Friday, February 26, 2010

Killer Whales In Captivity: Sea World Tragedy Tells Us Something Is Not Right Here

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Marine parks like Sea World can be great places to take your kids and introduce them, in a safe way, to the wonders of marine life. I took my daughter to Sea World twice while she was a toddler, and her first up-close view of an orca so thrilled her that she remains, six years later, utterly enamored of them.

But there's also something profoundly disturbing about them, particularly the orca displays. Part of what makes us gasp in amazement at the Sea World shows is watching comparatively frail and puny humans seemingly in control of these five-ton creatures that could crush them like a grape if they so pleased. Fundamentally, they're simply another display of human dominance over one of the most powerful and intelligent species on Earth.

But unlike other large, intelligent predators we keep in captivity -- say, grizzly bears -- we're actually able to create these displays because the orcas permit us. They are the only alpha predator species in the world, in fact, that in all of recorded history has never attacked a human being in the wild.
In captivity, however, is another story. The incidents have been few and far between, but captive orcas have killed humans in the past.

These incidents, like the one Tuesday in which Tilikum, a Sea World bull orca, grabbed and drowned his longtime trainer, Dawn Brancheau while spectators watched, seem always to arise not out of malicious intent on the animal's part, but because they seem not always to understand their ability to harm their human companions.

At least, that was the case with Tilikum, a whale who was captured from the waters off Iceland when he was two years old. Tilikum in fact is the largest orca in captivity, weighing 12,300 pounds. He was involved in the last incident in which orcas killed their trainer -- in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, B.C. And as with this incident, he (and two other whales) drowned the trainer by "playing" with her. Tilikum, in fact, has a history of behavior indicating he does not understand his own power. (None of this fazes the lizard-brain element among us; today on Fox, Megyn Kelly told her audience that someone wrote in wondering why Tilikum hadn't been put down, the same as we do a dog that kills someone.)

Part of this history is why, when Sealand sold Tilikum, it was with the caveat that he not be used in performance displays. And indeed for years he was primarily kept at Sea World for breeding purposes. However, in recent years he has been used in performance shows, such as the "Believe" show in which he douses audience members. At some point, Sea World will have to explain why it chose to ignore its original agreement and use Tilikum in these shows.

But these are minor, legalistic issues. The real issue that the Tilikum incident raises is a larger, ethical one: Why are we in the business of keeping these animals captive?

Because the power dynamic in which we appear to dominate them is ultimately an illusion, a product purely of the orcas' intelligence, their willingness to socialize with us rather than eat us. Not only are orcas large and powerful, they are incredibly intelligent creatures with huge brains. And like all sentient creatures, their mental health ultimately affects their behavior.

And there is no situation more likely to negatively affect a killer whale's mental health than being locked up in a comparatively tiny pool of water surrounded by blank cement walls.

For a human, it would be akin to locking someone in a white, featureless padded room with maybe a couple of other people and getting fed by doing tricks for your captors. How long before you think people would start cracking and acting erratically in those conditions?

For orcas, it's even more acute. You know the big bulge on the front of their heads? That's not their big brain, which is located behind the whale's eyes. That's a sound receptor -- probably the most sophisticated of its kind in the natural world, though it mostly is a large sac of extraordinarily fine oil.

While eyesight is probably the most important of our primary senses, the chief means we have for perceiving and understanding our world, for orcas, it is at best No. 2 on the list. Their eyesight is reasonably good, roughly comparable to that of humans, but underwater -- which is where they spend 99 percent of their time -- it's of limited utility, since the farthest anyone can see underwater in even the clearest of conditions is a couple of dozen yards.

Killer whales' primary means of sensory perception is their echolocation, and it is a true sixth sense. We're only now beginning to delve just how sophisticated it is, but it's become fairly apparent that orcas are capable of seeing with remarkable clarity for hundreds of yards underwater, and their sound receptors and the brain attached to them are capable of "seeing" with remarkable detail and clarity through this sonic sense.

Combined with the sophisticated communication system of their "calls", or their language, their universe is primarily a sonic one. And so putting them in relatively featureless concrete tanks is akin to being in a blank white soundproof room for a human.

You can make these tanks fairly large, and Sea World's tanks are not cramped, but it's still an incredibly confining and limiting and sense-depriving existence for an animal like a killer whale. Even if the facility were huge -- and none of them are -- it could not come close to matching what orcas naturally experience in the wild.

Sea World loves to boast of its educational mission, and that's undeniable, as my own daughter can attest. But what it really does is make lots of money -- LOTS of money -- off the performances of killer whales. Without the orcas, they would be just another aquarium.

