending in the House and Senate both state that eligible unauthorized immigrants could have their status adjusted to "conditional permanent resident status" which "shall be valid for a period of 6 years" and subject to termination should the individual cease to be eligible. Conditional permanent resident status is only available under the Dream Act to those who were under 16 years of age when they came to the country, have good moral character, and have earned a high school diploma/GED or been admitted to an institution of higher education.

... Dream Act does not give eligible students a special "preference" over citizens or permanent residents. As the Congressional Research Service explained in a February 3 report, unlike other legal permanent residents, Dream Act students would have restricted access to federal student financial aid. CRS stated of the Senate bill:

S. 729 would place restrictions on the eligibility of aliens who adjust to LPR status under its provisions for federal student financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. Under that act, LPRs and certain other eligible noncitizens may receive federal financial aid. Aliens adjusting status under S. 729, however, would be eligible only for student loans, federal work-study programs, and services (such as counseling, tutorial services, and mentoring), subject to the applicable requirements. Unlike other LPRs, they would be ineligible for federal Pell Grants or federal supplemental educational opportunity grants.

Scott performed his "balancing" duties by inviting on Lizette Olmos of the League of United Latin American Citizens to explain the other side -- which she struggled to do, since Scott insisted on asking inane questions about employment in the USA, never giving her an opportunity to refute King's string of falsehoods. But she at least lent the proceedings a voice of sanity.

But Democrats need to be prepared for the onslaught. Fox certainly is.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Friday, November 12, 2010

How does Beck respond to ADL condemnation? By lying about Soros again, smearing ADL

-- by Dave

Yesterday the Anti-Defamation League made it official:

Glenn Beck's description of George Soros' actions during the Holocaust is completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top. For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say – inaccurately – that there's a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, as part of a broader assault on Mr. Soros, that's horrific.

While I, too, may disagree with many of Soros' views and analysis on the issues, to bring in this kind of innuendo about his past is unacceptable. To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.

The Holocaust was a horrific time, and many people had to make excruciating choices to ensure their survival. George Soros has been forthright about his childhood experiences and his family's history, and there the matter should rest.

So how did Beck respond? Well, first he went on the air and not only repeated the smear of Soros by the flaming anti-Semite Mohammad Mahatir, he actually ran a truncated quote of Soros' in order to lie about him even more egregiously.

Here's what Beck shows you:
QUESTIONER: The question is what whether we need and whether Mr. Soros and his foundations can help to bring more foreign influence in the United States instead of relying on what is essentially a balance between Democrats and conservative Republicans.

SOROS: I think you put your finger on a very important flaw in the current world order, and that is that only Americans have a vote in Congress. And yet, it is the United States that basically determines policy for the world. That is a flaw in the current setup.

To which Beck observes:
BECK: It's a problem for him that people in China or France don't get to vote, find out who sits in Congress. Is it for you? You need to make a choice. Mr. Soros has made his choice. I have made mine. Tonight you decide.

Well, here's the full quote, from a 2006 press conference:

Q: The question is whether we need and whether Mr. Soros and his foundations can help to bring more foreign influence into the United States instead of relying on what is essentially a balance between Democrats and conservative Republicans, which hasn't worked and is not about to start working.

SOROS: Look, I think -- I think you put your finger on a very important flaw in the current world order, and that is that only Americans have a vote in Congress. And yet, it is the United States that basically determines policy for the world. That is a flaw in the current setup. I don't think you can correct it by giving the Chinese government a vote in Congress. But it is a flaw, and I think this is where American leadership is needed, to take into account and respect the interests of others as well, in order to retain the dominant position we currently enjoy.

Soros actually said something that directly contradicted Beck's characterization of his views -- so of course, Beck omitted it.

This sort of journalistic fraud happens all the time at Fox, and plenty of it on Beck's show (we all recall how he pulled the same stunt with Anita Dunn.) It's one of the major reasons you can point to Fox's practices and clearly judge that this is not a news operation but a propaganda mill.

Well, that report naming Beck our nation's "Fearmonger in Chief" didn't exactly endear the ADL to Beck in the first place.

And sure enough, he spent all day on his radio show attacking the ADL and smearing them and asking his audience to help him look into whether Soros helped fund any ADL work.

Fox is standing behind Beck for now:

Fox stood by Mr. Beck. Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president at Fox News, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the "information regarding Mr. Soros's experiences growing up were taken directly from his writings and from interviews given by him to the media, and no negative opinion was offered as to his actions as a child."

I wonder how long that will last. Already Beck admitted on his radio show that Fox executives have expressed their discomfort to Beck -- which he, of course, airily dismissed ("It's just not worth it, guys").

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Down the rabbit hole: Hannity and Bozell decry talk of revolution -- the kind Hannity indulged two years ago

-- by Dave

Watching Fox News is always a bit of a funhouse mirror, like going down Alice's rabbit hole and sitting down for a sip at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Last night, Sean Hannity and Brent Bozell of the right-wing propaganda outfit Media Research Center were all aghast at a boneheaded segment on Dylan Ratigan's MSNBC show featuring Ted Rall talking about the value of armed revolution to bring about change in America:

Hannity: They're unhinged. The Anointed One is elected, and the anchors would thrill up and down their legs and up every part of their body. Now all of a sudden conservatives win, because there's a repudiation of Obama and his liberal agenda, and now the suggestion of a revolution.

Bozell: Sean, now remember, we're the haters. Just hold that thought for a second. This is what his guest actually said on the show. He said, "The government, the corporations and the extreme right are prepared to coalesce into an axis of evil. Are we going to fight back. Will you do whatever it takes, including taking up arms?" This is a man who is a guest on this MSNBC show -- and utter silence from the hypocritical left, that they have that kind of person on there, but yet we are the haters.

Sean, I've asked this question a million times: Would you last -- if you had that kind of a guest on, that your show wouldn't be over before Roger Ailes fired you?

Hannity: Probably.

Bozell: Correct?

Hannity: There's a double standard. We all know this. I mean, it's transparent.

Bozell: The double standard is, Fox doesn't do that. You all would never allow on your show as your guest someone advocating violence in America.

Well, I dunno about guests, but what about Sean Hannity himself?

You may recall, as John and I explained in Over the Cliff, that it was Hannity who came unhinged immediately after the 2008 election of "the Anointed One" and began making suggestions of a revolution:

Hannity had made plain his intentions even before the inauguration. At his Web site, he began organizing in December what he called “the conservative underground” and asking people to “join the resistance” to the Obama administration. At the site’s discussion forum, one of his regulars posted an online poll asking respondents to answer: “What kind of revolution appeals most to you?” The possible answers: "A. Military Coup. B. Armed Rebellion. C. War for Secession."

Here's a screen grab:

[Via Political Carnival.]

Then, shortly after the inauguration of Obama, we got this:

The whole segment, as you'll see, almost explicitly urges an armed revolution to preserve "the tree of liberty". As Ellen at NewsHounds noted:

Hannity concluded by saying, “This administration has plucked the tree of liberty bare. It took more than 200 years but it now looks like we are headed back to where we started.” Meaning revolution? Hannity never said one way or the other.

He didn't need to; his meaning was clear enough.

More recently, he practically encouraged violence against liberals with some classic eliminationist humor:

The joke?

If we get rid of liberals, we solve our problems.

It also has to be observed that you don't need to explicitly encourage acts of violence in order to inspire them. All Bill O'Reilly had to do was call Dr. George Tiller a "baby killer" 28 times on his national broadcasts to inspire someone one to walk into a church and shoot him in the head. All Glenn Beck had to do was rant endlessly about how evil the Tides Foundation is to inspire someone to plan an armed attack on their offices.

Likewise with Hannity, whose show the past couple of years has been an endless stream of extreme rhetoric explicitly designed to unhinge its audience. Maybe the apotheosis of this are the numerous times he has invited on various guests who promote wild conspiracy theories about President Obama's "socialist agenda," ranging from WorldNutDaily kooks to Jerome Corsi (but I repeat myself) to even Newt Gingrich:

Hannity was openly promoting Gingrich's story line, to wit, that President Obama and the evil liberals are going to destroy America by instituting a "secular socialist" state. Hannity could scarcely contain himself as they contemplated Obama's supposed deep-seated radicalism.

Hannity, you see, believes with Gingrich that "we are in a battle for the heart and soul of America -- in fact, the greatest battle since the Civil War."

And of course, we heard from a number of conservative figures -- notably Sharron Angle and Walter Williams who proposed a "Second Amendment solution" should things not work out at the ballot box.

Along those same lines, there was frequent Beck guest Stephen Broden, a GOP congressional candidate:

Watson asked if violence would be an option in 2010, under the current government.

"The option is on the table. I don't think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms," Broden said, without elaborating.

Beck himself talked up secession with Chuck Norris on his show -- not a call to violence per se, but certainly a call for revolutionary action.

Well, we could go on all day. But the point isn't really so much that the right advocates violence a great deal more than the left, though we can demonstrate that all day.

And let's be clear: I'm someone who will consistently repudiate the Ted Ralls of the Left who think somehow that violence is any kind of solution. But they are few and far between, and enjoy very little influence among progressives.

The point is that the Right commits a great deal more actual violence, and have for some time. (Just two days ago someone acting on a right-wing radio host's call for a "Second Amendment solution" with threats of extreme violence caused all the schools in Broward County, Florida, to be placed on lockdown.)

They also regularly and voluminously engage in rhetoric that encourages and invites and condones it.

And they never, ever cop to it, because no one holds them accountable for it. Now that's a double standard.

[H/t Digby.]

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Threats inspired by Allen West's fave radio ranter force Florida school lockdown

-- by Dave

It was already pretty weird when newly elected Tea Partier Allen West engaged in a brief and bizarre mini-drama when he announced he was hiring hate-radio talker Joyce Kaufman to be his new chief of staff. Today he let her walk away after a furor erupted over the hire.