And there are other ways of letting children experience the wondrousness of killer whales that doesn't simultaneously promote an illusion of dominance over them. If you travel to Washington's San Juan Islands in the summertime, for instance, it's possible to see killer whales as they should be: in the wild.

I'm fortunate enough to live near these islands, and instead of flying down to San Diego, in the intervening years since our Sea World visits, I have taken my daughter numerous times out to see the orcas in a kayak, usually off the west side of San Juan Island. I also take along a hydrophone (I picked mine up from Cetacean Research Technology) and we listen to them.

A couple of years ago, with my daughter helping me with the sound equipment in the kayak, we had an up-close encounter with a large pod of about 30 whales. I made a slide show featuring some of the sounds we recorded:

Of course, kayaks are a great way to see orcas, though it's important to be ethical and keep your distance, unless the whales approach you, as they did in this case (we were out of their way in a kelp bed). But there are lots of ways to see whales in the San Juans without them, too; without a doubt, the single best way is to pack a picnic basket and spend a day hanging out at Lime Kiln State Park.

Here's a video taken from Lime Kiln -- a fairly sedate one, actually, since at times the whales stop and play in these kelp beds, and even more spectacularly, engage in play behavior like breaching here:

It's more time-consuming than a trip to Sea World, probably, and there's no guarantee you'll see whales, just a high probability.

But is it more rewarding? Yes -- in ways you can't imagine until you see them with your own eyes.
And once you experience killer whales this way, you'll never go back to Sea World. My daughter is adamant about it. Because you see with your own eyes that animals this powerful and magnificent do not belong locked up inside a glass and concrete tank, swimming in monotonous patterns all day. Nor should they be forced to perform stunts and tricks with human trainers for the sake of our amusement.

Certainly, I can tell you that when you are on the water in a kayak and are approached by a killer whale, there is no doubt about the power relationship. You are completely at their mercy. And the remarkable thing about killer whales -- both in the wild, and in captivity -- is just how merciful they are.

That is what makes the thrill of encountering them in the wild so profound. And what makes the business of keeping them captive for people's entertainment so deeply wrong.

The folks at Orca Network
have some similar thoughts.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Michael Steele Says Obama Should Have Held A Summit A Year Ago. Then It's Pointed Out To Him That In Fact He Did.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Michael Steele went on MSNBC this morning before the health-care summit and began attacking President Obama for a "dog and pony show" -- and claimed that the president should have held this summit a year ago, when things were just getting started.

The problem with this: Obama did. On March 5 of last year. Fully televised. All that.

Republicans were so busy back then concocting plans to scuttle ANY health-care reform, though, that it kinda slipped their minds.

Kudos to Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for calling him out for it:
STEELE: This whole dog and pony show that we're about to witness today is something that should have taken place a year ago, when the administration first came in last February and laid out its agenda for health care. This is how you should have started it - bipartisan, public forum, CSPAN, your cameras rolling to capture this and to capture, most importantly, what the American people want. And right now, they want us to start over, and I think we should.

TODD: Chairman Steele, in fairness to them, I mean, it was a year ago that they actually had a summit.

GUTHRIE: On March 5th.

TODD: And it wasn't just the legislative leaders. They brought in folks from the industry as well. And that one was televised. So...does that one not count? I'm just curious.

STEELE: Well, apparently it didn't. Because we don't have health care.
You know, you really can't blame Republicans for wanting to fire Steele as the RNC chair, when the level of incompetence is this deep.

But we progressives hope he sticks around, just for the comic relief.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Video: Republican Legislator Says Disabled Children Are 'God's Punishment' For Abortion

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

When a group of religious-right poobahs unveiled their effort in Virginia last week to attack Planned Parenthood and its funding, one of them -- a Republican legislator named Bob Marshal, as Josh at RightWingWatch reported -- declared that God punished women who've had abortions by giving them disabled children later:
“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.

“In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”
Marshall later tried to claim he hadn't said what he said:
A story by Capital News Service regarding my remarks at a recent press conference opposing taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood conveyed the impression that I believe disabled children are a punishment for prior abortions. No one who knows me or my record would imagine that I believe or intended to communicate such an offensive notion[.] I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have created[.]
But yesterday, Josh got ahold of video of Marshall talking at the kickoff. Watch it for yourself.

Yeah, that's some misimpression. Not only was the original quote perfectly accurate, but Marshall goes on, discussing those Christians and their scriptural support for these beliefs:
Marshall: And with the knowledge they have from faith has been verified by a study by Virginia Commonwealth University. First abortions of the first pregnancy is much more damaging to a woman than latter abortions.
Bad enough that he would say it. Then to claim he didn't say what he clearly said is just cowardly and mendacious. That's some "Christian" character there, Bob.

And what will Sarah say?

Citizens United Promotes Latest Fantasy On Hannity: Economic Crisis Was A Product Of Spoiled '60s Hippies' Ethos

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

One of the more disturbing -- and little noted -- aspects of the Supreme Court's execrable ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the way it legitimized, if inadvertently, the far-right operatives at Citizens United.

These are, after all, some of the sleaziest and most mendacious political operatives in business in America today. Citizens United has a record not only of peddling fabrications, distortions, and baldfaced lies, they are one of the more significant transmitters of far-right extremist beliefs into mainstream politics.

Remember that David Bossie, the longtime head of the organization, was fired by Republican Rep. Dan Burton in 1998 for distributing doctored audio tapes of prison conversations with former Clinton aide Webster Hubbell that purported to demonstrate Hillary Clinton's complicity in corruption, but which in unedited form clearly demonstrated the opposite.

This is an organization that should have no credibility on any level, except among the fringes of the right where any concocted smear is gobbled up like cotton candy.

Yet there was Bossie, along with his cohort from CU, Stephen K. Bannon, getting an entire hour of Sean Hannity's Fox News show last night to promote their latest fabrication, a pseudo-documentary titled Generation Next.

The film's subject is perhaps Citizens United's biggest lie yet: It claims that the current economic crisis is not the product of misbegotten conservative governance, but rather is the product of Dirty F--king Hippies and their degenerate "Me Generation" ethos.
Bossie: Look, the Greatest Generation, the World War II generation, it would never dawn on them to take the type of risk that these people did. The people who were the '60s hippies, the people at Woodstock in the '60s, who became the yuppies of the '80s and really the barons of the 2000s, and really are the leaders around the country that helped cause this. It really is a remarkable thing.
In other words, Bossie and Co. have concocted the perfect fantasy for right-wingers in denial over the complete, fully manifested failure of their approach to governance -- one that lets them, once again, blame those dirty hippies for everything wrong with America. No wonder it was so popular at the National Tea Party Convention and at CPAC.

Bossie has been in the business of peddling lies for a long time (and I've been writing about him quite awhile too). In the '90s, he was one of the sleaziest of a remarkably slimy collection of characters peddling anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, teamed up with Floyd "Willie Horton's Godfather" Brown.

Brown himself resurfaced in the last election peddling "Obama is a secret Muslim" smears and racially incendiary ads in the guise of an "Expose Obama" outfit run by a far-right nutcase. Eric Boehlert compiled a rundown of Bossie's sleaze for Salon back in 2004:
Bossie has engaged in such questionable or downright slimy tactics on many occasions. Here are some of his more famous misses:

# During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bossie got into a fistfight with a Little Rock, Ark., private investigator, Larry Case, who said he had damaging information on Clinton. Bossie told police that Case had punched him after Bossie refused to pay Case a $10,000 advance as they were preparing to board a flight at Little Rock National Airport.

# That same year, Bossie set out to prove that a young pregnant woman named Susan Coleman had committed suicide in 1977 after having an affair with Clinton. Coleman's mother told CBS that Bossie hounded her relentlessly with his false story, even following her to an Army hospital in Georgia, where she was visiting her husband, in recovery from a stroke. Bossie and another man "burst into the sick man's room and began questioning the shaken mother about her daughter's suicide," CBS reported.

# Also in 1992, President George H.W. Bush, repudiating Bossie's tactics, filed an FEC complaint against Bossie's group after it produced a TV ad inviting voters to call a hot line to hear (almost certainly doctored) tape-recorded conversations between Clinton and Gennifer Flowers.

# In 1994, Bossie traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., with an NBC producer, where the two allegedly "stalked" and "ambushed" Beverly Bassett Schaffer, a former state regulatory officer and a lawyer who had played a small role in the so-called Whitewater conspiracy. The two confronted Schaffer outside her office and, after she refused an on-camera interview, reportedly chased her across town, until she found refuge in the lobby of an office building.

# In February 1996, Citizens United mailed out a fundraising letter bragging that it had "dispatched its top investigator, David Bossie, to Capitol Hill to assist Senator Lauch Faircloth in the official US Senate hearings on Whitewater." Another mailing reported that Bossie was "on the inside directing the probe." Democrats subsequently cried foul that a federal employee was actively raising money for a partisan group, so D'Amato forced Bossie to submit an affidavit proclaiming his independence from Citizens United.

# In November 1996, Bossie improperly leaked the confidential phone logs of former Commerce Department official John Huang to the press. And he did that by deceiving other GOP congressional aides, according to an account published in Roll Call, which quoted one Republican aide comparing Bossie's deceptive presence to "Ollie North running around the House."