The whole story took an even more bizarre twist yesterday when one of Kaufman's fans, apparently angry after watching a Rachel Maddow segment on the West/Kaufman saga, phoned in a threat to commit violence against schools and post offices, prompting a lockdown of schools in Broward County, Florida:

WSVN-TV has the report:

Thousands of students spent hours locked inside their classrooms Wednesday after a South Florida radio station received a threatening e-mail.

City of Pembroke Pines Police Capt. Dan Rakofsky said authorities lifted the lockdowns after further investigation into a threat sent to a radio station mentioning a mass shooting. "Based on information from the original phone threat this morning, we are confident that that threat has diminished to the point that we can step down the security around the schools somewhat, and the school board has decided to lift the lock down," said Rakofsky.

Rakofsky would not elaborate beyond his statement, only to say police had questioned and released several individuals but are still searching for the person that originally placed the phone call to WFTL 850 AM.

According to Rakofsky, further investigation revealed the same station received an email echoing those same sentiments, much earlier in the morning. Pembroke Pines Police did release a portion of that email, which stated: "I'm planning something big around the government building here in Broward County, maybe a post office, maybe even a school."

The writer said Joyce Kaufman, who is a host at the radio station, inspired the threat. Kaufman happens to have recently been announced as the Chief of Staff to recently elected Florida Rep. Alan West.

Words that Kaufman uttered during a July 4th rally in Fort Lauderdale may have come back to haunt her. "If ballots don't work, bullets will," Kaufman is heard saying.

Those are the words that sources said may have motivated a South Florida man to make threats of unthinkable violence. Seven News was told the man was watching MSNBC Tuesday night when a clip from the rally was shown. Sources believe Kaufman's words motivated him to write a threatening Email, which was sent to a radio station.

Part of the e-mail read: "Something big will happen. "The man's wife then called WFTL with her fears.

The combination set off a chain reaction of a lockdown on all of Broward County schools for most of the day.

We already knew that Allen West had a predilection for condoning and encouraging violent thuggery, but this is well beyond befriending bikers.

Incidentally, here is that Maddow video that made the would-be shooter so angry:

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Jewish outrage grows, but Beck digs deeper by approvingly citing flaming anti-Semite Mahatir,br>

-- by Dave

Just the first day's dose of Glenn Beck's weeklong smear campaign against George Soros -- particularly its coarse insensitivity -- has outraged Jewish leaders:

The ADL's Abe Foxman is also a child survivor who lived only because his parents turned him over to his Catholic nanny.

“Look, I spit on Jews when I was six years old,” Foxman told me. “Does that make me an anti-Semite?”

The issue of the Shoah “is so sensitive that I'm not even sure Holocaust survivors themselves are willing to make such judgments,” Foxman went on “For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say, there's a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, that's horrific. It's totally off limits and over the top.”

Beck's comments “were either out of total ignorance or total insensitivity,” he said.

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, called the Beck accusations “monstrous; you don't make such accusations without proof, and I have seen no such proof.”

Beck's charges, he said, “go to the heart of the instrumentalization and trivialization of the Holocaust."

Simon Greer, president of the Jewish Funds for Justice, met with Fox News executives in July to discuss Beck's “constant and often inappropriate invocation of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany on the air.”

Greer and Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) received a handwritten note from Beck saying “Please know that I understand the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in Human History. Thank you for your candor and helpful thoughts.”

Yesterday's on-air comments by Beck “made a mockery of their professed understanding,” Greer said in a statement. “In an effort to demonize a political opponent, Beck and Fox News scurrilously attacked George Soros, a prominent Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor. No one who truly understands 'the sensitivity and sacred nature' of the Holocaust would deliberately and grotesquely mis-characterize the experience of a 13 year old Jew in Nazi-occupied Hungary whose father hid him with a non-Jewish family to keep him alive.”

Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy said Beck's “use of the Holocaust to discredit George Soros is beyond repugnant. The Holocaust is one of history’s most tragic events and those who survived it are owed our enduring respect.”

Moreover, as we pointed out, the whole argument is a replication of the classic anti-Semitic argument, largely unchanged from the 1920s:

Here is this conniving, conspiratorial rich international-investor JEW who is buying up all the media in American and surreptitiously seeking to destroy the American economy.

And if the anti-Semitism already weren't already obvious enough from the first day of the smear, Beck dug the hole even deeper yesterday, by opening the hourlong conspiracy-laden smear thus:

Last night, we introduced you to the puppet master, billionaire financier George Soros, notorious for collapsing economies and regimes all around the world. He's known as the man who broke the bank of England. The Prime Minister of Malaysia called Soros an unscrupulous profiteer. In Thailand, he was branded the "economic war criminal." They also said that he "sucks the blood from people."

Well, as Matt Gertz at Media Matters observes:

When Beck says that "The Prime Minister of Malaysia called Soros an unscrupulous profiteer," he's referencing former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's anti-Semitic conspiracy that Soros "helped trigger the economic meltdown" of Southeast Asian currencies in 1997. Mahathir was quoted at the time saying: "We do not want to say that this is a plot by the Jews, but in reality it is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge, and coincidentally Soros is a Jew. It is also a coincidence that the Malaysians are mostly Muslim." According to the New York Times, Mahathir "suggested that Malaysia's troubles might be the result of a Jewish 'agenda'" to weaken the country's economy.