# In July 1997, James Rowley III, the chief counsel to the House Government Reform Committee, which was investigating allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing by the Clinton administration, resigned his position after committee chairman Burton refused to fire Bossie. In his one-page resignation letter, Rowley, a former federal prosecutor employed by Republicans, accused Bossie of "unrelenting" self-promotion in the press, which made it impossible "to implement the standards of professional conduct I have been accustomed to at the United States Attorney's Office." (Bossie's habit of self-promotion paid off; during one four-week stretch in early 1994, Bossie and Brown were profiled by the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post, each marveling at the power the activists were wielding.)

The breaking point came in May 1998, when Bossie, then 32, oversaw the release of the doctored Hubbell tapes. As Roll Call reported at the time, "At Bossie's request, Burton sat on the tapes for nearly a year until word started to leak that Hubbell might be indicted by [Kenneth] Starr for tax evasion. Bossie, who supervised the tapes along with investigator Barbara Comstock, oversaw the editing of Hubbell's prison conversation[s] and decided to release them the day before Hubbell was indicted." According to Roll Call, Bossie enjoyed unusually close working relations with Starr investigators.

The tapes were edited for "privacy" considerations, according to Bossie. But they were also edited to completely omit key exculpatory passages, including one in which Hubbell exonerated Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing. Gingrich ordered a reluctant Burton to fire Bossie.
Bossie also heavily promoted the anti-Kerry "Swift Boat" story in 2004, as Joe Conason reported then, and produced an embarrassing valentine to George W. Bush at the same time.

Then there was the extremism. In the 1990s, Bossie and Citizens United were inordinately fond of peddling anti-Clinton conspiracy theories claiming the president was part of a plot to enslave Americans under a "New World Order". Check out, for instance, this archived version of the Citizens United front page from 1999.

In addition, naturally, to a bevy of Monica-related impeachment screeds, you could find screaming exposes of the Clintons' alleged involvement in the United Nations one-world-government plot. A streaming banner on the site shouted: "Secret United Nations Agenda Exposed In Explosive New Video!" (The video in question prominently featured an appearance by then-Sen. John Ashcroft.) A little further down, the site explains: "This timely new video reveals how the liberal regime of Bill Clinton is actively conspiring to aid and abet the United Nations in its drive for global supremacy." These are tales lifted straight from the conspiracy theories of the 1990s militia movement.

What makes Bossie's latest fabrication so outrageous is that it blames "liberal hippies" for the very policies and legal positions long championed by conservative ideologues, as embodied by the very Supreme Court ruling that seemingly just legitimized him. Oliver Willis points this out at Media Matters:
In the segment ... Hannity and the filmmakers lay blame for the crisis on baby boomers (or "'60's hippies," in the words of producer David Bossie) moving away from conservative ideas by taking advantage of corporate personhood in order to avoid personal responsibility for the risks they took with the funds their banks controlled ...

This denies reality. It is in fact the conservative movement that has regularly supported the power of personhood for corporations, and the resulting dissolution of personal responsibility for corporate decisions. In fact, one of the producers of this very film is David Bossie. Bossie is behind Citizens United, the conservative activist group who recently won a Supreme Court case that affirmed the power of political speech for coporations like Citizens United (the case was decided 5-4 with the justices regularly categorized as conservative voting in the affirmative).
Hannity also claims that Generation Next "debunks the myth that deregulation caused the economic crisis"? Oh, really? None of the clips they showed last night did. I haven't seen the film whole, but if what they showed last night was their best evidence, they have a long way to go before they can "debunk" what is a well-established reality.

Of course, someone like Bossie would naturally reject the findings of the "New World Order" United Nations report on the causes of the global economic crisis:

The Global Economic Crisis: Systemic Failures and Multilateral Remedies contends that the systemic failures – driven by financial deregulation, large-scale financial investments on commodity futures markets, and widespread currency speculation – have deeper roots that call for in-depth analysis and need to be approached through recognition of their multilateral dimensions.

Well before the crisis erupted, we were being warned that it was coming, by people like Paul Krugman, who particularly points to Reagan-era deregulation as a leading cause of the crisis.

Or you could consult Kevin Phillips, whose book Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism predicted the crisis well before it erupted, and consider the factors underlying his prediction:
The focus of Phillips’ concern this time out is the overweening dominance of the financial-services sector in the 21st-century American economy — how their growing power inside the halls of government has led to rampant abuses, dubious practices that have hollowed out the real-estate bubble they’ve created this decade, while simultaneously building a massive economy founded on debt. This has occurred, as Phillips explains in studious detail, even as shifts in the global economy — particularly the changes in the oil market, which have wrought a rapid deceleration in the value of the dollar — threaten to expose that economy for the hollow thing it has become.