Mahathir later denied blaming a Jewish agenda, and conceded that Soros was "not involved in the devaluation of the Malaysian currency," a statement confirmed by the Bank for International Settlements, the New York Times, and Soros himself.

Gertz goes on to explore the many other ways this opening was classic anti-Semitism (particularly the bit about "blood sucking").

But when it comes to Mahatir, his attacks on Soros are only the half of it. Mahatir has a long and unfortunate record of traducing in the ugliest of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and he regularly embarrassed the Asian world with his public rants against Jews and Israel.

Most notorious was the time in 2003 he declared "Jews rule the world by proxy":

We [Muslims] are actually very strong, 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million [during the Holocaust]. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries. And they, this tiny community, have become a world power.

When the rest of the world expressed its outrage, Mahatir was defiant:
"The reaction of the world shows that they [Jews] do control the world," he told the Post.

He later went on:

"I am not anti-Semitic ... I am against those Jews who kill Muslims and the Jews who support the killers of Muslims."

He tagged the West as "anti-Muslim", for double standards by "protecting Jews while allowing others to insult Islam." He also said "But when somebody condemns the Muslims, calls my prophet, "terrorist", did the European Union say anything?"

This is someone Glenn Beck considers a credible source for attacking George Soros. All the while claiming he's a big defender of Israel.

Uh-huh. Sure.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Glenn Beck indulges in classic anti-Semitic conspiracism in his hourlong smear of Soros

-- by Dave

Glenn Beck unleashed his long-promised all-out attack on George Soros yesterday, and it was a doozy. Indeed, as both Ellen at NewsHounds and Ben Dimiero at Media Matters point out, in a normative world it would get him fired -- it was so rife with flat-out falsehoods and truly vicious distortions that Beck probably has indeed exposed Fox to a multimillion-dollar slander suit, should Soros choose to pursue it, public figure or not.

MM has compiled the entire hour Here. Meanwhile, Terry Krepel has compiled the list of utterly false things about Soros that Beck wants you to believe.

Anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitism in America is more than familiar with the architecture of Beck's argument: Here is this conniving, conspiratorial rich international-investor JEW who is buying up all the media in American and surreptitiously seeking to destroy the American economy. The only thing new here is that Soros, an avowed atheist, has a largely secular "hidden agenda" rather than a religious one.

One of Beck's smears in particular stood out in this regard -- namely, his LaRouchite claim that Soros had participated in "confiscating" Jewish properties:

Beck: His childhood is shocking, dramatic. He grew up in Nazi Europe. Fourteen years old -- he had to help the government confiscate the lands of his fellow Jewish friends and neighbors.

He did not grow up in a strong-Jewish household. His mother was a strong anti-Semite -- George Soros' words, not mine -- but when he had to go over and take the lands from the people, his Jewish friends and neighbors who were being sent to the gas chambers -- I can't imagine what that would do to a teenager, anybody, an adult.

Well, what did it do to George Soros? In an interview with Steve Croft, Soros was asked if he felt guilt at all about taking the property from the Jews as a teenager. He responded, no. He also said, quote, 'I don't deny the Jews their national existence. But I don't want to be a part of it.'

Beck isn't the first figure on Fox to indulge this smear: Ann Coulter has done the same. And as we explained then:

The claim that Soros was a "Nazi collaborator" originated with the LaRouche organization and has since spread to the likes of David Horowitz.

The facts: Soros was a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust. From Media Matters:

Michael T. Kaufman wrote in a biography of Soros, Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire (Knopf, 2002), that Soros' father attempted to protect his family from Nazi persecution by paying an employee of Hungary's Ministry of Agriculture named Baumbach to take in Soros, "ostensibly as his godson." Soros accompanied his "godfather" as he went to oversee the confiscation of property from Hungarian Jews, as Media Matters has noted.

This is also where Coulter actually lies about Soros -- and it's an outrageous lie, too. Soros never was involved in "pointing out Jews" -- he simply accompanied his protector while he carried out his civic duties, which included confiscating property from Jews.

Here's the relevant passage from the 60 Minutes interview in question:

Kroft: You're a Hungarian Jew ...

Soros: Mm-hmm.

Kroft: ... who escaped the Holocaust ...

Soros: Mm-hmm.

Kroft: ... by posing as a Christian.

Soros: Right.

Kroft: And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.

Soros: Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that's when my character was made.

Kroft: In what way?

Soros: That one should think ahead. One should understand that -- and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a -- a very personal threat of evil.

KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.

SOROS: Yes. Yes.

KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.

SOROS: Yes. That's right. Yes.

Kroft: I mean, that's -- that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?

Soros: Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don't ... you don't see the connection. But it was -- it created no -- no problem at all.

Kroft: No feeling of guilt?

Soros: No.

Kroft: For example, that, 'I'm Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.' None of that?

Soros: Well, of course, ... I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn't be there, because that was -- well, actually, in a funny way, it's just like in the markets -- that is I weren't there -- of course, I wasn't doing it, but somebody else would - would -- would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the -- whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the -- I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.

That's right: The reason Soros didn't feel any guilt is that he in fact was only a spectator and bore no role or responsibility for the confiscation of Jewish property.

Soros actually deserves our respect for having survived the Holocaust -- and Glenn Beck deserves widespread condemnation for reviving the classic anti-Semitic smear about a Jewish "puppet master" conspiring to destroy and control America.

As Matt Gertz pointedly observes:

After explaining how he's not at all anti-Semitic, Beck segued directly into common anti-Semitic stereotypes about Soros being at the center of a vast web that is "collapsing our economy" and remaking our government. Elsewhere in the show, he detailed Soros' efforts to create a "media empire" and control the U.S. government. And of course, Beck's central frame for the entire program is that Soros is the "puppet master," devilishly manipulating all other players to his own ends.

Ah, but there's no bigger supporter of Israel than Glenn Beck, right? He just wants to see them blown up in a coming Armageddon.

He can't possibly be anti-Semitic, can he?

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Minutemen return from the undead as nativist Tea Party zombies

-- by Dave

I was one of the first to report on the looming demise of the Minutemen border-patrol movement that caught the media's eye a few years ago, and as I explained then:

Today the Minuteman movement is beyond mere disarray; it is in the early stages of complete decay. The arc of the Minutemen's decline and fall happens to trace almost precisely that of previous right-wing populist movements, notably the Klan of the 1920s and the militias of the 1990s. The pattern goes like this: The group is beset by financial manipulators who seem naturally drawn to them. Then, following an initial wave of popularity, the group splinters under the pressure of competing egos into smaller, more virulent entities who then unleash acts of public ugliness and violence that eventually relegate them to the fringes.

That, of course, was before Shawna Forde and her killer Minutemen went "tactical" and killed an American citizen and his 9-year-old daughter. It shortly emerged that, not only was Forde linked in tightly with some of the biggest racist kooks on the Minuteman scene, she was also tied closely to Minutemen cofounder Jim Gilchrist.

So it was no big surprise when -- even as founder Chris Simcox was being accused of more domestic violence -- his outfit, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, finally called it quits this summer.

But as Gaiutra Bahadur at AlterNet explains in a startling and important piece, that is really just the beginning of a new incarnation for these border vigilantes:

The publicity surrounding the [Shawna Forde] case enabled Garza to recruit hundreds, including former Minutemen, to an alternative group he soon created, The Patriot's Coalition. "A lot of people felt, well, you're a Minuteman, you're a killer," Garza told me, at a truck stop near his home in Cochise County, Arizona. "The name Minuteman has been tainted by organizations that didn't want us at the border, that say we're killers, that we've done harm." Fortunately for Garza and others, their desire to reinvent coincided with a unique opportunity to do so—the emergence of the Tea Party movement on the national political horizon.

As Bahadur explains, the Tea Parties are proving to offer ample recruitment ground for a new generation of Minuteman-style nativists:

Nonetheless, the flirtation between nativists and Tea Partyers that began during the healthcare debate last summer, as coverage for illegal immigrants became a flashpoint, has intensified. The lines between the movements are blurring, as members overlap at the grassroots and leaders make official appearances at each other's events. Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, spoke at the Tea Party's first convention in February. "There's a whole lot of cross-pollination between the Tea Party movement and the anti-immigrant movement," says Marilyn Mayo, co-director of right-wing research for The Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors nativist groups. "We're starting to see a lot of focus on immigration in the Tea Party. It's the next step for them after healthcare."

SB-1070, the Arizona law that requires police to ask for proof of legal residency from people they believe could be undocumented immigrants, has been a catalyst. Activism around the law this summer showcased the chemistry between nativists and various Tea Party groups. The Tea Party Patriots gathered thousands of signatures in favor of the law. The Tea Party Nation co-sponsored a rally in Phoenix on June 5, which proclaimed the backing of the broader patriot movement. The slogans on the T-shirts and buttons for sale there broadcast a wide array of messages and causes not related to immigration, including: "Dictators Prefer Armed Citizens" and "Karl Marx Was Not A Founding Father." An overwhelming 88 percent of Tea Party "true believers" in Washington also back the law, according to a University of Washington poll.

... This affinity with the Tea Party, to the extent that it also leads to backing from a movement with growing political momentum and grassroots energy, promises to lend more clout to anti-immigrant leaders. Take the victory of a dark horse candidate for state assembly in California. The odds were so long for Tim Donnelly—a former Minuteman leader who runs his family's plastics supply business in Twin Peaks—that he couldn't even hire a campaign consultant. But various Tea Party groups went to work for him, and in July he managed to win the Republican primary in a district that votes Republican. He said he couldn't have won without Tea Party volunteers walking precincts and knocking on doors. "It was the way we reached people," he said. "We didn't have the money to reach people in the conventional way." Donnelly said he realized, in the crush of a crowd of thousands at a tax protest in 2009, that the Tea Party movement would far outstrip the Minutemen in reach. It has allowed him to situate anxiety about undocumented workers in the context of a broader anger against a federal government he compared to "King George who kept taxing us, taxing us, taxing us, but never wanted to hear from us." Donnelly campaigned on reproducing Arizona's immigration law in California. It is first on his agenda if elected.