We’re now living in an economy, as Phillips explains, in which financial services — banks, credit and loan services, real estate, and the like — now constitute fully 21 percent of our gross domestic product. Americans’ public and private debt combined now stand valued at three times our GDP. It now takes about 20 cents of debt to create a dollar of the GDP.

The financial-services sector is the real locus of this bubble (the increase in government debt, though substantial, was comparatively minor), which has been inflated steadily by the expansion of leverage and what Phillips correctly describes as "reckless innovations" — CDOs, SIVs, and various other fast-money devices. This house of cards is about to collapse, Phillips warns, in a "credit implosion" whose consequences will be felt globally. A run on the dollar, he says, is a fair possibility, noting that this would wreak havoc within the context of the current economic downturn.

Bad Money is a thorough and carefully documented — as well as carefully thought-out — examination of our current economic position. Phillips explains 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 goes on to explore how this was facilitated by Republican governance this century, 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" mania for all kinds of moneymaking devices, especially low-interest adjustable-rate mortgages. The invasion of Iraq, coupled with the emerging power of nationally owned oil producers and the increasing manifestation of "peak oil" prophecies about falling supplies, left the United States isolated diplomatically and increasingly vulnerable economically.
The reality check, for conservatives, ultimately comes down to results. When the "dirty hippy" Bill Clinton left office, we had a federal surplus and the economy was robust. When George W. Bush, who followed the conservative prescription to a T, left office we had nearly collapsed the global economy.

That's a reality they really hate being reminded about.

Oh, So NOW Tucker Carlson Is Concerned About 'Over The Top' Rhetoric

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Tucker Carlson was deeply concerned yesterday on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show about Harry Reid's remarks linking joblessness to domestic abuse earlier this week while promoting the jobs bill:
Carlson: It's completely over the top! Look, this isn't any landmark piece of legislation. It's relatively small. There was no reason to pull out this rhetoric, to get this heavy on behalf of something this relatively unremarkable. I think it shows the pressure Reid is under, having failed to deliver health care, and frankly the pressure is at home, in his state, Nevada, where he's going to lose his seat, it looks like. So this guy's in a pressure cooker.

... This is kind of the dog food case, you know, the kind of classic, or cat-food case, 'Vote for this or your grandmother will be stuck eating pet food.'

Political rhetoric can reach a point of ludicrousness -- a point of over-the-top-ness that is counterproductive, it's laughable. It becomes a parody of itself. I think the Senate Majority Leader just reached that point.
Hmmmmm. I wonder if this qualifies for Tucker's standard of "getting heavy on behalf of something this unremarkable":
I don't think I've ever seen a president or a government do anything that I thought was out-and-out evil. I mean, we've gotten close. I think rendition is pretty darned evil. But this is enslaving, what our president has proposed and what is in this new bill. Changes in the tax deductions for charitable giving!
We've got a whole big bunch of similar examples.

Funny that Carlson only notices when a Democrat pulls out a real-life example of the consequences of Republican obstructionism. Then it's "over the top." But call the president a socialist? Why, that's just beanbag.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart, And The Campaign To Kill Community Organizing

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Politico's Ben Smith reported yesterday that the James O'Keefe/Andrew Breitbart smear of ACORN, promoted so avidly by Fox News (and particularly Glenn Beck), had finally taken its toll:
The embattled liberal group ACORN is in the process of dissolving its national structure, with state and local-chapters splitting off from the underfunded, controversial national group, an official close to the group confirmed.

"ACORN has dissolved as a national structure of state organizations," said a senior official close to the group, who declined to be identified by name because of the fierce conservative attacks on the group that began when a conservative filmmaker caught some staffers of its tax advisory arms on tape appearing to offer advice on incorporating a prostitution business.


"Consistent with what the internal recommendations have been, each of the states are developing plans for reconstitution independence and self-sufficiency," said the official, citing ACORN's "diminished resources, damage to the brand, unprecedented attacks."

The new organizations, he said "will be constituted under new banners and new bylaws and new governance," he said, consistent with the recommendations of an outside panel.
Much of the group's strength lay in its local chapters in places like New York, which appear to be continuing to operate as normal. New York's City Hall News reported today that the local group there had re-emerged under the name "New York Communities for Change."
However, as CBS' Political Hotsheet reported, the reports of ACORN's demise may be somewhat premature:
... Kevin Whelan, an ACORN spokesman, denied the reports Monday afternoon, telling The American Prospect that "it is not true that ACORN is closed for business all across the country. It still exists."