And yes, Donnelly was indeed elected.

It will be interesting to see what the Tea Parties do with the immigration issue over the next couple of years. One would think they would read the 2010 election results and back away from their natural and growing inclination to indulge in nativist Latino-bashing for awhile.

But it's in their natures. They won't be able to resist.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Politicans who hide inside the Fox Bubble: A national problem for the American press

-- by Dave

Yesterday on CNN's Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz briefly mentioned something that deserves some greater scrutiny:

KURTZ: I also want to get to Sarah Palin. You know, there was that incident where she referred to a couple of journalists on the Anchorage television station who were overheard, a phone call, either joking around or looking for dirt on Republican nominee Joe Miller, in that Senate race, as corrupt bastards. They later lost their jobs.

And here's more of what the former governor had to say.


SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: First, let me make it clear that nobody has constrained me being here as a contributor to Fox. I still talk to whomever I want to. I will not talk to reporters who have an obvious bias or a vendetta, or are going to turn my words into something that they are not meant to be and take things out of context.


KURTZ: Shepard Smith had asked her if she wasn't kind of protected within the Fox family and if this would change this.


SESNO: -- Katie Couric.

KURTZ: But, excuse me, what reporters, as Palin talked about, outside the Fox bubble? I'm not aware of this.

SESNO: I don't think she has in a meaningful way. And the question whether she should. And the answer is, of course she should.

Of course, none of them had any real answers. After the obligatory hand-wringing, they moved on to other subject.

But it's worth pointing out that it's not just Palin: a number of candidates followed her advice not to speak to any reporters who aren't from Fox News Channel, with varying degrees of success:

Alaska's Joe Miller, who even went so far to avoid local reporters he had some militia thugs handcuff one, and shove several others around.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who most notably fled to exclusively appearing on Fox after being asked to explain her 'headless bodies' claims.

Christine O'Donnell, who pretty closely hewed to Palin's advice.

Sharron Angle, who actually ran away from local reporters but was always happy to get airtime on Fox.

Rand Paul, who not only stiffed Meet the Press after his disastrous Rachel Maddow interview, but also pulled an Angle, actually running away from local reporters after making an appearance on Fox News.

You'll notice, of course, that most of these politicians were also unsuccessful -- but not all. Both Paul and Brewer won going away.

No doubt, in the future, Republican candidates will be modeling themselves after these two and adopting this strategy -- especially as Fox News becomes more openly active in promoting Republican candidates exclusively. More and more candidates are going to avoid answering questions from the press, both national and local, content in the knowledge they can "get their message out" through the friendly auspices of the Fox Propaganda Channel.

This kind of political behavior is anti-democratic, because it means candidates can run entire campaigns in which they can avoid any kind of public accountability whatsoever.

And that's a serious problem for our democracy -- one that ultimately lies at the feet of the nation's media, whose traditional role as the Fourth Estate underpinning our democracy is being destroyed by the Fox News phenomenon.

Because Fox News has been permitted to gradually transform itself from an obviously right-leaning news network into an outright 24/7 conservative propaganda operation -- one that, functionally speaking, has grown beyond being a mere arm of the GOP and is now itself controlling the Republican Party -- because the rest of the press has stood by silently and allowed it to do so.

Everyone surveying the political landscape today can see that Fox News is indeed a pure propaganda operation dedicated to electing conservative Republicans -- after all, nearly the entire slate of GOP presidential candidates for 2012 is on the Fox payroll. The Tea Parties would not exist were it not for the incessant promotion they received from Fox. For that matter, 2010 election results were not the result of a grand Republican comeback strategy, but the incredible media power that Fox flexed in the two years after Obama's election, effectively seizing hold of the national political narrative and driving it to where they wanted it to go.

It's completely unprecedented. And perhaps the most amazing thing about it has been watching the nation's watchdogs in the media -- not just the Howard Kurtzes, but everyone in the journalism business who has an ounce of respect for the profession -- stand by and say nothing.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The dream GOP ticket (for Democrats): Sarah Palin and Haley Barbour

-- by Dave

If anything makes me feel warmer and fuzzier about the GOP presidential field for 2012 than Sarah Palin, it's when they seriously discuss Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor, as Fox News has in naming him one of their "12 for 2012" likely presidential candidates.

Yesterday, Bret Baier hosted a segment featuring Barbour. It included this brief and hilariously whitewashed discussion of Barbour's years as a lobbyist and Republican political kingpin:

In the 60s Barbour worked on President Nixon's campaign. In the 80s he was President Reagan's director of politic affairs. In the 90, he served two terms as chairman of the RNC. He joined the ranks of the Washington animal, the K Street lobbyists.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He was one of the premiere lobbyists of Washington, D.C.