That does not mean there isn't something afoot: In Brooklyn, a group called NY Communities For Change lists as its address the offices that had belonged to the Brooklyn chapter of ACORN.

In a statement late Monday afternoon, ACORN confirmed to Hotsheet that "today in New York a group of grassroots leaders and organizers who have worked with ACORN for many years announced today that they are establishing a new, state-based organization."

"ACORN's national leadership respects the decision of this dedicated group of community leaders who have done so much to help make their neighborhoods, cities, state, and the country a better and fairer place," said Whelan, the spokesman. "We know they will continue to do great work and we wish them well."

... In California, a group called Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment recently announced "the leadership and staff that were working with ACORN in California made the decision to break off from ACORN and launch a new organization." There are also reports that the Massachusetts chapter of the group has become "New England United for Justice."
Still, while the dissolution of ACORN's national structure may be occurring slow motion, the outcome is more or less the same: Returning community organizing to its local roots and focusing its strategies there.
While the national structure does not appear to be dissolved as of now, that process may effectively be underway. Whelan told Hotsheet in a statement that "It's no secret that ACORN has had to fight hard to survive a series of vicious right wing attacks over the past year and half and that this has made it harder for ACORN to raise funds and organize and serve its members."

"We understand the desire of local grassroots leaders in some states to move ahead focusing solely on the fight to improve their communities," he said.
On his show yesterday, Beck didn't exactly gloat over the victory for his team. Instead -- as he did after Van Jones resigned -- he made clear he was just getting started. Next in his sights will be those local community organizers.

And the bizarre thing is that the whole outcome is built on a lie.

Nevermind that an independent investigation found that O'Keefe and Co. had grotesquely manipulated their videos. Nevermind that they perpetrated a huge hoax on the public by pretending that O'Keefe had worn an outrageous "pimp" outfit into the videotaped sessions (he hadn't).

The upshot is that Breitbart, Beck and the pro-corporate rightists whose agenda they've been promoting in attacking ACORN have succeeded in demolishing the most effective national community-organizing apparatus.

And yes, Mr. Breitbart, you succeeded through innuendo and sleaze, by making it your mission to destroy people's lives. No irony there, eh?

The lesson: Douchebaggery works. And no one has less compunction about using it than right-wing, pro-corporate operatives.

There is one major reason the Right has so viciously attacked community organizers like ACORN: They have become one of the most effective means of getting out the progressive vote, particularly in enrolling minorities as voters. It was a major component of the 2008 tide that swept conservatives out of power.

Remember the GOP's bizarre attacks on community organizing in the 2008 campaign, led by Sarah Palin? Well, they certainly didn't stop after the election. The O'Keefe/Breitbart smear existed for one reason: to defund the Left. (Breitbart was explicit about this being his mission last night on Red Eye.)
The ACORN attacks have muddied the funding picture for all progressive groups, and were ultimately enabled by the cowardly response of Democrats:
Few people would defend the mistakes, mismanagement, poor staff training, and lack of accountability that has marred Acorn practices in the past. Indeed, the current leadership of the organization has acknowledged those shortcomings and is trying to do something about them.

But the critics have gone much further than Acorn deserved. In the assault on Acorn, no lies have been spared, no accusations tempered by reason, and no acknowledgment has been made of the enormous good Acorn has done over the years. Behind the attacks are a deep hatred of liberals and progressives—especially those in the Obama administration—and a lack of concern and respect for poor and minority constituencies.

It is part of a strategy to divert attention away from the important legislative efforts that many conservatives don’t want to succeed: a health-care overhaul; stiffer environmental standards; tougher regulations for financial institutions; and efforts to create jobs.

While lies, innuendos, and unproved accusations by conservative critics and politicians might have been expected, it is harder to explain why mainstream observers and progressive politicians have not questioned many of the anti-Acorn criticisms and allegations.

Only six Democrats in the Senate were gutsy enough to oppose the bill that prohibits Acorn from receiving any more federal money. Their Democrat colleagues, including some of the allegedly most progressive senators, like Tom Harkin of Iowa and Charles Schumer of New York, ran for political cover and voted to support the measure, scared by the onslaught of right-wing broadcasts and newspaper articles. Ironically, Senator Schumer had appeared two months earlier in Washington at an Acorn fund-raising event where he lavished praise on the work and accomplishments of the organization.

Those senators, as well as all but 75 members of the House, which passed a similar bill, accepted the substance of the allegations against Acorn without bothering to verify them or to ask Acorn and its supporters to present their side of the story.
Community organizers need progressives' backs, not the backs of their hands. It's time to start fighting back, loudly, against these smears and lies.

Here at C&L, we've tried to track the anti-ACORN douchebaggery, but so much of it has been buried in the nonstop onslaught from right-wing talkers that in many ways we too had a role in the failure to prevent this horrendous outcome. Most of all, I think we failed to call out Democrats for their spinelessness. Well, no longer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fox News Revives Old Fraud: Megyn Kelly Calls Reconciliation 'The Nuclear Option'

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Fox News' Megyn Kelly this morning, on the supposedly "opinion free" and "fair and balanced" "news show" America Live:
Kelly: Moments ago, at the White House briefing, reporters asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about reports the Democrats are ready to use the so-called "nuclear option". This would mean forcing a health-care reform bill through with only fifty-one votes in the Senate as opposed to sixty.

Here is Gibbs, refusing to rule that out.
Kelly then played a video of Gibbs trying to explain that the reconciliation option is always there, and always has been. (Indeed, it would require a suspension of Senate rules to take it off the table.)

Then she brought on Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who similarly tried to explain that reconciliation is always an option if the forthcoming summit on health care does not produce a bipartisan agreement, and that taking it off the table is not an option. Kelly wasn't listening.

But that, of course, is only the half the problem. The other is that reconciliation is not a "nuclear option" -- it's a normative part of Senate rules. And its use simply underscores the fact that the Constitution did not create a Senate in which legislation may only pass by sixty votes. It created one in which fifty-one was sufficient.

It's only been in recent years, through Republican abuse of the filibuster, that sixty votes has become the standard level of support to get anything passed. Reconciliation is the one process that circumvents the filibuster and negates such abuse.

Moreover, as Media Matters explains, the term "nuclear option" refers to a Republican plan to do away with the filibuster altogether, threatened back when Democrats used filibuster threats to hold up the Bush administration's extremist slate of judicial appointments. That's hardly what Democrats are planning with health-care reform.

Indeed, as the New York Times pointed out last year, reconciliation has always been a popular option with Republicans in getting key pieces of legislation passed.
But there are a couple of problems for Republicans as they push back furiously against the idea, chief of which is the fact that they used the process themselves on several occasions, notably when enacting more than $1 trillion in tax cuts in 2001.

That means critics can have a field day lampooning Republicans and asking them — as Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, did repeatedly the other day — why reconciliation was such a good idea when it came to giving tax cuts to millionaires but such a bad one when it comes to trying to provide health care to average Americans.

The record is also replete with past statements by Republicans such as Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the party’s leader on budget issues, praising the logic of reconciliation.

“We are using the rules of the Senate here,” Mr. Gregg said in 2005 as he fought off Democratic complaints that reconciliation was wrongly being employed to block filibusters against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. “Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don’t think so.”

But he and other Republicans, with some Democrats concurring, say that using reconciliation to accomplish Mr. Obama’s sweeping objectives would distort the intent of a procedure intended mainly to lower the deficit, not restructure the national economy.
Hahahahahaha! Good one! As though Bush's tax cuts -- which predictably had the result of widening the gap between rich and poor in this country -- didn't represent a fundamental restructuring of the national economy.

Indeed, Ronald Reagan used the reconciliation process in 1981 to pass his tax cuts -- which had a similar effect.

But when Democrats go that route, they're suddenly going "nuclear."


Comedy Gold: Andrew "ACORN Promotes Pimps" Breitbart Shouts 'Innuendo!' At Max Blumenthal At CPAC

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Max Blumenthal just posted his video from his weekend at CPAC. Max used to be able to go to these things and post some great guerrilla videos, but nowadays they all know what he looks like and he attracts a crowd of camera-carrying wingers.

He also manages anyway to elicit some prime goofiness when Hannah Giles, the woman who posed as a prostitute in James O'Keefe's ACORN videos, defends O'Keefe when Blumenthal asks why O'Keefe and Breitbart falsely pretended that he had worn an outlandish "pimp" outfit into those ACORN sessions (he hadn't). Blumenthal wonders why O'Keefe was putting on this "minstrel show", and Giles responded:
Giles: But James is a man. He couldn't have a menstrual cycle.
Then a right-wing kook tried to argue that the Black Congressional Caucus was an innately racist organization since it excludes whites. Nevermind that the difference between minority civil-rights organizations and white supremacists is that one is about defending people's civil rights, the other is about taking them away. Minority caucuses, unlike white-supremacist organization, are not about demonizing and belittling and disenfranchising other people. Equating minority caucuses with hate groups is the height of wingnuttery.

But the best was reserved for Breitbart, who wouldn't even deign to engage Blumenthal in a reasoned debate over the facts of the matter involving Max's on-point reportage about O'Keefe's dalliance with white supremacist Jared Taylor.