BAIER: Larry Sabato says that could hurt Barbour if he were to run.

SABATO: Given the American public's view of lobbyists, it's difficult to imagine he would be elected with that qualification.

BARBOUR: "Washington insider" to some people means corrupt or bad. For other people it means knows how to get things done, can get the ball in the end zone.

Actually, that's not the half of it: Barbour's tenure as RNC chief was made particularly memorable by the incident in which he propped up the RNC by borrowing millions from a Chinese businessman -- and then welshing on the loan:

Twice in two years Hong Kong businessman Ambrous Tung Young bailed out the party at crucial moments: first freeing up as much as $2 million in the final days before the G.O.P.'s 1994 sweep of Congress; then eating $500,000 in bad debts, rescuing Republicans in the last weeks of the 1996 contest. The conduit for the money was a U.S. firm with little income and few assets, but quietly backed by an aviation-services and real estate-investment company controlled by Hong Kong and Taiwanese businessmen. The money passed through a Republican think tank that granted big donors more influence over party policy in return for more money. For Young, the arrangement also opened diplomatic doors. In Washington, Young met face to face with the lions of the G.O.P. just as they were taking over Congress. In Beijing a year later, he escorted G.O.P. chairman Haley Barbour in a meeting with Qian Qichen, Foreign Minister for the People's Republic of China.

How a Chinese businessman came to prop up the G.O.P. is a story that began in 1993, right after Bill Clinton's election. Barbour had just taken over as G.O.P. chairman and created a think tank to generate new ideas. He called his group the National Policy Forum, and although its operations were two blocks and a few legal documents removed from Republican headquarters, it was just an extension of the party. Barbour was chairman of the forum; G.O.P. officials set its $4 million annual budget and coordinated fund raising. The forum circulated 600,000 questionnaires to identify the hot-button issues that were later assembled into the Contract with America.

The forum had a hidden purpose: to tap into a new stream of cash from corporations. G.O.P. fund raisers discovered in 1992 that there was only so much soft money available; most donors had given all the money they could to campaigns. But because corporations set aside other tax-deductible money for research, Barbour's idea was to create a nonprofit think tank that could attract that cash.

Instead the think tank started to cost the party money. Corporate America turned out not to be very interested in the forum, so by the summer of 1994 it was heavily in debt, largely to the R.N.C., which had loaned the forum several million dollars to get started. With the pivotal midterm elections bearing down, the party needed money to attract voters to the polls with a burst of TV ads.

... But by mid-1996 the forum was strapped again. The last thing the party wanted that summer was to bail out a think tank just when the campaigns for Congress were heating up. So Barbour decided that the forum would simply stop repaying the Signet loan. He tried instead to get Young Bros. to foot the bill. Through its lawyers, the company refused.

And then Signet called in the loan. At first Barbour refused to pay the $1 million balance due. When the Youngs' lawyers threatened a lawsuit, the forum paid up $500,000, but that still left an angry Young with a $500,000 loss--sparing the R.N.C. from having to dip into campaign finds to pay off the rest of the debt.

Barbour told TIME last week that the guarantee and settlement were "perfectly legal and totally appropriate."

It's kind of funny, actually, how Barbour has managed to resurrect his career from the wreckage of that fiasco. But let's not forget how he managed to do that: by openly consorting with white supremacist organizations and promoting the Confederate flag, then winking and nudging when finally called on it.

Why, he sounds like just the ticket. I would especially look forward to the visuals of the corpulent, corrupt Barbour with his Mississippi drawl running against Barack Obama.

If only we could be so lucky.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Good Government: The Time to Reform the Senate's Filibuster is Now

-- by Dave

We all remember the famous filibuster scene at the climax of Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with Jimmy Stewart finally collapsing at the end of a marathon session in which he (as always) Stands Up For What's Right.

It's a somewhat romantic view of the filibuster, since in reality it was used historically mostly as a means of blocking progressive legislation such as anti-lynching and civil-rights bills, and its most famous practitioners were bigots like Theodore Bilbo and Strom Thurmond. Nonetheless, it has been a useful tool for progressives, too, as it was occasionally useful for Democrats in the darkest days of the Bush Years as a means of slowing down the right-wing wrecking ball.

But in the old days, it was a rarely used tool, mainly because it required senators to actually do the Jimmy Stewart thing -- devote themselves to maintaining a running speech for the required time period, as well as to maintain enough colleagues in the chamber to sustain it.

That practice gradually subsided with Senate rules reforms in the 1970s, though, so now all you have to do to filibuster is signify your intent to filibuster: check a box and it's a fait accompli. Here's the result:

[image display="original" link="source" alt="cloture.jpg" width="425" height="246" id="6875"][/image]

What has occurred, in point of fact, is that a determined group of Republicans has altered, through the adoption of purely obstructionist tactics that abuse the rules of the Senate, its operation in a way that clearly alters its functioning as the Founding Fathers intended the Senate to operate: that is, as a deliberative body in which the majority -- not a supermajority -- rules.

Functionally speaking, a supermajority is now required for anything to happen in the Senate. (That, incidentally, is why you saw the dropoff in cloture votes in 2010: filibuster "holds" were placed on nearly every single bill that was introduced, gumming up the works so profoundly that only a tiny handful were even able to proceed to a cloture vote.)

Interestingly enough, post-election polling of the people who voted Tuesday found that a large majority of Americans agree that something needs to change:

Exclusive results of of a new poll conducted for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee by venerable Democratic pollster PPP show 64% of voters contacted Tuesday and Wednesday said it was time to get rid of the legislative blocking maneuver used so often by Republicans since 2009. Just 23% said they'd like to preserve the practice, which President Obama has often decried and some Democrats have moved to abandon with little success.

The widespread opposition to the filibuster crosses party lines, the survey showed. Among Democrats, who saw much of their legislative agenda tied up in the Senate by Republican filibusters this year, 77% called for an end to the practice of effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass bills. Fifty-seven percent of Republican respondents said they opposed the filibuster, as did 61% of independents.

The beauty of it is: If Democrats act decisively and boldly, they can enact these changes with only 51 senators. But it has to happen on the first day of business in the Senate.

Tom Udall has been arguing for making this bold decision now:

And so what the Constitutional Option is about is doing rules reform in the Senate at the beginning of a Congress and the crucial thing is that at the beginning of Congress you can set rules with 51 Senators. You can end the debate and you can adopt new rules. Now is the time for rules reform.

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Jeff Fernholts at TAP thinks so too.

I spent awhile on the phone yesterday with Mike Zamore, Sen. Jeff Merkley's chief of staff, to sound out whether there was any likelihood of getting reform done in January -- and what it would look like. Here's what he told me:

Zamore: The goal here is not to simply allow a majority to run over the minority and to reduce the roadblocks. The goal is to restore a measure of deliberation and get back to the essence of what those rules were intended to do.

So the basic premise is yes, let's make it harder to filibuster, to put the burden on those who want to obstruct rather than on the majority. And let's raise the stakes of filibustering, so that the decision is not undertaken lightly. You know, you've got to put some sweat equity into if you're going to hold up the will of the majority.

There's another piece to it. We should also be making it easier for those senators -- or for all senators -- to get their ideas to the floor, and if we're going to be raising the stakes in filibustering, then we also ought to be giving more opportunities to have ideas kicked around on the floor of the Senate before a bill comes to a vote.

So those two pieces kind of go hand in hand.

We're still trying to hash it out, but the basic concept would be that there would be some kind of default rules for deliberation that, in the absence of some other negotiated terms for bringing up a bill, would govern, and that those would allow alternating amendments between Democrats and Republicans and some fixed amount of debate and a chance to get those things voted on. So that would be one piece. And the other piece would be that, in exchange, filibustering would require some greater level of active engagement on the part of those who want to filibuster.

There's lots of discussion out there about various ways to make a filibuster look like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And we're exploring those possibilities, and figuring out a way to make it so that, if you want to block the majority from acting, you've got to be down on the floor and making the case. You can't just check a box and walk away.

In the end, a Merkley or Udall rules reform plan would look something like this: The filibuster is not eliminated, but rather the rules will actually force anyone filing one to debate, and it would require a specific number -- say, 10 or 12 senators -- to back it up by remaining on the floor for the entire length of the filibuster to sustain it.

It would be, in essence, the return of the Senate not just to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but to actual majority rule and not the now-defacto rule by supermajority. These kinds of measures would end the abuse while still retaining the filibuster as a tool to block the most extreme anti-popular measures, such as abolishing Social Security or repealing health-care reform.

Ezra Klein, who has been arguing for this change for a long time, explained last spring that the change came about through a combination of the loosening of rules and the sudden development of a minority absolutely hellbent on total obstruction by any means necessary:

In 1975 the Congress lowered the threshold once again, to three fifths of Congress, or 60 votes.

In theory, the filibuster should have become less common as it became easier to break. Unfortunately for the theory, between 2007 and 2010 the Senate had to call 214 cloture votes to break filibusters. That's more than had to be called between 1919 and 1976. And remember, 2010 is only three months old.

That's true, in part, because the minority party has started forcing more cloture votes even when it knows it'll lose. The goal is to slow the Senate to a crawl. After you call for cloture, you need to wait two days to take the vote. After you take the vote, there's 30 hours of post-cloture debate. And you can do this on the motion to debate, on amendments, on the vote on the bill itself … on everything, really. A single, committed crank (cough, Jim Bunning) can waste weeks forcing the majority to break his filibusters.

Of course, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about this from the Fox News contingent. But the package that's being proposed actually has a great deal to offer both sides of the aisles; no doubt Republicans can readily see how opening up the rules to permit the minority now to bring its ideas to the floor more readily would work to their advantage in the immediate future.

More to the point, it would make the Senate operate the way it was intended in the Constitution. (The filibuster is not in the Constitution, by the way; as Austin Frakt explains, it exists more as an accident of the history of Senate rules.)

And aren't all these newly elected arch-conservatives devoted to the Constitution?

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]