All Breitbart could manage was rage and spittle:
Breitbart: You're ridiculous. You are a joke. You are a despicable human being -- the lowest life form that I have ever seen. Your entire job is trying to destroy people with Alinsky tactics.

Explain to me what your political philosophy that you have, other than this nihilist --

Blumenthal: Did you want me to finish what I was gonna say, which is that --?

Breitbart: Not particularly, you've already said it.

Blumenthal: Well, then, do you have anything -- do you have any more insults?

Breitbart: You try to destroy people. I don't care -- yes, absolutely. I could go on for a year. You're disgusting.

I cannot believe that you're fighting your father's battles. I can't believe what you did to Christopher Hitchens, you are -- you have been programmed by some ungodly creature to be this character of hatred.

Blumenthal: So the --

Breitbart: Accusing a person of racism is the worst thing that you can do to someone.

Blumenthal: So you're defending Jared Taylor?

Breitbart: I'm not at all! Of course I'm not!

Blumenthal: Sounds like you're defending Jared Taylor.

Breitbart: No it isn't! No, you --

Blumenthal: John Derbyshire?

Breitbart: What do you mean? -- What are you talking about?

Blumenthal: I don't know. I mean, this is an event with two people who believe that whites are genetically superior. And Marcus Epstein planned it --

Breitbart: Kevin Martin was there debating at the Georgetown Law Center! You think -- this smearing tactic --

Blumenthal: Kevin Martin ended the event with his arm around Jared Taylor. He's from a total -- a front, a front group, he's from a front group that defends white nationalists.

Breitbart: Make your case. Make your case.

Blumenthal: I made my case.

Breitbart: This isn't a case, that's guilt by association, you punk.

Blumenthal: Why are you so angry?

Breitbart: Because you're a punk you destroy people.

Blumenthal: Your face is trembling.

Breitbart: Because you try to destroy people's lives through innuendo!

Blumenthal: I'm not calling any names.

Breitbart: Innuendo! We're done with you! Innuendo! Innuendo! In order to destroy people's lives! You're the most despicable life form I've ever seen!

Yeah, that's right: Andrew Breitbart has the chutzpah to accuse someone else of indulging in "innuendo" in order to "destroy people."

And what Blumenthal reported wasn't "guilt by association", which by definition involves irrelevant associations; whereas these associations are entirely relevant, since they speak directly to O'Keefe's motives and his ideology. Guys like Breitbart love to shout "guilt by association!" whenever they're called out for playing footsie with white supremacists, but they have no idea what it really means.

All in all, it's quite the hilarious spectacle. Somehow, Jonah Goldberg's description of Breitbart as a "crack addict on ten espressos" sounds about right, if understated.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Glenn Beck Tells CPAC: 'The Majority Does Not Rule In America'

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Glenn Beck has all kinds of interesting political theories. Like the one he posed yesterday at the CPAC convention:
Beck: But I am tired of 40 percent of this country -- 40 percent! -- say they're conservative. Now how many more are out there that don't want to say they're conservative because, 'You just want to kill and eat children' -- [wolfing sound].

Forty percent! Thirty-six percent say they're moderates. What is it, twenty percent? Twenty percent say they're ... liberals. How are they making seventy-six percent feel like they're the minority.

The majority does not rule in America. But the minority shouldn't hijack it!

And it's because we're afraid -- they have isolated us and made us feel we're alone. We're not!
See, Glenn, here's the way it works in the real world: Every conservative sees anyone who is not a conservative -- including moderates -- as a liberal. They're usually vocal about letting us know that.

In fact, that's how a lot of us former moderates wound up becoming proud liberals over the past 10 years or so.

Now, notice that Beck lumps moderates in with conservatives as part of the great majority that's being bullied around by mean conniving liberals. He does so without any explanation. But the reality is, the majority of moderates are considered "liberals" by most conservatives, and indeed many of them eschew the "liberal" label precisely out of fear of being called a communist child molester by the likes of Glenn Beck.

Which is why what you're actually looking at is about 56 percent of the country keeping that nutcase 40 percent in check.

You know, the 40 percent that wrecked the global economy by deregulating the most powerful financial sector on the planet into an Indian casino. The 40 percent who convinced enough moderates that Al Gore invented the Internet and that John Kerry didn't deserve his Purple Heart, resulting in a conservative administration that not only wrecked the economy, but drove us into an illegal and unnecessary war, made us more vulnerable to terrorism than ever, and gutted our ability to respond to national emergencies.

No wonder that 36 percent bloc of moderate largely voted en masse with liberals in the last election.
And last we looked, that comprised a real majority. Glenn Beck and his conservative minions may not like that reality, but it's one they created. No wonder they're working so hard to invent an alternative.